The Syrian crisis in Jordan

This is a belated link to an article by dear friend of the blog Matthew Hall, a beautifully written and sharply observed piece that maps the geographical, social and economic dimension of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan in the excellent publication MERIP  -- which you should all subscribe to.

(In addition to writing about the MIddle East, Matt is also a scholar of musical esoterica).

Not in our name!

Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists -- a small, influential and, in the Egyptian political scene today, remarkably coherent and clear-eyed group -- has issued a statement that explains why giving General Al-Sisi a "mandate" to "fight terrorism" is a bad, and illogical, idea. Egypt's April 6 movement -- the activist group that began youth protests against Mubarak -- has also come out against heeding Al-Sisi's call for mass demonstrations today. 

Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed against the people and against the Copts in defence of its power in the name of religion, we do not give army chief Al-Sisi our authority. We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres.
If Al-Sisi has the legal means to do what he wants, why is he calling people into the streets? What he wants is a popular referendum on assuming the role of Caesar and the law will not deter him.

 

Masoud: MB's sin was that it failed to work with felool

Tarek Masoud, writing in Foreign Policy: 

Though there is some truth to this narrative, June 30 was less a revolution than a counter-revolution, carried out not by the photogenic young people who made Tahrir Square a household name two-and-a-half years ago, but by the orphans of the regime that those young people had overthrown. Morsy's sin was not that he sought to Islamize the state -- Hosni Mubarak had done a pretty good job of that himself, and the temporary constitution issued by the new interim government includes all of the shariah-talk that liberals supposedly found so objectionable. It wasn't even that it tried to exclude liberals like Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed ElBaradei from governing. According to Sabahi himself, Morsy offered him the vice presidency shortly after coming to power last year. And although ElBaradei has just been named vice president for international affairs, it's safe to assume that the number of protesters who took to the streets to put this widely (if unfairly) maligned man in government is vanishingly small.

No, the sin of the Muslim Brotherhood was not that it failed to work with liberals, but that it failed to work with the old regime. For the almost the entirety of its time in power, the Brotherhood has demonstrated a remorseless, unyielding obsession with rooting out Mubarak's National Democratic Party from Egypt's political life. This extent of the obsession was on full display in one of the last speeches of Morsy's presidency. Before a crowd made up of equal parts dignitaries and rowdy Muslim Brothers from the provinces, he railed against the remnants of the ancien regime -- commonly called the fulul -- and then took a few minutes to tell an unflattering story about a man named Kamal el-Shazly, who was Mubarak's parliamentary enforcer -- and who has been dead since 2010. This odd detour into what is now ancient history reveals the extent to which Morsy and his Brothers viewed as Egypt's primary problem as not the crumbling of its economy or the decay in public order, but the continued presence of Mubarak's allies and appointees in almost every corner of the state apparatus. "One year is enough," the president declared, suggesting that the gloves were soon to come off and a full-blown purge was in the offing. In the end, he was the one who was purged.

Another way to see it was that Morsi and the MB completely failed to understand the fragility of their situation, their need for allies (and thus concessions to those allies), and that neither the army nor the Americans were reliable partners to maintain them in power.

"Egypt is too important to be ruled by its people"

Baheyya, on the speech by al-Sisi we linked to yesterday

The speech is the intellectual gloss on the July 3 coup. Its point is that Egypt is too important to be ruled by its people. Too many regional and world powers are vested in the direction this country takes and how it gets there. Its population will be corralled to the side and left to practice their charming folkloric political rituals, with parliamentary elections and even presidential elections and what have you. An arena of electoral democracy will be constructed, but many matters of grave national import will be outside its purview. And anyway, its outcomes can always be reversed.

 

Was there army unity on #June30?

Interesting allegation from Cherif Bassiouni's through and well worth reading analysis of the situation Egypt: 

It is also reported, and that is the second story, that then-President Morsi was going to appoint Lieutenant General Ahmed Wasfy who is a member and the commander of the second field army stationed in the Sinai, to replace General al-Sisi. General Wasfy is believed to have opposed the action by the SCAF as led by General al-Sisi. Shortly thereafter, a military spokesperson issued a statement that General Wasfy had been attacked while in the Sinai but was not killed. The statement indicated that a male civilian together with his 6-year-old daughter were killed in the car by military fire, which presumably occurred in the belief that the car in which these two civilians were was planning an attack upon Wasfy. This statement was later withdrawn by the military authorities. But independent sources confirm the death of a civilian adult and a 6-year-old child. For the last week, General Wasfy has not attended the meetings of the SCAF, and a military spokesperson stated that this was because he was too busy with the security situation in the Sinai. Some observers, however, believe that Wasfy may be under some form of arrest because he was supportive of then-President Morsi and could have been tapped by him to take over from General al-Sisi— much as the latter took over from Field Marshall Tantawi. The hypothesis that President Morsi wanted Lieutenant General Wasfy to replace General al-Sisi is plausible. 

A definition of excessive force

AP, reporting on yesterday's killing of at least 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters: 

The shootings Monday of Morsi supporters prompted questions about whether troops used excessive deadly force, an accusation the military dismissed as unfair.

"What excessive force? We were dealing with people shooting at us with live ammunition," chief military spokesman Co. Ahmed Mohammed Ali told The Associated Press. "It would have been excessive if we killed 300."

