Rumors of Foreign Threats
By: Fahmi Howeidi Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
A number of myths and rumors abound in Egypt these days, which we can consider nothing more than false concerns. There are some among us who are now afraid of ghosts and demons that do not exist.
About This Article
Rumors of foreign menace abound in Egypt, from the growing influence of Qatar and the Iranian Shiite "threat" to the alleged enmity of Hamas, writes Fahmi Howeidi, but all those rumors are illogical and vastly overblown.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
A Chapter in Our False Concerns
Author: Fahmi Howeidi
First Published: September 11, 2012
Posted on: September 16 2012
Translated by: Tyler Huffman
Categories : Egypt
Some of these myths are closely related to the future of the state and its identity, in light of the current rise of Islamic movements following the revolution. We are still hearing comments and analyses talking about the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and a religious state in Egypt. This is the same accusation that is currently being leveled against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his political opponents — in particular, it has echoed by members of the Republican People's Party (CHP).
The CHP was founded in the 1920s by Kemal Ataturk, a man who is still considered the guard of the Turkish Republic and its secularism. CHP leaders and their supporters, who are adversaries of Erdogan, feel that the PM's Islamic background is a fundamental weakness on his record. Erdogan broke away from the Welfare Party — which was founded under his guidance — after that party's ideology and changed. In 2002, alongside current Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan founded the Justice and Development Party, which he intended to be a liberal conservative party. Despite this fact, Erdogan's adversaries and political opponents still accuse him of secretly planning a project to establish a caliphate and found a religious state. This is the same accusation they made during the most recent legislative elections in June 2011. However, the masses still voted for him. They saw his achievements on the ground and were uninterested in others' claims regarding a hidden agenda.
I know that some religious people are obsessed with the idea of a caliphate, which was a cornerstone of the Islamic Liberation Party that was founded in Jordan in 1953. However, this groups' supporters in Egypt are so [few] they can almost be counted on two hands. Furthermore, regarding the formation of an Islamic state, no one can take this idea seriously at this time, as people no longer accept the idea of leadership based on revelations or the unseen. However, even the closest such model we have today, which is the idea of wilayat al-faqih in Iran [wilayat al-faqih refers to a central axis of Shiite political thought that advocates the idea of a jurist being given guardianship over the people], is not truly a religious authority. Even in this system, an opposition exists and the guardian doesn't claim that he is infallible or above criticism. This idea goes along with the concept of privacy in the Jaafari Shiite school of jurisprudence — or rather some schools of thought within this sect — however, there is no Shiite consensus regarding these issues both inside and outside of Iran. The most that can be said about ideas of a "caliphate and religious state" is that they are merely the dreams of an exceptionally small group of people. Moreover, if we stay positive, we realize that these concepts could never be implemented on the ground. If we were to open the door to negative thoughts, we would say that talk of these ideas is like firecrackers, meant to cause nothing more than noise and panic.
There was another uproar last week warning of a Qatari invasion of Egypt. This has been described as "Qatarization," similar to concepts of Americanization, Frenchification or Europeanization. This claim is based on what many consider to be a violation of the Egyptian consciousness by the Qatari satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera, as well as an economic aggression on the part of Qatar. This economic aggression is represented by the audacity with which Qatar entered the Egyptian market. Qatar recently purchased an Egyptian bank and has established a number of major investment projects in the country. In addition, there are reports that Qatar has deposited $2 billion into Egyptian banks. It has also been announced they have invested $18 billion to fund a number of projects in Egypt that will be carried out over the next five years.
We were surprised by several aspects of this claim. From a theoretical standpoint, I don't know how a reasonable person could believe the premise that a country like Qatar — whose population doesn't exceed 600,000 — could absorb and "Qatarize" Egypt, a country with more than 90 million citizens. This would be like a predatory honey bee attempting to take down and swallow an elephant. The people who support this idea don't realize that the Egyptian economy is much larger than anything Qatar could absorb. Egypt has internal and external debt totaling $200 billion. First of all, those who mention the "Qatarization" of Egypt must realize that Qatar would have to assume this debt, something I do not think they are ready for.
On the other hand, reports of financial support from Gulf countries — particular Qatar — are better characterized as noise and media exaggeration than as facts evidenced on the ground. Regarding the $2 billion deposit that was recently announced, Egypt received only half a billion of it in cash. The remaining amount will come in installments over the next three months. Over time, Egypt can withdraw from its national reserves, as there is a condition that the money stay in the bank for one year, not a day less. People will undoubtedly welcome the news of Qatar investing $18 billion in Egypt over the next five years, however this is a natural and totally expected move. These investments will be subject to Qatar's conditions and they have yet to clarify which sectors these investments will target.
Those who promote the idea of "Qatarization" don't realize that in recent years the Gulf states have had huge financial surpluses that have greatly exceeded their own expectations. The size of these surpluses is greater than what could be absorbed in the countries’ local economies. Thus, these countries have two choices: They can either deposit this money into international banks and receive 0.5% interest, or they can invest by other means that will give them twice as much return. Therefore, we are not currently facing the "Qatarization" of Egypt, rather, we are facing a situation where Qatar has resorted to Egypt to invest its surplus money. Qatar could just as easily have deposited its surplus in any other country.
