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The Egyptian military has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and their Gulf ally, Qatar, now revealing their clear partnership with Saudi Arabia

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to part two of our interview with Mohamed Elmeshad.

Mohamed is an independent journalist who is based in Cairo and has written for Egypt Independent.

Thanks for joining us, Mohamed.


DESVARIEUX: So, Mohamed, recently an Egyptian court banned the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities and froze all their assets, as we discussed in part one. How does this compare to Nasser’s crackdown of the Brotherhood in 1954?

ELMESHAD: Well, Jessica, in form it looks very similar. It began with a top-level condemnation of the Brotherhood. Nasser has a very famous speech where he calls out the Brotherhood, for lack of better phrasing, on a lot of the things that people are calling them out for now, which is specifically sort of not having a nationalistic sense, being above and being–holding the interests of the group above the interests of the nation, having a sort of oppressive form of Islam that they want to impose on other people, and being terrorists. And the reason why is because during Nasser’s prime one of the people who Nasser persecuted and executed was Sayyid Qutb, who wrote a book called Milestones and in that book talks about looking at society in general as infidels and talking about how it is permissible to revolt against a leader if he falls into disbelief. And basically it said all the leaders are in disbelief. And the authorities then took that as a rebellion against the state. And where Nasser’s crackdown differs from today’s is that it was actually much more brutal when it came to the leadership. Sayyid Qutb and others were executed. We don’t have death sentences being handed out just yet, although we do have a lot more deaths on the streets. The Brotherhood as an idea during Nasser’s time was a lot more contained, containable because of the clout that the military leaders had back then.

Now, for some people, [incompr.] military rule because our last experience wasn’t as–what’s the word?–you know, emphatically supported from different factions of society as Nasser was. The idea that the crackdown now could be the same as the 1954 crackdown is and has been the Muslim Brotherhood’s worst fear. They stated that many times. And the relationship between the Brotherhood and the military was never the same since. A lot of people thought that the military were in fact playing it sort of cool when they had better ties with the Brotherhood when Morsi came into power. And now it just goes to show that these relationships have not changed.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. So let’s look at another side of the story. You know here at The Real News we like to look at the outside players in all of this. And you won’t have to look too far before you see Qatar and Saudi Arabia and their rivalry really playing out. By supporting Egypt’s old order, do you see this latest development as more evidence that Saudi Arabia has really made a strategic gains over its regional rival Qatar?

ELMESHAD: Of course. I mean, I don’t even think it’s–from my end it doesn’t seem as much a general rivalry as much as it is Qatar trying to capitalize on any changes it sees or any–yeah, on a change in sort of the power structure within the region. Qatar has been trying to become a major power broker. And what happened in Egypt and what’s been happening in Syria with the formation of the National Council and who’s sort of being allowed to broker the relationships between the opposition in Syria is just going to show that Qatar is losing a lot of it’s bets, a lot of the bets that it was putting. Today, the Qatari emir [incompr.] was speaking in the UN. He indicated almost directly that what he sees that the changes that are happening, well, he said that the change has happened, the change is happening through the Arab Spring [incompr.] that are taking everything backwards. Qatar being forward-looking [incompr.] position I believe feels like it’s–you know, its perceived maybe fleeting sort of position as the main power broker [incompr.] the Muslim Brotherhood fleeting position as the ruling and largest political party in Egypt. You know, Egypt has sent back aid and funding that was promised by Qatar, $2 billion worth to be specific. The details, the reasoning given was because they weren’t able to come to an agreement on some rates on some of the loans. Meanwhile, we’re about to–Egypt’s about to accept $10 billion of Saudi money, which all of a sudden the debt problem and [incompr.] crisis is solved, and obviously Saudi becomes the main player again in Egypt.

DESVARIEUX: And it does seem like a very bold move by the Egyptian military to reject those $2 billion in funds that you said that Qatar had deposited in the Central Bank of Egypt. So are we going to see more of this? Are we going to basically see an Egypt that is moving closer and closer to Saudi Arabia and have policies that are very similar to policies that we saw under Mubarak, who we know was heavily supported by the Saudis?

ELMESHAD: Well, I mean, I guess the main thing is here that Egypt and Saudi both have that sort of foreign policies that were in line with what the U.S. wanted. So does the U.S. still have the same clout over both Egypt and Saudi and are Egypt and Saudi going to be in line?

I think one of the things that Egypt and Saudi have in common, or the current leaders in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy, to be sure, is that they are interested in the status quo. The Muslim Brotherhood or any sort of change represents a big change to the status quo. Qatar moving into the equation as a major powerbroker changes the status quo. So the–but the special animosity towards the Muslim Brotherhood, we’ll see Egypt and Saudi cooperating on levels of internal security, on levels of surveillance, of who they’ll be giving, who they’ll be supporting financially, and who they won’t be when it comes to–Saudi has been positioning itself as the main broker, almost usurping Egypt in brokering peace between Fatah and Hamas, for example, in Palestine. And I’m sure they will be ever-present to solve, quote-unquote, some of Egypt’s problems in the future, although looking at the amount of money coming in, you know, whether it’s Qatar or Saudi, it is more buying in, it is more investing into the potential that is Egypt, that is a stable Egypt in the future. Egypt, you know, is the most populous country in the Arab world, has very strategic–.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about the U.S. position in all this. We know that the U.S. strategic position is to continue to be a hegemonic player in the region. What do you think the U.S. reaction will be to this news of the Muslim hood being banned? President Obama, he spoke about this a bit at the UN General Assembly. What did you make of his comments?

ELMESHAD: I mean, obviously, Syria is the major talking point and the main item of discussion on the U.S. agenda for the Middle East, as it should be. And, you know, Obama [incompr.] said, you know, Morsi, he was democratically elected, you know, he mismanaged the country. And I think what’s going to happen for the time being for the U.S. is that the sort of–as long as he just toes the line, I think the U.S. will continue seeming [incompr.] continue its kind of ambivalence. They’ll talk about democracy, but at the same time, you know, optimism and the way forward. The military leaders, the military [incompr.] on Egypt are some of the U.S.’s strongest allies. Any look at McCain or any look into McCain or Kerry or Hagel talking about relationships with Egypt will mention, like, how important the relationship with the Egyptian military is.

I think that on a third level there is a level of ease and comfort in the military being back in control. The court ruling, if it’s legal, what can the U.S. say? The U.S. cannot–I don’t think that it’ll be wise for the U.S. or Obama or anyone to talk about a ruling that went through an Egyptian court and was ratified and went through all the appeals processes. I don’t think it will go through it. And I’m not a legal expert, but listening to legal experts, it probably won’t go through all the appeals process. But if it does and it’s a legitimate ruling, what can the U.S. say? It’s definitely not in their interests to go against the judiciary if it was all procedurally sound.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. As you said, it’s not really in the U.S. interest to go against this ruling.

Well, Mohamed, thank you very much for joining us.

ELMESHAD: Thank you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mohamed Elmeshad is an independent journalist based in Cairo and former reporter for Al-Masry Al-Youm's  Egypt Independent. He graduated in 2006 with a B.S. in Economics and a Minor in Journalism from the George Washington University.  He worked in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer between 2006-2008 where he focused on Small Enterprise Development and other educational projects.  This was followed by two years as a Corporate Analyst at a Private Equity firm in Bahrain.