Egypt’s Generals Never Fade
Cairo’s military commanders shrug in repugnance at Douglas McArthur’s parting thought; the once-Supreme Commander in the World War II Pacific lamented retiring with the lyrics of a barracks song: “…old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Why should the Egyptians take the advice?
At no part in the history along the Nile has democracy ever reigned – not during the pharaohs, the Ptolemys, the Ottomans and the British control of the fabled country. Worst of them was London, which established the protectorate under the colonial secretary, but the imperial army exercised complete domination. Pleasure-seeking King Farouk II ended Muhammad Ali’s line founded when he ousted the Mameluks, slaughtering them all. The English didn’t pull in until 1882, largely attracted by the recently finished Suez Canal. They deployed Egypt’s solders as no more than herd-watchers, menials.
During this period the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan Muslimi) came into existence, primarily to struggle against the occupation; of course, London outlawed the association. When Gen. Muhammad Neguib and Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser booted out the king on his yacht, named Mahroussa (Bride), the Ikhwan sought to assassinate Mr. Nasser, forcing the new regime to follow the old and declare it beyond-the-pale. The Muslim Brotherhood and the generals are sworn enemies, the blood-hating variety: people against privilege.
During the months I lived in Cairo, I was always conscious of military control, centered on air force general Hosni Mubarak. President Anwar Sadat scarcely counted, bearing the nickname of The Actor; and he was spoken of derisively. Back in this country, I had no doubts that Vice President Mubarak was totally responsible for the Sadat assassination in October 1980. And I assumed that Washington and Jerusalem were complicit, as did more than several Egyptians.
In that region, powerful America functions as nothing more than Israel’s all-too-willing toady; a sycophant, at best. The killing of President Sadat must have been sanctioned in both capitols, as proven by the lack of reaction in both nations. The murdered president’s final month was cluttered with bizarre actions: jailing the Coptic pope and the no-less-powerful Muhammad Heikal, the editor of the influential newspaper, Al-Ahram. All Egypt’s “big chairs” quivered.
During Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign, the Muslim Brotherhood remained on the forbidden list; the generals’ rampant corruption and nepotism were responsible for its rapid growth in members and supporters. When I travelled first to Egypt, in 1977, Cairo women, together with their Beirut sisters, were the Western fashion plates for the Arab world. Two years later, hijab hair coverings multiplied beyond recognition; some ladies wore gloves outside their homes.
After 30 years of Mubarak’s tyranny, his regime collapsed, largely because of protests, organized in the main part by the Ikhwan Muslimi. Liberal movements sprouted up. In elections, they were shoved aside by Islamic candidates, including those from the Brotherhood. The establishment’s forceful answer was to vacate Cairo’s parliament; the decision promulgated by the supreme court, made up of justices appointed by the fallen president.
It makes little difference if Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood contender, triumphed over Ahmed Shafiq, the military and the establishment’s candidate and Mubarak’s last prime minister. The rivalry exists, as I pointed out at the beginning. Some people believe the generals will toe the line if the American $1.3 billion military aid is shut off; but they don’t know we provide only 30 percent of the budget.
If Washington means to plant democracy on Nile’s corniche, they will have to try much harder – granting Israel approves!