Egypt Between all Fronts: Covid, MB, IS, the Neo Ottoman Empire, GERD and Israel
Egypt has always been a very important hub between Europe, Africa and the Arab world. Roman Emperor Caesar had an affair with Cleopatra, which led to their son Caesareon who was at that time the potential new emperor for the Roman Empire which Cleopatra wanted to merge with Egypt. However the Romans at that time were not that multicultural, perceived him as a bastard, killed Caesareon and fought a war against Egypt and the pro-Eygptian Roman supporters.
After that Egypt became arabizied and a Muslim country, leaving its old Pharao culture behind it and became a battle ground between Napoleon, the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire—since then being a protectorate or a semi-colony of one of these powers.
Photo: Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Suez Canal / Egyptian Presidency via AP
As world trade was expanding rapidly and the British built the Suez Channel, Egypt become an important transport hub and country of vital strategic interest, also the life line for the British Empire which Mussolini and Hitler tried to conquer by the Africa Corps under Rommel. But the real independent Egypt first emerged under young officer Nasser again when he made his coup de etat in 1952 and toppled the old king Faruk—a British puppet, nationalized the Suez Channel and wanted to build the Aswan Dam. GB and France started the Suez war in 1956 to get control of the Suez Channel again and to topple Nasser with the support of Israel which was more interested in the Sinai. The USA and the Soviet Union forced GB and France to withdraw their troops, the Soviet Union even by the threat to nuke London. The Suez war was the beginning of the decolonialization and decline of the old European colonial powers GB and France and the starting point of the Cold War in the Greater Middle East. Nasser was Panarabist, less Panafricanist, supporter of the Palestinian people and the PLO, got support by the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, but also was with Nehru. Sukarno, Tito one of the leaders of the Non-Alligned movement.
Egypt fought the 6 day- war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in 1973 with Israel. While the 1967 war was a disaster for the Arab world and Egypt, Egypt under Sadat won the war in 1973. However Sadat used this opportunity to get back the Sinai from Israel, kicked out the Soviet advisers, signed the Camp David peace treaty and make an alliance with the USA. Sadat was also the first Arab leader who visited the arc enemy and even the Israelian parliament .For Panarabists and Islamists like the Muslimbrotherhood he was a traitor of the Arab and the Islamic cause and a split off of the Muslimbrotherhood assasinated him. However, afterwards the next military Mubarak became his successor and continued Sadat´s policy.
Egypt for the West remained a stable pillar, also after the end of the Cold War, but things changed in 2011 with the Arab spring.
Eroding living conditions by Mubarak´s neoliberal policy of privatization and deregulation already in 2006 incited mass strikes of thevEgyptian union and workers. Social injustice, the devot submission to the USA and Israel and the lack of freedom and neoliberal policy as IMF policy of cutting state subsidies for food, gasoline and other common goods produced a mood in the population which exploded in the demonstrations at the Tahir Square. The main drivers of the social movements were on the one side so called „twitter revolutionaries“, mostly young urban middle class rebells who wanted a stable economic base, a job perspective, more freedom, were not against the USA and Israel , on the other side the Islamofascist Muslimbrotherhood which was founded in 1928 by Hassan el- Banna and wanted a Islamist dictatorship and who were against the West, the USA and Israel. As the twitter revolutionaries were spontaneous, hedonistic, lacked discipline and organization experience, the result was that the Lenin-style Muslimbrotherhood became the dominant force and founded their Freedom and Justice Party, so that its president Mursi got elected and toppled Mubarak. As Middle East expert and former president of the German- Arab Society Peter Scholl Latour critizised the twitter revolutionaries: „For a revolution, you don´t need Facebook, but guns“. In reality you need both, but without organization and power you will loose and that´s what happened to the young rebels. They were rebels, but not revolutionaries. However, Mursi with the support of Katar and Erdogan-Turkey which saw the rise oft he Muslimbrothers as chance for the revival of the old Ottoman Empire in the Greater Middle East very quickly tried to establish a Islamist dictatorship and the military under General Al-Sissi intervened, toppled Mursi and prohibited the Muslimbrotherhood. An Islamist dictatorship was replaced by the old secular military dictatorship.
For Erdogan´s neo Ottoman empire dreams this was a shock. He granted the Muslimbrothers exile in Turkey as he supported the Muslimbrothers all over in the Greater Middle East. Parts of the young Turkish military officers then also tried a coup de etat in Turkey against Erdogan, but the old Turkish generals were already castrated by Erdogan´s and Gülen´s Ergenkon trial and absorbed by the new nationalism against the Kurds, new weapons and armaments programs and NATO, the USA and the EU also didn´t support the young Turkish officers as they always dreamed of Erdogan as a Muslim democrat, a Muslim Christian democrat who would be the synthesis of Western liberal democracy and Islam and also the next EU member.
However Erdogan from the beginning was an Islamist, never wanted to join the EU, learned from the experience of failed Islamist Erbakan who was toppled by an intrugue of the Turkish military, knew how to lull stupid Western liberals in illusions, but parts of the German foreign ministery already knew this, as there exists a BND video showing Erdogan and the leader of the Tunesian Muslimbrotherhood party Ennadah Ghanouchi at a meeting with Afghan hard core Islamist Hektamyar in Afghanistan.However these informations were never aired to public when German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder awarded Erdogan as „the European of the year“. However, the Egypt military was successful.
While General Al- Sissi launched a repression campaign against the Muslimbrotherhood and the secular-democratic movement, he was critzised by Obama and the West for human right abuses. However, the US military aid was not reduced as General Al Sissi made some strategic balancing and also supported Assad and had meetings with Putin as they saw the Muslimbrotherhood as most dangerous movement for all of them. While Russia became very active in Egypt and Libya and hoped that it maybe could built a military base next to the Mediterrean and the Suez Channel beyond its military bases in Tartus and Laktakia in Syria, General Al-Sissi mostly continued to have good contacts with the USA,the West and Israel. He also sticked to the Camp David treaty.
When Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in Saudiarabia started reforms and his Vision 2030 modernization program, Al Sissi did the same in Egypt. He built a second Suez Channel within 3 years, wants to bulit a new capital as Kairo is overcrowded, pushes many infrastructure projects and economic parks from hydrocultures, renewable energy to information technology and tried to give the Egyptians an economic future perspective. At the Al Azhar university which is the ideological center of Sunni Islam from the Greater Middle East to Indonesia, he held a programmatic speech and demanded that the Muslim theologicans revolutionize Islam in a modern way that Muslimbrothers and Islamic State would have no theological foundation for their aspirations anymore. On the other side as a compromise, Al Sissi prohibited atheism, but not agnosticism.
But now Egypt faces many challenges at the same time which could destabilize it. First you have the underground network of the Muslimbrothers which are still agitating and waiting for their next chance and the terrorist activities of the Islamic State on the Sinai Peninsuila. The Covid crisis is hitting the Egypt economy also hard as most countries in the world. Then Erdogan- Turkey is sending troops to Libya which are fighting with the UNO-recognised Muslimbrotherhood goverment GNA against secular General Haftar who is backed by Egypt, Russia, Saudiarabia, the Gulf States and France. As Erdogan also built a military base in Sudan and now opens a second front next to Egypt in Libya, General Al Sissi threatened to intervene in Libya militarily on the side of General Haftar against Erdogan´s neo-Ottoman empire ambitions and a potential Muslimbrotherhood goverment in Libya. Erdogan plan to create a neo-Ottoman Empire in the MENA region from North Africa, including Egypt and Sudan to Syria and even with Pakistan and Central Asia.General Al Sissi drew a red line: If GNA forced or Erdogan-backed militias attack Sirte, Egypt would intervene militraliy. Therefore it is up to the GNA and Erdogan if they stop their aggression and attack on Northeast libya and iis oilfields. In the mid- to longterm perspective we might see two Islamist belts in Africa: North Africa and Sudan controlled by Erdogan and his Muslim Brotherhoods and a second Islamist belt from Nigeria to the Sahel zone to Somalia with Boko Haram, the Islamic State and Al Shabab as their dominant groups. And Egypt is threatened to become a part of this neo-Ottoman Empire. However, Erdogan must also be careful not to suffer an own imperial overstrech as the already sluggish Turkish economy is weakened by the Covid lockdowns and he also started a confrontation with Greece at the same time when he made the the offensive in Libya. German chancellor Merkel prevented by mediation a direct military clash bewteen Greek and Turkish warships in the Mediterrean as Erdogan - Turkey wanted to erected oil and gas rigs in Greek territotial waters. But he tries to play the nationalist and religious card when he fights against the Kurds and reconverts the Hagia Sophia in a mosque. His support by the people is erdoing as the last election showed when a CHP candidiate became mayor of Istanbul. However, General Al Sissi also has to deal with a lot of problems.
Beyond IS, Muslimbrotherhood and Turkish troops in Libya and Sudan, Ethopia built the Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which drains Nile water while Sudan and Egypt fear that their agricultural production, irrigation systems and water supply for the cities will suffer. While an military intervention by Egypt against Ethopia due to geographical distance and limited air power is unlikely, even as some Egyptian hard liners already have proposed it, Egypt hopes for a UN-sponsored agreement which takes into account that Egypt is in its water supply 90% dependent from the Nile water.
The next challenge comes with Trump´s Israel policy. As Trump allows the Netanjahu/Gantz goverment to make Jerusalem the new capital and annex parts of the West Bank, for Egypt and Jordan it becomes more and more difficult to stick to the Camp David and other peace treaty with Israel anymore as Arabs and Islamists will portray them as puppets of Israel and the USA and as traitors of the Arab and Islamist cause. As 60% oft he Jordian population have Palestinian orogin, some experts fear the revival of the bloody uprisings of Black Septembre 1970 .In Jordan there are already protests of the teacher union which hopes it will spark a revolt as the salaries dropped and the goverment cut state subsidies due to IMF programms and the economic consequences oft he Covid crisis.. In Western media only the newspaper FAZ reports that the teacher union is not a secular, left, democratic union, but a front organisation of the Muslimbrotherhood. King Abdullah originally allowed the Muslimbrotherhood in his country and supported them in other countries, especially against the Baath parties in Iraq and Syria. However after the outbreak of the Arab spring he realized that the Muslimbrotherhood was also dangerous to his monarchy and split the Muslimbrotherhood in a so called moderate faction and the traditional Muslimbrotherhood. However the moderate Muslimbrotherhood didn´t get a big audience and the old, hard core Muslimbrotherhood inflitrated the teacher union and made it their front organisation. The Muslimbrotherhood in Egypt is also hoping that the Covid crisis, a possible overstretch of the Egytian military in Libya and riots in Egypt might destabilize General Al Sissi´s rule and let them seuize power in the aftermath. Then Erdogan´s neo-Ottoman empire would include Turkey, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Erdogan would try to expand it to Syria, Tunesia, Algeria (maybe with support oft he FIS) ,the MENA region and the Greater Middle East as the next step. Therefore Al-Sissi will face a rough ride in the future.