"I told you so!" These were the exact words of Ayman al-Zawahiri, first-in-command of al-Qaeda, to the Egyptian people after the July military coup by General al-Sisi that dashed "Arab Awakening" hopes. His message seems to be resonating with a younger generation of Egyptians who saw their votes being taken away by the military junta.
Himself an Egyptian, Ayman al-Zawahiri had always lectured the Arabs and those who were willing to listen to him about being careful not to fall into the trap of the "western democratic game." His tactics worked well in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in Algeria… where many young men took up arms and went to defend their countries against western invasion and the "evil democratization" that it brings with it.
However, since the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and other countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the popularity of al-Qaeda's message faded away. Instead, during the Arab Spring, huge numbers of young Arabs went to the streets to oust their long-time dictators. They preferred peaceful demonstrations, revolutionary hip-hop songs and blogs to weapons and training camps. The message of al-Qaeda became almost obsolete among the younger Arab and Muslim generations, at least until the Egyptian coup of July 2013.
Indeed, the latest coup by General al-Sisi and his acolytes will make sure that al-Qaeda ideology will be resurrected. Worse yet, it will be proven correct and as a result will spread. In fact, what happened in Egypt has broader implications in the region. "After today, what Muslim will ever trust the ballot box again?" as Robert Fisk sarcastically -- and logically -- wondered.
Unless a miracle occurs, it is very likely that Egypt will enter a period of turmoil and instability with a great deal of violence. The security that Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia (SA) -- countries that tacitly or actively supported the coup -- were looking for will never materialize. To the contrary, Sinai will undoubtedly become a hub for al-Qaeda and like-minded groups from where they can easily launch attacks against Israel. And with the presence of al-Qaeda in both Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, the group's outreach could destabilize SA, which in turn could cause chaos for the entire Gulf region.
Contrary to Qatar, a country that made a strategic choice to ride the wave of change, SA and UAE, two politically vulnerable monarchies, felt threatened by the arrival of the "Arab Awakening" as they knew well that their legitimacy was never earned through the ballot boxes.
For instance, UAE tirelessly embarked on a campaign to eliminate any potential political opposition within its borders. It falsely accused and convicted many activists, some of whom have respected positions within society, of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood movement. So UAE's financial support to the coup leaders in Egypt is simply a continuation of their internal anti-awakening campaign. When it comes to SA, the crackdown that started with 9/11 intensified even further. According to a Saudi prince who recently defected from the royal family, more than 40,000 political detainees are now rotting in Saudi jails. It is important to mention that the majority of these detainees have never been charged with any crime. Of course, this has been happening under the watch and with the willful blindness of the United States, which considers SA a crucial ally in the region.
In fact, due to a strategic relationship with the U.S., SA and Israel have been quietly advising the Obama administration with respect to the danger the Muslim Brotherhood movement poses to the entire MENA region. Only recently has the manifestation of this campaign surfaced publicly when, ironically, both countries adopted the same pro-coup position vis-à-vis what is happening in Egypt. It seems the efforts of both of these countries are bearing fruit as the Obama administration would have reacted much differently to the massacres that took place.
Among all the heated and emotional debate, it is important to emphasize that, like many other newly elected leaders, Morsi was a mediocre and weak leader. Nevertheless, the same could be said of many other leaders (one can think of Obama, for example) who during their first years of power reneged on many of their election promises.
In my opinion, Morsi's incompetence is mainly due to his party's inexperience with being in government, hardly a surprise considering all the political and economic circumstances. It is also important to emphasize that a campaign of demonization was mounted against him and his supporters by the remnants of the old regime in collaboration with many deep state agents from the military, judiciary and media (how else can we explain thedisappearance of the electricity crisis only days after his ouster!). Morsi knew well that unless he reformed the judiciary, the time would soon come when the judiciary would take revenge. His fight against this deeply corrupt institution started on day one. He wanted to grant himself powers to do just that by amending the constitution. The problem is that by doing so he sent the wrong signal to many who supported the ousting of Mubarak. The other mistake Morsi made is underestimating the power of the media by playing the "piety" card. Indeed, in his effort to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Morsi chose not to live a lavish life and did not get back at the media, leaving it for a highly misinformed citizenry to make their own judgment.
By doing so, Morsi ignored the fact that this "piety" has zero influence on a population the majority of whom put their economic concerns above all others given the decades of economic marginalization they lived under the Mubarak regime.
There is no doubt that General al-Sisi and his supporters have taken Egypt into uncharted territory. What the future holds in store is uncertain. What is certain is that the relatives of those who have been murdered in cold blood will never forgive or forget. And you can bet al-Qaeda and its sympathizers are ready to provide the fuel.
Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and in 2011, a novel in French, Miroirs et mirages.
Photo: Mohammed Abdel Moneim/Globovisión/flickr