by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The secularists and leftists that backed the military’s coup in Egypt “cannot escape culpability for Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s current and future crimes.” But the clock is also ticking on the decades-long U.S. strategy to deploy Muslim jihadists as foot soldiers for imperial objectives in the region. The unholy alliance will shatter – and usher in the Mother of All Blowbacks.
Massacre in Egypt Hastens Demise of U.S.-Jihadist Alliance
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
This article was previously published on the website of the Black Is Back Coalition.
“Egypt is the bomb that was lit in 2011, and must now explode in the wake of Gen. el-Sisi’s reign of terror.”
The unfolding massacre of anti-coup demonstrators by Egyptian security forces – the third such mass slaughter since the military assumed dictatorial powers six weeks ago – has obliterated, in the near term, any chances for real social transformation of the country. The “mandate” awarded to the military by much of the “secular” political spectrum (and the leadership of the Coptic Christian Church) to use force against peaceful protesters will surely poison the Egyptian polity for many years to come. The Islamic faithful – a population by no means limited to followers of deposed President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – will lay the blame for the blood and brains in the streets on all those who made common cause with the generals’ snipers and police thugs.
The “revolutionaries” who shouted “the Army and the people are one!” – first, when the military relieved the country of Mubarak (but not his “deep” regime, in which the officer class was thoroughly invested) in 2011, and then again, in June of this year, when the crowds in Tahrir Square demanded a repeat performance against Morsi – cannot escape culpability for Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s current and future crimes. Too weak to win a democratic election, they chose to act as cheerleaders for a murderous, jack-booted rampage against fellow citizens who demanded only that the majority’s electoral decision be honored.
The civil war has begun, but its scope and trajectory cannot yet be predicted. What has been certain ever since the coining of the term “Arab Spring,” is that the script of the region’s great convulsions will be written in the language of Islam, with all its variations and inflections.
“Too weak to win a democratic election, they chose to act as cheerleaders for a murderous, jack-booted rampage against fellow citizens who demanded only that the majority’s electoral decision be honored.”
Those who believe that the generals were swept into power by the acclamation of overwhelming millions, buy into the same corporate media that led Americans to believe that Venezuelan anti-government demonstrations routinely dwarfed those of the Chavistas – when the opposite was true. Western outlets reported as fact the anti-Morsi forces’ incredible claims of having collected, in just a few weeks, 22 million signatures calling for new elections. These same media repeated fantastical estimates that between 14.3 and 33 million demonstrators gathered at Tahrir Square and the Presidential Palace on the eve of the generals’ coup, when the total acreage in question could not possibly hold more than about 650,000 people, packed four to every square meter. Meanwhile, the New York Times paid almost no attention to the Muslim-Brotherhood’s huge, enduring protest sites until after the military had already carried out two massacres.
Even President Obama concedes that majorities of Egyptians might oppose the coup (as polls indicate) and, implicitly, that revulsion at the one-sided slaughter could move many more in the same direction. His allies in Europe are distraught – not at the inhumanity of the butchery, which does not give pause to old or new imperialists, but at the specter of an Iranian-type revolution by outraged rank-and-file Muslims. In many respects, Egypt resembles Iran in 1978-79. The Shah fell to martyrdom-welcoming crowds backed by guerilla units – but only after elements of the military also rebelled. Egypt’s army is drawn from poor conscripts. In that sense, it actually is one with the people. The people voted in the majority for Morsi and, overwhelmingly, for one or another of the Islamist parliamentary parties. Will the conscript army acquiesce to the slaughter of its own families?
It was always inevitable that U.S. policy in the Muslim world would unravel in catastrophic blowback. The year 2011 was not the region’s first “awakening.” Rather, the United States labored furiously, after World War II, to bring down nationalist and socialist movements and governments in a fully awakened arc from Iran to North Africa. Washington and its royal allies collaborated to bolster Islamic fundamentalist movements as a counterweight to secular leftist and nationalist forces. (Israel did much the same, initially encouraging the growth of Hamas as a rival to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization.) When the Left took power in Afghanistan, in 1978, the U.S. organized and armed an Islamist insurgency, and soon formed a multi-billion dollar joint venture with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to create, almost out of whole cloth, the international jihadist network that spawned Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida.
“Washington and its royal allies collaborated to bolster Islamic fundamentalist movements as a counterweight to secular leftist and nationalist forces.”
By the mid-Nineties, the inherent instability of the jihadist-imperialist alliance became dramatically evident. However, the U.S. was still in need of Islamic fundamentalist foot soldiers who could be put in service of imperial objectives in the region. At the same time, jihadists could also fill the global “enemies gap” left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, justifying Washington’s military push for total world conquest. 9/11 put the Project for a New American Century in high gear.
