Egypt’s Legacy of Military Coups Confers “Freedom and Hope”?

Pundits have lauded Egypt’s “Second Revolution,” in reality a military coup which ousted the economically and socially failing regime of the country’s first freely elected President, Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Muhammad Morsi. One “expert” has even declared that Morsi’s removal reflects a larger contemporaneous series of “internecine” events which indicate that his chimerical construct of “Islamism” (which is simply traditionalist, normative Islam, as this same learned analyst’s writing used to acknowledge) is somehow “doomed.”

Monday, July 22, 2013, Egypt’s “interim President,” Adly Mansour—installed by a military putsch—gave a speech of great significance, although little noticed by Western commentators.  Mansour’s words put the lie to glib formulations that willfully ignore how traditional Islamic authoritarianism, regardless of pseudo-secular veneers, remains, as it has for 13 centuries, the most potent force shaping authoritarian governance in Muslim Egypt, and the greater Muslim Middle East. Mansour, in a televised speech commemorating the 61st anniversary of the 1952 revolution—also a military coup—praised the leaders of that putsch, Mohamed Naguib, Anwar El-Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, thusly:

I salute the great men who opened the door of freedom and hope to Egypt and all people in the region

The anti-freedom, despotic military rule of Egypt that followed this coup was characterized by alliances with non-Muslim totalitarianisms—from post World War II era residual Nazism, to regnant, Cold War era Soviet Communism—which complemented Egypt’s indigenous Islamic jihadism, and Jew/other infidel-hatred, notwithstanding periodic crack-downs on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sylvia Haim, one of the most esteemed 20th century scholars of so-called “secular” Arab nationalism—which prevailed in Egypt certainly through the Nasser era—demonstrated that this ideology was in fact another expression of Islam’s sine qua non institution, the jihad:

Another feature of the modern doctrine which fits in with the Muslim past is the emphasis which both of them lay on communal solidarity, discipline and cooperation. The umma in Islam is a solidary entity, and its foremost duty is to answer the call of the jihad [emphasis added]. This brings us to the third feature which both modern and ancient systems have in common, to wit the glorification of one’s own group. The traditional attitude of the Muslims to the outside world is one of superiority, and the distinction between the Dar al-harb, Dar al-Islam, and Dar as-sulh, is an ever present one in the mind of the Muslim jurist. It may therefore be said in conclusion of this modern doctrine of nationalism, that although it introduces into Islam features which may not accord with strict orthodoxy, it is the least incompatible perhaps of modern European doctrines with the political thought and political experience of Sunni Islam [emphasis added].

Elsewhere Haim noted that the founder of the Arab Nationalist Ba’ath Party, Michel Aflaq had stated quite plainly:

Muhammad was the epitome of all the Arabs, so let all the Arabs today be Muhammad. . . . Islam wasan Arab movement and its meaning was the renewal of Arabism and its maturity . . . [even]Arab Christians will recognize that Islam constitutes for them a national culture in which they must immerse themselves so that they may understand and love it, and so that they may preserve Islam as they would preserve the most precious element in their Arabism.

And Haim concluded, “ For Aflaq, Islam is [emphasis in original] Arab nationalism.”

Finally, political scientist P.J. Vatikiotis wrote with telltale candor in 1981 (p. 62) about how authoritarian Islam doomed inchoate efforts at creating political systems which upheld individual freedom in the Middle East notably, within Egypt, but throughout the region. Sadly—as established once again by Morsi’s brief stewardship, Egypt’s anti-Morsi putsch, and now the comments of interim President Mansour lionizing Egypt’s era of pseudo-secular military dictatorship, Vatikiotis’ wise observations remain as true today as they were over 32 years ago:

What is significant is that after a tolerably less autocratic/authoritarian political experience during their apprenticeship for independent statehood under foreign power tutelage, during the inter-war period, most of these states once completely free or independent of foreign control, very quickly moved towards highly autocratic-authoritarian patterns of rule. . . . One could suggest a hiatus of roughly three years between the departure or removal of European influence and power and overthrow of the rickety plural political systems they left behind in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and the Sudan by military coups d’etat.

Authoritarianism and autocracy in the Middle East may be unstable in the sense that autocracies follow one another in frequent succession. Yet the ethos of authoritarianism may be lasting, even permanent. . . . One could venture into a more ambitious philosophical etiology by pointing out the absence of a concept of ‘natural law’ or ‘law of reason’ in the intellectual-cultural heri­tage of Middle Eastern societies. After all, everything before Islam, before God revealed his message to Muhammad, constitutes jahiliyya, or the dark age of ignorance. Similarly, anything that deviates from the eternal truth or verities of Islamic teaching is equally degenerative, and therefore unac­ceptable. That is why, by definition, any Islamic movement which seeks to make Islam the basic principle of the polity does not aim at innovation but at the restoration of the ideal that has been abandoned or lost. The missing of an experience similar, or parallel, to the Renaissance, freeing the Muslim individual from external constraints of, say, religious authority in order to engage in a creative course measured and judged by rational and existential human standards, may also be a relevant consideration. The individual in the Middle East has yet to attain his independence from the wider collectivity, or to accept the proposition that he can create a political order.


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