Morsi and the deep state, cont.

Egypt: The president, the army and the police - Egypt - Ahram Online

This is a new line of attack in the anti-Morsi media — apparently grounded in some truth — regarding changes to regulations on buying land in Sinai. The conspiracy theory version is that there is a grand scheme to allow Palestinians from Gaza to resettle in Sinai or render permanent Gaza's division from the West Bank and turn Sinai into Gaza's hinterland. The more interesting aspect of this, however, are the lingering signs of tension between the military and the Morsi administration. As this report shows, on some issues it's clear who calls the shots:

A recent decree issued by Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi restricting the right to buy property in Sinai to second-generation Egyptian citizens had come against the wish of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a military source.

The decree, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, was issued after the minister became aware of a Palestinian-Qatari scheme to buy territory in Sinai “supposedly for tourism related projects."

The source added that the minister “informed” the president before taking he took the decision “with  unprecedented support from within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the wider military community.

"Many of us [officers and soldiers] died to retrieve this land; we did so not knowing that Morsi would one day compromise the country's right to Sinai - for whatever reason. Whatever the reason, Sinai is a red line. We will support our Palestinian brothers in every way possible but Sinai is not for sale," the source said.

Of course the presidency is denying this, saying the new orders came from Morsi. Read on from some acid quotes on intelligence and security from a presidential aide.

Gaza blockade eased - not lifted

Israel eases Gaza blockade following truce deal | Egypt Independent

This is good news to be sure, but an interesting detail: construction material and other critical types of goods for Gaza's reconstruction must still go through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, and not Egypt:

Israel is easing its blockade of Gaza to allow construction materials and other goods into the enclave under the terms of a truce deal mediated by Egypt.

The decision allows private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel's blockade, AFP reported.

The truce between Israel and Gaza's leaders Hamas ended more than a week of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire last month.

This is the first time Israel has allowed such goods into Gaza since 2007, said Palestinian customs official Raed Fattouh.

Starting on Sunday up to 20 trucks carrying gravel will be allowed into the strip daily Sunday through Thursday via the Karem Abu Salem border crossing in southeast Gaza, Fattouh said. Karam Abu Salem is the only commercial crossing open to the transport of goods and fuel and is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

In other words, these Egypt-brokered talks are still steering away from lifting the blockade as Palestinians have called for along with Egypt-based activists. Whether this amounts to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood's recognition of the complexity of the border issue (including the fear that if the Rafah crossing is fully opened to commercial traffic Israel will simply dump the Gaza problem onto Egypt) or that General Intelligence, which is running the talks, has a veto power on this issue over the Morsi administration is not clear. 

On freedom of the press in Egypt

What future for free speech in the new Egypt? - Index on Censorship

Ashraf Khalil writes: 

Aside from the occasional journalist prosecution, there’s a disturbing new trend emerging in the past few months: direct intimidation of and violence against journalists in Egypt. Hazem Abu Ismail — a charismatic ultraconservative Salafist preacher has repeatedly rallied his slightly fanatical followers (known locally as the Hazemoon) against journalists who criticise him. They recently held a noisy several day-long sit-in outside Media Production City — where many of the most popular satellite talk shows are broadcast — openly intimidating the hosts and station employees as they came to work. Even more disturbingly, Abu Ismail’s followers were alleged to have recently attacked the offices of a heavily anti-Islamist opposition newspaper with petrol bombs, though the preacher took to Facebook to deny any involvement.

It’s not just the Islamists who are targeting journalists they dislike. Egypt’s secularist protestors are guilty of the same crime. The anti-Islamist forces absolutely despise the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel, regarding it as completely biased towards the Brotherhood. That antipathy came to a head in late November during a string of violent protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The anti-Islamist protestors firebombed a street-level studio of Al Jazeera Live Egypt — an offshoot Al Jazeera channel devoted to 24/7 Egypt news.

Another thing to note, just in the past week, is that the presidency has been very rapid to launch lawsuits against journalists it deems have insulted President Morsi. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The problem(s) with Egypt's new constitution

The new Egyptian constitution: an initial assessment of its merits and flaws | openDemocracy

By Zaid al-Ali, who was recently a guest on our podcast. It's a very fair and balanced take that refutes both the unwarranted alarmism of its opponents and the ridiculous "best constitution evah" line of the MB:

The debate surrounding the new constitution has been acrimonious to say the least.  Many of the constitution’s most ardent critics have been scouring the text for evidence that the country’s Islamist movements are preparing to create a morality police or that the legal age of marriage is about to be lowered to 9.  Many of these accusations are either baseless or merely leftover provisions from the 1971 constitution and were never applied in any meaningful sense, which will likely to continue being the case under the new constitution.  The reality is that, when measured against Egyptian constitutional tradition, the new text brings a number of improvements to the protection of certain rights and to the system of government and is not the catastrophe that many have been so determined to identify. 

However, if the measure is changed, there are perfectly valid reasons to be opposed to the new constitution.  For example, considering recent developments internationally in the field of constitutional law, particularly in many African and Latin American countries, or considering even the aspirations that were expressed through the Egyptian revolution, the text leaves the reader disappointed. 

Apart from the fact that much of the drafting is vague, a number of important rights are also lacking, which has driven many activists to ardently oppose the text.  It also does not present a convincing vision in many areas, including decentralization, the role of independent agencies and civil/military relations.

The major question left unanswered in my view is the extent to which Articles 2, 4 and 219 will together change the way Sharia impacts the legal system and how they might be used by Islamist activist lawyers to force Azhar and the government to adopt retrograde measures.

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A Saudi Arabia made in the USA

NewImage

Will Saudi Arabia Ever Change? by Hugh Eakin | The New York Review of Books

Hugh Eakin on Saudi in NYRB provides an overview of post Arab uprisings Saudi Arabia in this review of three new books on the kingdom:

With three quarters of its own citizens now under the age of thirty, Saudi Arabia faces many of the same social problems as Egypt and Yemen. By some estimates, nearly 40 percent of Saudis between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are unemployed, and quite apart from al-Qaeda, there is a long and troubled history of directionless young men drawn to radicalism. The country suffers from a housing crisis and chronic inflation, there have been recurring bouts of domestic terrorism, and the outskirts of Riyadh and Jeddah are plagued by poverty, drugs, and street violence—problems that are not acknowledged to exist in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.

On top of this, Saudi Arabia also seems to possess several of the attributes that have led to broader revolt in neighboring countries. There is a restive and well-organized Shia minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, who have engaged in a series of street protests since early 2011. And young men and women all over the country are exceptionally well connected by new media: only Egypt ranks ahead in Facebook usage in the region; a higher proportion of Saudis now use Twitter and YouTube than almost any other nation in the world. This has made it easier to expose alleged corruption by members of the royal family, as one anonymous Twitter user, “Mujtahidd,” with apparent inside sources, has been doing, attracting more than 800,000 followers in the process. (A mujtahid is a scholar with independent authority to interpret Islamic law.

This youth crisis — some call it a lost generation produced by an incompetent and ultra-conservative educational system — and Saudi Arabia's structural economic problems were touched upon by occasional Arabist contributor Nathan Field here.

There's one particularly intriguing book Eakin reviews:

The reasons Saudi Arabia became the authoritarian US client state we know today—rather than the more pluralistic society this early experience might have foretold—is the subject of Sarah Yizraeli’s revelatory new study, Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia: The Crucial Years of Development, 1960–1982. A senior research fellow and Arabist at Tel Aviv University, Yizraeli has managed to penetrate Saudi society from afar in ways that have eluded journalists and scholars with more direct access. Although she is apparently barred from entering Saudi Arabia as an Israeli citizen, she has long had a following among specialists for her mastery of obscure Saudi and international source material. Significantly, she focuses not on the much-studied decades since 1979, during which an Islamist awakening pushed the regime to reassert its Wahhabi credentials and impose sweeping restrictions on cultural life, but on the largely neglected preceding era.

Intricate in its accumulation of detail and nuance, the story Yizraeli tells is nevertheless stark in its conclusions. During the 1960s and 1970s, exploiting its unprecedented oil wealth, Saudi Arabia was able to build with great speed a technologically advanced, economically self-sufficient welfare state. Far from a project driven by the US and Aramco, however, this radical transformation was masterminded by the royal family itself (above all by King Faisal, who after a power struggle succeeded Saud in 1964) and expressly designed to strengthen its rule and neutralize any pressure for political reform.

Described by Yizraeli as “defensive change,” this strategy involved creating a vast central administration that could co-opt competing factions of society even as it broke down traditional tribal loyalties. Crucial to the state were the assertion of the monarchy’s Islamic roots and the consequent need to separate economic development from political and religious institutions, which could not be tampered with; and the embrace of an ideal of broad consensus that served to isolate and marginalize proponents of more radical reforms.

Equally provocative is Yizraeli’s careful dissection of US policy beginning in the 1960s. Up to the early years of the Johnson administration, she observes, the State Department assumed that economic and social development was supposed to produce representative government, and put constant pressure on the Al Saud to open up the political system. “So consistently did the American Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia…highlight the issue of political and social reform,” Yizraeli writes, that at a meeting with then US Ambassador Hermann Eilts, Faisal “once responded by exclaiming: ‘Does the US want Saudi Arabia to become another Berkeley campus?’” But all this came to an abrupt end in the mid-1960s, when Washington began to take a paramount interest in curbing the spread of Nasserism and promoting the US-led industrialization that Faisal championed: “Stop pushing the Saudis on internal reform,” Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised Eilts, “the king knows what is in his own best interest.”

Thus King Faisal, the robust defender of Al Saud absolutism who by the early 1970s had thousands of political prisoners in his jails, quickly became seen in Washington as the ruler who “modernized the kingdom.” In effect, the US endorsed a state-building strategy that brought American companies such as Chevron, Bechtel, and Lockheed Martin billions of dollars of contracts and investments while giving the monarchy and the religious establishment an ever-growing hold on Saudi society. This was a fateful decision. It fostered years of disregard for human rights and an abysmal record of stirring up violent jihadism, and both continue to this day.

The same US policy towards Saudi Arabia — based on what another Israeli scholar calls the "weapondollar-petrodollar coalition" — continues to this day.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

de Bellaigue on Tunisia: room for compromise

Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’ by Christopher de Bellaigue | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Amusing anecdote on Rachid Ghannouchi:

Even now, after the bruising experience of holding power, the principles championed by Ennahda remain the likeliest blueprint for the country’s future. And this brings us back to the movement’s founder, Ghannouchi himself. Depending on your perspective, his moderate, incremental Islamism can seem virtuous or sinister; equally, it can be read as a pragmatic reaction to events, an acknowledgement of the impossibility of attaining every goal.

I had found myself sitting near him on my flight from London to Tunis (he had been picking up a prize from the British think tank Chatham House) and, speaking the English he had learned over long years in exile in Britain, he told me that he feared the initial spirit of solidarity that the revolution had engendered seemed to be seeping away. He was dispirited by the mauling the government had received at the hands a newly empowered (and mainly secular) media, and the unrealistic expectations of the people. But his vision, of a variegated world with room for competing visions, seemed intact. “There is more than one interpretation in Islam,” he said—a view that the Salafists hate.

He had, I discovered, been urging pragmatism on the Tunis Air flight attendants. Behind a curtain on the drinks trolley, he told me, were hidden different sorts of alcoholic beverage. You only needed to ask, and you would be served. “The flight attendants are unhappy,” Ghannouchi went on.

“They tell me they are good Muslims—they pray and fast and so on—and yet here they are: obliged to serve alcohol. And I say to them that this is the way things are. We live in a society where a lot of people drink alcohol. And so, we must accept the logic of this reality.”

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

What Islamists want vs. what liberals want

Politics: Distinct camps find little common ground - FT.com

From the FT:

“In a public place, the greater public benefit is much more important than individual freedom,” says Gehad Haddad, a spokesman and strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood. “If a girl wearing a bikini is offensive to 100 people who are not, then the 100 have the say; she should not wear it on the public beach. At the same time, she can wear it on the private beach. She has the right. At the end of the day, there has to be a rule toward the public benefit. We all wear seat belts.”

1. No, in Egypt you certainly don't all wear seat belts.

2. This kind of argument and the fatuous examples chosen are really depressing. Same could be applied to the veil — "most want women to wear it so they have to respect it, they can always not wear at home". And this is from a smart guy who represents the elite of the MB. Soon enough this line of thinking can turn into "everyone believes prayer is a duty, so everyone has to do it, so shops have to close during prayer time and those who don't want to pray have to wait it out or prove they are not Muslim etc." This is exactly what Salafis have been trying to do in parts of Egypt.

Another good quote in the same piece, from the other side:

“It’s a polarisation between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamised Egypt,” says Lina Attalah, editor of the English-language Egypt Independent. “The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”

This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict the Islamists from doing what they want to do. But not vice-versa. That so many outsiders have a difficulty grasping this and are defending the Islamists in Egypt out of a bizarre sort of multiculturalism gone mad is deeply troubling (looking at you, Grauniad).

ElBaradei slams US handling of US crisis

'These Guys Are Thugs' - Interview by David Kenner | Foreign Policy

ElBaradei evokes Yogi Berra to describe U.S. policy on Egypt: It reminded him, he said, of "déjà vu, all over again" -- a throwback to when the United States would give the Mubarak regime a free pass on human rights as long as it protected Washington's regional interests. The opposition has compiled evidence that some of the judges overseeing the process were impostors and that Christians were turned away from polling stations.

I have a fantasy about ElBaradei becoming president and giving a public talking down to Obama about his handling of this crisis. I said fantasy.

Incidentally, however, this has become to the main excuse for US diplomats and officials to excuse their inaction in the last months (as all sorts of US aid keeps flowing to Egypt): their feelings are hurt that the opposition sometimes unreasonably blames them.

Some links on the referendum

✪ Governorate-level results at Egypt Independent, via FJP tallies.

✪ Good interactive map at al-Watan newspaper

✪ This is why this result - even if it gets over 60% by the second round - is a failure for Morsi and the Islamists:

Mr. Morsi’s problems could start with the charter itself. If it passes narrowly with only about one-third of eligible voters turning out, the document would have legal legitimacy, “but it’s difficult to argue it would have popular legitimacy,” said Zaid al-Ali, who has tracked Egypt’s constitution-writing process for the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance, based in Sweden. “Politically, it will be a hot potato for a long time to come,” he said.

✪ A take by Nervana Mahmoud.

✪ Tarek Masoud notes:

✪ A more full-fledged analysis by Masoud, at FP.

✪ Another analysis and prediction for the second round by ducoht.

✪ Strong words from some of Egypt's leading human rights activists - in WSJ:

"The Egyptian people went to vote in long lines and with great intensity. But throughout the day, there were irregularities that should lead to the voiding of the results," said Bahey Al Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The group complained that Islamist groups carried out a campaign of intimidation and violence against "no" voters, with a few outbreaks of political violence Friday and Saturday.
Civil-society groups were forbidden from observing the vote, the groups said. Some polling stations closed early, while many voters reported a lack of official stamps meant to ensure ballot papers' authenticity. Imams, or religious leaders, violated the law by using Friday sermons to urge voters to approve the document, the groups said.
Negad Al Boraie, the head of the United Group, a legal rights advocacy organization in Cairo, accused the head of the body that drafted the constitution—Hossam al Gheriany—of illegally granting permits to tens of thousands of Freedom and Justice Party members to enter polling stations, where he said they campaigned for a "yes" vote. Mr. al Gheriany also leads the National Council for Human Rights, which helped monitor the vote.
In a few cases, poll workers blocked Christians from voting, the groups reported.
The Freedom and Justice Party on Sunday said the voting unfolded in an "atmosphere of integrity and transparency under full supervision of the judiciary, the local and international media and human-rights groups."

✪ More on the fraud in this post.

✪ Mosireen has a video detailing more irregularities:

✪ Incidentally this other video has good commentary on the concessions given to the military in the draft constittution:

 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

German minister calls for Egypt aid suspension

Egypt's opposition calls for new protests on | tagesschau.de

From a German press report, machine-translated below :

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel feared in his own words that Egypt slips under President Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood in a dictatorship. There was a risk that the dictatorial Mubarak system auflebe with other people, he said, the "Berliner Zeitung". Given the uncertain conditions in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, an unstable Egypt is a huge security risk beyond the region.

According to Niebel, the German government restricted until further notice, the government contacts with Egypt. So, he wrote about the government canceled negotiations on development co-operation that should take place in mid-December. The planned partial debt relief of up to 240 million euros would be postponed, announced the Minister. "It is in the hands of the Egyptian government," said the FDP politician.

Meanwhile, complete silence from the EU, Catherine Ashton and most member states.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Don't count too much on fraud investigations in Egypt's referendum

Egypt opposition demonstrates over constitution; Justice Ministry probes vote irregularities - The Washington Post

On Tuesday, Egypt’s Justice Ministry says it will assign judges to probe allegations of voting violations.

“This is the first time in the history of Egypt that judges are assigned to investigate vote violations,” a ministry spokesman said at a news conference.

Judge Mahmoud Abu Shousha, a member of the commission overseeing the referendum, rejected the charges of voting irregularities.

