Egyptian Things To Make You Go, “Oh, Crap.”

Linked through from Political Animal, Abu Aardvark has some interesting and disconcerting observations about what’s going on inside of Egypt.  I’ve highlighted some of the same passages as Kevin Drum did, with some differences as well.

If we can take Egypt as a bell-weather for the rest of Sunni Arabia (which is most of the Middle East), things are looking mighty bellicose on a number of fronts.  It is impossible to tell what any of this means, and when taken all at once, perhaps there is a conspiratorial tone to what we’re hearing that is more an artifact of presentation than reality.  Still, just so you’ve read it (Emphasis mine):

Abu Aardvark: Reflections on Egypt

. . . everyone here seems keenly aware that the United States has backed off of democracy promotion. When Condi Rice came through the country without meeting any civil society leaders or mentioning democracy at all, really, it capped off an already widespread perception that the US no longer cares to promote democracy in Egypt: “the government knows it, the people know it, and the activists know it,” as one person put it to me, and everybody is adjusting their behavior accordingly.

. . . the government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood (a predominantly Sunni para-political, non-state organization, Ed.) is exceptionally intense, with unprecedented pressure on individual members (or suspected members). Not just people going to jail, but businesses closed and merchandise seized, students prevented from sitting exams, and other escalating repression. There’s a huge amount of anti-MB material flooding the press, including in the leading independent paper al-Masri al-Youm.

. . . anti-Shia stuff is really spreading rapidly, and seems to have the Egyptian government’s approval (at a minimum). Sensational-looking books about the Shia are all over the bookstands, along with stories in the tabloids and scare-mongering editorials. Even in al-Masri al-Yom, op-eds in recent days have (for instance) attacked Bush’s plan for Iraq because it would empower the Shia, who would abolish all forms of Arab identity and seek to unify with Iran.

. . . Why all this anti-Shia discourse now? One popular theory is that the Egyptian government, backed by the US, wants to prepare the ground for confrontation with Iran. By this theory, the government is stoking hatred of the Shia as a pre-emptive move to shape the political space in such a way as to make it hard for Iran to appeal to Egyptian (and Arab) public opinion in the event of a war – and to prevent a repeat of anything like the outpouring of popular support for Hassan Nasrullah last summer. One problem with this theory is that mobilizing anti-Shia anger against Iran simultaneously complicates attempts by the government to support American goals of strengthening a Shia government in Iraq – an irony of which at least some officials seem painfully aware. Another school of thought points to the Iraq war, and especially the Saddam execution video, as fueling anger against the Shia, independently of anything the government is doing. Whatever the case, I’ve seen a lot more anti-Shia discourse than I expected or have ever seen before, and it alarms me.

And, in more entertaining news:

. . .one of the main bookstores in central Cairo is prominently featuring posters for an instant book declaring that “Saddam was not executed” – it was all an American hoax. The guy who hanged was actually one of Saddam’s doubles – the author compares a bunch of pictures of Saddam in power with pictures from the trial and execution, and declares that they are obviously not the same man. It’s a nutty book in every sense of the word… I don’t know how many people (besides me) have bought it, but I saw the poster in a few places.

Cracking down on Sunni and Shia at the same time?  Well, they’re nothing if not versitile.  My guess is that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a genuine political threat to a kingdom that may have half-heartedly moved a little too close to democratic reforms for comfort, whereas scoring points against Shia is a fairly typical easy-friends political clout-getter for something else.  Shia are the minority among Middle Eastern Muslims, and picking on minorities is pretty popular everywhere in the world, even here.  Perhaps they’re right, and this is a prelude to a US-led invasion of Iran.  Even if there is no such thing, though, the time may come soon when Middle East governments will need to become much more actively involved in Iraq.  Perhaps the Egyptian government has just chosen a side.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.