By Stephen Gowans
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of the military that overthrew Egypt’s legitimately elected president Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup d’état, is almost certain to win a landslide victory in today’s presidential election. Sisi’s victory, however, won’t be due to a groundswell of popular support. In fact, a Pew Research poll conducted in April found that only a narrow majority of Egyptians support him.  Instead, Sisi will win because he has banned the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which the legitimate president, Morsi, sprang. Just as importantly, Morsi supporters are boycotting the vote, reasoning that they already have a legitimate president, even if he has been illegally locked away in the regime’s prisons.  So, with the only substantial opposition viciously suppressed, and Morsi supporters staying away from the polls, a Sisi landslide victory is a virtual certainty. But it will confer no legitimacy on the Egyptian strongman.
Under Sisi’s leadership, the military government has massacred thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets in protest against the coup. It has also jailed tens of thousands of other Morsi supporters, banned demonstrations, and discouraged dissent by locking up journalists who oppose the military take-over.
If you’ve forgotten how closely Sisi cleaves to the model of the brutal authoritarian tyrant that Western governments and media profess to abominate, think back to last summer. Here are New York Times reporters Kareem Fahim and Mayy el Sheik describing one Sisi-led massacre:
The Egyptian authorities unleashed a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters early Saturday, killing at least 72 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and the deadliest attack by the security services since Egypt’s uprising in early 2011.
The tactics — many were killed with gunshot wounds to the head or the chest — suggested that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.
In the attack on Saturday, civilians joined riot police officers in firing live ammunition at the protesters as they marched toward a bridge over the Nile. By early morning, the numbers of wounded people had overwhelmed doctors at a nearby field hospital. 
Carried out by Muamar Gadaffi, a brutal crackdown on this scale would have been enough to raise alarms of an impending genocide and calls for humanitarian intervention. When it happens in Egypt, it’s mentioned in the back pages of some (though not all or even most) newspapers and forgotten the next day.
In October, “Clashes between protesters and security forces…left at least 51 people dead and more than 246 injured…as supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi rallied to press for his reinstatement despite a months-long crackdown on their ranks. Activists from Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood said the police used live ammunition to subdue the pro-Morsi crowds.”  By the end of October, an estimated 1,000 Morsi supporters had been shot dead by security forces and 6,000 herded into prisons.  Today, it’s acknowledged that the regime has “killed more than a thousand of Mr. Morsi’s … supporters at street protests and jailed tens of thousands of others.” 
Sadly, the crackdown isn’t limited to pumping live ammunition into the skulls of the ousted president’s backers. In March, an Egyptian court sentenced hundreds of Morsi supporters to death, finding them all guilty of killing a single police officer at a demonstration. The judgment was so flagrantly political that it moved the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, to denounce it. “The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law,” the commissioner concluded.  This evident repression of Morsi supporters was duly noted by some Western media, though never denounced as an outrage, and quickly forgotten. We needn’t wonder how the same event would have been treated had it occurred in Syria.
Egypt’s military government also launched an assault on journalists who failed to toe the regime’s line on the appropriate attitude to the Muslim Brotherhood—now banned as a “terrorist” organization. (Additionally, the April 6 movement, considered the most effective left-leaning protest group, has been outlawed on espionage charges. ) A reporter who steps over the line is liable to be tossed into jail and tried with crimes against the state, a fate that befell 20 Al-Jazeera employees.  The jailing of journalists for what they report by a state that isn’t an ally of Washington would be thoroughly denounced by Western officials and deplored by Western media. Carried out by Egypt’s military rulers, it’s quietly noted, then forgotten.
What, then, accounts for the blatant double-standard?
As the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous explains, “Washington has long viewed its military ties with Cairo, backed by more than $40 billion in military aid since 1948 along with annual military exercises and extensive officer exchanges, as an anchor of one of its most important relationships in the Arab world.”  Which is to say that Egypt—or more specifically, its military—does Washington’s bidding. Notably, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, reject US domination and pursue independent paths. When the leaders of these countries use their state’s repressive apparatus to quell opposition (often encouraged by dollops of “pro-democracy” funding funnelled by Western governments to opposition forces through NGOs), they are demonized.
