Obama reads Tantawi the Riot Act

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

January 30 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Help me out here. Lets read some news items together to prove I’m not completely mad.  First a newsflash: Three PR gurus paid $4.3 million (plus expenses) to flack for SCAF in Washington DC dumped them after lawmakers harrumphed: Is there no shame in this town?

Update: Cairo says it did the dumping. Who’s pot calling who’s kettle black?

SCAF’s devil-may-care disregard for human rights is their undoing. No amount of pleading by a bevvy of top brass hastily dispatched to the State Department and the Pentagon this week can save their skins. Or military aid.

It’s SCAF’s billion-dollar bungle. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want braided Egyptian scalps on the wall of the trophy room at Camp David.

Back to the papers. Leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their political party the FJP are opening channels of communication with some of former president Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet ministers and the now defunct National Democratic Party to understand some files and to listen to those who ran the country (Al-Ahram).

According to independent sources, the paper says, talks have included delegating envoys to meet some of the former key ministers who have exited Egypt upon the end of the Mubarak regime and had never come back (sic).

Wasn’t that the point: To oust Mubarak and his corrupt gang from government — not hire them in to run it?

Alas, the storm is come again…Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows (The Tempest, Shakespeare).

It’s obvious to younger Brothers their elders are as happy as sandboys playing hide and seek with SCAF. Young men have been quitting in droves. Now it turns out the old hands want tips from the tyrants. How do you feel after all that Egypt has been put through to discover the new rulers are asking the old gang how to run the place?

They’re like the wussies who give Jack Daniels the heave-ho and take up with Aunt Nora — swapping booze for smack. Are we supposed to congratulate the Muslim Brotherhood on accepting duties of governing — coached by Mubarak’s hacks?

No wonder the Muslim Brotherhood was greeted with a loud raspberry when they turned up in Tahrir Square on Friday. For half an hour angry protesters doused their representatives with water, accusing them of selling their souls to SCAF.

Let’s turn to another page of the newspaper. Here’s an interesting piece: Parliament is now the legitimate authority says the Muslim Brotherhood’s Deputy Supreme Guide. According to him Tahrir Square is past its sell-by date. What Khairat El-Shater means is Tahrir Square is the nagging conscience that tugs at the Brothers’ sleeves as they edge towards the cookie jar.

Before showing the Al-Ahram reporter the door El-Shater said an FJP-led government would strive to maintain good relations with all countries. The Muslim Brotherhood’s buddies in SCAF have an odd way of going about it.

Look at this headline: US outrage as Egypt bars Americans from leaving. According to the report, the clean-cut chinos and blazer-clad 36-year-old every Mom and Pop would die to call Son is being held hostage in Cairo for doing a community service stint.

It happens this model citizen is the son of one of Obama’s closest cabinet honchos. He’s been heading up one of the NGOs that SCAF hates because it shines light on their evil doings. So when he tries to take a break out of Egypt, he’s grounded.

SCAF locked half a dozen foreigners down because America derailed the military’s gravy train. Since October the US has not sent a nickel of new money to Egypt.

Check out this headline in the New York Times: Obama warns military rulers of Egypt that US aid is at risk. Here’s the intro: For the first time in three decades American foreign assistance to Egypt is no longer a sure thing.

The Times reported Obama phoning Field Marshall Tantawi to make sure he understood all future aid hinges on satisfying Congress that Tantawi leads a genuine transition to democracy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it abundantly clear she’s not signing off on anything until the soldier boy bullies who beat up the Blue Bra Girl are brought to book.

As Obama read Tantawi the Riot Act, Tantawi was reminded the US has stopped new money transfers. Some bibs and bobs from the 2010/2011 approvals run out in four weeks. General Dynamics will close out the $11 million order for Abrams tank upgrades and maintenance for desert warfare by December. The $44 million contract for 120 mm high explosive tracer cartridges for the M1A1 tanks goes ahead.

SCAF has to make payroll with what cash it has from now on.

