Gilbert Achcar Pt.2: Egyptians continue to face long road ahead to more democratic institutions, just economic policies and freedom from US influence over the armed forces
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. This is part two of our conversation with Gilbert Achcar. We reached him soon after the news that the Egyptian army had ousted President Morsi out of power and a military coup had come down.
Gilbert Achcar is a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. His books include The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, which is published in 13 languages; Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, coauthored with Noam Chomsky; the critically acclaimed Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives; and most recently, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising.
Thank you so much for joining us.
PROF. GILBERT ACHCAR, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES, UNIV. OF LONDON: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.
NOOR: What is the role of the United States in all of this? I mean, they were perfectly happy supporting Mubarak for decades with the military in power. But what role have they played in this situation, and what role might the U.S. play moving forward?
ACHCAR: The opposition movement in Egypt, that opposition to Morsi, had the strong conviction that Washington was backing Morsi. And indeed there were many signs showing Washington support to Morsi, indeed, warnings against a military coup, warnings against the intervention by the military, insistence on the necessity to follow the constitutional way and not any disruption of the constitutional way, although the Constitution, the present Constitution, is very much disputed in its legitimacy. I mean, now this huge movement does not recognize this constitution as legitimate but as something imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. ambassador in Cairo at the beginning of the mobilizations against Morsi made us a statement saying that they are detrimental to the economy of the country. I mean, that appeared as a blatant statement of support to Morsi. So there are many indications for that.
And the reality is Washington is in real disarray. And, you know, all these guys, and there are so many of them, especially on the internet, everywhere, with all these conspiracy theories who believe that Washington is Almighty and, you know, kind of puppet master of everything that’s happening in the Arab world are just completely off of the mark. I mean, Washington, the United States in general, the U.S. influence in the region is at a very, very low point. It’s a result of the defeat in Iraq, because Iraq has been a major defeat for the United States, for the U.S. imperial project. And you had this combination of this huge defeat, disaster, actually, for the U.S. imperial policies in Iraq, with the uprising toppling key friends of Washington like Mubarak.
So, I mean, Washington tried to bet on the Muslim Brotherhood. And for the last period, actually, since the beginning of the uprising, or soon after the beginning of the uprising in the Arab world, Washington has chosen the Muslim Brotherhood as the horse on which to bet. And, of course, they renewed their old alliance because they have been working closely, in close collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood in the ’50s, in the ’60s, in the ’70s, up actually–up to 1990, ’91. They had a close collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood. And so they renewed that, believing that, well, okay, in the present conditions of the Arab world, with all this mass mobilization, which is the major new–the major outcome, the major, if you want, development of everything that has been happening since December 2010, January 2011, they believe that, well, now they need allies with a real popular base, with a real popular organization. And, of course, the only ones who correspond to this definition and are willing to collaborate and cooperate with Washington are the Muslim Brotherhood. And they did so and they are doing so.
But now the situation has reached a point where, you know, Washington can see that the Muslim Brotherhood failed. It’s obvious that they failed. So even from the point of view of Washington, betting on them is no longer possible. They failed in reestablishing law and order, if you want, in Egypt. They failed in controlling the situation. And of course the major ally of Washington in Egypt is the army. I mean, the army has very close ties with Washington. It is founded by Washington to a certain extent. I mean, but the bulk of U.S. funding to Egypt, which is second only to U.S. funding to Israel, goes to the army. And this generation of military officers have all been trained by the United States. They have been into military maneuvers and all that. So the army is very closely linked to Washington. And, of course, I mean, you can’t expect Washington to take a position against the army. They wouldn’t have to get into some conciliatory, I guess, stand. But the key point is that they are not running the show. And anyone believing that they are running the show is just, as I said, you know, off the mark.
NOOR: Now, can you share some more of your thoughts about what may come next for Egypt? Mohamed ElBaradei is an opposition figure who was among the leaders that met with the army today. It appears that leaders of labor unions did not meet with the army. Can you talk about the possible implications of that? And finally, do you feel that because of this crisis that’s emerged with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, do feel that if there was another election, the Muslim Brotherhood would not win?
ACHCAR: Yeah. Well, I start with that last point. No, I can’t see how the Muslim Brotherhood could win an election now. I mean, the next election will be a presidential one, according to the statement by the military, the commander-in-chief, his speech. Now, if Morsi–I mean, if you look at what happened in the previous election, Morsi was elected in the second round thanks to votes which were not pro-Morsi but anti-Shafik, the other candidate, which is the former–an ex-military man and regarded as a representative of the continuity of the Mubarak regime. So even then, Morsi in the first round that only 25 percent. And I very much doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood would get now, again, even that 25 percent of the vote. So, no, I don’t think this is really possible, not to mention the fact that, I mean, I can hardly imagine the army organizing elections to get Morsi back or the equivalent of Morsi back in power. So this is rather very much unlikely, to say the least.
Now, what will happen, I mean, that’s precisely what I was hinting at when I was mentioning this issue of the Nasserite candidate. So, will this kind of heterogenous opposition front, will they go together in the election with one candidate? And, well, if that happens, this candidate won’t be the Nasserite one but will be someone like Baradei or something like that, a liberal.
And in some way this will be but another stage, inauguration of another stage in a revolutionary process which will be far from extinct. It will carry on, and it will carry on for many years, if not many decades, of instability before you reach a situation where things can really change profoundly with a different social economic policy. So that means you need a profound social political change in order to get that. For the time being, this is not visible. So it’s too early to make predictions in that regard.
But what we can say is, however, that it is really unlikely that the army tries to repeat what it did after the previous coup of 11 February 2011, when you had in the same way, I mean, the army pushing Mubarak out of power. Now they are doing that with Morsi. Now, the first time they presided over the country until the election of Morsi, for a long time, I can hardly imagine them doing the same, because they understood that this is detrimental to them and that actually today power in Egypt is a hot potato. It is–I mean, who is willing, you know, to face all the problems that we’ll be facing, not least of them the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood now–I mean, if–I mean, we’ll see what will happen. But if they are just subdued, if they are just–you know, if they just capitulate, they will do that with a huge resentment, and there will be a lot of opposition to whatever comes next from the Islamic circles.
And on the other hand, you have a terribly bad economic situation, extremely worrying that the country’s on the brink of bankruptcy [incompr.] on the brink of a deep economic disaster. And the only policy put forward from the broad array of forces that goes from Morsi to Baradei through the military, etc., are the same neoliberal policies which the IMF is promoting in Egypt.
You know, it’s just unbelievable how much the IMF is–how to say–is really the–as it has been called a long time ago already, the international monetary fundamentalism, I mean, how fundamentalist it is in its neoliberal perspective, to the point of advocating for Egypt, after everything you’ve seen, just more of the same economic policies that were applied under Mubarak and that led to this deep economic crisis, no growth anyhow, very low job creation, and huge unemployment, and especially youth unemployment. And they keep coming with the same. Now, the IMF has been, you know, exerting pressure on the Morsi government for the implementation of further austerity policies, further reductions in the subsidies for the prices of, like, fuel and other basic staples and the rest. And, you know, they keep coming with such policies, and actually Morsi did not implement them because he could not. He was not powerful enough politically to do so. When he attempted at one point, there was such an outcry that he had immediately to cancel the measure that he announced on his Facebook page. I mean, that was ridiculous.
So, I mean, it’s a hot potato. And, I mean, that’s why again what we are seeing is but an episode in a long story, which is actually still in its initial phase. We’ll see a lot more of developments in the years to come in Egypt and in the rest of the Arab world.
NOOR: Thank you. And we’ll certainly keep following all these developments as they unfold.
ACHCAR: Absolutely. You’re most welcome.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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