The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been pushed back – almost instinctively – to the warm, motherly embrace of Mehna, a long-standing MB zeitgeist, which essentially evokes the continuing struggle (or ordeal) of Islam in a world set against it, but this is also a key MB notion that is more than a little, tinged with victimhood. Its powerful re-surfacing now presages a turn inwards by the MB – and away from a wider engagement in the world (see here for example, Essam el-Erian’s firm fending-off of any direct channels of communication with the MB). Perhaps the Army and its Gulf backers thought that their ‘shock and awe’ coup, plus the MB’s leadership de-capitation, would (to use the Israeli terminology) leave the MB and their followers ‘psychologically seared by defeat’ and appropriately docile. In fact, the Muslim Brothers almost instinctively, are returning to something they know well: ‘victimhood’ (to use a blunter terminology). And victimhood is usually associated with deep resentment and (for some), deep anger.
The secular/liberal narrative that has monopolised the international media, plus most of the Egyptian press, which is now pumping out Army propaganda, keeps harping on Morsi’s ‘terrible’ mistakes, and his loss of popular support. This has now become almost an ‘article of faith’, which is accepted and repeated uncritically in the West (as if huge political errors of judgement are unknown to European or American politics). The fall of Morsi is as momentous as the fall of Mubarak but this secular/liberal narrative camouflages its gravity.
Of course, there are many different narratives – and ‘truths’ – about the last two years of Egyptian history – and most will be irreconcilable. But the MB narrative will be their particular ‘truth’, and it is one that many Islamists will instinctively understand: Against all the odds, the MB perceive themselves as having come to power legitimately, and on the back of eighty years of patient ground work. Yet they still had expected to be deposed from office (see el-Erian again). They were constantly accused of assertive majoritarianism – almost to the point of being expected (by the EU and the US) to yield up all that they stood for, and their government emptied of any real ability to govern (as happened to Hamas in 2006 when western states simply emptied out the Hamas government of any executive capacity) – in order to prove that they were not ‘fake democrats’ (in the words of King Abdallah’s ‘kettle moment’ when he, of all people, called the pot ‘black’).
In the MB ‘truth’, it is the liberal/secular camp who deliberately withheld dialogue and co-operation, and it was the Army which egged on the opposition to fashion a ‘crisis of legitimacy narrative’ (well funded by UAE and Kuwait) that would allow the Army to intervene. Those (including many academics) who call for the MB to become contrite in the aftermath of the coup; to admit to their terrible mistakes; and remorsefully to return to the political fold as ‘de-politicised’ technocrat politicians, are likely to be disappointed. Resentment and hate are very powerful tools to manipulate and to wield, and the MB possesses its own historical ‘truth’ – even their media have been effectively gagged for the present.
The point here is not which narrative is somehow ‘more right’, rather it is to underline that the instinctive fall-back into Mehnais a fall into something comforting. Yes, the key platform of the MB (the path to power through election) has been shattered. It has no political response. But victimhood too is very potent. And this ‘potency’ is something which the Brotherhood knows well how to use, and to manage. It will come easily to them. But there will be another consequence too – beyond a turn inwards and to a discourse of victimhood and resentment (and for evidence of the resentment, simply listen to Erdogan and the AKP leaders). In Lebanon, we have seen that when Islamist rank and file members (in this instance the Salafists of northern Lebanon) believed that they had been betrayed politically by March 14th, they simply deserted the docile Saudi orientations of Salafism – and many migrated to the various jihadist and Takfiri Salifist groups in Lebanon. We can already witness this same process commencing in the disturbances taking place in the Sinai and in Suez zone.
General Sisi has appointed himself deputy PM, and an Islamist-free government half filled by members of the deep-state, established. It will not be too long before the idealistic middle-class youth of Cairo wake up to the reality that they have restored Mubarakism without Mubarak (see here). This will place the EU and the US in a serious predicament. They have opted for a ‘let’s all move on, and be adult about the Army takeover’ line. In short, the West – not from any obvious strategic interest – has defaulted into further entrenchment into the Saudi/Gulf camp, and into further explicit regional partisanship. Already it is plain that Saudi Arabia is putting Lebanon – after Egypt – into a similar play, seeking there, not a military coup on this occasion, but to tip the complex politics of Lebanon against Hizbullah, and in favour of Saudi’s Sunni protégés. In Iraq, Gulf states have been for some time, looking to weaken Maliki.
But were the West to stand above the various partisan conflicts in the region, and its rigid adherence to the Sunni interest, it would notice that the strategic balance (as well as the world order) may indeed be shifting: For the last month or so, it has been noticeable that both Europeans and Americans are beginning to surprise even themselves by saying out loud that Assad is here to stay, and wondering what this may mean to them. They will have noted too, Hizbullah becoming a regional player (after Qusayr), and they may have observed that Iran’s political system in its own complex way – has worked. It has yielded a new political direction which commands wide popular support. Iran has – unlike others – somehow succeeded in assimilating and absorbing internal differences within a new political equation. Yet, despite these fairly obvious signals of change to the status quo – western states toy with proscribing Hizbullah and discuss how best to snub Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony. Equally, Russia and China are already contributing to change in the region by circumscribing western freedom to manage the international order to their own interests (both states have just acted to block further UN sanctions on Iran), and Russia continues to defy the West over Syria.
This is not said simply to laud anyone, but to point to significant tectonic shifts taking place both in the international order, as well as in the region – and to underline that increasingly the forces being unleashed (such as in Egypt) by the West’s closest regional allies are not under the control of those allies (nor can they be said to be in the western strategic interest). Indeed these dynamics are not within anyone’s control. Sunni authority is absent in the face of the implosion of Sunni identity. Yet, at the same time, the West is severing itself further from important parts of the region that, precisely, are in process of stabilizing, rather than disintegrating.
Retrieved from Conflicts Forum Weekly Comment 12 – 19 July 2013
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