ARAB SPRING 2.0: Will it Come to Egypt?
By Barry Webb
Egypt’s neighbor to the South, Sudan, and near neighbor to the West, Algeria, are both experiencing massive demonstrations as I write this in early March of 2019. Watching these popular uprisings unfold on TV reminds me too much of the first Arab Spring we saw in 2010. That Arab Spring resulted in mass chaos across the Middle East, the rise of ISIS, and the flood of “refugees” into Europe to destabilize that continent. If this current Arab Spring 2.0 spreads it could have even greater consequences.
The primary claim of the protestors in Sudan is for Sudan’s president “for Life” Omar
al-Bashir, who has ruled for 30 years, to step down.
There is certainly reason enough for the people of Sudan to want to see him gone. He acts like a total buffoon, swishing a cane, or a sword, around like a neighborhood bully, or some cartoon image from a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. His legacy has been anything but stellar, having committed genocide against his black Muslim citizens in Darfour province, and presiding over the secession of South Sudan.
News reports claim that the protests appear to be led by “the professional class” who are demanding “Democracy.” This sounds good to western ears. The problem I have with this is that in Egypt it is the “professional” class of doctors and lawyers who have historically been the strongest supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood–and its terrorist offshoots. Just ask Dr. Aiman azh-Zhwahiri. I would expect that the same situation exists in Sudan. And, “Democracy” to an Islamist is only a tool to be used as a means to power, after which that tool is discarded in favor of Allah’s law, or Shari’a. Just ask Turkey’s dictator Erdogan.
There are unconfirmed reports that followers of the late hard line Hussein at-Turabi are key figures in these protests. So, if today’s rumors are correct that Bashir has agreed to step down, and “Democracy” is imposed, I for one will not be surprised if the Muslim Brotherhood, or a clone, ends up in power in Khartoum.
The primary impetus for the demonstrations in Algeria is the attempt of its 85-year old, wheelchair-bound president “for life” to run for a 5th term. He was recently seen on live Arabic TV saying “ana ra’is lilabd” (I am president for all eternity). Arabic TV channels have also reported that even his own cabinet members have joined the marchers demanding that he not run for that 5th term.
On an historical note, during the 1990s, Algeria fought a vicious civil war with Islamic radicals. In 1991 Islamists won the national elections, which the army quickly nullified. The Islamists then took on the military in a civil war that was largely supported by most of the people. However, as time went on, and the Islamists began showing their true colors with extreme brutality, killing journalists, foreigners, and children, the tide eventually turned against them. However, these Sunni Islamists, during their hay day, were very close to the Shi’a Iranians and were receiving instructions on how to conduct and win a revolution. At one point, government control was reduced to the capital of Algiers–and even that was unsafe for western diplomats to venture out of their embassy compounds.
With this background, one has to expect that the Islamist current is still very strong in Algeria, though it has laid low for the past nearly 20 years. Given the opportunity of free, truly “Democratic” elections, do not be surprised to see the Muslim Brotherhood or a clone come to power in Algeria.
Egypt’s government and state media portray a stable, and prosperous Egypt safe for tourists to flock to, and ripe for foreign investment and growth. Indeed, on the surface, it appears that President Abd al-Fatah as-Sisi’s government does have a firm handle on things. They have thrown thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and their sympathizers in prison. On the economic front the as-Sisi government has invested heavily into infrastructure–including the building of thousands of new cities. And, in the past several years, since as-Sisi has come to power, the country has claimed an annual economic growth rate of a Chinese-esque 5-8 percent.
Yet, under the surface things be a bubbling. When as-Sisi first came to power, he was
rather vocal in calling for a reformation in Islam. The term he used was islah, which is somewhat stronger than our word for “reformation.” Islah means something more like “restructuring,” or “repair.”
After the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January of 2015, as-Sisi went so far as to call for the de-sanctification of the ahadeeth and the sunna, as well as doing away with the books on Islamic jurisprudence, namely the hanbali, hanafi, shafa’i, and malaki schools (all of which were written in the 9th and 10th centuries).
