Possible new directions for Egyptian foreign policy under President Morsy, the spectre of Islamic fascism haunting opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, possible conspiracies in Sinai, dubious claims of a miraculous wheat harvest and privitisation in the United Kingdom; columnists address a range of issues relevant to Egyptians in today’s column review.
Morsy in Beijing and Tehran
Howeidy takes a closer look at President Morsy’s foreign visits to Addis Ababa and Jeddah since coming to power, as well as recent reports of an upcoming stop in Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit before heading to Beijing. He sees these foreign visits as representing a possible turning point in Egyptian international relations and foreign policy if Morsy is able to transform them from routine procedure to meetings that serve mutual national interests.
The choice of destinations carries an interesting symbolism for Howeidy (though he adds a caveat that it is too soon to tell what they really mean in practical terms). He finds it heartening that the President’s first visit was not to Washington; his choice of Addis Ababa and Jeddah could be taken as a sign of his concern with the African and Islamic worlds, and Beijing and Tehran could represent a further ‘turning east’ away from the Western-centered subservience of the previous regime.
China, an economic and political powerhouse that is taken very seriously by Washington, could be an essential step along this path. China is also seeking to increase its presence in Africa and the Gulf, so gaining a foothold in Egypt, Howeidy suggests, would certainly be in its interests. Mutual interests with Iran are also considerable, but a great gulf has been created over the years, not only because of suspicion and ‘security’ issues but due to pressure from the United States, Israel, and the Gulf. Howeidy doesn’t go so far as to imagine that it will activate a ‘triangle of power’ between Iran, Turkey and Egypt, but he hopes that Morsy’s visit will be seen as a declaration of good intentions and the first step to melting the ice.
New Islamic fascism hounds Shafiq, Okasha, and Sawiris
Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Ibrahim tackles what he terms ‘Islamic fascism’, saying a key behaviour of fascist regimes is to use a scapegoat to deflect from its internal failure to acheive progress, social justice, and political participation. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to make any tangible gains in its first year in power, it has directed attention towards its political opponents: Ahmed Shafiq, Tawfik Okasha, and Naguib Sawiris. The three belong to different political parties and currents and each has achieved fame, success and influence in his own way; what they have in common is their belief in a civil state and staunch opposition to the idea of a religious one.
Shafiq went up against Morsy in the presidential elections in a hotly contested race. Ibrahim claims that, in fact, the numbers collated by most independent observers put Shafiq in the lead, and that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had to submit to placing Morsy in the presidential seat after threats of violence from the Muslim Brotherhood, who finally forced Shafiq to leave the country.
Okasha, in his bold and confrontational style, fiercely criticised the Muslim Brotherhood, their members, ideas, and practices, holding their policy responsible for the 5 August Sinai killings. Morsy responded by shutting down his television station and ordering his arrest. For the past three years, Sawiris has been the victim of periodic campaigns against him by the Muslim Brotherhood, the latest of which is a movement to boycott his companies. Meanwhile, Ibrahim adds, the businessmen running the Muslim Brotherhood financial empire, Khairat al-Shater and Hassan Malek, are buying up companies in a quest to monopolise Egypt’s wealth.
The truth is absent
Mohammed Al-Mansy Qandil
Mohammed Al-Mansy Qandil takes on the issue of Sinai in his column, and the many questions surrounding the recent killings. He speaks of the fundamentalist groups whose ideas have thrived despite its members spending years behind bars. They found a safe haven in Sinai, away from the grip of the security forces, among the marginalised Bedouin community whom the state has deprived of all rights and public services: an ideal environment to give rise to more extremists embittered against this nation.
Israel, Qandil claims, has a special stake in Sinai, viewing it as an ‘alternative homeland’ that it intends to expel all Palestinians to, in order to have the land of Palestine entirely to itself. He speculates that Israel may, in fact, be responsible for the Sinai killings, as it is the only beneficiary: it has thus proven to the world that Sinai presents a palpable danger and hence it has a right to secure its borders in whatever way it sees fit.
The writer also discusses statements made anonymously by mid-level army officers about the terrible state the Egyptian army is in, particularly in Sinai. He wonders where the American arms supplied to Egypt go, and the profits made by all the projects run by the army. Finally, he states that the removal of the Head of Intelligence and of Field Marshall Tantawi and General Anan were the best decisions made by Morsy in his short time in power, but he still demands more answers from the President to clarify where the failure lies.
The Brotherhood’s wheat, the military’s bread
The declaration made by the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, during his Eid sermon in Matrouh governorate, that the Egyptian wheat harvest has increased six fold this year, came as a surprise to Wael Qandil. He wonders why such astronomical numbers were not accompanied by proof or official figures, and why such an agricultural miracle was not announced and feted by the Ministry of Agriculture, rather than the General Guide (who attributed it to “God bestowing more of his bounty upon the people of Egypt because they have improved their faith”).
In any case, Qandil argues, wheat is sown at the beginning of winter and harvested with the coming of the spring, which is before the Muslim Brotherhood came to the highest seat in power, so perhaps (he adds with some irony) the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces should take credit for this.
Qandil cites multiple statistics that could denote an increase in the export, rather than production, of wheat, an increase that is nonetheless far removed from the 600 percent leap claimed by the General Guide. The writer supposes the rise in wheat exports has less to do with the improved faith of Egyptian peasants and more to do with a rise in government compensation from EGP 300 to EGP 380 per ardeb, creating an incentive for the peasant to export rather than keep it for personal use. With greater incentives for Egyptian peasants in all crops, writes Qandil, perhaps we can one day hope to eat what we grow and achieve the dream of self-sufficiency in wheat.
At the end of the day, he concludes, the credit for whatever gains were made this year goes to the Egyptian peasant and not to the Muslim Brotherhood or SCAF.
The future we do not want
Soueif presents examples of ways in which citizens of the United Kingdom have fallen prey to the vagaries of the market, to the point where everybody seeks to exploit their time and effort, their money and health and emotions, and how their government is enabling this process. She writes of the battle between the public sector and the private sector, how the government is using taxpayer money to privatise services that have been proven to deteriorate once delegated to private companies and their cost-cutting practices.
She cites recent news items in the UK that tell of this conflict of interest between market forces and the public good: the exploitative banking system, a rise in railway fares, an increase in evictions, the privatisation of a project to build and run a police station and prison; all of which has been facilitated by the government. She takes this as the reason why people in ‘developed’ nations such as the US and the UK regarded the Egyptian revolution with such hope.
The current economic model has run its course; the world is now searching for a new paradigm, and it looked to this unique and inventive revolution for a solution. It may still be able to engender one, writes Soueif, but until then, “could we avoid reproducing the circumstances, policies, and mechanisms whose failure is being proven, day after day, just a few thousand kilometres from our shores?” We should not follow in the footsteps of ‘developed’ countries, we should learn from their mistakes.