To Steven Cook: When will the politicised articles against Egypt end?

Mohamed Fayez Farahat
Thursday 3 Nov 2016

US researcher Steven Cook claims Egypt abandoned domestic and regional responsibilities in order to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood, and at great cost. Should anyone listen?

Continuing the series of articles attacking Egypt, which became rife after the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2013, American researcher Steven Cook wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs (November/December 2016) an article entitled “Egypt’s Nightmare: Sisi’s Dangerous War on Terror.”

The article launched a heavy attack on Egypt's internal policies and the Egyptian foreign ministry during the last two years. In particular, it criticises Egyptian policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

The article claims the Egyptian regime is seeking to exterminate the organisation under the pretext that no substantial differences exist between the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist takfiri organisations, including the Islamic State group (IS), and that all such terrorist organisations sprang from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cook reiterates the description of what happened in June 2013 as a coup d’état, claiming that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has established an even more harshly authoritarian regime than the one Hosni Mubarak oversaw and that Egyptians regard the January 2011 revolution's slogans as a “remote memory,” to quote him.

Cook elaborates on the internal economic situation, adding that the Egyptian state has become interested in only one thing — pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood organisation to eradicate it once and for all, and that the state has reduced all its functions and objectives to this sole purpose.

In an extremely strange conclusion. Cook writes that the Egyptian state doesn’t care about the consequences, on Egyptian citizens, of achieving this “end.” Egyptians, he says, began to pay the price of this policy, but they are not alone, Cook claims. Also the Gazans, Syrians and Libyans are paying the price!

As a matter of fact, the article raises a number of questions, which raise in turn suspicions regarding the real objectives of the article. The first of these is the timing of its publication. Definitely, the publication of the article at this time, a few days before 11 November, raises a big question about the real objective behind it, and if it consists of foreign operations to mobilise the Egyptian street towards a certain direction for the benefit of certain political currents, or preparing American and international decision-makers in the same direction. These suspicions are linked to strong doubts regarding the relationship between Western “academic research” and political currents inside Egypt and several Arab countries. These currents continue to seek to employ part of the academic and research community in these countries to serve specific international interests.

Apart from Cook’s overlooking the June Revolution and its preludes, which is a fallacy we’ve gotten accustomed to in the frame of political judgments made by many Western researchers and intellectual centres, the article includes many value judgments that do not befit an academic periodical such as Foreign Affairs, or an academic writer who is supposed to be an expert on African and Middle East affairs.

Cook must know the difference between a “value judgment” and “political stand,” on the one hand, and disciplined research on the other. If it is possible that the first is uttered by a political activist or an ideologue, it is impermissible that an academic researcher engage in this kind of writing.

Cook’s article includes numerous value judgments, which are unacceptable unless the target audience of the article is political activists or ideologues.

Among these value judgments, Cook claims that “President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has established an even more harshly authoritarian regime than the one Mubarak oversaw,” without explaining how he reached this conclusion. Is it possible that a certain president succeed in establishing an authoritarian regime exceeding in authoritarianism that which was established by a regime that spanned 30 consecutive years? Did Cook review the structures of the post-June Revolution regime and compare it with that of the Mubarak regime? Did Cook analyse the factors responsible for the weakness of Middle East democracies, especially prevalent cultural, social and economic factors in the countries of the region?

Did Cook review the reasons for the weakness of political parties and their responsibility in failing to establish Western-style democracies, in spite of radical changes introduced in the constitutional and legal framework governing the work of these structures in Egypt, for instance? How much is El-Sisi responsible for authoritarian characteristics extant during two years only of his rule, in the view of Western researchers and intellectual centres? That is, if we suppose that El-Sisi is indeed aiming at establishing such an authoritarian regime.

These were the approaches the “researcher” should have relied on before reaching a conclusion that doesn’t exceed being a “value judgment” governed by political objectives. 

Cook reached another more dangerous conclusion — that the political, economic and security costs of the Egyptian state's attack against the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t restricted to Egyptian citizens but has extended to include Gazans, Syrians and Libyans, claiming that it contributes in a status of instability in these countries, even in the entire Middle East region.