Apart from underpinning Egypt’s role as an agent of US influence in the Arab world, Washington’s military aid program to the country—surpassed only by aid to Israel—is a source of handsome profits to US military contractors. Every year US taxpayers fork over $1.3 billion to the Egyptian military to submit large orders for weaponry and equipment to US arms manufacturers.  In concrete terms, the bullets Egyptian soldiers used to mow down Morsi supporters were purchased by US taxpayers.
Adding to Cairo’s value as a US ally is that fact that it grants the Pentagon virtual carte-blanche access to its territory.
Most nations, including many close allies of the United States, require up to a week’s notice before American warplanes are allowed to cross their territory. Not Egypt, which offers near-automatic approval for military overflights…American warships are also allowed to cut to the front of the line through the Suez Canal in times of crisis, even when oil tankers are stacked up like cars on an interstate highway at rush hour. 
Accordingly, Sisi’s brutal rise to power is tolerated by Western governments and his undemocratic and illiberal methods passed over in near silence by the Western media, because he can be counted on to maintain Egypt as a reliable agent of US influence in the Arab world, provide valuable services to the US military, and fatten the bottom lines of US arms manufacturers with weapons orders. None of this is to say that Morsi wouldn’t have performed the same valuable services. The reality of US domination would have structured the decision-making environment to hem Morsi in and limit his room for manoeuvre. But it’s doubtful he could have been counted on to be as reliable a servant as Sisi, who trained at the US Army War College, and has extensive connections to the US military. Hence, rather than denouncing Sisi, Western politicians and media mobilize the energies of social justice-advocates against countries whose leaders reject the international dictatorship of the United States and refuse to provide valuable services to the Pentagon, not against those that do.
Caught up in mass media-manipulated campaigns of indignation against targets of US imperialist designs, the beautiful souls of the left ignore the deplorable activities of the West’s faithful local agents in the Arab world, from the hereditary tyrannies of the Gulf states to the blood-stained US-backed strongman in Cairo, while at the same time protesting the resistance of the Syrian government and its Hezbollah ally against Western efforts to crush an independent Arab political project. Immersed in a fantasy world structured by the mass media’s promotion of Western foreign policy agendas, they line up with the US-aligned Arab royal dictatorships against the only organized Arab forces prepared to resist domination by the United States and its Zionist client.
While dispassionately documenting Sisi’s affronts against liberal democratic ideals, the Western media have not demonized him, as they invariably do leaders of governments who refuse to act as ductile agents of US power. Even so, Sisi’s actions would certainly warrant the same media treatment meted out to the West’s favorite international villains were he standing on his feet against US domination, rather than kneeling before it as a loyal servant. If Western conceptions of democracy and human rights mean anything, Sisi would long ago have occupied center stage in the West’s pantheon of demons. That he is allowed to fly under the radar—despite cancelling democracy, murdering protesters, executing political opponents, and jailing journalists—reveals much about US foreign policy, the Western media that support it, and social-justice advocates who are deceived by it.
1. “One Year after Morsi’s Ouster, Divides Persist on El-Sisi, Muslim Brotherhood,” Pew Research Global Attitude Project, May 22, 2014. http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/05/22/one-year-after-morsis-ouster-divides-persist-on-el-sisi-muslim-brotherhood/
2. David D. Kirkpatrick, “In Egyptian Town, Cheers for Sisi but Murmurs of Discontent,” The New York Times, May 25, 2014.
3. Kareem Fahim and Mayy el Sheik, “Crackdown in Egypt kills Islamists as they protest”, The New York Times, July 27, 2013/
4. Matt Bradley, “Egyptian clashes leave at least 51 dead”, The Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2013.
5. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Matt Bradely, “Egypt arrests Brotherhood official ahead of Morsi trial”, The Wall Street Journal, Oct 30, 2013.
6. David. D. Kirkpatrick, “Egypt’s new strongman, Sisi knows best”, The New York Times, May 24, 2014.
7. Nick Cumming-Bruce, “U.N. expresses alarm over Egyptian death sentences”, The New York Times, March 25, 2014.
8. David D. Kirkpatrick, “Uproar in Egypt after judge sentences more than 680 to death”, The New York Times, April 28, 2014.
9. Tamer El-Ghobashy, “Egypt to charge Al Jazeera journalists”, The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2013.
10. Adam Entous, “U.S. defense chief mans hot line to Cairo”, The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2013.
