Egypt’s popular sovereignty: not an alternative

Seems like everybody in Egypt these days is acting/talking in the name of the "people." In the New Left Project, Egyptian photographer Ahmad Hosni parses the pitfalls of the concept of popular sovereignty.  

Elections give us precise percentages of the popularity of different political parties, along with that of those who decide not participate. The sum of all these percentages is totality of the people. Under the rubric of popular sovereignty, on the other hand, “people” is always a totality that has no partitions. It is not a subject of numbers but is a totalizing signifier, an approximation of the population that is less than the sum of all parts.

 

The Great Collision

An interesting essay by the Reuel Marc Gerecht – although there's much I disagree with it has some good insights: 

Some observers in Washington—the New York Times’s David Brooks, the Washington Post’s George Will, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Rob Satloff, for example—appear to believe that Egyptian military rule has at least the potential to evolve in a more positive direction than government by elected Islamists, who’ve shown their “anti-modern,” “anti-pluralist,” “anti-secular,” and “revolutionary” teeth. But how? What exactly can the Egyptian military do now that it hasn’t done in the past to fertilize “real democracy”? How in the world could the Egyptian army—assuming it had even a smidgeon of the historical mission that drove the Turkish army to nurture the development of a European democracy within the Turkish Republic’s top-down secular society—do a better job than Kemalist officers and judges, whose eight decades of secular repression and stage-managed balloting produced an electorate that freely voted for a Turkish offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood? 

Neocons like Gerecht (and Kagan, below) have been all over the place lately. 

 

Two quotes from Sisi

The Washington Post  — possibly the publication that is most critical of the Egyptian military in the US – has landed an interview with the generalissimo himself. He uses it for chastising Washington: 

“You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that,” said an indignant Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, speaking of the U.S. government. “Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?”

So does he want the US to not turn its back and lend support? Because the official media in Egypt seemed to be arguing that the US should not involved at all. 

And then there's this gem: 

The most important achievement in my life is to overcome this circumstance, [to ensure] that we live peacefully, to go on with our road map and to be able to conduct the coming elections without shedding one drop of Egyptian blood,” he said, before adding, “When the people love you, this is the most important thing for me.”

Surely too late about the blood? 

Democracy and hypocrisy

The Economist on the lack of Western condemnation after the killing of some 150 protestors in Cairo: 

After the killing, Barack Obama kept his counsel. It fell to John Kerry, the American secretary of state, to speak out—and then he merely called on Egypt’s leaders to “step back from the brink”. Likewise in Britain David Cameron, the prime minister, left it to William Hague, the foreign secretary, to rap the generals over the knuckles. America’s protest at the ousting of Mr Morsi had been to delay the supply of some F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. But that modest gesture was more than undone just before the shootings. In an unwise precedent, the administration declined to say Egypt had suffered a coup, because to do so could have triggered an automatic block on aid.

The Muslim Brothers—and other Muslims across the Middle East—will conclude from all this that the West applies one standard when secularists are under attack and another when Islamists are. Democracy, they will gather, is not a universal system of government, but a trick for bringing secularists to power. It is hard to think of a better way for the West to discourage the Brothers from re-entering Egypt’s political process.

In any case, even supposing that the Brothers wanted to return to politics, it is unclear whether the army would let them back in. The generals now know that the West has given them more or less a free hand to do as they will. The army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has claimed that marches on July 26th gave him a “mandate” to confront “potential terrorism”. Already, the new government is resurrecting the hated arms of Hosni Mubarak’s security state.

The editors go on to argue that "the only way they [the MB/Islamists] can be excluded from politics is if the security forces hold much of the power" - they're right.

Rumble in Cairo

Nour, The Arabist's invaluable Intern, share this account of what has become everyday violence in Cairo. 

Verse 99 in Quran is a fragment of a conversation between the prophet Yūsuf, not Allah, and his parents, and not all of mankind, in which he says: "Enter Egypt, if Allah wills, in safety." The verse, which many Egyptians read too much into, is often partly quoted on talk shows, usually near the end of an episode in which the host wants to leave the audience on a hopeful note, or in the middle of a monologue about the eventual failure of terrorists (meaning Islamists) to control it and thus make it unsafe to live in.

That quote, which is closer to a causal "You'll be alright, God willing" than a divine promise of perpetual security and safety, the chronic lack of which Egyptians don’t need to be reminded of, is by far the most ironic sentence one can hear from a man, who just three hours ago was threatening to burn the face of an annoying stranger with acid.

 
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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.

