Egyptian Army General Wrote Radical Thesis While Attending U.S. Army War College
What you need to know about al-Sisi.
August 8, 2013 - 10:54 pm
Foreign Policy recently made available online the 2006 “mini-thesis” of Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, written during his tenure at the U.S. Army War College, within an essay by Eric Trager.
As documented earlier and re-affirmed in an e-mail exchange below with the U.S. Army War College Library’s acting director, I was first unable to obtain a copy of al-Sisi’s thesis from the Inter-Library Loan office due to its “classification” status:
From: Acting Director, U.S. Army War College Library
Sent: Tuesday, August 06, 2013 12:09 PM
To: Andrew Bostom
Cc: USARMY Carlisle Barracks AWC Mailbox LIBRARYR; USARMY Carlisle Barracks AWC Mailbox LIBRARYC
Subject: RE: Thesis via Inter-Library Loan/pdf?
The U.S. Army War College Library is not able to fill your request. The paper’s caveat, “Distribution authorized to U.S. Government agencies only,” means it cannot be released to individuals or libraries outside the federal government.
The War College Library’s initial rejection of my request Friday prompted a Freedom of Information Act demand for its release by Judicial Watch, which was honored Thursday, August 8, 2013 (thesis available here) — albeit some hours after the thesis had inexplicably appeared online at Foreign Policy.
Over the weekend of August 3, the Washington Post released excerpts from a recent interview of al-Sisi by the Post’s senior associate editor, Lally Weymouth. The initial excerpted comments of the general rationalized the military putsch he helped orchestrate to depose Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Muhammad Morsi:
The dilemma between the former president [Muhammad Morsi] and the people originated from [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] concept of the state, the ideology that they adopted for building a country, which is based on restoring the Islamic religious empire. That’s what made [Mohamed Morsi] not a president for all Egyptians but a president representing his followers and supporters.
Al-Sisi, however, made a series of diametrically opposed statements in his now public 2006 thesis. Yet even al-Sisi’s clear statements extolling Islam’s Caliphate, or “restor[ed] Islamic religious empire,” in the 2006 thesis are mollified, elsewhere, in the same document. These and other clearly conflicting statements in the 2006 thesis render al-Sisi’s true ideological bent “ambiguous,” likely by design. [Note: I want to thank my colleague Stephen Coughlin for his useful input on this salient point.] One notable exception to his equivocating presentation style is al-Sisi’s unambiguous, repeated rejection of secularism. Al-Sisi’s anti-secular stance, as I will demonstrate, is a longstanding, widely prevalent view in Egypt, mirrored by the popularity of the Caliphate ideal amongst the country’s pre-eminent Islamic religious institutions, major religious leaders, and Muslim masses.
Sunday July, 28, 2013, Foreign Affairs published an alarming analysis of al-Sisi’s ideology and political ambitions. Written by Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, long recognized for his published expertise on the Egyptian military, the essay highlighted al-Sisi’s previously unrecognized (or dismissed) near-term political aspirations—such as running for Egyptian President (also suggested here, here)—and of equal significance, his political ideology. During various interviews he granted in the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s overthrow (see here, here, and here), Springborg had forthrightly summarized al-Sisi’s core Weltanschauung as being essentially identical to that of Egypt’s sacked President Morsi.
Springborg’s Foreign Affairs essay provided hard evidence of the general’s, and potential Egyptian Presidential candidate’s, Sharia supremacist ideology: al-Sisi’s own written words, from 2006, recorded in his U.S. Army War College mini-thesis, which, at that time, was still not in the public domain.
Although, as Springborg noted, innocuously entitled “Democracy in the Middle East,” al-Sisi’s mini-thesis, he insisted, “reads like a tract produced by the Muslim Brotherhood.” Springborg based this assessment on al-Sisi’s alleged harsh criticism of secular governance, coupled to the general’s simultaneous championing of the classical Islamic Caliphate.
Sisi’s thesis goes beyond simply rejecting the idea of a secular state; it embraces a more radical view of the proper place of religion in an Islamic democracy.… The central political mechanisms in such a system, he believes, are al-bi’ah (fealty to a ruler) and shura (a ruler’s consultation with his subjects).
Following the release of extracts from al-Sisi’s Washington Post interview (8/3-4/13), Professor Springborg was interviewed again (Monday, 8/5/13), and he proffered a possible alternative explanation of the pro-Caliphate views the Egyptian general had putatively enunciated in his 2006 thesis. Springborg conceded that al-Sisi may have envisioned his own Caliphate ideology as having its central (or even entire) locus within the context of “Egyptian nationalism”—at least for the near term. This “constrained” Caliphate ideal of al-Sisi, Springborg argued, might be distinct from the unconstrained, aggressive transnational Caliphate pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood, in keeping with the traditional, orthodox Islamic doctrine of jihad. Springborg then alluded to the discussion of the Caliphate within Egyptian Islamic society’s religious hierarchy during the first half of the 20th century, but failed to report the decisive doctrinal resolution of the matter, which I will elaborate below.
