What Islamists want vs. what liberals want

Politics: Distinct camps find little common ground - FT.com

From the FT:

“In a public place, the greater public benefit is much more important than individual freedom,” says Gehad Haddad, a spokesman and strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood. “If a girl wearing a bikini is offensive to 100 people who are not, then the 100 have the say; she should not wear it on the public beach. At the same time, she can wear it on the private beach. She has the right. At the end of the day, there has to be a rule toward the public benefit. We all wear seat belts.”

1. No, in Egypt you certainly don't all wear seat belts.

2. This kind of argument and the fatuous examples chosen are really depressing. Same could be applied to the veil — "most want women to wear it so they have to respect it, they can always not wear at home". And this is from a smart guy who represents the elite of the MB. Soon enough this line of thinking can turn into "everyone believes prayer is a duty, so everyone has to do it, so shops have to close during prayer time and those who don't want to pray have to wait it out or prove they are not Muslim etc." This is exactly what Salafis have been trying to do in parts of Egypt.

Another good quote in the same piece, from the other side:

“It’s a polarisation between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamised Egypt,” says Lina Attalah, editor of the English-language Egypt Independent. “The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”

This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict the Islamists from doing what they want to do. But not vice-versa. That so many outsiders have a difficulty grasping this and are defending the Islamists in Egypt out of a bizarre sort of multiculturalism gone mad is deeply troubling (looking at you, Grauniad).

Baheyya on Morsi and his opponents

On Morsi's Opponents

 

She's back (also with this piece on Morsi) and this bit of vitriol for the NSF:

My point about the NSF isn’t that it’s infiltrated by feloul or that it’s an alliance of convenience. It’s that its notion of opposition is sophomoric at best and putschist at worst. The sight of politicians refusing to negotiate with an elected president but then agreeing to the military’s “we’re all family” shindig is beyond pitiful. How much more effective to have negotiated with Morsi a cancellation of his decree and a postponement of the referendum. If he refused the latter, the NSF could’ve called his bluff and walked out triumphant, revealing the MB’s bullying to the public while proving themselves to be responsible problem-solvers. Instead, by acting militant in a situation that required hard bargaining, the NSF is left to accept the fact of the referendum while saving face by grandstanding about conditions already in place.

She's right about this, of course, although I think the NSF has made some subtle improvements in its strategy even in the last few weeks. I agree with her profile of its leaders, too, although I'm always dumfounded by her admiration for the execrable Hamdeen Sabahi, particularly considering what we know about the financing of his presidential campaign and his former admiration for Muammar Qadhafi.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

An analysis of the Egyptian crisis

The European Council on Foreign Relations | Navigating Egypt's political crisis

I put this out on Twitter a few days ago, but this is a long analysis of the current Egyptian crisis I wrote last week, which takes things to more or less where they are now. It's long, also with a quick take on the draft constitution.

I'm still traveling but will be back in Egypt tomorrow and hope to write more in transit.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi, the MB and the deep state

Morsy past the point of no return: Part 2 | Egypt Independent

Interesting argument by Hesham Sallam — I'm still mulling it over:

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have characterized the clashes at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace as a manifestation of its conflict with the deep state and remnants of the Mubarak era. But in reality, the Brotherhood is not fighting against the alleged “deep state” and Mubarak remnants within the opposition and inside the courts, as it claims, but rather the deep state within the ranks of its sponsored government.

The Brotherhood’s decision to escalate its standoff with the opposition, and the seemingly irrational ferocity with which it has begun to antagonize its opponents must not be understood merely as an attempt to eliminate challengers. Equally important, the Muslim Brotherhood-initiated escalation is a strong message to the deep state that the Brotherhood-controlled presidency is fully capable of erecting a political arena in which its decisions and commitments are supreme. The Brotherhood and its sponsored political order, the message goes, is here to stay, and you would be better served to jump on this bandwagon and come to its defense before it is too late. Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to make this case convincingly remains to be seen.

Read part one here.

From Cairo to London to DC: Please, knock it off

This commentary was contributed by Dr H.A. Hellyer, non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and ISPU, who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer. Had I not been traveling in the last few days I might have written something very similar.

