Jim Sillars: Hypocrisy reeks in Egypt’s crisis

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Great human events have their roots in history. So it is with Egypt and other Arab lands. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 saw Britain and France become the dominant forces – Britain in the Gulf, Palestine and Egypt, with France gaining hegemony in Syria, Lebanon and north Africa.

Neither sought to bring the Arabs towards democracy. The British ruled through the Emirs and Sheiks, bought by subsidies. Back then the ruler of Dubai was allocated £250,000 a year, doled out by the British political officer. The UK secured control of Egypt, the Suez Canal, Red Sea, Yemen, Oman and the Gulf Sheikdoms, all of which lay along the route to the jewel in the crown of the Empire – India.

Iraq, created by the UK, had the Emir Faisal, a war comrade of Lawrence of Arabia, foisted upon the people after the French booted him out of Syria. Faisal had never been to Iraq before the British made him king. 
Jordan was created for his brother, Abdullah. The British controlled both.

So, in the formative decades of the modern world that emerged after the First World War, the Arabs were deliberately kept in a primitive political condition. Not for them the development of institutions and practices that underpin democracy, such as an impartial judiciary, honest police, freedom of speech, rule of law, free trade unions, free political parties, unfettered intellectual hubs in universities, discussion groups, think-tanks, through which people learn to govern themselves and build tolerances of a variety of views.

The Arab people were manipulated, lied to and humiliated at the hands of those in power, and their puppets. During the Second World War, Egypt, nominally independent, was in fact strictly controlled by the British Ambassador. When the Egyptian king appointed an anti-British prime minister, British troops and tanks advanced on the royal palace. The king was instructed to sack him. He did.

This subordinate position was not universally accepted. Educated Arabs objected. Egypt was in the strange position of not being formally at war with Germany, but required to play “host” to a British army fighting a German one on its border. Chief among the objectors were the originators of the Muslim Brotherhood. They argued that the reason for the humiliation of foreign control was because the people had strayed from the path of Islam. They were, at first, a 

In 1953, the Egyptian military acted against a corrupt and servile monarchy. Nasser emerged as president of a republic. He took on Britain by nationalising the Suez Canal, and on the back of that incredibly popular action launched a crusade for Arab nationalism throughout the region. He suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood, who believed his secular path was a false one.

Nasser’s Arab nationalism was destroyed by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. The old Sheiks and the new rulers of Egypt were again in the hands of foreign masters – the United States and to lesser extent the British. The normal situation – humiliation and subservience – prevailed. Suppressed though it was, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t disappear. They settled themselves among the population, especially the rural and urban poor, who had no welfare system. The Muslim Brotherhood provided the social care needed, and so built up a formidable support among people.

When the Western-backed corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak collapsed, a fair election was won by the Brotherhood. But when Islamic parties win elections, they get short shrift. In Algeria, the Islamic winner was ousted by the army. In Palestine, Hamas was refused recognition. Now the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is stripped of power by a military coup.

You will, however, fail to hear that word from Western leaders, secretly happy to see power won in the ballot box taken away by that which comes out of the barrel of a gun. As our leaders preach democracy around the world, they leave the stench of 
hypocrisy behind them.

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