MIDDLE EAST: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Muslim Brotherhood to benefit as Egypt descends into chaos
, May 26, 2012
Egyptians are in the unenviable predicament of being about to exchange their six-decade-old authoritarian military dictatorship for a hardline Islamist government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The regime change is unlikely to be smooth, and Egypt faces the prospect of severe and prolonged food shortages if not famine.
The political turmoil last year that the Western media enthusiastically hailed as the “Arab Spring” could become what a growing number of Middle East watchers are fearing could be an Arab Winter.
One well-informed commentator on the Middle East is Col. (ret.) Dr Jacques Neriah, a former foreign policy adviser to Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and deputy head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
In a report he wrote recently, entitled “Are Egypt’s Islamists headed for a collision with the military?”, he made the following pessimistic assessment.
He said: “Economically, Egypt is drifting towards disaster. The Egyptian economy is in a shambles. Tourism is almost non-existent in a country where the livelihood of one out of seven Egyptians is dependent on the tourism sector. Foreign currency reserves are almost depleted and are enough for less than three months of imports.
“Egypt desperately needs a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the Islamists argue that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has no authority to agree to such a loan and that only a new government independent of SCAF control can negotiate such a deal.” (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, April 16, 2012).
From the standpoint of the Islamists — especially the dominant Muslim Brotherhood — the further that conditions deteriorate in Egypt the greater will be their chance of acquiring power. The SCAF will be perceived as having failed to avert disaster, which will mean severe food shortages.
Reuters news agency reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has told the Egyptian government that it will not back an IMF loan “unless the terms are changed or it [SCAF] moves aside and allows a new administration to oversee how the funds are spent” (Reuters, April 8, 2012).
Egypt’s government has been negotiating a $3.2 billion loan with an IMF delegation that recently visited Cairo to help avert a balance-of-payments crisis.
But before the IMF can sign-off on such a deal, the governing SCAF must be able to show it has the country’s various political parties on side, most especially the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won nearly half the seats in Egypt’s new parliament.
According to Muslim Brotherhood leader, Khairat al-Shater, whom SCAF has banned from contesting the presidential elections: “We told them (the government), you have two choices. Either postpone this issue of borrowing and come up with any other way of dealing with it without our approval, or speed up the formation of a government.”
Reuters reported that he fully realised Egypt’s finances were precarious and that “a severe crunch could come by early to mid-May as the end of the fiscal year approached, but that this was the government’s problem to resolve” (Reuters, April 8, 2012).
New York-based commentator David P. Goldman, author of the famous “Spengler” column and of How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too), which was reviewed in News Weekly (October 15, 2011), specialises in analysing the Egyptian economy.
In a recent article, with the punning headline, “The horror and the pita”, he said that the Egyptian national tragedy took “a turn towards farce” on April 27, when Saudi Arabia — which has helped bankroll Egypt for some time, thereby staving off mass hunger — closed its embassy and several consulates across Egypt after they were physically threatened by well-organised demonstrations.
According to an official Saudi statement, the demonstrators had threatened the security and safety of Saudi and Egyptian employees, by shouting hostile slogans and threatening the inviolability of Saudi diplomatic premises.
The demonstrations took place just as Saudi Arabia and several other oil-producing states in the Gulf were moving to finalise an international aid package for Egypt to help forestall a disorderly financial crisis.
Goldman wrote: “With a critical fuel shortage cutting into food supplies and essential services, Egyptians already have a foretaste of chaos. The two-for-a-penny pita, the subsidised flat bread that provides much of the caloric intake for the half of Egypt’s population living on less than $2-a-day, is at risk.
“A battle over the Muslim Brotherhood’s international ambitions may push Egypt over the edge into a Somali level of horror.”
Goldman said that the Brotherhood believed it would politically benefit from chaos, and that the anti-Saudi demonstrations across Egypt appear to confirm this assessment of the Brotherhood’s activities.
“The Muslim Brotherhood prefers an early economic crisis to a later one, so that it can blame the disaster on the present military government,” Goldman said.
“As the situation on the ground deteriorates, Egypt’s military government is becoming a bystander to events. Egypt is in a classic pre-revolutionary situation, like Russia in October 1917 or Germany in March 1933, with a vanguard party ready to dislodge a disintegrating civil society, and replace it with totalitarian party rule at street level. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political party, is poised to ride to power on the back of this crisis.
“As the main opposition body to military misrule during the past six decades, the Brotherhood harbours parliamentarians as well as firebrands. But the revolutionary dynamic in Egypt favours the firebrands.
“As critical shortages spread through Egypt’s fragile economy, Islamist street justice already is replacing the corrupt and crumbling institutions of the military regime. There is a second analogy to revolutionary Leninism, in the form of the Brotherhood’s international ambitions.
“In effect, the Brotherhood has chosen to push the country towards chaos.” (Asia Times Online, May 1, 2012).
The UK Telegraph’s Damien McElroy reported in mid-April as follows: “North Africa’s biggest economy has imploded since a democratic uprising last year, and the country will run out of money to meet basic subsidies including wheat and oil by the summer.”
The proposed US$3.2 billion loan is part of a US$12 billion emergency financing package from the IMF and European Union to save the Egyptian economy from collapse.
The Telegraph reports that “while the billions on offer will strain the world lending system, Brussels is most worried about the popular backlash that would result from deep cuts in (Egypt’s) public spending just as the first democratic government in six decades take the reins of government” (The Telegraph, UK, April 16, 2012).
According to Goldman, following the overthrow of Egypt’s then President Hosni Mubarak early last year, Islamist organisations began taking control of food and fuel distribution once shortages became evident.
“The first Islamist equivalent of workers’ soviets, or ‘revolutionary committees’, were formed to discipline bakeries and propane sellers who ‘charge more than the price prescribed by law’, the Federation of Egyptian Radio and Television reported on May 3, 2011,” Goldman said.
“These committees formed under the aegis of the Ministry of Solidarity and Social Justice. What has already emerged in Egypt, to use Leninist terminology, is a situation of dual power. The military government remains in command, but critical economic functions already are in the hands of Islamist parties.”
Goldman said that the Arab monarchies — Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States — “fear that the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt by revolutionary means portends a further revolutionary assault on their own regimes.” (Asia Times Online, May 1, 2012).
Joseph Poprzeczny is a published historian, based in Perth, and has taught at three Australian universities.
Patrick Werr and Marwa Awad, “Exclusive: Egypt’s Islamist candidates says IMF deal unlikely”, Reuters, April 8, 2012.
David P. Goldman (aka Spengler), “Muslim Brotherhood chooses chaos”, Asia Times Online (Hong Kong), April 11, 2012.
Jacques Neriah, “Are Egypt’s Islamists headed for a collision with the military?”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 8, April 16, 2012.
Damien McElroy, “Egypt ‘needs £7.5 billion bail-out to avoid bankruptcy’”, The Telegraph (UK), April 16, 2012.
David P. Goldman (aka Spengler), “The horror and the pita”, Asia Times Online (Hong Kong), May 1, 2012.