Democrats vs. Liberals or democrats vs. republicans?

Egypt has a dilemma: its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats.

This is a pithy and elegant way to put things that Samer Shehata has used in this NYT op-ed, but I think it's inaccurate. A lot of it depends on how you use the words "democrats" and "liberals". The meaning of democratic is wooly in the age of universal human rights, because it does not always take into account cultural specificities. Many would say that even if fairly elected a government is not democratic if it does not take into account minority rights, gender rights, even gay rights. Likewise "liberals" can't be called liberals if they want to return to the old security state that existed under Mubarak (esp. towards Islamists).

The dilemma facing Egypt is that it's a limited, electoral democracy whereas many want it to be a republic. The difference being that in a republic the individual has guarantees in the context of a socio-political compact, whereas in a democracy the minority has little if any voice. Egypt is formally a republic, and has been since 1956, over several iterations of a compact (one that failed over the 15 years). It might have turned into a more democratic republic after 2011 except the new social compact was left to elections. Because elections are not very accurate indicators of national sentiment (because of variety in electoral systems, the importance of electoral strategy, etc.) and the voting public has still mostly few lasting allegiances in post-revolution Egypt, this was always a bad idea. A lot of people have changed their mind.  

However Egypt comes out of this crisis, hopefully a republican pact — hopefully based around a bill of rights — will form a more stable base for its political system. 

How did we get here? — Evan Hill

A great piece looking at the journey from January 25 to June 30 2013 by Cairo-based journalist Evan Hill — here's the bit that looks at the crucial role of the November 27 2012 constitutional declaration, the point where I agree with Evan it was over for Morsi's claim to leadership beyond his core base:  

The beginning of the end came in November, almost a year to the day after the Mohamed Mahmoud battle, when Morsi issued a package of sovereign decrees - just four months into his term - that essentially placed himself and assembly above judicial review. He and his allies argued that to stand by and do nothing would leave courts packed with Mubarak appointees free to undermine every step of the transition. The opposition, which may have once been inclined to agree, did not take his side. There had been too many betrayals, trust had evaporated. To the apparent surprise of Morsi’s administration, they were outraged. Protesters took to the streets, calling the president a “new pharaoh.” The remaining liberals, progressives, leftists and Christians in the constituent assembly walked out. Morsi gave them two extra months to resolve their differences, but the assembly rushed the draft constitution through an overnight session and passed it. Opposition politicians increasingly believed that Morsi did not even call his own shots; that decisions of national import were made in the Brotherhood's secretive Guidance Bureau. In Egypt's new constitution, human rights groups and other critics saw gaping loopholes, lax protections for minorities, women and children, and troubling roles for religious oversight from conservative Sunni institutions.

The November crisis awakened the opposition to a harsh reality: they were going to keep losing this game, and the Brotherhood was not going to stop playing. The only solution was to change the rules. They united, for the first time, under the banner of the National Salvation Front. Their faltering effort to boycott and then vote down the new constitution failed, but the unexpectedly tight result convinced them that Morsi’s base was shrinking. Soon after, the NSF declared that it would boycott upcoming parliamentary elections unless many of the rules - written by the nearly wholly Islamist upper house - were changed. Improbably, filled with inflated egos and highly oppositional parties, the NSF held its front.

In December, after Morsi supporters ransacked a small sit-in outside the presidential palace and sparked deadly street battles, a more extreme wing of the opposition began to wield influence inside the coalition. They argued that Morsi had lost all legitimacy. He would have to go, voluntarily or by force. Violent anti-Brotherhood protests became the order of the day. Instability worked in the opposition’s favor. The economy was nose-diving, and security forces - becoming more openly vocal in their disdain for the Brotherhood government - could not or would not do their jobs. They took no pleasure facing the brunt of public ire for protecting a conservative, formerly clandestine movement that had stood against the state for so long. Social media and independent television stations lit up with images of Brotherhood members beating away protesters. Newspapers openly mocked Morsi’s government for its inability to right the ship. Rumors and anonymously sourced news reports spread about the Brotherhood’s ambitions to Islamize the army and police and carve off critical swaths of sovereign assets, such as those along the Suez Canal, to sell to benefactors in Qatar. Morsi - one of the more deeply uncharismatic leaders in modern Arab history - proved incapable of rallying anyone outside his base. Nearly everything he said became gas on the fire of the opposition’s anger.

Do read the whole thing.

Today's Egyptian newspaper headlines

 State-owned:

al-Ahram: "Egypt abandoned to fear"

al-Akhbar: "Egypt on fire" 

al-Gomhoureya: "The longest day in the history of Egypt" 

Rose al-Youssef: "The people wants to decide its own fate" 

 Private press (mostly anti-Morsi):

al-Masri al-Youm: "Revolutionaries to Morsi: one year was enough"

al-Shorouk al-Jadid: "30 June: Egypt delivered to its fate" 

Youm al-Saba3e: "Red card for the president: 22 million signatures for Tamarrod" 

Al-Tahrir: "Leave!" 

al-Destour: "Today is the end of Morsi and of his gang"

Even the financial types are freaking out

From this morning Beltone Financial newsletter, by an Egypt-based regional investment bank that does a pretty good roundup of local news:  

The size of masses to protest against Morsi, the duration and intensity of the protests, the role of the army, and the support of the west including the US will all determine the outcome of the protests. We are inclined to believe that the end of Morsi’s presidency is looming, but that it will likely take deadly clashes and continued civil disobedience. This may extend beyond the week of June 30th, thus extending the length of political instability in Egypt. We also believe that it would take army intervention to control the Muslim Brotherhood before and after Morsi steps down. The Brotherhood’s dream of a caliphate in the region and beyond is at stake and they will not give up that easily. The West will stop supporting President Morsi only when they see the Egyptians themselves all turn against him. The lack of US and western support of President Morsi will definitely turn the table against him and will result in the end of his rule. The army will intervene when the clashes become deadly and widespread, yet it is unclear whether their role will end there or if they will aspire for more power and thus the scenario whereby the Egyptians turn against the army starts again.

Yup - but it's a tall order to align those conditions. So far, the army is waiting and Obama is supportive of Morsi as legitimately elected leader. But that could change fast.

Morsi regrets constitutional declaration - kinda

From the Guardian's interview with Mohamed Morsi:  

In a rare moment of contrition, Morsi admitted for the first time in the English-language media that he regretted using unilateral powers to force through Egypt's controversial new constitution – a move that the opposition saw as dictatorial. This was the pivotal moment of his first year, sowing the seeds for widespread dissent against his administration.

"It contributed to some kind of misconception in society," Morsi said, distancing himself from one of the most divisive clauses in the new Islamist-slanted constitution, which allows for greater religious input into Egyptian legislation. "It's not me who changed this article. I didn't interfere in this constitutional committee's work. Absolutely not."

The president added that once MPs were finally elected to Egypt's currently empty lower house of parliamentary, he would personally submit constitutional amendments for debate in the house's very first session.

But Morsi's contrition only went so far. Amid opposition claims that the failure to achieve consensus had led to Egypt's current polarisation, Morsi blamed the refusal of secular politicians to participate in the political process for the impasse. He denied that his government was unduly loaded with Islamists. He went on to list numerous offers he claimed he had made to bring non-Islamists on board, while simultaneously defending the right of a popularly-elected president to promote his allies. "This is the concept of real democracy," he said.

Back to the Margins

Lina Attalah, observing June 30 uncomfortably from the margins, which is where the 25 January 2011 uprising started: 

For one, those assigned the job of articulating street politics, namely the formal opposition, are excelling in their own bankruptcy and decadence. Figures that were once broadly associated with the revolutionary camp, as they fell outside the Islamists-Mubarak regime binary in the presidential elections, are now the ones declaring today that there is no solution to end the Brothers’ rule but a military takeover. In juxtaposition, the Brotherhood elites in power and their self-appointed spokespersons added one more item to their list of sins: they have successfully contaminated the realm of contentious politics with their clan-based practices and their overall inability to enunciate genuine propositions that would put an end to the current stalemate. In other words, they rid the political space of meaning, and hence killed all possibilities for meaningful engagement by the opposition.

This also translates on discursive levels. The Islamist elites have in a way generated some of the counter-discourses of their opponents, who now say “let them go back to their prison cells.” After all, it is people like al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya leader Assem Abd El Magued who say things like, “we will cut your throats and come to you with a thousand men, each of them worth a thousand men.”

So, lesson learned, after a three-year-old revolution: let us not demonize the people, and let us not fall into our repeated failure to understand where they come from. The fight for what we imagine are our revolutionary ideals will need to take a different shape. I still engage in conversations with neighbors, friends, and family members who lament the economic failures, the political debacle, and the sectarianism, while I keep reminding them that all of these were also attributes of the Mubarak regime and the military junta that followed it. But I often also disengage when they start guilt tripping me about my decision to vote for Morsi in the presidential election’s runoffs, when he faced off against Mubarak regime figure Ahmed Shafiq. As soon as these accusations begin, I find myself enumerating in my head the list of groceries I need to buy. 

But the question remains: How do we take a position, those of us with clarity around the rejection of the very nature of the Egyptian state as a militaristic/security state? How do we handle our sense of possession of a revolution that we wanted so much to be against an unjust, exclusionary state, as manifested in its robust military and security apparatuses, and not simply against a regime? How do we grapple with a revolution transcending our dreams, our aspirations, and even ourselves, while possibly putting us in its camp of adversaries in its new configuration? 

 

Why efforts to broker a compromise in Egypt failed

Nathan Brown writes: 

Yet these maximal positions are not the core of the problem. An agreement may actually have been possible but the political will was simply missing. There were a series of quiet efforts undertaken in the past few months to bring the government and opposition together. These efforts (some domestic, some international) all centered around a set of proposals to form a new cabinet with credible national figures, consider constitutional amendments, and move toward an agreed electoral framework. Those involved in these efforts reported considerable progress the major (and perhaps only) missing ingredient was a willingness to sign on the dotted line. While the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) sent mixed signals, ultimately its judgment seemed to be that agreement offered few benefits and too high a cost. They had too many forces to contend with, and ultimately those within the state apparatus (military, security forces, judiciary, bureaucracy) absorbed all their energy. For divided opposition leaders unwilling to be seen as negotiating, mistrust of their sporadic interlocutors ran just as deep.
And now attitudes have grown hard indeed. I asked one leading FJP parliamentarian -- a figure I have come to respect as level headed, calm, introspective, and patient -- whether he thought he wished his side had done anything differently (referring specifically to the crisis over Morsi's November 2012 constitutional declaration and the subsequent clashes). He replied with visible anger that not only did he think they would do it all over again but that in fact they will do it all over again if necessary. And when I remarked to a friend in a responsible position that I did not think Morsi would leave office voluntarily, he replied that he thought the Egyptian people would deal with him as Libyans had dealt with Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Calmer language was used in Europe in the summer of 1914.

 

The mood in Cairo

We asked Nour The Intern to send us a ground-level view of the mood in Cairo ahead of #June30mageddon. This is her response. 

Well, the atmosphere in Cairo is relatively calm, as opposed to other governorates, like Sharqia, Alexandria, Assiut, Suez, where unrest arrived a few days early. Whether it’s the kind of calm that comes before the storm or one that could last beyond June 30, no one knows.

The weather has officially lost its spot as the number one topic for small talk to June 30. Asking someone about their views of, or plans for, June 30 is the new "Very humid today, worse than yesterday, right?" and saying "God save us on June 30," or things to that effect, has all but replaced goodbyes.

Read More

Wael Ghonim asks Morsi to step down

And the build-up to anti-Morsi protests in Egypt on June 30th continues... Here is a video message by world-famous activist Wael Ghonim, taking the Islamist president to task for allegedly breaking the promises he made a year ago. Translated transcript by Nour. 

In the name of God, the Merciful. Allah Almighty said: “And fulfill (every) covenant. Verily! The covenant will be questioned about.”
Last year during the runoff presidential elections, the then-presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi emerged with a number of pledges to the Egyptian people to win their votes. These promises did, in fact, make a difference for him  -- as evidenced by him winning the elections by a very small margin, thanks to many people, a great many of whom are now considered agents of the West and haters of religion. 
Three days after the elections, just like today, I attended the Fairmont (hotel) meeting with the president before the official result was announced, when the Muslim Brothers were afraid of forgery, and so decided to confirm their commitments to their promises. That day, the president promised us to be a president for all Egyptians, he promised to honor his campaign slogan: "Our strength, in our unity.”  But, unfortunately, a year later the slogan is now “Our strength, in our Brotherhood.” The president, that day, promised us to respect the opposition and shared decision-making, but (now) we find that we have replaced a ruling party that considered whoever opposes it to be a traitor and an agent with another ruling party that considers whoever opposes it to be a traitor, an agent and a hater of religion. The president at the Fairmont meeting promised retribution for (the killers) of those who died in the revolution, but what we have seen is that people are still dying under his rule. The youth that took to Tahrir Sq. to chant the day (Morsi) won -- their mothers are now crying with sadness, (grieving) their (youth’s) martyrdom when they took to (the streets) to oppose him. 
Read More

From ECFR: regional views on Syria

The European Council of Foreign Relations' website is hosting a roundtable of views from around the region on the Syrian conflict that's very much worth reading to get a hold of the complexity of its regional dimension.

