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Chris Hedges: Egypt's New Pharaoh

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/egypts_new_pharaoh_20121216/ Chris Hedges Columns Egypt’s New Pharaoh
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2012

      Chris Hedges' <http://www.truthdig.com/report/category/hedges/> Columns

      Egypt’s New Pharaoh

      By Chris Hedges <http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges/>

      Truthdig: 12/17/17

      When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran after 14 years in exile on
      Feb. 1, 1979, he set out to destroy the secular opposition forces, including
      the Communist Party of Iran, which had been instrumental in bringing down
      the shah. Khomeini’s declaration of an Islamic government, supported by
      referendum, saw him rewrite the constitution, close opposition newspapers
      and ban opposition groups including the National Democratic Front and the
      Muslim People’s Republican Party. Dissidents who had spent years inside
      Iran’s notoriously brutal prison system under the shah were incarcerated
      once again by the new regime. Some returned to their cells to be greeted by
      their old jailers, who had offered their services to the new regime.

      This is what is under way in Egypt. It is the story of most revolutions. The
      moderates, who are crucial to winning the support of the masses and many
      outside the country, become an impediment to the consolidation of autocratic
      power. Liberal democrats, intellectuals, the middle class, secularists and
      religious minorities including Coptic Christians were always seen by
      President Mohamed Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party—Egypt’s de facto
      political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood—as
      <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot> “useful idiots.” These forces
      were essential to building a broad movement to topple the dictatorship of
      Hosni Mubarak. They permitted Western journalists to paint the opposition in
      their own image. But now they are a hindrance to single-party rule and are
      being crushed.

      The first of two days of voting on a new constitution was held Saturday.
      According to reports Sunday, the document is being approved. The second
      round of voting, next Saturday, includes rural districts that provide much
      of the Brotherhood’s base of support, and it is expected to end in the
      constitution being ratified by the required 50 percent or more of Egypt’s 51
      million voters. Opposition forces charge that the first round was marred by
      polling irregularities including bribery, intimidation, erratic polling
      hours and polling officials who instructed voters how to cast ballots. A
      large number of the 13,000 polling stations will have had no independent
      monitors; many judges, in protest over the drafting process, have refused to
      oversee the voting.

      The referendum masks the real center of power, which is in the hands of the
      Muslim Brotherhood. The party has no intention of diluting or giving up that
      power. For example, when it appeared that the Supreme Constitutional Court
      would dissolve the panel—stacked with party members—that was drafting the
      new constitution, the Brotherhood locked the judges out of the court
      building. Three dozen members of the panel, including secularists, Coptic
      Christians, liberals and journalists, quit in protest. The remaining
      Islamists, in defiance of the judges, held an all-night session Nov. 29 and
      officially approved the 63-page document.

      The draft constitution is filled with disturbingly vague language about
      democratic rights, civil liberties, the duties of women and the role of the
      press. It gives Islamic religious authorities control over the legislative
      process and many aspects of daily and personal life. One reason the
      constitution is expected to pass, apart from voting fraud, is because many
      liberals, secularists and Copts have walked away in disgust from electoral

      The Brotherhood, ironically, was not part of the vanguard that led the 18
      days of protests in February 2011 that brought down Mubarak. It was
      reluctant, after decades of being severely repressed, to throw its weight
      behind the protesters clogging Tahrir Square. It said at first that it would
      not compete in the presidential election or run a full slate of
      parliamentary candidates. But once it saw the chaos, squabbling and disarray
      among its secular opponents, who ran three competing presidential
      candidates, it seized the opportunity.

      Passages in the proposed constitution such as “The state is keen to preserve
      the genuine character of the Egyptian family” and the state guarantees
      freedom of the press except “in times of war or public mobilization” are
      vague enough to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to severely curtail women’s
      rights and ruthlessly silence press criticism. Morsi’s imperial presidential
      declaration of Nov. 22, until he rescinded it last week after street
      protests, effectively placed him above the law. Rescission of the decree
      will not, however, prevent the party from attaining dictatorial power.

      The Brotherhood does not shrink from the use of deadly force. The violent
      street clashes between thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators
      outside the presidential palace last week left 10 dead and about 700
      wounded. Some anti-government protesters said they were beaten in a
      makeshift detention and torture center that the Brotherhood set up close to
      the palace. Morsi showed no remorse. He announced in a nationally televised
      broadcast that anti-government demonstrators had confessed to being “paid
      thugs.” And the new government, to curb further street protests, including
      those that took place in Alexandria this weekend, has authorized the
      military to arrest civilians.

