Shatz: Egypt’s Counter Revolution

Adam Shatz in the LRB: 

So this is how it ends: with the army killing more than 600 protesters, and injuring thousands of others, in the name of restoring order and defeating ‘terrorism’. The victims are Muslim Brothers and other supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, but the ultimate target of the massacres of 14 August is civilian rule. Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.

Particularly harsh words for the revolutionary camp:

The triumph of the counter-revolution has been obvious for a while, but most of Egypt’s revolutionaries preferred to deny it, and some actively colluded in the process, telling themselves that they were allying themselves with the army only in order to defend the revolution. Al-Sisi was only too happy to flatter them in this self-perception, as he prepared to make his move. He, too, styles himself a defender of the revolution

 

Driving about with the Islamists

Sixth of October Bridge is missing parts of its railing. Although only one armored vehicle was fell off it. 

With one eye on the railing rather than the road and another on his phone, my cousin searched for a scandalous picture on his phone. “I found it! Look at actress Elham Shaheen sleeping naked next to Mahmoud Abdel Aziz!” he said, showing us a blurry picture of a clothed Menna Shalabi and Kareem Abdul Aziz cuddling under a blanket that’s only a few inches short of their neck.  

“And then she gets mad when Abdullah Badr calls her a whore,” my father said, shaking his head, and passed the phone to my uncle to see. 

“Oh, it’s art! It has a message within the dramatic context; it’s purposeful!” my uncle quoted the common intellectual defense of nudity in films in a singsong manner. 

“The message is: I am a whore,” my cousin replied. They guffawed.

The laughter died once the Ministry of Finance finally came into view, it was reportedly attacked by MB supporters on Wednesday night with Molotov cocktails. 24 hours later, parts of the building were on fire again. On the seventh floor, bright yellow and orange flames were dancing unfettered by the three fire trucks parked in front of the building. The firefighters, distracted by their sandwiches, had pointed their hoses a tad too low, accidentally watering the shrubbery in front of the ministry instead of putting out the fire.

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Egypt Crosses the Line

Peter Hessler in the New Yorker, with -- as usual -- a nuanced and original reading of the MB's and the army's interpretations of democracy:

In Egypt, the current conflict reflects the vastly different responses that groups can have to a fledgling democracy after decades of dictatorship. For the Brotherhood, this means stubbornly following what it believes to be the correct and legitimate political path, even if it alienates others and leads to disaster; for the military, it’s a matter of implementing the worst instincts of the majority. In each case, one can recognize a seed of democratic instinct, but it’s grown in twisted ways, because the political and social environment was damaged by the regimes of the past half-century.

 

August 14 in Egypt in numbers

Dead (according to Ministry of Health, and still counting): 525

Wounded: 3,500

Churches, monasteries, Christians schools and libraries attacked (Source) : 56

Days that Mohamed ElBaradei lasted as a civilian figure-head of the army-run "second revolution" before resigning in protest: 28

Other resignations: 0 

Justifications presented by Egypt's non-Islamist media and political parties for the gratuitous murder of hundreds of their fellow citizens, and commendations of the security forces for their "steadfastness" and "restraint": too many to count

It only gets worse from here

You could ask a thousand questions about the violence that has shaken Egypt, from why police decided to move now against Islamist sit-ins and with such brutality after making so much of its careful planning in the last week, to whether the attacks on churches and Christians more generally that erupted in reaction are part of a pre-planned reaction or the uncontrollable sectarian direction political tensions take in moments of crisis. But the question that really bothers me is whether this escalation is planned to create a situation that will inevitably trigger more violence – that this is the desired goal.

The fundamental flaw of the July 3 coup, and the reason those demonstrators that came out on June 30 against the Morsi administration were wrong to welcome it, is that it was based on an illusion. That illusion, at least among the liberal camp which is getting so much flak these days, was that even a partial return of the old army-led order could offer a chance to reboot the transition that took such a wrong turn after the fall of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. This camp believed that gradual reform, even of a much less ambitious nature than they desired in 2011, would be more likely to come by accommodating the old order than by allowing what they perceived as an arrangement between the military and the Islamists to continue. Better to focus on fixing the country, notably its economy, and preventing Morsi from sinking it altogether, and take the risk that part of the old order could come back.

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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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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.

 

‘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.

ConspiracyLand

With the media frenzy and the MOI’s warnings on the radio and news tickers asking citizen to beware anything that looks strange and report it (bad time to be Somaya El Khashab in Cairo), more and more people are subscribing to the belief that the lack of evidence for a theory, only proves the conspiracy.

And it’s not just Egyptians. Recently, I have met a number of Syrians who were convinced that some Alawites joined the Raba’a sit-in to make it look as if the Sunni Syrian refugees in Egypt support Morsi to turn the media and the public against them.

“(Alawite Syrians) probably thought (Sunni Syrians) got too comfortable here and thought: Let’s stir strife,” bemoaned Ahmed Khalil, who has noticed an increase in stares and snide comments ever since Morsi’s removal. Needless to say, this theory would be extremely difficult to document, yet alone proven to be true, which to Khalil only goes to show that it is true. "No one will admit and no traces will be found...exactly what you would expect from a well-executed plan." Or from an imaginary one.

In order for any theory to flourish, it needs only be mentioned once, preferably in a question format [ex: Why does group X drink a lot of milk? Could they be paid by Juhayna?], in an article or on late night TV. The viewers/readers and their friends will spread the word faster than fellow channels and newspapers on Facebook and Twitter. By the time it reaches a third and fourth parties, it’s fact and questions implying that one is not readily accepting it as such, or is not sufficiently frightened by it, mostly results in sighs and sidelong glances.

The following are the fresh and reheated conspiracy theories in Egypt in no particular order:

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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. 

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

This is the second 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.

As explained, a committee of 10 scholars and judicial figures is now tasked with drafting amendments to Egypt's 2012 constitution. The dominant group backing the July 3 coup, composed of secular political forces, is likely to push for the reversal of the Islamization of the country's constitution carried out in 2012 by an alliance of Muslim Brothers and Salafists that dominated the Constituent Assembly then in charge of the process of drafting a new constitution. The lack of agreement between Islamists and secularists on a constitution, indeed, was a major catalyst for the current crisis. The tricky part is that the only major Islamist force that backed the coup, the Nour Party, was even more attached to the Islamist provisions in the constitution than the Brotherhood. Its rejection of the new amendments could undermine its support for Morsi's overthrow, and more generally push Islamists of all stripes into the Brotherhood camp in the name of saving Islam's role in the constitution.

This is why the article below – only a speculation, mind you, into what is being envisaged, published in the rather taboid and anti-Islamist Youm 7 newspaper – is interesting. As might be expected from a judicial source (in Egypt the judiciary, while conservative, has generally defended the modernist idea of judicial review and much leeway for judicial interpretation of Sharia, rather than its strict codification as  the 2012 constitution tended to lean towards, with a major role for theologians to, in effect, veto legislation)  it tends towards the stripping of many of the parts of the 2012 constitution Islamists were most attached to. Most notably those that introduced notions such as formal oversight by theologians, notions that Salafis embrace such as the "enjoining of good and prevention of vice", and stress on the state's role in regulating public morality. If it is representative of the changes to come, one can expect a major Islamist backlash in the weeks ahead.

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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. 

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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.