The baltaga state

Andrea Teti, writing for the indispensable MERIP, gets it – this is precisely how I see the Egyptian state and its actions:

The arrest, trial and often torture of journalists, activists and students from across the political spectrum has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice or security. Even comedians are harassed. These actions are best understood as a mafia-style warning, the content of which is fairly obvious: For anyone opposing the regime installed since the 2013 army coup, there is no safety in the law, nor in Western governments, nor in the international media. The use of violence to repress or stir up conflict useful to the regime is nothing new. The regime wants it to be clear that it can imprison anyone, any time, no matter how absurd the charges, how surreal the evidence or how great a travesty of justice the trial. In fact, the absurdity of the evidence and the Kafkaesque legal process are not an aberration. On the contrary, the greater their absurdity, the more effectively the new regime makes its point: Cross us at your peril; there is nowhere to hide.

. . .

Every criminal gang worth its salt knows it needs to keep the local population dependent and scared enough to believe there is no alternative, and duped enough into thinking that there is at least a veneer of morality covering what the racketeers do.

Egyptian nationalists don't like to hear it, but the leadership of their beloved military – whatever the merits it once had – has devolved into a mafia, no more, no less. Understanding that is the beginning of understanding what is happening in Egypt, and the risks it entails considering the region's other mafia states were the Assads' Syria and the Husseins' Iraq. And look where they are now.

Egyptian militants outwit army in Sinai battlefield | Reuters

Rare, grim, first-hand reporting from Sinai by Reuters:

(Reuters) - Egypt's army says it is crushing Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, but in the region's villages and towns a victory for the state feels a long way off.
In a rare visit to eight villages in Northern Sinai last week, a Reuters reporter saw widespread destruction caused by army operations, but also found evidence that a few hundred militants are successfully playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Arab world's biggest army and are nowhere near defeat. It is increasingly difficult for foreign correspondents to openly enter conflict zones in the Sinai.

Residents say the militants - a mix of Egyptian Islamists, foreign fighters and disgruntled youth - have seized control of about a third of the villages in the region and are now taking their fight closer to Cairo.

"The army is in control of the main roads but is unable to enter many villages. It can only attack them by helicopter," said Mustafa Abu Salman, who lives near al-Bars village.

"Even when the army's armored personnel vehicles enter villages they fail to arrest militants who have better knowledge of the place, which the military completely lacks."

Many residents say that the authorities' military operations are actually creating new enemies for the state.

Worth reading the whole thing, which is somewhat reminiscent of the 2004-2006 debate about regular military vs. counter-insurgency techniques in Iraq.

Al-Sisi, the presidency, and the officers

Hesham Sallam, writing in Mada Masr, hits on the central point of yesterday's announcement by SCAF endorsing Sisi as president:

If the purpose behind the general’s quest for the presidency is to afford the political status quo and the military’s dominant position the façade of democratic legitimacy, then yesterday’s announcement makes little sense. Notwithstanding the burdens Sisi has taken on and imposed on the military by entering into the presidential race, kicking off his bid with a formal mandate from the military proves and underscores the very realities that the general is supposed to conceal. Specifically, this development leaves no doubt in the minds of observers that political outcomes in Egypt are dictated by the military and not by a supposedly unpredictable, free-for-all democratic process that is responsive to popular will. By failing to unilaterally resign from his position and announce a presidential candidacy from a place of institutional independence, Sisi missed a perfect opportunity to dispel the claim that he is running as the military’s nominee. Instead, he chose to present his nomination as a direct response to the call of his own peers.
It is tempting to blame these missteps on sheer political incompetence. Yet more compellingly, this move seems to be highlighting Sisi’s insecurities about potential chatter among the officers’ rank and file that he is taking the military into risky political adventures for the sole purpose of personal gain. In such a context, yesterday’s statement signifies the publicized approval that Sisi needed from the officers in order to protect against possible backlash from within the military. By obtaining such a public endorsement, moreover, Sisi in effect made the whole military, as an institution, complicit in his personal bid for power. Such a measure makes it challenging for the officers to distance themselves from Sisi’s candidacy in the future. It makes it difficult for them to wait on the sidelines conveniently and strike a pact with whoever wins, as they had done in the 2012 presidential elections when former Air Force General Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brother Mohamed Morsi competed in the runoff vote.

