Tahir Square. Remember the Arab Spring?
Yesterday I received a “like” from ivonprefontaine for a post I put up on March 20, 2014. Its rare that a piece receives notice years after posting. A couple do but most simply fade into the oblivion of the internet universe. I had forgotten this post, written after the Arab Spring (remember that?) the coup in Egypt and the disturbances in Ukraine. Thanks to Ivon for digging in the archives. I post it again here.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Egyptian military granted itself sweeping powers, arrested President Morsi and dissolved the parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
So does anyone really believe anymore that the Obama administration had nothing to do with the removal of Mohammed Morsi as the duly elected President of Egypt? If you do, I’ve got some nice land I would like to sell you here in Florida.
Should we have been surprised? Naah.
Those who believed that “democracy” would rise from Tahir Square had gotten as far as holding elections. America is all for elections. The problem was the wrong man won.
The liberal secular favorite of most of the young, Hamdeen Sabahi, came in third and was eliminated from the run-off election which turned out to be between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military’s choice. The liberals stayed home as they had no one for whom to vote. They never had enough votes anyway.
Egyptians were left with a choice of potential theocracy and continued military rule.
It is now faairly common to say that Morsi, who served just a year after he was legitimately elected in June 2012, failed some kind of democracy test. He did no such thing.
Morsi made a thousand mistakes. Egypt’s first properly elected government was bound to make mistakes. What Washington truly did not want was an elected Islamic government and this was revealed when the Obama administration did not declare the military coup a coup – just so aid could continue to flow to the Egyptian military..
During the 90s I would spend a month or five weeks working in Cairo and Alexandria each year, The company had several operations in Egypt and I would hole up at the former palace of King Farouk, now the Cairo Marriott in Zemalek and walk to work each morning.
The local company was run by an American ex-pat living in a nice villa in one of Cairo’s better areas. Walls. Street patrols. Gardeners.
The Egyptian staff at the office were mostly a middle-class college educated mixture of Muslims and Copts. I had a chance to meet many of them socially at their homes and apartments.
One Muslim was married to an Italian Catholic woman who cooked me a great Italian meal while we laughed over stories of their respective families going ape shit over their pending marriage. Solution was two weddings – one in Italy and one in Egypt.
More than one Coptic employee swore to me privately that the Copts were the REAL Egyptians – descendants of those who built the pyramids. All the others were foreign invaders.
One common trait I noticed among all Egyptians I met was a certain fatalism. Fatalism is almost part of Egyptian DNA. Nothing in Egypt ever changes and nothing would change.
As an American I found such attitudes disturbing. Americans believe things can get better. We can make them better. We will not only survive hard times; we will come out of hard times stronger and better than before. We as a people have never subscribed to the belief that a situation is hopeless – though that has certainly changed in recent years.
Well one week I visited our office in Alexandria. I was making a special trip to meet the company’s lawyer who handled all our legal work. Let’s call him Sennussi.
There was a company car and driver of course but I decided to ride the bus from Cairo to Alexandria. The staff thought I was crazy but take the bus I did along the desert road to Alexandria. I always felt Alexandria a classic Mediterranean city. I could have been in Naples.
Sennussi was over seventy years old. Slender and well dressed he was the consummate well connected successful Egyptian. And he had lived through it all.
Over lunch at a beautiful waterfront restaurant we talked our business and then talked of Egypt.
He was old enough to have been a young teen during World War II under the British. He lived under King Farouk and was in his twenties when General Naguib and then Gamal Nasser came to power.
“Times were not so bad under Farouk. He was a bit self-indulgent but he was not deposed by the people. There were no mobs in the streets demanding he abdicate”. Sennussi was certain the CIA supported the military coup. He was sure it could not have happened without more than just tacit US approval.
The generals have ruled Egypt ever since. First Nasser, then his acolyte Sadat and then his protege Mubarak. Nothing has changed. “Like the pyramids” Sennussi said, “Or the Nile”.
Egyptians had not been independent for over 2,000 years. They had gone from Pharoahs to foreign rulers to Kings and now the military was in charge.
The military have their fingers in everything that is manufactured in Egypt. Every senior and mid-ranking military officer was hand picked by Mubarak and all owed him their careers. They too live in fine villas with drivers and servants paid for by the U.S.
Egypt had “elections” but everyone knew who was going to win. Only candidates from the President’s party could run anyway. No other political parties were permitted.
Then came Tahir Square.
There had been a “State of Emergency” for longer than most Egyptians in the square had been alive. Speak out against the government and you were arrested, held without charges or worse. There was no Egyptian free press.
Sennussi was a fatalist. He had lived long enough to see the hopes and aspirations of the 1950s fade away into the Egyptian eternity. So he did the best he could do. He lived within the constraints of the system. He survived and prospered.
The young people in the square were not yet fatalists. They had aspirations and with social connections to the outside world they knew it didn’t have to be like this. They are wary of the government simply playing musical chairs – and nothing changing.
But they had no real leaders or organizations that could speak for them.
And it came down to this again – continued military rule.
There was no charismatic faceless Egyptian – someone the young could rally behind. An unknown; a Sennussi who has seen it all shaking off his fatalism, speaking for them and saying “Enough! In the name of God will you please go!” Besides, there are not enough “liberal” votes anyway.
Sennussi and I left the restaurant talking of Egypt, Israel and wars.
“Was Alexandria bombed during the Six Day War?” asks Toritto
“Oh Toritto my friend! The last time Alexandria was bombed it was the Italians!”
Senussi, if he still lives, is not surprised by the events since Tahir Square.
And he would not be surprised by the coup against the elected government in Ukraine – and the fact that the U.S. supported fascists and rightists against a duly elected government to get what it wanted – an anti-Russian government on Moscow’s doorstep.
There is nothing new under the sun. In my lifetime we have Italy’s elections in 1948 which were thoroughly corrupted to ensure the “reds” didn’t win and many, many Japanese elections — generations of them. Then there’s the nasty stuff: Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala, Patrice Lumumba, Sukarno, Salvador Allende, and so on.
But to say it is an old story is precisely what is so disturbing, not to say disgraceful, about the coups in Egypt and Ukraine.
We love democracies – except when the people elect the “wrong” party – as in Venezuela or Ecuador or Bolivia – or Egypt or Ukraine.
Then the U.S. quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, arranges a do-over.
So much for the sanctity of elections.