Bassem Youssef gets the NMA treatment

This morning I wrote about the Bassem Youssef case — I have a couple of updates about it. One is so funny it deserved its own post — the above NMA.tv rendition of the case. I particularly love the conspiracy theorizing bit.

Also, from Moftasa, a worthwhile post on President Morsi's foreign policy advisor's move to distance the presidency from the lawsuits being filed left and right to defend Morsi — in some cases by third parties, but also by officials themselves. And that this may only be coming because the State Dept. is raising the Bassem Youssef issue.

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 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.

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.

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.

5 Comments

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.

4 Comments

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.

1 Comment

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. 

 

Read More

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. 

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.

10 Comments

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?) 

Morsi reminds The Economist of Mubarak

Egypt: Dictatorship, democracy, dictatorship? | The Economist

Bottom line in this good overview:

Mr Morsi seems to have forgotten the sensitivity that a country freshly freed from decades of despotism might feel towards anything with an odour of dictatorship. Secretive and inward-looking, the Brotherhood appears surprised by the depth of mistrust that many Egyptians, including pious Muslims of every social class, feel towards them. The Islamists’ constituency remains large and their organising power formidable. “They will rally the poor with the slogan: to be a Muslim, vote yes for the constitution and confound the infidels,” predicts Muhammad Nour Farahat, a law professor at Cairo’s Zagazig University. Yet even if Mr Morsi and his Brothers manage to pull this off, a heavy cloud will remain over their rule.
2 Comments

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 Dr Morsi learned from Dr Zaius

(Alternative link to video)

Some out there on the internets are confused about Mohammed Morsi's Planet of the Apes reference. Here's the scene he was referring to — just before Charlton Heston rides away on the beach to make a startling discovery, Dr Zaius tells him about what the humans will bring, as revealed in the twenty-third scroll of the apes, ninth verse:

'Beware the beast man, for he is the 
devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, 
he kills for sport, or lust or greed. 
Yes, he will murder his brother to possess 
his brother's land. Let him not breed 
in great numbers, for he will make a desert 
of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him 
back into his jungle lair: For he is the 
harbinger of death'.

In the TIME interview, Morsi says:

But at the end, I still remember, this is the conclusion: When the big monkey, he was head of the supreme court I think — in the movie! — and there was a big scientist working for him,  cleaning things, has been chained there. And it was the planet of the apes after the destructive act of a big war,  and atomic bombs and whatever in the movie. And the scientists was asking him to do something, this was 30 years ago: “Don’t forget you are a monkey.”  He tells him, “don’t ask me about this dirty work,.”  What did the big ape, the monkey say? He said, “you’re human, you did it [to] yourself. “That’s the conclusion. Can we do something better for ourselves?

So I think he actually remembers the gist of it pretty well. The man knows his ape scripture.

9 Comments

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.

Spaghetti time for Morsi

Transcript: TIME’s Interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi | TIME.com

I literally burst out laughing read the first paragraph of TIME's interview with Morsi:

TIME: You’re on the world stage now.

President Mohamed Morsi: (in English) The world stage is very difficult. It’s not easy to be on the world stage. The world is now much more difficult than it was during your revolution.  It’s even more difficult. The world.  More complicated, complex, difficult.  It’s a spaghetti-like structure. It’s mixed up. So we need to somehow take things, easily, so we can go together, the whole world --  peacefully, peacefully, hopefully, all kinds of peace.  I think you know that in general people like to say that we should keep peace by all means. I’m not talking about peace by its traditional meaning. Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of living together, socially, culturally, not only militarily.

Update: OMG — it only gets better, I think here he calls the head of the SCC a monkey:

I remember a movie. Which one? Planet of the Apes. The old version, not the new one. There is new one. Which is different. Not so good. It’s not expressing the reality as it was the first one. But at the end, I still remember, this is the conclusion: When the big monkey, he was head of the supreme court I think — in the movie! — and there was a big scientist working for him,  cleaning things, has been chained there. And it was the planet of the apes after the destructive act of a big war,  and atomic bombs and whatever in the movie. And the scientists was asking him to do something, this was 30 years ago: “Don’t forget you are a monkey.”  He tells him, “don’t ask me about this dirty work,.”  What did the big ape, the monkey say? He said, “you’re human, you did it [to] yourself. “That’s the conclusion. Can we do something better for ourselves?

I saw it 30 years ago.  That is the role of the art. This is the very important role of art.  Gone with the Wind has been treating social problems. Five in Hell. That was the Arabic title. Five Americans working behind German lines and they were using primitive military devices. I think it was Charles Bronson or something like that.  My hard disk still carries a few things!

Update 2: I'm sad now:

2012 is the best year for the Egyptians in their lives, in their history. 

6 Comments

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.

Paranoid about the courts

The revolution in crisis | Egypt Independent

Nathan Brown - who is being called "The Nate Silver of Egyptian politics" on Twitter write about the fight between the judiciary and the presidency:

The president was explicit in why he felt the need for the November declaration: He feared the SCC was about to turn back the revolution by disbanding the Constituent Assembly, the Shura Council, and perhaps even the president’s August constitutional declaration that had removed the military’s stranglehold over the country’s political system.

Is the SCC a body filled with SCAF sycophants and handpicked Hosni Mubarak stooges? 

No. 

All members of the court were indeed formally presidential appointments. But most were nominated by the justices themselves; their appointment by Mubarak was a formality.

The former chief justice, Farouk Sultan, was indeed a direct Mubarak pick, but he had only one vote and retired over the summer. He was replaced by a president picked by the court’s own justices. 

I don’t wish to make it sound as if the old regime’s habits left the court completely unaffected. There were subtle ways that the bold court of Chief Justice Awad al-Morr’s days, in the 1990s, was gradually tamed by the regime.

Bottom line: the Supreme Constitutional Court is a mixed bag. Brothers like to point to statements made by Tahani al-Gebali, who famously told the New York Times last summer that she's ready to do anything to back the army and thwart the Brotherhood. Senior officials I've talked to say they have evidence that the court had already decided to rule against the Constituent Assembly, the Shura Council and the August 12 decree with the aim of bringing back the army. Might be true regarding the first two — but we can't know for sure. As for the third, it seems unlikely: after all, the army itself chose to leave the front row of politics. Why come back now?

The SCC is making a statement later today. We'll see how they react to these allegations.

No compromise so far..

Why did the Western media report today that Morsi has compromised his position? As far as I can see the MB has softened its language (with vague promises of "national dialoge") but not its position. See Ikwhanweb's increasingly bitter Twitter feed: "no turning back,decree is staying, those not willing to reach to a point of stability will be held accountable to God & history."

And speaking of Ikhwanweb, where do they get off describing the protesters as "liberals, secularists and filuls"? I guess you just need to take one look at this crowd of mostly veiled women to know they're all that. 

Not that the opposition doesn't have some blindspots of its own. The longer the protests last and the bigger they get, the more maximalist the protesters' demands become (another familiar phenomenon). Now some say they want the declaration rescinded, a new constituent assembly, and Morsi to step down (the last demand in particular makes little sense). Tempting as it is to dream of pushing a "Restart" button on the whole deeply flawed process, I don't think it's realistic, or fair to the Islamists and their supporters. Let's just focus on limiting Morsi's dictatorial powers and re-establishing judicial review. Then start negotiations -- again -- on a more representative constituent assembly. 

Hanna on Morsi's mindset

Morsi’s Majoritarian Mindset - By Michael Wahid Hanna | The Middle East Channel

A good piece that lays out a key issue in the current crisis — the contempt in which the Muslim Brothers, by and large, hold other political forces:

Morsi's majoritarian mindset is not anti-democratic per se, but depends upon a distinctive conception of winner-takes-all politics and the denigration of political opposition. Winning elections, by this perspective, entitles the victors to govern unchecked by the concerns of the losers. This polarizing approach to politics bodes ill for the future of Egypt's troubled transition at a foundational moment when the country is fashioning a new constitutional order. This chronic overreach has cemented the divide between Islamists and non-Islamists and heightened suspicions of the Brotherhood's ultimate intentions.

It's not just Morsi, it's also the opposition

Both Egypt's President and His Opposition Adopt Extreme Positions - NYTimes.com

My latest for Latitude — an excerpt:

If Morsi’s critics rightly oppose the decree, however, they also leave little room for compromise. They won’t address some of the underlying problems that the president’s admittedly extreme step sought to address. And they refuse to begin any dialogue with Morsi until the decree is rescinded.

Morsi is unlikely to cancel the measure outright. And the Egyptian judiciary, which is deeply divided about it, has given him leeway to implement at least parts of it as acts of sovereignty. That’s a somewhat mystifying legal doctrine, and it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. But will the opposition negotiate over what must go and what can stay? Also, can it hammer out a deal — of the kind Morsi should have sought in the first place — to ensure that the drafting of the constitution can continue without interruption?

Now that the opposition has an opportunity to humiliate the president, it is in no mood to compromise.

But this is wrong-headed. Over time, Morsi’s critics run the risk of appearing intransigent to the general public, especially if he starts making concessions. ElBaradei and others in the opposition need to make concrete counterproposals, notably about the future of the constitution-writing process.

Finding a consensus that everyone can live with should be the end goal both for Morsi and his opponents, some of who are guilty of the lazy hope that the intervention of third parties — judges, generals — will solve their problems. Just as it needs a president who listens, Egypt needs a loyal and constructive opposition.

3 Comments

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.