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Mubarak is released while the Obama administration second guesses its second guess

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

So we have come full circle. Ousted President Mubarak is now a free man. Sort of. Here’s how the New York Times announced it:

The judicial authorities in Egypt have ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, who has been detained on a variety of charges since his ouster in 2011, according to state media and security officials on Monday. It remained possible, however, that the authorities would find other ways to keep him in detention.

The development threatened to inject a volatile new element into the standoff between the country’s military and the Islamist supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi as Egypt entered the sixth day of a state of emergency following a bloody crackdown by the military in which hundreds of people have been killed.

It was unclear how Egyptians — particularly those who have welcomed the military action against Mr. Morsi — would respond to the release of a despised autocrat whose downfall united Mr. Mubarak’s secular and Islamist foes. News of the legal maneuvers came at a time of sustained bloodletting.

Amazing how political fortunes change when the power behind the throne sees daylight to extend its power indefinitely. Egypt’s military is baiting the opposition – as it murders them. Last week’s death toll is well over 800. Summary execution seems to be the order of the day.

Whether Egypt’s military can win the day – or in President Obama’s jargon, prepare the change that will take generations – is in doubt. The possibility of democracy has receded. It has all but disappeared. The question now is who will be left standing.

When we get to the last person standing the challenge is to survive. In a war of survival every ethical code is suspended – on all sides. Right now Egypt’s situation is worse than civil war where sides are clearly delineated. On the streets no one knows which side the other is on. Chaos is the result.

Meanwhile the European Union is fulminating to no avail. The Obama administration is second guessing its second guess. Egypt’s leaders are arguing their independence from outside interference as they become more and more dependent on the most despotic regional powers, including Israel.

Light at the end of the tunnel? Not now. Not for a long time.

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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30 Responses

  1. MHughes976
    August 19, 2013, 11:13 am

    Events in Egypt raise a disturbing question about democracy everywhere. Is the sovereign people allowed first to take a vote with a certain effect, like electing a President or parliament for a term of years, and then say ‘That’s not what we meant at all’? If so, every decision is at best provisional. If not, the will of the people is enacted fully only at elections and not between them.

    • Citizen
      August 19, 2013, 2:36 pm

      @ MHughes976
      The shadows on the wall of what you describe includes the US; another eventual Civil War here is more than a mere possibility. Next time around it will surely include the Jewish question, and a much bigger way than Sherman and Grant brought it up to Abe Lincoln. Am I off my rocker?

  2. Taxi
    August 19, 2013, 1:53 pm

    The headline, professor, is a lie invented by you.

    Why would you do this? Political titillation for the ignorant has become your niche, it seems. You know they pay more at Fox than they do at Mondoweiss – you’d fit right in with them now with your unethical practices.

    There are many charges against Mubarak still pending and his lawyer stupidly stated that he “could” be released within 48 hours, after the end of the first trial which took place today. Never gonna happen – Mubarak will die in jail. But of course amateurs will pick up the lawyer’s kookoo statement and milk its propaganda to support their twisted agenda or their paranoiac conspiracy.

    Marc Ellis, in case you didn’t know, the Egyptian people have been a nation of people for over 12 thousand years, and in all them years, they have never had a single civil war. It’s not in their organic MO or history. So your fantasy of an Egyptian civil war is simply this: a sadistic ignoramus fantasy. Besides, who’s gonna be fighting who and how many of them are there? A question I’m sure you haven’t even contemplated let alone fact or stat-checked.

    Really hope you eat much crow in the next few days for calling it wrong again in Egypt.

    • Citizen
      August 19, 2013, 2:39 pm

      @ Taxi
      I’m not sure the Egypt that built the pyramids is the Egypt we have today, any more than the Israel of the bible is the Israel of today.

      • Taxi
        August 19, 2013, 7:38 pm


        The builders of the pyramids are the ancestors of modern Egyptians. In remote rural villages, lifestyles and cultural habits have not changed since ancient times. There has not been an exodus of Egyptians out of Egypt and Egypt has had continuous, uninterrupted sedentary community living in certain areas for thousands of years. Yes, the blood is mixed a little by now, but not in any significant measure.

    • Xpat
      August 19, 2013, 3:03 pm

      Seems to me obvious that Morsi overstepped his mandate. He won the elections but not the right to write the non-religious (in a political sense) out of the constitution. So, the Egyptian experiment in democracy is faltering at best and there is enough blame to go to both sides. The military took over, falling back on what is still reliable – U.S. aid, mediated by Israel. Seems like rational self-interest for both the military as an outfit and for the country as a whole, in the absence of anything better right now.
      And when you have such a high death toll in just a few days, unrest in cities across the country, and neither side ready to back down, isn’t that a country on the brink of tearing itself apart?
      I’d appreciate your perspective from inside the Arab world.

      • Taxi
        August 19, 2013, 7:16 pm


        I was in Cairo for a few days, about a week ago – I happen to leave just before the protests turned violent. I rented a houseboat on the Nile with a couple of friends (much cheaper and nicer than any five star hotel). I woke up so early the first night I was there and I was having my coffee alone on deck watching the sunrise, when a small fishing boat went slowly purring by, with three men, rising and falling to their knees in prayer, and a captain steering. It was quite an exotic sight. And as the boat completely passed me, I noticed it had a banner in Arabic tied to its aft. It read: “one person, one vote, only once, is not democracy”. This was their plain-in-sight complaint about Morsi – and they were religious too. Secular and regular religious moslems in Egypt want democracy, real democracy. It’s proved to be elusive and bloody so far, but they want it. And I believe they will get it.

        When information starts coming through that such and such a country is overtly or covertly supplying the MB with sophisticated weapons to fight the Egyptian army with; when foreign players start flooding foreign salafist fighters into Egypt to attack the army/civilians/sovereignty of the country, as in what happened in Syria, I would only then start to worry about the country “tearing itself apart”. This is what concerns Egyptian society the most, and it’s a legitimate worry in a region fraught with growing swaths of sectarian conflicts. This would explain the majority of Egyptians being somewhat nonchalant about the high number of deaths on their streets: they would rather a thousand MB members die instead of millions in a protracted sectarian war, promoted and enabled by foreign powers. Of course, western liberals are attacking them for this – but they don’t themselves live in the jungle to understand the hard choices Egyptians are faced with.

        General Jamal Abdul Nasser led a successful bloodless coup in 1952. Only one soldier died from a stray bullet during victory celebrations. Nasser, the secular socialist, invited the MB to join the newly birthed political arena, but they refused his invitation because of his secularism, and they sent him an assassin after one year of his rule. The assassination attempt failed – and thus began the historic conflict between the Egyptian army and the Moslem Brotherhood.

        For Egyptians, Nasser was a most beloved leader – the west referred to him as the ‘benevolent dictator’. His Egyptian army fought many wars with israel, and so many Egyptian soldiers were killed in these wars that it is said that practically every family in Egypt has a member or a friend who’s died wearing a uniform. This is why the Egyptian people en mass have such a strong affection for their army.

        It is worth noting here that when Nasser lost the 1967 war, he gave a speech and announced his abdication, citing that he was no longer worthy to rule because of Egypt’s defeat under his command. Immediately upon his abdication announcement, millions and millions of Egyptians flooded the streets all over Egypt, rejecting his abdication and imploring him to remain in power. Arab streets in other countries too erupted with people marching in Nasser’s support.

        I mention this to illustrate that the Egyptians are reared on adoration of the army. The Camp David agreement has forced the army into pragmatic subservience to tel aviv. The Egyptian people understand this and would very much like to, not just free themselves from dictatorships and political zealotry, but free their army too from the shackles of USA/israel. There is still a blood debt between the Egyptian army and the idf that the Egyptian army has not forgotten and is silently, patiently, waiting to collect.

        In the meantime, neutralizing the violent MB eruptions across the land by force, looks to be the direction that the army is taking, with the support of the majority of Egyptians. We will see in the next couple of weeks how many street fires can be put out. And whether MB public street protests will turn into campaigns of random car bombings, like they now have in Lebanon after the salafists there were quashed by the Lebanese army, and at a great loss to both Lebanese civilian and soldier, I may add.

        But regardless of what the MB will be doing, preparations for the new elections will keep moving forward, as planned.

    • Walid
      August 19, 2013, 3:42 pm

      “Mubarak will die in jail. ”

      Taxi, it’s not that far-fetched; prior to his ouster Mubarak had an invitation to relocate to Saudi Arabia, which is now calling the shots in Egypt after having knocked Qatar out of the race. There are billions in aid money this Mubarak-friendly country is offering Egypt to help it out of its financial mess so Mubarak stands a good chance of being set free to live outside of Egypt, especially that he is very sick.

    • yrn
      August 19, 2013, 3:48 pm

      Taxi means, In other words Marc Ellis write about Israel or the Jews or STFU.

    • john h
      john h
      August 19, 2013, 5:02 pm

      Court Monday ordered the prison release of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, pending an investigation into corruption charges.

      The ousted leader will remain in custody, though, for separate charges of murder and corruption, Ahram Online reported.

      Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are to go to trial for charges they took more than $14.3 million in public funds to build private villas, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

    • thankgodimatheist
      August 19, 2013, 6:54 pm

      “Mubarak is released”

      Where on earth did you see that, Marc? Where’s the specific fact. A lawyer’s speculation isn’t one, a bright mind like you surely know that.
      I don’t think you should be taken anymore seriously, so sorry!

    • tokyobk
      August 19, 2013, 8:53 pm

      The headline overstates but he has now been ordered released which is step up from just his lawyer predicting it. Prof. Ellis is probably bewildered by the hating on him though. He is aiming to please his crowd.

      Not sure how you have missed the hundreds of cvil wars in the various Egyptian entities that have existed over the thousands of years, and invasions from all directions that divided internal factions, the very essence of civil war. From the wars of unification to Cleopatra. a good portion of the dynasties were contested by other pretenders, just like any other monarchy.

      There is no such thing as an organic MO of a people (that is the essence of Zionism btw). Egypt is probably the most diverse nation place over long long time, more than its only rivals, China and India.

      • Taxi
        August 20, 2013, 2:58 am


        “Hundreds of civil wars”.

        Really? “Hundreds of civil wars’?! Why don’t you list oooh say 100 of these wars? A quick cut and paste from your favorite history site would suffice.

        I’m waiting… NOT!

        Historians, who know better than you and me, certainly have not recorded any such thing as “hundreds of civil wars” in Egypt.

        For some 12 thousand years, there has consistently and uninterruptedly been a people, known the world over, as Egyptians. You can even still visually see the physical likeness of ancient Egyptians and modern Egyptians. I call that organic. You call it “zionism”? WTF?! You are one confused and silly dude.

      • tokyobk
        August 20, 2013, 4:05 am

        You only get to call someone silly if you understand what they mean.
        Organic peoplehood is the premise of all nationalism including Zionism. Its a really recent idea which which you can confirm from any of your historian friends. You are absolutely correct that I am not going to google for you. But if you do you will get plenty of stuff like “Pharaoh Pepy II lived to be 94 years old, but upon his death the country fell into civil war…” It actually could not be otherwise in such a long history, and I only said hundreds because it is an extremely safe estimate since there are thousand year periods in Egyptian history ancient and Islamic conquest were there was perpetual war. I suggested Wars of Unification, where the idea of an Egypt begins, and Cleopatra (who was fighting her brother for power btw) and whose (Ptolmey with possible Ethiopian) family composition by the way makes the point that you can not find a more diverse set of dynasties than Egypt through the ages.

      • Taxi
        August 20, 2013, 4:36 am

        So now you’re retracting your hugely exaggerated claims of “hundreds of civil wars”? Or are you now trying to cover up your misinformed/misleading statement by saying “perpetual war”?

        “It is an extremely safe estimate”. LOL yeah right, “an extremely safe estimate”, indeed!

      • tokyobk
        August 20, 2013, 5:07 am

        By the way, the 12,000 years old thing you keep saying gets you into the realm of “space aliens built the pyramids.” So, if those are your historians than I will just back away from the keyboard. Egypt is settled in any real numbers and with agriculture 6 – 7,000 years ago.

        When you say they look now like they did then I wonder which dynasties you are comparing. The painted vanities on the Greek and Roman era mummies look nothing like the NUbian kinds go the 20’s dynasties. The Modern Egyptian has been composed of so many different groups. My suspicion is they were much darker then.

        You may be right about Mubarak though it looks like you are wrong. If you are wrong, I think you owe Prof. Ellis an apology.

      • Tuyzentfloot
        August 20, 2013, 5:49 am

        Space aliens built the pyramids.

        Space aliens were very neurotic and even after the pyramids were built they kept fretting about them falling over. Not many people know that.

        Look , I’m absolutely certain they won’t fall over but if you really want we can make them flatter.
        No, no, it’ll be alright. But you’re absolutely sure aren’t you? Because it really would be annoying.

      • tokyobk
        August 20, 2013, 7:21 am

        Taxi: “Marc Ellis, in case you didn’t know, the Egyptian people have been a nation of people for over 12 thousand years, and in all them years, they have never had a single civil war. ” 12,000 years. No civl wars.

        Dr. Alan Dodson of BBC history (and every other major publication, academic department and major museum):
        “The civilisation of ancient Egypt can be traced back in recognisable form to around 3000 BC.”