      The Muslim Brotherhood, like all revolutionary parties that replace an
      ancien régime, has inhabited the traditional structures of power. Government
      ministers and cabinets have been appointed. Parliamentarians have been
      elected. Judges have been named. But actual power is held, as in most
      post-revolutionary societies, by parallel party organizations. There are two
      systems of authority. One is public and ceremonial. The other is secret and
      unassailable. It is this realization—that the formal positions of power no
      longer mean anything—that led to the withdrawal of 30 percent of the
      Constituent Assembly, including several presidential advisers. Public
      figures in official roles are window dressing.

      Successful revolutionaries, as Crane Brinton
      dge/> wrote, “combine, in varying degrees, very high ideals and a complete
      contempt for the inhibitions and principles which serve other men as ideals.
      They present a strange variant of Plato’s pleasant scheme: they are not
      philosopher-kings but philosopher-killers. They have the realistic, the
      practical touch very few of the moderate leaders had, and yet they have also
      enough of the prophet’s fire to hold followers who expect the New Jerusalem
      around the corner. They are practical men unfettered by common sense,
      Machiavellians in the service of the Beautiful and the Good.”

      Leon Trotsky explained this mentality when he described the role of the
      Bolsheviks, who he admitted had been a distinct minority, in 1917.

      “The Bolsheviks,” he wrote, “took the people as preceding history had
      created them, and as they were called to achieve the Revolution. The
      Bolsheviks saw it as their mission to stand at the head of this people.
      Those against the insurrection were ‘everybody’—except the Bolsheviks. But
      the Bolsheviks were the people.”

      In short, the revolutionary elites give liberty only to those who they
      believe deserve it. And all revolutions, even purportedly secular ones such
      as the Bolshevik Revolution, are in essence religious experiences. They hold
      out glorious utopian visions and insist they have harnessed the forces of
      history, racial purity, destiny or God. They bifurcate the world into good
      and evil. They are exempt, as revolutionaries, from everyday morality. They
      embody an absolute truth. To tolerate differences is to abet evil. It is to
      permit those who are misguided to squander their lives. Cardinal Robert
      Bellarmine argued this point in 1600 when he ordered the Dominican friar and
      astronomer Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake for blasphemy. The
      longer heretics live, he said, the more damnation they heap upon themselves.

      Revolutionary governments invert morality and the rule of law. They believe,
      as Maximilien de Robespierre wrote, that they pit the despotism of liberty
      against tyranny. This is why Morsi increasingly mirrors the dictator he

      “All revolutionaries, the moment they undertake the actual responsibilities,
      become in some sort conservatives,” wrote G.M. Trevelyan
      <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jtrevelyan.htm> . “Robespierre
      guillotined the Anarchists. The first administrative act of the [English]
      Regicides was to silence the Levelers
      <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agitator_%28Levellers%29> .”

      Revolutionary governments are adept at playing on class hatreds and the
      self-righteousness of true believers. The middle class proved vitally
      important to the Egyptian revolution, as in all revolutions. But the largely
      secular middle class and especially the upper class are despised by the
      masses of poor that make up most of Egypt’s population. The only effective
      form of resistance to the secular Mubarak regime was to retreat into the
      strict tenets of orthodox Islam. The embrace of orthodox Islam became for
      many of the poor an identity and the sole source of hope. There is no need
      to enforce dress codes or the mores of orthodox Islam in impoverished Cairo
      slums such as Imbaba. But in the upper-class neighborhoods of Cairo such as
      Zamalek, where the old regime was in economic terms more generous, orthodox
      Islam never had the same cachet, even as upper-class women donned the hijab
      and orthodox Islam made inroads into the economic elite.

      This revolution, like all revolutions, has called poor believers into the
      streets to battle the party’s opponents. The opposition is branded the enemy
      of the revolution and, more ominously, the enemy of Islam; the
      anti-government protesters, in the words of Morsi, are the stooges of
      foreign embassies and Israel. And the poor—the Lumpenproletariat—are only
      too happy to lend their services as shock troops in defense of sacred
      beliefs and the promised future of glory and bread. They already detested
      those they are now being rallied against. Once released by the state from
      traditional forms of restraint, the mob willingly becomes vicious.

      The last three weeks of street violence presage a period of blood and
      repression. The opposition, which at first wanted to boycott the referendum,
      is mounting a beleaguered effort to defeat it. The lines are drawn. Morsi
      and the Brotherhood have been exposed as the heirs of the old dictatorship
      in new garb. The struggle for an open society is being waged by the betrayed
      on the streets of Egyptian cities. It will be a fight to the death.
      Brotherhood posters put up throughout Egypt in support of the pending
      constitution urge people to vote yes to “Supporting Legitimacy and Shariah
      [Islamic law].” Those who oppose legitimacy and Islamic law, it goes without
      saying, are heretics.


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