Last Monday, Dr Essam El Erian, the seasoned Muslim Brotherhood member and Deputy Chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party, said that “Egypt’s patience with the UAE will not last much longer and that the UAE’s attitude is disgraceful.” His comments were made in relation to the 11 Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members that have been arrested on charges of spying in the UAE for the movement and setting up businesses that fund it. He went to say that “a nuclear Iran is coming and that Emiratis will become slaves to the Persians.” While the style and manner he chose to employ are not worthy of a senior member of a ruling party, it is not surprising. And while the terms and phrases he chose to use are unbecoming of a public official, it is not offensive but rather comical and sad.
The revolution was meant to conclude the Muslim Brotherhood’s story of perseverance, ambition and pragmatism. Instead they have managed to antagonise everyone, literally. Domestically, it is at war with everyone to the right and left of it. Regionally, it has sent mixed signals to Gulf states, the Syrian people and most recently Ethiopia.
Note that El Erian’s comments were made in relation to 11 Muslim Brotherhood members arrested in the UAE in connection with transnational activities that are deemed illegal. El Erian conveniently ignores that — with the specific intervention of Shaikh Dr Ahmad Al Tayyib, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif last April — 103 Egyptians imprisoned for various crimes such as unpaid debt were released and had their debts settled. He also ignores that when Essam Al Haddad, President Mohammad Mursi’s foreign affairs advisor, visited the UAE in the beginning of the year — before the Grand Imam’s visit — he only raised concerns about the same 11 El Erian referred to this week. The Brotherhood seems unable to grasp that it is no longer in opposition. Surreally, it continues to plot for more power grabs although it is already in office. This insecurity and inability to function as a democratically elected representative of the Egyptian people put’s it in an untenable position. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want to serve Egypt; it wants Egypt to serve the Muslim Brotherhood.
To complicate matters worse, it is so fixated on ‘ikhwanising’ Egypt that it is unable to address its most basic challenges. Whether this means securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund, reigniting its tourism sector, restructuring its food and energy subsidies, realigning its educational system with the skill sets the market requires or providing basic services such as as power supply, transportation and sanitation services for all Egyptians. Today, Egypt’s unemployment rate is above 13 per cent, its net FDI has been consistently negative since the revolution with the exception of Q1 and Q2 of 2012, its social welfare index is lower than the average of the Brics’, Asia’s and the GCC’s. Additionally, its health expenditure per capita is $144 (Dh529.63), compared to China’s $191, Russia’s 476 and the UAE’s $1,794, Cairo’s congestion cost relative to Egypt’s GDP is 4 per cent compared to Jakarta’s 0.6 per cent and its fuel consumption continues to increase year on year. Alas, the brotherhood priorities are elsewhere.
Simply put, the Muslim Brotherhood needs a war. It needs it to cover for its massive domestic failures on the economic front and to distract from its continuous power grab. This war it hopes it can wage against the UAE and unite all Egyptians behind it. Masquerading it as a battle for the poor Egyptian man, disrespected for so long by oil-rich Gulf shaikhs. But not for long, now that the Muslim Brotherhood is here to redefine the relationship and remind the Emiratis that the sons of the Egyptians who taught them how to read will not be left behind, even those who conspire against the UAE.
And the Muslim Brotherhood will get its cold war, a full blown one indeed; but only the Brotherhood, not Egypt. The UAE will not go to war with all the decent and wonderful Egyptians who have lived in the UAE. It will not go to war with Akram and Mohammad, my friends from high school and college or Karim, my colleague from my investment banking days or Sara, one of my sister’s best friends. The UAE will only go to war with those who seek to disrespect it and challenge its national sovereignty.
It is not ironic that the Brotherhood would continue to show such fascination with Iran; they seek to emulate the transformation of Iran from an open and multicultural society to a uniform theocracy and its penchant for ideological export. Even then one would’ve thought that as they are presiding over a broke and broken state, they ought to first fix their country and emerge as the people’s pious party they campaigned as and then attempt to realise their plans. But they are too ideologically antagonistic, too dismissive of their fellow citizens and too fixated on power to do anything else but that.
They could’ve led a coalition government, pursued inclusive policies, executed progressive economic reforms, got crucial GCC investments, proactively rethought its position on the Nile’s distribution, vowed to respect the internal affairs of other Arab states and maintained an honourable and consistent position on Syria. They could have been heroes to Egypt and in hindsight misjudged by Gulf states. They could’ve shown the capacity to transform into a center right Islamic democratic party the way the Christian Democratic parties across Europe did by working within Egypt’s post-revolution democratic system.
What El Erian and other senior Muslim Brotherhood members do not seem to realise is that their attitudes are endangering Egypt’s very fragile democratic transition. The further they continue down this path – and coupled with the absence of a coherent and effective opposition — a military coup of Egypt may eventually become not only inevitable but also favourable to its citizens and stakeholders.
Alas, they choose to continue to implement their own priorities and still attempt to win over the Egyptians ... and they will fail at that balancing act. The UAE will be there for Egypt as soon as a non-Muslim Brotherhood group is in office because Egypt deserves better.
Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati current affairs commentator. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/algergawi