Dr Walid Phares is an advisor to members of the US Congress on the Middle East and the co-secretary general of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism. He is the author of several books including The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East. His forthcoming book The Lost Spring will be out in March 2014. www.walidphares.com
A miracle on the Nile has been accomplished this week. Tens of millions of Egyptian citizens from all walks of life, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals, seculars and religious, young and old, and in some instances, healthy and sick, have come out to cast a vote in the referendum of the century: either to say yes to new moderate constitution, relatively democratic, or to say no and revert to an Islamist constitution adopted by the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime.
Most likely, an overwhelming majority of voters will chose to move away from the 2012 Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi and select a more liberating draft, one that reinforces fundamental rights to women and minorities. The referendum will seal a popular uprising that exploded almost a year ago, and culminated in two gigantic peaceful demonstrations last summer against the political oppression of the Ikhwan regime.
In short, we are finally witnessing a real democratic revolution emerging in the largest Arab Muslim majority country in the world. As predicted in my book, The Coming Revolution, published before the Arab Spring, the first unorganized wave of protests against authoritarianism would unsettle dictators only to open the door to allow very well organized Islamists to seize power, albeit by elections. But soon enough thereafter, as we are seeing in Egypt and Tunisia, a third wave, more conscious of the totalitarian goals of the fundamentalists and better organized as civil societies, will topple the nascent Islamist regimes before they take root. This wave will redirect the countries back toward the initial dreams of the Arab Spring. Few in the West are catching the nuances of this three stage evolution of the uprisings. One major reason behind that inability to understand the immensely positive news coming out of the Nile Valley is the coordinated and powerful push back against the anti-Brotherhood revolution, funded by petrodollars and unfortunately disseminated by large segments of specialized Western academia and mainstream media.
Indeed, most of the American foreign policy establishment, in and outside government, has taken a friendly attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood since the start of the “Spring” for a variety of reasons, the central one being the immense influence the Islamists enjoy and have enjoyed within the Middle East Studies circles in North America for decades. It is natural that when the Brotherhood finally seized power in the region, and in Egypt, their sympathizers would praise them and criticize their opponents in the West. Even after tens of millions of Egyptians rose against the Ikwan regime, apologists in U.S. media relentlessly described the Islamists as moderates and the masses as hysterically pro-military. Egypt’s civil society revolution, if anything, broke the myth of a balanced and fair Western press.
But the most worrisome in Western Muslim Brotherhood apologia is the extent to which it went to cover for the Islamists and smear the silent majorities of the region. The apologists, while hesitantly admitting that Morsi’s regime “displayed mistakes,” criticized the masses of Egypt for provoking a regime change. The critics argued that Egypt’s opposition should have waited for the next election and sought to win them. This hypocritical argument did not inform the Western public of the real threat to democracy in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood have hijacked the mechanism that oversees the elections in a way that ensures no future elections would have ever brought back an opposition to power via the Islamist institutions. Such control is similar to what happened in Iran and was also the case in the Soviet Union. It is true that Morsi came to power via democratic elections, which some argue he had rigged, but regardless of that charge, he nevertheless transformed the country in a fascist state, reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the 1930s: elected almost-democratically, but ruled undemocratically. In such a situation, the Egyptian people acted better than peoples in any other nation in the world. They went by the book and achieved a miracle on the Nile. In June, a petition to recall Morsi gathered 22 million signatures, the largest in the Arab world. The Islamist dictator resumed his authoritarian actions and unleashed his brown shirts on demonstrators. The army did not budge.
On June 30, thirty three million citizens from all walks of life marched peacefully in Cairo and other cities demanding Morsi’s resignation. Normally, when an overwhelming popular majority demands recall, chief executives resign and call for new elections. Instead, in a speech in response to the recall, Morsi declared Jihad, opening the path for regime sponsored terror against his own people. It was at that time that the armed forces, led by General Abdelfattah el Sisee, asked the president, who had turned to violence, to refrain and find a solution with the opposition—but to no avail. The popular revolution, defending itself against a violent, even if elected, president wanted him out, wanted the armed forces to organize the interim government and commit to a referendum followed by legislative and presidential elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood unveiled their masks by transforming their movement, once removed from power, to a massive armed insurgency while al Qaeda linked Jihadists went on a rampage in the Sinai. The Ikhwan shredded their own legitimacy when they leaped to terror, exactly as did the national socialists and fascists of Europe when they destroyed their own legitimacy when they submitted their voters and citizens to bloodshed. Egyptians moved courageously, step by step, to form an interim government, create a constitutional committee, fight the Jihadists in Sinai, and resist the Brotherhood urban violence across the country. No military regime was established—though the army was capable of having generals directly rule the country. Egypt has passed the era of military coups and regimes, despite the accusations by pro-Ikhwan elites in the West.
The latest stage in Egypt’s march towards the real Spring was the first fully democratic referendum in the modern history of the Arab world. Twenty three million voters participated in the constitutional exercise that uprooted any legitimacy to the Muslim Brotherhood’s claims of being elected. Three to four times more Egyptians voted against the Islamist constitution than all the Morsi voters, which included those who voted for him simply as a protest against Mubarak. The Egyptian people are finished with the Ikhwan for good, legally, politically and morally, even if the sympathizers of the fundamentalists are still loud in the West. The country is marching firmly towards the future. They will have legislative elections and then a presidential election and will certainly have lots of problems, all characteristic of a new Arab democracy working its way toward becoming a Mediterranean democracy, somewhere between Turkey and Spain – two countries with comparable military and Islamist pasts.
What the public needs to understand is that a miracle took place on the Nile. An Islamist regime on its way to becoming a Taliban-like power was unsettled by a peaceful popular revolution. There will be debates about the role of the military, the future of the Brotherhood, and the social disparities in the country. But none of these issues can overshadow the fact that a Middle Eastern people rose successfully against totalitarianism with non-violent means, that a silent majority spoke loudly, and that democracy has claimed a major victory—sadly against the goals of current U.S. policy.
The Obama administration, badly advised, sided with the Brotherhood since the Cairo speech in 2009, shepherded them to power as of 2011 and showered them with massive support. But the people of Egypt has spoken and rejected the Ikhwan as of 2013.
It is time for Washington to listen and correct its policies in 2014.