What the Brothers said about the constitution in 2011

A Muslim Brotherhood leader on bin Laden, Israel and Egypt’s elections - The Washington Post

From a May 2011 interview with Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian:

Will the Muslim Brotherhood win the next election because it is so organized?

The next election must represent all political factions, even weak groups. We as the Muslim Brotherhood are keen to have a coalition to go to the elections together to have a parliament that represents all Egyptians, not only powerful groups. All Egyptians must be represented — Muslims, Coptics, leftists, liberalists, nationalists, Islamists — all must be there to have a neutral committee to write the constitution. This is very important for a real democracy.

[via Nour Nour]

The best thing you'll read today on Egypt

Egypt's Political Crisis - By Ellis Goldberg | The Middle East Channel

Forget the legalities, it's about process and symbolism, and Morsi has royally fucked up:

The answer no longer lies in a draft constitution that very few of the demonstrators, on either side, are likely to have read. Egyptians along with the citizens of a great many other places have learned what is on paper is only a part of the constitution. The other, most important, part lies in the institutions that give the constitutional language presence in everyday life. To some degree this means the habits and choices of low level officials and to some degree it means the courts. And the simple and sad reality for the Brotherhood is that a great many Egyptians distrust, dislike, or fear them and worry that, having come to control the legislature and central executive, they plan to take over the courts as well as staff many of the lower levels of the government.

President Morsi has been unable to allay this distrust, fear, and dislike and over the last week he and his allies have, through words and actions, intensified it. This may be unfair and its results may be tragic, but it remains a profoundly political issue with which he and any Egyptian politicians who aspire to lead the country will ultimately have to deal.

Morsi and his advisors also seem to believe that they can use any stratagem, as long as it remains formally valid, to accomplish their substantive ends. In this they are, regrettably, all too like Egyptian governments of the last 60 years. One of Morsi's advisors admitted that, having been unable to remove former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud by ordinary means, Morsi simply changed the constitution to make it feasible (this was supposed to be one of the sections of the declaration that rendered it palatable to the public). Equally remarkably, the MB members of the Constituent Assembly even overrode the advice of the assembly chair and ally, Hosam al-Gheriani, to deny former leaders of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party political rights for a decade and to grant members of the government's prosecutorial staff judicial immunity. Al-Gheriani was reduced to leaving the dais of the assembly in protest against these provisions. He described the one as political vengeance and the other as an assault on the rights of citizens.

There are probably very few sections of Egyptian society that the Brotherhood and its allies in the Salafi movements have not antagonized.

The other important thing is that the anti-Morsi sentiment out there is not directed by the opposition leaders who are appearing on TV. It's a popular movement of anger by people who feel they were slapped in the face — twice — by the Morsi administration rushed, unthinking actions and the discourse of their supporters. 

Goldberg also has some fine words about Obama policy on this.


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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.

Why Morsi's mess will have a long legacy

Egypt's Constitution Conundrum | Foreign Affairs

The bottom line from Nathan Brown's latest on the draft constitution:

It makes little sense to read such provisions in the abstract: mechanisms of accountability work quite differently depending on who is in government. And here there is cause for worry. As long as Islamists keep winning parliamentary and presidential elections, there will likely be no push to rein in the presidency. But if the two authorities fall into competing hands, the new constitution could produce gridlock rather than real oversight.

For too long, observers have analyzed the prospects for democracy in Egypt by speculating about the intentions of important politicians and movements. Now almost everyone in the country claims to be a democrat, even if they all have very tarnished credentials. But the viability of Egyptian democracy depends not on real or claimed intentions but on healthy processes, accepted rules, and well-designed structures. And that should give us little reassurance.

Of course a constitution produced in a rushed process that created extreme polarization and a sense of injury among large elements of society is not going to result in that.


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.

FT: Morsi’s betrayal

Morsi’s betrayal - FT.com

This strongly-worded FT editorial is a good antidote for that terrible Guardian one (and I know whose paper's take I trust on most things, generally speaking — and I've contributed to both!):

As the democratically elected president of Egypt – by a thin majority – Mr Morsi is obliged to govern for all Egyptians, not take dictation from the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood. He should scrap the referendum, and sit down for talks without preconditions with the opposition National Salvation Front, an alliance of some two dozen groups headed by Mohammed ElBaradei, the liberal Nobel laureate.

