Commentary Magazine


The Cairo Files: Mubarak and His Critics

On July 3rd, Dr. Abdel Wahhab el-Messeri, leader of the secular Egyptian opposition movement Kifaya, passed away in Cairo’s Palestine Hospital.  According to rumors circulating around Cairo in the days following his death, el-Messeri’s fate was sealed when the Egyptian government prevented him from seeking medical treatment abroad for his cancer.  Whether or not this rumor is true, its very existence illustrates the extent to which Egyptians increasingly view President Hosni Mubarak’s regime as ruthless towards its most prominent critics.

Yet, in a state that typically quashes its critics long before they achieve prominence, el-Messeri’s very existence as a prominent critic of the Mubarak regime illustrates another phenomenon: namely, that the regime only permits the emergence of critics whose advocacy – quite paradoxically – deters the international community from pressuring it to promote liberal reforms.

In this vein, el-Messeri was the Mubarak regime’s ideal secular opposition leader.  After all, long before he arose as a prominent critic of the government, el-Messeri’s numerous screeds on Judaism, Zionism, and Israel had made him a household name throughout the Arab world.  With an established reputation for promulgating blatant intolerance under the guise of scholarship, el-Messeri arose as the rare secular, pro-democratic opposition leader with whom western states could not possibly associate.

One of el-Messeri’s central arguments held that Nazism developed from “western imperial culture,” and that Zionism was merely its most recent manifestation.  Meanwhile, in his 1997 book Zionism, Nazism, and the End of History, el-Messeri castigated the emphasis on six million Jewish Holocaust victims as a “fundamental flaw in Zionist logic,” arguing that focusing on this number ignores the millions of soldiers who died in World War II, including the “several million Germans who Hitler sent to die on the battlefield.”  Furthermore, in his 2002 book The Protocols, Judaism, and Zionism, el-Messeri wrote that the Zionists had used the “myths” of Samson and Masada to “create awe and fear in the Arab mind,” such that Arabs would believe that the Zionists would rather “shatter the world on its head” than lose a war.  Through this conniving strategy, el-Messeri wrote, “you win a lot of psychological and actual battles without waging war.”

With this hateful legacy preceding him, it was hardly surprising when the Kifaya movement undertook a new priority shortly before el-Messeri took its helm in early 2007: collecting one million Egyptian signatures to abrogate the Camp David Accords.  And it was no less surprising when Kifaya – which represented the United States’ great hope for Egypt’s democratic transformation prior to the 2005 elections – swiftly faded into obscurity thereafter.  With el-Messeri further moving to incorporate Islamists into Kifaya’s ranks, the Bush administration saw no good alternatives to the Mubarak regime, and suddenly dropped Egypt from its “freedom agenda.”

In short, whether or not he had any role in hastening the opposition leader’s passing, Hosni Mubarak will miss Abdel Wahhab el-Messeri.  Rest assured, however, that new useful idiots will arise in Egypt’s opposition movements who – by no coincidence – will look even less attractive than the Mubarak regime.