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SCAF And Saudis Team Up Against Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptians voted over the weekend for the first competitively elected president in their nation’s history – choosing between a veteran of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and a former prime minister under the Mubarak regime, who is strongly supported by the Saudi-funded military apparatus currently ruling the country.

The ballot left few options for many Egyptians who view presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, 72, as the leader of a failed counter-revolution attempting to reinstate ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s rule, while others remain wary of what an Islamic democracy may look like under the rule of Mohammed Morsi, 60, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

Shafiq served six years as a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force prior to his promotion to Minister of Civil Aviation and his eventual appointment to the post of Prime Minister in 2011 by former President Hosni Mubarak. He resigned from his position in March 2011 after a prominent Egyptian novelist accused him of being a Mubarak regime holdover during a controversial interview on Egyptian ONTV satellite network.

Shafiq has done much to play on the fear of Egyptians by making false claims that the MB wishes to transfer Egypt’s capital to Jerusalem and accusing members of the Brotherhood of being liars and Mubarak cronies. Morsi, former Egyptian MP, has made open accusations that Shafiq will restore Mubarak’s corrupt policies and has accused Shafiq’s supporters of illegally busing plainclothes security officers to and from the polls.

While Morsi and Shafiq enjoy support from various groups, others feel trapped between two extremes. “I am on my way to vote and I’ll spoil my ballot,” said 40-year-old shop owner Saleh Ashour. “I’ll cross out both Morsy and Shafiq because neither deserve to be president,” he said in Cairo.

Just days before the runoff election, a group of Mubarak-appointed judges dissolved the recently-elected parliament. The decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) was a major blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled nearly half of the seats in parliament. Along with the dissolution of parliament, the SCC overruled a law passed by the body’s newly elected members that would have barred top Mubarak-era figures, including Shafiq, from running for office.

Shafiq welcomed the court’s decision, as it moved him one step closer to the presidency. “The message of this historic verdict is that the era of political score settling has ended,” said Shafiq. “The constitutional court has confirmed my right to participate in the election and reinforced the legitimacy of this election.”

Mohammed Morsi said in an interview with privately-owned Dream TV that he respected the ruling to allow Shafiq to stay in the race, but added that it was “unsatisfactory.” Other members of the Muslim Brotherhood have called the SCC’s decision a “complete coup.”

“All this equals a complete coup d’etat through which the military council is writing off the most noble stage in the nation’s history,” said Mohamed Beltagy, a member of parliament with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “This is the Egypt which Shafiq and the military council desire,” wrote Beltagy on his Facebook page.

According to Mohamed ElBaradei, Egyptian scholar and Nobel laureate, “the election of a president in the absence of a constitution and a parliament is the election of a president with powers that not even the most entrenched dictatorships have known.”

“SCAF are the reason for all this mess”
“SCAF are the reason for this mess,” says Mohamed Abdel-Fatah Ali, a driver from the working-class suburb of Ain Shams, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who took control of the country after in 2011.

Since acquiring power after the fall of Mubarak, SCAF have subjected more civilians to military trials and imprisonment than during three decades of Mubarak rule. Ali told the Guardian, “They are creating a soap opera, an illusion of democracy and what they really want they make happen.”

A day before the SCC rulings, the justice ministry approved increased powers for military police and intelligence operatives to arrest and detain civilians, flirting with the idea of martial law very close to the elections.

Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a centrist former presidential candidate, wrote on his Facebook page, “Keeping the military candidate [in the race] and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup and whoever thinks that millions of youth will let it pass is deluding themselves.”

Several groups, including one founded by Egyptian revolutionary Rami Ghanem, have started a boycott-the-vote movement amid the downward spiraling transitional period. “We are in a very bad situation and it’s the worst possible scenario we can envisage,” said Ghanem.

“This is the success of the counter-revolution and the control of Scaf. Islamist politicians deserted the revolution and chased seats. Our only way out is to return to the revolution, including the Islamists. If they don’t do it now, we’ll all end up in jail, and they’ll be the first.”

Ghanem is among a crowd of Egyptians skeptical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to the revolution, accusing the group of taking advantage of the protests for their own political gain while avoiding major involvement in the protests throughout the past year.

