What a difference a day can make! The media onslaught in Egypt to bring about a popular mandate on the 6th February for a new round of slaughter, given the course of events since the military coup 18 months ago, had us all very anxious about our friends and relatives.
But let us start the story from the beginning.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi gave his Davos speech on Thursday January 22. Klaus Schwab, founder of the oligarch get-together called the Davos forum, and trustee of the Shimon Perez Trust, introduced the speech as a “very special session”. It was special for Sisi apparently, because it would be his first speech in front of the rich that rule the earth, whom Schwab referred to as an “international multi-stakeholder audience”, and it was special for the audience because they wanted to know how Sisi planned to “combine security and stability with democratic rights” in Egypt, in other words, they wanted to know how he planned to quell the ongoing insurgency by the resistance.
Upon his return to Egypt, the rich people at Davos and among them the Israelis in particular, got their answer. On Saturday 24th January Sisi made a keynote speech “demanding” from “all honourable and honest Egyptians” to go to the streets to give him a new mandate, in fact he wants “an order” to ruthlessly confront what he called a “predicted” wave of violence and terrorism. I don’t how the prediction was supposed to work, except that his way with Freudian slips, it sounded very much as if various militias were being prepared to foment unrest and create opportunities for a violent crackdown. “Egyptians!”, he exclaims, “kindly share the responsibility of this confrontation with me and your army”. On this occasion we see Sisi is wearing uniform and Ghaddafi-style sunglasses, while addressing a largely civilian crowd.
Subsequently, on Saturday 31st January, we find Sisi once again, this time facing a military audience without the glasses or the hat, dressed in a shiny suit. He calls out to them and says “I want to give a strong message to all Egyptians and to the world, that I shall not prevent you in any way from pursuing your vendetta (against terrorists)”. Egyptian opposition TV stations broadcasting for Istanbul, especially Mekameleen TV, had for at least a week pounded the airwaves with lists of the killed amongst Egypt’s protesters, impressing on the junta that there will be a reckoning for each and every death. The junta is riveted to Mekameleen TV, because of their fear of the moles who regularly come up with devastating leaks from Sisi’s office. So Sisi seems to be responding by launching his own vendetta nominally for the soldiers recently killed in Sinai (resulting, by the way, from the brutal Israeli ordered clearances in Rafah, bordering Gaza).
Earlier recordings aired by Mekameleen TV had shown how the junta were having difficulties with justifying their case against the elected (now kidnapped)-President Morsi because he was arrested and held by the wrong authorities, in the wrong place, and without the slightest bit of documentary evidence to make any of the charges already announced, remotely logical. New recordings then followed, which outed broadcasters Wael Ibrashi, Ahmed Moussa, Ibrahim Issa, Youssef al-Hussaini, Rolla Kharsa, Naila Amara, Mahmoud Musalam, Osma Kamal, Mahmoud Saad, and Azza Mustafa at the various Egyptian satellite TV channels, as essentially script-readers and gofers for Sisi’s office (in his capacity now not as “president” but chief of military intelligence).
From among those broadcasters Ahmad Moussa, anchor for Sada al-bilad TV Channel (nominally owned by ex-National Demokleptocratic Party Chief, Mohammed Abul-Enein), is the junta’s favourite propagandist because of his military style of addressing the camera (essentially shouting at it). So, on the same day of Sisi’s second address Moussa addresses his Egyptian audience and incites them to take to the streets in their “tens of millions”, he shouts, “you have a role in what is going to happen, I am inviting you to renew your mandate to the president, to the state, to the army and the police”.
Then what happens on Friday 6th ? This is what happens (see photo):
A small group of plain clothes police arrive in Tahrir square waving flags and then, when they find themselves alone, they leave.
In total contrast, other than in (revolutionary) iconic locations such as Tahrir square, Ramses street, and Raba’a square, which are essentially guarded all year round, the country at large is in uproar with demonstrations everywhere. Most visibly the student population in particular is up in arms about Sisi’s speeches, which they interpret (correctly) as incitements to civil war.