However, the myth regarding Qatar's exploitation of Egypt does in fact have roots in history, ever since the [Qatari TV channel] Al-Jazeera served as a pulpit for opposition during the reign of the former president. Yet they did not take this opposition as far as those inside Egypt, as they realized that many officials within the channel were Egyptian media personalities. At the time, Egypt was considered "Mubarak's Egypt," and thus the previous president and his supporters considered any opposition to the president to be a threat to Egypt itself. These accusations against Qatar spread, to the point that many began to believe that the honeybee had in fact decided to take on the elephant.
It should be noted that although we could say Qatar enjoys some media influence in Egypt, it is no more that that of Saudi Arabia or the US. Furthermore, under the former regime Israeli influence enjoyed a strong presence. Yet the difference is that Qatar spoke loudly and everyone noticed. The others were more sophisticated and experienced, and exercised their influence and exploitation without anyone noticing.
An irrational fear of the Iranian "demon" is a legacy left over from the old regime. As a result of this, some among us begun to believe that Iran is the true enemy, not Israel. Politicians in a number of Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf region, have successful promoted and popularized this idea. There are two myths relating to Iran. One talks about the Iranian threat to Egypt's security, including Iranian support for terrorism in Egypt. The other myth relates to the propagation of Shiism in Egypt, specifically the Jaafari school of jurisprudence.
The first of these two myths was adopted by Egyptian security agencies and nourished by the US after it announced its absurd war on terror. Israel — which still considers Iran a strategic enemy — also supports this myth. The truth of the matter is that there are no real security problems between Egypt and Iran. There are a few minor issues between the two countries (such as Iran naming a street in Tehran after Khaled Islambouli, [an Egyptian involved in former President Anwar Sadat's assassination]), however these are not enough to warrant the estrangement between the two countries that has lasted 30 years. It is also worth noting that this estrangement began during Sadat's presidency, prior to his assassination.
Of course, I am not trying to say that there are no issues between the two countries or that they agree on all matters. Egypt has some concerns regarding certain Iranian policies, but that should not prevent them form working together on other shared interests. I shouldn't have to mention that the Gulf states — who are the most fearful of Iran — maintain almost full ties with Iran, both diplomatically and economically. Because of this, I would argue that the dispute between Egypt and Iran is related to issues of "moderation" — which are imposed by US and Israeli policy. When Egypt became a strategic gem for Israel, it was only natural for it to become an opponent of Iran, and this is what happened.
The propagation of Shiism in Egypt is a myth exaggerated by certain religious elements, and dramatized by the majority of Salafists. I am very surprised by those who support this theory. Egypt has a strong connection to its religious doctrine that cannot be compromised with such ease. The presence of a few hundred Shiites among 90 million Egyptians does not make a difference. We should deal with this matter with calmness and wisdom, and not allow it to evolve into sectarian strife. These attempts to spread Jaafari doctrine among Sunnis come from various religious authorities and not the Iranian state. These religious authorities are living outside of Iran, and make their calls from Iraq or Lebanon.
In this context, it is imperative that we note that the majority of this so-called "false concern" relates to the Palestinians. There is a myth claiming that the Hamas Movement is an adversary of Egypt that poses a severe threat. Other myths relate to aspirations of Gazans to expand into the Sinai, and accuse Hamas of attacking police stations, breaking out prisoners and killing demonstrators during the Egyptian revolution.
I realize that Hamas is an adversary of Israel, and has disagreements with Abass' Fatah Movement, however, no sane person can believe that the movement is an enemy of Egypt. It is true that Egypt grew tired of Hamas' aggression during the reign of the former president, and considered this part of the regime's battle with the Brotherhood. However, this does not mean that Hamas is an adversary of Egypt. Egypt's clashes with Hamas have caused it to turn a blind eye to the Israeli invasion in Gaza and have made Egypt a participant in the blockade. Documents released by Wikileaks, which are attributed to former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, support this claim.
The claim that Gazans want to expand into the Sinai is also surprising. The border was open for nearly 15 years during the time in which Israel occupied the entirety of the Sinai. Gazans could easily have moved into the Sinai, yet they did not. Subversive elements from among the two peoples invented this rumor, which gave rise to the idea that Palestinians are a threat to Egyptian national security.
The myth relating to Hamas breaking out prisoners and killing protesters requires verification and investigation. According to my facts, a group of agents from Hezbollah are the ones who took advantage of the turmoil in Egypt during the revolution. They released their allies who were being held on fabricated charges. Although these actions were certainly illegal, I am not convinced that this can be generalized into accusations that claim Palestinians and Hezbollah members were responsible for releasing other prisoners and killing demonstrators. This would not have been in their interest. I understand that some of these claims are being made by police officials and security leaders in Egypt, in an attempt to resolve themselves of any responsibility for their complicancy in these actions. I fear that we have substituted false concerns for real ones, and I am saddened and regret to say that certain media outlets are concerned with the former and not the latter.
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