I remember a conversation with a renowned academic in the venerable quarters of Jones Hall, Princeton University in 1991. The accomplished scholar gleefully told me the news of a military coup in Algeria that overthrew the government after the Islamists won the provincial elections. In a most sympathetic tone, my friend lamented the unfortunate fact that military coups are still a reality in the Arab world. "But," he commented in a deeply sagacious voice, "it was necessary for the military to intervene, otherwise, the Islamists would have come to power, and then Algeria would be in real trouble!" Of course, the coup that saved Algeria from the Islamists resulted in a civil war of horrific brutality that killed at least 100,000 people. Recently, I listened to my learned friend give a lecture about the lamentable fact that the military had to overthrow an elected government in Egypt, but again, he confidently asserted that it was necessary to avert a geo-political disaster.
On March 24, 2014, a court in the Minya province of Egypt sentenced 529 defendants to death for inciting violence and for the murder of one police officer. This was the largest death sentence in modern history. But a month later, Egypt again surpassed this world record in massacre by judiciary when another court in the same province sentenced an additional 683 people to death, including the former General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badie, for "inciting violence," "attempted murder," and the murder of that same one police officer. The trial of Muhammad Badie lasted a whopping eight minutes!
These death sentences were handed down after what can only be described as kangaroo trials. Weeks later, in an equally cartoonish appellate process, among the first group sentenced to die, 37 had their death verdicts affirmed, while the rest were commuted to life in prison. The same is likely to happen with the second group sentenced to death. Incidentally, this is the same judiciary that has failed to convict Hosni Mubarak and his cronies for torturing, maiming and murdering thousands of Egyptians over a course of three decades in power. This is also the same judiciary that has failed to punish a single officer for the thousands of people killed since the revolution.
Since July 3, 2013, the day of the coup, the military regime under Sisi's leadership has murdered well over 3,000 people. Currently there are more than 21,000 political prisoners that are being held with and without charges, and the torture of detainees is rampant in Egyptian prisons.
In November 2013, Egypt issued a new law that all but bans any and all protests. On April 28, 2014, the Court of Urgent Affairs banned the April 6th Movement -- a movement that played an instrumental role in the January 25th revolution and the June 30th protests against President Muhammad Morsi. But after the April 6th Movement became critical of the military's repressive measures, the Movement was accused of "espionage," "defaming Egypt," and of undermining state institutions. Many of its members who played such an active role in bringing down Mubarak and in criticizing Morsi find themselves in prison on trumped up charges. In January 2014, American University of Cairo professor and former parliamentarian, Amr Hamzawy, was charged with "insulting the judiciary" because of a Twitter post criticizing a judicial ruling that closed down three nonprofit educational organizations that promote democracy. Most recently, Bassem Sabry, who is well known for his blog Muwatin 'Arabi (Arab Citizen), died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 31 -- security forces claim that he "accidentally fell from his balcony."
In short, the Egyptian Military and the Judiciary have curtailed, suppressed, and eliminated all revolutionary groups, persons, activists, and intellectuals. They have killed, imprisoned, or charged any person who has opposed Sisi's regime.
It is a foregone conclusion that Sisi will become Egypt's next unfreely and falsely elected president in make-believe elections not unlike the electoral vote that ratified the post-coup constitution with a fictitious 99 percent of the vote. I am also sure that regardless of how atrocious and deeply despotic the processes that will lead to his presidency, none of the Western governments will let something like moral principles get in the way of a chummy relationship with someone who is as thuggish, brutal, and despotic as Sisi. Indeed, Sisi reminds me a great deal of another best buddy of ours who started believing the propaganda he dished out to his people, and dared to exercise a measure of criminality, impacting our interests, without our specific authorization or consent. I am talking about Saddam Hussein, of course.
