(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)
The recent closed meeting in Washington D.C. to ostensibly unite the Egyptian rebel factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the April 6th Movement, and others, has been a subject of discussion for all the wrong reasons, it seems to me.
The online community has rejected the initiative’s point about secularism (predictably), and there has been a great deal of debate about “identity” and the “state”. But I think it is more useful to look at the initiative from a different angle.
Right away, holding the meeting in Washington is conspicuous. It is instantly restrictive against any rebel factions that do not have access to entry into the United States. Attendees will automatically be wealthy, will be able to obtain visas, and be people accepted by the US government. Remember, the US recognizes Sisi, and does not acknowledge the validity of opposition in Egypt. By definition, a meeting of “revolutionaries” in Washington D.C. will preclude attendance by any revolutionaries. The prerequisite for attendance in the Washington meeting to unite the rebels was that you could not actually be a rebel.
So what can we deduce about this meeting?
First of all, if it was held in Washington D.C., this means that it was not independently organized. Why D.C.? Why not a country where genuine rebel factions could easily attend? Why not Turkey? Why not Sudan? I realize that subsequent meetings are planned in Turkey, Qatar, and Europe, but what about revolutionaries who may not have Frequent Flier Miles accounts? And the fundamental framework was concluded at the Washington meeting, so whatever follows will keep to these parameters.
No. We do not know under whose auspices this meeting was held, but being held in D.C. means it was held under the auspices of the US, period. We are not talking about a conference on Arabic poetry; we are talking about a meeting to supposedly organize the overthrow of a government the US supports. This would not be allowed in the US unless it was sponsored by the US. The location of the meeting was dictated, and they were told who would be allowed to attend. We can also deduce that the recommendations agreed upon at the meeting were also dictated to them. And this explains why the meeting was closed. We will only be informed about what they agreed upon, but we will not know what was discussed or how these agreements were reached, and by what means of persuasion.
There is something positive about this meeting, though.
It means that Washington, for whatever reason, takes the revolutionary movement seriously enough to try to co-opt it. It also indicates that the US may be trying to prepare the groundwork for the replacement of Sisi. It is possible, of course, that they want to manage the opposition so as to neutralize it, and keep Sisi in power. However, the exclusionary nature of the meeting suggests otherwise.
From the outset, it is a given that whatever such a meeting will agree upon, it will carry no weight on the ground. It would be like a conference of plumbers setting forth protocols for how electricians do their job. And this is the main qualification to be anointed by power as a leader: to have no influence and no connection to the street. This ensures that they will not have divided loyalty; they will be beholden exclusively to those who appointed them to the leadership position.
On a side note, it is worth mentioning that this meeting reliably failed to address the most important factor in the “identity” of the state: actual independent political and economic sovereignty. The debate is between whether Egypt should be a secular colony or an Islamic colony under foreign domination; but foreign domination is neither discussed nor even acknowledged; and indeed, it appears that the meeting itself reflects that domination.