There are times that myths circulate so fast; it is hard to keep track of them. In the midst of an extraordinary amount of coverage on Egypt, I was asked for my evaluation of a particular piece, recently published in what I considered to be a respectable media outlet. As I wrote my assessment, I realised that I’d seen those same problems – the same narrative – time and time again in different places. Rather than keep my assessment private, I thought I would turn it into a plea to my colleagues and friends in the media and the think-tank/policy arena.

The plea reads: please knock it off when it comes to your Egypt coverage, and check your sources and facts before you publish in the interests of being ‘balanced’. Believe me: in the long run, you’ll be grateful you did. In the short-run, you probably will too: these Egyptian folks are not tameable, as a friend put it. When they’re misrepresented, except immediate and full retaliation with the full force of the Egyptian wit, sarcasm, and scorn. Trust me: you do not want to be on the other side of that.

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It really is the #referendumb

Concerns loom over referendum's legality | Egypt Independent

Nothing to see here, move along:

Hours before the referendum kicks off in Cairo, concerns are looming about the legality of the process. Unlike other referendums, it is taking place over two rounds staged a week apart, and there is also controversy surrounding the judicial oversight of the voting process.

Legal disagreements on conducting the referendum over two phases started after President Mohamed Morsy issued a law last Wednesday that allows the referendum to be held in multiple rounds of voting. Introduced at the request of the High Elections Commission (HEC), the law was intended to address the shortage of judges willing to participate in the process.

Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

ECFR - Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

This is my talk this morning at the European Council on Foreign Relations, on the present crisis.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

More on Morsi's tax u-turn

Mursi’s tax U-turn casts doubts over government's competence

Yup:

A dramatic U-turn by Egypt’s embattled president Mohammed Mursi over a proposed tax hike has raised serious questions about the decision-making process within the government, casting doubts over the administration’s competence and ability to craft a coherent economic policy. It has also brought into question the fate of a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan Egypt is awaiting, set to be ratified by the fund’s board next week.

Experts derided both the government’s unilateral decision to raise taxes at a time of political crisis and the president’s swift retraction of the measures in the face of public uproar.

Some feared the president’s volte-face indicated a desire to pass the Islamist-penned constitution first and then subsequently institute a tax hike. Others said his quick retraction undermined his leadership and exposed a lack of political maturity.

Why the "MB militias" are not an exaggeration

Allies of Egypt’s Morsi Beat Protesters Outside Palace - NYTimes.com

The NYT covers the extremely disturbing events of Wednesday night:

CAIRO — Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi captured, detained and beat dozens of his political opponents last week, holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him.

“It was torment for us,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat with a badly bruised face and rope marks on his wrists. He said he was among a group of about 50, including four minors, who were held on the pavement overnight. In front of cameras, “they accused me of being a traitor, or conspiring against the country, of being paid to carry weapons and set fires,” he said in an interview. “I thought I would die.”

. . .

It is impossible to know how much Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, knew about the Islamists’ vigilante justice. But human rights advocates say the detentions raised troubling questions about statements made by the president during his nationally televised address on Thursday. In it, Mr. Morsi appears to have cited confessions obtained by his Islamist supporters, the advocates said, when he promised that confessions under interrogation would show that protesters outside his palace acknowledged ties to his political opposition and had taken money to commit violence.

The most galling thing is this quote by MB spokesman Gehad Haddad: 

Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, defended the group’s decision to call on its members and other Islamist supporters of the president to defend the palace from a potential attack by the protesters. He said Mr. Morsi could not rely on the police force left over from Mr. Mubarak’s government. By keeping the protesters from trying to storm the palace walls, Mr. Haddad contended, the Brotherhood and the president’s supporters had prevented a bloodier conflict with the armed presidential guard. “We will protect the sovereignty of the state at any cost.”

Any cost, really? Unbelievable — especially since the protestors had been there for a while and not stormed the palace walls (not that even of they did it would justify the formation of vigilante militias — which incidentally is forbidden in the new constitution.) And Haddad and other senior MB people appear to have been at the front line.

David Ignatius asked the right question a few days ago:

How did Washington become the best friend of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, even as President Mohamed Morsi was asserting dictatorial powers and his followers were beating up secular liberals in the streets of Cairo? It’s a question many Arabs ask these days, and it deserves an answer.

Update:

There's going to be a press conference with more info on what happened:

Invitation to a Press conference

In their own words

Victims Recount What Really Happened Outside al-Ittihadiya


You are cordially invited to a press conference detailing in the words of victims, their families, and eyewitnesses what really happened on Wednesday 5 December outside al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, after supporters of President Morsi stormed a sit-in set up by protesters of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

They will present testimonies showing what they were subjected to: they will tell the stories of arrests, beating, torture, and sexual abuse; they will also tell the stories of those who lost their lives.

Footage from the clashes will also be shown.

Where: Press Syndicate, Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street, Down Town, Cairo

When: Wednesday 12 December 2012, 5-7.30 pm

Simultaneous interpretation from Arabic to English will be available.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The best thing you'll read today on Egypt

Egypt's Political Crisis - By Ellis Goldberg | The Middle East Channel

Forget the legalities, it's about process and symbolism, and Morsi has royally fucked up:

The answer no longer lies in a draft constitution that very few of the demonstrators, on either side, are likely to have read. Egyptians along with the citizens of a great many other places have learned what is on paper is only a part of the constitution. The other, most important, part lies in the institutions that give the constitutional language presence in everyday life. To some degree this means the habits and choices of low level officials and to some degree it means the courts. And the simple and sad reality for the Brotherhood is that a great many Egyptians distrust, dislike, or fear them and worry that, having come to control the legislature and central executive, they plan to take over the courts as well as staff many of the lower levels of the government.

President Morsi has been unable to allay this distrust, fear, and dislike and over the last week he and his allies have, through words and actions, intensified it. This may be unfair and its results may be tragic, but it remains a profoundly political issue with which he and any Egyptian politicians who aspire to lead the country will ultimately have to deal.

Morsi and his advisors also seem to believe that they can use any stratagem, as long as it remains formally valid, to accomplish their substantive ends. In this they are, regrettably, all too like Egyptian governments of the last 60 years. One of Morsi's advisors admitted that, having been unable to remove former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud by ordinary means, Morsi simply changed the constitution to make it feasible (this was supposed to be one of the sections of the declaration that rendered it palatable to the public). Equally remarkably, the MB members of the Constituent Assembly even overrode the advice of the assembly chair and ally, Hosam al-Gheriani, to deny former leaders of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party political rights for a decade and to grant members of the government's prosecutorial staff judicial immunity. Al-Gheriani was reduced to leaving the dais of the assembly in protest against these provisions. He described the one as political vengeance and the other as an assault on the rights of citizens.

There are probably very few sections of Egyptian society that the Brotherhood and its allies in the Salafi movements have not antagonized.

The other important thing is that the anti-Morsi sentiment out there is not directed by the opposition leaders who are appearing on TV. It's a popular movement of anger by people who feel they were slapped in the face — twice — by the Morsi administration rushed, unthinking actions and the discourse of their supporters. 

Goldberg also has some fine words about Obama policy on this.

 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Why Morsi's mess will have a long legacy

Egypt's Constitution Conundrum | Foreign Affairs

The bottom line from Nathan Brown's latest on the draft constitution:

It makes little sense to read such provisions in the abstract: mechanisms of accountability work quite differently depending on who is in government. And here there is cause for worry. As long as Islamists keep winning parliamentary and presidential elections, there will likely be no push to rein in the presidency. But if the two authorities fall into competing hands, the new constitution could produce gridlock rather than real oversight.

For too long, observers have analyzed the prospects for democracy in Egypt by speculating about the intentions of important politicians and movements. Now almost everyone in the country claims to be a democrat, even if they all have very tarnished credentials. But the viability of Egyptian democracy depends not on real or claimed intentions but on healthy processes, accepted rules, and well-designed structures. And that should give us little reassurance.

Of course a constitution produced in a rushed process that created extreme polarization and a sense of injury among large elements of society is not going to result in that.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

FT: Morsi’s betrayal

Morsi’s betrayal - FT.com

This strongly-worded FT editorial is a good antidote for that terrible Guardian one (and I know whose paper's take I trust on most things, generally speaking — and I've contributed to both!):

As the democratically elected president of Egypt – by a thin majority – Mr Morsi is obliged to govern for all Egyptians, not take dictation from the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood. He should scrap the referendum, and sit down for talks without preconditions with the opposition National Salvation Front, an alliance of some two dozen groups headed by Mohammed ElBaradei, the liberal Nobel laureate.

The temptation will be to press ahead, reliant on the tacit backing of the army, whose enormous privileges the new charter jealously protects. But the imperative need is for a constitution that commands much more consensus, for Egyptians to feel they have a future they do not have to keep fighting for in the streets.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

What the National Salvation Front wants

Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum | Reuters

I think it's important to clarify the stance of the National Salvation Front because it is often ambiguously reported. First what they said:

(Reuters) - Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation".

Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

"We are against this process from start to finish," Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

But there has been some doubt whether this is a call for boycott or not. In fact, a vote was held by the NSF in which they had three options: campaign for "no" in the referendum, boycott, or continue to push for the referendum to be postponed. They chose the third option, and I am told the boycott option got the least votes. They will push for this with more protests.

I can understand there is concern with legitimizing what has become an illegitimate process, but I expect campaigning for no will be the only recourse left if protests, strikes, legal maneuvers and getting the backing of judges and other constituencies involved in the referendum's administration does not work. A postponement of the referendum (not a cancellation) is what makes the most sense here, and if Morsi was not stubbornly stuck on an insane process he started he could do that easily without losing face.  

And the New York Times gets it wrong again here in a story titled "Opponents of Egypt’s Leader Call for Boycott of Charter Vote".

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi isolates himself

As Egypt’s Crisis Deepens, Morsi Turns to Muslim Brotherhood - NYTimes.com

As tens of thousands chanted for his downfall or even imprisonment in a fourth day of protests outside the presidential palace, Mr. Morsi’s advisers and Brotherhood leaders acknowledged Friday that outside his core base of Islamist supporters he feels increasingly isolated in the political arena and even within his own government. The Brotherhood “is who he can depend on,” said one person close to Mr. Morsi, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Morsi appears to believe that he and the Brotherhood can deliver a strong vote for the draft constitution in next Saturday’s referendum — strong enough to discredit the opposition, allow him a fresh start and restore some of his authority.

And this:

“He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to become a human shield and protect the presidency because he can’t trust the state,” said the Brotherhood leader. “He is isolated.”

Some leaders might have concluded that this is because they simply don't have a broad mandate to do what they would like to do. Morsi  overreached by implementing a decree that resulted in a much stronger pushback than he expected, and then compounded his mistake and doubled down on rushing the constitution. He has pushed himself increasingly to rely solely on Islamists, and if this referendum takes places he will have only them to rely on for the rest of his administration. Moreover, he and his party last Wednesday incited people to go out into the street and "defend the presidency" — an unjustifiable action with predictable consequences (and an unnecessary one, after all he has the Republican Guards even if interior ministry forces are not to be trusted). Muslim Brothers went out there and held (and allegedly tortured) protestors for 12 hours, on presidency grounds, to extract confessions of a conspiracy. Morsi referred to these as "evidence" of a conspiracy in his speech the following day, but his own public prosecutor released these people. I am struck that this has been missing from much of the coverage of the situation in US media.

Morsi has pushed himself to rely on Islamists and appears to be accepting their resorting to violence on the grounds that violence has been used against the MB. On this trajectory, one can easily see him rely on such "muscle" for the foreseeable future because these protests will not stop once the referendum is held.

Two takes on why Morsi did what he did

Tarek Masoud, writing for CNN (not his headline, btw), argues an Egyptian tradition of a  strong executive is what counts:

But, as shocking as Morsy's actions are, they do not prove that Islamists cannot be democrats. Morsy's decision to grant himself unquestioned authority was not the final, spectacularly public phase in some hitherto clandestine Muslim Brotherhood plan to erect a holy autocracy. Instead, the Egyptian president simply did what Egyptian presidents have been doing for more than 60 years — that is, loosening institutional restraints on their authority in order to more easily fulfill their agendas.