As-Sisi’s call for islah received some notable support among Egypt’s westernized intellectuals as well as among a handful of the editorialists for Egypt’s state-run al-ahram newspaper and a popular TV talk show host named Dr. Islam al-Beheri.
But from the clergy? A deafening silence (except for Dr. al-Beheri, who is a graduate of Egypt’s conservative al-azhar university). From Egypt’s allies such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United States, etc.? A deafening silence.
Worse, when al-Sisi asked Ahmad at-Tayyib, the top Sheikh at Egypt ‘s al-Azhar (which is the closest thing to a “Vatican” that Sunni Islam has), to condemn ISIS, he received a verbal slap in the face. Since then as-Sisi has been virtually silent on the subject of islah
for Islam. He talks about islah for the economic sphere, but no more for the religious sphere. In fact , at a recent speech at Cairo University (a traditional hotbed of fundamentalism), as-Sisi’s only words for those training to become teachers were to teach that Islam is a “religion of peace and toleration” (which is the “Disneyland” Islam I speak about in my book, and flies in the face of what the Qur’an, ahadeeth, sunna, and sira actually teach. And, this, in turn, totally ignores the problem with Islam and takes the whole ideas of an islah in Islam off the table and sweeps it firmly under the rug).
It is clear that as-Sisi has come to realize that if he pushes too hard on the issue, or tries to force it down the throats of the al-azhar Imams and Sheikhs, he will lose in a bloody revolution.
Unfortunately, such a revolution may happen anyway, even without as-Sisi getting tough with al-azhar. Caught in his sweeps of Muslim Brotherhood members have been thousands of secular protestors as well. This heavy-handed approach to security has angered much of the population. The government tries to keep a lid on things by continually pushing the narrative of Egypt ‘s gains while behaving like a police state.
But it gets worse.
Reports out of Egypt claim that al-azhar itself is dominated by secret Muslim Brotherhood members and their (not so secret) sympathizers. In other words, al-azhar, the bastion of “moderate” Islam in the Sunni world essentially adheres to the same “interpretation” of Islam as does al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and the Saudi Wahhabis.
In the fall of 2018 an Egyptian expert on extremist groups appeared on al-arabiya, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based satellite TV channel. He talked about a new group called
al-murabitoun (those who live in the garrisons), which he claimed is spreading throughout the Egyptian army. The Egyptian expert said that there are dozens of
al-murabitoun cells throughout the army–and they are being led by “extremist” officers.
This is perhaps the most frightening bit of news coming out of the Middle East. The population of Egypt is 100 million and growing. The country has the largest, most powerful army in the Middle East bristling with the latest western weaponry. The army is also the one institution that all Egyptians–Muslims, Christians, secularists, atheists, and socialists–all have traditionally looked up to, respected, and considered to be “Egypt itself.” To see extremism spread throughout the officer corps, as well as the rank and file, bodes ill not only for Egypt, but for the entire Middle East (and beyond).
The online alarabiya.net published a similar article claiming that there are currently four terror organizations operating in Egypt today: al-murabitoun, ISIS in the Sinai, hasim, and jund al-khelaafah (soldiers of the Caliphate). Other sources have added a fifth terror group: liwa’ ath-thawrah (Brigades of the Revolution) which is a military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, as is the hasim group.
Interestingly, the U.S. State Department has recently declared both liwa’ ath-thawrah and hasim to be terrorist organizations. This raises the question as to why they don’t go ahead and declare the mother ship, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) itself, to be a terrorist organization?
Other reporting out of Egypt claims that the MB operates a sort of “parallel” economy and has amassed huge funds. They also receive massive donations from cells and front groups overseas, particularly Britain and the United States.
So, how is as-Sisi’s reformation coming along? Recent polls show that 84-86% of Muslims in Egypt and Jordan support the death penalty for Muslims who leave the religion, and similar percentages support stoning for adultery. Moderate Islam that ain’t.
