The Spreading Wings of Islamophobia in Egypt

25 Aug

The Orwellian features of the military takeover in Egypt have received attention, although the use of language to evade unwanted truth continues because incentives to do so persist. For this reason, Washington has remained unwilling to call what happened in Egypt on July 3rd as a coup, despite its unmistakable character. The nature of Egypt’s coup has daily become more and more evident. It is now clear that not only was the takeover properly described as coup, but it has turned out to be a particularly bloody coup that is now being reinforced by a total lockdown of opposition forces and democratic options, including even dissenting opinions.

It is true that the disgraced members of el-Sisi’s façade of civilian leadership, its so-called ‘interim government,’ continue to tell a compliant media in Cairo about intentions to restore democracy, revert to the rule of law, end the state of emergency, and carry forward the spirit of Tahrir Square in 2011. They even have the audacity to invoke their allegiance to the overthrow of Mubarak as ‘our glorious revolution,’ historicizing that memorable occasion when the whole world was inspired by this remarkable scene of Egyptian unity and fearlessness. They shamelessly make such a claim at the very moment when their own movement is extinguishing the earlier quest for a just society by this newly empowered and ruthless police and security establishment. The latest reports from Egypt suggest an atmosphere in which state terror prevails without accountability and with a writ so large as to reach even those anti-Morsi activists who were in the street on June 30th but now have the temerity to question the release from prison of Mubarak. Nothing more establishes the hypocrisy of the new Egyptian leadership than to insist on their continuity with the earlier democratic movement and their support for Mubarak’s release from prison and accountability.

Of all the Orwellian ironies is this double movement that deserves our contempt: public reassurances about fidelity to the January 25th Revolution of 2011 while arranging the official rehabilitation of Hosni Mubarak!

But less noticed, but at least as insidious, is resurgent Islamophobia on the part of the el-Sisa junta that runs the country with an unconcealed iron fist. Revealingly, Western media seems to avert their eyes when reporting on the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its supporters. Now according to the most recent reports the non-religious leaders of striking workers or independent journalists are being killed or criminalized if they offer even the mildest criticisms of the harsh oppressiveness that prevails in Egypt these days, and the justifications offered are that they are engaged in ‘Islamic’ politics. [See David D. Kirkpatrick, “Egypt Widens Its Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist,’” New York Times, Aug. 25, 2013] In the security codes operative these days in Egypt, ‘Islamist’ is increasingly being used as a synonym for ‘terrorist,’ and neither is seen as entitled to the protection of law nor even treatment as a human being. It is hard to grasp this kind of extreme Islamophobia in a country that is itself overwhelmingly Muslim, and in which even its military leadership affirms its private adherence to Islam. Such an inner/outer confusion is more distressing even than the Orwellian manipulations of our feelings by Inversions of language: calling the peaceful demonstrator as ‘a terrorist’ and treating the terrorist acting on behalf of the state as a bastion of public order. Why? This inner/outer demonization of Islamists gives a sanctuary to the virus of genocide. We urgently need further insight into this disturbing discovery that the worst forms of Islamophobia seem currently emergent within the Muslim heartland.

There are other features of Egyptian developments that point in the same direction. None more illuminating than the failure of the Western media to observe that the new rulers of Egypt shockingly turned their back on the most elemental human entitlements of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose membership and sympathies extends to at least 25% of the country. Recall how strident and universally endorsed was the external Western criticism of Morsi for his failure to establish a more inclusive form of democratic governance during his time as president. Then compare with the deafening silence about the undisguised embrace of violent exclusiveness by the el-Sisi cabal. Somehow the repression of Muslims, even if taking the form of massacres, guilt by identity, and group criminalization, is reported upon critically as an overreaching by the government seeking in difficult circumstances to establish public order. The repressive policies and practices of the el-Sisi leadership are rarely identified, even tentatively, as a genocidal undertaking where affiliations with the most popular and democratically most legitimate political organization in the country is by fiat of the state declared an outlaw organization whose membership become fair game. Is inclusiveness only expected when the government is in the hands of an elected Muslim-oriented leadership? Is exclusiveness overlooked when the government moves against an alleged Islamist movement? What, we might ask, is the el-Sisi concept of inclusiveness? At present, the only plausible answer is ‘my way or the highway.’

