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Egypt’s failed state actors legitimate themselves

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

With over one hundred dead and hundreds more gravely wounded during yesterday’s protests, the questions about Egypt’s future is front and center.  

Whatever revolution is or isn’t, there hasn’t been a revolution in Egypt.  Whatever democracy is or isn’t, Egypt isn’t a democracy.  There’s been a regime change in Egypt.  Egypt is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

How are failed states defined?  Usually, the definition entails a combination of a dire political and economic situation with the addition of layers of corruption.  The state is omnipresent, authoritarian and unable to control itself or the streets.  The economy is in ruins.  Outside aid is essential for societal functioning.  People in power take what they can take. 

At this point, Egypt fits all these categories and increasingly so.  The next logical step is civil war, somewhat along the lines of Syria, where everyone outside Egypt who is anyone will be inside Egypt.  After the ever-elusive Geneva talks on negotiating Syria’s civil war, will the parties reconvene for talks on Egypt?

The situation in Egypt continues to worsen.  The press around the world is filled with stories about the latest round of protests and the assault on protestors by the military and police.  There are stories of civilians joining in on the beatings and killings as well.  Many of those who died were targeted – they were shot in the chest or the head.  So crowd dispersal was only one item on the mind of those who carried out the assaults.  Murder was another.

The New York Times provides a moving commentary on the day’s events:

The killings occurred a day after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched in support of the military, responding to a call by its commander for a “mandate” to fight terrorism. The appeal by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has emerged as Egypt’s de facto leader since the military removed Mr. Morsi from power, was widely seen as a green light to the security forces to increase their repression of the Islamists.

One doctor sat by himself, crying as he whispered verses from the Koran. Nearby, medics tried to revive a man on a gurney. When they failed, he was quickly lifted away to make room for the many others.

In the attack on Saturday, civilians joined riot police officers in firing live ammunition at the protesters as they marched toward a bridge over the Nile. By early morning, the numbers of wounded people had overwhelmed doctors at a nearby field hospital.

The Times also reports on Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement urging restraint. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was on the phone as well urging the same.  Yet urging restraint after greenlighting the coup – and approving the continuing of US aid – is tantamount to a slap on the wrist.  Such slaps mean:   “Get the job done. Hurry up.”

The AP reports that Egyptian authorities are continuing to build their case against deposed President Morsi.  They have been interrogating Morsi since the beginning of his detention, presenting him with secretly-recorded conversations and accusing him of crossing the lines of state interest through the sharing of secretive information with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Qatar and Turkey. 

Morsi is alternately refusing to answer questions and responding to them.  When not being questioned, he spends his time reading the Koran and complaining about the “deep state” that thwarted his Presidency and ultimately toppled him.  Some of the interrogations last five hours or more. So wherever Morsi is, his days are full.  However, since he is prevented from watching television or reading newspapers he may have little idea of what is going on outside the walls that confine him.

Morsi needs another jailbreak.  Would this one, like his previous one, be retroactively defined as illegal?

How misguided a Morsi trial is seems to elude the military leaders.  They think that proving their case against Morsi legitimates their coup.  In their eyes it would legitimate the banning – once again – of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Would it also legitimate the massacres of those who protest against their rule?

When those in power build a case to legitimate the power they have already exercised you can be sure they’re building a case for their continuance in power.

Egypt is only one example among many where power justifies itself.  Nonetheless, for a nation that prides itself on its ancient history and contemporary relevance, Egypt is setting the military power justification bar high.  It is also digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole.

If Egypt is a failed state who is to blame?   No doubt the military and the Muslim Brotherhood are among the culprits.  If so, it is doubtful that the Egyptian people can trust them to set Egypt back on a path toward sanity and progress.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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7 Responses

  1. just
    July 28, 2013, 12:03 pm

    This is beyond awful. The military rule is despotism @ its worst– willfully murdering protestors and inciting others to do the same.

    “(Reuters) – Egypt’s deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who has been accused of murder and other crimes, is likely to be transferred to the same Cairo prison where former leader Hosni Mubarak is now held, the interior minister said on Saturday.”

    I guess it’s sort of like Goldilocks and the 3 bears– they’ll keep incarcerating leaders until they get it just right. Sad that people are being murdered for protesting the military coup, eh?

  2. Justpassingby
    July 28, 2013, 12:05 pm

    How can the widely elected Mursi & Co be the culprit of the coup? Thats like saying a girl that being raped is the culprit.

    Sorry but this discourse that ‘both are as bad’ conceal whats going on in Egypt.

    • Keith
      July 28, 2013, 4:46 pm

      JUSTPASSINGBY- “How can the widely elected Mursi & Co be the culprit of the coup? …. Sorry but this discourse that ‘both are as bad’ conceal whats going on in Egypt.”

      Marc Ellis is not saying that the MB are culprits in the coup, rather, they share some of the blame for Egypt’s current situation. I agree. They made many fundamental mistakes, the biggest being getting Morsi elected President where he was sure to be held accountable for the unavoidable consequences of continued military and oligarchic control, and of IMF mandated neoliberal austerity. What were they thinking? All of this talk about a continuing revolution is pure crap. The opposition to neoliberalism has effectively been destroyed, at least in the short term. In any event, there isn’t much the opposition can do. The economy is a mess and they depend upon loans to import food to feed the people. If that isn’t control, I don’t know what is. Below are three quotes and links to some excellent analyses.

      “But I would argue that many of these criticisms are ill-conceived: there are so many forces already arrayed against them that there was not much scope for the Morsi government for independent action. Morsi could have tried military officers for crimes? You must be joking. He could have restored a bankrupt economy in a world where powerful institutions and governments, who have their own political agendas, control the flow of capital? He should have reduced poverty in a country dominated by a powerful neoliberal elite? This is not where the real evidence of their incompetence lies-especially considering the short period of one year in which he was president. In my view, their total incompetence, their total stupidity, lies in not anticipating, to begin with, that they would be demonized if they acquired governmental authority.” (Talal Asad)

      “For me, there’s nothing to celebrate in the rout of the Muslim Brothers. Warts and all, they were the only civilian counterweight to absolute military supremacy, the only organization big enough to stand up to the self-preserving generals and their partners in the civilian bureaucracy. But their leaders’ strategies led to their undoing by the far more powerful, vicious ruling caste. The consequences of their defeat go far beyond simply injury to their organization..The Brothers proved to be excellent tools in the counter-revolution’s master operation of regaining exclusive control over the state.”

      “For two years now I have often been asked why I have not visited Egypt, where I had been forbidden entry for 18 years. Just as often I repeated that on the basis of the information I was able to obtain-confirmed by Swiss and European officials-the Egyptian army remained firmly in control and had never left the political arena..Nearly three years ago, in a book and then in a series of articles, I alerted my readers to a body of troubling evidences, and to the underlying geopolitical and economic considerations that were often missing from mainstream political and media analyses, and that insisted on submitting the euphoria that accompanied the “Arab spring” to critical analysis.” (Tariq Ramadan)

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        July 28, 2013, 9:29 pm

        Excellent analysis and info.

  3. Citizen
    July 28, 2013, 1:40 pm

    From Thomas Friedman, last July 4th:

    “…the Obama Administration was largely a spectator to all of this. The Muslim Brotherhood kept Washington at bay by buying it off with the same old currency that Mubarak used: Arrest the worst Jihadi terrorists on America’s most-wanted list and don’t hassle Israel – and the Americans will let you do whatever you want to your own people.

    Two critical questions now hang over Egypt: Will the Egyptian Army, which again revealed itself as the real power broker, insist that the new government be more inclusive than Morsi’s — and to what end? Egypt will never be stable unless it has a government that represents all the main political forces in the country — and that still includes the Muslim Brotherhood, which probably still enjoys support from at least 25 percent of the voting public. It has to be part of any new government. But the Egyptian Army has detained many Muslim Brotherhood activists today. Will it allow them to be included in Egypt’s political future? And will the Egyptian army, which has its own vast network of economic interests that it is focused on protecting, open itself up to any reforms?”

    • Keith
      July 28, 2013, 8:36 pm

      CITIZEN- “From Thomas Friedman, last July 4th: “…the Obama Administration was largely a spectator to all of this.”

      Do you agree with Thomas Friedman? I’m curious. Do you think that CENTCOM may have had some input?

  4. Shingo
    July 29, 2013, 9:36 pm

    “From Thomas Friedman, last July 4th: “…the Obama Administration was largely a spectator to all of this.”

    Yes, they just paid for it.

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