Concern has been expressed about Egypt’s ‘drift towards Pakistanization’ in some Washington defense quarters. That’s code: Are we comfortable with 1,130 tanks under Muslim Brotherhood control? Can Hamas get their hands on any of this kit, such as 20 mm guns and sights, 0.50 caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns?

Egypt is gambling on the Democrats in an election year not upsetting the applecart in Sterling Heights, nicknamed Baghdad Village. It’s the Detroit suburb in Michigan where the M1 tank kits are assembled — one of the largest conglomerations of Arabs in America, more than 5,000 Iraqis.

Egypt’s response to the dressing down: Pull the son of Obama’s Secretary for Transportation out of the line as he was about to board a plane to Dubai, confiscate his passport and put the frighteners on, telling him he faces interrogation, arrest and five years’ hard labor in jail — all for running an NGO assisting voter registration in Egypt and which they are adamant hasn’t given a dime to any Egyptian political party.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s shotgun wedding with SCAF is pregnant with irony.

SCAF is ham-fisted at PR. Flaunting their inexperience on the global stage SCAF gave short shrift to the International Monetary Fund when the IMF offered to tide them over with three billion dollars and change last year. SCAF indicated IMF loans came with strings attached.

Accountability? Transparency? Democratizing? Skilling young people? Sounds good to me.

Now raking the bottom of the barrel SCAF is groveling for the same three billion. The problem is would-be lenders have lost confidence in the borrowers. The IMF is headquartered within earshot of the White House.

Why would the IMF give Egypt a loan when there’s no plan to invest it in growth and pay it back? Wasn’t it a few weeks ago that Egypt called for their foreign debt to be written off?

Which planet is SCAF on?

If it’s the same as mine, beam me up, Scotty. It’s time to boldly go where no man has gone before, the aptly named starship Enterprise.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

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Honor the heroes

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

January 25 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Some causes are worth dying for. None are worth killing for. The nation’s psyche swirls in pools of anger and guilt, innocence, righteousness, contempt, remorse and sorrow. If only the euphoria could echo one year on.

Unlocking Egypt’s potential is proving harder than many had imagined. At times it’s an ideological brawl. Tempers flare. Shouting leads to fisticuffs. On occasion the guns come out. Stretcher-bearers are called. Hearts that are broken grieve inconsolably.

Would the course of events have flowed differently if what is known now was known then? What, if anything has been gained when ideas are imprisoned, dissenting voices locked away in chambers of terror and justice meted out in kangaroo courts?

If we decide to live, Albert Camus wrote as Europe picked up the pieces after World War II, it must be because we have decided that our personal existence has some positive value. If we decide to rebel, it must be because we have decided that society has positive value. It’s better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees, Camus believed.

Without the courage of rebels, Tahrir Square would be a bus stop.

A year of protest and suffering has been revealing. The voice of the revolutionary reverberates around Egypt today louder, more positive, more nuanced and more exact than before.

Rightly so. Who would have given Mubarak and his henchmen a 50/50 chance of walking free? Who would have thought the police assassins would get off scot-free? Who would imagine the army would mow down kids exercising their legal rights?

It’s chilling to reflect that Camus follows a long line of philosopher poets that dwelt on rebellion’s suffering, prophets of the tumult that was to spread and engulf the Middle East in our time. Camus said if nothing has any meaning and if we affirm no values, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance. Evil and virtue are mere chance or caprice.

That’s it. Chance has come at this time to giddy-up the laggards. For all the sounding off, democracy is not making as much progress as it should. It’s being blocked head on and shunted down alleys on a road to nowhere. Many’s the day democracy seems to be stumped.

The old guard’s reliance on force to snuff out the Arab Spring is a gross miscalculation. It’s not a replay of the Springtime of the Peoples in 1848 when hundreds of thousands of Europeans rose up from Paris to Milan, from Prussia across the Austrian and Hapsburg empires only to be brutally massacred.

The tensions and pressures are similar. Cairo expands by 50,000 hungry mouths each month much as Berlin, for example, grew at the time from 200,000 to 500,000 in less than 10 years. Cramped conditions, pressure on wages, inflation, not enough jobs to go round are as bad now as they were in Europe then.