So, what made state employees, and the baltagiyya (the thugs), in other words, the core “Sisi supporters”, stay away? What gave Naguib Sawaris, who is, I suppose, the informal representative of the Davos scene in Egypt, pull in his horns? To understand what happened we have to go back over a series of events which started with the illness of King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia at the very beginning of the year.
So sooner than this news broke than Youssef al-Hussaini (on the above list of broadcasters), who works for Sawiris at ONTV, broadcast an attack on Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, maintaining he was unfit to rule, and on his eldest son Mohamed bin Salman, whom he says was “muscling in on important positions” at the court and had to be stopped. At stake especially was the post of Deputy Crown Prince.
This post had been created by King Abdulla (bin Abdel-Aziz) to ensure the eventual succession of his son Mutaib (bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz) to the throne. The then current holder of the position, the youngest of the Saudi founder’s sons, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, would become Crown Prince (which he has) and Mutaib would then occupy his position, to eventually, one day, become King after Muqrin. His competitor for the position was Muhammad (bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz) who was son to the previous Crown Prince (Nayef) who died in 2012, and who was a full brother to the present King, Salman. Both Nayef and Salman were members of the “Sudairi seven”, the seven sons of Hassa al-Sudairi, wife to the dynasty’s founder, and they also had a close personal relationship.
The sensitivity surrounding this particular succession battle revolved around the fact that, with the eventual accession (or death) of Muqrin (now Crown Prince), the al-Sauds who have run out of sons of the founder to act as King, a new generation would now be coming of age.
The conspiracy surrounding the attempt to sideline Salman and his sons from power was the content of Hussaini’s broadcast, and was a clear attempt by a desperate Sisi to influence the course of events in Saudi Arabia, given that Egypt is essentially bankrupt, and that it was being bankrolled by King Abdulla.
But these events are slightly more complicated in that they involved other figures as well. It was all usefully explained by the Secrets of the Arabs website, run from Riyadh, which broke Hussaini’s broadcast down into three sections to explain the events as follows:
Section 1. This section shows (from leaked recordings) how Hussaini is gofer to Abbas Kamil, Sisi’s chief of staff, taking instructions from Kamil on the phone. It explains the conspiracy between Mohamed bin Zayed (Crown Prince to the UAE and effective ruler), Khalid al-Tuwaiji (a commoner who is Secretary to the Court, i.e. Prime Minister), and Sisi, to make sure it is King Abdulla’s issue who gain power after his death. Mohamed bin Zayed’s interest here was in continuing the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and ensuring that he didn’t have to fund the Egyptian Junta by himself, as well as the fact that he has always been at daggers drawn with Mutaib’s antagonist, Mohamed bin Nayef.
Section 2. This section explains how it was that King Abdulla sidelined Mohamed bin Salman from the defence position and put Khalid and Tuwaiji in overall charge of intelligence, in order to oversee the protection of Muqrin as Crown Prince, because it was felt that even his accession was in danger (although he was already Deputy Crown Prince, and really fight was over that position).
Section 3. This section airs a leaked recording of a phone call made by Abbas Kamil, Sisi’s chief of staff, which reveals the direct involvement of Khalid al-Tuwaiji in planning Hussaini’s broadcast, to attack Salman and his son Mohamed. The broadcast essentially calls on King Abdulla and his entourage to appoint a medical council to section Salman as unfit to rule.
The efforts of the conspirators were all too late. Abdulla died, Salman became King and with his first breath he fired Khalid al-Tuwaiji (as well as Bandar bin Sultan a.k.a. “Bandar Bush” who was lurking in the background throughout all of this), and he put his son Mohamed into his position as Secretary to the Court, as well as into the position of defence Minister, and that of President of the all-new all-encompassing “Council for Economic Affairs”. Another of Salman’s sons, Mohamed’s brother Abdulaziz immediately became Deputy Petroleum Minister, and will soon succeed the ageing Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi in the top job. Finally, Nayef became Deputy Crown Prince, while all of ex-King Abdulla’s various sons lost all their positions.