He said it was impossible to replace judges with court officials during the supervision, and that all stations stayed opened for four extra hours to accommodate the long lines, dismissing claims that some closed early. He said more staff will be recruited for the second round to speed up the process.

“We don’t know what to do with those who spread these lies,” he said at a news conference.

So without the investigation having even started these MB-friendly judges who sit on the commission are drawing conclusions? I'm guessing this investigation will be over pretty quickly. More on the violations here.

The Brotherhood's spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, is setting the tone about these fraud violations:

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan dismissed the rights groups' allegations as politically motivated to sway public opinion.

"These organizations are funded by Western countries. Just like the Westerners hate the Islamists, so do these groups. They are seculars and they hate the Islamists and have foreign agendas," Ghozlan said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is partying like it's 2005.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Podcast #40: Referendumb

The first round of Egypt's referendum on the draft constitution rushed through by Islamist forces has taken place, resulting in a narrow win for Islamists in early results. Our guest Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, helps us decode the trends, processes, and politics of the current crisis and how it might unfold.

Show notes:

Podcast #40:

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Baheyya on Morsi and his opponents

On Morsi's Opponents

 

She's back (also with this piece on Morsi) and this bit of vitriol for the NSF:

My point about the NSF isn’t that it’s infiltrated by feloul or that it’s an alliance of convenience. It’s that its notion of opposition is sophomoric at best and putschist at worst. The sight of politicians refusing to negotiate with an elected president but then agreeing to the military’s “we’re all family” shindig is beyond pitiful. How much more effective to have negotiated with Morsi a cancellation of his decree and a postponement of the referendum. If he refused the latter, the NSF could’ve called his bluff and walked out triumphant, revealing the MB’s bullying to the public while proving themselves to be responsible problem-solvers. Instead, by acting militant in a situation that required hard bargaining, the NSF is left to accept the fact of the referendum while saving face by grandstanding about conditions already in place.

She's right about this, of course, although I think the NSF has made some subtle improvements in its strategy even in the last few weeks. I agree with her profile of its leaders, too, although I'm always dumfounded by her admiration for the execrable Hamdeen Sabahi, particularly considering what we know about the financing of his presidential campaign and his former admiration for Muammar Qadhafi.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

An analysis of the Egyptian crisis

The European Council on Foreign Relations | Navigating Egypt's political crisis

I put this out on Twitter a few days ago, but this is a long analysis of the current Egyptian crisis I wrote last week, which takes things to more or less where they are now. It's long, also with a quick take on the draft constitution.

I'm still traveling but will be back in Egypt tomorrow and hope to write more in transit.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi, the MB and the deep state

Morsy past the point of no return: Part 2 | Egypt Independent

Interesting argument by Hesham Sallam — I'm still mulling it over:

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have characterized the clashes at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace as a manifestation of its conflict with the deep state and remnants of the Mubarak era. But in reality, the Brotherhood is not fighting against the alleged “deep state” and Mubarak remnants within the opposition and inside the courts, as it claims, but rather the deep state within the ranks of its sponsored government.

The Brotherhood’s decision to escalate its standoff with the opposition, and the seemingly irrational ferocity with which it has begun to antagonize its opponents must not be understood merely as an attempt to eliminate challengers. Equally important, the Muslim Brotherhood-initiated escalation is a strong message to the deep state that the Brotherhood-controlled presidency is fully capable of erecting a political arena in which its decisions and commitments are supreme. The Brotherhood and its sponsored political order, the message goes, is here to stay, and you would be better served to jump on this bandwagon and come to its defense before it is too late. Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to make this case convincingly remains to be seen.

Read part one here.

From Cairo to London to DC: Please, knock it off

This commentary was contributed by Dr H.A. Hellyer, non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and ISPU, who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer. Had I not been traveling in the last few days I might have written something very similar.

There are times that myths circulate so fast; it is hard to keep track of them. In the midst of an extraordinary amount of coverage on Egypt, I was asked for my evaluation of a particular piece, recently published in what I considered to be a respectable media outlet. As I wrote my assessment, I realised that I’d seen those same problems – the same narrative – time and time again in different places. Rather than keep my assessment private, I thought I would turn it into a plea to my colleagues and friends in the media and the think-tank/policy arena.

