SCAF's long game

A Brief Note about SCAF

From an interesting new blog, Accidental Occidental:

The question is why SCAF would give the “win,” at least on paper, to Morsi. It is no secret SCAF’s days were numbered if they refused to hand over power. This is their exit strategy. SCAF has appeared to castrate themselves in the press, but without losing any of their real power (drawn not from governing but from being the elephant in the room during the governing process). SCAF has feinted, and it appears to have worked. Attacks in the Sinai, power outages, and water shortages are now dropped cleanly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lap. Any public anger is no longer directed towards the military-industrial complex, but towards the civilian government.

SCAF is playing the long game. In my opinion, they are doing it very shrewdly and very well. Juntas normally do not sacrifice battles for the war, but SCAF has appeared willing to do just that. In the end, it appears the military will stand free from any legitimate criticism and there will be no substantive change in the military-industrial complex.

I agree with this take and put it in a different way in a Guardian piece yesterday — i.e. that talk of Morsi's triumph overshadows that generals (just different generals) were still kingmakers. It might develop in a positive way (the military will stay out of most civilian business and things will overall improve in Egypt in terms of governance, human rights, etc.) but there is no reason to believe it will automatically do so.

Accidental Occidental, by the way, appears to chiefly concern itself with a critique of leftist discourse on the Middle East, from a leftist perspective. The author writes:

My contention is that “anti-colonialism” became one of the myths used by Fascist governments in the Middle East to oppresses and eradicate opposition. We on the Left went to bed with murders, crooks and thieves in the fight against colonialism and it has only led to a new fascism in the Middle East. We never considered that we would be the fascists. The purpose of this blog is to question exactly that myth.

I deeply sympathize. Timely reading in context of the current kerfuffle over Rami Khouri's accusations of Orientalism against those analysts who worry about Syria.

The age of incompetence

✚  The age of incompetence

A quite funny take by Z on what will happen in Egypt next, based on the key insight that everyone — the army, the Muslim Brothers, secular forces — is incompetent. I like this part what what will happen to Morsi:

I expect him to benefit from the incompetence of everyone around him. While everything around him is helping him become more confident, and street support for the Muslim Brotherhood automatically is channeled to him, it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not have to live subdued by the organization, but that he should get the place he deserves. We make pharaohs, and we make them fast, and he won't really be any exception.

While he has, together with the Muslim Brotherhood, sidelined SCAF (apparently), he will now more single-handedly sideline the Brotherhood.

Now that would be something!

A pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup?

✚  No Reason to Celebrate, It's Just Another Coup

Wael Iskander offers a not unplausible explanation for yesterday's news in Egypt — what may have pushed some generals to go against Tantawi and Enan was that they felt a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup was necessary to prevent Tantawi & co. leading the military into an untenable situation.

So much of what has been happening has been conducted with much secrecy, that is why all we have today is analysis and speculation. However, it does seem that the likely scenario is a coup to counteract a coup as Hesham Sallam explained:
“Al-Assar, Al-Sisi and others led a coup against Tantawi and Anan in order to preempt a prospective coup attempt that could have gotten the army into uncertain political confrontations—specifically confrontations that could have led the military establishment to lose everything vis-à-vis the MB. Consistent with this theory is the fact that Al-Dostoor newspaper was confiscated yesterday after effectively making a public call for a coup--which suggests that some elements within the SCAF had been prodding their allies inside the media establishment to begin promoting the image of popular support for a coup”
It is clear to me that something was planned for 24 August 2012 and that is what was pre-empted. The Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi) had to have the support of some elements inside the army so as to come out with this decision.
There had been calls for mass protests against Morsi and the MB and the Brotherhood on the 24th, backed by some of the press and political establishment. Maybe this is what forced their hands.

The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

I hate to come out with a full-fledged analysis as the full picture of today’s news from Egypt is still coming out, but the importance of Morsi’s changes to the military and cancellation of the terrible June 17 Supplementary Constitutional Declaration deserves some comment. Here is my preliminary take, which I will no doubt revise in coming days and that is not exhaustive. Please leave what I’m missing out on in the comments.

