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Exile and the Prophetic: American vigilantism and Egypt’s too

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Egypt is off the front pages of American newspapers.  It was only a matter of time, a week or so, for the story to run its news-cycle course.  Today it’s the Trayvon Martin verdict.  Race remains the American divide.

Watching President Obama twist and turn with the verdict is interesting.  He knows that vigilantes come in different forms and that often in American history such behavior has been sanctioned by the legal system.  As our first African American President, though, what is he to say?  

Nonetheless, anyone who has followed the Trayvon Martin case can only despair that America produces – and sanctions – so many George Zimmerman’s. 

Despite the lack of interest, the unfolding events in Egypt merit attention.  Vigilantism is American as apple pie but is found far from our shores as well.  The Egyptian army is vigilante behavior – organized.  The Muslim Brotherhood isn’t above vigilantism either.

The Guardian reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is in negotiations with the army.  Who would have thought? 

The negotiations are stylized. Each party is trying to assert itself while saving face. The Muslim Brotherhood is demanding Morsi’s reinstatement so his legitimacy as President is recognized – with the proviso that Morsi would immediately call for new elections.  They’re posing.  The Muslim Brotherhood knows the army isn’t going anywhere near that proposal since it would delegitimize the army’s actions in the first place.  Since the army has the upper hand, why would it give the Muslim Brotherhood a huge victory within its overall defeat? 

What’s the Muslim Brotherhood’s end game?  The only hope for the Muslim Brotherhood is a guaranteed place in the new government.  Yet that hope is shadowed by the New York Times report that the bank accounts of top Muslim party officials and supporters are being frozen.  No doubt that includes the Muslim Brotherhood officials who are in jail and on the run.

The Egyptian army is ascendant.  Despite its following, the Muslim Brotherhood is on its heels.  Any place in the new government for the Muslim Brotherhood will be symbolic, restrictive and monitored.

I can’t imagine the Egyptian army allowing any real possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood returning to power through negotiations or later through elections.   Egypt will go Islamist only over the army’s dead body.  That dead body would also include the progressive forces that have aligned themselves with the military.   

Those within Egypt and Egypt watchers should brace themselves for yet another decade of military/civilian repression.  Any liberality will come within repression.  But that was true with Mubarak.  The idea that Mubarak’s rule was only and everywhere repressive is untrue.  Like most dictators, Mubarak guided Egypt through an era of modernization.  The stability his rule afforded was important to that (extremely uneven) effort.  Stability without repression in Egypt remains unexplored territory.

This may be a central factor in the army’s seizure of power.  Egypt’s deep state could only see instability ahead and a retreat from Egypt’s modern course it is so heavily invested in.  Islamist politics represents a retreat for them.  To allow its reemergence now would be folly.  The most the Muslim Brotherhood can hope for is a place to bide their time – again.

The state is right to discipline religion.  Religion in power is so hypocritical it drives people into exile from the very religion they once embraced.  In fact, the hypocrisy found in religion when it has power is rivaled by only one other hypocrisy – the state exerting its power. 

The state rightly disciplines religion when it has power.   Who is going to discipline the state?

In Egypt, the army keeps pointing at the Muslim Brotherhood – understandably.  The Muslim Brotherhood keeps pointing at the army – understandably.  Progressive forces keep pointing at the Muslim Brotherhood – understandably – and wants to point at the army – but can’t afford to.  The reason is the progressive forces don’t have the power of their own. 

But then the army and the Islamists are afraid of progressives that might come to power without anyone to discipline it.  Of course, progressives can’t imagine why they might need to be disciplined.  Progressives see forces that want to discipline them as vigilantes.

Is this Egypt’s fate, to be eternally contested by vigilantes of different stripes?

Is Egypt only a microcosm of a world contested by vigilantes?

The George Zimmerman’s of the world.  If we think, it’s only an American issue, we’re kidding ourselves.

