The New Axis of Evil: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Pentagon Are Backing Egypt's Bloody Crackdown
I have argued that what has just happened in Egypt is a bloodbath that is not a bloodbath, conducted by a military junta responsible for a coup that is not a coup, under the guise of an Egyptian "war on terror". Yet this newspeak gambit - which easily could have been written at the White House - is just part of the picture.
Amid a thick fog of spin and competing agendas, a startling fact stands out. A poll only 10 days ago by the Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion had already shown that 69% were against the July 3 military coup orchestrated by the Pinochet-esque Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
So the bloodbath that is not a bloodbath cannot possibly be considered legitimate - unless for a privileged coterie of Mubarakists (the so-called fulool), a bunch of corrupt oligarchs and the military-controlled Egyptian "deep state".
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government led by Mohamed Morsi may have been utterly incompetent - trying to rewrite the Egyptian constitution; inciting hardcore fundamentalists; and bowing in debasement in front of the International Monetary Fund. But it should not be forgotten this was coupled with permanent, all-out sabotage by the "deep state".
It's true that Egypt was - and remains - on the brink of total economic collapse; the bloodbath that is not a bloodbath only followed a change in the signature on the checks, from Qatar to Saudi Arabia (and the United Arab Emirates). As Spengler has demonstrated on this site (see Islam's civil war moves to Egypt, Asia Times Online, July 8, 2013), Egypt will remain a banana republic without the bananas and dependent on foreigners to eat any. The economic disaster won't go away - not to mention the MB's cosmic resentment.
The winners, as it stands, are the House of Saud/Israel/ Pentagon axis. How did they pull it off?
When in doubt, call Bandar
In theory, Washington had been in (relative) control of both the MB and Sisi's Army. So on the surface this is a win-win situation. Essentially, Washington hawks are pro-Sisi's Army, while "liberal imperialists" are pro-MB; the perfect cover, because the MB is Islamic, indigenous, populist, economically neoliberal, it wants to work with the International Monetary Fund, and has not threatened Israel.
The MB was not exactly a problem for either Washington and Tel Aviv; after all ambitious ally Qatar was there as a go-between. Qatar's foreign policy, as everyone knows, boils down to cheerleading the MB everywhere.
So Morsi must have crossed a pretty serious red line. It could have been his call for Sunni Egyptians to join a jihad against the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria (although that's formally in tune with Barack Obama's "Assad must go" policy). Arguably, it was his push to install some sort of jihadi paradise from the Sinai all the way to Gaza. The Sinai, for all practical purposes, is run by Israel. So that points to a green light for the coup from both the Pentagon and Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is totally at ease with Sisi's Army and the flush Saudi supporters of the military junta. The only thing that matters to Israel is that Sisi's Army will uphold the Camp David agreements. The MB, on the other hand, might entertain other ideas in the near future.
For the House of Saud, though, this was never a win-win situation. The MB in power in Egypt was anathema. In this fateful triangle - Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh - what remains to be established is who was been the most cunning in the wag the dog department.
That's where the Incredibly Disappearing Qatar act fits in. The rise and (sudden) fall of Qatar from the foreign policy limelight is strictly linked to the current leadership vacuum in the heart of the Pentagon's self-defined "arc of instability". Qatar was, at best, an extra in a blockbuster - considering the yo-yo drifts of the Obama administration and that Russia and China are just playing a waiting game.
Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, the emir who ended up deposing himself, clearly overreached not only in Syria but also in Iraq; he was financing not only MB outfits but also hardcore jihadis across the desert. There's no conclusive proof because no one in either Doha or Washington is talking, but the emir was certainly "invited" to depose himself. And not by accident the Syrian "rebel" racket was entirely taken over by the House of Saud, via the spectacularly resurfaced Bandar Bush, aka Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
So the winners once again were the Saudis - as the Obama administration was calculating that both the MB and the al-Qaeda nebulae would then fade into oblivion in Syria. That remains to be seen; it's possible that Egypt from now on may attract a lot of jihadis from Syria. Still, they would remain in MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa).
As for Sisi, he was clever enough to seize the "terror" theme and pre-emptively equate MB with al-Qaeda in Egypt, thus setting the scene for the bloodbath that is not a bloodbath. The bottom line is that a case can be made that the Obama administration has in fact subcontracted most of its Middle East policy to the House of Saud.