        “…There were also cracks appearing in the unity of the Egyptian state, and its cohesion was threatened by a short-lived secession of the southern part of the country under the rebel king Amenmesse around 1200 BC, by the murder of Ramesses III in 1153 BC, and by civil war in the far south around 1080 to 1070 BC. ”
        “…under the 21st Dynasty, Egypt was split in two, the north ruled by the pharaoh, based in the new city of Tanis in the north-east of the country, and the south by the High Priest of Amun at Thebes (modern Luxor).”
        “…However, within a century, the country had split again, with Thebes now ruled not by High Priests, but by its very own line of pharaohs, the 23rd Dynasty, running in parallel with the Tanite (based in Tanis) northern king.”
        “…The increasingly bloody internal struggles of the ruling house brought Egypt within the orbit of the still-growing Roman Empire, culminating in the defeat of the last of Ptolemy’s ruling descendants, Cleopatra VII…”

        Obviously my larger point, Taxi, is that you make things up and call other people idiots.

      • Taxi
        August 20, 2013, 7:42 am

        “…in recognisable form”.

        Okay dude, aren’t you glad you got an opportunity to study some ancient history today? Though your idiotic “hundreds of civil wars” comment has not been forgotten.

        You think the Nile delta just appeared 3000 B.C? You think no communities were established there on its banks before that time? Maybe you think the earth is flat too.

        “How old is the Nile river?
        The Nile River has been changing and forming for many ages. The river has been around almost some twelve thousand years and has been used by many people around the river.”
        (I’m linking you to the most basic site, just so you don’t get further confused).

    • Justpassingby
      August 20, 2013, 5:01 am

      Marc Ellis obviously knows more about Egypt than a rabid propagandist for the army.

  3. bilal a
    bilal a
    August 19, 2013, 2:10 pm

    Its not a civil war when a foreign trained and funded military deposes the elected government , shuts down or kills media opposition, and kills and outlaws its domestic opposition, its merely a foreign colonial occupation . In the American Revolution we also had economic elites siding with the foreign occupation and repression; post revolution British loyalists had their illegal wealth seized.

    It is not clear exactly who is directing the counter revolutionary forces allied with the Foreign funded military, but certainly the counter revolutionaries are anti Islamist, anti armed struggle, and pro Islamic quietism, at least in their opposition to the MB and Hamas:

    “The in the statement, the Tamarod youth movement calls Hamas a “gang,” slamming it as morally and financially corrupt – blaming the Islamist movement for the imposition of Islamic law on many aspects of Gazan life, corruption, killing innocent people, demolishing mosques, and oppressing the population of Gaza in the name of religion. ”

    Note that Tamarod is closely echoing Islamaphobic memes in the USA, eg shariah, terrorism, moral oppression. Highly unlikely this is indeed am Egyptian organic movement.

    • tokyobk
      August 19, 2013, 9:06 pm

      Organic and native are words reflecting purity of which there is none in history or culture. Tamarod certainly is playing into the Western sensibilities they think will help them but this has nothing to do with them being less “organic” (as If Egypt is sealed off from the rest of the world).

    • Donald
      August 20, 2013, 7:21 am

      “The in the statement, the Tamarod youth movement calls Hamas a “gang,” slamming it as morally and financially corrupt – blaming the Islamist movement for the imposition of Islamic law on many aspects of Gazan life, corruption, killing innocent people, demolishing mosques, and oppressing the population of Gaza in the name of religion”

      Not entirely false and this follows logically from all the other rhetoric. Hamas was happy that the Muslim Brotherhood was in power. Hamas did behave brutally to Fatah supporters (and vice versa) and it is repressive–MW discussed the complaints of some Gaza youths about Hamas a year or two back. Of course, pointing out real flaws in one’s enemies as an excuse for one’s own crimes is pretty much standard operating procedure in politics when it gets bloody.

      “Highly unlikely this is indeed am Egyptian organic movement.”

      Why? Strange bedfellows in politics are more the rule than the exception. Someone invented a cliche about that. And why should Tamarod invent new forms of propaganda when there are perfectly serviceable memes lying around waiting to be picked up?

      • Donald
        August 20, 2013, 7:44 am

        I have to correct myself here–I thought you were talking about Egyptians condemning Hamas, but no, you’re talking about a report that Gaza youth are doing this. Well, again, this is something that some Gazans were saying a couple of years ago–


        Here’s a different (non-Israeli) article about what’s happening in Gaza–

        al-monitor piece

  4. American
    August 19, 2013, 3:49 pm

    ”The Obama administration has taken preliminary steps to withhold financial aid to the Egyptian government, officials said on Sunday, though it is curtailing economic assistance, not the much larger military aid on which Egypt’s generals depend.