Revolutionary forces rose up through France, Germany, Italy, and Austria. Their surge of discontent was aided by the advent of daily newspapers in the same way the Internet helped the Arab Spring explode. But by winter much was the same as before though one or two rapscallions were overthrown.

That’s the disillusionment democracy’s standard bearers have to overcome in Egypt.

Revolutions don’t come out of the blue. Before the French Revolution of 1789, rebels were testing the old order: Peasant uprising in Galecia (now Ukraine), German hunger marches, Italians demonstrating against a hated Pope.

Egypt’s outcome may not seem promising at this moment. The absolutists stick their fingers in one leak after another to halt progress. They’re so used to lining their own pockets they’ve forgotten it’s a crime. Neither the government nor the justice system seems overly concerned to repatriate billions and bullion owed to the peasantry as much as to the exchequer. Let alone haul the thieves back.

Egypt’s new parliament is an opportunity for the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood to affirm its election promises not to tinker with the day-to-day freedoms Egyptians enjoy. I have my doubts they will be able to keep those promises once the Salafis get hold of a microphone. In the election the Brotherhood answered questions citing the Quran. It’s going to be tough to rebut the Salafis in parliament.

Look what happened elsewhere: Across Africa in the 60s, in Cyprus, Algeria, and Afghanistan, most of Latin America, in Chechnya and in Northern Ireland. Societies claimed their birthright and then were plunged into sectarian and republican strife.

Northern Ireland is a classic case. The ultra-conservatives came from nowhere to rule the land. Like the Salafis they congregated in their own church to challenge the status quo. The Republicans split, some motivated by Mao Zedong’s little Red Book (1964): Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

The Provisionals ran the old hands out of town. A civil war in all but name engulfed Northern Ireland for 40 years. Who won? The extremists. They run everything these days, as they do in tin pot dictatorships across Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

Is that what the Islamists and the military want, a bedraggled Garden of Eden full of weeds, broken down shacks and doddering old men pottering about?

The elections unearthed an intolerant, extremist brand of Islamism that wasn’t foreseen. In time the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will be pressured to the right. There isn’t a smidgen of liberalism in their policies. Their economic plan is derelict. It calls for borrowing foreign money, cutting public spending and lending to start-ups. The truth is the politicians haven’t a clue what to do to fix up their mess.

That’s where the youth who began the rebellion against graft and corruption have their chance. So have the trade unions that supported them with their claims for better pay and conditions and the women from all over Egypt. They are the heroes.

Instead of bland calls for freedom, justice and democracy the veracious voice of the revolution should rise above the swell in this week of commemorating those who died for a cause as old as Adam and Eve — the right for freedom of choice.

Those who wish to claim their patrimony should approach the shrines in Tahrir Square and beyond with commitments to resolve the impasse.

They may not have much of a voice inside the parliament. But where they are actually heard, on the street and across the worldwide web, their voices can drown out the naysayers.

Political labels count for naught in a chorus. Join hands and rejoice in what has been accomplished. Proclaim the truth.

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth — William Faulkner the Nobel Prize-winning American novelist and poet, one of the 20th Century’s most influential thinkers.

Justice must not be denied.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Clash of realizations

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

January 17 2012

Philip Whitfield


CAIRO: Apt lines from The Phoenix. Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing? If not, you will never really change. The phoenix renews her youth only when she is burnt down to hot and flocculent ash.

Approaching January 25 prods sober reflection. Martyrs are in our everyday vocabulary. Lives lost. Youth blinded. Agile lamed. Love snuffed out. Dreams beaten. All scarred.

Was D.H. Lawrence right? Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest with strands of down like floating ash shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle, immortal bird.

Perhaps. Or is a cuckoo in the nest?

At times it’s easy to lapse into Samuel Huntington’s trap; to accept humankind’s destiny is predetermined by insurmountable cultural chasms. That I, born in the West, cannot assimilate with my Egyptian neighbors, my colleagues — these people next to me on the bus; those people hurrying home, like me, out of the cold to a hot pot of tea, warm buttered toast and honey and an extra blanket on the bed.