That is right out of shari’a law. That is Saudi Arabia, Iran, ISIS, and al-Qaeda. And, Egypt and Jordan were supposed to be two of the most modernized, westernized countries of the Arab world.
A Syrian journalist residing in Turkey has reported that there are 2,000 MB media members in Turkey who man 10 TV stations and several radio stations (all of which blast pro MB and anti as-Sisi propaganda into Egypt 24/7). Turkish and Qatari money are supporting these efforts.
TO SUM UP
You’ve got Arab Spring-type revolts taking place in Sudan and Algeria, a full scale civil war next door in Libya, an ISIS insurgency in the Sinai which the Egyptian army has been trying to put out since as-Sisi came to power, you’ve got al-azhar harboring secret support for the MB, the MB secretly amassing massive amounts of money, and you’ve got 10 TV stations and several radio stations based in Turkey blasting MB propaganda into Egypt 24/7. Then add to this that over 80% of the Muslims in Egypt say they want shari’a law. How long do you think the as-Sisi regime can last under this pressure?
Proof that the regime realizes that it is in trouble is the fact that the state run media outlets are constantly praising the “nation state” idea, and how important it is to be proud of Egypt and one’s Egyptian-ness. They feel that this is necessary because the MB and other Islamists are trying to tear down the “nation state” concept and replace it with the “umma,” which stands for all of Islamdom (in other words, a Caliphate).
I love Egypt. I spent a year of my life there in the mid-’70s learning Arabic, and I would like nothing better than to see Egypt lead the Arabs, and the entire Islamic world, into a true islah of the Islamic religion–returning it back to its pre-Medina roots–its Jewish, Christian, and Ebionite roots. In other words, to de-sanctify all the passages in the ahadeeth, the Qur’an, and the books of Islamic jurisprudence that sanctify (based on Qur’an 33:21) Jew-hating, beheading, slavery, rape, sex slavery, wife beating, and militant jihad against all non-believers.
I have a vision of the current as-Sisi government feasting in safety behind the fortified walls of their castle, imagining that the barbarians at their gates have no chance of breaking in. But when I look closers at that castle . . . I see that it sits on top of a sea of Middle Eastern sand. And, when the wind blows, and that sand sifts . . .
When I watch some of the Arabic song and dance variety shows on Lebanese and Egyptian TV, I find it hard to believe that the culture that produces a people who love music and dance so much could be the same culture that produces terrorists, and wants to stone adulterers and kill apostates. But those singing, dancing, and music loving Muslims are in the minority. And, they are not true Muslims, even if they think they are. They are “Disneyland Muslims,” or “fake” Muslims as some call them. They sit in the same castle as does as-Sisi and his regime.
Another way to view this is to imagine that a “Titanic” has already sunk, and what you see on the surface of a bubbling, churning sea are all of the secular, music loving Muslims, reformers, and government figures paddling away in their inflatable lifeboats hoping to reach dry land before . . .
Swarming just below them are legions of giant, great white sharks, each twice the size of a life raft. Just a flick of a tail, a nudge of a nose . . .
And, while the sound track from “Jaws” plays, President as-Sisi uses the technique of carrot and extreme stick, hoping that brute force can keep the sharks at bay.
Should Egypt blow, it will touch off a new chain of jihadi groups taking power all over the Middle East. The reverberations will be felt throughout Europe and America as well where powerful Muslim Brotherhood entities and front groups have already taken up root.
It is in this environment that the MB front group the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has demanded that the FBI’s “terrorist watchlist” be investigated for possible bias against Muslims. I can hardly wait to see what that will lead to.
Barry Webb had a 25-year career as an Arabic translator for the NSA and other government entities and is the author of CONFESSIONS OF AN (EX) NSA SPY: Why America and its Allies are Losing the War on Terror. His website is www.barrywebbauthor.com