Trump, al-Sisi and Tightening up the Pressure Cooker

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Trump met Monday with Egyptian field marshal/ president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Trump effused,

“We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt . . .”

Although it is being said that Obama kept al-Sisi at arm’s length because of human rights concerns, actually the Obama administration regularized relations with Egypt after the military coup and re-authorized the roughly $1.2 bn in aid as soon as al-Sisi held a fraudulent election and declared himself president rather than remaining a field marshal.

No one should ever let al-Sisi forget that he claimed that the Egyptian army cured AIDS. And Hepatitis C.

Al-Sisi lambasted anyone who objected to this ridiculous assertion as overly negative and unappreciative of the sacrifices of the Egyptian army for the nation.

In other words, he lives in an anti-intellectual, science-denying fantasy world that he uses all the might of the Egyptian state to impose those fantasies on journalists and teachers.

Bassem Youssef, the satirist who is also a medical doctor himself, said that the army spokesman who made the announcement in early 2014 had gotten mixed up between RNA and DNA. Youssef wrote that if a first year medical student had made such an error in public, he would have been drummed out of medical school and moreover no one from his village would ever be allowed to become a physician again.

Youssef is now in exile, and Egypt has lost its formerly famous sense of humor.

Al-Sisi took advantage of the massive protests of summer, 2013, against the Muslim fundamentalist government of Mohammad Morsi (a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood) to stage a coup. He had Morsi arrested and has kept him in jail ever since. He declared the Muslim Brotherhood, a licit political party that had won a plurality in parliament in 2011 and won the presidency in 2012, to be a terrorist organization. He persecuted prominent members of the party. In mid-August of 2013 he used unnecessary force physically to clear major sit-ins by Muslim Brotherhood members, resulting in the deaths of some 600 persons. The death toll rose that fall.

The Muslim Brotherhood had not been innocent of terrorism in the 1940s and 1950s, but had made a pact with President Anwar El Sadat in the 1970s to eschew political violence in return for state tolerance. When Sadat allowed (phony) parliamentary elections in the late ’70s he even allowed some Brotherhood members to run, under other party banners, and to sit in parliament. In the 2005 elections, the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in a parliament of some 450 and so had become a junior partner in the government of President Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Qaeda, ISIL and other radical Muslim groups made fun of the Muslim Brotherhood as Mubarak’s Uncle Toms and predicted that they would gain nothing from their moderation.

Al-Sisi vindicated these extremists by rewarding the Brotherhood for peaceful participation in civil politics by launching a full scale assault on them and driving them underground.

Having suppressed the Brotherhood, taking advantage of its plummeting popularity, al-Sisi then turned to the youth revolutionaries of 2011, rounding them up one by one. Ahmad Maher, one of the leaders of the April 6 Youth Group that had supported a major textile strike in 2008 and then emerged as a significant player in 2011 and after, was arrested for protesting and sentenced to three years. He is out but on strict probation. Alaa Abdel Fattah, who had protested Mubarak in 2005 and after, using blogging and tech tools, was beaten in the head, arrested and is still behind bars. Mahienoor El-Masry was jailed repeatedly. People have disappeared, for all the world like 1980s Argentina. It is a dirty war on Egypt’s youth.

Nevertheless, university students have continued to mount substantial and ongoing protests.

Having neutralized the Muslim Brotherhood and the largely secular-minded youth activists, al-Sisi then turned on the third leg of the 2011 revolution, the labor movement, cowing its leadership and crushing dissent in its ranks.

Having milked the gullible Gulf oil states for tens of billions in the first years of his coup (they wanted the populist Muslim Brotherhood crushed, as well, seeing it as a threat to their more tribal and bureaucratic forms of authority), al-Sisi then turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $12 bn. loan. The price, as with all IMF aid, was to screw over the poor by eliminating subsidies for staples.

As a result, this winter and spring Egypt is seeing substantial bread riots.

Al-Sisi has also had large numbers of journalists jailed or fired, taming the once feisty Egyptian media. When he ran for president in 2014 he strong-armed most other candidates into withdrawing, and won a shamefully high percentage of the final vote.

Trump has a theory that strong men are like a lid you can slap atop the pressure cooker of Middle Eastern societies.

But if you just put a lid on, leaving no aperture for steam to escape, you’ve actually created a political bomb.

What happened in 2011 was that the political explosives detonated.

The Tunisian ruling class took a lesson and moved to a more democratic form of government.

In Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain, the ruling elites have decided that what was wrong was that the lid hadn’t been placed tightly enough. Screwing back on the lid may work in the short term. In the medium to long term, I expect trouble.

But at least al-Sisi has cured AIDS. And Hepatitis C.

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Related video:

The White House: ” President Trump Meets With President el-Sisi”

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10 Responses

  1. What was so blatantly obvious was the contrast between the coolness Trump exhibited towards Angela Merkel (Late night….”Today the leader of the free world met with Donald Trump) and the warmth Trump showed this murderous dictator.

