The location of Egypt’s Tamarod uprising headquarters offers a window on the forces pulling the strings behind it the popular, military-backed overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Cairo on July 3.
That place was Dubai in the Persian Gulf, and its two engineers were the Egyptian politician Ahmed Mohamed Shafik and the Emirates’ police chief, Lt. General Dahi Khalfan Tamim.
Shafik ran against Mohamed Morsi for the Egyptian presidency in 2012 and was beaten by a nose – 48.27% to 51.73%. An ex-Air Force high-up, he served as Prime Minister of Egypt for the last two months (Jan. 31 to March 3, 2011) of the Hosni Mubarak era.
In September 2012, the Morsi government issued a warrant for Shafik’s arrest. But he had prearranged his getaway in good time and, before the warrant could be executed, he and his associates were on a plane to Abu Dhabi, which the Air Force had kept waiting since before the election.
On his arrival in the emirate, Shafik set about preparing a campaign for ousting President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power.
Amply subsidized by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, he transplanted his entire election campaign headquarters to its new address.
When will Morsi, now under arrest, join Mubarak in a prison cell?
For the field work at home, he hired tens of thousands of jobless party activists from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the NDP, who were delighted to land a working wage; thousands more former senior officers from the different arms of the Egyptian military and intelligence services were sent out in the field.
Their paychecks were not covered through regular banking channels, but by cash smuggled through the halawa system from a hub in Dubai.
Shafik’s campaign approached its first peak June 30 when a roar went up from many millions of Egyptian throats across the country demanding that Morsi step down. The hard spadework of hundreds of former army officers in cities, towns and villages up and down the country paid off. The flames of the Tamarod protest erupted in at least 20 cities – not only huge turnouts in Cairo and Alexandria – but also the towns of the Nile Delta and smaller places.
From his Dubai headquarters, Shafik took good care to maintain a distance between his campaign and any direct ties with his old boss, Mubarak, or the sons, Gemal and Alaa, and so forestalled allegations that he was hand in glove with the pre-revolution regime.
But Mubarak, his political instincts unimpaired at 84, sensed from his prison hospital bed what was up. He remarked that the uprising was well-organized and sure to succeed, adding wryly that he expected Morsi to join him soon in a prison cell.
The Egyptian politician’s remote-control campaign depended heavily on the wholehearted cooperation of the Dubai Police Commander.
Harsh anti-American language in the Gulf
Lt. General Tamim commands powerful intelligence networks outside the borders of the emirate, across the Persian Gulf and as far as the Gulf coastal towns of Iran. He has in recent years won a regional reputation as the mouthpiece of UAE rulers and influential interests for diplomatic and military issues on which they prefer not to openly commit themselves.
In January 2012, for instance, Tamim addressed a regional security conference in Bahrain capital of Manama, in harsher language on US Middle East polices than any Gulf official had ever dared use before.
He bluntly accused the United States of making Iran’s dreams come true, by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, allowing Tehran to move in on Baghdad and failing to counter the export of Iran’s Shiite brand of Islamic revolution – another name for terrorism.
The US ambassador to Bahrain, Thomas Krajeski, stalked out of the room.
The emirates’ police chief went on to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood as an even greater menace than Iran.
On that occasion, Lt. Gen. Tamim acted out his role of airing thoughts which Gulf rulers preferred not to articulate publicly in person.
Tamim and Shafik picked Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the presidential election, as the engines of the uprising, because both were considered antagonistic to Barack Obama’s policies and therefore less susceptible to demands not to go all the way and force Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to leave.
Persian Gulf emirates line up against Muslim Brotherhood
Sabahi’s influence was discernible in the pro-nationalist, pro-Nasserist and xenophic fervor – especially against America – which, rather than anti-Islamic protest, unexpectedly dominated the slogans, chants and banners waving over the rallies assembled on Cairo’s streets and Tahrir Square on June 30. This strongly recalled the days of Abdel Gemal Nasser who ruled Egypt 50 years ago and set the region afire with pan-Arab, nationalist-socialist zeal.
Clearly, the Egyptian masses were staging a nationalist Arab uprising, supported quietly by the Gulf Arab emirates, in response to the Arab Revolt sponsored by America which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
In the last DEBKA Weekly # 593 of June 28, we reported that the new Qatari prime minister and foreign minister appointed after the change of power in Doha had much in common.
Most strikingly, they are fierce opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which they believe bent on overthrowing the Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.
The Persian Gulf states’ willingness to challenge and defy the Obama administration’s pro-Brotherhood policy is a no less epic development for the region than the drama of the swift, virtually bloodless Egyptian uprising.
Before returning to the Egyptian political arena, Ahmed Mohamed Shafik may let Egypt’s transitional period play out under the oversight of the military and the head of the Constitutional Court Adly Mansour.