It took 60 years for the Central Intelligence Agency to admit this week that it was behind the coup that took place in Teheran in 1953 – and it may be years or decades before we come to know who played what role in the Egyptian coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader.
The July 3 Egyptian coup is not exclusively homemade. Like the 1953 Iranian coup that ousted the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadeq and reinstalled the Shah, a US puppet, the Egyptian coup had its foreign elements. As post-coup Egypt witnessed an unprecedented bloody crackdown of anti-coup protesters comprising largely the conservative segment of society and the poor, the blood stained hands of some regional countries also became evident. By being the first to openly back the military coup and the bloody crackdown in which more than 2,000 people were killed, Saudi Arabia made little effort to hide its role in the coup.
Saudi Arabia loathes democracy, even if it comes in the Islamic form. Assuming their right to the throne is a divine decree, Saudi Arabian rulers tolerate no political dissent at home. Some 40,000 political prisoners languish in jails across the kingdom. Most of them are held without trial in conditions that spark regular hunger strikes. Saudi Arabia’s fear of democracy is such that it even crossed the border to crush pro-democracy protests in neighbouring Bahrain. Thus there was little surprise when the Saudi royals rushed to prop up the illegitimate regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They were even miffed when Washington issued statements showing its disapproval of the manner in which the Egyptian junta crushed the protests by unarmed or lightly armed Morsi supporters.
Saudi Arabia’s response and its haste to support the Egyptian junta with offers of massive economic aid – US$ 12 billion (including aid from Saudi allies Kuwait and the UAE) -- that even dwarfs the combined aid Egypt receives annually from the United States and the European Union – US$ 2.5 billion – also point to its fears about Islamic democracy.
In Egypt, under Morsi, Islam and democracy started to blend well. But the Saudis saw the mixture as poisonous. As the Morsi government introduced its own version of Islamic democracy, the Saudi royals started to shiver in their thaubs. They feared that if the Muslim Brotherhood-led Morsi administration was allowed to establish an Islamic democratic system, it would only strengthen the call for a similar system in Saudi Arabia – a system that would end the ibn Saud family rule. The Saudi royals try to legitimise their hold on power by declaring themselves the custodians of the Haramaine Ash-Shareefaine – the sacred mosques in Makkah and Madinah. They also project themselves as the protectors of Wahhabi Islam, a puritanical version of the religion and being a bulwark against the rise of Iran and Shia Islam.
Wahhabism per se is not bad, for it seeks to eliminate superstitions and innovations that had crept into the religion after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. But what is bad is the unholy alliance between Wahhabism and the ibn Saud family. While some enlightened Wahhabi Imams have earned the wrath of the royals for critisicing their un-Islamic state policies and even gone to jail, others have become mere acolytes who issue fatwas saying obedience to rulers is obedience to God and disobedience is fitna or mischief. In the latest incident, an Imam of a popular Riyadh mosque was arrested for, among other objectionable remarks, urging the Saudi youths during his Eid prayer sermon to travel to Egypt to fight alongside the members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the Imam of the holy mosque in Madinah is said to have criticised the country’s Egypt policy, much to the chagrin of the royals.
In another defiant act by the Saudi populace, a group of 56 Saudi Arabian religious scholars condemned the military overthrow of Morsi.
In sharp contrast to the Saudi regime’s declared position on the Egyptian crisis, the scholars described what occurred in Egypt as “unquestionably a military coup and an unlawful and illicit criminal act”.
They called upon the de facto Egyptian authorities to resort to dialogue and ballot boxes to resolve the conflict -- and described the ouster of the elected president as “a clear violation of the people’s will.”
The scholars noted that several regional and international actors had been plotting to overthrow “Egypt’s legitimate president” from the moment he took office late last year; by deliberately sabotaging his government. They noted that certain political parties such as the National Salvation Opposition Front and the Tamarod Movement were formed in Egypt for the specific purpose of overthrowing Morsi’s government.
