by Mordechai Kedar
Opposition movements usually get public support and encouragement from the masses because they challenge a corrupt and oppressive regime. This public support is what brings the opposition movement to power, either by democratic means or by violence. At first, the public is content because it it sure that its preferred movement, which used to be the opposition, will behave fairly and democratically towards the public when it comes to power. But the moment the opposition movement gets to sit behind the steering wheel it becomes a controlling elite, and it is now responsible for imposing law and order on the residents. It is also expected to supply all of the public's needs - food, drinking water, employment, health services, infrastructure, and a hope that their situation in the future will be better than in the past.
The tragedy that opposition movements frequently experience is that they often lack the skills necessary to manage a state. This is because during the period while they were engaged in the struggle to wrest power from the previous regime, they were not building up the experience they would need in order to rule effectively. But once they are in power, they must provide solutions for problems that were created, for the most part, by the previous regime. And when the new regime needs to levy taxes and impose discipline on the residents, the citizens begin to see it the same way as the previous regime that was overthrown by the opposition. Since the new regime usually does not have magic solutions for the population's problems, it finds itself, after a short time, a regime with dwindling legitimacy, especially if its leaders exploit the privilege of their position. Power, as we all know, corrupts.
This deterministic development is playing out before our eyes everywhere that Islamist movements have come into power. This is how it is in Iran, in Gaza, in Tunisia, and lately in Egypt. President Mursi and the whole Muslim Brotherhood movement along with him are confronted with ever worsening problems, and next Sunday, the 30th of June, 2013, on the anniversary of Mursi's ascendancy to the presidency, very large demonstrations are planned, to protest the Muslim Brotherhood's appropriation of the revolution, which was begun by liberal, modern, secular youths who did not want Mubarak, but wanted the Brotherhood even less.
During Mursi's year, Egypt has quickly slid into several extremely problematic swamps. One of them is the Shi'ite-Sunni conflict, which got a shot in the arm from the bloody events in the Syrian town of al-Qusayr, which the Shi'ite Hizb'Allah took from the Sunni rebels, committing acts of great cruelty and brutally trampling on the human rights of the citizens who were besieged inside of al-Qusayr. On Thursday, June 20, a large conference of the greatest Sunni religious authorities was held in Cairo. At this conference, harsh criticism was voiced regarding acts perpetrated by Shi'ites, especially in Syria. Sunni sheikhs threaten to slaughter the Hizb'Allah fighters because they - being Shi'ite - are infidels. President Mursi publicly declared the end of diplomatic ties between Egypt and Syria, the closing of the embassy in Damascus and the return of Egyptian diplomats from the capital of Syria.
But this phenomenon is not limited to Syria; it has also spread to Egypt. On Sunday, June 23, a group of Salafists broke into the house of Hassan Shehata, the head of the small Shi'ite community of Egypt, in the village of Zawiyat Abu Musallam near Giza, slaughtering him together with four more members of his community. Nine others were injured in the event. Egypt was shocked to its foundations for a number of reasons, primarily because of the Salafists' audacity, who think in seventh centuryterms and behave according to principles and modes of behavior that were common 1400 years ago. They present a challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood rule, which is based on the application of Islam in the modern, current world, not on the desire to return to square one of Islamic history. Many Egyptians fear that their country will slide into a condition similar to the boiling swamps which are Syria and Iraq, and they view the slaughter as a horrific event and one that might happen again, next time to the Copts or anyone else who has political objections to the Salafists' ways.
These things have taken on extra gravity because this week, a number of additional distressing events has occurred regarding the Sunni-Shi'a conflict. One is in the city of Sidon in Lebanon, where a Sunni Salafi Sheikh by the name of Ahmed al-Asir declared that since the army in Lebanon is an organization under Hizb'Allah Shi'ite leadership (a true fact that everyone in Lebanon knows very well), he calls on all the soldiers in the army to desert. The Lebanese version of conscientious objection. In response, the army attacked the sheikh's stronghold, and the ensuing clash resulted in the death of 17 soldiers and tens of the sheikh's supporters. This event is another in the unending war between neighborhoods of the northern port city of Tripoli, because of the Sunni support of the rebels in Syria, and the Alawites support of Asad.