Pick your axis
Only two days before the bloodbath that is not a bloodbath, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey was in Israel getting cozy with General Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussing the proverbial "threats that could emanate out of the region - globally and to the homeland - and how we can continue to work together to make both of our countries more secure". It's unthinkable they did not discuss how they would profit from the imminent bloodbath that is not a bloodbath.
At the same time, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon bombastically announced a new "axis of evil"; Iran, Syria and Lebanon. That implies Tehran, Damascus and, significantly, Beirut as a whole (not only the predominantly Shi'ite southern suburbs). Ya'alon explicitly told Dempsey it was "forbidden" for them to win the civil war in Syria.
Considering that the Central Intelligence Agency itself has deemed the civil war in Syria as a "top threat" to US national security in case al-Qaeda-style outfits and copycats take over in an eventual post-Assad situation; and at the same time Washington is extremely reluctant to stop "leading from behind", a case can be made that Israel may be entertaining another invasion of Lebanon. An always alert Sheikh Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, has already been talking about the possibility.
Then Dempsey went to Jordan - which already holds around 1,000 US troops, F-16s with crews, and an array of Patriot missiles. The spin is that the Pentagon is helping Amman with "border control techniques" as in one of those favorite Pentagon acronyms, ISR ("intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance").
That's just spin. Most of all Dempsey went to survey the progress of the recent batch of anti-tank missiles, bought by - who else - the Saudis and supplied by the CIA, via Jordan, to (in theory) selected "good rebels" in southern Syria. Those "rebels", by the way, were trained by US Special Forces inside Jordan. Obviously Damascus will be preparing a counterpunch to this offensive by the American/Saudi/Jordanian axis.
Pick your evil
There's hardly any "American credibility" left in the Middle East - apart from puppet entities like Jordan and selected elites in the feudal Gulf, that "democratic" realm of corruption, mercenaries and imported proletariats treated like cattle.
It hardly helps that US Secretary of State John Kerry has recommended Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria, as the next US ambassador to Egypt.
Perception is everything. Informed opinion all across the Middle East immediately identifies Ford as a creepy death squad facilitator. His CV prior to Syria - where he legitimized the "rebels" - is matchless; sidekick to sinister John Negroponte promoting the "Salvador Option" in Iraq in 2004. The "Salvador Option" is code for US-sponsored death squads, a tactic first applied in El Salvador (by Negroponte) in the 1980s (causing at least 75,000 deaths) but with deep origins in Latin America in the late 1960s throughout the 1970s.
Sisi will keep playing his game according to his own master plan - bolstering the narrative myth that the Egyptian army defends the nation and its institutions when in fact defending its immense socio-economic privileges. Forget about civilian oversight. And forget about any possible independent political party - or movement - in Egypt.
As for Washington, MB or "deep state", even a civil war in Egypt - Arabs killing Arabs, divide and rule ad infinitum - that's fine, as long as there is no threat to Israel.
With Israel possibly mulling another invasion of Lebanon; the Kerry "peace process" an excuse for more settlements in Palestine; Bandar Bush back practicing the dark arts; the pre-empting of any possible solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier; Egypt in civil war; Syria and also Iraq bleeding to death, what's left is the certified proliferation of all kinds of axes, and all kinds of evil.
Editor's Note: The following is a followup article Escobar wrote on August 16:
Hi, I'm your new Axis of Evil
By Pepe Escobar
Egypt's ‘bloodbath that is not a bloodbath’ has shown that the forces of hardcore suppression and corruption reign supreme, while foreign interests - the House of Saud, Israel and the Pentagon - support the military's merciless strategy.
Stop. Look at the photos. Linger on dozens of bodies lined up in a makeshift morgue. How can the appalling bloodbath in Egypt be justified? Take your pick. Either it’s Egypt’s remix of Tiananmen Square, or it’s the bloodbath that is not a bloodbath, conducted by the leaders of the coup that is not a coup, with the aim of fighting “terror”.
