The Rotten State of Egypt is too
Powerless and Corrupt to Act
by Robert Fisk
The Independent, January 4, 2009
There was a day when we worried about
the "Arab masses" - the millions of "ordinary"
Arabs on the streets of Cairo, Kuwait, Amman, Beirut - and their
reaction to the constant bloodbaths in the Middle East. Could
Anwar Sadat restrain the anger of his people? And now - after
three decades of Hosni Mubarak - can Mubarak (or "La Vache
Qui Rit", as he is still called in Cairo) restrain the anger
of his people? The answer, of course, is that Egyptians and Kuwaitis
and Jordanians will be allowed to shout in the streets of their
capitals - but then they will be shut down, with the help of the
tens of thousands of secret policemen and government militiamen
who serve the princes and kings and elderly rulers of the Arab
Egyptians demand that Mubarak open the
Rafah crossing-point into Gaza, break off diplomatic relations
with Israel, even send weapons to Hamas. And there is a kind of
perverse beauty in listening to the response of the Egyptian government:
why not complain about the three gates which the Israelis refuse
to open? And anyway, the Rafah crossing-point is politically controlled
by the four powers that produced the "road map" for
peace, including Britain and the US. Why blame Mubarak?
To admit that Egypt can't even open its
sovereign border without permission from Washington tells you
all you need to know about the powerlessness of the satraps that
run the Middle East for us.
Open the Rafah gate - or break off relations
with Israel - and Egypt's economic foundations crumble. Any Arab
leader who took that kind of step will find that the West's economic
and military support is withdrawn. Without subventions, Egypt
is bankrupt. Of course, it works both ways. Individual Arab leaders
are no longer going to make emotional gestures for anyone. When
Sadat flew to Jerusalem - "I am tired of the dwarves,"
he said of his fellow Arab leaders - he paid the price with his
own blood at the Cairo reviewing-stand where one of his own soldiers
called him a "Pharaoh" before shooting him dead.
The true disgrace of Egypt, however, is
not in its response to the slaughter in Gaza. It is the corruption
that has become embedded in an Egyptian society where the idea
of service - health, education, genuine security for ordinary
people - has simply ceased to exist. It's a land where the first
duty of the police is to protect the regime, where protesters
are beaten up by the security police, where young women objecting
to Mubarak's endless regime - likely to be passed on caliph-like
to his son Gamal, whatever we may be told - are sexually molested
by plain-clothes agents, where prisoners in the Tora-Tora complex
are forced to rape each other by their guards.
There has developed in Egypt a kind of
religious facade in which the meaning of Islam has become effaced
by its physical representation. Egyptian civil "servants"
and government officials are often scrupulous in their religious
observances - yet they tolerate and connive in rigged elections,
violations of the law and prison torture. A young American doctor
described to me recently how in a Cairo hospital busy doctors
merely blocked doors with plastic chairs to prevent access to
patients. In November, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm
reported how doctors abandoned their patients to attend prayers
And amid all this, Egyptians have to live
amid daily slaughter by their own shabby infrastructure. Alaa
al-Aswani wrote eloquently in the Cairo paper Al-Dastour that
the regime's "martyrs" outnumber all the dead of Egypt's
wars against Israel - victims of railway accidents, ferry sinkings,
the collapse of city buildings, sickness, cancers and pesticide
poisonings - all victims, as Aswani says, "of the corruption
and abuse of power". Opening the Rafah border-crossing for
wounded Palestinians - the Palestinian medical staff being pushed
back into their Gaza prison once the bloodied survivors of air
raids have been dumped on Egyptian territory - is not going to
change the midden in which Egyptians themselves live.
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah
secretary general in Lebanon, felt able to call on Egyptians to
"rise in their millions" to open the border with Gaza,
but they will not do so. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the feeble Egyptian
Foreign Minister, could only taunt the Hizbollah leaders by accusing
them of trying to provoke "an anarchy similar to the one
they created in their own country."
But he is well-protected. So is President
Egypt's malaise is in many ways as dark
as that of the Palestinians. Its impotence in the face of Gaza's
suffering is a symbol of its own political sickness.