The second event occurred in London near Hyde Park, on Edgeware Road, which is the center of the Islamic scene in the capital of Britain. The Salafi preacher Anjem Choudary - whose words call to mind the speeches of bin Laden - led a demonstration of Sunnis against Asad and Hizb'Allah, which degenerated into fistfights and yelling back and forth between the Sunni demonstrators and the supporters of Asad and Shi'ite Hizb'Allah, many of whom are Iranian. This event shows how connected the expatriate communities are to the lands that they came from, and how willing they are to bring the customary Middle Eastern way of dealing with conflicts to Europe. In my opinion the government of Britain must construe the event very clearly: The Middle East is coming to the center of London, and if the authorities in Britain continue to ignore reality, then the phenomenon of mutual slaughter which is the usual way of dealing with religious and sectarian conflicts in the Middle East will spread to the United Kingdom. Have we forgotten the slaughter of the British soldier in London about a month ago?
And in Egypt the problems only get worse. Two weeks ago, Ethiopia announced that it is beginning work on the "Renaissance Dam", on the Blue Nile, the main source of the Nile flowing from Ethiopia to South Sudan, to Sudan and then Egypt. If indeed the dam is built and Ethiopia stops the flow of water to these countries, this will be a death sentence for the residents of Egypt, because the Nile will become a stinking puddle of stagnant water, and the dangerous diseases of the intestines and eyes that are already problematic will become a catastrophic danger. Mursi related to this matter in his recent speeches, and the tone of his voice becomes strident whenever he talks about it, an indication of how distressful this matter is for Egypt. He threatens Ethiopia with expressions like "all options are on the table" as if he has the military option to deal with the dam. He claims that every drop of the Nile's water is a matter of life and death, a real existential threat, and that Egypt will keep all options open in order to safeguard its "aquatic security". The Egyptian in the street knows the bitter truth: Mursi has no way of forcing Ethiopia to allow the waters of the Nile to flow down river, and his threats are just empty bluffs.
But Mursi is also confronted with several internal legal problems. There is a lawsuit against him for escaping legal custody in January of 2011, when members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood broke into several prisons in Egypt and freed hundreds of detainees that Mubarak had imprisoned in order to put down the demonstrations against him. If Mursi fails in his legal battle, the court might declare that his candidacy was illegal and annul the results of the elections that brought him to the president's seat. The Egyptian court can do this, since that is exactly what the legal system did when it dispersed the parliament for procedural reasons, when the Muslim Brotherhood had won almost half of the seats.
The second problem that Mursi is confronted with is a piece of information that is spreading all throughout Egypt, which is that the candidate who really won a majority of Egyptian votes in the elections for the presidency was not Mursi, but Shafiq, the competing candidate, but because of demands made by Barack Obama, the president of the United States, General Tantawi, then head of the Supreme Military Council, was pressured into falsifying the results of the elections in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. This information has spread throughout Egypt, and many Egyptian citizens believe that it is true, since it fits very well with the conspiracy theory claiming that foreign forces are controlling Egypt for their own gain, and that this is the source of the country's troubles. People believe this because it correlates with the belief that President Obama is energetically promoting the Muslim Brotherhood as the sort of Islam that the United States can live with. This is the reason that Obama met with the leadership of the Brotherhood during his visit in Cairo in June 2009 as a visitor of Mubarak (an event that was considered then like sticking a knife in the Egyptian president's back), and this is the reason that Obama has surrounded himself with Muslim Brotherhood people who have become part of the White House staff (see here or here).
Another problem concerning Mursi these days is the approaching month of Ramadan, which begins, apparently, on the seventh of July. This year, Ramadan in Egypt will be especially difficult. The fast will take place during very long, hot days compared to years when Ramadan occurs in the winter. In Ramadan, especially at night, people throng into the streets, prices of food and clothing go up because of the rise in demand, and security forces will find it very difficult to control the masses. Heightened religious consciousness during Ramadan might also increase the tension between the religious groups, especially between the Salafists and the various branches of government; conflict may erupt in the form of tumultuous street riots and many casualties may result.