    The State Department has put a hold on financing for economic programs that directly involve the Egyptian government, administration officials said, out of a concern that the military-led government might have violated Congressional rules prohibiting aid to countries where there has been a coup. ”>>>>

    Doesnt make much sense to curtail economic but not military aid if what you’re promoting is some knd of ‘domestic’ stability does it?

    • American
      August 19, 2013, 4:08 pm

      Doesnt make any sense for the US to fund Islamist Sunni radicals against Assad in Syria.
      And fund the Egypt-rulerdom against what they call MB radical terrorist in Egypt.

      The only thing that matters to the US in the ME is Israel Lobby and the Oil Sheikdoms…that’s all.
      So we can only assume whatever the US does reflects their wishes.
      The US has no ME policy, it just enforces their policies.

  5. PilgrimSoul
    August 19, 2013, 9:02 pm

    The rhetoric coming out of the Salvation Front, among others in the pro-coup Provisional Government, is horrifying. Clearly these “liberals” are absolutely barking, working themselves up into a rage appropriate to public executions or possible concentration camps. There is also a fair amount of lying going on, along with media suppression and 24/7 media demonizing of the MB. Most interesting is the charge, rather common now among pro-coup Egyptians, that the West (especially its journalism) is secretly in league with the Muslim Brothers. Equally interesting is the pro-coup’s demand for the ouster of AJ.

    Most Islamophobes in the USA believe that all US Muslim organizations are simply fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood. If the Egyptian MB is in fact crushed, who or what will the American anti-Muslim bigots blame in their campaign against American Islam?

    Irony aside, its very hard not to conclude that the Arab Spring is now over, not just because of Black Wednesday but also because of the incredible lying, the psychotic propaganda campaign, and outright hysterical denial that the interim government has made, or ever could make, any mistakes.

    The two power centers were the MB and the military. Their goals were incompatible, but they balanced each other out. There is now nothing to stop the military for seizing power in the form of a military dictatorship, especially since Saudi money is about to replace US dollars. If you doubt that, just think ahead a bit to the “next elections.” Does anyone seriously think that they’ll allow anyone from the MB to run? And if they don’t, how can anybody claim that the election is representative?

    That being the case, the military will probably decide not to bother about elections at all. Then when the “liberals” complain, the military can say, “Well, we’re very sorry, but you see if we have elections the MB will only use that as an excuse to win power back. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

  6. piotr
    August 19, 2013, 9:09 pm

    Clearly, there is a lot of hatred on both side in Egypt, and the military decided to seize the day, being backed on the streets by Tamarod and financially by the Saudis and their sidekicks. Tamarod may well be “Egyptian organic movement”, but the excesses of military/Tamarod combo will only cement the beliefs on the other side that secularists are inherently immoral, deceitful etc.

    I suspect that the military wants to “eliminate” the Brotherhood, but that instead they will “decapitate” with disastrous consequences. The situation may degenerate into a morass like in Syria, with police posts and checkpoints in the country side overrun by local Islamic gangs, countered by pro-government death squads.

  7. anthonybellchambers
    August 20, 2013, 5:10 am

    In 1953, the CIA engineered a coup in Iran to overthrow the democratically elected Mohammad Mossedeq and to replace him with the discredited Shah Reza Pahlavi who had been rejected by the electorate.

    This gross interference in Iran’s internal affairs to suit the political ambitions of the West is mirrored today, exactly 60 years later, by the continued manipulation of Middle East politics by the United States acting under the demands of AIPAC, a powerful, unelected lobbying group for Israel, in Washington.

    For 30 years, the US kept former president, Hosni Mubarak, in power by the use of massive amounts of American tax monies totalling billions of dollars to ensure that the Egyptian president stayed in bed with Binyamin Netanyahu and his predecessors in Israel’s Knesset.

    And today, notwithstanding that such use of US tax dollars is illegal to support a military coup, President Obama unashamedly still bows to the demands of the lobby and is supporting the military regime in Egypt.

    When the US,the most powerful state in the world, conspicuously acts in this illegal manner to control another state for the benefit of a third party with vested interests in the political outcome, then the international community loses the last vestige of respect for so-called American democracy.

    The world is no better off than 60 years ago, but arguably a lot worse and dangerously so.

  8. Kathleen
    August 20, 2013, 5:36 pm

    Obama played it safe by avoiding calling the violent coup a coup. Now the former dictator Mubarak being released, the elected Morsi being held by the Egyptian military, Egyptians being slaughtered by the Egyptian military for protesting. Not sure how Obama is going to pull a rabbit out of this violent hat

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