In a great historical irony, the humiliating U.S. defeat in Iraq – a war that was sold to the American public as payback for the jihadist attack on the World Trade Center – resulted in the U.S. becoming even more dependent on jihadists to do its dirty work in the Arab world. There was no alternative. Having been humbled by a rag tag resistance in Iraq, and incapable of military conquest of Afghanistan, U.S. imperial prestige imploded at the very moment in history when American economic decline was everywhere in evidence.
With the advent of the “Arab Spring,” the West stared into the abyss. If Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, should “fall” to a mass movement, imperialism’s global house of cards could crumble. Clearly, the spread of popular uprisings spelled doom for the thieving monarchs of the Persian Gulf. The U.S.-Saudi marriage of convenience that had birthed the international jihadist network in Afghanistan, 30 years previously, now took on paramount strategic importance.
The U.S.-European response to the events of 2011 Tahrir Square was to rhetorically embrace popular Arab aspirations for “change” – and then to immediately mobilize the jihadists as ground troops for a massive, unprovoked attack on Egypt’s neighbor, Libya, under cover of relentless NATO bombardment. The intent was to reestablish the military preeminence of NATO in the region – a kind of “Shock and Awe” – and to reposition the “Arab Spring” as primarily a revolt against America’s secular antagonists: Libya and Syria. In effect, the West believed it was getting ahead of the curve, altering the definition and character of the incipient Arab “movement” – a task for which the jihadists were absolutely indispensable.
“If Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, should ‘fall’ to a mass movement, imperialism’s global house of cards could crumble.”
As were the royal houses of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates who, in addition to actually being Arabs and fantastically rich, are keenly aware that their heads will literally roll if any popular movement gains traction in the region. They are “funding” for their lives, but also fully cognizant that they can now, much like Israel, act as tails wagging the imperial dog. But, make no mistake: more than ever before, the monarchs are riding the tiger of jihadists who are, ultimately, no respecters of opulent thrones.
The contradictions multiply and become exponential for both the U.S./NATO and the Arab royals. In Syria, the al Qaida character of the armed opposition to the Assad government is a fact so generally understood, even the willfully ignorant American public knows it – which means the clock is ticking on Washington’s ability to fully utilize the jihadists as foot soldiers in the region. Yet, there is no other indigenous Arab force at U.S. disposal. Washington’s options, other than direct U.S. military occupation – tried that, done that, failed that – have largely run out.
Egypt is the bomb that was lit in 2011, and must now explode in the wake of Gen. el-Sisi’s reign of terror. The U.S. could have lived with President Morsi, who accepted the status quo with Israel and the International Monetary Fund’s straightjacket. The Muslim Brotherhood is run by wealthy businessmen who are quite amenable to global neoliberalism. However, the Egyptian generals demanded a full reversion to the old regime, and were hell-bent on slaughter. Washington, which is reviled by all sectors of Egyptian society, was in no position to argue. In the end, Susan Rice was put on the phone to give Morsi the bad news.
“The fig leaves have been blown away, leaving only the Army and police versus organized Islam, which is rooted in the lives of at least half the people.”
The point, here, is not to absolve the U.S. of culpability in the unfolding human catastrophe. Far from it: the Egyptian military is Washington’s Frankenstein, the product of 30 years in imperialism’s laboratories. But the officer class protects its own economic and political interests, and knows full well that the Empire has no alternative in Egypt. El-Sisi’s bloodbath is further proof that U.S. imperialism is in fatal decline.
The Obama administration’s dream-regime for Egypt would have consisted of a strong-but-silent military foundation topped by men like Mohamed ElBaradei, the United Nations careerist whose true function is to represent multinational corporate interests. ElBaradei resigned as vice president in the military government when the body count soared, although interim president Hazem el-Bablawi, the economist and international bankers’ emissary, remains in place. Nevertheless, the fig leaves have been blown away, leaving only the Army and police versus organized Islam, which is rooted in the lives of at least half the people. To the extent that the secular Left has allowed itself to be associated with the military regime’s atrocities, it has severed all ties to that half of Egypt, and will reap the whirlwind.
The events in Egypt will prove fatal to the longstanding U.S. strategy of deploying Islamic warriors against secular leftists and nationalists. The lines that have been drawn in Egypt are directly opposite the relationship of forces in Syria and Libya. The war against Islam in Egypt will hasten the day when jihadists turn their full fury on the United States and the royal potentates of the Gulf.
Yes, Egypt is in profound crisis. So is U.S. imperialism. The Mother of All Blowbacks is coming.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].