Only room for one general

 

There has been much media focus lately on the ongoing, growing campaign to get defense minister and commander of the armed forces Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for president -- a bandwagon on which we can expect see many more flatterers and opportunists jump. El-Sisi's candid discussion with other officers on how Egyptian need to get used to paying more for services and talk on the phone less, how the army can get the media to practice some self-censorhip, and how military personnel will never be held responsible for killing protesters were recently leaked, and seen as evidence of his nefarious dictatorial tendencies by Islamists and of his economic genius and straight-talking by army supporters. 

 It is also instructive to see the reaction to another possible military contender. Nour Youssef has this report. 

While it is generally good to be a soldier rather than another weakling civilian in Egypt, it has not been so for former Chief of Staff General, Sami Anan.

After news of Anan’s announcement of his run for president spread, and despite it being followed by a quick denial, the pro-military media began airing his dirty laundry and then tried to suffocate him with the clotheslineSo far Anan, aka  The Bringer of the Brotherhood (or at the very least:  Key Person Who Helped Make Mistakes That Lead To MB Rule), has been accused of having an under-qualified son as head of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, wasting state land (200 acres of it by Cairo-Alexandria desert road on himself and his wife), having grandchildren born in the US for the citizenship, buying a whole floor in a fancy hotel, among other things.

Although many, like Mahmoud Saad, perfunctorily expressed their respect for Anan's constitutional right to run before all but telling him not to, much of the talk about Anan has been focused on his newly published memoirs and his past.

Read More

Historical perspective on Egypt's army

From Bernard Lewis' autobiography, Notes on a century , a vignette about Nasser requesting Pakistan's help to restructure the Egyptian military in 1960: 

The government of Pakistan was willing, but on condition that it be permitted to send a small feasibility mission to examine the situation and then advise on what, if anything, Pakistan could do. It told Nasser that the mission must be allowed to go wherever it wanted, and its questions must be answered truthfully and honestly. Nasser agreed, saying that there would be no point otherwise.
A small group of Pakistan officers was then sent to Egypt. they toured the country, spoke to many people and reported that they were not told the truth. The reason that they were not told the truth is that nobody knew the truth. In the Egyptian armed forces, they said, "The corporal lies to the sergeant, the sergeant lies to the lieutenant, the lieutenant lies to the captain, the captain lies to the major and so on all the way up the chain of command. By the time it reaches the high command or the Ministry of Defense, they haven't a clue what is going on." The Pakistan general heading the mission concluded that the high command in Cairo was sitting on top of a pyramid of lies. The Pakistan government therefore declined and said it was sorry but could not help.  

 

The cult of Sisi

In my latest column for the New York Times Latitude blog, I try to explain Egypt's current love affair with its armed forces, and their leader, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi

The public had soured on the military after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, under the disastrous rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But then it soured on the Muslim Brotherhood even more, and when following the June protests the military removed Morsi from power, the moment was treated like the end of a foreign occupation. Protesters waved flags — some had been helpfully airdropped by army helicopters — and army pilots drew hearts of smoke in the sky above Tahrir Square. Months later, children still stop to have their picture taken next to the tanks stationed on my street.

The Egyptian Army hasn’t fought a war since 1973, and the U.S. Embassy judges that its capabilities have “degraded.” But that’s not the point. People don’t love their army because of how powerful it is, but because of how much they want to overcome their own feelings of powerlessness. To the great majority of Egyptians, the army is synonymous with the country, and supporting it is a way of wishing that Egypt will become all the things it currently isn’t: strong, independent and prosperous.

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?

Sissi's choice

 Lt Gen al-Sissi's call to Egyptians to take to the streets to support unspecified measures against "terrorism" is a potentially risky move for him. To be sure, outright criticism is mostly limited to those groups who have long been skeptical of the army's involvement in politics from the beginning. But this direct foray into mass politics is a signal to the army's civilian politician partners that they are dispensable, and a few are grousing about such a circumvention of the way things are normally done in a civilian-led state. Investors, who were delighted to see Morsi pushed from power, are nervous.

Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  -- as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics -- al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front. That strategy presumably stemmed from al-Sissi's experience in SCAF, whose tenure as the direct rulers of Egypt from 2011-2012 began to tarnish the military's treasured reputation as the apolitical guardians of the country.

