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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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.

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.

 

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.

The US and the coup

Some great reporting in this NYT piece: 

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

What good faith?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

El-Ghobashy on Morsi

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

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

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

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

 

"For secular Arabs, these are good time"

Asa'ad Abukhalil aka Angry Arab:

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

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

Democrats vs. Liberals or democrats vs. republicans?

Egypt has a dilemma: its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats.

This is a pithy and elegant way to put things that Samer Shehata has used in this NYT op-ed, but I think it's inaccurate. A lot of it depends on how you use the words "democrats" and "liberals". The meaning of democratic is wooly in the age of universal human rights, because it does not always take into account cultural specificities. Many would say that even if fairly elected a government is not democratic if it does not take into account minority rights, gender rights, even gay rights. Likewise "liberals" can't be called liberals if they want to return to the old security state that existed under Mubarak (esp. towards Islamists).

The dilemma facing Egypt is that it's a limited, electoral democracy whereas many want it to be a republic. The difference being that in a republic the individual has guarantees in the context of a socio-political compact, whereas in a democracy the minority has little if any voice. Egypt is formally a republic, and has been since 1956, over several iterations of a compact (one that failed over the 15 years). It might have turned into a more democratic republic after 2011 except the new social compact was left to elections. Because elections are not very accurate indicators of national sentiment (because of variety in electoral systems, the importance of electoral strategy, etc.) and the voting public has still mostly few lasting allegiances in post-revolution Egypt, this was always a bad idea. A lot of people have changed their mind.  

However Egypt comes out of this crisis, hopefully a republican pact — hopefully based around a bill of rights — will form a more stable base for its political system.