Huntington’s assertion is absurd, that the clash of civilizations will dominate global politics; the fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

When I go for my check-up at the doctor’s I put every ounce of my trust in a nurse sticking me with a needle as I do with people whose belief says I shouldn’t receive interest on what little capital I have in the bank yet allow a computer to do just that. Just as I do when I dig my teeth into a watermelon handed me by the barrow boy at the end of my street on an excruciatingly hot afternoon.

Just as westerners and Egyptians do in Europe and the Americas because all of those interactions are conducted every day. They’re so commonplace nobody gives them a second thought.

Britain’s National Health Service would fall apart without immigrant doctors and nurses. The finest include Egyptians. Just as my wonderful GP in Mohandessin says he received the best training courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in London.

The Clash of Civilizations is a flawed hypothesis. It’s an egghead’s idiotic idea, a nifty title to sell a book. It resonates in Egypt because the military commanders ache for recognition and superiority. They mislabel their misdemeanors sabotage by foreign influences, implying dark deeds by dastardly disrupters.

That’s the military mind for you. They want to divert attention from their own foibles. Anyone captured in a pair of binoculars is suspect, preferably anyone who speaks a different language. It’s as racist as a Cockney shouting Arab as a term of abuse. You’ll hear that in London and for that matter in any cosmopolitan city. It’s the voice of ignorance or even the voice of fear. Or perhaps the voice of fearful ignorance.

When my uncle came home from serving in the Kings Regiment in North Africa after World War II a new phrase entered our family’s vocabulary. My mother would caution as I ran out of the backdoor for a fresh loaf of bread for tea: Don’t be ‘gyped’ meaning: Check the change you get. Neither she nor me knew the etymology. We spoke out of ignorance, not malice.

Huntington’s critics denigrate his Clash of Civilizations. They point to the rise of Islamic caliphates and Ottoman rule during Roman rule. They say it wasn’t to do with religion. It had everything to do with politics and the assertion of a culture that happened to be Islamic opposed to a culture that happened to be Christian.

As people prepare for January 25 it seems to me there are specific considerations to be taken into account. Is the date symbolic? Does it mark a historic change? Should it be ignored? The answer is No to each.

An uprising that had been planned for years began on January 25 and took a military coup d’état to get rid of Mubarak. It beggars belief that Mubarak didn’t impose terms. I don’t know what they were or whether the dealers welched on it. What I do know is that a man in a double-breasted worsted suit was replaced by a man in a military uniform who until then had enjoyed being seen with the man in the suit.

Powerful ministers fled the country, some laden with gold and millions of pounds. Powerful generals took over running enterprises that yield gold and millions of pounds.

What of freedom, justice and liberty? Nothing was achieved. Thousands were locked up. Justice is absent in the secretive courts that pervade a secretive society. Liberty throwing off the shackles of despotism isn’t even a glint in the nation’s eye.

Should January 25 be ignored? Certainly not. Neither should it be a National Day designated by SCAF as an opportunity to decorate themselves with medals and to hire professional singers and dancers to cavort around.

They shouldn’t be allowed to convert Tahrir Square into a Strictly Come Dancing stage. It’s a grotesque sacrilege of a shrine. SCAF’s ill-advised leaders seem to harbor a notion that people will forgive and forget.

The military has no shame. But people can display their dignity, rich or poor, high or low. January 25 is an opportunity to assemble in memoriam to those who fell.

More pointedly it is an opportunity to reignite the joy of togetherness. It’s an opportunity to show, as Egypt’s women did, unity is more piercing than bullets; that sweet choruses disarm shield-wielding men and melt the hearts of the woebegone.

The reason for marking the beginning of Egypt’s march to democracy is to renew commitments never truly fulfilled in the rush that followed January 25.

There is no victory in the result. Islamists in cahoots with the military gives the military a higher blessing than Mubarak ever could. It’s a step away from religious dictatorship.