Cook claims here that the Egyptian government's focus on fighting the Muslim Brotherhood made it blind to “fundamental differences” between Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that this policy ended up in Egypt siding with the “Russia-Iran-Hizbullah” axis backing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, even if the Egyptian standpoint was confined to political and diplomatic support confronting the “US-Emirates-Saudi Arabia-Turkey” axis.

In the final analysis, according to Cook’s claim, this led to dividing the Arab world and the Syrian regime continuing to rule, with Egypt transformed into a force of instability in the Middle East!

Cook repeated the same conclusion with the same logic regarding the Libyan case, claiming that Egypt represented a factor of instability in Libya in light of its support for General Haftar, who also adopts an antagonistic stance towards Islamists in Libya.

This led – Cook claims – to Egypt deepening the state of division and decline in national reconciliation opportunities in Libya! He repeats the same charge in the case of Gaza, claiming that Egyptian policy aiming at eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood drove the Egyptian state to seek the “elimination” of Hamas through destroying the tunnels on Gaza's southern border, isolating Gaza from Sinai. It even reached the extent, Cook claims, of Egypt encouraging Israel during its military operations against Hamas in 2014 to reoccupy Gaza and deal a devastating blow to the organisation. Allegedly Israel refused!

What price is Cook talking about? Who is responsible for the hazardous security and humanitarian situation in Syria? Is it international polarisation — American-Russian, and the conflict between them over influence and interests without putting into consideration the Syrian people and the Syrian state? Is it regional polarisation, which constitutes an extension of international polarisation and which Egypt was adamant not to be part of? Is it the Syrian regime and its army, which didn’t display any consideration for the Syrian people, preferring the defence of the narrow interests of the ruling elite and its regional and international allies, until the last Syrian citizen falls?

Or is it all this and Cook ignores it all because he doesn’t want to direct any criticism to Western policies in the region and put the blame on them for the current situation and the price the Syrian citizen and Syrian state pay due to these policies? Is it the Muslim Brotherhood project that seeks to control the Syrian state starting with establishing the “Syrian National Council” and their alliance with the jihadist takfiri organisations? Cook ignores it in order to avoid directing any criticism to Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Who is responsible for the downfall of the Libyan state? Is it, for instance Western military intervention that didn’t rely on any conception or real project for rebuilding Libya after the war? Is it Western insistence on not arming the National Libyan Army and leaving the arena to military and jihadist takfiri militias, including IS and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Is it, for instance, refusal to give any effective role for General Haftar in the frame of a national project to extricate Libya from its current political and security situation? Or is it all this, and Cook ignores it all because he doesn’t want to direct any criticism to Western policies in the region and put the blame on them for the current situation and the price the Libyan citizen and the Libyan state pay due to these policies?

Who is responsible for the deterioration of security in Gaza? Is it, for instance, the Israeli government that refuses any peace initiative? Is it American and European weakness in confronting their Israeli “ally” and the US’s inability to impose a peace project on consecutive Israeli governments? Despite Arab societies’ and states’ boredom with repeated American talk about US commitments towards peace in the Middle East and the theory of the two state solution, is it problematic that we only hear the same? Is it all this and Cook ignores it because he doesn’t want to direct any criticism to Western policies and put the blame on them for the current situation facing the Palestinian citizen in Gaza and elsewhere? Cook even ignores inter-Palestinian strife in order to avoid directing any criticism to Gaza’s Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Once again, was it required of the Egyptian people to relinquish their country and historical identity for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood project in Egypt, in order to be a foundation stone for similar Muslim Brotherhood projects in Gaza, Syria and Libya, so as to avoid paying the prices Cook talks about? Was it required that Egyptian policy identify itself with that of other regional powers, only so as not those citizens pay the prices which Cook talks about, without any consideration for Egyptian national interests or Egyptian national security, so that Egyptian citizens would not pay the prices Cook talks about?

What force of instability does Egypt represent in the region? What is the stability that Cook has in mind? Is it the stability that relies on the project of an “authoritarian,” “sectarian” religious group, to quote the description Cook himself used concerning the Muslim Brotherhood in his article? What are the distinctions between Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood? Did Cook review the relationship between Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and the jihadist takfiri organisations there?

