By M. I. Bhat
In a recent interview to New York Times, the Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi did some plain talking. He identified three major points for the United States to consider for improving its relations with the Arab world.
Other than its political import, the language he used and the manner he spoke is what generation after generation of Muslims has been aching to hear but didn’t get it from the American stooges ruling the Arab world. Therefore, for Muslims the greatest significance of President Morsi’s plain speaking lies in that this is for the first time that one of their very few genuine leaders is giving vent to their suppressed feelings and also for the first time reversing the flow by setting, in NYT terminology, “terms” for the United States.
Whatever worth it may prove in the future, for the immediate it is a great moral booster for not just the Arabs but for the global Muslim community and a positive omen that the blood shed by the Egyptians may not have gone waste, after all. Another important implication of far reaching consequences is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has found a credible, influential and supportive voice within the Muslim world to jointly advance Muslim cause.
Let us now consider point-by-point what President Mosri said.
The first point he makes is: “[I]t was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability.”
There is a general consensus even among American Arab specialists that the Arabs have undergone wholesale changes – in their thinking and expectations from their rulers — including even among those Arab countries where American stooges are still holding to power. Morsi knows how he and millions others across the Arab world, who wanted to live a life of freedom and of their choosing, were made to suffer, some still are, by American-backed Arab dictators. With change, incomplete though yet, United States cannot exonerate itself by assuming innocence, which is what it is precisely trying to do. Just by giving a name to the revolution (“Arab Spring” ) and claiming its parenthood and pretending to be the savior of the freed people without first conceding its own role in the preceding decades-long harsh “Arab Winter” doesn’t befool the populace there or any one in rest of the Muslim world. Don’t expect Morsi or his people to forget so soon how until the last moment when he took oath United States stood by the Egyptian army, not uttering a word of displeasure, let alone condemnation, even when they literally raped the constitution by usurping president’s powers. It is to the credit of Morsi’s courage that he salvaged constitution without bothering for his life. Equally, it is unrealistic on the part of United States to expect the Arab voters to forget American no-less-than-mourning success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt or the celebrations over the loss of MB in Libya. That the United States has not ceased it policy of interfering in the function of Arab governments got incidentally exposed in the aftermath of attack on its embassy in Libya when revelation came that one of the killed and those evacuated were either CIA agents or mercenaries (euphemistically called contractors).
Now, if President Morsi says burden of mending US-Arab relations and revitalizing US-Egypt alliance is on America, he is simply referring to the demands of the well knows historical and contemporary facts.
The second point Morsi made is that, ‘If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel …. Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule.’ Elaborating further, Morsi is quoted saying, “Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” not so obliquely hinting that time to continue with that policy has ended at least in Egypt with the end of Hosni Mubarak who suppressed “popular opposition” to the treaty.
United States has never shied from supporting and pleading Israeli position in the Palestine-Israel conflict, vetoing every move that tends to bring some minor relief to Palestinian’s humiliation and suffering. The support is so open and brazen that most times it appears the dispute is not between and Palestinians and Israelis but between Palestinians and Americans. This has continued without a slightest change even after Camp David treaty, which the United States brokered between Palestinians and Israel more than three decades back in 1978. When Morsi says the treaty “called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza to make way for full Palestinian self-rule,” he is only reminding the United States of its agreed obligations toward the treaty that it signed as a peace broker and guarantor. Expecting only one party to stick to its obligations while leaving the other two free to forget and violate theirs is not what the changed political landscape of Egypt will allow its elected President to continue to be silent about. This is what should be understood when he emphatically says, “We are behaving according to the Egyptian people’s choice and will, nothing else — is it clear?”
Egyptians have repeatedly emphasized – by words and deeds like repeatedly attacking Israeli embassy during protests against Mubarak, forcing Israeli diplomats flee from Cairo – their “choice and will” by demanding renegotiation of, if not total withdrawal from, the treaty. As I said, Morsi conveying this message so unambiguously is like a breath of fresh air for Muslim masses in general but Arabs in particular who feel suffocated for too long with the silence of their imposed leaders over the humiliation, suffering and blood spilling of their Palestinian brethren.
Morsi’s preference for the word “dislike” over ‘hatred” is obviously meant with an eye not to fuel already surcharged emotions against United States, and at the same time leave the door open for re-engagement under new political situation that now obtains in Egypt and overall Arab world.