I’d divide what happened today in two parts. First, what has changed in the military:

  • Defense Minister and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi, who will be replaced by Head of Military Intelligence AbdelLatif El-Sissi
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan.
  • Both Tantawi and Enan have been named presidential advisors, and were recently awarded the Order of the Nile medal. It appears they will be protected from punishment for their actions during the transitional period.
  • The heads of every service of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Air Defenses, Navy) were also retired but were given golden parachutes (one is now head of the Suez Canal Authority, another the new Minister of Military Production, etc.) It appears they will be replaced by their deputies.
  • There seems to be more personnel changes and shuffles — but mostly within the logic of promotion typical of the Egyptian military (i.e. no people were suddenly dropped into the senior ranks from lower ranks or outside the senior staff).

The overall impression I get is of a change of personalities with continuity in the institution. More junior officers are taking the posts of their former superiors, and some SCAF members are shifting positions. The departure of Tantawi was inevitable considering his age and unpopularity.

The really surprising thing is that for months there had been reports of positioning within the military-intelligence nexus for the succession battle for post-Tantawy. Leading candidates were Sami Enan, recently fired Head of General Intelligence Mourad Mowafy and to a lesser extent El-Sissi. There were also inconsistent speculation (from well-informed sources with direct SCAF access) about the relationship between El-Sissi and Mowafi. El-Sissi’s appointment is consistent with the idea that he long was one of the most powerful (but less obviously so) members of SCAF, and Enan’s departure is quite striking.

Read More

SCAF: Is Ruweiny being kicked upstairs or promoted?

Important news for Egypt Kremlinologists: New Central Military Zone commander appointed:

Celebrations were held Wednesday to mark the handover of leadership of the Central Military Zone to Commander Tawhid Tawfiq Abdel Samie.

The ceremony opened with a speech for outgoing Commander Hassan al-Roweiny, who was appointed assistant defense minister. Roweiny has reached the age of retirement.

Roweiny lauded the continuing support of the leaders of the armed forces, who he said helped the Central Military Zone carry out its mission and training activities after the 25 January revolution.

Roweiny is considered to be one of the most influential members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. He told protesters in Tahrir Square in 10 February 2011 that their demands would be met.

The following day, former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, handing power to the army.

But Roweiny later became a hated figure among revolutionary forces, especially after he accused the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the main youth groups that helped kick-start the uprising against Mubarak, of destabilizing the country. He alleged that its members are trained by foreign agents.

Two questions/consequences arise:

  1. This should mean that SCAF has a new member in General Abdel Samie, but does Ruweiny also stay on in his new capacity?
  2. Is this a promotion for Ruweiny, a way to keep him on despite his having reached the retirement age (and if that is being enforced, what about Tantawy?), or is this a way to demote him? 

Update: Another possibility comes to mind: Ruweiny is being sent to be Deputy Defense Minister for when Tantawy leaves, at which point he will become the new Defense Minister, and that this is an effort to outflank Chief of Staff Sami Enan.

The clock is ticking... for Washington

I took this photo on January 29, 2011 in Tahrir Square. Back to the same issue.

Readers of this blog know that I am against US military aid to Egypt. I was against it under Mubarak and am against it under SCAF. I am partly against aid because I'm not a big fan of any of the big Middle Eastern aid packages, because of the specifics of the Egyptian situation, although I am not against it under any circumstances. The national security waiver exercised by the Obama administration in March was premature and unwarranted, and now they have egg on their face. Washington can buy itself a few days to figure out what's going to happen in Egypt this week — this is what the recent statements frm the State Dept. being "troubled" by the recent developments amount to but the clock is ticking: they will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF's constitutional coup if they continue it.

It's a situation as black-and-white as the one we see in Egypt today, despite all attempts to fudge the issue. Sara Khorshid puts it well in this NYT op-ed, The Betrayal of Egypt's Revolution:

Given the military’s consistent disregard for basic democratic norms over the past 16 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment last week that “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people” sounded ridiculous.

Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.

America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.

If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.

Shadi Hamid (with whom I cordially disagree on many issues) also put it well yesterday on Twitter:

These two are Egyptians (Shadi is Egyptian-American), which is important — I think more Egyptians are willing to publicly take this stance. More Americans need to care about this, too. I'm not Egyptian, and care mostly about this for American reasons. It's not just that I don't want my tax dollars to subsidize the US defense industry and pampered generals in Cairo. It's also that I don't want the blowback when Egyptians turn to Americans and say, "you supported our dictators".  The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.

No matter which way you look at it, trouble ahead

As I warned on Twitter, there should be caution about rushing to think Mohammed Morsi is Egypt's next president. From my understanding from this morning's figures, the difference between he and Shafiq is about 900,000 votes with over 3,000,000 votes uncounted. The Presidential Election Commission says it will not give the final results until Wednesday or Thursday and there is likely to be some contestation by both sides, and perhaps even partial recounts. Ultimately what the PEC says will hold, since you cannot appeal their decision.

So one real possibility is that Shafiq will be declared president and the MB, having already announced its victory, will go ballistic. Or that Shafiq will lose and his supporters will go ballistic.

And then there's the question of parliament. It's still expected that tomorrow MPs (at least Islamist ones) will march to parliament to hold a session on which they will decide parliament's response to the court verdict. Except that parliament is surrounded by army troops who have orders not to let anyone in.

Likewise there is confusion about the state of the constituent assembly — notably whether the one appointed by parliament last week (which has already had walkouts by secular members because of a dispute on its composition) is still valid. When the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament, it specified that its actions were still valid. There was a law on the formation of the constituent assembly passed last week, but SCAF did not sign it. So it's probably not valid. And SCAF clearly seems to intend to form its own constituent assembly with its own rules, different than those agreed upon in the negotiations of the past two weeks (one sign if the requirement of an 80% approval of the draft text, as opposed to 67%).

Finally last night the Muslim Brotherhood (to its credit) said it does not recognize the new constitutional declaration issued by SCAF as legal or valid. So that's another fight.

So to recap, you have a possible fight on the result of the presidential election, an almost certain fight on the fate of parliament and the constitutional declaration, and a longer-term fight on the drafting of the future constitution. If you're not worried already, start worrying now.

Update: Another way to look at this is that the MB is being forced to pick its fights. It can't challenge on all front, so what will it choose to focus on, the presidency, the parliament, or the constitution? Especially as it has no major allies and very few political actors, including the MB, has a history of acting on principle. 

Update 2: I am reminded by Ed Webb that there is case to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood that will begin tomorrow, adding another threat to the Brothers should they contest the above.

An instant analysis of Egypt's new constitution

Nathan Brown — a professor at GWU and Carnegie Scholar whose fantastic writings on Egypt’s transition you can find at Foreign Policy and Carnegie among other places — has hastily jotted down some very quick observations on the supplementary constitutional declaration just issued by SCAF (here's a scan of the constitution [PDF] Update: English text.). Here they are:

The supplementary constitutional declaration really does complete the coup in many obvious ways–basically returning martial law (in its more original sense rather than the “state of emergency” that just expired), making the military unaccountable, and grabbing back oversight of the political system for the military just weeks before the scheduled end of military rule. Most of this is clear on the surface and does not need much analysis.

Two more detailed notes I would add that may otherwise be missed:

Read More

The MB and SCAF after the elections

SCAF, Brotherhood in talks over post-election cooperation: Sources - Ahram Online:

The Brotherhood leadership, according to sources who spoke to Ahram Online, is hoping to clinch the top position in the next government, should Mubarak-era premier and presidential finalist Ahmed Shafiq beat Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi in this week's runoff vote.

"Deep down, nobody is expecting Mursi to win; it has become very clear that the SCAF is supporting Shafiq," said a Muslim Brotherhood source. "We don’t want to get into a confrontation, but we want to make sure that Shafiq won't be running the state in the absence of revolutionary forces – this is why we want a strong presence in the next government."

A former associate of El-Shater who previously defected from the Brotherhood told Ahram Online: "Khairat El-Shater is a realistic and pragmatic man. He knows that Mursi's electoral prospects are slim, and that the chances of the Brotherhood making its presence felt will be much better if it comes via the government rather than the presidency, in which case Mursi would be confronted by all top state bodies, including the SCAF itself."

According to this article, the chief connection here is between Gen. Sami Enan and al-Shater. When I met Shater after the first round, he seemed depressed and fatalistic about how the election is rigged against the MB. But Shafiq's promise to appoint a MB-led cabinet (which he stands by despite his repeated attacks on the group as a force for darkness) and SCAF's encouragement of such a step makes it likely that the MB will simply live with the cabinet, and especially the PM's position, if it loses the presidential election.

All of this confirms my take on the Morsi-Shafiq runoff: it's an existential crisis for the felool — the remnants of the NDP, establishment power networks, parts of the security services — which stand to lose all access and be subject to further judicial reckoning if Morsi wins. But it's not as much as an existential crisis for the MB if Shafiq wins, because they don't believe Shafiq will institute a crackdown against them (others will suffer first), because they think they will retain control of parliament, and because they think ultimately they can deal with Shafiq and SCAF. I think that's a miscalculation, but it's coherent with their past behavior and deal-making inclinations. 

In Translation: Fahmi Howeidy on SCAF

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to put up a translated article about the early May clashes in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo, near the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, that appeared earlier this month. The clashes may have receded into memory with the excitement of the presidential elections, but they’re still relevant — if only because more clashes might be expected if the results (as the polls predict) exclude revolutionary candidates or are seen to be rigged.

For a reminder of what happened in Abbasiya, check out this Storify stream compiled by Arabist contributor Paul Mutter, which he put up on FPIF. The column we’re featuring today deals not so much with the clashes themselves as the reaction from the SCAF, and their repeated lack of accountability and scape-goating in such incidents. It raises important questions about whether the next president will even to hold anyone accountable, since the army appears to have successfully buried the investigations with their cryptic talk of “third elements” and so on. In my mind, this is one illustration of why a presidential election should not have been held under military rule, as their record is far too flawed.

The column below was written by Fahmi Howeidy, who has had an interesting turn lately. A conservative writer often seen as close to the Muslim Brothers but also close to the Egyptian establishment, he has voiced doubts about the wisdom of the Brotherhood’s presidential run and is also increasingly critical of the SCAF. Since he is considered to be the most-read columnist in Egypt, his voice counts and speaks of the unease with the SCAF beyond revolutionary circles — and, if you read between the lines, the effort to distinguish between the military and the SCAF.

As always, this article provided by the translation gnomes at Industry Arabic, who do sterling work when it comes to putting out clear copy of your Arabic articles, reports, documentation, and much more into whatever language you want and vice-versa. Professional, bespoke translation with a fast turn-around — what more could you want?

They warned us, but did not understand us

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 5 May 2012

It is not enough for the Military Council’s spokesmen to say that the army is innocent of the Abbasia massacre, and it is not appropriate for one of the Council’s members to say that the protestors rejected an offer from the authorities to protect them. The former statement could be made by anyone, with the exception of those who run the country, while the latter should not be made by any state official.

There is nothing new in the statements that seek to exculpate the army – and often the police – from the charge of suppressing protestors and opening fire on them. We have heard this talk several times before. Not only did some official spokesmen not wash their hands of the incident, but they went so far as to deny that there were snipers in the first place, even though hundreds of thousands of people saw them standing on the tops of buildings shooting at them.

Read More

How SCAF is seeking to resolve corruption cases behind closed doors

The following post, on legislation dealing with economic corruption recently decreed by SCAF, was contributed by Shereen Zaky, a lawyer in Cairo. 

