When I penned my column ‘Egypt’s youth uprising has been hijacked’ in early February, I experienced a deep sense of foreboding. I hesitated to dampen everyone’s optimism because, of course, I wish the best for the people of that great Arab nation. I knew I was bucking the trend but I refused to see the situation through rose-coloured glasses. Two months on, everything I feared is, sadly, unfolding.
As I predicted, the country is still beset by protests, strikes, sit-ins and lawlessness. According to the Associated Press, “Crime has soared by 200 per cent since then” with “murder, violent theft and kidnapping leading the surge”.. The cancellation of an African Champions League football match between the Egyptian club Zamalek and Tunisia’s Club Africain, due to Egyptian fans attacking players and officials on the pitch, was shameful. People’s empowerment is one thing but ultimately law and order must prevail.
Equally disturbing is the ravaged economy. Foreign currency reserves are at their lowest since 2007 and growth projections have been downgraded. Tourism is almost non-existent. Hotels are empty. Adding to Egypt’s economic woes is the mass influx of Egyptian workers escaping Libya. I’m most worried about the political front. Almost as soon as Mubarak made his retreat, prominent figures in the youth movement faded away. Moreover whenever young protesters were asked why they didn’t appoint a leader they would invariably say that they didn’t have one. When the former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei tried to vote during last month’s constitutional referendum he was booed and shoved by his opponents who believed he was an agent for the US. I’m beginning to wonder whether some of the revolution’s instigators were being paid by of foreign powers all along.
It’s no secret that Washington’s relationship with Mubarak had cooled or that the 2005 presidential contender Ayman Nour was cosy with the White House. Likewise, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian pro-democracy activist and critic of Mubarak, has been financed by American NGOs. The fact is there are no credible applicants for the top job and not enough time for new ones to emerge. The Muslim Brotherhood have announced that they won’t propose a candidate this time around but its leadership is waiting patiently in the wings, strategising a plan to grab the attention of the electorate in four years time. That doesn’t mean that they won’t support an ‘independent’ candidate as their puppet in the meantime.
The Brotherhood is currently trying to model its soon-to-be-formed political party along the lines of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, which was founded on moderate Islamic principles. Don’t be fooled by its makeover.. This group is the parent of Hamas with offshoots throughout the Middle East and North Africa - and plans to turn Egypt into an Islamic state run on Shari’a law. In a country with substantial Coptic and secular minorities, that would be a recipe for violent dissent.
President Mubarak once warned that “If the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in taking over the country, the world would isolate them, as they have done Hamas... Many will take their money and leave the country. Investments will stop. Unemployment will grow...” Say what you will about the former leader, on this point he was right.
Worst of all, the Muslim Brotherhood has informal ties to the Iranian regime primarily through its strong links with Hamas. The group welcomed Iran’s Islamic revolution and in 2008 its former Supreme Guide, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, told an Iranian news agency: “The Muslim Brotherhood supports the ideas and thoughts of the founder of the Islamic Republic.” It is, therefore, not illogical to assume that should the Brotherhood assume power, it could become a conduit for Iranian influence in the heart of the Arab World. That would be a coup for Tehran that which has already spread its tentacles to Lebanon, Syria and Yemen - and is trying to infiltrate Kuwait and Bahrain. Last week, a court in Kuwait City sentenced Iranian spies to death and expelled Iranian diplomats for their involvement in a spy ring.
Egyptian-Iranian relations have already warmed following the passage of Iran’s warships through the Suez Canal and a meeting between the Egyptian interim Foreign Minister, Nabil Elaraby, with Mugtabi Amani, a top Iranian official. “Cairo is ready to re-establish diplomatic ties with Tehran after a break of more than 30 years,” Elaraby said. An appointed caretaker government has no mandate to take such important decisions on policy. Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, and his cabinet are supposed to limit themselves to the day-to-day running of the country until elections have been held. Mr Sharaf should be focusing on the more pressing needs of the Egyptian people. It was a bad omen when last month he spoke on a podium in Tahrir Square with leading Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed El-Beltagy at his side. Egyptians must remain alert to destructive exterior forces which are being channelled through proxies within their borders. If Egypt, the Mother of the Arab world, is weakened from division and infighting, it would be like a knife through the heart of every Arab, as well as a gift to the strategic ambitions of Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran. The writing’s on the wall. I pray that the Egyptian people will see it before it’s too late.