 

Sissi's choice

 Lt Gen al-Sissi's call to Egyptians to take to the streets to support unspecified measures against "terrorism" is a potentially risky move for him. To be sure, outright criticism is mostly limited to those groups who have long been skeptical of the army's involvement in politics from the beginning. But this direct foray into mass politics is a signal to the army's civilian politician partners that they are dispensable, and a few are grousing about such a circumvention of the way things are normally done in a civilian-led state. Investors, who were delighted to see Morsi pushed from power, are nervous.

Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  -- as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics -- al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front. That strategy presumably stemmed from al-Sissi's experience in SCAF, whose tenure as the direct rulers of Egypt from 2011-2012 began to tarnish the military's treasured reputation as the apolitical guardians of the country.

Al-Sissi didn't really need to break with this strategy. Al-Sisi is vastly popular, there are no indications of any serious breaches between the army and Adly Mansour's government, and the Muslim Brothers, though defiant, are really far too isolated to pose much of a threat to the transition. Why might al-Sissi have chosen to change his strategy? 

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Egypt rips off Syria rips off Israel

From left to right: the (original) Israeli, Syrian and Egyptian version of the cartoon.

Sarah Carr notes this cartoon is making the social media rounds from an pro-Interior Ministry Facebook page in Egypt, depicting the Egyptian Army as the defender of the public against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Tom Gara pointed out on Twitter that another version exists on pro-Assad Arabic language venues - as the FSA vs. the Syrian Army: and in fact, that shows how the entire image is a repurposed commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That's pretty impressive traction for a political cartoon. The same cannot be said of the photoshopping, though. There are still Hebrew letters in the lower right hand corner of the Egyptian version. In the anti-FSA take, the soldier's helmet is discolored because the image has been edited over to make a comment on multiple armed conflicts. And ironically, because only factional/national symbols are changed, the this means that the Egyptian and Syrian soldiers are both using an Israeli-manufactured assault rifle. In fact, this Egyptian version didn't even bother removing the flag of Palestinian armband from the jihadist, which, funny enough, would match up with the growing Israeli-Egyptian consensus on the Sinai: that all of the agitation and lawlessness there is Hamas' fault. In all likelihood, though, this image is probably more of a comment on the demonstrators who were shot outside of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo than an attempt to conflate Hamas with the ousted Brothers.

[Ed note: if the cartoon showed up only a few days ago, it is probably a commentary on Friday's Mansoura protest, in which thugs attacked women and children in a MB rally and killed three. Anti-MB commentators in the press have been accusing the group of using human shields.]

But since the original image depicts a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has little popular appeal within the Middle East outside of Israel itself, one imagines that some of the photoshoppers are not quite aware of the implications of the original. Other photoshops of this image show just how much mileage this image can get internationally, including the (preposterous) suggestion that only Muslims fight behind human shields, while Westerners always protect noncombatants. One could also have a field day with respect to the way the women and children are portrayed on the two sides, but that would be another post entirely.

Nonetheless, officials in all three countries depicted here as the defending soldier might actually agree on the general presentation of the common denominator: Islamist (née anti-government) political violence.

Such a force has always been seen as a great threat by governments in the region since at least the early 1980s, if not earlier, with such actions as the outlawing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades, the 1976-1982 Syria internal conflict, Israel's arrests of the clerics who would go on to found Hamas, etc. Everything that has happened since the beginning of armed resistance in Syria (the ethnic cleansing, the Lebanese spillover) and the Muslim Brotherhood's election in Egypt (the constitutional changes, the Maspero massacre) have revived these fears with a vengeance. It is, perhaps, one of the few transnational issues almost all of the governments in the region - aside from pro-Brotherhood Tunisia, Qatar, and Turkey - can agree on as a significant threat to their current state of rule.

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.

10 hours of talking

Nour The Intern was assigned the task of monitoring Egypt’s rambunctious talk shows for an evening. This is her report.

After watching four consecutive hours of TV talk shows, followed by six hours online watching the talk shows I missed while watching TV – all telling me exactly how much I love and trust the army (a.k.a. The People's Army, The Patriotic Army and The Great Egyptian Army) whose generals and their predecessors and ancestors I ought to be writing a thank-you letter for – I was basking in the knowledge that helped my people save Egypt from terrorism and I wanted to buy a villa in Mountain View so I, too, could finally enjoy a quiet picnic with my wife.

What’s more baffling than my forgetting my financial status and my sexual orientation is the continuation of debate about whether or not there was such a thing as secular media bias, as if the tears of joy, the singing, the woo-hoos and the flag-waving that took place on-air moments after Morsi’s removal didn’t give anything away. 

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On Egypt's failure

I have been out of Egypt since late May, and my reaction to all that's happened there is shaped by that distance, by not having had the contact high of millions on the street, the ambient euphoria of collective will flexed and fulfilled.  But in this case perhaps it was a good thing. 

