A Threefold Regression of Knowledge, Information and Rational Thought

The situation in Egypt since July 2013 has given rise to many negative phenomena, which defenders of democracy must dismantle, contain, confront or resist. One of the most significant of these phenomena has been a threefold regression: a regression in the value of knowledge, the declining importance of information and the marginalization of rational thought in political and media debates.

As regards the regression of the value of knowledge, a number of authors, politicians and media figures have promulgated the view that Western governments are openly hostile towards the current Egyptian administration. According to this view, Western governments are working to undermine the Egyptian administration either out of a desire to return the religious right and the Muslim Brotherhood to power or out of fear that Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi will run for president. In this regard, two additional arguments have been advanced. The first is the accusation that the Brotherhood was prepared to give the West all it wanted, from Israel’s security to the fragmentation of national territory all the way up to the transfer of terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Sinai. The second argument claims that the Egyptian military tends to oppose Western interests in general and American interests in particular, and is seeking out a regional role that is hostile toward the policies of the United States and Europe in the Middle East.

In fact, this viewpoint completely contradicts objective reality. Western governments have not been openly hostile to the post-July 2013 order and continue to strive to maintain a relationship of strategic, military, political and economic cooperation despite frequent violations of human rights and basic freedoms. The West has not frozen its military or economic aid, nor did it act as the African Union did, which rejected the army’s intrusion into politics and refused to deal with Egypt’s current arrangements. Neither Washington, Brussels, London or Paris have increased their calls for democracy and democratic procedures. They have all contented themselves with a vague demand to include all societal parties and forces in politics and to respect the rule of law.

As for Western interests in general and American interests in particular—defined as: security for Israel; strategic, military and economic cooperation; and a guaranteed supply of oil from the Gulf (leaving aside allegations about the fragmentation of national territory and importing terrorism) —  these were safeguarded by the Mubarak regime just as they were during the presidency of Dr. Mohamed Morsi and just as they are today  by the current administration, without any alteration. The same is true of the Egyptian military’s posture towards Western policies in the Middle East. The military has always responded positively in going along with these policies, from participation in the Gulf War in the 1990s to ongoing military cooperation with the American and Western forces that invaded Iraq and remained there for years, to contributing to intelligence operations relating to America’s War on Terrorism and on to the Egyptian military’s efforts to conclude a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza even as the blockade of the latter continues. The United States and Europe have never forgotten the fact that the Egyptian military is their friend and has helped implement their policies and defend their interests. It has never been established that the United States aims to partition Egypt or is otherwise involved in schemes to divide the country. This was not true even when former president George Bush’s administration and the Israel lobby in Washington adopted their failed policy known as “The New Middle East” in the last decade and about which I wrote a scathing critique in a research paper under the same name with my colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2008. In my discussion of its implications, I noted that this policy safeguarded only the interests of Israel and swept away the rights and interests of the Arabs while creating regional conflicts. This same policy has been summoned up of late in an entirely fraudulent manner by would-be experts on Egyptian talk shows that now proudly host representatives of institutes and centers associated with the Israel lobby in Washington because they defend the events of July 3, 2013 and promote the continued blockage of Gaza.

In terms of the declining importance of information, some authors, politicians and media figures supportive of the current governmental order have circulated the notion that all those who participated in anti-government protests on the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising were either members of the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathetic to it or else among those foolish young men ready to turn a blind eye to terrorism, the use of violence and threats against civil order; young men who possess nothing but discredited revolutionary slogans that have passed their expiration date. This reading of events has been used by a number of newspapers and media outlets to justify to the public the injury and death of youths who participated in the events of January 25, 2014 along with the arrest of many others. It is in this context that expressions like “the Molotov-throwing Brotherhood and their allies,” “Arrest the advocates of terrorism and violence,” and “The security services are hunting down members of the brotherhood of terrorists, the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists,” have been employed.

In fact, this reading contradicts the information currently in circulation regarding January 25 and those who participated in the day’s events. The Muslim Brotherhood, through the pro-Morsi umbrella group, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, did call for demonstrations, the umbrella group. The Revolution Path Front—made up of the groups and youth movements at the forefront of the 2011 revolution and who have opposed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Morsi and continue to oppose attacks on democracy and violations of the people’s rights and freedoms following July 2013—called for an independent peaceful demonstration and warded off attempts from the Brotherhood to join its march (which started from Mustafa Mahmoud Square) by changing the location (to the Journalists’ Union) and then canceling it altogether. However, according to reports from Front member Mustafa Shawki and many other eye witnesses, those involved with the Revolutionary Path Front—despite their wholehearted commitment to nonviolence—were violently repressed by security forces and a large number were arrested at various places and remain in custody. Among these are Khaled al-Sayed, formerly a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition’s executive bureau and a former member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party’s central committee. The claim that those youth who participated in demonstrations support violence or do not possess a clear political agenda contradicts the prevailing wisdom regarding the Revolutionaries Front and other youth movements—which clearly denounce violence, oppose religious fascism and the policies of the religious right and similarly oppose the hegemony of the military-security complex over politics and stand against violations of human rights and freedoms.

In relation to the marginalization of rational thought, a number of political writers and media figures have popularized an analysis which suggests that the involvement of the military in politics does not conflict with the principles of democracy. This analysis further suggests that the distancing of the army from politics in Egypt is still possible even if military officers run for the presidency and civil authorities continue to be weak, especially the legislative and executive branches, which possess electoral legitimacy.

The truth is that this analysis has no claim to either academic thought or objectivity, and does not learn from the lessons of history, since history teaches that the intrusion of the army into politics steers countries away from democracy and that military officers running for political office in states with weak civilian rule deepens the dominance of military institutions or the military-security complex over politics. Even without all these precedents, there is no rationale behind the analysis they are spouting, nor any logic in its underlying ideas.

Amr Hamzawy joined the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo in 2011, where he continues to serve today. He is a former member of parliament, former member of the National Salvation Front, and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party.