It certainly was not a crowd clearing operation – as in the New York Police Department ‘clearing’ Occupy Wall Street. As a Sky journalist tweeted, it was more like “a major military assault largely on unarmed civilians”, using everything from bulldozers to tear gas to snipers.
Thus the scores indiscriminately killed – with crossfire estimates ranging from the low hundreds (the “interim government”) to at least 4,500 (the Muslim Brotherhood), including at least four journalists and the 17-year-old Asmaa, daughter of top Muslim Brotherhood politician Mohamed El Beltagy.
El Beltagy, before being arrested, said, crucially, “If you do not take to the streets, he [as in General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, the leader of the coup that is not a coup who appointed the interim government] will make the country like Syria.”
Wrong. Sisi is not Bashar al-Assad. Don’t expect passionate Western calls for “targeted strikes” or a no-fly zone over Egypt. He may be a military dictator killing his own people. But he’s one of “our” bastards.
What we say goes
Let’s look at the reactions. The lethargic poodles of the European Union called for “restraint” and described it all as “extremely worrying.” A White House statement said the interim government should “respect human rights” – which can be arguably interpreted as the Manning/Snowden/droning of Pakistan and Yemen school of human rights.
That pathetic excuse for a diplomat, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at least was blunt: “Egypt is an important partner for NATO through the Mediterranean Dialogue.” Translation: the only thing we really care about is that those Arabs do as we say.
Stripped of all rhetoric – indignant or otherwise – the key point is that Washington won’t cut its $1.3 billion annual aid to Sisi’s army no matter what. Wily Sisi has declared a “war on terror”. The Pentagon is behind it. And the Obama administration is tagging along – reluctantly or not.
Now let’s see who’s in revolt. Predictably, Qatar condemned it; after all Qatar was bankrolling the Morsi presidency. The Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, encouraged Egyptians to keep protesting to “thwart the conspiracy” by the former regime – as in Mubarakists without Mubarak.
Turkey – which also supports the Muslim Brotherhood - urged the UN Security Council and the Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre”; as if the UN and the Saudi-controlled Arab League would interrupt their three-hour-long expense account lunches to do anything.
Iran – correctly - warned of the risk of civil war. That does not mean that Tehran is blindly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood – especially after Morsi had incited Egyptians to join a jihad against Assad in Syria. What Tehran has noted is that the civil war is already on.
Let’s aim for the kill
“Byzantine” does not even begin to explain the blame game. The bloodbath that is not a bloodbath happened as the Sisi-appointed “government” had promised it would engage in a military-supported “transition” that would be politically all-inclusive.
Yet, fed up with six weeks of protests denouncing the “coup that is not a coup,” the interim government changed the narrative and decided to take no prisoners.
According to the best informed Egyptian media analyses, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Baha Eldin and Vice President for foreign affairs Mohamed ElBaradei wanted to go soft against the protesters, while Interior Minister Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Mustafa and the Defense Minister - Sisi himself - wanted to go medieval.
The first step was to pre-emptively blame the Muslim Brotherhood for the bloodshed – just as the Muslim Brotherhood blamed Jemaah Islamiyah for deploying Kalashnikovs and burning churches and police stations.
A key reason to launch the “bloodbath that is not a bloodbath” this Wednesday was an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to march on the perennially dreaded Interior Ministry. Hardcore Ibrahim Mustafa would have none of it.
Sisi’s minions appointed 25 provincial governors, of which 19 are generals, in perfect timing to “reward” the top military echelon and thus solidify the Egyptian “deep state”, or actually police state. And to crown the “bloodbath that is not a bloodbath,” Sisi’s minions declared martial law for a month. Under these circumstances, the resignation of Western darling ElBaradei won’t make Sisi lose any sleep.
The original spirit of Tahrir Square is now dead and buried , as a Yemeni miraculously not targeted by Obama’s drones, Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman, pointed out.
The key question is who profits from a hyper-polarized Egypt, with a civil war pitting the well-organized, fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood against the military-controlled “deep state”.
Both options are equally repulsive (not to mention incompetent). Yet the local winners are easily identifiable: the counter-revolution, as in the fulool – diehard Mubarakists – a bunch of corrupt oligarchs, and most of all the deep state itself.
