‘It is premature to say that these movements have failed’: Irfan Ahmad

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Irfan Ahmad | Political Anthropologist
Irfan Ahmad | Political Anthropologist

Edited Excerpts from an interview

What is your opinion on the Morsi verdict and the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood?

What is surprising about Morsi’s death sentence is why it took them this long to pronounce it. It was clear since the coup d’état that its aim was to reinstitute a dictatorship which required creating the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as an “enemy” and ban it under the cloak of “terrorism”. The mass imprisonment of political activists (around 40,000) proves this. It is not only the FJP activists who have been persecuted; anyone asking for democracy and opposing the coup has met the same fate. Journalists who didn’t comply with the post-coup regime’s diktats were either fired or put in jails. Analysing the whole counter-revolution leads to one simple conclusion: the Western myth of Islam’s incompatibility with democracy and Islamists’ refusal to participate in elections is bogus. Whether in Algeria in the 1990s or Egypt recently, democratic processes leading to the victory of Islamists were brutally subverted by the very forces –internal and external –pretending to bring democracy in the Muslim world. In short, sheer hypocrisy!

What is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution as compared to liberal-secular revolutionaries?

Revolution often represents a multiplicity of socio-political forces. In Egypt too, it included diverse forces which comprised the liberal and the secular as much as the religious and much more. Let us not forget that religion does not mean the same to all those who call themselves religious, leave alone what it means to the secular who themselves are not entirely unanimous about what the secular means except their opposition to the religious.

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Is there any role of Western media/ governments in the El-Sisi coup?

From the beginning, much of the mainstream western media has been hostile. Many journalists referred to Morsi and his government as “radical”. This is not how the same media would refer to other governments and presidents. The role of Western states has been clearly a key factor. Barely did any of them condemn the coup categorically, or threaten the coup regime with sanctions or breaking of diplomatic ties. The West continued to shower military and financial aid to the dictatorship presided over by Abdul Fattah El-Sisi. At times support does mean the loud proclamation of something but mere silence over, or wishywashy objections to the dictatorship. Much of this will become clearer once the secret documents become de-classified and available to researchers. This will take no less than two decades.

Any reasons why protest movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Hong Kong protests as well as India Against Corruption haven’t achieved their objectives?

It is premature to say that these movements have failed. In fact they are only beginning to unfold with much more intensity. The securitisation and militarisation of human lives have led to crackdowns on such movements, not to speak of the increasing surveillance of people, especially of activists.

Has the army used liberal secular revolutionaries as puppets to topple Mubarak and then Morsi?

In some respects, yes! However, one must resist the prevalent dualism of “liberal/ secular” on the one hand and “terrorist/religious” on the other. This is the language of domination which legitimised de-democratisation, as we saw in Egypt. Those who came together against the Mubarak dictatorship included all sorts of people — religious, secular, atheists, agnostic, Muslims, Copts, men, women, workers, professionals and so on. The counter-revolutionary forces backed by the local elites, Gulf monarchies opposed to democracy and the “international community” wedded to “stability in the region” — divided the revolutionary block. Thus one no longer hears either about Mohamed Mustafa El-Baradei, the “liberal”, or about the Nour party, the “religious/Salafi”. Now it is just the “secular” El-Sisi committed to eliminate “terrorism” attributed to the Freedom and Justice Party and beyond. At times events and their consequences teach more effective lessons than books do. It is not unlikely that in future, alignment of forces will unfold differently to complete what is only the beginning sparked by the 2011 momentous event.

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