Hornbill Unleashed

July 23, 2013

Egypt and Malaysia

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Josh Hong

“Egypt is the latest reminder that the region is in turmoil and won’t leave us alone, however we may wish it would. Disengagement is not an option, because the status quo is not an option. Any decision not to act is itself a decision of vast consequence. 
“At its crudest, we can’t afford for Egypt to collapse. So we should engage with the new de facto power and help the new government make the changes necessary, especially on the economy, so they can deliver for the people.” (Tony Blair, July 6, 2013)

That the former British prime minister who cheated his country into the catastrophic Iraq War that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives 10 years ago is lending legitimacy to the military intervention in Egypt earlier this month should surprise no one. It ought to be reminded here that Britain, as a former colonial power that ruled over Egypt, only has its own national interests in mind.

When the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, ordered by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, undermined Britain’s strategic values in the region, Anthony Eden did not hesitate to launch a military offensive against Cairo in 1956 together with France and Israel, only to be forced to halt it abruptly by the United States which feared that it could prompt the Arab world to turn towards the Soviet Union.

margaret thatcherMeanwhile, Margaret Thatcher (left)saw it fit to rate Hosni Mubarak as “among our very favourite visitors” and also a particularly “good and close friend” despite that the strongman had been ruthlessly pursuing his political opponents either by killing them or putting them behind bars, including  the Muslim Brotherhood.

Just two days before Mohamed Morsi’s presidency ended in a most striking fashion, a persidential aide told the media that a military coup would not come to pass unless the US approved of it. Unfortunately, he was right. More than two weeks after the army moved against Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the Obama administration is still shunning the word ‘coup’ when referring to the developments following Morsi’s ouster.

In fact, it was not without precedent. As King Farouk’s misrule resulted in rising poverty in 1951, the Central Intelligence Agency came up with the so-called Project Fat **cker to get rid of him with the help of a group of young army officers, including Nasser, who went on to become a Pan-Arab icon.

Washington’s involvement was not triggered by any genuine concerns for the poor and the downtrodden in the country, but by adeep-seated fear that continued social unrest would drive Egypt onto the verge of communism.

The June 2012 presidential election which declared Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as winner was disappointing to the Americans.

Alarm bells in Washington

At one time, the Obama administration did toy with forging closer ties with the Morsi government as it did believe cosying up to the Egyptian military would be unsustainable and counterproductive with long-term repercussions, but Morsi’s haste to stamp his own authority and that of the Muslim Brotherhood not only aroused widespread public anger across Egypt, but sounded alarm bells in the minds of foreign policy makers in Washington also.

Eventually, the rhetorical commitment to democracy must give way to realpolitik, which explains why both the US and Blair, the‘accidental American’, have refused to characterise the unconstitutional intervention as a coup.

In fact, Saudi Arabia, an autocratic theocracy but staunch US ally, is perhaps the most suspicious of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and deeply worried by the winds of change in the region.

It, together with Israel and the US, have been working strenuously to ensure Egypt remains on board in regard to the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Assad regime in Syria and destabilising Iran, thereby containing a resurgent Russia that seeks to expands its influence in the Gulf region and, to a lesser extent, curbing China’s rising profile.

Now, one may think what is happening in a country thousands of miles away has nothing to do with Malaysia. Wrong, for Najib Abdul Razak’s government has been quick to seize on the turmoil in Egypt to warn against any attempt to upset the status quo in the country.

What Najib has done is to confuse the Malaysian public over two vitally important issues. First, demanding for change through peaceful protests is a legitimate right in any democracy, and it is most irresponsible of anyone to seek to portray those who take to the streets as being bent on wreaking havoc.

NONEInstead of insulting the Egyptian people by bettling their democratic pursuit, Najib and his cohorts should be grateful that Malaysians have demonstrated their maturity by gathering en masse in peace without resorting to violence.

Second, a coup by any other name is still a coup and there are no two ways about it. Toppling a popularly elected head of state and putting a military-sanctioned government in his place is not only unconstitutional, but putting democracy on trial also.

Having a general remove a civilian leader is different from a mass defection of lawmakers that cause the downfall of a democratically elected government, for the former is extra-constitutional which often comes with losses of lives while the latter, although not encouraged, is still within the constitutionally permitted framework.

Coups are hardly bloodless

In fact, military coups are hardly bloodless. As I am writing, the Egyptian military continues to fire at and kill protesters who are against it. While Najib seems to indulge in schadenfreude, condemn the military coup he clearly did not, which is worrisome because his silence, as with that of others, can be interpreted as approving of military intervention when one’s civilian rule is under threat.

It is natural that people would desire stability and security in life, but it does not entail total subordination to power which only begets unquestioned willingness to acquiesce in whatever state propaganda that only blames hardships and inconveniences on those who merely exercise their democratic right, but not the very authorities that seek to accumulate more powers over the masses.

Detestable is state violence that is employed to deal with peaceful protests, but more abhorrent is he who cites an example as such to stigmatise one’s democratic right for change, for it exposes only the leader’s ideological bankruptcy and lack of intellect, which does not bode well for the country as a whole.

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