Such defiance by scholars, imams and the people, the Saudi regime feels, should be crushed before it becomes a canker. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has challenged the Saudi royal family’s right to be the guardians of the holy mosques, and the new-found Islamic democracy, the royals may have decided, should be done away with before they become more popular among the Saudi citizens and pose a threat to the ibn-Saud royals who sustain their kingdom by paying obeisance to colonialists and neocolonialists.
Last week’s carnage in Cairo once again brought to light the harmony between Saudi, Israeli and US policies. All three countries feel that democracy in the Middle East undermines their interests. The Morsi government’s commitment to non-alignment, its open support of the Palestinian group Hamas, its decision to rescind the sale of gas to Israel and its moves to improve ties with China increased the US and Israeli worries about losing their hold on the strategically important country which controls navigation between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. Surely, the ouster of Morsi must have brought a sigh of relief to the US which could not hide its elation as Secretary of State John Kerry remarked in one of his statements that removing Morsi was a step towards “restoring democracy”.
So they quietly worked out a plan to topple the Morsi government. Although only the Saudi hand is visible in the coup, any claim that the US and Israel did not play a role is an insult to one’s intelligence. The US for a long time had been denying that it together with the British intelligence MI6 staged the 1953 Iranian coup. Likewise, it will deny its role in the Egyptian coup until such time in the distant future as it feels it is safe to admit that it did indeed play a role.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan insisted that Israel was behind the coup. He said this week that in the wake of the Arab Spring’s success in Egypt, Zionist intellectuals at a Tel Aviv University discussion in 2011 vowed that that the Brotherhood would not be allowed to take power in Egypt.
The granting of bail to former dictator Hosni Mubarak and his release from prison last night have only confirmed the worst fears of those Egyptians who yearned for democracy in their country. Even those groups that mobilised millions at Tahrir Square to oust Morsi are mute in their opposition to the release of the dictator. All this indicates that the developments in Egypt were well-orchestrated and choreographed and that Mubarak still rules Egypt. General Sisi who is likely to emerge as the presidential candidate if the illegitimate regime sticks to its road map and holds elections in March, is a US-trained Mubarak protégé. The so-called interim President Adly Mansour is part of the Deep State that protected Mubarak and the US-Israeli interests in Egypt.
In the circumstances, Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei quit the government in protest against the Army’s brutal crackdown on Brotherhood supporters -- and his flight to Vienna probably indicates that he too feels that what is happening in Egypt is a movement towards a return of the Mubarak days.
With the Egyptian media, which the 2011 Arab Spring freed, once again back in shackles, with the opposition activists, including tens of thousands of Brotherhood members in jail and with democratic dissent being interpreted as sedition and terrorism, the Sisi regime is doing what Mubarak had been doing for 30 long years. The Sisi regime may send Morsi, Brotherhood supreme guide Mohammed Badie and hundreds of other Brotherhood leaders to the gallows, just as Gamal Abdel Nasser sent the Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna to the gallows in 1954.
Many Egyptian media outlets toeing the official line now call the Brotherhood members terrorists. The demonisation of the Brotherhood is an obvious attempt to win Western support for the yet to be completed brutal crackdown. An Egyptian General has told the Paris-based La Monde that they needed six months to liquidate or imprison all Brotherhood members, 3 million of them.
So Sisi is now fighting a war on terror, the enemy being Brotherhood terrorists, notwithstanding the fact that the popular grassroots movement won every election that was held since the February 2011 uprising. In this context, one wonders whether the attacks on several Coptic churches in Egypt and the slaying of policemen in Sinai this week by unknown Islamist terrorists were similar to what happened in the 1990s in Algeria following the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the first round of the 1990 general elections.
Shaken by the FIS success, the Algerian military, with the support of the West, staged a coup, cancelled the elections and declared war on the FIS. To discredit the FIS in the eyes of the people, the state intelligence floated an outfit called the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) which colluded with the military in carrying out massacres in several villages, but the blame was squarely put on the outlawed FIS.
With the events in Egypt showing a similar trajectory, one wonders whether the most populous Arab country is crumbling under the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, as depicted in the 1964 movie. The Pharaoh has returned and the Arab Spring has become an Arab Winter while the Egyptians appear to be doomed to a political life without democracy -- and their fate is being decided by those in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh.