Since the ousting of Mohammed Morsi by the military Egypt has been infested with “liberal hypocrisy” from within and outside, writes Dr Reza Pankhurst who was jailed in Egypt for several years for being a member of Hizb ut Tahrir.
Comedian and TV presenter, Bassem Youssef was feted in the Western media as a cause celebre for freedom of speech after an arrest warrant was issued against him in March. This occurred after numerous libel suits were brought against him by members of the public culminating in a charge that he insulted the president and Islam on his popular television program “El Bernameg”.
His final show broadcasted before the demonstrations in Egypt which resulted in the military coup on 3 July and was almost entirely a mockfest of then President Morsi and his supporters, with little criticism of the opposition. Listed as one of the world’s top 100 influential personalities by Time Magazine earlier this year, Youssef has been credited with helping turn public opinion against the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies.
Moreover, after the coup which removed Morsi a number of media channels were immediately closed down under the justification that they were “inciting violence”, including Al-Jazeera Egypt as well as numerous other satellite stations in contact with Islamic movements and personalities. Given Youssef’s own history of liberal politics, it could be considered surprising that he was supportive of the media clampdown which included the arrests of several employees of various stations, despite it being carried out by the military with no due process.
He made no comment other than “Kifaya” (enough) after the killing of more than 50 protestors in front of the Republican Guard headquarters who were gunned down by the army on the morning of 7 July.
While Youssef was extremely vocal against what he considered as attempts to silence him by the Morsi government as well as some of the inflammatory rhetoric emanating from the pro-Morsi camp, he appears to have no public stance against either the independent media clampdown or the killing of protesters. This “liberal hypocrisy” encapsulated by Youssef is one of the most obvious features of the political events in Egypt at the moment, from both within and outside.
First and foremost among the “liberal hypocrites” would be Mohammad el-Baradei. In an interview with CNN on 4 July, he claimed that the removal of the president by the military was not a coup but rather the equivalent of a “recall”; he supported the closure of independent media as a necessary step for the immediate future; and he made no comment other than “violence begets violence” after the killing of those protesting the continued imprisonment of their “recalled” candidate.
Given that he had previously stated (presumably with a straight face) that he had “emphasized to all the security authorities here that everything has to be done in due process,” and that “I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy,” his response could generously be described as “underwhelming.”
This at least was somewhat better than the response of the leftist former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi who stated that the only beneficiaries of the event were those who wanted to drive the country into civil war, and – the Muslim Brotherhood.
While this hypocrisy has become ever more apparent as the events in Egypt unfold, the grassroots movement against the former president appears to be predicated on the same type of dishonesty. The “Tamarrud” campaign built popular support based upon a petition that complained about worsening security and economic conditions, along with prominent complaints that the country was “begging” the IMF for loans and continuing to “follow in the footsteps” of America.
These were all valid grievances that are justifications for widespread discontent and demonstrations. And yet Tamarrud’s candidate for Prime Minister was none other than el-Baradei, a supporter of private enterprise and a believer in the austerity that Egypt would have to implement to pay for the IMF loans.
He is also hardly a figure who would take Egypt away from its position as a close US ally, spending time on the phone with Secretary of State John Kerry the day before the coup took place. A man with little street support in Egypt is widely seen as a favourite of the Western media. Whether el-Baradei and Tamarrud are manipulating each other, or they both are manipulating the public, is a matter up for discussion, but what is clear is that the grievances that gathered the people in Tahrir Square appear to have little to do with the machinations taking place.
The hypocrisy is not limited to liberal Egypt, with the statements from the EU, Britain and the US in wake of the coup effectively accepting the events without much reserve. The Obama administration’s refusal to use the word “coup” due to the financial aid implications involved is further testimony to lack of principle on all sides.
Details have since emerged in the New York Times of the extent of the government’s knowledge and support of the moves by the Egyptian army in the week leading to the formal removal of Morsi. And while both pro- and anti- Morsi supporters are united in their dislike of America and desire to see Egypt take an independent path, the political leaderships representing the two sides clearly rely upon the patronage of the US – which is evidence of both its continuing hegemony over the politics of the country and that none of the formal political parties is willing or able to meet public demand.
So it is clear that the military and other remnants of the previous regime have benefitted the most from recent events, the military itself being America’s closest ally in Egypt. Adly Mansour – the current president installed by the military – was previously the head of the constitutional court, and led the constitutional hearings in 2012 which scrapped the “political isolation” law which had prohibited members of the old regime from contesting elections.
The re-installed attorney general Abdel Meguid Mahmoud was previously removed by Morsi in the wake of the acquittal of those accused of the “camel battle” case related to when Tahrir square was stormed by armed gangs during the revolution in January 25. Since being re-installed he has issued more than 300 arrest warrants and travel bans for Muslim Brotherhood members.
The hated police force has also taken the opportunity to rebuild its image as a “protector of the people,” a novel re-invention for an institution whose widespread torture and abuse was one of the major grievances leading to the uprising against the Mubarak regime back in 2011.
As Egypt slips back into the Mubarak era, who was formerly one of the closest allies of the West and seen as a strong bulwark against Islamic movements, the liberal elements cheer on from the sidelines.
Unable to win any open election, presidential, parliamentary or otherwise, they are now riding into government on the back of tanks called out by demonstrations that were gathered upon a platform they themselves do not agree wholeheartedly with, but were happy to co-opt and inflame, backed by foreign aid.
As Bassem Youssef admitted in his own opinion piece written in June – Egyptian liberals and secularists “have all become fascists.” While he contended that this occurred as a reaction to the Morsi presidency, the events of the last few weeks suggest that the problem lies much deeper, and indicate that some of the liberal and secular elements of the society appear willing to return to their historic alliance with former dictatorship.