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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8 Responses

  1. Taxi on July 15, 2013, 3:45 pm

    Political islam is dead in Egypt, Syria and in Lebanon, despite its clandestine partnerships with the west. The mainly moslem populations of these three countries have categorically rejected political islam. Others will follow, or will attempt to follow. This is the black fear of the oil Arabs. And of israel. And the USA has been consoling them, promising them that they will not allow political islam to die (we too need political islam so we can keep doing the war on terror thing).

    In Syria, America and its motley harem lost the political islam project and they’re mad as hell ’bout that. Now America is using the israel-attack-dog card, sending israeli jets through Turkey to bomb allegedly more Syrian weaponry, trying to drag Syria into a war with israel: testing the waters with the Russians/risking a possible confrontation with the Russians – risking for sure a regional war that would involve the Iranians too. A hi-stake gamble that only an empire in decline would take.

    Question is, will America use the israel-attack-dog card against the new (yet to be elected) Egyptian President if he/she proved too populist and independent?

    If it did, I’d call that gangsterism – the Godfather of vigilantism.

    (p.s. I actually enjoyed your article today, Marc Ellis. Thank you.)

    • gamal on July 15, 2013, 6:18 pm

      well “political Islam” is a zombie dead for some time now but still with vast monies from “oil Arabs” ( Banu Benzene) almost universally derided as American Islam it still manages to persist in its schtick oscillating easily from advocating anti-social social policy to committing atrocities that would shame a ghoul,

      Sectarian war unlikely in Egypt, when was the last one? persecution of Christians by the state and some strife between private citizens ( such as the looting of Chrisitan owned liquor stores and its subsequent consumption by some semi indigent soldiers of Islam) have their roots in the intensely fought class war in Egypt and the parlous social conditions of the vastly Sunni majority masses, Egyptians are too aware of the nature of the struggle in its social and economic aspects to be suckered into a “religious” conflict. The MB has never really represented a religious constituency as such but represented a modernization and social program owing a good deal to Abduh etc but that wanted some control of the process, which it expressed in the culturally normative manner of a defense of “Religious” principles, really social mores. the Ikhwan have a very creditable record of social service etc, however their ideology has become ossified and often simplistic neither understanding the nature of the possibilities within their own heritage or having a deep understanding of the “West” and the project of Modernity etc, like conservative christian democracy in Europe. Samir Amin of course is another kettle of fish.

      In Egypt if violence comes it will be class based perhaps with an Islamic veneer but its going to be the impoverished masses against the bloated Compradors and personally i think the Comp’s and USA may well be nervous of such an eventuality, concessions may be available if the people can avoid internal conflicts state repression etc. But from where do we form a government where is a single Egyptian political player or party that can unite the people and actually accomplish something, politics in Egypt like many other things has become a shambles. maybe from the federation of Egyptian trade unions, i hope so.

    • gamal on July 15, 2013, 7:04 pm

      from the linked article

      “That task became easier, at least in the short term, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait – rich Gulf Arab states happy at the downfall of the Brotherhood – promised a total of $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel.

      The new planning minister, Ashraf al-Arabi, said the Arab money would be enough to sustain Egypt through its transition period and it did not need to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund.

      Egypt had sought $4.8 billion in IMF aid last year, but months of talks ran aground with the government unable to agree cuts in unaffordable subsidies for food and fuel. Arabi’s comments could worry investors who want the IMF to spur reform.”

      unable to agree “cuts in unaffordable subsidies for food and fuel.” something tells me they will find the money, otherwise people will starve or very nearly and will certainly fight, 400 hundred died in ‘Riots’ when Sadat removed the subsidies on bread, during Infitah, he reconsidered if i remember right.

      “reform” indeed, this is a tangible victory, people in Egypt can still eat.

  2. DanH on July 15, 2013, 6:41 pm

    Marc –

    Someone said the Salafist affiliates such as the MB and the al-Nour Party are the Ku Klux Clan of Islam. Vigilante behavior fits the profile

    The name ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ certainly has a nice sound to it, as does the brotherhood of man, but that name leads us to buy into the massive indiscriminate pro-Muslim reaction our MSM expressed after the non-coup.