Seen in conjunction with his remarks about Camp David treaty, Moris’s additional remark that “As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled” appears loaded with negative prospects for the future unless the United States changes it partisan behavior. How long should Egypt let the treaty remain unfulfilled, particularly given the growing impatience of his people toward Israel on the one hand and on the other ever-growing Israeli belligerence and depredations toward Palestinians? Reneging the treaty on the part of Egypt may in fact not have to wait more of Israeli actions in Palestine but would come automatically and unannounced if Israel or America or both attacks Iran. If Israel or US or anyone else is betting on Shia-Sunni divide, he is simply deluding himself. When it comes to Israel and lately also America — for reasons so admirably and succinctly discussed by Ramzy Baroud in a recent article — count ordinary Muslims as one.
There are many Americans — in fact, whole lot of the Republicans and many Democrats like Hillary Clinton — who believe United States has given tens of billions to Egypt for nothing. While this is ignorance on the part of Fox-hooked ordinary Americans, for people like Ms. Clinton it is as usual half-truths that come out from every US administration when it is Palestine-Israel dispute or Muslims in general.
Whereas US aid to Egypt was always “project-bound” (that is, full of strings attached) contrary to “no strings attached” aid to Israel, this line of thinking ignores the gains Israel was granted through subsidized gas supply (@ 40% of the actual price) from Egypt that continues to flow for the past 34 years. Add to that the benefit of free passage through Suez Canal, savings on security on the Egyptian border and help in keeping screws tight on Palestinians in Gaza. That the US aid to Egypt was fettered to Israel’s security was made abundantly clear when Washington withheld 200 million dollars from Egypt on the pretext of arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza. The story of the American aid to Egypt is in reality aid to Israel defrayed through Egypt with a cut going to their own crony, Mubarak, and his army. So anyone assuming Egyptians should feel beholden to United States is hypocrisy.
As a minor digression, let me also note that American high-end military supplies (like bombers), either through aid or sales to Egypt or for that matter any Muslim country, at least for sure in the neighborhood of Israel, is defaulted not to be useful against Israel. Whole of Israel is programmed as “friendly” territory. This became public knowledge recently when Turkey claimed to have reset the computer program of its America-supplied F16s. So, it is not clear to what significant purpose Egypt was receiving military aid if it was not useful against the country enemy Egyptian saw as their enemy.
Finally, Morsi is reported to have said that ‘the United States must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,’ and as elaboration of his point offered the following:
“If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment.” And “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”
The beginning of American War on Terror coincided with the United States throwing away any respect, if there ever was any, for other cultures and value systems. Under the guise of fighting terrorists and “defending our values” it is openly and by forcefully trying to proselytize nations to its own culture and values, which are purely materialistic in their basis and outlook. There is nothing like sacred. Life is to be lived for full possible enjoyment. Anything and everything, including human beings, is viewed as a commodity worthy of trade and profit making. Anything that comes in the way has to be removed even if it warrants violence against the obstacle. This view of life and world has no doubt helped it attain unrivalled scientific, economic and military power, and much of the world has opted for this value system, strengthening American belief in it being right and therefore resolve to bring left outs (mainly Muslims) within its fold.
Among all the peoples, Muslims, though quite varied in their cultures, find this world view in fundamental contradiction to their religious belief and value system wherein seeking pleasure of Almighty God is the essence of this life – so succinctly summed up in this saying of their Prophet (pbuh):
“To strive for the cause of Allah from the daybreak to noon and sunset is better than the goods and enjoyment of the worldly life.”
Therefore there is nothing surprising if NYT reporters find a plaque bearing the Qur’anic admonition “Be conscious of a day on which you will return to God” on the office table of a person so grounded in Islam as President Morsi.
Being the most actively practicing religious community and unwilling to yield to American global ambitions, Muslims obviously find themselves everywhere literally in front of American fire. Call for “regime change” in one-after–another Muslim country under the thin veil of human rights is nothing but attempt to imposing pliant rulers on the Muslims who could do American bidding. Unfortunately for the United States the result so far has proved otherwise.
Morsi’s expectation that the United States should keep intrinsic cultural differences in view when judging other peoples or their national interests is at cross with American world view and ambitions, and unlikely to receive positive consideration. The tussle between United States and the Muslim world is therefore going to continue and likely to be long drawn. Whoever perseveres and withstands material and human losses will win the day — as amply demonstrated by Iraqis and Afghans.
Tail piece: With Egypt (luckily) thrown out of the American embrace and Coptic Christians there already being trumpeted as a human rights issue, it is advisable for President Morsi to start learning lessons from President Ahmadinejad in managing effects of Western sanctions.
- M. I. Bhat is former Head, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India. He has been writing on political and environmental issues. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.