by Mordechai Kedar
The crisis in Egypt is deepening, and both sides of the conflict are becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions. The fatalities that have occurred among Mursi supporters as well as among the military people causes both sides to act on the basis of their hearts and emotions, and not from logic. Both sides think "We'll show them" and "we will break them", the Egyptian public scene is crashing, representatives of foreign companies are leaving in droves, and everyone blames everyone else for the miserable situation.
The vice president, Mohamed al-Baradei, resigned and fled the country, because he saw that Egypt is sliding into a swamp of blood, fire and tears, where dozens of people are killed in the streets every day, the economy is collapsing, and the solution to Egypt's problems seems farther away than ever. Al-Baradei may be put on trial for treason because he fled from Egypt and evaded his responsibilities.
The army detained Mohammed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, for two weeks, suspected of inciting the masses to violence and bloodshed. If he actually is put on trial, the Brotherhood and their supporters will most likely not stand by passively and watch, but will envelop the country in another wave of violence.
Another very disturbing phenomenon has been happening recently - the destruction of museums and the theft of antiquities. Some thieves steal exhibits in order to sell them for a small fortune on the black market to collectors; mainly gold coins, statuary and sarcophagi, which were recovered from ancient tombs from the days of the pharaohs. But along with the theft is another phenomenon: the destruction of exhibits, vandalism for its own sake, stemming from the deep hatred that radical Muslims feel toward the cultures that preceded Islam, and especially the Pharaonic culture which Islam considers to be heretical. We saw something similar in March of 2001 in Afghanistan, when the Taliban destroyed the two enormous statues of Buddha in Bamiyan Valley.
The international sphere is also undergoing a major shake-up: the United States' plan to put the Brotherhood in power has failed, but the White House and the State Department continue to issue pronouncements of support for the Muslim Brotherhood and objects to the army's actions, including the arrest of Badie. It may be that Mubarak will be freed from the defendant's box and the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Mursi and Mohammed Badie, will take his place. It seems like Washington fell asleep on the 30th of June and still has not awakened to the new situation.
General al-Sisi and his comrades are not giving in to American pressure, and despite the good relations between the Egyptian military and the United States, al-Sisi refuses to accept Obama's calls, and when the Americans issue declarations opposing the army's acts, al-Sisi becomes angry. He places his definition of Egyptian interests over Obama's definition of Egyptian interests. Al-Sisi sees the dismal failures of the United States Middle East policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Iran, and he understands that he should not allow the Americans to influence events in Egypt, otherwise it may become another link in the chain of failures.
However, even al-Sisi will not be able to forestall the waves of terror, which might bring Egypt to a state similar to that in Syria or Iraq. The neighboring countries - Libya and Sudan - as well as the Sinai Peninsula, are full of weapons of all sizes and types, and the border with these states is long and porous. Egypt could become a magnet for jihadists from the entire Muslim world, who will want to enforce Islam on the country exactly as they did in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria and in Libya. Egypt may also become a victim of "international terrorism", with car bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations of senior figures, attacks on military bases, trains, bridges (and there are many in Egypt), electrical lines and dams. Egypt could become a hell for its residents, especially for the Christian Copts, who are already trying to figure out how they can continue living in a country where about sixty churches were burned down in the space of one week .
The world had better get used to the scenario of radicalization and escalation of the internal situation in Egypt, so that they will not be surprised when it happens, and I hope that I may be proven wrong.
The International Arena
It is interesting to see how the world lines up - with al-Sisi or against him: his main opposition is the United States, or more accurately, President Obama and the State Department. But on the other hand, there are many others in the United States who support the military and the steps that it is taking against the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel supports the military, but Europe thinks that the military acted in an anti-democratic manner when it removed the Brotherhood from power. Obama, the State Department and Europe want democracy at any price, even at the price of transfer of power - by democratic elections, of course - to an Islamist body that does not relate at all to any of the democratic values: the rule of law, separation of powers, rights of minorities, women's rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Al-Sisi knows better than they do what is right for Egypt and what is not.
Erdoğan - Mursi's ally and an anti-Semite for many years - tells the world that Israel is actually behind the revolution against his Brothers. As a result, he gets a cold shoulder both from the United States and from Egypt as well. It is conspiracy theory interspersed with allusions from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and Erdoğan issues these declarations loudly and clearly. In light of these words, the prime minister of Israel should rethink his apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident.
But most interesting is Saudi Arabia's position: it supports the military and al-Sisi and objects to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia is even willing to donate money to substitute for the loss of American financial aid, if the United States stops its support for Egypt and its military as a result of Mursi's removal. The Saudis take this position in clear and audacious opposition to the president of the United States, and there are two reasons that Saudi Arabia does not hesitate to take these steps: the Saudis feel that President Obama does not understand anything about the principles that rule the Middle East so he prefers the Muslim Brotherhood over other groups for no good reason, and the second is that the Saudis are angry at Obama for not taking any effective steps against the Iranian nuclear program, which frightens the Saudis perhaps more than it frightens Israel.
But the deeper reason for the great hatred between Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood is cultural: Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Salafi, while the Brotherhood represents modern political Islam. The difference is simple: the Brotherhood wants to take the religion that was founded in the desert of the seventh century and adapt it to modern society of the twenty first century, while the Salafis want to take society and the state from the twenty first century and adapt it to the religion and culture of the desert of the seventh century. There is no way to bridge between these two antithetical cultural approaches, therefore the Salafis prefer secular military rule rather than modern style Islamic rule, which is contrary to its Salafi style.
From the Water, Not from the Diving Board
Here, the question arises of what is good for Israel, and how Israel can - if at all - influence the events in Egypt.
The Middle East has some traits that we have still not become accustomed to: Israel is considered an illegitimate entity, so anyone that Israel supports loses legitimacy. Therefore in any conflict in the Middle East between side A and side B, if Israel wants to bolster side A, it must declare that it supports side B. Thus side B will thus lose legitimacy and side A will be strengthened. Did you get it? The same is true for the United States.
Another feature that is difficult to become accustomed to is the political dynamic of the Middle East, especially since the beginning of the "Arab Winter". Yesterday's friend becomes today's opponent, and today's enemy can become tomorrow's friend. Israel has an interest in the Egyptian military succeeding in the battle for Egypt, therefore it is logical to support it in the world capitals. But it could very well be that tomorrow this army might bring in large forces to Sinai, which is against the peace agreement, claiming that they are engaged in a "war on terror". It may also declare a suspension of the peace agreement, in order to calm the Egyptian street. Will we say that the military is friendly then too?
The public declarations about "the Israeli interest in maintaining the peace agreement" causes untolled damage, because this gives our enemies to understand that there is a vulnerable point where they can apply pressure on us since there are among us those who are willing to give everything in exchange for a piece of paper that has the word "peace" written on it, and they are even willing that "sacrificial victims for peace" will die. We ourselves raise the price for peace to a level that we cannot afford.
The conclusion from all of the aforesaid is that Israel must support its friends behind the scenes, not under the spotlight and with microphones. No one really loves us in this region, even if we support them. Discrete acts will not damage our friends for cooperating with us, and we will not be vulnerable to the fallout of a "flop" if it turns out that the party that we supported, like the Christians in Lebanon, indifferently stick a knife in our back.
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.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar