Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Talk of Stability on the Banks of the Nile

I avoid visiting the headquarters of the Arab League despite the bonds of friendship that ties me with its successive leaders during the current century. The journalist is a heavy guest given his profession.

I think of the Arab League as a ship sailing in a turbulent sea of crises, challenges and sensitivities and without the right means to confront them. Like the United Nations Security Council, the Arab League derives its power from what major Arab countries pump in its veins. The agreement between major players fuels it with power and a role to play. A lack of agreement undermines its role and only allows it to make statements about values and in expressing hope.

I mulled these ideas as I made my way to the office of Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a courtesy visit. I believe that the secretary general suffers immensely when he contemplates the map of the Arab world hanging in his office. As usual, Aboul Gheit was kind, welcoming and calm.

I won’t write down here what we talked about because it was not meant to be published. I did pause at his concern over the current international climate, which he said the Arabs better pay attention to. The international scene is very critical because a costly error happening - in Ukraine or in Taiwan - is always in the cards. All of this reflects on the Middle East where fires continue to blaze and may spread even more.

The secretary general was concerned about the danger of the barbaric Israeli assault on Gaza continuing and of the suicidal policy that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government continues to cling on to. He did not hide his concern over the possibility of Sudan’s fragmentation and the division in Libya being consolidated. He expressed his concern over Lebanon continuing to be a victim of the trap it is caught in and the slow pace in which Syria is reclaiming the characteristics of a complete state.

He also expressed his concern over mounting poverty and the growing number of Arabs living in displacement camps and their impact on development. He stressed the need for Arabs to catch up with the age and its successive technological revolutions.

For concern to prevail at the Arab League is nothing new. Successive secretary generals had to content with the diminishing role of Arabs in the region and mounting vulgar international interventions that have taken place on their territories. Regional duels are only fought in their arenas and with the blood of their sons. Countries that have been fragmented by the “Arab Spring” are facing great difficulties in reclaiming what was. Some of these countries have even had their identities changed.

At a hotel on the Nile, a Yemeni friend told me that the collapse in his country was not inevitable. He said Ali Abdullah Saleh could have turned to many option were it not for the “advice” of a visitor called Hillary Clinton. He added that the Obama administration had taken the decision to oust Hosni Mubarak and Ali Abdullah Saleh because it was deluded in believing that it could promote “moderate Islam.”

My Yemeni friend admitted that he doesn’t see a light at the end of the “terrible Yemeni tunnel”, adding that Egypt had done itself and the region a massive favor when it saved itself from the Muslim Brotherhood. “Can you imagine what Egypt and the region would be like had Mohammed Morsi remained in power and had Egypt been torn apart?” he asked

His words reminded me of a time when I was in Cairo on a professional mission in mid-June 2013. It was days before the massive protests that changed the fate of Egypt and built a wall against the Muslim Brotherhood.

I recalled statements I heard in the days that preceded Morsi’s ouster. Amr Moussa said Egypt was on the verge of exploding and the “Brotherhood did not start the revolution, but they joined it and reaped its fruit.” He stressed that the establishment of a “religious state is not in Egypt’s favor.” I recalled Mohamed el-Baradei saying that the “Brotherhood usurped the revolution and failed spectacularly. I met Morsi at the presidential palace and was frank with him. I sensed a lack of credibility on his part and despaired of him.”

I learned from Hamdeen Sabahi that he met Morsi when he was still a presidential candidate. He asked him if he would be an independent president should he win, but Morsi didn’t know how to respond. He instead said: “I want you to be my vice president.” Ahmed Shafik, whom I met outside of Egypt, accused the Brotherhood of “usurping both the revolution and presidency.”

Because journalism demands that I listen to the other side of the story, I headed to the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Brotherhood. I sensed no concern from Saad al-Katatni, who invited me to take a souvenir photo with him and members of his party and some guests.

Essam al-Erian went even further than Katatni and not only expected Morsi to complete his term in office, but to also win another. He confidently told me that the June 30 protests will be peaceful and that it will just be an “ordinary day”. He did not sense the anger boiling among those worried about stability and the attempt to “introduce new elements to Egypt's identity.”

I also recalled what I heard from Mohamed Hassanein Haykal. He said he met with Morsi and got the impression that the Brotherhood “doesn’t have a realistic vision or clear program. It doesn't even have the qualified candidates to run a country the size of Egypt.” He believed that the political battle will be tough, hoping that it would not undermine the pillars of stability.

Cairo is a meeting point for people from countries that gambled with stability and lost. It is fortunate that Egypt has persevered due to June 2013 and that it is trying to douse flames surrounding it. This is a vital and arduous task. Real security and prosperity are tied to stability.