Hamid Dabashi: On the heels of Israel’s attack on Gaza, with support of Obama, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Morsi gives himself powers that rival Mubarak.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In Egypt, thousands of opponents of Egypt’s Islamic president clashed with his supporters and security forces across the country Friday, burning several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in the most violent and widespread protests since Mohamed Morsi came to power, sparked by his move to grant himself sweeping powers. The critics of Morsi have called him the new pharaoh as he passed edicts allowing him to overrule any judicial oversight, and giving him essentially dictatorial powers.
Now joining us to talk about all of this is Hamid Dabashi. He’s a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. He’s a frequent contributor to The Real News and author of the recently released book Corpus Anarchicum: Political Protest, Suicidal Violence, and the Making of the Posthuman Body. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.
HAMID DABASHI, PROF. IRANIAN STUDIES AND COMMPARATIVE LIT., COLUMBIA UNIV.: Thank you, Paul. Anytime.
JAY: So tell us your take on what’s going on in Cairo and across Egypt today.
DABASHI: My take is that Morsi was waiting to do this move and grab for power for a long time. However, what occasioned it is the Israeli bombing of Gaza and the casualties and his office being instrumental in negotiating a truce, a peace, momentary peace, and is not particularly meaningful. And it is not something unusual. You know, back in 2008, 2009, Hosni Mubarak did exactly the same.
But now he took advantage of this particular occasion, that there were global admirations for him for having negotiated this peace treaty, momentary peace treaty, to grab power. But, fortunately, because what is happening in Egypt is not a total revolution—in my book on Arab Spring, I call it an open-ended revolution—within hours, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Egyptians have poured into various streets and opposing what he’s doing.
In effect what is happening, Paul, is this is an unfinished revolution. Egyptians know it. And step by step, if you go back to the time of Hosni Mubarak, if the ruling regime had its way, Hosni Mubarak would have been in power. Then Omar Suleiman would have been in power. Then the presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik would have been elected. But none of that has happened, and the representative of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, has come to power with certain degree of democratic legitimacy. It is very important to keep in mind that the election was free and fair and he became the president.
But now power corrupts, and as soon as he is in a position of power—and democracy is messy. There is the question of a parliament which is heavily dominated by Muslim Brotherhood. And the judiciary has been acting as a bumper against the drafting of the Constitution, in which the Islamists’ agenda, the Muslim Brotherhood agenda would have been dominant. And many other factions of the revolutions are very concerned, and happy with the possibility of that constitution. And he tried to take advantage of this particular moment in time when he has global appreciation to dispense with the judiciary and sort of create a smoke screen, a retrial of Hosni Mubarak, in effect give the Parliament, which is heavily dominated by his faction, the possibility of drafting a constitution that would not be accepted to many Egyptians.
JAY: And part of this seems to be a plan of the Muslim Brotherhood not only to consolidate its control in Egypt backed by the United States, and a $1 billion loan-forgiveness plan with Obama—I think a $4 billion-plus loan coming from the IMF. So Morsi’s placed himself pretty clearly in this camp, in the Western camp. On the other hand, he’s allied with Qatar, and he seems to also be connected with Saudi Arabia, and he seems to have taken on some responsibility, if not full responsibility in the future for managing Gaza. This all seems to be part of a plan. Now, that doesn’t mean that’s a plan that’s going to work, but that seems to be the scheme, do you think?
DABASHI: Absolutely correct. The question is that there are two different calculus. One was the calculus of toppling the head of a regime, Hosni Mubarak. And now we’re entering into a second calculus, which is the regime that was in power, dominated by the army, which is heavily influenced by the Americans, and also the Muslim Brotherhood that is very much in need of money and support and regional coordination with Saudi Arabia, that would keep it in power.
Now, those of us who are following this closely knew this from Bahrain. Bahrain is really the critical question. As soon as Bahrain activists were denied access into entering into Egypt, antennas went up that Mohamed Morsi is having an understanding with the Saudis because of the money that he needs from the Saudis and the Qataris not to allow Bahraini activists to enter Egypt in order to consolidate with their Egyptian counterparts and do what Egyptians have done in Egypt, to do it in Bahrain.
So there is no doubt that the Saudis and the Qataris and the other Gulf areas, I mean, they are scared by these revolutions. These are massive and open-ended revolutions, and anything that can happen. And like all other rich people—Adelson here in the United States tried to buy a president for Israel and failed—they think they can buy everything.
So your sort of formulation where Morsi is headed—and also not only Morsi, behind Morsi the Egyptian army—and where, for example, The New York Times yesterday had a new article about the understanding that is emerging between Obama and Morsi so far as Gaza is concerned—and Obama has a deeply corrupting influence.
And this, in fact, this move of grabbing power, you might consider it a consequence of the Gaza operation of the Israelis. Israelis are a critical factor in these counterrevolutionary forces. They have pushed, in fact, Morsi towards Obama, towards the Saudis, towards the Qataris, and towards a coalition of counterrevolutionary forces, to prevent the open-ended democratic anticipations of these revolutions. But as you suggested in your point, this doesn’t mean—as you see evidence today in Cairo, in Alexandria, in other parts of Egypt, people are out in the streets, people are calling him pharaoh, and people are saying in the various newspapers, magazines, social networking, that they didn’t do this revolution for yet another version of Hosni Mubarak to come to power.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, it seems—without being there, it’s hard for me to really make this kind of estimation, but it seems like he’s overplaying his hand, that—you know, he still had quite a bit of support before this deal in Gaza, and certainly before these powers, and now he’s sort of exposed himself and at least the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does this not lead to some splits within the Muslim Brotherhood?
DABASHI: Very much so, very much so. This is something that I have said since the beginning of the revolution, that the monolithic conception that we have of Muslim Brotherhood is not accurate. There are demographic changes, there are gender issues, and there are generational issues. And the Muslim Brotherhood is going to split. And already people who are criticizing him are people from other factions of Muslim Brotherhood, another presidential candidate.
So these are moments that the atom of Egyptian political culture is splitting into various directions. And this is good to observe.
Yes, he did overplay his hand. He thought because of what happened in Gaza—I mean, he misread Gaza. He thought that he had stopped the bloodshed in Gaza. But there is a different way of reading the events of Gaza. If he had acted in the region in a manner that showed that he has a mandate from the Egyptian Revolution, Netanyahu would not have dared to attack Gaza, and 161—the last AP estimate—161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians, would have been alive. So the fact that we have had those civilian casualties in Gaza already is an indication that he is not acting as the representative of a massive national revolution.
So he misread that event. He kind of had a lapse into a Hosni Mubarak situation, which is not unusual. You have to remember that when a political culture is changing, it still very easily resorts back to what is habitual to it. And the pressure that comes from the Americans, the money that comes from the Saudis and the Qataris, and the total implication of the Egyptian army into American military apparatus in the region is very difficult to dismantle. And the money that comes from IMF, the influence of World Bank, I mean, these are mighty, mighty forces.
The only question is that a revolutionary leader has to trust the mandate that comes from the people. And he just gave a speech, oh, I’m everybody’s president, I mean the best for the country, but he sounded awfully like Hosni Mubarak.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Hamid.
DABASHI: With pleasure. Anytime.