Did Cook review the several Western reports that concluded an ideological relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the violent the jihadist takfiri organisations exists, including IS and Al-Qaeda?

First and foremost comes the report issued by the British government in December 2015 and the International Criminal Law Bureau report issued in the same month. Did Cook make a content analysis study of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the leaders of IS and Al-Qaeda, in order to arrive at the truth of the relationship between them and other violent jihadist organisations? Did Cook study the important document titled “Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup” (Fiqh al-Muqawamma al-Sha‘biyya l-il-Inqilab) which lay the foundations of the transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood to violence?

Cook’s analysis and feeble connection between Egyptian policy against the Muslim Brotherhood and the situation in Gaza and the Syrian and Libyan crises can’t be interpreted except in the context of the continuance of American and Western laments on the fall of the Western project that developed against the backdrop of the beginning of the Arab Spring. This project presented itself in elevating the Muslim Brotherhood and handing over power to them in the countries of the region.

This interpretation seemed clear when Cook praised in his article the role that Morsi’s regime played in defending the Syrian opposition (the Muslim Brotherhood in its heart) and Morsi’s sympathy with the fighting jihadist groups in Egypt, Gaza and Syria. And when he also warned US Congress against considering the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” on the grounds that this step would drive the El-Sisi regime into taking a more hard-line stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood, with the regional repercussions such a stance would have, according to Cook’s vision.

While Cook himself admits that Egyptians suffered under the Muslim Brotherhood and that they proved during their rule that they were an authoritarian, sectarian group that has no vision, he denies El-Sisi’s regime the legitimate right of adopting as an objective eliminating the project of that group forever.

His denial relies on his conclusion that this organisation has successfully infiltrated Egyptian society through its social and service networks, and the inability of any previous political regime to eliminate it.

Moreover, Cook adds that the organisation has achieved what he describes as “legitimacy” through its opposition of the Nazism of the 1930s, monarchy in the 1940s, and the British occupation in the 1950s.

If we suppose that the Muslim Brotherhood represented a part of the opposition to these regimes, Cook’s denial of the Egyptian state’s right to eliminate this sectarian, authoritarian organisation is baseless.

First, is it possible to concede to a sectarian-authoritarian project due to the organisation’s oldness and the oldness of its project? Does the inability of any previous regime to eliminate it justify keeping and accepting its project?

Second, Mr Cook should have distinguished between the objective of eliminating the political, organisational and ideological project of the group, on the one hand, and the group’s members, on the other.

If it is permissible to eliminate the first, the Egyptian state remained committed to this in the light of the constitution and law, despite the huge prices it pays, including the fall of civilian and military martyrs and in spite of criticisms directed against it by society due to its adherence to trying those involved before ordinary courts and even giving the organisation’s symbols and leaders legal privileges before the Egyptian judiciary.

If Mr Cook implies responsibility for those who fell in the Rabaa and Al-Nahda sit-ins, the real one responsible for their fall is the one who lured them and assembled them by the use of lies in the name of religion.

Third, Mr Cook overlooked that the objective of destroying the Muslim Brotherhood project isn’t the objective of the Egyptian state only, but has become Egyptian society’s objective. If Mr Cook read well the preludes of the June Revolution and its slogans, he would have arrived at the conclusion that a significant transformation has taken place in Egyptian society and the standpoints of its political forces towards the Muslim Brotherhood and their religious project.

Last, but not least, if Cook sees Egyptian policy as a factor of instability in the region, reducing all its functions to destroying the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t demand from him anything save reviewing the policies of Western powers in Afghanistan, Iraq and the whole Middle East region since 11 September 2001 until now, in order to find out the truth of those powers’ responsibility in creating a state of structural instability, and how the “war on terror” strategy, with its military and non-military aspects, ended up in destroying countries and constructing sectarian regimes and “sectarianising” regional policies, with the expansion of Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan to the Middle East with strong branches in Iraq, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Central Asia and South East Asia. All this ended up in a subsequent stage with the emergence of IS and other jihadist takfiri organisations.

Do let Mr Cook come and inform us about which countries constitute factors of chaos and instability in the region.

The writer is a researcher in Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies

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