Asif Haroon Raja
Egypt’s ancient history spread over 5000 years saw 30 ruling dynasties including the Pharaohs. Egypt has been ruled by despotic kings and authoritarian military rulers and has seen democracy only for one year under late Muhammad Morsi who has met a tragic end.
The mercurial Col Gamal Abdul Nasser ended the monarchial rule of King Farouk and established a republic in Egypt following the 1952 revolution. He took over power in 1954 and ruled till his death in 1970. He gained popularity in the Arab world owing to his concept of Arab socialism. When the US and World Bank backed out of their commitment to fund Aswan Dam, Nasser hastened to nationalize Suez Canal in 1956. Withdrawal of the UK-France-Israel coalition forces without achieving their objective further popularized Nasser. After the rout suffered by Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian forces at the hands of Israeli forces in the 1967 Arab-Israel 6-day war, and loss of Golan Heights, West Bank and Sinai Peninsula to Israel, Nasser resigned. The Egyptians however brought him back to power.
Anwar Sadat rule
After the death of Nasser, he was succeeded by Vice President Anwar Sadat in 1970. He saw the Arab-Israel 1973 war in which Egypt recovered some of its pride and dented the Israeli invincibility by breaching the invincible Bar Lev line across the Suez Canal and making a bridgehead 15 km deep which couldn’t be eliminated. Sharon’s outflanking maneuver through the gap between two armies was more of face-saving act, which couldn’t achieve much. Oil embargo by Saudi led OPEC followed by Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 brought thaw in Israel-Egypt hostility and made it possible for Jimmy Carter to invite Sadat and Begin to Camp David on September 17, 1978 and sign an Accord. It led to historic peace treaty with Israel on March 26, 1979.
Peace with Israel helped Egypt in regaining control of oil-rich Sinai in May 1982, and re-starting oil export, but it earned the antagonism of Arab world. It was ostracized for a long time, allowing Iraq under Saddam Hussain to provide alternative leadership to the Arabs.
Peace deal with Israel had also angered the Islamists in Egypt, in spite of the fact that Sadat had loosened restrictions imposed by Nasser on Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which was outlawed in 1954.
Egypt became the 2nd largest recipient of US aid after Israel, since it provides landing facilities to US-NATO forces to deal with any trouble in the critical Middle East. US aid helped Sadat to undertake vast reforms. His open door economic policy washed away Nasser’s socialism, brought prosperity and produced hundreds of billionaires, but prosperity didn’t trickle down to improve the lives of the downtrodden who suffered from low wages, unemployment, high inflation and price hike.
Reason was that the country’s economy remained in the grip of IMF which put a heavy burden of debts upon it and never allowed its economy to become self-reliant. IMF always insisted on removing subsidies on foodstuff, which were the only source of relief to the poor. And when he lifted them, it led to ‘bread riots’. Sadat was murdered by the Islamists while he was reviewing a military parade at Cairo on October 6, 1981.
Hosni Mubarak’s rule
Sadat was succeeded by former air force chief and Vice President Hosni Mubarak who ruled the country with an iron hand for next three decades. The electoral system in Egypt was so designed which enabled the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to win every election, while the parties in opposition could at best improve their seats in the legislature but could never win elections and form a government. As such Egypt never tasted democracy. MB was allowed to contest elections in 2005 as independents and they captured 88 seats of the total 454 seats.
While the seculars and Cristian Coptic in Egypt have lived in harmony, Islamists have not.
To earn the goodwill of Israel and USA, Hosni remained committed to Camp David Accord, closed the Rafah crossing which provide a lifeline to the people of Gaza.
After its re-admittance in Arab League in 1989, Egypt gained maximum benefits from USA in the First Gulf War in 1991 and got cleared all its debts owed to US.
Liberal lifestyle of the elites, mushrooming of casinos, night clubs and belle dances gave rise to Islamic extremism and resulted in police riots in 1986. Trend of headscarves among the conservative females intensified.
Murder of Sadat gave reason to the government to chase the Islamists, maltreat and jail them in large numbers, forcing many to flee to other countries. Mubarak regime, which had turned Egypt into a police state was never censured by the West for its human rights violations. Corruption became rampant and no work could be done without greasing the palm of the officials. Police and intelligence agencies remained wholly focused on keeping the over-populated capital city Cairo, located on the bank of River Nile, stable and secure. Other important cities under watch were Alexandra, Ismailia, Port Suez and Port Said.
Egypt kept itself away when Iraq was destroyed and captured and when its immediate neighbor Sudan was caught up in foreign inspired turmoil. It could never imagine that sooner than later, its turn will come. The Arab Spring triggered by CIA and Mossad at the start of 2011 was aimed at regime changes and to clear the path for Greater Israel. The first victim was Tunisia and next was Egypt. Other countries which got affected by Arab Spring were Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.
Deposition of Hosni Mubarak
Sudden uprising of leader-less secular/liberal forces, mostly students, cropped up in Cairo on January 25. Protests were later joined by Islamists including MB. Protests at Al- Tahrir Square were so violent that they couldn’t be dispersed by the police. Ultimately, Mubarak who had been planning to hand over power to his son Gamal, was forced to resign on February 11. He abandoned his palace and shifted to Sharm el Sheikh.