On January 3rd, SCAF discreetly passed an amendment to the Investment Law essentially permitting the settlement of economic corruption crimes via financial reconciliation, as well as designating an extra-judicial process for the settlement of disputes regarding government contracts. Published only a few days before parliament was due to convene, the timing is significant both in terms of circumventing parliament’s assumption of legislative power and because the amendment could escape scrutiny, overshadowed as it was by greater events.

Law 4 of 2012 permits the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones, the regulator of investment and companies in Egypt, to settle with investors who have committed either in person, or as an accomplice of a government employee, embezzlement, theft, illegal acquisition or misuse of public funds and property, harming the public welfare, and similar offences, while undertaking any of the investment activities covered by the law, provided they restore the disputed amounts or reimburse the state for their approximate value at the time the offence was committed. The settlement can take place any stage before a defendant is convicted by the final court of appeal.

Essentially, this could allow the likes of Ahmed Ezz and other corrupt businessmen to slip neatly out of prison, as well as many other regime figures. It seems like one of SCAF’s now-familiar counter-revolutionary gambits, designed to protect their corrupt cronies and conceal their own implication in crime, but with a little adjustment it would actually be a reasonable means of protecting Egypt’s collapsing economy.

Read More

I hold these facts (about MB and SCAF) to be self-evident

Fact: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in its stewardship of Egypt's post-Mubarak transition, has not restored security, stability, economic growth.

Fact: The SCAF's transition plan has been so badly thought out that they have made a successful democratic transition extremely difficult, and the timeline for this transition appears still undecided.

Fact: While no political party has particularly shone during this transition, the Muslim Brothers in particular had a decisive influence in backing SCAF's transition plans from an early date.

Fact: The MB's calculations positioned it for a while as the party of stability, which voters responded well to. But now that it is elected, it is as unable to deliver stability as SCAF is.

Fact: The recent events and change in public attitudes towards SCAF — in part due to the patient work of activists – is discrediting the generals and their political allies. This cannot have escaped the MB's attention, or that of their opponents.

Fact: SCAF is on the verge of losing, if it hasn't already, whatever backing it had in the US over the NGOs affair, which is the most serious crisis in bilateral relations since the beginning of the alliance in 1975.

Fact: While the MB and the US are not natural allies, neither are SCAF and the MB. But the MB has an opportunity to be the adult in the room it claims to be here. When a MB leader like Khairat al-Shater says:

“The democratic transition in Egypt is hanging in the balance […] We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship.”

surely he can see that the SCAF is hurting Egypt's recovery by antagonizing the very allies that would provide the country with economic relief. Perhaps he should share his views with Brotherhood MPs who applaud the NGO crackdown and Mostafa Bakri's reference to foreign conspiracies.

Fact: The MB needs to strongly consider what Egypt's long-term interests are, as well as its own political interests. It can be a leader in parliament in the call for a civilian-controlled transition process by dropping its attachment to what remains of SCAF's haphazard transition plan and move closer0 to the protest movements' demands for presidential elections and a new constitution produced without SCAF. Or it can continue to defend SCAF's ongoing mistakes and accept the drip-feed of minor concessions, like shuffling former regime prisoners about in jails.

Fact: If it choses the latter, history will not remember the MB kindly.

Fact: A confrontation with SCAF is not without risks. The political unity on a transition plan that should have been there after the overthrow of Mubarak is urgently needed.

Great new anti-army video calling for Egypt general strike

This video, put out by Aalam Wassef, is one of the most daring and well-made I've seen yet by the anti-SCAF movement. The basic narrative is that the SCAF represents a military that has run Egypt into the ground for some sixty years, while enjoying the fruits of its economic empire, luxury hospitals, clubs etc. It calls for a boycott of military-produced products and a general strike on February 11.

About the Port Said stadium massacre

I have an op-ed in The National about last night's events, in which I argue that beyond conspiracy theories, the event highlights Egyptians' profound sense of insecurity and the urgent need for police reform and civilian oversight of the security services.

Are these conspiracies within the realm of possibility? Perhaps - security at the stadium was certainly extremely lax despite warnings.

But the unproven speculation is distracting from the reality that Egypt needs an operational, authoritative (but not authoritarian) police force, as any state does. The question of police reform, and the rebuilding of its self-confidence, has yet to be tackled seriously, with the past year wasted on superficial changes. The new parliament needs to work with the government so that civilians finally get an understanding of what is behind all this violence - the old regime "remnants", "foreign hands" or perhaps more simply a state and a society that still has to forge a new, hopefully more humane, relationship.

I also have a post in the London Review of Books Blog about the political fallout, notably how it might affect the last few days standoffs between the protest movement and the Muslim Brothers over the latter's backing of SCAF's transition schedule:

Until yesterday, the top concern in Cairo was the mounting tension between revolutionary protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) now controls 46 per cent of parliament and is in a position to negotiate – alone if it wants to – the terms by which the military will transfer power to civilians later this year. The protest movement wants an immediate handover of power, either to a senior judge as interim president, to parliament, or to a president to be elected as soon as possible – and certainly earlier than 15 June, the date the generals have set for a presidential election. The Brothers, along with the more hardline Salafi Islamists, were sticking with the military schedule, but what happened last night has changed that.

In a special session of parliament today, the idea of forming a government of national salvation was discussed. MPs, including those of the FJP, also want to sack the interior minister and interrogate the chief of intelligence. It is as yet unclear whether they have the power – legally or practically – to do this, and what it might mean for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But it is a first sign of confrontation between the Brothers and the SCAF, and is encouraging the Tahrir protesters to hold fast to their demand for accountability and civilian rule sooner rather than later.

The idea that an Egyptian deep state has been manipulating public fear of chaos is not new. Convicted criminals were released during last year’s uprising in order to terrify ordinary Egyptians into rejecting calls for Mubarak’s resignation. The later violent crackdowns against anti-military protesters seemed to be fairly widely accepted, as people blamed revolutionaries for perpetuating the insecurity. But the reaction to the Port Said stadium massacre shows that the silent majority’s trust in Egypt’s military rulers is waning fast.

As clashes are now underway in the center of Cairo and more protestors converging towards the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, I have no doubt the situation will grow more complicated. It's going to be a long and, unfortunately, bloody night. But the bottom line is that politically, these events have the potential to change key actors' attitudes towards the military – most notably the Muslim Brothers and the so-called silent majority.

Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.

Latest Gallup poll on Egypt

Some interesting findings – a strong desire for the military to hand over power to civilians and no further delays in elections, and a sizeable majority against the military being involved in politics after the handover. I feel that this is not emphasized enough: Egyptians seem to be clearly rejecting the last 60 years of military rule and not want to perpetuated the 1952 regime and its successors. Civilian rule is a real desire, even if there is still overwhelming respect for the military (which might be interpreted as no desire to really attack the military but just get it out of power, reflecting a cautious – perhaps wisely so – approach to this momentous change in Egyptian politics). Gallup:
LOS ANGELES -- As Egyptians mark the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled their last president, 82% believe that the military will relinquish power to a civilian government after they elect their next president.

Military hand over power

Despite continued protests in Tahrir Square since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow one year ago, 88% of Egyptians still express confidence in the military generally and 89% are confident in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) specifically. Still, the majority (63%) think it would be bad for the military to remain involved in politics after the presidential election.

Read More

Carter: Tantawi in denial over "girl in the blue bra"

One of the interesting tidbits in Jimmy Carter's report on Egypt from his recent trip (which I blogged about here) is a revelation that the generals on SCAF tried to convince him that soldiers had been trying to help the now icononoc "girl in the blue bra." I had heard about this last week from people at the meeting, but off the record. As it's now in the report and has been picked up in the Egyptian press, here's a highlight:

I was received with a friendly welcome as I congratulated the military leaders for what seemed to be a successful election, and then asked a number of questions. It seemed that the SCAF had full confidence that there would be accommodation to their demands by the Muslim Brotherhood and their coalition partners as the new government is formed. Instead of the reported 12,000 mostly political prisoners being held for trials in military courts, the Field Marshal stated that there were no more than 3,000, all of whom were guilty of criminal acts and being tried in civilian courts. He stated that the widely promulgated videos showing military attacks on demonstrators and a woman "with the blue brassiere" were all falsified. He said the soldiers were actually helping the woman re-clothe herself with what was provocative attire. I was assured that the emergency law would be lifted before the presidential election, no later than June.

