Sunday, November 8, 2015

Save Egypt

Jamal Khashogji 


Having love and caring for Egypt necessitates removing the imagined ban on addressing what goes on there by the sole influential Arab media, by which I mean the Saudi media, or the Saudi-supported media. I do not expect that an article here or a candid report there will contain the wisdom that may guide towards correcting the stumbled approach. All it will do is to eliminate the illusory impression that “you do what you will, we shall bear responsibility for your wrongs”.
So far, we have shown consideration vis-a-vis the current situation because we wish to see Egypt succeed and come out of the bottleneck. We remain silent and hope that Egypt's ship will reach port safely. We insinuate and hint lest our frankness serves the opponents of the regime. However, the huge percentage of Egyptians who stayed away from the parliamentary elections was a clear indication that something must be wrong. That was nothing but a silent protest cry; not a revolution, not a rally in public squares, because the regime is using a mailed fist. So, without an agreement among political parties and without a call from “the Muslim Brotherhood”, the Egyptians chose not to go to the ballot boxes.
Some people have offered some justifications but these usually collapse when one watches archive footage of long queues of Egyptians standing in the rain outside polling stations in previous elections. Similarly, one may recall images of voters in more than one other country where people came out in numbers exceeding 80 per cent; the latest percentage turnout in Egypt was so modest that it did not exceed the number of fingers on one hand. No one believed the claim that it was 26 per cent. Even if this were taken to be credible, it is still rather low when one is considering crucial parliamentary elections held after two popular revolutions and which lay the foundations for the third Egyptian republic (assuming that the second republic was killed by the 30 June 2013 revolution).
I have recently met with Egyptian leaders who are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They were among those who were involved in the 30 June action. They were hoping that it would rectify the path of the revolution but they are frustrated. The least pessimistic among them describes the situation as, “Stable since the state has not collapsed.” We are at the stage when we see this as an accomplishment. The one whose apartment had running water prior to the revolution still has running water but he who did not have water on tap is still in the same situation. Such clever cynicism explains the status quo.
The one who is most pessimistic sees that Egypt is heading towards an economic crisis. There is already a deficit in the balance of payments and foreign currency reserves are still in decline. This is not the opposition talking, it is what the Governor of the Egyptian Central Bank is saying. These reports have been published in the Egyptian press. There are no real economic reforms, there are no initiatives in search of a solution. All that exists is a climate in which people are accused of treason in the media. It is a climate that hinders the opening of a communal dialogue about deliverance from the predicament.
The most pessimistic would cite the story of the Suez Canal extension as an example; the story described by Bloomberg as “Egypt's unneeded gift to the world”. They would say: “Had the world been in need of such a project, countries and financial institutions benefiting from it would have lined up to offer loans or to express their readiness to buy shares in the project. It has been a squandering of direly-needed funds that are very unlikely to be replenished in similar circumstances.”
We have put aside the world media and the Egyptian opposition, which is growing rapidly abroad and which is no longer confined to the Muslim Brotherhood. Naturally, what the opposition says is suspect because it is politicised, but we are not an opposition when we discuss Egypt's affairs. We are brothers who wish it good because we see it as the other flank in the path of reform in the Arab world. As such, we want Egypt to be strong and mighty.
Let's leave the media to talk freely about Egypt, not in response to the Egyptian press which continues to criticise the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia nor in protest against the insults poured by Ahmad Al-Najjar, Board Chairman of Al-Ahram, on the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, the loving and enduring diplomat Ahmad Al-Qattan. Historically, the Kingdom never liked offensive media exchanges. We only talk from the position of offering advice to Egypt because it does matter to us.
Let's discuss the conditions of Egyptian factories that have stopped operating either because of the lack of fuel or because of strikes by their workers. Let's discuss how promises can be fulfilled by providing these factories with fuel before the end of this month and whether there are indications that this may be possible. Let's discuss another promise to bring down prices by the end of the same month and what will happen if the fate of these promises turns out to be like the fate of the new Cairo project, the one million housing units and the rise in Suez Canal revenues.
Let's try to understand the contradiction between the Egyptian stance and the Kingdom's stance over the crisis in Syria and why Cairo is supporting the continuation of Bashar Al-Assad and the Russian raids. Why doesn’t it see the danger of an Assad victory with the help of the Iranians? Doesn't that mean that Iran will dominate Syria, which happens to be Egypt's northern region? This was not only during the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the short-lived “United Arab Republic” but at all times when Egypt was mighty, since Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyubi followed by Al-Mamalik and then Muhammad Ali Pasha. All of Egypt's battles in defence of itself and the Ummah were fought in the Levant. How, then, can Egypt approve of the fall of Syria into Iranian hands? Why does it not see what Saudi Arabia sees, although both have stakes in the Levant? There no other capitals which see Syria as part of their strategic security like Riyadh and Cairo do.
By remaining silent we serve neither Egypt nor its leadership. They need to hear a word of truth. It is about time we read the Egyptian picture as it is and not as we wish it to be.
First published in Arabic in Al-Hayat newspaper on 7 November 2015.

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