The Brothers and the Copts

Mariz Tadros writes for the Middle East Institute on the campaign waged by the MB and other Islamists to blame Copts for the fall of the Morsi administration: 

A few days before the protests and throughout the week of demonstrations, media sympathetic to the Brotherhood launched a campaign that represented the protests as a Christian conspiracy against Islam. The campaign was staged with an intensity that was sufficient to catalyze bloody sectarian clashes. On the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated television channel Misr 25, Noureddin, a program presenter, made a fictitious announcement that Christians were attacking mosques. On an Islamist-affiliated channel, program guest Shaykh Mahmoud Shaaban, a Salafist, concocted a story that Christians had congregated in Tahrir Square and that their main chant was “Jesus is the solution,” as if Christians were countering the Muslim Brotherhood slogan, “Islam is the solution.”

There's a lot more there, and in my experience many Brothers have seen the protests, coup and overall crisis in sectarian terms – even if they did not want to encourage sectarian violence they saw themselves as the victims of a sectarian conspiracy in which the Church and "organized Christendom", for lack of a better word, played an important role. While it's undoubtedly true that the vast majority of Egyptian Christians were anti-MB (after all, Morsi had done little to win them over) this is a convenient recasting of the widespread anger at Morsi and the MB (to include even Islamists, never mind many ordinary Muslims) to energize a base for whom sectarianism has long been a driving motive. This is especially the case in parts of Egypt with large Christian populations, such as Upper Egypt, and it's not surprising that this is where there has been much of the sectarian violence of the recent weeks.

I also paste below an analysis from the excellent newsletter of the Arab-West Report, a inter-religious dialogue NGO and think tank. (Their website has been the victim of an attack, so it's mostly down for now.)

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A Moroccan scandal

My latest for the Latitudes blog of the New York Times looks at a strange controversy that broke out here last week, shaking up the usually very staid (not to saw cowed) political and media scene and pushing the King to the exceptional step of revoking a royal pardon.

Soon after news of Galván Viña’s release appeared on the independent news site Lakome, it spread across social media. Pardons in other countries can be controversial, too, but this one had everything to shock and anger: Here was a Spanish criminal getting away with abusing Moroccan victims, and a royal prerogative trumping the justice system.

Last weekend the colonnaded Avenue Mohammed V in central Rabat echoed with the chants of young protesters (“Long Live the People!” “Down with Perverts!”) and their running footsteps, as they dashed away from police squadrons. Other small demonstrations have since taken place in other Moroccan cities.

 

Egypt after Morsi by Joschka Fischer

The former German FM writes: 

But one thing already can be said for certain: the basic distribution of power within Egyptian society has not changed. The military and the Muslim Brotherhood divide power between themselves. The Western-oriented liberals do not have any real power and stand, as we are seeing now, on the army’s shoulders. We should not forget that Morsi’s opponent in the presidential election in 2012 was Ahmed Shafik, a former general and the last Mubarak-era prime minister – certainly no liberal.
A victory by either the Brotherhood or the military would not be a victory for democracy. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2006, may serve as an example of what the Brotherhood wants: undivided power, including over the military. Likewise, the Egyptian army’s hold on power, beginning in the 1950’s, resulted in a decades-long military dictatorship.
But there is a third and new factor now in play, one that does not measure power in the same way as the military and the Brotherhood. Through their leadership of the protests for two years, urban middle-class youth have gained their own legitimacy, and, with their technological and linguistic capacities, are able to dominate global debate about Egypt.

There's some refreshing no-nonsense talk here for a Western politician, but also some odd analysis: when he says the MB retains power, how so? Islamists more broadly retain power, the MB specifically not so sure. And who does he mean by Western-oriented liberals? Not clear to me, and neither who are the middle-class youth.

The Liberal Dark Side in Egypt

James Traub in Foreign Policy argues that "what happened in Egypt was not a second 'revolution' against authoritarian rule but a mass repudiation of Muslim Brotherhood rule." He also looks at the intellectual and moral obfuscation that most of the country's "liberals" are engaged in regarding their support for the military coup. 

Morsy's single greatest mistake, in retrospect, was failing to put [many Egyptians'] fears to rest by ruling with the forces he had politically defeated. He was a bad president, and an increasingly unpopular one. But nations with no historical experience of democracy do not usually get an effective or liberal-minded ruler the first time around. Elections give citizens a chance to try again. With a little bit of patience, the opposition could have defeated Morsy peacefully. Instead, by colluding in the banishment of the Brotherhood from political life, they are about to replace one tyranny of the majority with another. And since many Islamists, now profoundly embittered, will not accept that new rule, the new tyranny of the majority will have to be more brutally enforced than the old one.

 

"The US doesn't really have a policy on Yemen"

Brian Whitaker, writing in The Guardian :

Viewed from Washington, Yemen is not a real place where people are demanding social justice and democracy so much as a theatre of operations in Saudi Arabia's backyard, veteran Yemen-watcher Sheila Carapico told a conference in January.

In fact, she added, the US doesn't really have a policy on Yemen. What it has instead is a longstanding commitment to the security and stability of Saudi Arabia and the GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates), coupled with an anti-terrorism policy in which Yemen is treated as an extension of the Afghan/Pakistani theatre. The result, she said, is "pretty much the antithesis" of what Yemenis were aspiring to when they set about overthrowing President Saleh in 2011.

"Egypt rejects American Satan"

Remember this headline, in the state-owned newspaper of a supposedly secular, US-friendly regime run by a military that receives $1.3bn in US aid per year.  Via:

And while we're at it: 

‘Zaat’ and her bathroom – and television

On Mada Masr, Dina Hussein reviews the television adaptation of Zaat, Sonallah Ibrahim's great novel about rising consumerism of Intifah Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s:

Watching “Zaat” on television today subjects viewers to this alternative representation of history. The series interrupts Egyptian lives to provide the historical background to their struggle today. One could say that Zaat’s story is the historical preamble to Egypt’s revolution. In the novel, Ibrahim describes the transmissions that surround Zaat as the “march of destruction and construction.” And I honestly do not see a better description of Egypt today other than a continuation of this march of destruction and construction. But there is another more basic reason for why the series succeeded in grabbing people’s attention today: empathy.

Ibrahim’s choice of Zaat as the name of his protagonist is not accidental. In her 1994 book, “Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction,” Professor of modern Arabic literature Samia Mehrez tells us how “Zaat” is Ibrahim’s “ultimate objectification of the self.” She explains how Zaat in Arabic means an indefinite self; it can mean multiple selves and/or one self. This “objectification of the self”, she adds, is a strategy that Ibrahim uses to break the boundary between the private/individual and the public/collective. Zaat resembles the ordinary; her life reflects the mundane in Egyptians’ everyday life. Ibrahim succeeds in making Zaat’s private life a representation of the collective identity of the nation. This is precisely why her story, especially when televised, has grabbed people’s attention. Watching “Zaat,” particularly the episodes taking place in the 1980s, triggers an intense sense of empathy from viewers who see her as a reflection of themselves.

The serial went beyond the timeframe of the novel and into the 1990s and 2000s, ending just before the 25 January 2011 uprising.

Egypt’s Dangerous Second Transition

ICG's new report out on Egypt: 

Nearly two-and-half years after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, Egypt is embarking on a transition in many ways disturbingly like the one it just experienced – only with different actors at the helm and far more fraught and violent. Polarisation between supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi is such that one can only fear more bloodshed; the military appears convinced it has a mandate to suppress demonstrators; the Muslim Brotherhood, aggrieved by what it sees as the unlawful overturn of its democratic mandate, seems persuaded it can recover by holding firm. A priority is to lower flames by releasing political prisoners – beginning with Morsi; respect speech and assembly rights; independently investigate killings; and for, all sides, avoid violence and provocation. This could pave the way for what has been missing since 2011: negotiating basic rules first, not rushing through divisive transition plans. An inclusive reconciliation process – notably of the Brotherhood and other Islamists – needs more than lip-service. It is a necessity for which the international community should press.

Is becoming Pakistan the best Egypt can hope for?

Eurasia's Ian Bremmer thinks so, saying SCAF's challenge is to rig the appearance of a civilian government just right :

Today, the main difference with Pakistan’s military is that Egypt’s is now seen as responsible for the day-to-day functioning of governance. The generals will once again go for the Goldilocks approach to forming a civilian government, one that is not too strong but not too weak. It has to be resolute enough to earn a reputation for competence (this is where Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood fell short), but docile enough to not sideline the military or curb its privileges. Most importantly, the new government needs to seem sufficiently independent to take flak and “own” the blame for any economic woes. The last thing the military wants is for the next wave of protestors to aim their anger at the army.

Can the military pull this off? Can it empower a government that earns enough public confidence to restore stability to the country and allows the military to distance itself from economic management and domestic politics?

Ahmed Maher speaks out against army's role

April 6 founder Ahmed Maher in the Washington Post :

Our support for the transitional road map to new elections was predicated on the military’s pledge that it would not interfere in Egypt’s political life. The expanding role of the military in the political process that we are nonetheless witnessing is disconcerting.

...

Despite my support for the June 30 revolutionary wave, and despite the fact that it was a people’s movement before it was a military intervention, I now see much to fear. I fear the insurrection against the principles of the Jan. 25 revolution, the continued trampling of human rights and the expansion of restrictive measures in the name of the war on terror — lest any opponent of the authorities be branded a terrorist.

Unsurprisingly Maher has been vociferously attacked, including by some self-styled "revolutionaries", for his position. 

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.