The temptation will be to press ahead, reliant on the tacit backing of the army, whose enormous privileges the new charter jealously protects. But the imperative need is for a constitution that commands much more consensus, for Egyptians to feel they have a future they do not have to keep fighting for in the streets.

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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 the National Salvation Front wants

Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum | Reuters

I think it's important to clarify the stance of the National Salvation Front because it is often ambiguously reported. First what they said:

(Reuters) - Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation".

Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

"We are against this process from start to finish," Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

But there has been some doubt whether this is a call for boycott or not. In fact, a vote was held by the NSF in which they had three options: campaign for "no" in the referendum, boycott, or continue to push for the referendum to be postponed. They chose the third option, and I am told the boycott option got the least votes. They will push for this with more protests.

I can understand there is concern with legitimizing what has become an illegitimate process, but I expect campaigning for no will be the only recourse left if protests, strikes, legal maneuvers and getting the backing of judges and other constituencies involved in the referendum's administration does not work. A postponement of the referendum (not a cancellation) is what makes the most sense here, and if Morsi was not stubbornly stuck on an insane process he started he could do that easily without losing face.  

And the New York Times gets it wrong again here in a story titled "Opponents of Egypt’s Leader Call for Boycott of Charter Vote".


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.

Of flags in protests

Brothers in the Hood: Egypt’s Soft Powers and the Arab World

This is an interesting piece in Jadaliyya but I have a problem with this:

When Egyptian liberals complain of Islamist protesters waving Saudi flags in Tahrir Square, it needs to be pointed out that this is not so different from when liberals wave Tunisian and revolutionary Syrian flags. One has a conservative pan-Islamist agenda, the other a revolutionary pan-Arab one – both with an Egypt at the head.

Not really — on the rare occasions Egyptian protestors had Tunisian or Syrian flags, it was to express solidarity for those revolutions. Since Saudi Arabia was not having a revolution, one can assume it was either an indication of allegiance to the Saudi monarchy or the regime's religious viewpoints. There's a big difference there. 


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 isolates himself

As Egypt’s Crisis Deepens, Morsi Turns to Muslim Brotherhood - NYTimes.com

As tens of thousands chanted for his downfall or even imprisonment in a fourth day of protests outside the presidential palace, Mr. Morsi’s advisers and Brotherhood leaders acknowledged Friday that outside his core base of Islamist supporters he feels increasingly isolated in the political arena and even within his own government. The Brotherhood “is who he can depend on,” said one person close to Mr. Morsi, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Morsi appears to believe that he and the Brotherhood can deliver a strong vote for the draft constitution in next Saturday’s referendum — strong enough to discredit the opposition, allow him a fresh start and restore some of his authority.

And this:

“He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to become a human shield and protect the presidency because he can’t trust the state,” said the Brotherhood leader. “He is isolated.”

Some leaders might have concluded that this is because they simply don't have a broad mandate to do what they would like to do. Morsi  overreached by implementing a decree that resulted in a much stronger pushback than he expected, and then compounded his mistake and doubled down on rushing the constitution. He has pushed himself increasingly to rely solely on Islamists, and if this referendum takes places he will have only them to rely on for the rest of his administration. Moreover, he and his party last Wednesday incited people to go out into the street and "defend the presidency" — an unjustifiable action with predictable consequences (and an unnecessary one, after all he has the Republican Guards even if interior ministry forces are not to be trusted). Muslim Brothers went out there and held (and allegedly tortured) protestors for 12 hours, on presidency grounds, to extract confessions of a conspiracy. Morsi referred to these as "evidence" of a conspiracy in his speech the following day, but his own public prosecutor released these people. I am struck that this has been missing from much of the coverage of the situation in US media.

Morsi has pushed himself to rely on Islamists and appears to be accepting their resorting to violence on the grounds that violence has been used against the MB. On this trajectory, one can easily see him rely on such "muscle" for the foreseeable future because these protests will not stop once the referendum is held.

Morsi continues to panic

Morsy suspends tax plan, calls the increase a 'burden' on average citizen | Egypt Independent

President Mohamed Morsy has decided to suspend wide-ranging changes to the country's tax laws that had been signed earlier this week but just came to light Sunday, calling for "societal dialogue" and further consultation before implementing them.