14 Responses to “The Spreading Wings of Islamophobia in Egypt”

  1. Garrett August 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    Dr. Falk, I have a question regarding sources that you aquired when you wrote your book: Crimes of War: A Legal, Political-Documentary, and Psychological Inquiry Into the Responsibility of Leaders. My uncle is mentioned in your book. If you wouldn’t mind I would like to email you with the particulars. Please provide an email if this is ok.

    Thank you,

    • Richard Falk August 26, 2013 at 12:48 am #

      Yes, I would be happy to hear from you. My email is Best wishes.

      • Garrett August 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

        I apologize, I don’t follow. Your email is best wishes? Do you have a yahoo or gmail?

      • Kata Fisher August 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

        Garrett: “seek and find” 🙂

      • Garrett August 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

        HAHA! I think I hovered over his picture like 10 times before it gave me a profile option. Time to upgrade my internet speed!

  2. kairossouthernafrica August 26, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Reblogged this on Kairos Southern Africa.

  3. Gene Schulman August 26, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Richard, another expert parsing of the situation in Egypt. I would redact only the last phrase of your essay to read “The US way or the highway.” Now that Egypt is back under control, we can move on to Syria.

    • Richard Falk August 26, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      I am still not convinced that the U.S. was the prime or efficient cause of what took place in Egypt, and nor are most Egyptians, including those who have taken over the state. The old order was never displaced, and what we have been witnessing, I believe, is a bloody counter-revolution that has been staged despite the absence of a revolution.

      • Dan Huck August 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

        Dear Richard,

        Thank you for your kind forbearance in considering some viewpoints which certainly don’t receive any welcome at all on most media these days. One widely spoken of issue in our Greater Media relates to the issue of Legitimacy, and what they consider Morsi’s election to have established, which the MB of course has promulgated,, to be the ‘be all, and end all’. End of discussion, so to speak.

        In this regard, an article Ambassador and Senior Fellow Frederic C. Hof of the Atlantic Council blogged, not as an official position of the Council, but his own perspective, deserves wider consideration.

        The link to the article somehow is not functioning so I am taking the liberty of including it in this post for your consideration.

        Atlantic Council senior analyst, US Ambassador, Frederick Hof, may have been indirectly responsible for the Tamarod Movement indirectly, absolutely in tune spiritually with who they are, and what they want, with following article:

        APRIL 15, 2013
        Consent of the Governed: A New Middle East Political Order?

        Despite the grim realities we face on so many fronts in the Middle East today, there is reason to be optimistic about the long-term political trajectory of the Arab world. Arabs—especially young Arabs—are finally beginning to answer, on their own and from the ground up, the key question of the past century: what will follow the Ottoman system as the true source of political legitimacy? The emerging answer is that for governments to be legitimate, they must ultimately derive their powers from the consent of the governed. This, in my view, is the meaning of the Arab Spring.

        Since the downfall of the four hundred-year empire only ninety years ago, Arabs have struggled to find the location of the stabilizing political legitimacy that once resided in the system of the Sultan-Caliph. Legitimacy has nothing to do with whether people approve or disapprove of the performance of a particular leader or government. It has everything to do with the right of a government to govern, whether it does so well or poorly. It is the system that is important; not the person. We in the West once thought that kings derived their legitimacy from a system reflecting the will of God: the so-called divine right of kings. That right applied equally to the Emperor Charlemagne and the unfortunate King Richard III, recently unearthed from beneath an English parking lot. All Richard proved was that individual actors can be interchangeable within an otherwise legitimate system: a system accepted by nearly all.

        During the Middle East’s colonial mandate period there were good and bad high commissioners. They all exercised power, but all lacked legitimacy. During the first two decades of the independence era politicians in Arab countries went to extraordinary lengths to try to recreate the legitimacy that once resided in Topkapi. Arab nationalism seemed for a while to be the answer when a skilled political operator like Gamal Abdel Nasser was at the height of his powers. Post-1967 marked a transition to state nationalism: Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and even Palestinian. Yet the search for legitimacy was still largely in the hands of ambitious men seeking to capture for themselves what the sultan once enjoyed at the head of a system regarded by its subjects as legitimate.

        The Arab Spring, with the youth of the Arab world in the lead, tables a new proposition entirely: that the powers of government derive not from on high, but from the consent of the governed below. While some may see political Islam as the next possible solution to the post-Ottoman political legitimacy puzzle, it may be that this trend is more of a popular reaction to economic desperation and political caprice than a positive source of political legitimacy. Those who govern today or tomorrow in the name of Islam will either respect the dignity of their constituents and produce the economic opportunity so desperately needed, or find themselves facing the same failure and dismissal as their more secular-minded predecessors. The twenty-first century universal bottom line is that political legitimacy cannot exist without governmental powers somehow derived from the consent of the governed: consent based on rights and expressed regularly and freely.

        Each Arab state will find its own way at its own pace to full systemic legitimacy. North American, European, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Indian, or Australian democracies need not be exact models. Yet ways should be found over time to embed and protect legitimacy in citizenship, rule of law, accountability, and pluralism. While an absolutist—whether a monarch or a dictator—may be considered personally legitimate by the people in the country where he rules, meaning that nearly everyone in that country concedes his law-based right to rule, the absence of these embedded and protective features makes it possible for legitimacy to evaporate suddenly and even violently under pressure. Prior to mid-March 2011 some could argue that virtually all Syrians acknowledged President Bashar al-Assad’s right to rule, even though there were no illusions about the quality of government. It took only a handful of gross, unforced mistakes by the regime to make its own legitimacy disappear and render the country ungovernable. The same potential fate awaits any system not firmly rooted in law, with a government deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.

        It is possible, therefore, to be optimistic about the long-term implications of the Arab Spring. For one thing, the old methods of autocratic rule are not sustainable in the eyes of Arab youth and cannot successfully address the pressures, demands, and needs of twenty-first century Middle Eastern and North African countries. Moreover, by taking the question of what follows the Ottoman Empire into their own hands, Arabs may well be setting the stage for a sustained period of political stability and economic prosperity. But if the horizon looks promising, the boiling seas directly to our front threaten to swamp the Arab world.

        The crisis in Syria has managed to engulf all of its neighbors. For Syria to achieve stability and governmental legitimacy, the kind of complete political transition called for by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043 must begin sooner rather than later. US President Barack Obama has risked infuriating the Syrian opposition by adhering to the June 2012 Geneva agreement formula for a negotiated settlement and by declining to provide the opposition with arms. He may not be able to sustain this policy for long. In retrospect it would have been wise for the Assad regime to accept the Geneva formula when it was created, leaving others with the problem of delivering a coherent, representative opposition team to the table. In retrospect it would have been wise for the Assad regime to treat protesters humanely at the very beginning. It may be too late for a negotiated outcome in Syria, and regardless of how long this regime remains on the scene, no one—not even its strongest supporters—can imagine it ever again ruling with anything resembling legitimacy. When UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi observed that the Syrian people are saying that “a family ruling for forty years is a little bit too long,” he was talking about legitimacy that has disappeared.

        Observers trying to gauge the meaning of all of these developments, positive and negative, wonder if there is a new balance of power emerging in the region. Will sectarianism come to dominate as it did during the four hundred-year empire? Will Iran’s penetration of the Arab world be sustained? Will the United States try to distance itself from the region’s conflicts and focus instead on East Asia and the Pacific? Although the future cannot be predicted, if the Arab Spring means anything at all, it means that power is gradually devolving into the hands of the previously powerless. It means that the days of unchallenged governmental caprice and impunity—regardless of the external alliances of that government—are ending. People can endure a great deal from their governors, even economic hardship compounded by incompetence and corruption. What they seem no longer willing to endure are systematic assaults on their dignity. What they are no longer willing to endure is the contempt of their leaders. If we are to look for an emerging power in the Arab world, perhaps one should look to Arab men and Arab women: empowered citizens, subjects no more, and the ultimate sources of political legitimacy in the wake of the Ottoman Empire.

        *This Viewpoint is based on the author’s remarks at the 3rd Regional Conference of the Lebanese Armed Forces Research & Strategic Studies Center (LAF –RSSC) on April 11.

        Frederic C. Hof is a senior fellow of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and the former special advisor for transition in Syria at the US Department of State. Photo credit.

        Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East Frederic C. Hof

    • Kata Fisher August 27, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      I have reflections to the post of Dan Huk:

      When comes to the Muslim world legitimate power is in those who are under prophetic anointing among them.

      There must be some type of rule eclassical vote/agreement before stewardship of people vote can take place. This is simply so because spiritual/eclassical rule is overlapping with civil/secular rule—this alone is causing disorder. These can and should overlap, but they should not interfere to violate each other. This is way: It limits/annuls the core liberty/legitimacy of the people and spiritual leaders that are effected, regardless in which governing system this takes place.

      In the lands of conflict, spiritual leaders are responsible to mediate to limit the consequences of confusions, conflicts, wars—or submit the people to valid diplomacy. (We hear nothing from leaders that are spiritual). There is nothing from spiritual leaders to be heard. We only hear from “different groups” that are in reality not in any spiritual authority over the people, so to direct people in a valid way toward a sustainable governing.

      Those groups want something, but Muslim believers do not take part in those wants. I hope that these groups are not spoke people for the leaders that are spiritual, so to direct the people. The more of groups they have the less effective/valid spiritual leaders of Islam will be.

      They are at loss of people to secular ways (due ineffective spiritual stewardship…unnecessary groups). At some point in time they will appear as spiritually excommunicated Christianity in its appearance in this point in time. They have more and more groups-radical those are just adding on, and they also have people that are not keeping up with traditional way of Faith, and are falling off. (This is exactly same pattern what Christianity excommunicated went through, as Church valid believers are scarce now).

      I do not see that the groups that are starting out are just groups, but rater tribal splits in Islam Faith.

      I will say that Muslim spiritual leaders will be responsible to perform exorcism on those groups that are bewitched due to mishandling of Secret texts of Quran, whenever they can. (They need a serious ministry that is spiritually effective). Those groups should be limited, not only due to conflict with spiritual excommunicated Christianity, but also because of well-being of Islam, as Faith. It has a diversifying effect to Islam…more and more splits.

      I will suggest that people are on the streets in confusion—either of eclassical or secular cause…they are mismanaging the direction of the people, and these as we know are intentional for the groups and individuals. There must be intentions of spiritual leaders to neutralize that effect and to act as a counter-effect, limiting the worse. The Spiritual authority should be able to understand their liberty/legitimate power, and then acknowledge that for thir people, as well.

      Whatever they want as people of Faith: Sharia Law—or democracy under international Law—they should do. I see no difference between any types of governments when lawless to the standards of Law’s International. When they are in that Law guideline they will do that which is right, in overall.

      I see no benefits of negotiations with different groups simply because they lack spiritual authority over Muslim believers, there is nothing that I hold personally against them as groups radical-or not radical, I only look at spiritual realities. (I do not believe in their works, but I have nothing against them personally). There are severe and many splits in Islam and it are looking more and more as Christianity that is much diversified and invalid, spiritually excommunicated. I would say that Muslims will have better outcomes spiritualy if they appoint eclassical oversee for themselves and not exactly have a group as Muslim Brotherhood–or they can do something out of that, develop further.

      They need a spiritually corporate legitimacy so that they can sustain over the future, as entire body of believers. Groups are not effective, and are not valid in spiritual service and oversee, as they have no spiritual authority over Muslim believers, as corporate Faith.

      By the Gift of God’s Spirit

  4. jg September 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    I hope you are well. I missed a number of your posts, and will have to print them to read them.

    I do not know what to think about U.S. military aid to Egypt, and should it be stopped.
    If you have a moment to share a response, I would appreciate it. This may have been covered in one of your earlier posts. if so, I apologize.
    Many thanks for sharing your essays and broad insights, which take considerable time, effort and dedication.

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