The Winds of Change:
If it wasn’t bad enough that Egypt was draining Saudi Arabia for funds at a time of very low oil prices, leading to the need for King Salman’s creation of the new all-powerful “Council for Economic Affairs”, the revelations of Sisi’s participation in the conspiracy against him, sealed his fate. Sisi’s plane, travelling to Riyadh from Cairo to pay respects to the new King was ordered to turn back. In contrast, and to the fury of Mohamed bin Zayid of the UAE, who stayed away anyway, the Tunisian Muslim brotherhood leader, Rashid el-Ghannouchi was welcomed.
Kuwait, which has a strong contingent of Muslim Brothers in its Parliament, and is also concerned about its financial position in the current oil markets, was only too happy to change course, denying, when it was asked by the Egyptian Ministry of Finance about promised deposits of funds, that it had ever made firm promises in that regard.
As a new reality began to hit the Egyptian junta another of the outed broadcasters, Ibrahim Issa, a relative heavy-weight by comparison with most of those other flunkeys, founder of the al-Dustour newspaper and editor-in-chief of al-Tahrir newspaper, was given the cast to talk to the populace about the accession of King Salman and the likely implications of this change. The task was to try and smooth over the events and give the impression that the junta was in control of events, but he did let slip in the middle of it all that “we [the Egyptians] shall have to tighten our belts”.
Under the Sisi régime Egyptians were already seeing inflation rates in basic commodities in the 40-60% p.a. range. Issa’s message was a blow. If many had continued to watch local Egyptian Propaganda TV, now even those diehards began to switch over to watch the opposition TV channels broadcasting from Turkey. As they began to listen to the discussions and programmes on those channels (which are entirely political – there’s no light stuff at all – I assure you), the penny began to drop…. Sisi’s was no prophet as they thought… he was a fantasist and a nutcase, none of whose projects have borne fruit, and was now not only going to pay their salaries late, but he probably wasn’t going to pay them at all.
Hence we have the dramatic melting-away of Sisi’s support despite (and perhaps now because of) the media onslaught to control the Egyptian mind. This is why Tahrir square was empty on the 6th February, empty even of plain clothes police, who, if they going to do the filthy job of beating up their compatriots, at least want to be sure of being paid. This is a greater debacle than even the US/EU sponsored presidential elections, which elected Sisi, to which no-one came.
Declining oil prices are not a result of Saudi Arabia trying to punish anybody in cahoots with Obama, that’s merely posturing by the US in its conflict with Russia. Since 2009 the Fed, the Canadian and the European Central Banks drove up oil futures to create a price environment profitable for the expansion of shale and tar sands. The massive rise in supply suddenly met an Asian slowdown in demand. Gulf oil producers were shocked, Saudi Arabia was shocked. Now, in these new circumstances cutting back production when you have massive expenses is not an option, especially if your marginal returns can still make a profit. Also despite the looming bankruptcies, much US shale will also continue to operate on the margin, using accounting tricks on the way, and continuing to ride the ZIRP wave. This is why its everyman for himself in the oil markets.
This is the reality Mohamed bin Salman and his brother Abdulaziz will have to deal with, and there is no longer any room for the endless bloodletting of funds for political reasons. The hatred Mohamed Zayid of the UAE has for the Muslim brotherhood, which has driven the events in Egypt, and which swept Saudi Arabia’s gullible King Abdulla along, will now have to be nursed alone. The Saudi establishment is furious at his funding of the Houthi take-over of Yemen, also done to displace the Muslim Brotherhood (the al-Islah party) there. As a result of his actions, now Iran can say (having spent not a penny on the coup) that they control both Hormuz and Bab el-Mandab.
All the madness and day-dreaming in the Arab world will now begin to grind slowly to a stop, as the new Saudi régime surveys the devastation that the country’s previous ruler allowed to occur under his watch.
Meanwhile, Schwab and his coterie will have to learn that there is no trade off between security and democracy: democracy ensures security. The fact that a rising wave of democracies in the Middle-East will turn Israel into the only racist state run by fascists in the world, and one of only two theocracies, is something for the Israeli élite to ponder on, not something for the Egyptian people to pay the price for (nor the Palestinians for that matter).
Omar Kassem can be reached through his website at http://different-traditions.com/