The Emir of Qatar Resigns
Meanwhile, an event occurred this week that is almost unprecedented in the Arab world. The ruler of a country has decided, on his own initiative, to give up power. This occurred in Qatar, the most influential country in the Arab world today, when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani decided to pass the reigns of power to his 33-year old son, Tamim. The prince did not explain the reasons for his decision, and the Arab world is buzzing with rumors and various interpretations. One rumor is that he is not healthy, since he has already undergone two kidney operations, and there is a history of dementia in the family as well. Therefore, he decided to pass the rule on to his son while he still could, and even if he is not healthy, he will be able to accompany his son for a significant period of time. In contrast, King Hussein of Jordan appointed his son as king only a few days before he died, which negatively influenced Abdullah the Second's ability to function, at least in the beginning of his reign.
Another interpretation is that the Emir of Qatar wanted to exit the political stage at the apex of his power, after he had proved that he could take down dictators like Mubarak, Qadhaffi, bin 'Ali, Saleh and Asad, whether by means of money or by means of the al-Jazeera channel, which incited the Arab masses against their rulers. According to another opinion, he wants to spend the rest of his life engaged in charitable enterprises so that he will go down in history as the greatest Islamic philanthropist in the world. Others speak about his desire to show his colleagues, other Arab rulers, that an Arab ruler does not have to remain stuck to his seat until his death or until he is overthrown, thereby presenting a new model of Arab leadership that knows how to retire in an orderly way too.
Even if I do accept some of these hypotheses, in my opinion, the reason for the Emir of Qatar's retirement is totally different. He is the person who is most identified with the political success of the Muslim Brotherhood and the "Arab Spring", which has since become a bloodbath, costing until now, one hundred thousand lives in Syria, fifty thousand in Libya, three million Syrian refugees and the violence continues and the sword is still unsheathed. He has ultimately understood that he was the one who incited the Middle East and has caused it to deteriorate into the wars of Sunni against Shi'ite, tribal wars, and the imposition of political Islam on some of the countries. Now, since he cannot douse the flames, he does not want to be in the center of focus when Egypt collapses on the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is in power today largely owing to his influence. And so that he will not be in the picture when the disaster happens, he preferred to pass the rule on to his son a week before the demonstrations break out in Egypt on the 30th of June; demonstrations which, if they heat up enough, might bring Mursi to the same end that Mubarak had. The son, Tamim, is not identified with his father's policies, so Qatar may emerge unscathed from the criticism about the disaster that sheikh Hamed caused to the Arab world in general and to the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
Whatever the reason for Sheikh Hamed's resignation, it is very important to watch the policies that Qatar develops in the future, under the rule of Tamim. Will it continue to shake up the Arab world with the money, weapons and ammunition that Qatar has been sending to every country where there is a chance to promote the Islamists, or will it stop doing this and leave Arab societies to their own rulers. It is important to monitor Tamim's international orientation, because Qatar has the largest military American airfield in the Gulf, and Qatar - together with Iran and Russia - is one of the three largest suppliers of natural gas in the world.
A few years ago Qatar had a "honeymoon" with the Iranian regime, and it is important to watch for the possibility that Qatar will return to the Iranian bosom. This sort of thing could occur if the White House continues its policy of appeasement toward the Iranian regime. In that case the Gulf states - and especially Qatar - might conclude that the United States is too weak to depend on, and it will bet on the winning horse in the Middle East. This matter is, of course, connected with events in Syria, because if Asad wins the war, the Iranians will come out on top, and the Sunni world, under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood will be dealt a mortal blow.
Israel must monitor the developments closely and be ready to take the necessary steps to safeguard its security vigorously and dispassionately. The region is closer than ever to a many-layered and many-sided crisis because there are too many centers of tension that neither Israel nor the West can influence. The Arab and Islamic world is headed for an explosion, and Israel must defend itself from the shrapnel that will fly in every direction.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
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