Hardcore repression rules. Corruption rules. And foreign domination rules (as in Saudi Arabia, who’s now paying most of the bills, alongside the UAE).
Internationally, the big winners are Saudi Arabia (displacing Qatar), Israel (because the Egyptian army is even more docile than the Brotherhood), and – who else – the Pentagon, the Egyptian army’s pimp. Nowhere in the Milky Way this House of Saud/Israel/Pentagon axis can be spun as “good for the Egyptian people”.
Sheikh Al-Torture is our man
A quick recap is in order. In 2011, the Obama administration never said, “Mubarak must go” until the last minute. Hilary Clinton wanted a “transition” led by CIA asset and spy chief Omar Suleiman – widely known in Tahrir Square as “Sheikh al-Torture”.
Then a Washington inside joke was that the Obama administration had gleefully become a Muslim Brotherhood cheerleader (allied with Qatar). Now, like a yo-yo, the Obama administration is weighing on how to spin the new narrative - the ‘loyal’ Egyptian army courageously wiping out the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood to “protect the revolution.”
There was never any revolution to begin with; the head of the snake (Mubarak) was gone, but the snake remained alive and kicking. Now it’s met the new snake, same as the old snake. Additionally, it’s so easy to sell to the uninformed galleries the Muslim Brotherhood = al-Qaeda equation.
Pentagon supremo Chuck Hagel was glued on the phone with Sisi as the July 3 “coup that is not a coup” was taking place. Pentagon spin would want us to believe that Sisi promised Hagel he would be on top of things in a heartbeat. Virtually 100% of the Beltway agreed. Thus the official Washington spin of “coup that is not a coup.” Tim Kaine from Virginia, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even extolled those model democracies, the UAE and Jordan, in their enthusiasm for the “coup that is not a coup.”
It’s essential to outline the five countries that have explicitly endorsed the “coup that is not a coup.” Four of them are GCC petro-monarchies (members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, also known as Gulf Counter-Revolution Club); Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. And the fifth is that little monarchy, Jordan, the GCC wants to annex to the Gulf.
Even more pathetic than Egypt’s so-called liberals, some leftists, some Nasserists and assorted progressives defending Sisi’s bloodlust has been the volte-face of Mahmoud Badr, the founder of Tamarrod – the movement that spearheaded the massive demonstrations that led to Morsi’s ouster. In 2012, he blasted Saudi Arabia. After the coup, he prostrated himself in their honor. At least he knows who’s paying the bills.
And then there’s Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the Vatican of Sunni Islam. He said, “Al-Azhar…did not know about the methods used for the dispersal of the protests except through media channels.” Nonsense; he has repeatedly praised Sisi.
Feel free to adore my eyelashes
There’s no other way of saying it; from Washington’s point of view, Arabs can kill each other to Kingdom Come, be it Sunnis against Shiites, jihadis against secularists, peasants against urbanites, and Egyptians against Egyptians. The only thing that matters is the Camp David agreements; and nobody is allowed to antagonize Israel.
So it’s fitting that Sisi’s minions in boots asked Israel to keep their drones near the border, as they need to pursue their “war on terror” in the Sinai. For all practical purposes, Israel runs the Sinai.
But then there’s the cancellation of a delivery of F-16s to Sisi’s army. In real life, every US weapons sale across the Middle East has to be “cleared” with Israel. So a case can be made that Israel – for the moment - is not exactly sure what Sisi is really up to.
It’s quite instructive to read what Sisi thinks of “democracy” – as demonstrated when he was at the US War College. He’s essentially an Islamist – but most of all he craves power. And the MB is standing in his way. So they have to be disposed of.
Sisi’s “war on terror” is arguably a roaring success as a PR stunt to legitimize his run for a popular mandate. He’s trying to pose as the new Nasser. He’s Sisi the Savior, surrounded by a bunch of Sisi groupies. A columnist wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm that Sisi doesn't even need to issue an order; it’s enough to “just flutter his eyelashes”. The Sisi-for-president campaign is already on.
Anyone familiar with US-propped 1970s tin-pot Latin American dictators is able to spot one. This is no Savior. This is no more than an Al-Sisi-nator – the vainglorious tin-pot ruler of what my colleague Spengler bluntly defined as a banana republic without the bananas.