Writers argue about where Egypt stands today—on the brink of a brighter future, or on the edge of an abyss?
Does Samir Ragab live in Egypt? That’s the question on everyone’s lips after his bizarre commentary on Safwat Al Sherif’s move from information minister to head of the Shura Council. “I believe that the choice of Sherif as speaker of the Shura Council will bear positively on the march for democracy in Egypt under the leadership of President Mubarak,” the editor of the state’s Al Gomhouriya daily wrote in his 26 June publication. “In addition, I’m confident that the choice of Sherif will enhance the role of the Supreme Council for Journalism in promoting democracy in the country.” Huh?
Other writers said that difficulties in creating democratic institutions in Egpyt caused not individuals but in the sickness of the system as a whole. In the opposition press, Al Wafd editor Abbas Al Tarabili said that the president’s illness had delayed the announcement of a new government and added to political paralysis. “If it wasn’t for the president’s condition, the government would have been changed. That’s what people are saying. They also say that the president’s illness has saved the government from falling and prolonged its life,” he wrote in the 27 June issue. “What we want is a real change, by the will of the whole nation and not just a small section that’s only looking for its interests. We want a democratic change in a democratic manner. We don’t want one group to suddenly jump into the job, because that’s been Egypt’s tragedy before. There’s a consensus in Egypt now that the situation has almost gone beyond fixing. The only solution now is radical surgery to remove the corruption that has made people behave as if this wasn’t their country that they cared about at all. We need complete constitutional reform so that Egypt becomes a country for all Egyptians.”
Magdy Hussein, editor of the online Islamist paper Al Shaab, seems to think that change is upon us. “It’s the end of an era summed up by the fact that Egypt got no votes at all in the competition to hold the 2010 World Cup, a symbolic statement of the total cultural collapse we are in,” he wrote. “But this is happening at the same time that the American plan for hegemony in Arab and Islamic countries has witnessed a huge setback in Iraq, and this opens great possibilities for liberation from the American-Zionist alliance. This only confirms what we have been saying all along: that American power is in a state of retreat, not advance.”
This is an Islamist critique of Arab regional politics that concurs in essence with that of nationalists such as Muhammad Hassanein Heikal—Egypt and other Arab countries simply need more confidence in order to create bold new Arab alliances that can challenge U.S.-Israeli domination. With the descent of the Iraq project into chaos, the “new Arab liberals” are also under attack. Al Jazeera’s “The Opposite Direction” took up the topic in a recent show, giving a public airing to the view that pro-democracy activists made a big mistake in thinking that America’s Iraq adventure would allow them to replace the Arab regimes. Last month’s G-8 summit in the United States left the pompous and ridiculous Greater Middle East Initiative bereft of any real content—yet another great plan to democratize the Arab world crushed by the realities of Israel’s crazed mission to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population.
Facing a frenzied onslaught by Al Qaeda, the Saudi regime has taken to blaming the Israelis in various confused public reactions to a problem they clearly have no clue about how to handle. But the Saudis say it because they have rightly concluded that the Israelis are out to get them, Raghda Dirgham explains in the London-based Al Hayat of 25 June.
“In Saudi Arabia, as in Iraq, the events of the past few years have revealed an astonishing and frightening confluence of extremist movements. There is a kind of secret conversation taking place among the various quarters of extremism, a mutual summons whereby one extremism feeds off the other,” the New York bureau chief of the pan-Arab daily wrote. “Al Qaeda wishes to reign supreme in Saudi Arabia once it brings about its collapse, even if such a collapse means a total break-up of the kingdom and the installation of a radical Islamic government on only a portion of its land. Chaos is Al Qaeda’s weapon. But a clique of American and Israeli extremists is also working to bring about the collapse and break-up of Saudi Arabia. Control of the oil-rich eastern region is one of their goals. Another goal consists of dividing the Arab region in general to remove any threat or challenge it poses to Israel. Al Qaeda and this radical American-Israeli clique agree on the desire to sever the U.S.-Saudi relationship, even if for entirely different reasons.”
Issue 15 vol 8, Cairo Times, Egypt's only independent English-language news magazine