Hassan Hassan starts off with what the Gulf states want:

The potential demise of the pro-Iranian regime in Damascus offers the Gulf states the possibility of extending their regional influence. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, believe that a friendly regime in Syria will give them influence over Shia-dominated Baghdad, over whom they have had little sway, but which is seen as a critical player in the regional balance of power. Iraq’s post-2003 alliance with Iran is perceived as one of the key reasons. for Tehran’s growing regional influence over the past decade. A Sunni state in Syria could serve to strengthen currently marginalised Iraqi Sunni forces, giving them – and their Gulf backers – greater influence in Baghdad. At the same time, regime change in Damascus would help the Gulf states bolster their standing in Lebanon, already economically dependent on the Gulf, by strengthening pro-Sunni Gulf actors at the expense of the dominant pro-Assad Hezbollah movement. For the Gulf States, the Syria conflict is thus a critical battle for control of a key pivot state in the region. Drawing Damascus away from the Iranian camp is seen as a way of cementing broader regional influence in the Levant, and reestablishing the more favorable regional balance of power that they lost following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003.

And from Haydar al-Khoei's piece on the view from Iraq:

A diplomatic incident in Damascus sheds some light on how events in Syria are being seen by Baghdad. In the summer of 2011, the Qatari ambassador to Syria invited several Arab ambassadors as well as the Syrian foreign minister to his residence. Whilst sitting around the dinner table the Iraqi ambassador remarked, “The same people who conspired against Iraq are now conspiring against Syria.” This enraged the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who responded, “I dare you to name them. I dare you!” The Syrian foreign minister attempted to calm the situation by saying, “The Iraqi ambassador is referring to al-Qaeda and the Salafis, not Saudi Arabia,” but the undertone of the message was clear.

There's much more to read there - check it out. ECFR's latest report on Syria stakes out the wise position, in my view, that any alternative to diplomacy would be disastrous.

The Istanbul protests and the military

Interesting tidbit from Medium's curation of reports from Istanbul:

Over the course of the past day though, they have been quietly supporting the protesters. They have refused to cooperate with Police requests to use military zones for transportation. At a military hospital in Istanbul they refused to treat police officers, instead handing out gas masks to dissidents. As this exchange between a policeman and soldier attests, relations between the two armed groups are indeed frosty at present. Part of the dialogue translates as:

Policeman: “Next time we should also throw gas bombs here [a military zone].”

Soldier: “If you do it, we will find something to throw to you as well, rest assured.” 

Update:  Paul Mutter alerts me to this pic taken by the NYT's CJ Chivers:

Roger Cohen on the Leveretts' book on Iran

Pretty devastating opening paragraph in Roger Cohen's review of Flynt and Hillary Leverett's new book on Iran:

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett are unusual among former staffers of the CIA, the State Department, and the National Security Council in their deep affection for the Islamic Republic of Iran. This attraction, which knows few bounds, finds its apotheosis in Going to Tehran. Their stated goal is “the most objective analysis of Iranian politics.” Yet they find that Iran embraces, “more fully and openly than Turkey, the project of building a state that is simultaneously Islamic and democratic.” (The greater openness of Tehran than Istanbul should, they seem to think, be apparent to any objective analyst.) Iran’s government “of the Shi’a, by the Shi’a, and for the Shi’a,” they suggest, may well produce “a wider range of choice for Iranian voters than the United States’ two-party system offers American voters.”

Not a book you want to have out when the religious Supreme Leader of Iran has just decreed that the two top presidential candidates from outside his own network should not be allowed to run. Cohen writes a little further down: "The eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity."

Ouch. 

Saudis like to share

For people whose society is organized into a rather extreme public/private divide, Saudis turn out to love sharing information about themselves online. It turns out they share the most of any country on earth.

From a slideshow by Mary Meeker, a renowned analyst on internet trends whose annual presentation at the D11 Conference is a geek favorite:

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Qatar and Syria

From an FT editorial:

However, the Qataris’ intervention in Syria, while boosting the revolt against Assad, has also created confusion. The Saudis support the handful of secular rebel factions and Salafi groups fighting the Syrian regime. The Qataris, by contrast, are less discriminating over who they support, and work through the Muslim Brotherhood, which is anathema to Riyadh. As a result the Qataris and Saudis last year created separate and competing military alliances, a rivalry that has undermined the rebellion against Assad – and may have led to weapons ending up in the hands of jihadi militants.