Mubarak was deposed, and arrested on account of use of force on protestors, rigging and corruption, but when his trial started he was not held accountable for the killing of about 900 people during the 11-day protests. Throughout his internment, he was given all the comforts and legal cover. For six years he remained admitted in al-Mahdi military hospital and given best medical care. He was set free in March 2017, and is still alive at the age of 91 and must have watched the gory ending of Morsi.
Elections in 2012
The people sought fair and free elections and establishment of democracy. Establishment of the US tailored democracy had been the deceptive theme behind the US invasion of Iraq and Arab Spring. Freedom of Justice Party (FJP), a political wing of MB, won the elections, though with narrow simple majority and the spiky chair of President was given to little-known Muhammad Morsi. MB has remained in bad books of Saudi Arabia and UAE but has enjoyed cordial relations with Qatar.
Challenges before Morsi
Doctorate in Engineering from USA and God fearing Morsi with simple habits was faced with myriad of complex challenges. He got the first shock when Egypt’s Military Council at the outset stripped him of all his executive powers and dissolved the parliament. On July 10, 2012, the Supreme Constitutional Council upheld the decision by negating Morsi’s decision to call the parliament back into session. On November 22, Morsi issued a declaration immunizing his decrees from challenges and seeking to protect the work on drafting new constitution. He went about removing the societal cobwebs and hurdles and took steps to Islamize the society.
Apart from the antagonist judiciary, bureaucrats refused to implement Morsi’s policies. It created artificial energy shortages to stir discontent. Opposition played the game of a spoiler. Media played a negative role and pinned every failure on Morsi. The biggest weakness of the ruling regime was that its cabinet had only 8 members from FJP and the rest including the PM were independent technocrats.
What raised alarm bells in Israel was when he openly espoused the cause of Palestinians, promised to extend support to the trapped Gazans, denounced Israeli policies and stated that Zionists had no right to historic Palestine. Israel lost its patience after Rafah crossing was opened for use by Gazans to receive emergent food supplies and medicines. This dug the last nail in Morsi’s coffin. Gaza had been quarantined by Israel after Hamas had won elections democratically in 2007 and had formed a government in Gaza.
A plan was chalked out hurriedly and the scene of January-February 2011 was re-enacted. Millions of people took to the streets and chanted anti-Morsi slogans. Three days later, the situation had become ripe for the already tutored Gen Abdel al-Fatah, who had been appointed army chief and defence minister by Morsi in 2012, to stage a coup on July 3, 2013 and remove Morsi from power, exactly after his one year rule. Reportedly, Sisi has old family ties with Jews.
Fatah al-Sisi’s rule
After the deposition of Morsi, Military Council headed by Sisi ruled the roost. The police massacred 817 people mostly belonging to MB on August 14 to break up sit-ins. Between July 2013 and June 2016, 16 to 41000 MB members and supporters were interned. Since then, MB which has been banned is being constantly persecuted. There are 60,000 political prisoners in jail. Practice of extra judicial killings, forced disappearances, death sentences, executions are a common practice. No voice has been raised against human rights abuses. Islamists started an insurgency in the Sinai which is still raging. The country is now sharply divided between seculars-Coptic and Islamists.
Sisi was anointed president in 2014 following sham election held under explicitly despotic conditions and re-elected for 2nd term in 2018. He banned protests and muffled the media.
Morsi’s mock trial and mistreatment
Morsi and 14 other MB members were put on trial in November 2013 and were awarded death sentence in 2015. Later on, Morsi’s sentence was changed to 45 years jail term.
Morsi who was serving his jail sentence in most dreaded Tora Jail, called ‘Scorpion’, unfit for even animals, kept fighting his case and maintained his stance that he was the genuinely elected president and still was the president. He was brought to the courtroom for hearings in a specially designed glass cage which was sound-proof and his voice couldn’t be heard.
During his 6-year solitary confinement, his family could meet him only thrice. He was denied newspapers, TV, proper medical care and diet despite his multiple ailments ranging from diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.
He finally collapsed in the courtroom on June 17 and died of cardiac arrest or diabetic coma. He was denied proper public burial and was hurriedly buried at midnight with only two of his relatives attending the last rites. His tormentors made his life as painful as possible. Turkish President Erdogan was the lone voice who condemned the sham trial and maltreatment of Morsi and termed it as a judicial murder.
Sisi was all the time concerned about the threat posed by Morsi once his death sentence was converted to jail sentence. The route adopted for his slow death was immoral and so were the charges framed against him. His death has ended the prospects of democracy in Egypt since Sisi is likely to rule till 2030. The circumstances under which Morsi died will haunt the conscience of spiteful as well as tearful Egyptians.
End Note. Lacking in charisma and dynamism, Morsi was not the first choice of MB, but was forced to wear the crown of thorns. He lacked the desired traits to overcome myriad challenges. Faced with structural impediments, he was not cut to tackle them effectively. But he was committed to democratic transition. Morsi wasn’t perfect, but he was Egypt’s best bet against tyranny of military rule. Democracy should have been given a chance. Economic deprivation, social injustices, indignities and insecurity against which the Egyptians had raised their voices in 2011 have returned with a big bang. Sisi’s rule is viewed as brutal and illegitimate, but is hailed by USA, West, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC and think tank Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society, and member Council Tehreek Jawanan Pakistan. [email protected]
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously.
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently.
He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written a number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready.
He is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense and political matters for numerous international/national publications.