I visited RAND Corporation in 1994 while meeting with Middle East experts to talk about “political Islam”, which at the time was a new concept. RAND is a prominent think tank for US strategy and often imposes its view on US administrations that assign it research tasks.
During discussions with experts, it was clear they believed that “liberal Islam” is the future of the Middle East and insisted that moderate Islam does not contradict democracy and liberalism. As early as the 1990s, this institution was working on training Islamist youth to become vanguards of a “liberal Islam” that adopts Western ideas, as well as a comprehensive plan to expand this programme.
RAND essentially chose the Muslim Brotherhood as the representatives of this current, while promoting political Islam and its ideologues in the East and West as moderates and an alternative capable of protecting US values and interests. There were mechanisms to pressure incumbent regimes to accept this current as a political player along with other existing legitimate factions, and to allow them to contest elections, form parties and governments, and freely function among the masses, in universities and civil society.
Researchers at RAND and other think tanks and decision-making institutions realised this would not succeed if cadres from other civil currents were not trained to accept political Islam, and be a political incubator for it as it grew and took control. They pushed Washington to pressure president Hosni Mubarak’s regime before the 25 January 2011 Revolution to look the other way when it came to direct and indirect training and funding of dozens of members of civil society by US institutions, personalities and other nationalities and figures that are more acceptable.
Eventually, it became widely condoned, even by the staunchest leftists in Egypt who historically are suspicions of US intentions. Thus, political Islam became the product of US security agencies and think tanks to champion and protect civil currents, especially leading figures in the far left, centre left, and of course liberals, who believe in US democracy and values in word and action.
This US perspective and dynamic intersected with the efforts of Britain, the founding country and long-time sponsor of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, after years of experience as a colonial power in many Middle East countries, most notably Egypt. Britain’s security and political agencies have entire cadres and teams with full knowledge of political, economic, social and security conditions inside former colonies.
Before London withdrew as a colonial power it left mechanisms in place to control the governing system, and political and economic action, as it wished. Even though colonialism ended, it continues to control the future of former colonies and has the final word therein to protect British interests. Britain uses its television, radio and news agencies and provides political, legal and logistical support for “political Islam” wherever it exists, including in London, the capital of Islamists.
Britain coordinates with others that harbour political Islam in tandem with Washington and London, such as Qatar and Turkey, in an attempt to empower this current. It took advantage of the Arab Spring that toppled old regimes in the region, replacing them through ballot boxes, civil action and transitional forces as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, or through machine guns as witnessed in Libya and Syria.
Egypt’s revolution on 30 June 2013, and the months of activism that preceded it, however, destroyed the plot to empower political Islam, as well as entire plans, policies and strategies. This explains Washington’s and London’s permanent disapproval of what happened and is happening in Egypt, whether on key or marginal issues, and putting pressure behind the scenes to restore Islamists to power after investing so many years in preparing, training and pressuring.
At the same time, they punish the Egyptian people and the leader of its army who responded to their desire and together overthrew the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, its supreme guide and puppet in the presidential palace.
What is unusual is for key figures in Egypt’s civil society to continue embracing this current and coordinate with it to overthrow the incumbent regime by agreeing to calls to suspend the constitution, meet electoral and legal requisites, and join it in calling for protests and boycott. The pretext is that the political atmosphere does not accommodate peaceful political activism, and the regime of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is destroying the state of Egypt.
What is ironic is that their statements refer to electoral requisites they did not participate in, or boycotted, or results they did not recognise. They only make seasonal appearances and are otherwise completely isolated from the masses and their problems.
This is what I insist on in all my writings. Differences with any regime on a patriotic basis from within the system over political or corruption issues, or not applying the law or constitution, or wrongdoing, are common in politics and the role of the opposition in any country. However, differing with the regime over religion, the foundations of national government, sovereignty and embracing a current affiliated to an international organisation and regional and world capitals that wish ill upon Egypt, is unacceptable. In fact, it rises to the level of conspiracy, and I would reticently say treason, because then it becomes a zero-sum game between the state and this fascist current.
Your gamble will fail and the first victim will be the fragile civil opposition.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly