Whenever army chiefs don gaudy epaulettes and oversized shades, democracy’s death is sure to follow. Perhaps there is only one autocratic accessorizer for those with dictatorial designs.
Which brings me to the shady and shade-wearing General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, current commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, who took control of the country after the deposition of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi, in a military coup. Of course, the U.S. government never acknowledged the putsch, preferring contorted casuistry to inconvenient truths.
“Ce n’est pas un coup d’état,” a modern-day Magritte might remark.
For American foreign policy, Egypt’s case is a Schrodinger’s Cat: a detestable coup that undermines our supposed worldwide conviction to democracy, but simultaneously a convenient dictatorship that seizes power away from the Muslim Brotherhood and places it back in the hands of the preferable military dictatorship.
Egyptian phantasmagoria doesn’t end with Surrealist Sisi though. In its brutal crackdown on Islamists that killed thousands, the military-backed government also found time to open a terrorism probe into a popular Muppet-style puppet, Abla Fahita, who was suspected of sending coded messages to the Muslim Brotherhood at the behest of an activist named Ahmed Spider.
But for Sisi, the cult of personality couldn’t come fast enough—so he took it upon himself to do some mythmaking by describing a number of prophetic dreams that presaged his eminence. In one, Sisi informs former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat that “I will be president of the republic.” In another, the fearless general wields a sword with the central Islamic creed—“There is no God but Allah”—written in red.
There’s materialism amongst the mysticism too: Another dream sees the general “wearing an Omega watch with a big green star”—another Islamic icon—which Dr. Sigmund Sisi interprets to mean: “It is because of my name. It is Omega and I’m Abdul Fattah, so there something universal between us.”
But watching the tyro tyrant fumble isn’t just a matter of gaffes and gaucherie. Hundreds of protesting Egyptians were massacred at Rabaa al-Adawiya square. The four-fingered salute that commemorates the dead has become a symbol of protest that the government squashes ruthlessly—arresting a 15-year-old student for drawing the symbol in class.
How can those who fulminated about the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy on the basis of human rights keep mum on the return to Mubarakism?
Every ominous prediction made about the reviled Morsi administration applies in fuller force to the current government. The same language enshrining Shariah in the constitution that drew so much ire in the Morsi regime remains in the newest draft—yet the outcry has yet to be seen. Article 74, banning political parties “formed on the basis of religion” and activities that are deemed “hostile to democracy, secretive, or which possess a military ore quasi-military nature,” seems antithetical to democratic values—yet not a peep from Secretary of State John Kerry who shakes the general’s hand and claims that he is “restoring democracy.”
Free speech and civil liberties have been restricted immensely—much worse than either Morsi or even Mubarak. The popular Egyptian comedian Bassem Yousssef, whose political satire continued through the Morsi regime, had his TV show cancelled last year. The military shut down several stations that offered dissenting (read: not propagandistic) news, has detained large numbers of journalists, and is currently prosecuting 20 Al-Jazeera journalists for raising “alarms about the state’s collapse.”
That’s to say nothing of the government’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been deemed a terrorist group and whose leaders have been jailed. While Mubarak was released from jail, Morsi was held incommunicado for months and is locked in a soundproof glass cage during his ongoing show trial. If that’s not suppression of free speech, I don’t know what is.
To those living in the Middle East, it seems that America prefers autocracy to the legitimate self-determination of people. Sisi comes in a long line of America’s autocratic all-stars: Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Hamad Al-Khalifah of Bahrain, etc.
President Obama’s lofty rhetoric of democracy and human rights can barely muster a whimper in the Middle East. American policy remains a myopic devotion to propping up dictators in the Muslim world.
And the same stench of paternalism makes its ugly self known: “We don’t trust the uncivilized Muslim masses to govern themselves—better that a spineless autocrat with a firm hand rule over you,” remains the perceived message to the Arab World.
I wonder why there is so much antipathy toward America, maybe it’s—
No. Probably because they hate our freedom.
Idrees M. Kahloon ’16, a Crimson editorial executive, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Dunster House.