Members of the Republican Guards stand in line at a barricade blocking protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi near a Republican Guards headquarters in Cairo, July 9, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
It’s looking more and more like the “popular uprising” that demanded the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in Egypt was ginned up by Egypt’s establishment, including the military.
That’s not too surprising, but it does mean that the fractious civilian, anti-Islamist movement—including quarreling secular forces, liberals, youth and women—had better unite quickly to demand that the military step back from power.
Easier said than done. Already, many opposition leaders, especially the youth, are being squeezed out of the circles of power that are planning Egypt’s next phase:
The young activists behind the protests that led to last week’s military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi fear they once again may be overshadowed by other political forces as Egypt stitches together a coalition government ahead of new elections.… They may now find—as they did in 2011—that the youth’s street power can’t easily be turned into political capital.
Let’s start with the revelations in today’s New York Times that the movement that called for Morsi’s ouster, Tamarod (“Rebellion”), was secretly backed by an Egyptian billionaire, and that the fuel shortages and rolling blackouts that did much to spark the mass demonstrations were phony. As the Times notes, those shortages and blackouts mysteriously disappeared once Morsi was out:
Working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment, some of them close to Mr. Mubarak and the country’s top generals, also helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership, including Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire and an outspoken foe of the Brotherhood; Tahani El-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the ruling generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal adviser to Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, who lost the presidential race to Mr. Morsi.
Sawiris openly admitted his role:
Mr. Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a titan of the old establishment, said Wednesday that he had supported an upstart group called “tamarrod,” Arabic for “rebellion,” that led a petition drive seeking Mr. Morsi’s ouster. He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through his popular television network and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper. He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network.
“Tamarrod did not even know it was me!” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”
To be sure, even the support of a billionaire can’t mobilize hunreds of the thousands of people, but it seems undeniable now that the masses were spurred into the streets in part by fake shortages, manipulated by wealthy, Mubarak-era black marketeers:
The streets seethe with protests and government ministers are on the run or in jail, but since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.
Worse, it seems as if the military is preparing the groundwork for a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Already, they’ve arrested many top leaders of the Brotherhood, but Egyptians are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Another New York Times article outlines the possibility that the military might issue a blanket ban on the Brotherhood, fed by charges that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing for a violent insurrection:
The new military-led government accused Mohamed Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday of a campaign to incite violence against their foes before and after his ouster as president, offering a new explanation for the week-old takeover and hinting that the group might be banned once again.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Chuck Hagel, the US secretary of defense, is the point person in dealing with the Egyptian military:
Since Egypt’s military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi last week, the job of trying to coax the Egyptian military to restore order and democracy in ways that satisfy Washington’s standards has largely fallen to newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
But Hagel has little leverage to work with, and the Journal adds that before the coup last week the Pentagon specifically urged Egypt’s generals to avoid a takeover:
But the current crisis has exposed the limits of the military relationship. The army overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected president despite US objections, which were conveyed privately by Mr. Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US officials said.
Hagel’s efforts won’t be made easier if Hagel’s Pentagon goes ahead and delivers fighter jets to Egypt, as seems likely:
The US is moving ahead with plans to deliver four F-16s to Egypt despite the ongoing debate about the military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi and whether it legally constitutes a coup that could shut off aid to the country.
Defense officials say senior administration leaders discussed the delivery and decided to let it continue.
The Los Angeles Times quotes one of the young activists thus:
“I can’t say the youth have been marginalized yet. It will become clearer in the next few weeks and months,” said Shady Ghazali Harb, a youth leader. “The youth know they must now be involved deeply in political work. They have gotten rid of the true danger—the Muslim Brotherhood—and now they must be a part of what happens next.”
But the generals are flush, since Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have agreed to give or loan Egypt $12 billion. According to Bloomberg:
Kuwait will deposit $2 billion with the Egyptian central bank, give a $1 billion grant and offer $1 billion worth of oil and oil products, state-run Kuna said in a text message today. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. pledged $5 billion and $3 billion respectively yesterday.
The money from the Gulf Arab kleptocracies means that Egypt doesn’t have to worry if the United States cuts off aid.
For more on the situation in Egypt, read Sharif Kouddous’s latest dispatch.