Despite all the abuses and atrocities committed by the Sisi Administration last week, the White House stated that they would begin shipping Apache helicopters to Egypt and start processing the release of $650 million in aid to Egypt. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, who leads the legislative panel that appropriates foreign aid, blocked the next batch of shipments of military aid for now. But Nabil Fahmy's recent visit to the United States gives every indication that full aid will be restored and relations will be normalized with Sisi's government. It ought not be forgotten that Fahmy was Mubarak's ambassador to the United States for nearly a decade, and that he is among the chief architects of Egypt's foreign policy, which to say the least, is sickly, dependent, and corrupt to the core. Fahmy was also among the main conspirators preparing Mubarak's insatiably greedy son to inherit the presidency before the January 25th revolution.
Unfortunately, those who understand the politics of the region could not have been very surprised by the White House's announcement. And regardless of its brutality or level of despotism, full aid will be restored in due time to the Egyptian regime.
Chuck Hagel and John Kerry have been sending powerful diplomatic signals underscoring our special relationship with Sisi and Fahmy. Both are trained and minted in the U.S., and as Kerry's recent appearances with Fahmy demonstrated, both Sisi and Fahmy are thought of as America's faithful boys who understand the terms of the special relationship between the two countries. This special relationship that Fahmy and Sisi understand so well is simple enough. They understand that when it comes to human rights violations committed against the faceless and blurred Arab masses, Washington cares only about two things: Israel and oil -- in that order.
Nothing is going to change in the short term -- the same debauched and distorted logic will continue to reign supreme in the Middle East where we condemn the brutality of regimes that we support and defend; and we celebrate democracy, but quickly betray it when it yields results we do not like.
What is perplexing, however, is the extent to which otherwise rational and reasonable people are sustaining and perpetuating a dynamic in Egypt that in so many ways is emblematic of deep-seated cyclical, and even archetypal processes that invariably keep the region doomed to go from one disaster to another.
The Egyptian military and wealthy Arab governments conspired with our blessings to restore the status quo of the Mubarak era. After all the lives lost and sacrifices made, and hopes and aspirations, everything that led to the revolution in Egypt in the first place remains as is. The military owns approximately 40 percent of the Egyptian economy. In a country of dire poverty and starvation, Egypt has the highest number of billionaires in the Middle East -- second only to Saudi Arabia. Yet 1 percent of the population owns 90 percent of the Egyptian economy. The brutality of the security forces, which played a huge role in igniting the revolution, remains the same if not much worse. Corruption and monopolization of economic opportunities and access to capital remains the same. The few obscenely rich families that supported Mubarak's regime now support Sisi, and these are the families that own and control virtually all od the media outlets, telecommunications, construction, and transportation industries. Even more, Sisi is working hard to reclaim Egypt's position as the playground bordello for indulgent sojourners from the Gulf countries.
The question that every person of conscience should ask is, why are so many Arab militaries convinced that they have an obligation to save their countries from the clutches of the Islamists? The patriarchal logic of an elite intelligentsia saving the natives from themselves is deeply rooted in the Middle East.
This is the ideology that guided colonialism -- the so-called, white man's burden, but the seed of this ideology was planted in the local soil, and it has held sway ever since. In the 1920s, when Ataturk overthrew the Caliphate and employed a totalitarian system to liberate Turkey of its traditionalism, a paradox was born. The principles of democracy and liberalism are invoked to force the natives out of their despotism and illiberalism. The logic of this works something like the treatment of cancer -- you poison the body in hope of saving it.
In order to justify the magnitude of violence necessary to uphold persistent contradictions -- to speak of freedom, liberty, and self-determination, but to indulge in paternalism, despotism, force, and coercion -- it is absolutely necessary first to control and dominate memory. A people in control of their memory cannot be easily dominated, and so the patriarchal project is premised on writing on a clean slate of memory. At the same time, one cannot accomplish the dehumanization and demonization necessary to destroy people in the name of progress without first wiping out their memory as human beings.
A mode of uncivic or even barbaric engagement was born around 100 years ago, and it persists. This engagement is not about modernity but about the instrumentality or mechanics of achieving modernization through force and coercion. The instrumentalities of this coercive process is made of a tri-part alliance:
1. A Westernized intelligentsia that deconstructs tradition in the name of originality and innovation, but that is entirely imitative and dependent on the social and political thought of their former colonizers. This intelligentsia condemns the past in the name of progress, but is thoroughly unoriginal and uncreative in dealing with its own native memory.
2. A nationalistic military that takes great pride in the idea of being the guardians of independence and self-determination but that is fundamentally unproductive and thoroughly dependent. Although the military creed of these national armies is rooted in the idea of the protectors of independence, there is nothing remotely independent about these militaries. Their armaments, structures, and strategic training are derivative and imitative.
3. A legal system that is culturally rooted in the adopted memories of the colonizer, and that is largely divorced from its own native customs of negotiating justice. For the most part, these legal systems are wholesale transplants that function within a sociology and anthropology of law that is not their own.
This unholy trinity, consisting of the military in alliance with a Westernized intelligentsia and a transplanted legal system, repeatedly closes ranks to maintain dominance over a native population in the name of independence and progress. The real irony is that there is a quintessential incoherence to this trinitarian alliance. They condemn tradition, history, and memory in the name of the progressive and innovative imperative, but for the past hundred years, their originality has consisted of thinly veiled acts of intellectual copying and often plagiarism from Western minds and the transposing and transplanting of these upon the Muslim native context. Even more, the same tri-part alliance has repeatedly closed ranks to prevent Islamists from coming to power. But as so many historical examples since the 1920s illustrate, this is most often accomplished at a very high cost of violence and shocking brutality.
The same dynamic that we witness in Egypt today has been a staple of the politics of the region for nearly a century. Since then the military, aided by a secularized intelligentsia and judiciary, has been repressing Islamists in the name of modernity (hadatha) and in the name of suppressing backwardness (raj'iyya). The reality is that this pompously self-indulgent tri-part alliance is thoroughly reactive, and unoriginal. So even the epistemological and conceptual categories by which they perceive and analyze their own traditions are uncritically inherited from the lexicon of Western discourses. Terms such as Islamic fundamentalism (al-usuliyya al-Islamiyya), Jihadi Islam (al-Islam al-Jihadi), Islamic extremism (al-tatarruf al-Islami), Islamic fascism (al-fashiyya al-Islamiyya), or Islamic liberalism (al-libraliyya al-Islamiyya) are invented in West and very often incoherently imported and deployed in Muslim discourses about the Self -- very often with polarizing and obfuscating consequences.
Yet it is these obfuscations and paradoxes that allow the unholy trinity to repress Islamists in the name of civility (al-madaniyya) and modernity (hadatha) while being thoroughly tribal and feudalistic in the way it understands the relationship between loyalty and rights. This unholy trinity is unrelenting in debunking Islamists for being supremacists, but they are no less elitist -- their consciousness is deeply infected by hierarchical structuralism of the gentlemen (bahawat and bashawat) versus the savages (awbash) -- the masters (asyad) versus the slaves ('abid). It is incoherent obfuscations that enable this tri-part alliance to destroy democratic processes in the hope of achieving democracy; to violate human rights in the name of a civilized humanity; and as the guardians of liberal values to oppress, and exterminate the possibility of volition and choice. Ultimately, they project the attitudinal legacy of the colonizing liberator who, in the name of lofty principles such as democracy and liberty, can brutalize the diseased native in order to exorcize him from his own demons.
The atrocious superficiality and futility of this dynamic should have become apparent a long time ago, and the polarization between self-righteous, obstinate secularists and Islamicists should have evolved into a homegrown negotiated creative solution. Sadly, this polarization is destined to persist as long as we continue to have two competing opposites: one that believes that it has the enlightenments of reason on its side, and the other that believes that it is empowered by the infallible guidance of the Divine.
One thing is undeniable: there is an indefatigable cycle of degradation and deterioration. Over the past hundred years, the process of polarized dehumanization, distrust, and betrayal has resulted in a spiraling deprecation of cultural and social values in Muslim countries. When Ataturk needed guidance on the reconstitution of Turkish cultural institutions, reportedly, Ataturk hired the American philosopher John Dewey. Those that have been observing the Sisi regime's discourses on Islamists would suspect that he retained FOX news and its Islamophobic pundits as his advisors.