Tantawi and the other generals actually went on at length over how the video had been doctored and that the soldier was actually trying to cover her up and help her, and that the widely viewed video on YouTube was basically a plot against them. They also suggested that the woman was dressed inappropriately under her cloak. You can tell exactly what happened – that she was beaten and stomped upon by the soldiers – in the video. The generals either lied to their teeth, or more probably and more worryingly, actually believe the crap they spew. The real question is, who is feeding them that line?

The future of civilian-military relations in Egypt

This is a guest post by Rabab ElMahdi, co-editor with Philip Marfleet of Egypt: The Moment of Change.

Civilian-Military Relations in Egypt

By Rabab ElMahdi, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo.

One of the clear demarcations of democratic polities is civilian control over the military. However, such control is neither automatic nor easy to attain even during periods of democratic transition. In certain cases, foundational constraints imposed by authoritarian legacies and the transition process have conferred upon the armed forces substantial influence over the nascent democratic governments. And in many cases indicators reinforce the view that there is greater continuity than discontinuity in military behavior between the pre- and post-authoritarian periods. If military have left office but not abandoned their centers of power, then the transfer of authority from military to civilian hands is more superficial than real. At worst, the formal departure of the military from power might represent, not the end of a political cycle, but rather its continuation. At best, democratic rule would be severely limited, subject to military supervision, moderation, or arbitration.

Read More

The legal travesty of Egypt's transition

Here's a summary of recent constitutional changes in Egypt (I use it for convenience, it's from a newsletter by HC Brokerage):

The government approved amendments to the Presidential Elections Law [on Wednesday]. The amendments were proposed by the advisory council and sent to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which in turn sent them to the cabinet for approval. Article 2 of the law was amended to stipulate that a presidential candidate must be supported by at least 30 elected members of parliament or by 30,000 citizens from 15 different governorates. Article 3 was amended to allow political parties with at least 1 seat in parliament to nominate a presidential candidate. Article 23 was amended to allow citizens to vote in any governorate, not necessarily in their governorate of residence. The amendments also penalize, with 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine of EGP5,000, citizens who vote for more than 1 candidate.

On top of that you have changes made in December to formally grant a few more powers (rather vaguely) to the prime minister.

So to recap, in March Egyptians voted for the amendment of nine articles of the 1971 constitution, which had been suspended on February 10 when SCAF issued its decree #1. At the end of March, SCAF promulgated a "constitutional declaration" that now serves as the interim constitution before a new one is drafted and approved by popular referendum later this year (probably in April or May if the SCAF and the FJP-controlled parliament want to move at breakneck speed, which seems to be the case.) But then SCAF made changes to the constitutional declaration at its whim, with token consent from people it appointed itself.

I'm not a lawyer or a constitutional expert — in fact I have very little legal training. But to me, this seems like a constitutional and legal travesty — one that Egypt's chief judges and legal scholars have either stayed silent on, or been complicit in (like the otherwise admirable Tareq al-Bishri, who presided over the referendum charade in March and said nothing). And, in a way, it is at the core of what's wrong, what has gone wrong, with the SCAF-led transition process.

Essay: Sightings of the Egyptian deep state

I have a new essay up at MERIP, looking at the recent clashes in central Cairo and looking into what many people have wondered over the last few months: is the Egyptian military really this out of control, or is something else going on? It's an attempt to piece together a puzzle without having all the elements, thinking through what SCAF is and what it isn't, what security agencies it depends on, and who are the power brokers of the new Egypt.

Read it here: Sightings of the Egyptian Deep State | Middle East Research and Information Project