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O Brother, Where Art Thou?
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The whole Arab world, and the whole world for that matter, was eager to know what the newly elected president of Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) cadre Mohammed Morsi, had to say about foreign policy in his victory speech.

Talk about an anti-climax. He briefly mentioned Egypt would respect its “international agreements” – code for the 1979 Camp David accord with Israel. Tel Aviv and Washington might have been assured. As for the Arab street, certainly not.

Laconic Morsi may have dodged the big question. But in this volatile environment de facto controlled by the Orwellian SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) – the Egyptian military dictatorship apparatus – it seems the MB wouldn’t think twice about throwing the Palestinians under a slow-moving bus if that meant clinging to power.

Still, this was not enough to appease the right-wingosphere in the US – with the usual rabid dogs pontificating about how President Barack Obama had “lost” Egypt and how the country would instantly be buried by an al-Qaeda sandstorm.

It was up once again to Angry Arab blogger As’ad AbuKhalil to provide some much-needed perspective. As’ad stressed, “elections in the Arab world are now reduced to a contest between Saudi money and Qatari money”. And the winner in Egypt was Qatar’s House of Thani.

It’s always important to remember that the House of Saud and the MB are extremely competitive on what is the meaning of pure Islam. Qatar’s official foreign policy is to support the MB wherever possible. From the point of view of Doha, this is immense; an Islamist is now president of the key Arab nation. Every committed Islamist from the Maghreb to Benghazi, and from Tehran to Kandahar, may also have reasons to rejoice.

In parallel, the official candidate of the US, the European Union, Israel, the House of Saud and Egypt’s Ancien Regime – former Air Force general Ahmad Shafik – had lost. So, in theory, Egypt’s counter-revolution had lost. Not really. Not yet.

Only the terminally naive believe the Orwellian SCAF de facto rules Egypt without consulting Washington and the House of Saud on its every move. Before Morsi was anointed as the winner, there had to be a backroom deal – as was reported by Ahram online.[1]A deal could be reached to end current confrontation: SCAF, Brotherhood sources, Ahramonline, June 22.

What the SCAF-MB deal boils down to is that Morsi was forced to agree to work “within the parameters set out by SCAF”. This means the military dictatorship apparatus will essentially prevail over Morsi and over the legislative. Only after this agreement was sealed Morsi was “legitimately announced as the elected president”.

Damn, we bet on the wrong horse

The White House duly congratulated Morsi – as well as SCAF, apparently taking no sides. But Washington was very keen to stress that the Egyptian government should “continue to fulfill Egypt’s role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability”; that’s code for “don’t even think about renegotiating Camp David”. The White House also pledged to “stand with the Egyptian people”. With friends like these, the “Egyptian people” – half of them practically starving – may be assured of a bright future.

Obama solomonically called Morsi and Shafiq, the MB and SCAF. Only the terminally naive would believe the US government harbored fears that Shafiq – its preferred candidate – would in the end be declared president. By the way, Shafiq had to flee Egypt in infamy on Tuesday – after Egypt’s prosecutor general opened an investigation into his dodgy deals during the eight years he spent as civil aviation minister under Mubarak.

So arguably, from now on, Egypt may have two sets of foreign policy; the MB’s and SCAF’s. The balance of forces will depend on whether the MB can restore the dissolved parliament; or can draw as many votes in a second round of parliamentary elections as in the (annulled) first. There’s also the fact nobody knows what kind of power an Egyptian president will wield; the new constitution has not even been written.

From Washington’s point of view, whatever happens must not rock the regal dhow; blind support for whatever Israel does; barely disguised support for whatever the House of Saud and the GCC do (including harsh suppression/repression of Arab Spring installments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman); and if anyone defies us, we’ll bomb you or drone you to death.

From Washington’s point of view, the MB under Morsi may be construed as easily containable. He won’t dare confronting Israel. Morsi most likely will pull an Erdogan – as in Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Muscular protests against the brutal Gaza gulag as imposed by Tel Aviv; strong support for Hamas; but keeping diplomatic and trade relations in place. Eventually that might result in the Israeli leadership finally accepting that Palestinians are human beings. But no one should bet on it.

It remains to be seen, in this “two sets of foreign policy” scenario, whose side will prevail in the long run, MB or SCAF. Iran is the absolute test case. Morsi, if he has any leeway, will not blindly follow Washington on its obsession of crippling Iran – as Iraq was crippled during the 1990s; the long prelude before regime change. A hint of things to come is that Morsi told the Fars News Agency he wanted Cairo-Tehran relations to be back to normal. Then there was an almost immediate Egyptian denial, which could only have been orchestrated by SCAF.

Professor at the European University Institute in Florence Olivier Roy correctly warns about Egypt, “this was a revolution without revolutionaries. Yet the Muslim Brothers are the only organized political force… Their conservative agenda fits a conservative society, which may welcome democracy but did not turn liberal.” For Roy, “there will be no institutionalization of democracy without the Muslim Brothers”.


Talk about a long rocky road. Morsi will have to answer not only to SCAF but also to the extremely conservative MB leadership; after all until yesterday he was no more than a nondescript cadre. He knows that confronting SCAF means confronting Washington. If he tries anything more daring, they will just need to act like they’re killing him softly; but what if he’s able to mobilize millions in the streets? All bets are off on what this Brother is really at.


[1] A deal could be reached to end current confrontation: SCAF, Brotherhood sources, Ahramonline, June 22.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Egypt, Mohamed Morsi 
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