Al-Sissi didn't really need to break with this strategy. Al-Sisi is vastly popular, there are no indications of any serious breaches between the army and Adly Mansour's government, and the Muslim Brothers, though defiant, are really far too isolated to pose much of a threat to the transition. Why might al-Sissi have chosen to change his strategy? 

Read More

"Egypt 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.

 

Was there army unity on #June30?

Interesting allegation from Cherif Bassiouni's through and well worth reading analysis of the situation Egypt: 

It is also reported, and that is the second story, that then-President Morsi was going to appoint Lieutenant General Ahmed Wasfy who is a member and the commander of the second field army stationed in the Sinai, to replace General al-Sisi. General Wasfy is believed to have opposed the action by the SCAF as led by General al-Sisi. Shortly thereafter, a military spokesperson issued a statement that General Wasfy had been attacked while in the Sinai but was not killed. The statement indicated that a male civilian together with his 6-year-old daughter were killed in the car by military fire, which presumably occurred in the belief that the car in which these two civilians were was planning an attack upon Wasfy. This statement was later withdrawn by the military authorities. But independent sources confirm the death of a civilian adult and a 6-year-old child. For the last week, General Wasfy has not attended the meetings of the SCAF, and a military spokesperson stated that this was because he was too busy with the security situation in the Sinai. Some observers, however, believe that Wasfy may be under some form of arrest because he was supportive of then-President Morsi and could have been tapped by him to take over from General al-Sisi— much as the latter took over from Field Marshall Tantawi. The hypothesis that President Morsi wanted Lieutenant General Wasfy to replace General al-Sisi is plausible. 

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."

 

Should the Egyptian army and police get to vote?

That is the question that has riled Egypt over the past week, as the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), in its latest bout of judicial jujitsu, has decreed that – in accordance with the new constitution – since the electoral franchise is supposed to be universal, the previous ban on uniformed services from voting should be lifted. This has triggered howls of outrage by Islamists, who see the judiciary giving the police and army the right to vote as tantamount to vote-rigging, and has been welcomed (to various degrees, and not by all means unanimously) by their opponents.

​The recommendation came as part of the SCC's review of a new elections law and a law on parliament – a review that itself is mandated by the new constitution. The SCC's ruling appears correct: since the new constitution guarantees equal rights for all citizens, and makes no mention of an exemption from voting for employees for conscripts, officers, and/or policemen, it stands to reason that they should not be denied the right to vote. Of course, there were no provisions preventing the military and police from voting under the previous constitution, so the SCC appears to have, in this case, made a recommendation that went against longstanding practice – or perhaps more simply it had never had the occasion to rule on this issue before, since it did not get to review legislation under the previous constitution.

​A first take to this decision is that it shows, yet again, how foolish the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists were to rush ahead with a constitution that has already come back to bite them in many respects. And their reaction is proving yet more foolish, notably in the shape of calls for the SCC to be abolished altogether because it is seen (despite having been purged by the new constitution of many of its most anti-Islamist components) that are escalating the crisis between the government and the judiciary (judges are now threatening a national strike in response to a draft judicial reform law).

Read More

France draws the military consequences of US disengagement from the Middle East

From Le Figaro's report on a "white paper" on France's military doctrine for the years ahead:

«C'est un fait majeur, lourd de conséquences, aussi important selon moi que les printemps arabes, car il signifie que l'on ne pourra plus désormais compter sur les États-Unis comme on le fit jusque-là», commente Étienne de Durand, le directeur du Centre des études de sécurité de l'Ifri, qui a suivi de près les travaux du livre blanc. Les deux dernières guerres livrées par la France, en Libye et au Mali, organisées autour de coalitions verticales, représentent selon lui «l'avenir». «Le fait que les États-Unis ne veuillent plus être en première ligne est un changement fondamental qu'il nous faut intégrer», poursuit cet expert.

The report also stresses the need to maintain France's African bases as a consequence of Operation Serval in Mali, describes the "vertical" coalitions used in Mali and Libya as "the future" and stresses that "the fact that the United States no longer want to be on the front line is a fundamental change that we must integrate". 

/Source

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.