The plea reads: please knock it off when it comes to your Egypt coverage, and check your sources and facts before you publish in the interests of being ‘balanced’. Believe me: in the long run, you’ll be grateful you did. In the short-run, you probably will too: these Egyptian folks are not tameable, as a friend put it. When they’re misrepresented, except immediate and full retaliation with the full force of the Egyptian wit, sarcasm, and scorn. Trust me: you do not want to be on the other side of that.

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It really is the #referendumb

Concerns loom over referendum's legality | Egypt Independent

Nothing to see here, move along:

Hours before the referendum kicks off in Cairo, concerns are looming about the legality of the process. Unlike other referendums, it is taking place over two rounds staged a week apart, and there is also controversy surrounding the judicial oversight of the voting process.

Legal disagreements on conducting the referendum over two phases started after President Mohamed Morsy issued a law last Wednesday that allows the referendum to be held in multiple rounds of voting. Introduced at the request of the High Elections Commission (HEC), the law was intended to address the shortage of judges willing to participate in the process.

Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

ECFR - Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

This is my talk this morning at the European Council on Foreign Relations, on the present crisis.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

More on Morsi's tax u-turn

Mursi’s tax U-turn casts doubts over government's competence

Yup:

A dramatic U-turn by Egypt’s embattled president Mohammed Mursi over a proposed tax hike has raised serious questions about the decision-making process within the government, casting doubts over the administration’s competence and ability to craft a coherent economic policy. It has also brought into question the fate of a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan Egypt is awaiting, set to be ratified by the fund’s board next week.

Experts derided both the government’s unilateral decision to raise taxes at a time of political crisis and the president’s swift retraction of the measures in the face of public uproar.

Some feared the president’s volte-face indicated a desire to pass the Islamist-penned constitution first and then subsequently institute a tax hike. Others said his quick retraction undermined his leadership and exposed a lack of political maturity.

Why the "MB militias" are not an exaggeration

Allies of Egypt’s Morsi Beat Protesters Outside Palace - NYTimes.com

The NYT covers the extremely disturbing events of Wednesday night:

CAIRO — Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi captured, detained and beat dozens of his political opponents last week, holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him.

“It was torment for us,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat with a badly bruised face and rope marks on his wrists. He said he was among a group of about 50, including four minors, who were held on the pavement overnight. In front of cameras, “they accused me of being a traitor, or conspiring against the country, of being paid to carry weapons and set fires,” he said in an interview. “I thought I would die.”

. . .

It is impossible to know how much Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, knew about the Islamists’ vigilante justice. But human rights advocates say the detentions raised troubling questions about statements made by the president during his nationally televised address on Thursday. In it, Mr. Morsi appears to have cited confessions obtained by his Islamist supporters, the advocates said, when he promised that confessions under interrogation would show that protesters outside his palace acknowledged ties to his political opposition and had taken money to commit violence.

The most galling thing is this quote by MB spokesman Gehad Haddad: 

Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, defended the group’s decision to call on its members and other Islamist supporters of the president to defend the palace from a potential attack by the protesters. He said Mr. Morsi could not rely on the police force left over from Mr. Mubarak’s government. By keeping the protesters from trying to storm the palace walls, Mr. Haddad contended, the Brotherhood and the president’s supporters had prevented a bloodier conflict with the armed presidential guard. “We will protect the sovereignty of the state at any cost.”

Any cost, really? Unbelievable — especially since the protestors had been there for a while and not stormed the palace walls (not that even of they did it would justify the formation of vigilante militias — which incidentally is forbidden in the new constitution.) And Haddad and other senior MB people appear to have been at the front line.

David Ignatius asked the right question a few days ago:

How did Washington become the best friend of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, even as President Mohamed Morsi was asserting dictatorial powers and his followers were beating up secular liberals in the streets of Cairo? It’s a question many Arabs ask these days, and it deserves an answer.

Update:

There's going to be a press conference with more info on what happened:

Invitation to a Press conference

In their own words

Victims Recount What Really Happened Outside al-Ittihadiya


You are cordially invited to a press conference detailing in the words of victims, their families, and eyewitnesses what really happened on Wednesday 5 December outside al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, after supporters of President Morsi stormed a sit-in set up by protesters of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

They will present testimonies showing what they were subjected to: they will tell the stories of arrests, beating, torture, and sexual abuse; they will also tell the stories of those who lost their lives.

Footage from the clashes will also be shown.

Where: Press Syndicate, Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street, Down Town, Cairo

When: Wednesday 12 December 2012, 5-7.30 pm

Simultaneous interpretation from Arabic to English will be available.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.