By Reza Pankhurst
The Egyptian government, led by President Mohammad Morsi, is currently preparing for war.
While a few (naïve) analysts may have assumed that the first war declared would be against Israel, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s apparent support for its offshoot Hamas and the goal of the complete liberation of Palestine, the initial sounds from Morsi’s government have been supportive of the Camp David agreement (rejected by the majority of Egyptians). The most prominent exchanges between the two governments included Morsi’s hope to put the peace process back on track. In further interviews, Morsi was keen to state his commitment to all international peace treaties signed by Egypt, highlighting that post-revolutionary foreign policy with respect to Israel was less about what the Egyptian public demanded and more about maintaining Mubarak era policies and appeasing the West.
Neither is Morsi preparing the Egyptian military to intervene in Syria, where the population is currently being bombarded by the Bashar regime. Instead, by attending the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran, the Egyptian government has followed the path suggested by Kofi Annan in trying to bring Iran into discussions regarding a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the situation that would keep all the major powers happy (controlled change=good change). Though Morsi claimed that the Syrian regime had lost all legitimacy, and that it was a “moral duty” to support the Syrian opposition, this duty did not extend to physical aid since he also claimed any form of “foreign interference” (while considering Egypt, Turkey and other neighbouring countries who were ultimately divided from Syria by Sykes Picot as “foreign”) would not be correct.
Morsi compared the Syrian struggle to that of the Palestinians, a worthy comparison given his reactions to both struggles since taking power have been similar in their impotence, and the stances of his government have fallen in line behind the American lead in the region regarding these issues. (Oddly enough, the only use of the military in the new post-Mubarak era has been to bomb Egyptians in the Sinai, the first time warplanes have been used in anger in the region since the 1973 war).
Rather, the war the Egyptian government is preparing for is the last type of war that the Egyptian public who voted for them would have expected. The announcement of hostilities took place on the 22nd August, when Prime Minister Hisham Qandil formally requested a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF.
With that request, the Egyptian Government, dominated by Muslim Brotherhood activists who claim their legitimacy upon Islam, declared a war upon their own religion – as mentioned in the Quran “ O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah and give up what remains from usury, if you are (really) believers. And if you do not do it, then take a notice of war from Allah and His Messenger”.
There are several other verses from the Quran, and numerous Prophetic narrations that explicitly prohibit interest in a very decisive manner – which are well known to the Egyptian government given that the Muslim Brotherhood’s own parliamentarians have previously expounded upon them in their condemnation of the idea of taking loans from the IMF within the last few months – though that was when the SCAF was considering taking them. Therefore it has taken some linguistic gymnastics to sell this issue as Islamically legitimate. No longer is the interest charged by the IMF to be referred to as interest as it was just a few months ago, but instead under Morsi’s leadership it can be called “administrative costs”. This is the similar to the equivalence made between “Democracy” and “Shura” (consultation) in the past, or the more recent renaming of a “secular state” as a “civil state with an Islamic basis”. The Muslim Brotherhood is also seeking support from al-Azhar for this act, as well as some Salafi scholars, in what is another attempt to follow the Mubarak era policy by co-opting “religious” leadership for state interests.
Islamic arguments aside, the IMF is well known as a tool used primarily by the United States and other Western nations to help further their interests, usually at the expense of the very countries they are supposedly helping. From Malawi, to Peru, to Argentina, to Ethiopia, the IMF has left a trail of failure for the local population subjected to its policies in its wake, while benefitting its backers. As stated by Nobel-winning Joseph Stiglitz “When the IMF arrives in a country, they are interested in only one thing. How do we make sure the banks and financial institutions are paid?… It is the IMF that keeps the speculators in business. They’re not interested in development, or what helps a country to get out of poverty”. In other words, by turning to the IMF the Egyptian government is putting its economic interests in the hands of institutions under the influence and direction of the West, primarily the United States.
Given that the Egyptian government already spends 60% of its revenues servicing its debt, taking on additional debt seems more a recipe for disaster than economic revival as claimed by Morsi and Qandil. Policies such as breaking up the elite monopolization of sectors of the Egyptian economy, mechanizing its agriculture and utilizing its land for wheat rather than cotton production to remove reliance upon foreign wheat import are all much more viable alternatives than bringing in the IMF.
The Egyptian government appears to remain beholden to American interests and direction, whether in foreign policy or economics, and the early trip by Morsi to the United States will likely be a further consumation of the marriage between the United States and its new friends in the region – anyone willing to embrace “moderate Islam”. After years of peddling the slogan that “Islam is the Solution”, it appears that the only solutions provided by the Morsi led government are a continuation of the failed Mubarak era policies, only this time carried out by a younger, friendlier president with more facial hair than his predecessor.
Reza Pankhurst is a political scientist and historian, specialising in the Middle East and Islamic movements. He has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, where he previously completed his Masters degree in the History of International Relations. He was a political prisoner of the previous Mubarak regime in Egypt, spending almost 4 years in jail between 2002 and 2006. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Inevitable Caliphate?” (Hurst/ Columbia University Press 2012) and is available at Amazon and other retailers. He can be contacted at [email protected]