Men in armored trucks, others kitted out with staves and guns are not courageous. They’re indentured thugs sent to cajole and bully. Politicians who hide behind religious tracts are cowards in the face of democracy. They’re ideologically bankrupt and orally suspect. Mark Twain said it’s curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.

Picking up where January 25 left off is harder than at first.

For more than a century black American women refused to bow to white harassment. Rosa Parks stayed put in her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1 1955. Twelve years before, the same bus driver, James Blake ordered Rosa off the bus in Cleveland Avenue and drove off leaving her to walk home in the rain.

Rosa Parks lived to the age of 92 and died in 2005, three years short of seeing the first African American become president, but wise enough to know her steadfastness had made it possible.

Why go to Tahrir Square next week?

To restore hope.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Muttering Mutaween

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

12th January 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: I think people miss the real story in Egypt. People were trying to convince themselves during the revolution that Egyptians were going to turn out to be a bunch of fluffy liberals — Shadi Hamid, the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center research director appearing on FRONTLINE, American public television’s acclaimed current affairs show.

Dr. Hamid isn’t your garden-variety navel gazer. Once a senior director of research at Stanford University, he occupied an influential post in the State Department and was Dianne Feinstein’s Middle East go-to guy when she held sway in the Senate.

Hamid told America: The Brotherhood takes no positions that are radical by Egyptian standards. The vast majority of Egyptians believe Sharia should play a major role in political life and law. At some point you have to respect the will of the people. They like Salafis to some extent and they like the Brotherhood to a great extent.

Dr. Hamid doesn’t have an axe to grind. He sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a center-right, nationalist organization that America has to engage in a long-overdue dialogue. Their pragmatism is about to be tested — the perennial opposition that surprised itself.

To legislate, the Brotherhood needs partners in parliament’s ideological slumgullion. If the Brotherhood had snagged a few more percentage points and the far-right Salafis a few less, the Islamists’ internecine bloodletting could have been postponed. The Salafis are setting out the parameters of the Islamic battle to come.

Don’t be shocked after a few firebrand Salafis grabbed their box of tricks, pulling a firecracker out: the virtue and vice vilifier. Egypt’s morality cops arrive clucking with coruscating clacking, clamping down on crimpers and cocktail shakers whetting desire, salivating in sanctimony,

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice justifies its bullyboys. Commonplace in Saudi, Gaza and Taliban townships, the Mutaween dye their beards red and dress up in bright bandanas. They spy on women browsing negligees. They break up strolling couples. They arrest the unveiled. They confiscate Valentine’s Day gifts. They stone women and wield plaited lashes to flog them.

A few years ago when fire broke out in a school in Mecca, the Mutaween allegedly locked the girls in because they weren’t wearing headscarves or accompanied by male guardians. Fifteen girls died and 50 were seriously burnt.

Muslim extremists drive Americans nuts.

Larry Haas is an influential Republican, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council where Newt Gingrich is revered. Egypt may be electing one man, one vote, one time, he writes in a syndicated column. He forecasts strict Sharia Islamic law for Egypt.

It hardly matters that the Salafis distance themselves from the morality police or Al Azhar restates its claim to say what’s what in the Sunni universe. The West is giving up on serendipity.

A year ago the world rejoiced in Tahrir’s tears of joy. It seemed emblematic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that occasionally in life there are moments of unutterable fulfillment. They can’t be explained by words. Dr. King said their meaning is articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.

If only things had remained that way. Steven Cook, Middle East analyst and fellow of the heavyweight Council on Foreign Relations says events in Egypt are unfolding in a long goodbye between Egypt and America.

One of the most influential players is Jeff Feltman who’s been in Cairo. Feltman is regarded as one of the most-read diplomats in the State Department. People love the candor and wisdom of his dispatches. He’s awed as the straight-talker who warranted a weekly video pow-wow with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

So influential was he as ambassador to Lebanon between 2004 and 2008 that the opposition nicknamed Fuad Siniora’s government the Feltmanites. The State Department’s top man overseeing the region has been working out a modus operandi for the United States.