I agree with the crux of Professor Springborg’s original (7/28/13) analysis, despite certain ambiguities in al-Sisi’s presentation, inserted, in my estimation, by design, to allow for “flexible,” contingent interpretations of the general’s words. Springborg’s Foreign Affairs essay did include the following apposite, if rather understated, final commentary on al-Sisi’s romanticized depiction of the Caliphate:
Apologists for Islamic rule sometimes suggest that these concepts are inherently democratic, but in reality they fall far short of the democratic mark.
What are the key ideological statements—verbatim—in al-Sisi’s mini-thesis, totaling a mere 11 pages of text, with an additional 2 pages, containing 31 footnotes? In the section (from pp. 3-6) entitled “The Conception of Democracy from [an] Islamic Perspective,” al-Sisi most clearly (although hardly without inherent ambiguity!) articulates his Weltanschauung, as follows:
Democracy, as a secular entity, is unlikely to be favorably received by the vast majority of Middle Easterners, who are devout followers of the Islamic faith.…Although concerns exist, for the most part, the spirit of democracy, or self-rule, is viewed as a positive endeavor so long as it builds up the country and sustains the religious base, versus devaluing religion and creating instability.
Democracy cannot be understood in the Middle East without an understanding of the concept of El Kalafa [the Caliphate]. El Kalafa dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. During his life and the seventy year period that followed the ideal state of El Kalafa existed as a way of life among the people and within the governing bodies. This period of time is viewed as a very special period and is considered the ideal form of government and it is widely recognized as the goal for any new form of government very much in the manner that the U.S. pursued the ideals of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” From the Middle Eastern perspective, the defining words governing their form of democracy would likely reflect “fairness, justice, equality, unity and charity.”
Related to the El Kalafa are the roles of the Elbia and Elshorah. [Note: Both Springborg and Trager modify al-Sisi’s confused discussion of these two concepts] Both of these processes were represented in the early years of the Muslim faith and therefore considered important and respected processes. The Elbaya’a [Elbia] is the election process for choosing the El Kalifa, while the El Shorah [is the] advisory and oversight body to the El Kalifa or Califate [Caliphate]. The El Shorah performs its role from a religious viewpoint, in that it ensures that the Califate [Caliph] is carrying out his duties in accordance with Islamic teachings. Although these processes have religious historical ties, they also represent processes by which a democracy can emerge.
Given the religious nature of the Middle Eastern culture, how might a Middle Eastern democracy [be] structured? Will there be three or four branches of government? Should a religious branch be added to the executive, legislative and judicial branches to ensure that Islamic beliefs and law are followed? A simple answer might be yes, but that is probably not the best means. Ideally, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches should all take Islamic beliefs into consideration when carrying out their duties. As such, there should be no need for a separate religious branch. However, to codify the major themes of the Islamic faith, they should be represented in the constitution or similar document. [Note: See subsequent discussion of the constitutional road map issued July 8, 2013, under al-Sisi’s aegis] This does not mean a theocracy will be established, rather it means a democracy will be established built upon Islamic beliefs.
Al-Sisi equivocates on Hamas, insisting defiantly, at first (on p.5), that Western support of “democracy” must include,
…allowing some factions that may be considered radical particularly if they are supported by a majority through a legitimate vote. The world cannot demand democracy in the Middle East, yet denounce what it looks like because a less than pro-Western party legitimately assumes office. For example, the Palestinans recently elected members from the Hamas group. This group is not on favorable terms with the US or other Western countries, yet they have [been] legitimately elected. It is now up to Hamas and the rest of the world to work out their differences.
Subsequently (on p. 9), al-Sisi acknowledges:
As groups such as Hamas emerge, they are likely to reach power through democratic means, but may not fully represent the population, particularly the religious moderates, who they [also?] represent. So even with an elected Hamas, there are likely to be internal governance challenges down the road; however there is hope that the more moderate religious segments can mitigate extremist measures.
But al-Sisi never retrenches on his anti-secularism, frontally attacking even governments that “tend toward secular rule,” and their media mouthpieces, for allegedly “fomenting” Islamic religious extremism (on p. 9).
The control of the media by government further presents problems to moderate Muslims. The media is managed via a secular philosophy. The secular media secures control for the government and further disenfranchises the religious moderates. It spreads a philosophy of liberal living that many moderate Muslims do not support and it also provides a vehicle for extremists to exploit because it enables them to relate to the religious moderates on a shared theme. This has the effect of strengthening the extremist philosophy.
