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Sunday, December 05, 2021

It’s not quite 1979

Those fearful of an Islamist takeover in Egypt are reading the wrong country.

Written by Manvendra Singh |
February 4, 2011 3:02:05 am

The silence of Ayman al-Zawahiri is the most resounding reverberation from the seething streets of Cairo. He is,after all,Egypt’s most famous Islamist and the world’s second-most wanted man. That he has not sent a message yet is the most telling sign of the change that is not happening in Egypt. In most circumstances he would be the first off the block to be heard,on any issue that incites the brotherhood. But in this case,the Brotherhood is not to the fore — in every sense of the word.

There have been fears,much voiced,that the rage on the Arab street would lead to an Islamist takeover of societies that have remained largely aligned with the West,and hence,are allies. Those fears of sectarianism triumphing on the streets are based on the experience of Iran vis-à-vis the West. There is an assumption that ultimately the street will be taken over by the Islamic radical. This is far from the case,for various reasons.

It is not known yet whether the Egyptian revolt will lead to regime change,however much the world may want it to happen now. That it is a people’s expression of their angst is well known. That it predates the Tunisian uprising is,however,not so well known. Even before the hapless Mohammed Bouazizi burnt himself into Arab posterity,there were already rumblings on the Egyptian street about match-fixing in the upcoming elections. President Hosni Mubarak was blatantly manoeuvring his son into position,which had raised the ire enough on the street to make news. But it did not make news and,therefore,the West and its statement-a-minute spokespersons did not think it fit to comment then. As ample a reflection of rights and wrongs,of the preaching and practice of morality,as there can ever be.

There is fear and loathing on the Arab street on any given day. This too is well-known. This is a world in which all sorts of dodgy regimes keep their populations under a watch,all of the time. The infamous mukhabarat,or secret service,is not that secretive about its activities,and is all-pervasive in Arab countries. Egypt is no exception. Over the decades it has fed a deep dislike of the state,and a deep envy of those societies that do not live under such circumstances. They feel the world has passed them by,and that their predicament does not let them partake in awesome global changes. A number of Arab societies live the duality of global economic integration and social and political isolation. This has created a schizoid relationship with the West and its friend,the Arab State.

Not a surprise then that it would come to the fore someday. Each Arab street agitating today has its own peculiar dynamics,and its own particular slogans. But there is a common goal: of liberation from state practices that are designed to make the street servile.

Ignition in each case has been different,so to assume that this internal combustion will result in an Islamist takeover is misplaced. There is no Ali Shari’ati in the Arab world. Shari’ati was the ideologue of the 1979 Iranian Revolution,the intellectual catalyst for the students who made the Shah flee (ironically to Egypt first) — not the Ayatollahs who entered the country later and hijacked the revolution. The Iranian leadership denies him the status that is due to him,as do the international analysts probing every sneeze in this part of the world. And that probe will reveal the complete absence of an Arab Shari’ati.

The one who would have liked to don that mantle now lives in some hideout in Pakistan,separated from reality by his proximity to jihadists eagerly knocking at the gates of heaven. Ayman al-Zawahiri is the epitome of all that the Egyptian state despises. The ideologue of death and destruction was once at the forefront of an Islamic uprising against the Egyptian state. Scores died,Egyptian and foreign tourists. Their tactics were of the terrorist — and the state responded brutally.

This cycle of murder caused the Egyptian people’s fatigue,expressed in the decimation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a violent opposition to the state. It exists,but now is a shadow of its sinister self. Tamed by the horrors inflicted by the state,the Ikhwan is a much-softened organisation.

It’s a similar tale across the Arab world. While in Syria it was massacred in Hama,it was neutered by politics in Jordan,and devastated in Egypt. So it’s not a change of spots — but simply a consequence of people having tired of that near civil war-like situation. There is also an element of guilt and fatigue over September 11.

The people of Egypt would not want another round of those days of sanctified chaos. That,in fact,is the tactic that Hosni Mubarak is using today. It is often overlooked,but Mubarak is an air force officer,and as a young pilot was bloodied in battle during the civil war — in Yemen! Yes,Yemen. He was there on pan-Arab duties,and had no hesitation in pulling the trigger on fellow Arabs. That bit of his early life should give an insight into his mind and tactics now. That he will not go right now is plain to the eye.

That he will go sooner rather than later is also a possibility. But that departure will be on his,and the regime’s,terms and not of those on the streets. Or of those of a US administration suddenly indignant by the absence of liberty and freedom in Egypt.

The writer was a BJP MP in the 14th Lok Sabha. He is now editor of ‘Defence & Security Alert’,

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