Yesterday Feltman’s boss William Burns, the US deputy secretary of state turned up in Cairo to meet the Brotherhood’s top men. That indicates Israel is being discussed.

America’s strategic military interest in Egypt is confined to aircraft landing rights and unrestricted access to the Suez Canal. The combined cost is a fraction of the $1.3 billion military aid Congress has been waving through since Camp David in 1978.

America is prepared to send weapons into the safe hands of trusted allies. But when power shifts to the Islamic right or, as in Pakistan when their nuclear secrets end up in North Korea’s hands, America clams up.

Egypt’s military is in for more than a short back and sides. According to President Obama downsizing means cutting $500 billion out of the overall US defense budget. America is switching to protection against Iran and China, Obama says.

Clipping Egypt’s wings is much easier in Washington when SCAF tramples over human rights and hotheads call for medieval courts.

Feltman has deeper concerns. He’s worked out of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the peace process and the Gaza economy. He’s butted heads with Palestinians many a time. Can Feltman do an about face on Hamas, which was formed by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood? Hillary Clinton could have chosen someone else to do the legwork. She opted for Feltman’s judgment, which is expected any day soon.

The same calculation is on William Hague’s mind. The British foreign secretary will be leafing through his in-tray looking for an aidemémoire from his ambassador in Cairo, James Watt  — the UK’s Lebanon ambassador when Feltman was America’s. (Both share a soft spot for Christmas carols).

Britain’s interests are mainly natural gas exploration, development and production. British Gas produces a third of Egypt’s gas, some of which was going to Israel until saboteurs blew up the pipeline.

By an extraordinary coincidence shares of companies exploiting Israel’s Tamar gas field in the Mediterranean shot up on Tuesday. Why? Long-term deals were signed worth more than $6 billion to supply Israel with natural gas sufficient for their needs.

Losing Israel as a customer won’t upset the Muslim Brotherhood. Losing sales of natural gas to Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq and on to Europe is a serious matter. Losing to Israel as a competitor won’t be taken lightly. The West’s dependence on Arab states for energy had been taken for granted.

Equally pressing is British Gas playing piggy-in-the middle in the Gaza gas-guzzle puzzle. BG (60%), Consolidated Contractors Company (30%) owned by Lebanon’s Sabbagh and Koury families and the Palestinian Authority (10%) own rights to exploit vast deposits of gas discovered by BG 30 kilometers off the Gaza coast.

The plan is for Gaza and the West Bank to be supplied and any surplus sold. Hamas could benefit by as much as $2 billion initially. Israel has been stymieing that.

As Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood’s offspring, Britain’s options include going cap in hand to the Muslim Brothers to commercialize those investments. They’ll probably bump into the Americans in the waiting room.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Crown of sorrow

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

January 3 1012

Cairo: Ring out the old, ring in the new… ring out the false, ring in the true — Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1850), one of the most beloved poets with verses such as knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.

What’s so upsetting at the beginning of a year that will shape the Middle East’s future is the plethora of lies framing the arguments. In the spirit of the season, let’s concentrate on the truths.

The intention of Egypt’s revolution has been subjugated. Freedom is further away than it was a year ago. To do the military’s bidding one group of compliant politicians is being replaced by another.

The Canute-like junta follows the example of the legendary Dane who ruled England in the 10th Century.  Despite his entreaties the tide came in, lapping over his throne on the seashore. Egypt’s rulers believe they can stanch the flow of democratic progress.

A year ago the consensus was Islamists would win 15 percent or less of the vote. Nobody forecast the Salafis winning anything. Now both are on the crest of a wave with almost 70 percent tied up. The Muslim Brotherhood will finish off its electoral battle with the Salafis in the third round of the elections. Then it will be all-out verbal warfare.

Taking advantage of opportunities to air its opinions are seized enthusiastically. Dr. Rashad Bayoum, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader says in his most recent interview: Whatever the circumstances, we do not recognize Israel.

If so 2012 is the beginning of isolationism and the end of America’s serious interest in Egypt. Wave bye-bye to the Qualified Industrial Zones hurriedly introduced to save Egypt’s textile industry and a million jobs.