That Morsy is an Islamist is largely irrelevant. It's likely that the autocratic temptation would have seized Egypt's president regardless of his party or ideological orientation. This is not only because Egypt has had a distressingly long history of powerful executives, it's also because, at this moment in Egypt's political history, there is no actor, institution or organization able to keep the presidency in check.

Steve Cook, writing in Foreign Affairs, says it's an attitude to governance shared by the MB and the Free Officers:

The Brothers, like the Free Officers who came to power in 1952 and produced Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak, are what the Yale anthropologist James Scott calls "high modernists." High modernism, which places a premium on scientific knowledge and elites with special skills, is inherently authoritarian. It might seem a strange designation for the Brotherhood, since most observers think of it as a religious movement. But in reality, the group has used religion to advance a political agenda. To suggest that the organization's leaders are dilettantes when it comes to Islam would be an overstatement, but the majority of them are first and foremost doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. They think of themselves as a vanguard that is uniquely qualified to rebuild Egypt and realize its seemingly endless quest for modernization. Moreover, they believe that the people entrusted them with the responsibility to do so as a result of free and fair elections in late 2011 and 2012.

With the Brotherhood in control of the now-dissolved People's Assembly, Shura Council, Constituent Assembly, and the presidency, this vanguard thought it could choose a path for Egypt within the councils of its own organization. There was no need for consensus or negotiation, hence Morsi's August 12 decision to decapitate the national security establishment and his subsequent efforts to place sympathizers in influential positions within the state-controlled media. In a television interview broadcast on November 29, he even called his recent decree an effort to "fulfill the demands of the public and the revolution." There is, he implied, no reason to question his decisions, which were in the best interest of Egypt.

I must say I lean towards Cook's "high modernist" interpretation because this is how the MB has behaved since the revolution: it's excited to be in a position to implement its project, makes a big fuss about its Renaissance Project, and sees others as saboteurs of that perfect plan. But where I disagree is with the decapitation of the SCAF: the SCAF decapitated itself and enabled Morsi — who had no power to do any of this without the consent, tacit or explicit, of the military.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

In Translation: Dismantling the Brothers’ revolutionary self-image

Taking a break from translations from the press, we offer you this week an impassioned Facebook missive by Karim Ennarah, a human rights activist reacting to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s controversial decree. Ennarah offers a critique of the Muslim Brotherhood’s use of the revolution to legitimate what many see as a power-grab, whereas its record shows it collaborating with the old regime and protecting it from revolutionary justice.

This feature is possible thanks to Industry Arabic, a full-service translation company. Please check them out. We are also grateful to Mandy McClure for editing and dealing with tricky aameyya expressions.

Dismantling the Brothers’ revolutionary self-image

Karim Ennarah, Facebook, 24 November 2012

Morsi’s government is not a revolutionary government. In fact, it has been against the goals of the revolutions from day one. You may think they’re right, but please, this farce of “the revolution vs. the feloul!”[1] has to stop immediately, or I may very well die from the tawdriness of it all. The Muslim Brotherhood’s problem is that they’ve taken hold of the issue of the most esteemed, shitty judiciary[2] and turned it into the sole demand of the revolution. Let me then explain to you the bizarre inconsistencies in your explanations of the president’s decree. (Here I’m speaking to my friends among the MB, Islamists and their sympathizers, or those sympathetic to the president and his recent decisions. You all know that I’m not one for political expediency and have no chronic phobia of Islamists.)

