Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sisi's blood levy

"When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, / And when he cried the little children died in the streets." - W H Auden.

In the justified outrage at the Egyptian courts' suppression of journalism, with the sentencing of several Al Jazeera reporters on supposed 'terrorism' offences, it should not be forgotten that this is one well-publicised instance of a general crackdown by the dictatorship.

The slow wheels of the regime's judicial massacre of Muslim Brothers supporters grind on.  Having murdered hundreds in the streets as part of the army's coup d'etat, the police rounded up hundreds more Muslim Brothers, including the current leader of the Ikhwan.  They were charged with a range of offences including, predictably enough, terrorism.  The courts, understanding their role well enough, convicted them in their hundreds, in single rulings, and mandated the death penalty.  On Saturday, the courts upheld 183 of the convictions from April.  These men are all to be hanged.

'Massacre' doesn't even seem an adequate adjective, even when qualified by the term 'premeditated'.  This is a human sacrifice: a condign blood tribute to the new order and, they hope, a terminal punctuation mark ending three years of upheaval.

Let no one deny that General Al-Sisi has a degree of popular support in doing this.  He has 96% of the popular vote.  Grant that this is on the basis of a turnout of less than half the electorate, despite all manner of inducements and threats - a public holiday declared on the second day of voting, public transport fares cancelled, and a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds applied to anyone who didn't turn out.  Also, allow for the fact that the only other permitted candidate hardly differed from Sisi on essentials.  The bloc supporting Sisi is huge.

The army did not merely exploit real discontent with Morsi (whose authoritarianism and betrayals of his base should not be whitewashed), divisions in the revolutionary camp, and the open preference of some 'secular' forces for the military over the Islamists.  It came to power with the passive support of a large popular, conservative bloc including sections of the rural poor and downwardly mobile middle classes.  The huge crowds in Tahrir Square on the occasion of Sisi's pomp-bedraggled inauguration are a tedious reminder that there are such things as reactionary masses.

With that backing, the regime has gone to war against all opposition, secular and Islamist, leftist and liberal.  They're putting a stop to all this nonsense once and for all.

What is it for?  Well, undoubtedly the traditional state bureaucracies and security apparatuses ranged behind Al-Sisi's dictatorship have their own agenda, which is not simply identical to that of the US government.  Nonetheless, if we are to parse Tony Blair's claim that Egypt's ruling elite is 'open' and enlightened, shall we say that it has something to do with the pronounced anti-Palestinian politics of the Sisi camp, and the reassurances that his regime has offered to business elites and regional Gulf powers that he will implement the neoliberal shock therapy that Morsi was unable to?  Of course, Blair is as mad as Rasputin, but he often usefully says things that are impolitic from the point of view of his grubby ruling class sodality.

According to Amnesty International, 1,247 Morsi supporters have been given the death sentence since January this year.  Thus far, 247 death sentences have been upheld.