11. Eric Schmitt, “Cairo military firmly hooked to U.S. lifeline”, The New York Times, August 20, 2013.
12. Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Ties with Egypt army constrain Washington”, The New York Times, August 16, 2013.
15 thoughts on “Egypt’s Illegitimate President”
I don’t see any contradiction between Samir Amin’s viewpoint and other criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood and Gowan’s article above.
I don’t have any deeply formed opinion about this whole mess in Egypt other than “US Hands off!” But it seems like one thing that is at play here is that as the USA weakens and ceases to be as much of a predominant power as it once was, that it can be harder to tell the score. Does anyone really have any evidence that the USA wanted this coup against Morsi the way they wanted the coup against Arbenz in 1954? My impression is that this coup was probably done independently by the Egyptian military without any special hand by the USA, but that the Egyptian military is nonetheless trying to avoid overtly challenging Big Brother. The coup against Morsi was not fundamentally anti-imperialist the way that some people used to regard Nasser. But it does seem likely that coup-makers were trying to avoid entanglement in Libya and Syria.
By your logic, pointing out that the Pentagon removed the president would amount to condemning the Pentagon. Anyone who wished to avoid this sin would have to pretend that the president had never been removed.
just to remind stephen….again
if obama decided to invade canada and he was removed by the Pentagon would stephen condemn the pentagon?
Top class analyst. The best I’ve ever come across. It’s a pity you don’t have a facebook page with daily updates on new emerging issues.
I’m not a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood either, but any organization that finds itself within the cross hairs of U.S. imperialism by definition deserves at least some small measure of respect in my opinion. If they are standing in the way of U.S. hegemony and domination of the planet, then that is a step in the right direction in the short-term.
Anyway, the point of the article is to simply point out how imperial machinations are done. To put it in simplistic terms for dummies: there are bad guys who disobey the dominant power, and really, really bad guys who serve the dominant, imperial world power. Pointing out the truth of the situation is not a full endorsement of the weaker bad guys who may in the short term, however, aid in forestalling imperial ambitions.
U.S. Imperialism is the number one threat facing the planet. That is not an opinion, it is an indisputable fact.
“So, how much did they pay you turn on the Oppressed Nations of the world?”
This is absolutely rubbish. you should not go down so low in your criticism of a respectable and honourable person as Stephen, learn the basic rule of common sense and decency of dialogue before insulting people because of free speech. I do not agree with Stephens’ views of the situation but I do not agree even more with your silly accusations.
Gowans got a problem with spelling it AmeriKKKa? Liberal faggot.
I don’t see a justification of the undesired Muslim Brotherhood. As always, you present your own take on the current situation, and you do it well, with some aplomb.
Regards from England, Pete.
Oh, let’s see, it was some KKKrazy amount, maybe $100KKK.
So, how much did they pay you turn on the Oppressed Nations of the world?
You think the Muslim Brotherhood “elections” were legitimate? Morsi barely beat an underling of Mubarak (Ahmed Shafik) in an election in which the best candidates were barred from participation. Morsi supported the AmeriKKKan bombing of Libya and even suggested he would sent military aid to his Takfiri brothers in Syria. Morsi’s regime killed dozens and dozens of people:
What’s “Left?” Not Gowans anymore!
Sounds like you’ve gone a little KKKrazy.
Gowans goes off the deep end, pretending the AmeriKKKan bourgeoisie isn’t split and unsure of Sisi, and that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t a Salafi outfit nearly universally hated by all progressive elements of Egyptian society.
A much better analysis from an Egyptian Marxist:
The article is in no way an endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m not a fan. But the fact remains that the MB has substantial support in Egypt and Morsi was democratically elected. It’s also true that Sisi has brutally cracked down on the opposition. Whether you regard the coup as legitimate and the crackdown as justified is really immaterial to the points the article makes, which are, first, to establish that a Sisi electoral victory in no way confers legitimacy on his presidency, and, second, that similar behavior on the part of an official enemy of the United States would be treated very differently by Western officials and media.
I am surprised at your extreme lack of truth in this article, as much as disappointed for you seeing only one half of the story. I have always been a great fan of your writings, but when you write on this subject you go very far away from reality.. Look at the majority of Egyptians who stand as one people against a small party – Muslim Brotherhood – who were pushing the country back to the dark ages when they were in power. You should be more enlightened on the subject, because your views are very much distant from the facts, truth, and reality.