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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/21/15

Egypt's Destiny Between Four Political Forces and Four Dates

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Message Esam Al-Amin

Reprinted from Counterpunch

The Dialectics Between Revolution and Counter-revolution

Israel Watches Egypt Warily

Husam Al Sane'i, Tayseer Abu Sneima, and Ahmed Al Jaa'bari were three Palestinians from Gaza killed or assassinated by Israel between 2008 and 2012. The first was killed during Israel's war on Gaza in late 2008, while the second was assassinated in 2009 after being accused of taking part in the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was held by Hamas for over five years until Israel agreed to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in October 2011. The third was a senior commander in the military wing of Hamas and his assassination in 2012 ignited the war between the two arch-enemies in November of that year. Another Palestinian by the name of Hasan Salamah was sentenced in 1996 by Israel to 48 life sentences and has been imprisoned ever since, mostly in solitary confinement.

What these four Palestinians share in common is that they were sentenced to death this week by an Egyptian court on the charge that they helped free hundreds of people, including ousted President Mohammad Morsi, in a prison break outside Cairo on January 29, 2011, in the midst of Egypt's popular uprising.

But the death sentences of these and 70 other Palestinians were just the sideshow to the main story, in which the same court sentenced 122 people to death, including Morsi, most of the senior leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the most senior cleric in the Sunni world, academics, activists, and even a young female student for being part of Morsi's presidential team.

This and other trials have been widely condemned around the world. Amnesty International has called the trial a "charade" and "grossly unfair." Consequently Egypt's politicized judiciary has become the laughing stock of the world as it manifestly serves as the convenient tool of repression against the regime opponents ever since the July 2013 coup that ousted Morsi and thwarted Egypt's path towards democracy. It is unlikely that Egypt's judiciary did not know these facts. The judges just do not care as they try to re-impose the state of fear that engulfed Egyptian society before it was decimated with the toppling of Mubarak in February 2011.

There was none other than Gen. Sami Anan who was the Army Chief of Staff at the time who refuted the essence of the fabricated charges when he said that he was unaware of any border breach by Hamas or Hizbollah operatives during these tumultuous days as claimed by government prosecutors in the political trial.

The gross human rights violations by the regime of coup leader Gen. Abdelfattah al-Sisi, have been well documented, including the killing of over 5,000 people, injuring over 2,700, the systematic use of rape, torture, kidnapping, and forced disappearances as instruments to subjugate the Egyptian people (similar to the los desaparecidos that took place against dissidents during the rule of the junta in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s), and the imprisonment of over 41,000 of its opponents. Yet despite the harsh sentences and brutal measures employed over the past two years, the military-backed government and its counter-revolutionary supporters have not been able to hold firm control of the streets or enforce stability. The army has been battling militant groups in Sinai and losing soldiers every week. The security forces have aimlessly been lashing out and cracking down on all opposition groups and activists to the point of exhaustion.

Economically, Egypt is on the verge of collapse despite the infusion of over $50 billion in the past two years, primarily by the coup sponsors, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The country's infrastructure is deteriorating, unemployment exploding, currency collapsing, inflation rising, and the misery index being among the highest in the world. The tourism industry is devastated and the country is virtually bankrupt as its foreign currency reserve is at $20 billion, with a total of only $6B not owned by foreign governments, including $3B in non-convertible gold assets.

Sisi's government was recently forced to borrow $1.5B at the very high interest rate of 6.25 percent, even though the interest rate charged to banks has fluctuated for years between zero and 0.25 percent as set by the Federal Reserve. Every day the country has to borrow internally nearly one billion pounds ($130 million) just to cover its budget deficit, despite the drastic cut of most subsidies. The internal debt has surpassed 2 trillion pounds or $262 billion (96 percent of its GDP), while the external debt has reached $40 billion.

So why is the coup regime intent on following this path of self-destruction? To answer this question one has to understand the make-up of the current political landscape in the country.

Four Political Factions

The recent history of modern Egypt that started with the 1952 bloodless coup was marked by the rise of a state controlled by the army. The first four presidents were military officers (Naguib, Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak.) Between the mid-1950s and 1970, Nasser dominated the scene and embarked on a neo-socialist discourse in order to redraw the political power structure in the country. Old political parties were banned and political life choked, as new political elites were born within an authoritarian state dominated by military officers.

The 1967 defeat at the hands of Israel shook this new reality leading eventually to Sadat's controlled opening that gave rise to plutocracy, a new class of political and economic elites dominated by unrestrained capitalism, corrupt businessmen, and retired military officers and their cronies. When Mubarak took over after Sadat's assassination in 1981, he allowed the army to build its own economic empire and business enterprises in order to finance the lavish styles of its senior officers, ultimately becoming a direct competitor and threat to many businesses and conglomerates dominated by the country's new economic elites. Meanwhile, Mubarak consolidated his power with the latter group especially when his son Gamal started in the late 1990s taking direct control of the state apparatus as he began to prepare himself to become Egypt's next president. But these two factions, the military and the fulool (remnants of Mubarak's regime as they came to be known after the 2011 uprising), were firmly under the grip of Mubarak during his reign, as he knew how to maneuver between them.

Meanwhile, street politics since the 1970s had gradually come under the influence of grassroots movements dominated by Islamist social movements led by the Muslim Brotherhood. But their expanding charitable networks and social work were tolerated by the regime because it supplemented the lack of services the government could not provide to the poor and lower middle class. By the turn of the century, there was a tacit understanding between these three factions. Each was aware of the other two, yet content with its sphere of power and influence: the military with its high social status and economic privileges, the plutocrats with their rising influence and control of state institutions, economy, and carefully managed political life, and the Islamists with their expansion and domination of the social networks, the mosques, and the streets.

With the advent of the satellite television networks and social media a new youth generation emerged that was fed up with the corrupt regime and unsatisfied with the agenda and cautious pragmatism of Islamist groups. These activists started organizing in groups such as the April 6 movement and took initiatives challenging the regime over its economic and social policies. Other independent opposition groups also organized themselves under the umbrella of the Kefaya (Enough) movement.

With each challenge the group became bolder as many traditional opposition parties were either supporting them from behind the scenes or cheering them from the sidelines, including many Islamist movements. In fact, many youth members from the MB quietly joined these activities and some even started their own independent groups and became more vocal and daring. It was the collective efforts of these groups that ultimately sparked the January 25, 2011 popular uprising and toppled Mubarak. Even though the MB played a crucial and decisive role during the momentous days that led to Mubarak's overthrow, its official entry into the revolutionary path against the regime was January 28, three days after the protests began in Tahrir Square.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.
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