When I left the Tamarrod campaign seemed significant but unrealistic, part of the politics of regret and indignation that was all the powerless non-Islamist groups had left. Now lo an behold their improbable demands have all been granted, the compass of power has flipped, and we have Islamist leaders facing prison and men like Mohamed El Baradei in government. 

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"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. 

Sisi's speech to the army, and Morsi

Below is a summary of the above video of Egypt's Minister of Defense / military leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi addressing officers about Egypt's current situation yesterday. 

Al-Sisi started off saying that he called for talks between the MB and the opposition back in November. The SCAF was not interested in leading these talks, they only called for them out of fear that "the disagreement between the elders would eventually trickle down to the Egyptian people, (leading) to deep polarization. (That's why) we said sit down and talk it out.

"I never failed, and I never hesitated to, give the president sincere and honest advice throughout this whole year," he said, enunciating every word. However, no one's vision of a state includes a siege of the constitutional court, or a siege of the Media Production City.

"No," he said, laughing to himself. "There is a great, patriotic army here. Do remember my words, when I said that the Egyptian army is patriotic. A patriotic army. An army for Egypt and Egyptians, not for someone else." He went on to say that the people's freedom of choice should not be subject to religious manipulation.

"(No one) can say: it's sharia or something else. No. It's a experiment of governance, if it succeeded, then you succeeded, and if it failed, then you failed. You can't say that this is religion (referring to Morsi's rule) and that those (meaning the opposition) are people who are fighting religion," he elaborated.

Egypt is at a crossroads, he said, we must choose and no one can dictate to us our actions and no one can force anything on us. The SCAF acted on behalf of the people, but it is not their guardian and it can not dictate them, he added. 

"Even though the circumstances have forced the SCAF to get close to the political process, it only did so because the people called for it," he said. The people did so after realizing that "their army" is capable of putting Egypt on the right track.

"The SCAF never sought out this mission and it never asked for it. It preferred, and still does, to stay faithful to its beliefs and principles with the people and stay committed to its role," without overreaching or overstepping, he went on to say that the place of the armed forces is now known and clear in the modern world and no party has the right to drag into complications, which might prove to be too much to handle.

"We have no reservations. We only ask for one thing. That those who protest to protest peacefully and not resort to violence or harm others," he added, before specifically telling someone in the audience that "when you are one side, and there is someone on the other side, don't forget that the other side has rights, which you need to keep in mind, regardless of whether or not you approve their practices."

By minute five, a slightly chubby soldier stood up to compliment the Gen. for his statement on July 3, which made Egyptians very happy. "They have needed that happiness for years and months," he concluded before they cut to another soldier, who wanted to express the pride he feels every day in the knowledge that he is a soldier and that Gen. al-Sisi is in charge. Then another soldier got up to reaffirm the soldiers' dedication to defend Egypt with him. 

The video then cuts to al-Sisi pointing a finger and saying: "If you don't find a way to neutralize your opposition force, as a leader; then step down."

 He went on to address Morsi personally: "You have entered into a conflict with the judiciary, and you have entered into a conflict with the media, and you have entered into a conflict with the civilian police, and you have entered into a conflict with public opinion, and you also entered into a conflict with the SCAF, and you are some of them (referring to the audience) and you can withstand fire, and withstand iron...but (you) get hurt by words. You get insulted, and insults in the Egyptian military is an affront to the national pride. We can't take it," he explained. 

He ended his speech with a smile, saying: "Egypt is the mother of the world and it will be as big as the world."

 

"Previously on Egypt"

If you want to know what it's like receiving Nour The Intern's sometimes twice-daily email of links, see below. I have reproached her many times about her choice of reading material, to no avail. Warning: some links will take you to the websites of some completely discredited Egyptian publications, in other words, almost all of them at this point. 

Previously on Egypt: 

N.

The protests as seen by the anti-Morsi camp

The protests as seen by the anti-Morsi camp

According to the above cartoon, these are the types of Morsi supporters: The Ignorant, he was told by a sheikh that opposing Morsi is forbidden; The Sheep, he’s motivated to join the pro-protest to create a traffic jam and he doesn’t know why he here is; The Ikhwani, he is brainwashed and for anything his MB leaders tell him to do; The Terrorist, the one who came from Gaza to kill and destroy; The One With Military Issues, he thinks that this is a conspiracy and thinks Morsi didn’t get a chance yet, and The Israel Lovers, the one who stands to benefit from the existence of the MB and terrorism in Egypt.

The word polarization fails to describe what is happening now. Public opinion is more of an aggregation of wishes for the defeat, suffering and death of certain members of the public, who are no longer considered members altogether, by other members of the public, whom they no longer consider members of the public.

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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.

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.