In an announcement early Monday morning, Morsy said the taxes would amount to an "additional burden" on the average citizen.

"The president of the republic feels the pulse of the Egyptian street, and he realizes how much the citizen is bearing and struggling from his burdens in this difficult economic period," the statement said, according to the website of the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

This planned increase in government revenue is an important part of the IMF agreement signed by Egypt. Suddenly, after months of negotiations in which there was no "societal dialogue" at all, Morsi decides that it won't do? The main measures were going to be an increase in top-level income tax rates and a 1% on sales tax which would have been felt more widely. The excise tax increase on things like cigarettes have happened annually for years. 

There's a confident president for you. 

Get it straight

I've been following the way the crisis Egypt is being narrated and discussed, and there are some tropes and arguments that I think need refuting. 

- The opposition won't negotiate.

All the Egypt media coverage I saw yesterday had the same headline: Egypt opposition rejects Morsi's call to dialogue. But dialogue about what? Morsi either would or wouldn't rescind his November 22 decree (he did, at the end of the day, ending an untenable situation in which he was entitled to issue legislation by decree, with no judicial review or appeal possible).

But he'd already said he would not postpone the rushed referendum and would not negotiate on the content of this very contentious constitution. So what was on the table to negotiate? Not to mention that it is hard for the opposition to accept an invitation to dialogue from someone who has just accused them on national TV of being paid saboteurs, based on false confession extorted under duress by his own cadres during extra-judicial interrogations. Morsi seems to have been bizzarrely acknowledging the fact that he is far from an honest broker when he decided to *skip* the negotiations to ensure their "neutrality."

- Morsi was democratically elected. Opposition to him is undemocratic.

Yes, Morsi was democratically elected (we think -- there were few observers and they weren't allowed to witness the final count). But being democratically elected doesn't mean everythign you do thereafter is by definition democratic. There is no overstating how seriously Morsi undermined his own legitimacy with his authoritarian decree (imagine a US president who, because the courts are politicized, decides that he will just put himself above the law). Morsi took immediate advantage of his new power by issuing a law that seems designed to increase FJP control over labour unions the day after his November 22 decree. 


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Appearance at ECFR in London

Anthony Dworkin and I will be talking at this ECFR event in London: Black Coffee Morning: ‘Morsi’s Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back’

It starts at 8:30am on Tuesday.

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.

Sudan claims to have foiled coup, but arrests expose growing Islamist dissent

Last week, Sudanese security forces arrested the country’s ex-spymaster Salah Ghosh and at least a dozen other people, including high-ranking military officers, on charges of attempting a coup against President Omar al-Bashir. Little information has been made available regarding the alleged plotters, but according to AFP, state media also announced that “[t]his plot is led by some opposition party leaders.” 

The arrests came a few days after President Bashir returned from a “minor” operation in Saudi Arabia — one of the few places he can travel with fear of being turned over to the ICC to stand trial for war crimes — and oversaw the appointment of one of his main parliamentary boosters as secretary-general of the nation’s Islamic Movement organization, which Bashir and his cohorts created in 1999 after falling out with the cleric Hassan al-Turabi, who in the 1980s and 1990s led the Islamist organization that helped the current regime seize power. The new appointment was strongly criticized by al-Turabi, who is now the leader of the opposition calling for Bashir to step down, and has been described in Sudanese press commentaries as a defeat for “reformists,” since it further weds the organization to the president’s own political party, the NCP. Alex Thurston notes that the political battle at the Islamists’ national conference may not have been a precipitant for the arrest of the accused plotters and other individuals, According to Thurston, “[t]he combination of military defections and Islamist dissent (and of course there is overlap between military and Islamist ranks) poses a major problem for a regime that has relied on these constituencies as pillars of its support.”

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Where is Morsi?

There are reports that the president will make a statement tonight, and it's none too soon. Isn't it amazing that Morsi hasn't said a word yet about the clashes, deaths and injuries that took place outside the presidential palace, and the trickle of resignations (of his own advisors, the head of state TV, the christian VP of his own party) that has steadily followed? What kind of leadership is this? 