    A case could be made Trump envies the control Putin and al Sisi have over their detractors while Trump has to put up with investigations by his political opponents and the free press who dare question his unqualified wife/ daughter Ivanka and his son in law being promoted to the top echelon of government.

    • It has been a well proved political American history of America giving lip service to democracy but supporting juntas, dictators, autocrats and monarchs throughout the world
      In the Middle East this policy helps Israel and enhances the rewards of MIC of USA

  2. Not long ago, a neophyte U.S. President met with Vladimir Putin and came away star-struck by how Putin was obsequiesly obeyed by all segments of the Russian Establishment. Putin confided that it was due to his authority as commander in chief in the latest Russia vs Chechnya war. That was early 2001; we saw were that led. Now the Donald is taking lessons on domestic repression from the masters of internal disaster. Timber!!

  3. Thanks for this analysis. It’s sad and disturbing, but good to know. At least Trump knows how to “run the Government like a business.” A family business.

    • In terms of competence, I’m not sure I’d put Trump in the same class as Vito Corleone.

      Still, it looks like we are going to see how our Hood handles his peers. Who knows, he may be effective. Perhaps being less shy about making offers that cannot be refused.

      Think positively, the next President will get to apologize for him doing things others wouldn’t dare. One can always hope.

  4. The reporting is remarkable here for its lack of context. The same could be said for the fight for Gorsuch on the Supreme Court now shaping up.

    In the case of Egypt, the obsequiousness of US behavior (including direct and indirect foreign aid exceeded only by Israel), commenced with the Camp David peace the US underwrote. Those two accounts need to be viewed as one. To be fair, our behavior and subsidy of Egypt is driven by US fealty to Israel, to keep their Western front docile.

    As for Gorsuch, I just don’t get why reporters simply cannot bring themselves to mention the denial of a hearing or vote on Merrick Garland. The GOP hypocrisy begs to be questioned as their leadership now accuses the Democrats of threatening 200 years of tradition.

    In both cases “reporters” simply tee-up prompts for canned responses, avoiding the real issues.

  5. “Al-Sisi took advantage of the massive protests of summer, 2013, against the Muslim fundamentalist government of Mohammad Morsi (a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood) to stage a coup.”

    But therein lies the rub. If the Brotherhood would have been just slightly more conciliatory, none of this would have ever happened.

  6. The famous Egyptian sense of humour won’t go away that easily Juan. The satirical jokes used to spread by word of mouth in Sadat’s time and in Mubarak’s time and I’m sure that’s happening now, with help from the social media. Egyptian friends have told me a few of these jokes that could not have made the TV. Here’s the shortest one they’ve told me: Question: How many terms does a President of Egypt serve? Answer: Two, one in office and one in jail.

  7. It is a sad day when the “leader of the free world” not only receives one of the most brutal military rulers in the Middle East, but also uses effusive language in his praise. Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the man who deposed the first-ever democratically elected president in Egypt’s history and crushed the opposition.

    The brutality used by Sisi was even unprecedented under former President Mubarak. On the orders of Sisi, military forces moved against the protestors in Cairo on 14 August 2013, and even according to a statement by the Egyptian Health Ministry issued on 15 August they killed 638 and injured 3,994 demonstrators. On 12 August 2014, Human Rights Watch, in a report based on a year-long investigation said that in the 14 August massacre at least 817 and more likely at least 1,000 people were killed. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that about 2,600 had been killed in the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque sit-in alone. Despite all this, Marshall Sisi was allegedly elected president with 97 percent of the vote.

    Despite this brutality, the military junta has not been able to bring calm to Egypt. Tourism is at an all-time low, and the Egyptian economy is bankrupt. It has only been kept afloat as the result of generous handouts by fellow dictators in the GCC. Saudi Arabia pledged to give Egypt $20 billion of oil products over five years, plus $3 billion in loans and grants. The UAE is thought to have paid $25bn, around half of the total Gulf aid, to Egypt. However, since the coup, relations between Egypt and Persian Gulf dictators have cooled, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan has said of Sisi: “This guy needs to know that I am not an ATM machine.”

    Yet in an interview with Fox Business Network, President Trump said of Sisi: “He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it.” May be the same could be said of President Trump and his control of the United States.

  8. of course Trump likes Al Sisi. they’re both from the same school of dumb ass politicians with limited intellect. If Trump could get away with what Putin, Assad, and Al Sisi do, he’d do it. He has Jeff Sessions working on it with a “review” of police procedures and the DOJ.

    As to Egypt. You can’t sit on it forever. There are a lot of bright young people. A large armed forces. At some point it will all explode. Things will not end well for Al Sisi or Trump. Perhaps some one could arrange for them to share a jail cell some where, given how much Trump “admires” Al Sisi. For good measure we could toss in Putin, Short fat guy from N. Korea, Assaid a few others and all might improve in the world.

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