Confident in the army's position, Ali asked those at a televised news conference to stand in silence to mourn the dead. Later he expressed regret for the loss of life, but did not accept blame for the killings.

The US and the coup

Some great reporting in this NYT piece: 

CAIRO — As President Mohamed Morsi huddled in his guard’s quarters during his last hours as Egypt’s first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country’s top generals, senior advisers with the president said.
The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Mr. Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors.
The aides said they already knew what Mr. Morsi’s answer would be. He had responded to a similar proposal by pointing at his neck. “This before that,” he had told his aides, repeating a vow to die before accepting what he considered a de facto coup and thus a crippling blow to Egyptian democracy.
His top foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the United States ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, to say that Mr. Morsi refused. When he returned, he said he had spoken to Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said.
“Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,” an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country’s Western patron, “Mother America.”

What good faith?

Mara Revkin, with advice that's unlikely to be heeded:

While analysts and politicians engage in semantic sparring matches over whether or not the regime change in Egypt can properly be defined as a “coup,” what is indisputable is that the events of the past week have pushed this country toward an explosive ideological standoff in which political disagreements are being fought out in the streets, rather than rationally negotiated through democratic institutions. After last night’s stalemate, violence in Egypt is unfortunately likely to continue, and Egypt’s fractured political forces cannot afford to waste time blaming one another. While it is the right of every Egyptian to peacefully demonstrate, this right comes with a moral duty to prevent protests from degenerating into urban warfare. After a week of violence and at least seventy casualties, it is now time for the Brotherhood and Egypt’s new interim government to stop using the threat of street mobilization as a bargaining chip in conflicts that must ultimately be resolved through dialogue and political institutions—not mob violence. Until the country’s leaders are willing to negotiate in good faith, Egyptians will continue to pay a heavy price for their reckless brinksmanship. 

Morsy role at Syria rally seen as tipping point for Egypt army

That speech was definitely one of Morsi's top five mistakes. 

Army concern about the way President Mohamed Morsy was governing Egypt reached tipping point when the head of state attended a rally packed with hardline fellow Islamists calling for holy war in Syria, military sources said.

At the June 15 rally, Sunni Muslim clerics used the word "infidels" to denounce both the Shi'ites fighting to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the non-Islamists that oppose Morsy at home.

Morsy himself called for foreign intervention in Syria against Assad, leading to a veiled rebuke from the army, which issued an apparently bland but sharp-edged statement the next day stressing that its only role was guarding Egypt's borders.

"The armed forces were very alarmed by the Syrian conference at a time the state was going through a major political crisis," said one officer, whose comments reflected remarks made privately by other army staff. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to the media.

 

El-Ghobashy on Morsi

Mona El-Ghobashy with some insights on Morsi and the MB's mistake of opting for "elite-level machinations", in the NYT: 

Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood faced daunting obstacles, said Prof. Mona el-Ghobashy, who teaches political science at Barnard College and studies the Brotherhood. “The first elected president as a product of revolutionary upheaval is already in a hazardous position,” she said. “He was not only the first, but he was elected by the skin of an onion,” she said, with just over 51 percent of the vote.

Mr. Morsi was ill equipped to soothe the nation, a party oligarch who hailed from the “most conservative flank of the most conservative organization,” Professor Ghobashy said. And the Brotherhood, seeking to tighten its grip on power, favored “elite level machinations” — like neutralizing the military — rather than the public and its needs, she said.

“They are old-style politicians. The people are trotted out to give you their vote. Then, ‘Go back home, and let the leaders take care of you,’ ” Professor Ghobashy said. “The newly empowered public, which doesn’t have fixed allegiances to the felool” — the remnants of the old government — “or the Brotherhood, need you to deliver.”

 

"For secular Arabs, these are good time"

Asa'ad Abukhalil aka Angry Arab:

The disaster of the Brotherhood is that they don't have any viable options anymore: if the MB gives up power, they will be exposed for their utter bankruptcy and for failing to deliver on their promises only after one year in power.  And if they stick to power, they will also reinforce the fears and perceptions that they are not truly democratic.  For secular Arabs, these are good times.  Who could have predicted that that the Brotherhood would lose their luster, promise, and credibility after mere months in power?  This is quite amazing.  If the Brotherhood in any Arab country raises the slogan of the "Islamic solution", people know that it has no meaning or promise.  If they raise the slogan of Jihad, people will remember the letter of Morsi to Shimon Peres.  If they speak about the dignity of the ummah, people will remember the cozy relationship between Morsi and the US administration.  There is a window for new groups to emerge now, and the beauty of it all is that the lousy Salafis are tainted along with the MB.

Wishful thinking. Don't write Islamism off just yet, and don't ignore the possibility of the crisis evolving through much more violence.  

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.

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.

 

There goes Ed Husain again...

Remember how Council of Foreign Relations' Ed Husain had a series of deranged tweets about Bahrain last year? And the apologia he wrote for the NYT about the dictatorship there?

He's at it again, this time about the protests on Istanbul. First, yesterday he suggested that the protestors in Istanbul are not normal citizens because they may be overwhelmingly secularists. Because that would make the protests any less significant.

And then today he had this gem, tarring the protestors with this broad brush:

I think I know what speaks volumes about Ed Husain's powers of analysis: his own tweets.