Ahmed Shafiq: it's worse than you think

I am kicking myself for not watching and publicizing this video, showing Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq being interviewed on a prominent talk show, before. He's either stoned, drunk, or on some very powerful medication. Quite apart from slouching and slurring, the answer he gives to the question about what he has to tell the Egyptian people (1:50) is utterly surreal. 
The odd thing is that at other times Shafiq appears fine in the few other TV interviews he's given.

Who's unhappy about the coup against parliament?

The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday has been described by many, including myself, as a coup by proxy. The only democratically elected institution in Egypt is now gone, the SCAF has regained full legislative powers  — i.e. the power to rule by decree — and it's not clear whether the president who will be elected in the next two days will be able to assume his position in any case. Furthermore, we know that SCAF intends to ammend the constitutional declaration now in place or perhaps issue a new one altogether. If it looks like a coup and smells like a coup and is based on absurd legal reasoning, it probably is a soft coup.

The strange thing is that I don't see much outrage about it outside of Twitter.

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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. 

The Libyan Rorschach

The Libyan Rorschach - By Sean Kane | The Middle East Channel

From the outside, the picture in Libya looks unremittingly bleak. A near daily chronicle of rampaging militias, conflict and chaos headlines coverage by the wire services. But perhaps a casualty of the closure of foreign bureaus and the lesser interest that exists when no U.S. boots are on the ground, some perspective is lacking from the often barebones news reports.

Eight months after the brutal death of Qaddafi marked the end of the civil conflict that followed Libya's popular uprising, support for the regime change appears to have if anything grown. Even if some of this backing falls into the "everyone loves a winner" category, a full 97 percent of Libyans surveyed by Oxford Research International in January thought the revolution was absolutely or somewhat right.

But is the mere fact of the revolution being broadly popular enough to make it right? Is it a sufficient platform to produce a secure and brighter future for Libya?

Good long piece worth reading. With regards to the lack of a deep sense of state and national identity in the history of Libya, take a look at my Is there a Libya?

In Translation: Houdaiby on why back Morsi

Our In Translation series is made possible by Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services. Whether it’s a press article or a 100-page legal document, these guys can turn around a translation in a range of European languages in no time. Give them a try.

I first met Ibrahim Houdaiby years ago, probably around 2005, when he was still a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a young protégé of Khairat al-Shater. More than anyone at the time, he articulated the extent to which the Kifaya protests of 2005 and the solidarity showed by these new activists with Islamist activists at that time were crucial in finding common ground across the political spectrum to oppose the Mubarak regime. Houdaiby, who comes from a family that has produced two General Guides of the Muslim Brotherhood, a few years later decided to end his membership of the group. He also began to write in various venues, gradually forming an elaborate insider’s critique of the contemporary Islamist scene in Egypt.

For some, Houdaiby represents the intellectual cutting edge of “reformist” or “moderate” Islamist current in Egypt. I think it’s more accurate to say that he represents an important advocate for a historic reconciliation between progressives and religious conservatives who agree on the need to fight the regime, as well as a call for the revival and self-critique of Egyptian Islamist thought. Being still a young man, I have no doubt his thinking will evolve into a more profound challenge to Islamist thought in Egypt from a religious perspective — perhaps the development of an “Islamic left” perspective that we see slowly grow across from the region against the orthodoxies of Saudi-backed fundamentalism, the lack of intellectual vitality of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at least, and the insufficiencies of the secular critics.

In the article below, he makes an impassioned case for an alliance between the Brotherhood and revolutionary forces against a restoration of the Mubarak regime represented by Ahmed Shafiq. I think he makes a good case.

We shall be saved or perish all together

By Ibrahim Houdaiby, al-Shorouk, 8 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood is in need of all the political factions in order to succeed in the election, and it needs them to take part in running the country afterwards, just as these factions need the MB in order to forestall a complete reversion to the Mubarak regime. If these various actors do not realize that, they will all face disaster.

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Podcast #32: Really?!?

The usual three are joined by Ustaz Doktor Josh Stacher to discuss the upcoming second round of Egypt’s presidential election, judicial shenanigans and SCAF’s plotting, what kinds of powers the next president will and won’t have, US-Egypt relations, Salafi sex scandals and of course the infamous public service announcement warning against foreign spies that has been airing on Egyptian TV.

Please remember that putting together these podcasts takes time, energy, and equipment, and hosting them online costs money. So if you can please donate to this site and help keep it going.

If you have feedback, suggestions, questions or complaints, then get in touch with us at podcast@arabist.net and we’ll address your mail in the next episode.

Show notes:

Podcast #32:

Bilal Ahmed's story of FBI harassment

Bilal Ahmed, who contributed this piece on Yemen a few weeks ago, on his and his family's experience being harassed by the FBI because he traveled to Yemen:

The message was clear: I was being treated this way because I am a Pakistani with an Arabic name. It seemed, as it still does, impossible that at any point during the harassment I was considered an American. Americans do not receive visits by counterterrorism officials for no reason. Similarly, Pakistani-Americans, integrated minorities with hybrid identities, would not be treated this way as their “American” side was impossible to ignore. The “American” part of their identity guaranteed that even Pakistani-Canadians such as myself would be treated equally in the United States. No. I wasn’t an American. I wasn’t a Pakistani-American. I was ultimately only a Pakistani. The moment I traveled to Yemen, I became suspicious because I was only regarded as a Pakistani. One professor agreed with my statement on the matter, “there is no such thing as a Pakistani-American. The hyphenation has been destroyed by the war.”

Read the rest at Souciant.

Loose lips sink counter-revolutions

This insane public service announcement is airing on Egyptian state TV — it warns people not to discuss sensitive subjects with strangers (here the stranger is played by an Egyptian but it's inferred he's a foreigner). Note the sinister use of mobile phones to spread information, the taboo on discussing the army, etc.

If someone wants to translate it in the comments it'd be great for non-Arabic speaking readers (I don't have time unfortunately). (Update: I was sent a version with subtitles, now above.)

Update 2: the as has been pulled.

Egypt's Legal News of the Day

A friend who prefers to remain anonymous writes in about the Egyptian judiciary, which has been getting some flak lately:

In a landmark ruling today, a Cairo appeals court struck down air.  “We can find no legal basis in any Egyptian legal text for air. This lack of legality extends to various human activities connected with air, including breathing, use of vacuum cleaners, and parliamentary debates,” the three-judge panel stated in a written ruling. (The judges were unable to deliver the opinion orally because they were all holding their breath).  

The court deferred to a September session consideration of challenges lodged against windows, emoticons, ful for any meal other than breakfast, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

In other Egyptian legal news, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued what legal observers have already termed a “continuous loop” judgment. The Court found itself unconstitutional. However, it argued, since it had no constitutional authority, its own ruling was invalid.  And if the Court’s finding of its own unconstitutionality had no constitutional standing, the Court actually did have full constitutional authority after all. And it would use that constitutional authority to find itself unconstitutional.  But then, since it had no constitutional authority, its own ruling was invalid.

The decision continued for 4000 pages before a printer jam prevented completion of the ruling.

Meanwhile, the parliament escalated its conflict with the judiciary following yesterday’s State Council ruling that Britain’s severance of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire in 1914 was legally invalid because it had been issued in English, which is not an official language. The Court had ordered that all Egyptian state institutions be disbanded as a result. By an overwhelming vote, parliamentarians reacted by repealing the original Ottoman conquest of Egypt, thus hoping to remove the court’s jurisdiction over Britain’s 1914 decision.  

The SCAF has also reacted to the State Council decision, posting on its Facebook page a statement declaring that the first existing Egyptian legal document, the Narmur palate, clearly gives ultimate political authority to the military and that all subsequent constitutional documents draw their authority from, and thus cannot contradict, that text.  

A Freedom and Justice deputy promptly filed suit in an administrative court to strike down the Narmur Palate as belonging to the gahiliyya.

More news tomorrow.

Stacher and Brownlee on Democracy Prevention

In connection with our previous post excerpting Josh Stacher's book Adaptable Autocrats, here's Josh interviewing (fellow Egypt expert) Jason Brownlee about his forthcoming book, Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the US-Egyptian Alliance. Look out for their conversation starting at 06:50 on how the Obama administration did not embrace the Egyptian uprising and encouraged as much continuity as possible with the Mubarak regime — "they were trying to minimize the extent of change" says Brownlee.

Book excerpt: Josh Stacher's "Adaptable Autocrats"

One-time contributor to the blog Joshua Stacher recently published his book, Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria. Since the 2011 uprisings, there has been a debate in Middle Eastern academia as to whether regional specialists focused too much on the persistence of authoritarianism (and power elites in particular) and not enough on the societies (and social movements in particular.) Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, and the debate has had its ups and down according to what’s in the news. In this book, Josh looks the regime structures as an indication of both regime sustainability and adaptability, and applies this research to how Egypt and Syria handled the uprisings and their aftermath.