    Left out of consideration is the reality that just as with the usefulness to Israel of the Fundamentalist Christians who have been nurtured and organized by Israel because, in the Israel/Palestine case, they are extremely helpful with their vociferous negating of traditional Christian ideals, creating dissonance and giving cover for so-called Christian Senators and Representatives when AIPAC needs their support, in the same way the MB and their ally, the al-Nour Party, are strongly influenced by Salafist elements and their underhanded, cruel and brutal tactics to terrorize their moderate Islamic and Christian opponents and scare them out of contest. The murdered Copts are an example.

    If one wants to bring up the brutal murder of 53 or more ostensible Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian army, I think it may be no less unlikely they were killed in a ‘false flag’ operation by Salafists allied to the MB than by the Army. There are indicators this was actually the case.

    If we look at Egyptian society, however, almost everyone is Muslim.

    But the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and government under President Morsi, which we refer to as Islamist, has no greater right to right to think of itself as representative of ‘better’ Muslims, actually perhaps the reverse when one considers the peacefulness of the religion of Islam, then do the dozens of other political parties which tried unsuccessfully to bring their message and candidates to the fore a year ago. After all, the Labor Party, the liberal parties, the moderate Islamic parties, etc. are all comprised of Muslim people.

    Then of course there we are, planning on installing the Brotherhood in Syria, and Morsi’s unfortunate outspokenness regarding this intent of the Salafists in a speech he gave, I think on June 15th, didn’t win him favors with the Army which evidently does not want to be drawn into that quagmire.

    So much of what he was doing was under the radar, it reminds of US politics. There was the incident of the appointment of a permanent Ambassador to Israel and the accompanying diplomatic letter spelling out Morsi’s intent to honor treaties and to be helpful in the neighborhood, and when that hit the news, the attempted covering of his fanny by calling Jews every kind of name he could think of, just to prove to his base he really thinks the US and Israel are demons. Unfortunately for him, a copy of the diplomatic correspondence was widely publicized and accepted as reality, in spite of the MB damage control efforts.

    Did I mention Salafists have been responsible for lobbing many missiles at Israel, even when Hamas was trying to respect a cease fire? Is this not false-flag usefulness? After all, what gets greater coverage in the US news?

    For me, the tipping point seems to be the fact shortly after a Mr Haddad was hired by the Clinton Climate Initiative, a VERY, very big NGO, to be the director(?) of their Egypt operation, Mr. Haddad was appointed to the senior steering committee of the MB elect Morsi operation and functioned coordinating media relations, etc. for them. It seems it was only three weeks ago the Egyptian Court closed down and kicked out American, German, and some other pro-democracy NGO operatives for attempting to influence the election of a new president. This, one can assume, was in the works in the Justice system right from the beginning of Morsi’s presidency.

    Why was the international Clinton Climate Initiative and their double-dipping operative Mr. Haddad not indicted (and convicted) as well? Could it be Morsi had the power to protect the former US President’s NGO because it was the US’s agenda, as well as Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, and Qatar’s that the MB was working to forward, sub rosa, through his efforts?

    Morsi will be a great loss to the Powers That Be because he was effective in talking with two tongues. Haaretz had a good article regarding four things Morsi did that were beneficial to Israel.

    It is said Qatar was the unlimited source of funds the al-Nour (Salafist) Party brought to the equation. If the Progressives were out of the electoral picture, their lack of unlimited funds and friends in high places might have something to do with it. As Americans, we know how that goes, right?

  3. Citizen on July 16, 2013, 7:23 am

    Imagine where the USA would be now if it could not print fiat money that’s the world’s default currency? We have how many people getting food stamps? How many with no job, or a crappier job than they had? And how many more FTAs are we creating to send more jobs overseas? And haven’t the big corporate farms made de facto immigration policy for decades now?

    As to Zimmerman, the wannabe cop, anybody know the background stats on burglary and other crime in his local community?

  4. Citizen on July 16, 2013, 7:37 am

    This article gives you a sense of what it’s been like living in Zimmerman’s gaited community within Sanford, FL.

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