London—I am wiling away time at Heathrow before my onward flight to DC. I’ve just come in from Hyderabad, the last stop on my Indian odyssey. The city is a very interesting place. Hyderabad was never under Britain’s direct rule and the “Princely State of Hyderabad” only became part of the Indian Union in 1948, a year after India’s independence. Owing to the fact that Hyderabad was under Muslim rule until it was incorporated into India— a little less than half the city’s population of anywhere between 8-9 million people are Muslim—Hyderabad has strong connections to major cities in the Islamic world including Mecca, Medina, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Cairo. I had not realized that there was an Egypt connection, but apparently more than a few Hyderabadi imams have been trained at al Azhar. Yet the interest in Egypt went beyond purely religious grounds.
After almost three weeks, the conversations with my Indian interlocutors began to take on a familiar pattern starting with Syria and the prospects for American intervention, from there to Palestine and Israel, and winding up with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Every now and again, someone who was aware of my deep and abiding interest in Egyptian political history would throw in a question about Egypt, but his or her interest was a polite and passing one. Not so in Hyderabad. There was a keen understanding about current developments in Cairo there. The conversation started out typically enough with a query about why the United States allegedly supported the July 3rd coup. I explained that many Egyptians were convinced that the United States was a patron of the Muslim Brothers rather than the officers. There was also profound disbelief on the Indian side when I explained that under the high-stakes political circumstances in Egypt, Washington actually had very little influence over Major-General Abdel Fattah al Sisi.
Speaking of al Sisi, my Hyderabadi friends believed that he and his fellow officers made a grave mistake by moving against Mohammed Morsi on July 3rd. In an argument that quite a few observers have made previously, the Hyderabadis believed that if the military wanted to undermine the Brothers, it should have allowed them to stand for elections, which they were sure to lose. In a withering critique of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsi, my interlocutors described a group that is arrogant, undemocratic, and in too much of a hurry to transform the country. Like many others, my Indian friends discounted the Brothers’ efforts to make it difficult for anyone to contest future elections, which is an important factor in the chain of events that led many Egyptians to call for the military’s intervention. In any event, those in Hyderabad did not have any more insight into what was going to happen in Egypt than anyone else, but they were confident that the Brothers would make a comeback, if only because al Sisi and company have made them martyrs.
The other major topic of discussion among some of the Hyderabadis with whom I spoke was Turkey. I am not sure if they read my bio and were engaging me on the issues that I know best, but like the discussion of Egypt, these guys were up-to-date on Turkey. Not surprisingly, they regarded Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the most successful leader in the Muslim world. Yet they wondered if he could maintain his stature. After all, they pointed out, a primary reason for Erdogan’s success has been Turkey’s economic success. Yet as the Turkish economy slows (growth in 2012 slowed to 2.2% down from 8.5% in 2011, and is expected to improve only slightly in 2013) they suggested that the Erdogan mystique might be in trouble. I could not have said it better myself.