It’s dangerous to be a friend of the United States in the Middle East. A fact the US government knows better than any political player in the Arab world, starting with America’s best friends! The strategy is simple: cover your tracks, forget history, don’t let cold hard facts get in the way. For the last sixty years, the United States has supported the Egyptian army and the successive dictatorial regimes (Nasser, despite tense relations, then Sadat and Mubarak) that protected their geostrategic interests, promoted “regional security” and, of course, defended Israel. Nothing has changed: the American administration was squarely behind the June 30 military coup, which was planned well in advance by the army high command and its civilian allies, including Mohammed el-Baradei. As early as 2008-2009 el-Baradei, one of the US’s key Egyptian strategic assets, had been advancing by stealth. In my Islam and the Arab Awakening I published comments by American officials about him and his involvement in the April 6 Movement (1). On the day of the coup, the US refused to describe it as such in order not to interrupt support for its military allies and the new political power structure. Secretary of State John Kerry could only confirm what serious analysts already knew when he stated a few days later that on June 30 the army had “restored the democratic process.” There can be no doubt that the US government fully supports the Egyptian armed forces. Its regional allies quickly swung into action: billions of dollars poured in from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.
Covering tracks is the strategy of choice. Domestically, the propaganda machine is in high gear: the United States had been meddling in Egyptian affairs by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The new political authorities (the interim president, prime minister and, of course, el-Baradei) are playing their parts to perfection: they claim to be “disappointed” by the lack of American backing. In the Washington Post and not in an Egyptian newspaper, General al-Sisi even—astonishingly—accused the US government of abandoning him: “You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that.” (2)Washington Post, August 3, 2013 It was a clever gambit, one that managed to fool a section of the Egyptian population. That would make the armed forces and the civilian transitional government out to be courageous and independent patriots, while American agents and foreign powers had all along propped up the MB. The Americans know well the power of such propaganda, and the symbolic gestures needed to make it convincing. But it was a lie from start to finish.
The facts and figures produced are a bigger lie: 30 million Egyptians took to the streets, they tell us, and 16 million signed an anti-government petition. Where do these figure, intoned like a mantra in the media, come from? By comparing images from the pilgrimage to Mecca with those produced on June 30 (by the Egyptian military, which transmitted them to press agencies around the world: Google claims not to have broadcast them), experts estimate the total turnout at no more than four or five million. In fact, the figure of 30 million is preposterous, as are the 16 million signatures, especially for anyone familiar with social conditions on the ground in Egypt. New propaganda; new lies.
It is clear that many Egyptians were frustrated by the situation, exacerbated by power outages and gasoline shortages prior to June 30, which suddenly ended the day after the coup. But the breadth of the protest movement was blown up out of all proportion. Almost unanimously the Egyptian people—so the story goes—proclaimed its support for its liberator, general al-Sisi, that great democrat totally unconnected with the United States. This while the International Herald Tribune revealed only a few days later, his close relations with the US and with Israel (3).
In the distorting mirror of such propaganda, it is essential to present today’s demonstrators only as followers of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, or as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptian population is not made up entirely of imbeciles, “democrats” who support the armed forces or “Islamists” on the side of the Brotherhood. This lie, stuffed down our throats by Egyptian and Western media outlets, is designed to obscure the ideological dimension of demonstrations opposing the coup d’État. In all the cities and towns of Egypt, the people in the streets are by no means all members or supporters of the MB. They include women and men, secularists alongside Islamists, Copts as well as Muslims, youth and older people who reject manipulation and a return to military rule in the guise of “democracy.” Many young people were and remain critical of Mr. Morsi and of the MB and their policies, but there is nothing naïve about their understanding of what is at stake politically. In fact, the ongoing mass protests appear to be the unexpected spanner in the strategic works of the Egyptian army, the interim government and their American allies. A mass outpouring of non-violent citizens against the “democratic” military coup carried out in the name of the selfsame people has left many faces spattered with egg.
But wait! Add another lie, and claim that the people in the street are not only members of the MB, but potential extremists working hand-in-glove with the “terrorists” of Hamas (a propaganda trick that never fails in the West) who would not hesitate to use violence. Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, lent public credence to the fabrication when he claimed that Amnesty International had noted that the demonstrators were armed or were concealing weapons. Amnesty immediately published a communiqué sharply denying his allegations (4). The new Egyptian authorities are now attempting to demonize the non-violent demonstrators in the streets; in the wake of the July 8 massacre, when the police fired on the unarmed crowd in the name of legitimate defense. A new media campaign is now being deployed: if the government wishes to clear the streets of demonstrators—as it claims—the demonstrators must be portrayed as dangerous and violent, as “terrorists.” Western media are unfortunately quite happy to play along with the Egyptian military and civilian authorities. Anything can happen in the coming days. Violent actions by tiny, unidentified “extremist” or “terrorist” groups (the Egyptian secret services are past masters at concocting perfectly synchronized “clashes” or “attacks”) may be used to justify massive police and military action (while trying to surround and isolate the protesters) . The next big lie: the armed forces are simply defending themselves.
As I continue to emphasize, the Islamists cannot be exempt from criticism. The situation in the Middle East is grave; the future is murky. It is as if the project to bring democracy to the region proclaimed by US President George W. Bush in 2003 provided, in fact, an immense immense template for regional destabilization modeled on the “liberation” of Iraq. Political systems and regimes would be undermined, oil and mineral resources secured, and the State of Israel, silently and to the accompaniment of yet another episode in the “peace process,” would continue its deliberate strategy of colonization. Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen (and even Sudan) are caught up in the maelstrom; the Gulf States are operating on a short leash.
Hopes were high that Barack Obama would be a president of renewal and openness. He has been nothing of the kind. What a pathetic record! As Noam Chomsky has stated, Mr. Obama has done even less than his predecessors to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, he has accomplished nothing. His image was that of the appealing African-American president, the gifted orator who has proved just as cynical as his immediate precursor. Meanwhile, the lies go on; the citizens of Egypt, like the Iraqis, the Syrians and the Palestinians, should bear in mind that the US government speaks the truth when it affirms that it loves nothing quite so much as democracy.
In the face of this tissue of lies, the non-violent demonstrators—women and men, secularists and Islamists, Copts and Muslims, agnostics and atheists—are the true expression of the Egyptian awakening. They must stand upright, unarmed; reject lies, propaganda and manipulation; they must become masters of their destiny.
(1) Relations between El-Baradei and the United States had not always been cordial. The Egyptian diplomat had sharply criticized American reluctance to call for reform of the regime as a “farce.” But closer analysis points to relations of an entirely different kind. Those between Barack Obama and Mohamed El-Baradei are excellent; the latter has not stinted in his praise for George W. Bush’s successor. In the run-up to Mubarak’s replacement, the Obama administration calculated that El-Baradei’s notoriously poor relations with the Bush administration and with the United States might well prove to be an advantage. As former State Department advisor Philip D. Zelikow noted: “Ironically, the fact that El-Baradei cross swords with the Bush administration on Iraq and Iran helps him in Egypt, and God forbid we should do anything to make it seem like we like him.” A near-identical analysis appeared in Foreign Affairs magazine one year before the uprisings. Pointing out that being seen as friendly with the Americans or being supported by them was a negative factor for any political figure in search of credibility with Egyptians, Steven A. Cook, the article’s author, added: “If ElBaradei actually has a reasonable chance of fostering political reform in Egypt, then U.S. policymakers would best serve his cause by not acting strongly. Somewhat paradoxically, ElBaradei’s chilly relationship with the United States as IAEA chief only advances U.S. interests now.” Islam and the Arab Awakening, Oxford 2012, p. 30
(2)Washington Post, August 3, 2013
(3) International Herald Tribune, read my article Egypt, Coup d’Etat, Act II