Others question whether Morsi, if elected, will even be able to govern the country against SCAF’s monopoly on power. Businessman Ashraf Rashwan, 45, voted for Shafiq, believing Morsi would not get much done in the face of hostility from the generals.

“They’ll get no cooperation from the establishment. If Morsi wins, there will be a struggle that Egyptians – me at any rate – aren’t ready for,” Rashwan told Reuters. “Shafiq will mean smooth transition. He’s learned from Mubarak’s failure to listen to the people.”

One mid-ranking army officer told Reuters, “There will be different treatment depending on who wins. With Shafiq, a firm crackdown is sure to happen,” he said, adding, “With Morsi, the establishment itself will not back him and there will be chaos and lax security, all of which will pose challenges to him and could destroy his presidency.”

“There is no doubt that the state in all its institutions – judicial, military, interior, foreign and financial – back Shafiq for president and are working to that end,” said Hassan Nafaa, a politics professor who campaigned against Mubarak.

“It is very difficult to eradicate this spirit of Mubarak.”

Keeping the Muslim Brotherhood away by keeping SCAF alive
The spirit of Mubarak lives on through the money and might of Egypt’s armed forces. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the U.S. expects Egyptian armed forces to transfer full power to a democratically elected civilian government in July as planned, there is no guarantee that SCAF will hold true on their promise after extending their power past the previously scheduled July 2011 turnover date.

The Egyptian armed forces have built up a multi-billion dollar enterprise over the past 60 years with the help of its strong U.S. ally. Averaging $1.3 billion annually in direct military aid, the United States has loyally supported the Egyptian military since former President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

In March, the United States sent another shipment of weapons and explosives to the Egyptian armed forces, in spite of heavy opposition from rights groups that the U.S. halt military aid to Egypt out of fear that weapons will be used against civilians.

In addition to funding from the United States, Egypt receives $1 billion from Saudi Arabia and $700 million from other countries. Saudi Arabia recently transferred $1 billion to Egypt’s central bank, part of a Saudi aid package totaling roughly $2 billion.

Saudi Arabia, deeply concerned by the fall of long-standing dictators in the region, continues to fund SCAF out of fear that the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will harm the stability of the royal family. Although it may seem like Saudi Arabia would support the rise of its Sunni followers in Egypt, the Saudi Salafist Islamists follow a fundamentally different philosophy on politics than Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The majority of Saudi Arabia’s citizens follow Wahhabism, a strict branch of Sunni Islam that came to dominate Saudi Arabian religious thought in the 18th century when the British employed Muhammad ibn Abdel-Wahhab to spread his austere interpretation of the Qu’ran throughout the region in hopes of overthrowing Ottoman rule.

In 1744, an alliance was forged between ibn Abdel-Wahhab and the ruling Saudi family, which divided the religious and political affairs of the Saudi state, with ibn Abdel-Wahhab exerting authority over religious affairs and the Saud family ruling over all political matters. Wahhabis, often referred to as Salafists, believe that anyone not adhering to strict Islamic interpretation is a heretic.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, however, adheres to a more adaptive philosophy of Islam. Founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the MB in Egypt blends Western political thought with Islamic tradition by viewing Islam as a political remedy to ills affecting the Islamic world.

Whereas some Salafists have created militant branches such as al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Egypt’s MB has condemned violence from the beginning. Stratfor analysts assert that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has instead used the rise of al-Qaida to demonstrate its own legitimacy by labeling Salafist groups as the radical fringe of Islam.

Saudi Arabia fears the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a stable Islamic democracy will fuel on-going unrest in Saudi Arabia’s own oil-rich eastern province where a minority of Shiite Muslims and other Saudi citizens have been advocating for political and religious rights over the past year.

While Saudi Arabia has supported Salafist candidates in Egypt, who won a quarter of the seats in both houses of parliament, there is not enough support for Salafists in Egyptian politics to ensure a victory over the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, Saudi Arabia continues to finance the Egyptian armed forces and Ahmed Shafiq for the presidency as part of a broader strategy to disorient the political leadership in Egypt and prevent the Islamic ideologies of political reform from taking hold of its kingdom.

With the strong financial backing of Saudi Arabia and the United States, SCAF is likely to influence the future of Egyptian politics regardless of the Muslim Brotherhood’s claimed victory in the runoff presidential election.

source: MPN


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