In Translation: How Egypt's constitution will be amended 1/2

This is the first of two translated articles selected from the Egyptian press on the process of amending Egypt's 2012 constitution, which according to Interim President Adly Mansour's Constitutional Declaration (CD) of July 8 will be amended and put to a referendum before new elections are held. This first article is an interview with Mansour's constitutional advisor, the second article contains possible amendments being considered. Both are translated by our long-standing partner, the most excellent Industry Arabic. Please give them translation jobs, you won't be sorry and you'll help them help us continue to provide this free service.

The July 8 CD calls for the formation of a committee of 10 constitutional scholars and judges tasked with preparing the amendments to the controversial 2012 text, which has approved hastily last December by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. These proposals will be then put to a second committee of 50 figures drawn from public life. While the committee of 10 (let's call it C10 for short) is appointed by the interim president, the committee of 50 (C50) is supposed to represent major corporate interests in Egypt, as per Article 29 of the CD which stipulates it represent:

...  all segments, sects and demographic diversities of society, especially parties, intelligentsia, labourers, peasants, members of trade unions, specialized federations, national councils, al-Azhar, the Egyptian Churches, Armed Forces, the police and public figures, provided that ten members at least be young people and women. Each institution shall nominate their representatives, and the Cabinet shall nominate the public figures.

There is a lot of confusion as to how this process might work as it was suggested the C10 would be the only body that can draft the text of amendments, which would mean the C50 is a talking shop with little power. The interview below, if reliable (because everything can change very quickly in Egypt), provides some clarification and at least an indication of the intentions behind this process, which has been criticized by many.

The amendment of the constitution is a key battleground for Egypt's transition, with differences not only between Islamists and non-Islamists but also within the secular camp that broadly backed the July 3 coup. There is of course whether the Islamists of the Nour Party will get to keep the conservative language of the original (the balance of power in the current pro-coup coalition makes that unlikely, unless they decide they need Nour too much in order to break Islamist unity, since the Muslim Brotherhood and some others reject the validity of this entire post-coup process). But then there are questions of the military's privileges, personal liberties and reining in the interior ministry, and much more. 

This interview provides some clarity, notably the surprise that the procedure laid out in the July 8 CD is not necessarily final. Some backers of the coup were disappointed that the CD called for presidential elections after parliamentary ones, and here it is indicated the order could still be reversed. It goes to show how so much is still at play, even beyond the immediate political crisis and assuming the coup and CD holds. 

Read on for the full text. 

Read More

ElBaradei and his detractors

Mohammed ElBaradei -- now Egypt's vice-president for foreign affairs -- has taken to the Western and Arab media lately to defend the July 3 coup but also to make the case for negotiating with the Brotherhood and taking their fears and grievances at least partly into consideration. Here he is in the Washington Post: 

People are very angry. People are very angry with me because I am saying, “Let’s take time, let’s talk to them” [The Brotherhood]. The mood right now is, “Let’s crush them, let’s not talk to them.” That would last for one week, and then they would come back. It would be a disaster everywhere, inside Egypt and outside Egypt. We need to get a long-range view based on restoring order and based on national consensus and reconciliation. I hope the Brotherhood understands that time is not on their side. I’m holding the fort, but I can’t hold it for very long.

ElBaradei clearly does not have the support of the deep state (which would apparently like nothing better than an endless cycle of violence/repression) or of a considerable portion of the political and media elite, which sees this as its chance to keep Islamists out of politics for the foreseeable future. Witness the fresh onslaught of attacks on him. Here is a presenter on Tahrir TV (once a "revolutionary" channel, now apparently a mouthpiece for the intelligence and police) tearing up ElBaradei WPost interview on the air and berating him for "submitting to terrorism."

 

Egyptians' Views of Government Crashed Before Overthrow

No surprise to those of us who have been living through Egypt's exhausting mood swings, but Gallup's polling in Egypt shows some incredibly dramatic shifts in public opinion over the last few years. Whether the loss of faith in Morsi, the Brotherhood, and the political process generally can all be laid at the Islamists' feet is a matter of opinion. 

A few weeks before massive protests and a government decree ended Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's presidency, 29% of Egyptians expressed confidence in their national government -- the lowest level Gallup has measured since Egypt's revolution began in 2011. 