Josh writes:

Rather than explain the transition, this book compares how the structure of executive power allows for an authoritarian regime to change its ruling coalition (or not). Thus, it explains why Egypt could rapidly begin a transition while Syria could not. In the case of Egypt, this meant a long-time dictator and the neoliberal team could be removed and replaced by SCAF while “the state” remained in tact. Contrastingly, no such coalitional alterations could be made in Syria and is why its state was drawn into a long conflict with society as a consequence of the challenges posed by popular mobilization. The book does this by comparing institution building during the 1970s as well as examines elite and non-elite politics during the last decade in Egypt and Syria.

We are reprinting below the abstract of the book and an excerpt from its introduction to give readers a sense of the argument.

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Tunis envy

I have a confession to make.

After three days in Istanbul to attend the World Economic Forum’s summit for the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia, I have become unhealthily and obsessively jealous of the Tunisian revolution.

Maybe it’s just a “grass is always greener on the other side” human nature sort of a thing. But I simply can’t shake the feeling that my Arab brethren to the west are handling their post-revolutionary transition about 1000 times better than we are in Egypt.

The final turning in my descent into full-blown chronic Tunis Envy was meeting and serving on a panel with Rafik Ben Abdessalem, Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. He’s impressive, articulate and passionate. And he’s YOUNG—43 years old with no prior experience in government. Prior to accepting the role of foreign minister, he was working as a senior researcher at the Jazeera Center for Studies, a Qatari thinktank.

Bottom line: the Egyptian equivalent of Abdessalem is still no closer to real power than he was two years ago. The ongoing presidential election has proven a triumph for the country’s two old guard machines: the Muslim Brotherhood and the retrograde remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s military/security regime.

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The Two Sudans in Arbitration: Corruption, Militias, and China

Hergé’s caricatured arms dealer in The Broken Ear (1937) offers oil-hungry powers an unfortunate blueprint for influence building in the two Sudans. Credit: thinmanSouth Sudanese President Salva Kiir this week addressed a letterto dozens of “former and current senior government officials” pleading with them to return an estimated US$4b in “missing” government funds. The Globe and Mail reports that the US$4b reportedly stolen would add up to approximately 2 years’ worth of oil revenues for the country, which upon seceding from Sudan took about 75% of Khartoum’s oil reserves with it (amounting to some $5b worth of annual income, according to the Petroleum Economist trade publication). Some US$60m has reportedly been recovered, but continued mismanagement, graft and badly bid contracts (most notably, for food imports) means that additional funds still remain unaccounted for and may be unrecoverable.[1]

Despite the emotional plea from Kiir, in an unencouraging sign for transparency in South Sudan this past April, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party that Kiir leads “voted against a bill seeking to make contracts and information about the young country’s oil industry more transparent by making it available to the public.”

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The Virtues of a Low(er) Tech Future in Egypt

This commentary was contributed by Nathan Field.

There’s a growing school of thought that promotion of entrepreneurship is an effective solution to the socio-economic problems facing many Arab countries, especially Egypt. In Jobs@Arabia.com Thomas Friedman heaped praise on Oassis500, a high-tech accelerator in Jordan that provides startup money and training to budding internet companies.  A prominent American investor recently profiled FlatLabs6, a similar effort in Cairo.  And the pilot version of the State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship program offers mentorship to young Egyptian entrepreneurs, mostly in the tech and IT space.

The case for promoting entrepreneurship as a solution in Egypt is strong. Why?  A solid argument can be made that the single most important cause of the 2011 uprising was economic — or, in other words, lack of economic opportunities. 

There are more Egyptian university graduates than ever before, with higher aspirations than any previous generation, yet, in an increasingly competitive and liberal global economy, the government has to this point been unable to generate anywhere near enough jobs that meet their expectations. Thus, in February 2011, that discontent — probably exacerbated by the effects of the post-2008 global financial crisis — caused the ranks of Egypt’s previously passionate but relatively small opposition to reach a critical mass, and sweep away the Mubarak regime. 

Friedman and company’s approach is sound.  However, what should not be overdone is the implicit assumption that “startup” means (or should mean) “tech” and especially “internet company.” Virtually every article covering this trend in the Arab world focuses exclusively on web-based companies.  Certainly, they have a place, but an equal, if not greater focus should be on the development of new lower-tech, labor-intensive firms, because they are more likely to make an impact in addressing Egypt’s un and underemployment problems.

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