Pious Muslim hagiography, such as al-Sisi’s (or this effusively ahistorical drivel from the Muslim Association of Britain, which lionizes both the Caliphate and the concomitant institution of Sharia as promulgators of “a peaceful and just society”), notwithstanding, the prototypical Caliphate under Umar Ibn al-Khattab (d. 644), the second “rightly guided” caliph of Islam, merits summary examination. During his reign, which lasted for a decade (634-644), Syria, Iraq and Egypt were conquered, and Umar was thus responsible for organizing the early Islamic Caliphate. Alfred von Kremer, the great 19th century German scholar of Islam, described the “central idea” of Umar’s regime, as being the furtherance of “…the religious-military development of Islam at the expense of the conquered nations.” The predictable and historically verifiable consequence of this guiding principle was a legacy of harsh inequality, intolerance, and injustice towards non-Muslims observed by von Kremer in 1868 (and still evident in Islamic societies to this day, nearly 150 years later):
It was the basis of its severe directives regarding Christians and those of other faiths, that they be reduced to the status of pariahs, forbidden from having anything in common with the ruling nation; it was even the basis for his decision to purify the Arabian Peninsula of the unbelievers, when he presented all the inhabitants of the peninsula who had not yet accepted Islam with the choice: to emigrate or deny the religion of their ancestors. The industrious and wealthy Christians of Najran, who maintained their Christian faith, emigrated as a result of this decision from the peninsula, to the land of the Euphrates, and ‘Umar also deported the Jews of Khaybar. In this way ‘Umar based that fanatical and intolerant approach that was an essential characteristic of Islam, now extant for over a thousand years, until this day [i.e., written in 1868]. It was this spirit, a severe and steely one, that incorporated scorn and contempt for the non-Muslims, that was characteristic of ‘Umar, and instilled by ‘Umar into Islam; this spirit continued for many centuries, to be Islam’s driving force and vital principle.
With a strong hand, he held the reins of spiritual and worldly power, commanded with unlimited full authority over the political and religious activities of Muslims, already many millions in number.
The jihad campaigns waged in the era of Umar’s Caliphate, consistent with nascent Islamic Law (Sharia), spared neither cities nor monasteries if they resisted. Accordingly, when the Greek garrison of Gaza refused to submit and convert to Islam, all were put to death. In the year 640, sixty Greek soldiers who refused to apostatize became martyrs, while in the same year (i.e., 638) that Caesarea, Tripolis and Tyre fell to the Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Christians converted to Islam, predominantly out of fear.
Muslim and non-Muslim sources record that Umar’s soldiers were allowed to break crosses on the heads of Christians during processions and religious litanies, and were permitted, if not encouraged, to tear down newly erected churches and to punish Christians for trivial reasons. Moreover, Umar forbade the employment of Christians in public offices.
The false claims of Islamic toleration during this prototype “rightly guided” Caliphate cannot be substantiated even by relying on the (apocryphal?) “pact” of Umar (Ibn al-Khattab) because this putative decree compelled the Christians (and other non-Muslims) to fulfill self-destructive obligations, including: the prohibition on erecting any new churches, monasteries, or hermitages; and not being allowed to repair any ecclesiastical institutions that fell into ruin, nor to rebuild those that were situated in the Muslim quarters of a town. Muslim traditionists and early historians (such as al-Baladhuri) further maintain that Umar expelled the Jews of the Khaybar oasis, and similarly deported Christians (from Najran) who refused to apostasize and embrace Islam, fulfilling the death bed admonition of Muhammad who purportedly stated: “there shall not remain two religions in the land of Arabia.”
Umar imposed limitations upon the non-Muslims aimed at their ultimate destruction by attrition, and he introduced fanatical elements into Islamic culture that became characteristic of the Caliphates which succeeded his. For example, according to the chronicle of the Muslim historian Ibn al-Atham (d. 926-27), under the brief Caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib (656-61), when one group of apostates in Yemen (Sanaa) adopted Judaism after becoming Muslims, “He [Ali] killed them and burned them with fire after the killing.” Indeed, the complete absence of freedom of conscience in these early Islamic Caliphates-while entirely consistent with mid-7th century mores-has remained a constant, ignominious legacy throughout Islamic history, to this day.
Finally, S.D. Goitein, a renowned expert on the subject of non-Muslims [“dhimmis,” as per Koran 9:29] under Islamic rule within the classical Caliphate, contrasted this system, unapologetically, circa 1970, with the secular principles and governing systems that evolved in the West, including the United States:
[A] great humanist and contemporary of the French Revolution, Wilhelm von Humboldt, defined as the best state one which is least felt and restricts itself to one task only: protection, protection against attack from outside and oppression from within . . . in general, taxation [by the Muslim government] was merciless, and a very large section of the population must have lived permanently at the starvation level. From many letters one gets the impression that the poor were concerned more with getting money for the payment of their taxes than for food and clothing, for failure of payment usually induced cruel punishment. . . . [T]he Muslim state was quite the opposite of the ideals propagated by Wilhelm von Humboldt or the principles embedded in the constitution of the United States. An Islamic state was part of or coincided with dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. Its treasury was mal al-muslumin, the money of the Muslims. Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state, a status characterized by the term dhimma, for which protection they had to pay a poll tax specific to them. They were also exposed to a great number of discriminatory and humiliating laws. . . . As it lies in the very nature of such restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in existence. . . . In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities.