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Hamstrung, humbug and hubris - Daily News Egypt

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Hamstrung, humbug and hubris

By Philip Whitfield Cairo: Sheep steal elections. But you tempt fate pulling the wool over voters’ eyes.   War is not receding in the Middle East. It is building to a crescendo US secretary of state (2005 to 2009) Condoleezza Rice writes in the Washington Post. Her clarion call is trumpeted by the Tahrir Square …

By Philip Whitfield

Cairo: Sheep steal elections. But you tempt fate pulling the wool over voters’ eyes.


War is not receding in the Middle East. It is building to a crescendo US secretary of state (2005 to 2009) Condoleezza Rice writes in the Washington Post. Her clarion call is trumpeted by the Tahrir Square vox populi: hand back our revolution.

Morsy’s gaffe draws a veil over an uncomfortable, brief tenure. The quietus of the Muslim Brotherhood’s imperious custody appears nigh, smug humbug laid bare.

Egypt can distinguish itself within the region’s turmoil by peaceful protest and returning to the ballot box. Examine the pictures from Tahrir. The heart and soul of Egypt is cherished in the souls of its womenfolk and its youth.

They showed their mettle once again. Their joyous smiles, their love of family and country prove chauvinistic sanctimony is dead. If Morsy tries to ram the Muslim Brotherhood’s constitution through, he will be unseated. Faith in the law and in the rank-and-file will prevail.

Egypt learnt how to upend tralatitious hand-me-downs. Tears and more Tahrirs? Maybe. But second time round 18 days is more than enough to get the job done.

Even the bullyboys seem fed up, choosing to shout their venom a ways from Tahrir.

Egypt’s speedy rejection of another would-be dictator should spur the west to help elsewhere. Dr Rice urges America to get serious now president Obama is back in the White House. Join the UK, France and Turkey by arming the Syrian opposition, she says, empty Bashar Al-Assad’s skies of warplanes.

Barack Obama is clearing the decks for a fresh dollop of Rice – Susan not Condoleezza. Susan Rice is a feisty woman who serves Obama as US ambassador to the United Nations, tapped to become the next secretary of state, while Hillary Clinton re-grooms to become the World’s First Woman.

Obama is looking beyond ethnic tolerance in America’s backyard for his legacy. Insiders say his second term will face down zealous bigots. He’s rounding up those who share his vision of a peaceful Middle East. Names in the frame? Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to crack heads locally. Susan Rice to coerce Vladimir Putin into strong-arming the ayatollahs.

Egypt can make up its mind, in its own time. The choice is stark: an intolerant politburo of unctuous satraps or a collegial cabinet led by a tolerant unprejudiced humanitarian president.

Dr Rice suggests the neighbourhood might need some muscle. Obama could send the Sixth Fleet across the Mediterranean to pick up Assad and his fleeing family. The commander-in-chief might beef up the armada of 40 battleships, 175 aircraft and 20,000 servicemen and women and scatter their aircraft carriers, destroyer squadron, submarines and various lethal task forces along the eastern Med from Tunisia to Turkey.

Bold stroke? Yes, but not stupid. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours can be relied on to choke Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas hotheads. Cash is king and Qatar has more than most. They’re splashing cash in Egypt. The Middle East’s biggest private investment bank, EFG Hermes, which used to sport the Egyptian flag, is now in Qatari hands.

Societe Generale’s 77 per cent stake in NSGB, Egypt’s second-largest private bank with 160 branches and assets worth EGP 64 billion is on its way to the Qatar National Bank. Crédit Agricole Egypt is being taken over. BNP Paribas is selling its retail banking business and Piraeus Bank Egypt is on the block.

The construction industry is getting a makeover from non-Egyptian billionaires. The Chinese are playing their cards so close to their vests not even the government knows what they’re really up to.

I’m constrained from revealing some huge selloffs in the making and land deals. But they demonstrate the deep concern being expressed by business about the future.

As Condoleezza Rice points out, the map of the Middle East sketched on the back of an envelope by Winston Churchill and his cronies after World War II is no more than a meddlesome doodle that didn’t reflect realities.

Iran’s meddling won’t prevent the implosion of the Middle East, Dr Rice imagines. Neither will modest gestures towards reconciliation and peace. For decades the fragile state structure of the Middle East has been held together by monarchs and dictators, she says.

As the desire for freedom spreads from Tunis to Cairo to Damascus, authoritarians are losing their grip. Rice says the last act in the story of the disintegration of the Middle East, as we know it, is to rebuild it, this time round on firmer foundations of tolerance, freedom and democratic stability.

That’s the context of Morsy’s quandary. No doubt to secure his help tying up Hamas Morsy felt his own position could be anchored more firmly. He’ll learn never to read too much into a nod and a wink. Ronald Reagan said trust everyone, but cut the cards before they’re dealt.

In reality, though the Brotherhood is well organised they only secured 25 per cent of the vote when elections proper started. The remainder are gradually finding enough common ground to cut Morsy down to size when the time comes.

Morsy’s diktat exposes a flaw – the notion that the clique surrounding him knows which levers to pull to be proactive. Their statements on economic revival, security, social advance, education, health and welfare are no more than pre-Information Age logic. The Muslim Brotherhood knows how to oppose, but not what to propose. When they do as Morsy does they make a mess of it and end up rescinding or apologising.

Throughout the international loan negotiations, the Morsy administration played the Egyptian game of promising Egyptians jam tomorrow. As the White Queen said in Through The Looking-Glass: the rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday. But never jam today.

Attempting to set up an immunised dictatorship lopped billions off the value of Egypt’s companies on the EGX and skittled next year’s tourism revenues into La La Land. Television screens around the world filled with images of bottle throwers, phalanxes of baton-wielding cops, smoke and teargas just as Europe’s holidaymakers began making up their minds where to book.

Spool forward to the hundreds of thousands who marched, singing and chanting into Tahrir Square armed with nothing more than charm and self-determination. The Muslim Brotherhood tweeted: the low protester turnout indicates a lack of support among Egyptians.

How aloof and out of touch have the apparatchiks become?

Morsy could reflect on their hubris reading the Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-1980), jailed in the gulag for his dissent.

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them, Solzhenitsyn wrote. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.

Philip Whitfield is a commentator in Cairo.

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