 

Pity Egypt, It Has No Liberals

Even back in the 1920s, during Egypt's so-called Liberal Age, there were no true liberals, argues Samuel Tadros. 

Egyptian liberalism was flawed from the start. Egyptian liberals were born, not from an independent bourgeoisie, and from the tension of the individual and the state, but from the very bosom of that state and its bureaucracy. Obsessed with modernization, they always allied themselves with the ruler, hoping that he would turn out to be an autocratic modernizer.

 

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. 

 

Tunisia's Ennahda won't contest presidency

Le Monde reports on the crisis in Tunisia, after the murder of Mohammed Brahmi and eight soldiers at the Algerian border, now compounded by the Egyptian June 30. As rumored for a few weeks, this suggests Ennahda has officially taken a decision not to present a presidential candidate in elections next year:  

Devant l'urgence de la situation, les débats internes sont mis en sourdine. "Le courant dur chez nous est mis à la retraite", assure ce responsable. Des décisions devraient sous peu être annoncées, comme celle, prise depuis un moment mais encore jamais rendue publique, qu'Ennahda ne présentera pas de candidat à la prochaine élection présidentielle.

Of course, circumstances can change (as they did for the Brothers in Egypt, although they must regret that choice) and a new decision on the presidency can be made next year. Or they can choose to back a third-party candidate (or indeed even President Moncef Marzouki, the incumbent, for re-election as he has been fairly loyal to the Troika alliance). But it shows the events in Egypt have had their impact. 

The new normal in Damascus

Sarah Birke, reporting from Damascus for the NYRB blog: 

While the brutal devastation caused by the Syrian conflict, now entering its third year, has affected many parts of the country, the Syrian government has long sought to portray the capital as an oasis of calm. Unlike Aleppo, parts of which have been destroyed by a year of battle, central Damascus shows few physical scars of war, apart from the many roadblocks and checkpoints, and the burned-out remains of a building northeast of the city that was bombed. Unlike Raqqa, a city in the east of Syria that is in the hands of extremist rebels, Damascus looks like a bastion of tolerant, vibrant life. In this view, the functioning city demonstrates both the continued strength of the regime and the dangers of the increasingly fractured opposition. But as my visit to the Umayyad Mosque revealed, under the surface things aren’t the same in the Syrian capital.

The same day, I went out for dinner with a well-connected businessman—he went to school with Bashar al-Assad and Bashar’s elder brother Bassel and has flourished under the regime, even more so since the crisis started. The restaurant served a take on continental food and any type of alcohol you might fancy. A coiffed young woman with a photo of Bashar as her iPhone cover sang songs as her smiling companions knocked back drinks at a price that would pay the rent of a displaced family for a month. At one point, the businessman got up to use the bathroom and something clattered to the floor. It was a pistol. “Oh, that,” he said. “I am so afraid of being kidnapped. I would rather kill myself than have that happen to me.”

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? 

Kagan: The U.S. is complicit in Egyptian military’s actions

Robert Kagan weighs in on the question of Egypt-US relations: 

Some supporters of the aid claim that it gives us leverage over the military’s behavior — that fear of an aid cutoff will curb Sissi’s more extreme inclinations and lead the government to moderation. Recent events suggest the opposite. Why should military leaders fear losing aid when the Obama administration did not even abide by U.S. law requiring it to cut off that aid after the coup? The recent delay of F-16 deliveries had no effect.

Egypt’s military knows there has been only one constant in U.S. policy toward its country over the past three decades, including during the turbulence of the past three years: Regardless of who has been in power — Hosni Mubarak, the military, Morsi and now the military again — and how that government has behaved, military assistance has flowed. We didn’t use our military aid to pressure Mubarak to reform; we didn’t use it to pressure Morsi to govern more democratically; and we are not using it now to pressure the military to cease its violent, undemocratic behavior.

Quite aside the merits of this argument, there is a logical flaw in the "we can't pressure them because we'll lose the only leverage we have" argument: if you can't use your leverage because you'll lose your leverage, then you do not in fact have leverage. 

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.

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).

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.

 
Read More

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? 

Read More

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. 

Read More