Mr. Morsi: You wanted to be all-powerful, you wanted the people to just go ahead and trust you: You own this mess. 

Meanwhile, taking yet another page from the Mubarak handbook, a couple Islamist lawyers have charged Mohammed El Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi and others for espionage and treason. I know people have mixed views on Baradei's political effectiveness, but you have to hand it to man: he's been attacked and smeared right across the political spectrum, by everyone from the NDP to the army's proxies to the Muslim Brotherhood. He must be doing something right. 

Links 5-6 December 2012

Di-sas-ter. I am still on the road, hope to post something longer on the crisis. Too much rush judgement nowadays.

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If Not Two States, Then One

If Not Two States, Then One - NYTimes.com

A very good op-ed by Saree Makdisi :

Once the fiction of a separate Palestinian state is revealed to have no more substance than the Wizard of Oz — which the E1 plan will all but guarantee — those Palestinians who have not already done so will commit themselves to the only viable alternative: a one-state solution, in which the idea of an exclusively Jewish state and an exclusively Palestinian one will yield to what was really all along the preferable alternative, a single democratic and secular state in all of historical Palestine that both peoples will have to share as equal citizens.

A campaign for rights and equality in a single state is a project toward which the Palestinians will now be able to turn with the formidable international support they have already developed at both the diplomatic and the grassroots levels, including a global boycott and sanctions movement whose bite Israel has already felt.

For Palestinians, in any case, one state is infinitely preferable to two, for the simple reason that no version of the two-state solution that has ever been proposed has meaningfully sought to address the rights of more than the minority of Palestinians who actually live in the territory on which that state is supposed to exist.


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.

Two takes on why Morsi did what he did

Tarek Masoud, writing for CNN (not his headline, btw), argues an Egyptian tradition of a  strong executive is what counts:

But, as shocking as Morsy's actions are, they do not prove that Islamists cannot be democrats. Morsy's decision to grant himself unquestioned authority was not the final, spectacularly public phase in some hitherto clandestine Muslim Brotherhood plan to erect a holy autocracy. Instead, the Egyptian president simply did what Egyptian presidents have been doing for more than 60 years — that is, loosening institutional restraints on their authority in order to more easily fulfill their agendas.

That Morsy is an Islamist is largely irrelevant. It's likely that the autocratic temptation would have seized Egypt's president regardless of his party or ideological orientation. This is not only because Egypt has had a distressingly long history of powerful executives, it's also because, at this moment in Egypt's political history, there is no actor, institution or organization able to keep the presidency in check.

Steve Cook, writing in Foreign Affairs, says it's an attitude to governance shared by the MB and the Free Officers:

The Brothers, like the Free Officers who came to power in 1952 and produced Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak, are what the Yale anthropologist James Scott calls "high modernists." High modernism, which places a premium on scientific knowledge and elites with special skills, is inherently authoritarian. It might seem a strange designation for the Brotherhood, since most observers think of it as a religious movement. But in reality, the group has used religion to advance a political agenda. To suggest that the organization's leaders are dilettantes when it comes to Islam would be an overstatement, but the majority of them are first and foremost doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. They think of themselves as a vanguard that is uniquely qualified to rebuild Egypt and realize its seemingly endless quest for modernization. Moreover, they believe that the people entrusted them with the responsibility to do so as a result of free and fair elections in late 2011 and 2012.

With the Brotherhood in control of the now-dissolved People's Assembly, Shura Council, Constituent Assembly, and the presidency, this vanguard thought it could choose a path for Egypt within the councils of its own organization. There was no need for consensus or negotiation, hence Morsi's August 12 decision to decapitate the national security establishment and his subsequent efforts to place sympathizers in influential positions within the state-controlled media. In a television interview broadcast on November 29, he even called his recent decree an effort to "fulfill the demands of the public and the revolution." There is, he implied, no reason to question his decisions, which were in the best interest of Egypt.

I must say I lean towards Cook's "high modernist" interpretation because this is how the MB has behaved since the revolution: it's excited to be in a position to implement its project, makes a big fuss about its Renaissance Project, and sees others as saboteurs of that perfect plan. But where I disagree is with the decapitation of the SCAF: the SCAF decapitated itself and enabled Morsi — who had no power to do any of this without the consent, tacit or explicit, of the military.


