My recent analysis of the Arab uprising and the evolving crisis in Tunisia and Egypt has drawn abundant critical comment. My position with regard to the Arab uprisings, their history and the issues they raise, is quite precisely that expressed in my book Islam and the Arab Uprising. Recent events have confirmed its accuracy; I urge readers seeking clarification to read or re-read it.
To those who claim that my critical view of political Islam and its historic development is a new and opportunistic one, I refer my previous works (in addition to the latest) Islam, The West and the Challenges of Modernity (1995) and Radical Reform (2007), written well before the uprisings, which give a clear exposition of my views on politics, liberation, and on the objectives of economic and social counter-power. My most recent articles are syntheses of those earlier writings, and reassert and sharpen my position in the light of recent events. Since the late 1980’s with regard to Sudan, then Algeria, Egypt and Palestine, I have returned to the subject time and time again, all the while maintaining the same analytical line.
I have, at the same time, developed a detailed critique of the polarization of debates between secularists and Islamists, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. My latest stance on the military coup d’État has caused some intellectuals and anti-Morsi activists to label me as pro-Morsi, pro-Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Islamist, and to fire up the propaganda machine. How nice it would be if things were so simple. But it is impossible, in all decency, to criticize me for lack of clarity toward the actions of the Morsi government and the ideological positioning of the Muslim Brotherhood. I have said it once, and say it again, but the “liberal” apologists of the coup d’État and the friends of the military who pretend to have heard or read nothing and who dismiss their opponents as “Islamists” and “terrorists” would be better off paying close attention to substance and providing answers to a range of key questions.
The women and men who have been demonstrating for more than five weeks now have been presented as “pro-Morsi,” as essentially members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The categorization is as false as it is tendentious: a tissue of lies tightly woven by the official media and disseminated by 80% of Western press agencies, which employ the same terms to describe the ongoing and massive street demonstrations. In fact, the demonstrators march under the banner of opposition to the coup d’État; they include women and men who are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are neither Salafis or Islamists. Among their number are youthful bloggers, secularists and Copts.
The Egyptian army never withdrew from the political scene. Its strategy of repression can be best explained by its concern to preserve its political, economic and financial interests, as well as by its close links to the American government. Certain European capitals—as well as Israel—clearly find the strategy to their liking. The timid Western condemnation, US President Barack Obama’s half-hearted remarks (canceling joint war games, confirming American financial support and implicitly backing the coup d’État), along with the media bombardment have granted the military carte blanche to carry out full-scale repression under cover of the newly declared State of Emergency. The crackdown is far from over; death, torture and mass imprisonment lie ahead for Egypt.
Nothing new, alas. State media broadcast lies and manipulate information: all time-tested tactics. The police and the armed forces claim to be acting in legitimate self-defense: they use live ammunition to target demonstrators and the number of dead is systematically underestimated. Mosques that housed the bodies of murdered demonstrators have been burned to eliminate the evidence. Other mosques, such as al-Iman, were surrounded as families were preparing to mourn their dead. In order to proceed with the burial, the bereaved were forced to attest that the cause of death was suicide, or to post-date the decease. New horrors, old methods. It came as no surprise that caches of weapons were discovered, filmed and broadcast worldwide. Meanwhile, the dull-witted demonstrators, after six weeks of mass marches and a week of threatened military intervention, could not find the time to use them. Just as plainly, the church burning strategy reminds us of the methods of al-Sisi’s predecessors: turn the people against one another and present the “Islamist terrorists” as enemies of the Copts. Thus they kill two birds with one stone: justify repression while winning the hearts and minds of the West. All those who oppose the coup are presented as displaying astounding stupidity: non-violent and disciplined for weeks on end, and even following the massacre of July 8, suddenly they have turned violent as if to please the military, right on cue. Who are they trying to fool? Who are those who pretend to believe them trying to fool?
The central question was and remains that of freedom and democracy for the Egyptian people. What is happening today in Egypt is a travesty and a horror. The country is now at the merci of the Armed Forces; Egypt will now experience summary execution, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and lying at the highest state level. The generals are fully supported by the West, the United States and Israel. This is the only reality. Those who, in their visceral hatred of the Islamists, today support the military and the police as they kill and repress must one day answer for their choice. They must also reveal to us their analysis, their “democratic” political program drawn up in the shadow of the barracks, at the heart of corruption, at the storm center of a Middle East that is now adrift. Their responsibility is immense, over and above the bitter taste of the words they use to encourage and to justify the violent repression of unarmed civilians. Wretched “liberals”, pathetic “progressives.”