By Alain Gresh.Le Monde.07 Aug, 2013
“To avert a bloodbath and civil war, the military will govern Egypt for a short period of not more than a year,” said an editorial in Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper on 30 June: a few days later, after the demonstrations, Morsi was removed by the army. Okaz’s foresight was unsurprising since there had been liaison between Egypt’s high command and Riyadh for months.
The army had a guarantee from Saudi Arabia that it would come to Egypt’s aid provided the army removed from power the Muslim Brothers, who are hated by the Saudi royal family, and treated ex-president Hosni Mubarak better. (Saudi Arabia, which took in Tunisia’s former president, Zine al- Abidine Ben Ali, was unhappy with Mubarak’s treatment.) King Abdullah was among the first to congratulate the new leadership in Cairo and offer $5bn in aid: $1bn in cash, $2bn in oil and $2bn in bank deposits.
Morsi’s departure is a clear victory for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and a setback for Qatar. After a smooth transition of power in Qatar with the accession of the emir’s son, there might be a less interventionist policy. However, there will still be rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, even if both depend on their strategic alliance with the US.
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is another loser. His condemnation of the Egyptian coup could be seen just as an expression of solidarity between Islamist parties (Turkey’s AKP and the Muslim Brothers). But it is more than that: Turkish parties, from the nationalist right to Kurdish organisations, have all condemned it.
Morsi had made no major foreign policy shifts. He had kept his distance from Saudi Arabia and made hesitant overtures to Iran, though he stopped short of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Tehran. On Gaza, he had begun to reduce restrictions — not enough in the view of Hamas, which controls the territory — and had been more diplomatically active than Mubarak, and critical of Israel during its intervention in Gaza in November 2011. Yet Morsi maintained the peace treaty with Israel, securing US favour; this made some of the opposition and popular opinion denounce the Brothers’ alliance with Washington. So Morsi was convinced that US support would prevent a coup — a miscalculation.
In the past few months, tensions between the government and military had been apparent in regional politics, which the military regard as within their jurisdiction. The army took a unilateral decision to flood some of the tunnels that supply Gaza, and publicly disapproved of recent calls for jihad in Syria; the calls were taken up by Morsi, who had severed diplomatic relations with Damascus. Until then Morsi’s policy towards Syria had been cautious: he had ruled out foreign intervention and tried to bring Iran into the process of seeking a political solution. His greater caution was less a genuine shift than a desire to win favour with the Salafists, but he failed, as demonstrated by the support of the powerful Al-Nour Party for the movement that ousted him.
In June, some Egyptian Islamist party leaders met Morsi to discuss the crisis provoked by Ethiopia’s decision to build a dam on the Nile. Unaware that the meeting was being filmed, some leaders called for military intervention. The army disapproved.
After Morsi’s fall, the military flooded the press with “secrets” about his alleged refusal to re-establish order in Sinai, an unstable region important to the military command. Since then, operations there have been stepped up and the army has reverted to the strategy of the Mubarak period, when all-out repression — and contempt for Sinai inhabitants, often considered second-class citizens — played into the hands of jihadi groups. In Gaza, drastic restrictions have returned at the Rafah terminal and there has been a political campaign equating Palestinians with terrorists.
Despite the anti-US rhetoric in Cairo, it is certain that the new Egyptian regime will maintain the peace treaty with Israel, and continue to cooperate with the US army, and so receive the annual $1.5bn in military aid that Egyptian officers rely on.