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.

Questions for the Muslim Brotherhood

As I read Muslim Brothers defend their current actions as the only way to safeguard Egyptian democracy and paint all their opponents as destructive filool, there are a whole bunch of questions I wish they would answer: 
  • Morsi gave the CA a 2-month extension to work on the constitution in his November 22 decree. Why did the assembly rush to finalize their draft on November 29? Why did they need two extra months to get the job done right, and one week later suddenly they didn't? 
  • The MB keeps saying that the courts were going to dissolve the CA, the Shura council and even countermand Morsi's August 12 decree and bring back SCAF.  What proof do they have for these claims? Is there even a case before the courts regarding the August 12 decree? (There isn't that I know of). 
  • If such a verdict had been handed down, the same constituency that elected Morsi to end military rule would have taken to the streets. Why not bet on his electoral legitimacy -- on democracy -- rather than opting for extraordinary extra-legal measures? 
  • Even if a court had dissolved the constituent assembly, Morsi had the right to form a new one immediately. Presumably, he had given himself that right (in his August 12 decree) precisely in case of deadlock or judicial interference. Why not exercise it? 
  • The MB has championed judicial supervision of elections for years, as the only guarantee of free elections. Will there be judicial supervision of the referendum and of future elections? 
  • A year ago, the MB indignantly protested against the Silmi document and the privileges and protections it gave the army. Why did it finally give the army most of those same prerogatives in the new constitution?
  • Most importantly: What happens if Egyptians vote down the constitution? Is there even a plan? (and if there isn't, what kind of a "choice" is this?) 

The soup kitchen Brotherhood

Uncle Morsi | Inanities

From a lovely post by the inimitable Sarah Carr:

Every day that passes puts another dent in the legend of this 80-year-old group with its dazzling powers of organisation and moderate Islamic vision and familiarity with the Egyptian street. Snort. Morsi is a dull cheating husband who misbehaves and attempts to make amends by offering surprise dinner invitations after he beats his wife up, where his wife is the Egyptian people you understand. The MB itself are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills that end at distributing food to the poor and organising large rallies. They are a charity organisation with a militia that finds itself in charge of a country and which seems to think that its decisions do not need to be backed up by reason or say, the rule or law, but can rely entirely on the Egyptian people trusting Uncle Morsi.

Podcast #39: Capture the castle

On this week’s podcast, Issandr and Ursula are joined by Human Rights Watch’s Heba Morayef and The Economist’s Max Rodenbeck to try to ascertain which of the developments of the last week we find the most disturbing: Morsi’s extraordinary new powers? The Muslim Brotherhood’s aping of Mubarak-era tactics? A rushed constitution with major contradictions, ambiguities and curbs on freedoms? The stark political polarization? Take your pick.

P.S.: Remember you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes. Please leave a rating there! And email us comments, questions and ideas at podcast@arabist.net

Show notes

Podcast #39:

In Translation: Dismantling the Brothers’ revolutionary self-image

Taking a break from translations from the press, we offer you this week an impassioned Facebook missive by Karim Ennarah, a human rights activist reacting to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s controversial decree. Ennarah offers a critique of the Muslim Brotherhood’s use of the revolution to legitimate what many see as a power-grab, whereas its record shows it collaborating with the old regime and protecting it from revolutionary justice.

This feature is possible thanks to Industry Arabic, a full-service translation company. Please check them out. We are also grateful to Mandy McClure for editing and dealing with tricky aameyya expressions.

Dismantling the Brothers’ revolutionary self-image

Karim Ennarah, Facebook, 24 November 2012

Morsi’s government is not a revolutionary government. In fact, it has been against the goals of the revolutions from day one. You may think they’re right, but please, this farce of “the revolution vs. the feloul!”[1] has to stop immediately, or I may very well die from the tawdriness of it all. The Muslim Brotherhood’s problem is that they’ve taken hold of the issue of the most esteemed, shitty judiciary[2] and turned it into the sole demand of the revolution. Let me then explain to you the bizarre inconsistencies in your explanations of the president’s decree. (Here I’m speaking to my friends among the MB, Islamists and their sympathizers, or those sympathetic to the president and his recent decisions. You all know that I’m not one for political expediency and have no chronic phobia of Islamists.)

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