Congress has no interest in helping a country that won’t cooperate with Israel, even with a pittance of their investment. Egypt’s new era will see increased joblessness and poverty, fruitless education, graft and corruption.

The youth brain drain will continue. If you’re not listened to, why stick around? What’s the point of earning an MBA and licking stamps for a living?

The military will find it is not receiving replacement parts for tanks. Spares for weapons will not come down the regular supply chain. The US Congress has a million ways to skin a cat it doesn’t choose to succor. The EU is more interested in bolstering Hungary and Estonia than hand wrestling Egypt.

The United States and Europe will disengage gradually with Egypt, which will seek deeper friendships with Russia and China. Anyone who was around while the Russians were here in the 60s knows what that means: venal governance and shoddy goods. Anyone who’s dealt with Chinese businessmen knows to carry a long spoon with which to sup.

A sign of the times. Al Ahram gives the Muslim Brotherhood space to air its ideas fulsomely nowadays. The questioner focuses on the Brothers’ intentions. The Brothers’ spokesperson says: Our goal is to apply Islamic Law. The rest of the interview is non-committal pabulum.

Aristotle said it wasn’t enough to win a war, it was more important to organize the peace. After America’s civil war Abraham Lincoln picked up the sentiment, urging people to think anew and act anew, to disenthrall themselves to save their country.

Dogma was inadequate, he said. People must rise to the occasion.

Disturbing is the Muslim Brotherhood’s open invitation to someone that agrees with their vision for Egypt to run for the presidency. They’re not going to put anyone up for the post, knowing full well the military won’t let the country be governed by an Islamist president, cabinet and parliament.

If what they’re saying is read carefully, they condone extreme punishments for adultery and theft and restrict drinking alcohol. But they’re not going to take responsibility. It’s up to Al Azhar, their spokesman says. Their scholars are the ones versed in the texts and laws. The politicians who fall back on the Quaran to answer almost every question say they’ll pass the buck to others to interpret it.

At an election rally in New Valley, west of Cairo the other day one of the Brotherhood’s leaders was unambiguous on three points: We’ll prohibit alcohol, Sobhi Saleh said. Tourism does not mean nudity and drunkenness. We don’t need that. Sharia?  It was planned since 1928.

A year ago nobody believed the Muslim Brotherhood had a ghost of a chance of running Egypt, precisely because of these views. Faced with a real threat from the Salafis the Brotherhood has to repeat its Islamist credentials over and over.

Recall the Muslim Brotherhood were Johnny-come-latelies at Tahrir Square. Young Brothers had to defect to join in. Their elders stirred only after the winds of change swelled into a Khamsim hurricane.

Further intolerance comes from another unlikely source. The Islamic Research Centre, which is headed by Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, called on the government to take the Al Karma Christian television station off the air, allegedly for offending Muslims.

So here’s another indication of the Brothers’ vision for Egypt: restricting freedom of speech when it’s directed against them. Oscar Wild said morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

What we’re hearing could be brushed aside as hotheaded electioneering. Maybe. But it is disturbing how prevalent and coordinated it has become after the Islamists triumph in the first round of elections.

Be sure, if the Salafis hadn’t gained such a significant haul of seats in the next parliament, the world would have regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as extremists. The Brothers are using the cover the Salafis give them to lay down markers for legislative action.

Another truth is the cost of the chaos. Countries don’t go bankrupt. Lenders shun the ones that can’t pay their debts. The devaluation will be devastating. Luxury goods will disappear. Good wheat for flour will be hard to pay for.

The Egyptian generals have misread the mood. In 2012 the three most influential politicians in the world, Obama, Merkel and Sarkozy are up for reelection. Obama appears to have the best chance of the three.

All three face the ire of voters shortchanged by bankers. All three face angry demonstrators who believe their basic rights are being trampled.

The pictures from Tahrir Square had energized them. Not any more: 2011 opened in cheer and ended in fear.

A lie, which is half a truth, is ever the blackest of lies – Tennyson. A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier times.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.