Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The race between Americanization and Islamization | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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These days, Egypt is passing through a state of heated controversy, with regards to the flow of political funding from abroad. A fever has erupted in the shape of a serious crisis in Egypt’s relationship with the United States, unprecedented since the clash between Jamal Abdel Nasser’s regime and America in the 1960’s. The fever has also been aggravated by extremely complicated local disruptions, largely due to the multiplicity of power centers.

Here I will be frank and say that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has initiated this crisis with the United States, because it believes that American civil society organizations – financed by the State Department in Washington – are responsible for inciting Egyptian youths into an uprising against SCAF. These youths have begun to chant the slogan “down with the military”, demanding that power be handed over to whom? No one knows!

I am not against the Egyptian youths and their uprising, but their battle with the military is a big mistake. They were driven towards this as a result of shortcomings in America’s interpretation of the complexities of the current Egyptian scene.

The youths recently won a round against SCAF by mobilizing the street toward a bloody clash with the military, in order to shake its legitimacy and its popular prestige. But SCAF has regained the initiative with its abrasive propaganda campaign against the Egyptian youths. It has been able to cast doubt on their innocence by accusing them of receiving money from American financiers, who are seeking to fan the flames of anarchy in a society that is now longing for calm and peace.

SCAF’s escalation of its confrontation with the revolutionary youths – and with the United States, its use of security bodies to pursue them, and its referral of documents seized against them to the judiciary, have all made it difficult for the military to retreat and to reach a peaceful settlement that safeguards the dignity of all parties implicated in the crisis.

The confrontation with the United States is further complicated as a result of personal interventions by those with vested interests. This in turn has exacerbated the crisis. Faiza Abu Al Naja, the long-time serving Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, is known for her ties with the family of former president Hosni Mubarak, and the veteran [former UN Secretary General] Boutros Boutros-Ghali. There is little doubt that both parties exploited Al Naja’s anger against the United States for channeling financial assistance to the youths and human rights organizations through means other than her ministry. There is no doubt also that a campaign against the United States can provide the Mubarak family with a degree of vengeance and satisfaction in response to America’s participation in bringing about the downfall of the former regime. As for Boutros-Ghali, he also remembers America’s role in blocking the renewal of his term as Secretary General of the United Nations.

SCAF has succeeded in transforming its heated “quarrel” with the United States into a national issue of dignity, humiliated by inadequate foreign aid. The current national uproar with regards to Egypt’s youth and overseas political financing has reached the extent whereby the military has neglected to question religious forces about the sources of their funding, which financed the religious “offensive on the ballot boxes” and helped to promote numerous sheikhs on television.

The Muslim Brotherhood has exonerated itself from overseas political funds. The Brotherhood even abandoned its traditional reserved stance and rode the wave against the United States by threatening to combine cutting off American aid with reconsidering the Camp David Accords with Israel. It is as if the Brotherhood has entered into a race with the United States to buy the Egyptian uprising and the contain it. As for the Salafis, they are also absolved from charges of foreign funding. Instead, they rely on their “businessmen” to collect donations from poor people, low-income government employees, and the unemployed young generation.

Nonetheless, one must admit that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis carried out a successful election offensive, almost miraculous compared to the $400 million which America allegedly reallocated from economic aid to Egypt in order to train the revolutionary youths on the rules of the democratic game. Yet instead of this, the youths have attempted to launch an offensive against Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the government of Kamal Ganzouri.

Furthermore, it must be admitted that the sheikhs and younger members of the religious forces have been more successful than the revolutionary youths in actually applying American principles. The religious forces adapted political Islam to coexist with democracy and the multiparty system, after it became apparent that American NGO’s had trained certain [Islamist groups] side by side with the revolutionary youths. The proof is that the sheikhs of American democracy have now come to sit on the chairs of power in Morocco and Tunisia, and perhaps tomorrow in Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

Here I return to the history of American aid to point out that it has always been a strong arm of American foreign policy since World War II. The success of the Marshall Plan (1947) was exemplary in resuscitating a downtrodden Europe emerging from a destructive war. Through this plan, the United States saved the capitalist democracy before waging an ideological cold war over the next 40 years.

The American NGOs trained an entire generation of political and youth elite in Germany and Japan on the art and methods of the democratic game. Why did the United States succeed there but fail in the Arab world? Here we must evaluate ourselves and admit that the German and Japanese elite were part of advanced societies, qualified in both culture and awareness, and socially disciplined, whilst the Arab society “loves chaos”, to use the expression of an Egyptian commentator in Al-Ahram newspaper.

For my part, I would add that our society is still tribal, with a sectarian epidemic coursing through it that overpowers national affiliation. National affiliation is necessary in order to accept the values of modernism led by democracy and peaceful struggle to achieve social justice.

In an awakening of conscience, after the death of 200,000 Japanese as the result of the American atomic bomb, President Harry Truman adopted the principle of human rights and the values of freedom and democracy, as part of the principles for social aid (Point Four). But these “virtues” were soon distorted by the Cold War. Security bodies manipulated them to serve totalitarian regimes, even in the states benefiting from American aid.

In the Arab world, the United States dismantled the old imperialism (British, French), but it contributed to the ideological coups that had inherited Abdel Nasser’s slogans at the beginning of the 1970s (in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, and Libya). Then America used political funds to harness jihadist Islam in Afghanistan.

Anwar Sadat paid his life as a price for unleashing the religious forces, and for his inability to understand the difference between a conflict of destiny and a political conflict, when it came to Zionism. Mubarak made peace with the Arabs and preserved the relationship with the United States, yet this did not stop the Clinton and Bush Administrations from curtailing aid to Egypt from $2.1 billion to $1.6 billion, of which $1.3 billion was allocated to military aid. At the same time, aid to Israel was not greatly affected ($3 billion). In addition, there was a further guarantee from the Bush (senior) Administration to provide bank loans to Israel to the value of $10 billion, in order to resettle Russian Jews.

The American media revolution greatly contributed to breaking the Arab inertia. Social media websites mobilized millions to come to Tahrir Square. But President Obama’s United States hastened to prevent the uprisings from turning into full-scale revolutions by adopting the trend towards political Islam once again, then curbing this trend by placing it under the supervision of the military establishment.

Is there a solution or a settlement to this Egyptian/American “quarrel”? I believe that the solution lies in a greater Arab understanding of the mechanics of NGO services, instead of the “personality cult” culture (the crass speeches of Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad are part of the core of the Iraqi and Syrian educational syllabus). In return, America must display a greater understanding of the world, an understanding of its cultures, its traditions, its policies, its aspirations and its pains. This must come without haughtiness, without arrogance, and without brandishing a thick stick.