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Morsi reminds The Economist of Mubarak

Egypt: Dictatorship, democracy, dictatorship? | The Economist

Bottom line in this good overview:

Mr Morsi seems to have forgotten the sensitivity that a country freshly freed from decades of despotism might feel towards anything with an odour of dictatorship. Secretive and inward-looking, the Brotherhood appears surprised by the depth of mistrust that many Egyptians, including pious Muslims of every social class, feel towards them. The Islamists’ constituency remains large and their organising power formidable. “They will rally the poor with the slogan: to be a Muslim, vote yes for the constitution and confound the infidels,” predicts Muhammad Nour Farahat, a law professor at Cairo’s Zagazig University. Yet even if Mr Morsi and his Brothers manage to pull this off, a heavy cloud will remain over their rule.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Paranoid about the courts

The revolution in crisis | Egypt Independent

Nathan Brown - who is being called "The Nate Silver of Egyptian politics" on Twitter write about the fight between the judiciary and the presidency:

The president was explicit in why he felt the need for the November declaration: He feared the SCC was about to turn back the revolution by disbanding the Constituent Assembly, the Shura Council, and perhaps even the president’s August constitutional declaration that had removed the military’s stranglehold over the country’s political system.

Is the SCC a body filled with SCAF sycophants and handpicked Hosni Mubarak stooges? 

No. 

All members of the court were indeed formally presidential appointments. But most were nominated by the justices themselves; their appointment by Mubarak was a formality.

The former chief justice, Farouk Sultan, was indeed a direct Mubarak pick, but he had only one vote and retired over the summer. He was replaced by a president picked by the court’s own justices. 

I don’t wish to make it sound as if the old regime’s habits left the court completely unaffected. There were subtle ways that the bold court of Chief Justice Awad al-Morr’s days, in the 1990s, was gradually tamed by the regime.

Bottom line: the Supreme Constitutional Court is a mixed bag. Brothers like to point to statements made by Tahani al-Gebali, who famously told the New York Times last summer that she's ready to do anything to back the army and thwart the Brotherhood. Senior officials I've talked to say they have evidence that the court had already decided to rule against the Constituent Assembly, the Shura Council and the August 12 decree with the aim of bringing back the army. Might be true regarding the first two — but we can't know for sure. As for the third, it seems unlikely: after all, the army itself chose to leave the front row of politics. Why come back now?

The SCC is making a statement later today. We'll see how they react to these allegations.

Hanna on Morsi's mindset

Morsi’s Majoritarian Mindset - By Michael Wahid Hanna | The Middle East Channel

A good piece that lays out a key issue in the current crisis — the contempt in which the Muslim Brothers, by and large, hold other political forces:

Morsi's majoritarian mindset is not anti-democratic per se, but depends upon a distinctive conception of winner-takes-all politics and the denigration of political opposition. Winning elections, by this perspective, entitles the victors to govern unchecked by the concerns of the losers. This polarizing approach to politics bodes ill for the future of Egypt's troubled transition at a foundational moment when the country is fashioning a new constitutional order. This chronic overreach has cemented the divide between Islamists and non-Islamists and heightened suspicions of the Brotherhood's ultimate intentions.

It's not just Morsi, it's also the opposition

Both Egypt's President and His Opposition Adopt Extreme Positions - NYTimes.com

My latest for Latitude — an excerpt:

If Morsi’s critics rightly oppose the decree, however, they also leave little room for compromise. They won’t address some of the underlying problems that the president’s admittedly extreme step sought to address. And they refuse to begin any dialogue with Morsi until the decree is rescinded.

Morsi is unlikely to cancel the measure outright. And the Egyptian judiciary, which is deeply divided about it, has given him leeway to implement at least parts of it as acts of sovereignty. That’s a somewhat mystifying legal doctrine, and it leaves plenty of room for interpretation. But will the opposition negotiate over what must go and what can stay? Also, can it hammer out a deal — of the kind Morsi should have sought in the first place — to ensure that the drafting of the constitution can continue without interruption?

Now that the opposition has an opportunity to humiliate the president, it is in no mood to compromise.

But this is wrong-headed. Over time, Morsi’s critics run the risk of appearing intransigent to the general public, especially if he starts making concessions. ElBaradei and others in the opposition need to make concrete counterproposals, notably about the future of the constitution-writing process.

Finding a consensus that everyone can live with should be the end goal both for Morsi and his opponents, some of who are guilty of the lazy hope that the intervention of third parties — judges, generals — will solve their problems. Just as it needs a president who listens, Egypt needs a loyal and constructive opposition.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.