Another ex-president on trial

Mohammed Morsi stood trial today in the same venue where Hosni Mubarak did in 2011. As I note here, there were other similarities between the cases: a heavy police presence; angry supporters outside who let off some steam journalist-beating and rock-throwing; lawyers who nearly came to blows; and journalists who very professionally called for the death penalty for the defendants.   

The defendants themselves reportedly (the trial is not being televised) chanted against the military and told journalists they have been tortured and denied access to family and lawyers. Morsi refused to wear prison whites and insisted he is still president. The judge suspended the session a couple times because of the disorder; the next court date is January 8.  

Morsi and 14 others are on trial for inciting violence that led to the death of 7 people last December, during protests against him. Incitement is a hard charge to prove. They couldn't manage to hold Hosny Mubarak responsible for anything more than failing to prevent the killing of over 800 demonstrators (who did the killing was never addressed). But I better not get started on transitional justice in Egypt or rather the scandalous lack thereof. 

Karl reMarks answers commonly asked questions about the trial: 

What charges does Morsi face?
‘Being in office while elected’, which is a severe offense against Egyptian laws and conventions. As this is not actually a criminal offence, the prosecution team has helpfully come with a professionally-typed list of trumped-up charges. 
What is the maximum penalty Morsi faces? 
This depends on the imagination of the judges. The Egyptian judicial system likes to encourage creativity and innovation. The military junta will also have a say, although this will be relayed to the judges in secret because the military are shy and withdrawing. 

 

 

Under Morsi, Red Lines Gone Gray

Jonathan Guyer, in Jadaliyya, looks at political cartooning under Mubarak, Morsi and the military. His very interesting article (based on a year's worth of Fulbright research) confirms my sense that there was more freedom of expression under Morsi than before or after -- not because the Brother's weren't authoritarian, but because they weren't able to impose their control. All those cases brought against journalists and others for insulting the presidency were also the result of the fact that the presidency was getting mocked and criticized as never before. 

The most significant change in Egyptian caricature since 2011 is the implicit permissibility of satirizing the president. Nevertheless, during President Mohamed Morsi’s year in office, the same penal code article maintained that “whoever insults the president… shall be imprisoned.” Yet, according to Judge Yussef Auf, it does not clearly stipulate what insulting the president means or what the precise penalty should be.[3] Additionally, nearly seventy other articles limit freedom of expression. These range from prohibitions against “insults” to the parliament, army, courts, and other public authorities, to injunctions against the reporting of false news. Nonetheless, mocking these institutions became a core part of cartooning even in government-run newspapers, in spite of—or because of—these regulations.  

 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

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Morsi regrets constitutional declaration - kinda

From the Guardian's interview with Mohamed Morsi:  

In a rare moment of contrition, Morsi admitted for the first time in the English-language media that he regretted using unilateral powers to force through Egypt's controversial new constitution – a move that the opposition saw as dictatorial. This was the pivotal moment of his first year, sowing the seeds for widespread dissent against his administration.

"It contributed to some kind of misconception in society," Morsi said, distancing himself from one of the most divisive clauses in the new Islamist-slanted constitution, which allows for greater religious input into Egyptian legislation. "It's not me who changed this article. I didn't interfere in this constitutional committee's work. Absolutely not."

The president added that once MPs were finally elected to Egypt's currently empty lower house of parliamentary, he would personally submit constitutional amendments for debate in the house's very first session.

But Morsi's contrition only went so far. Amid opposition claims that the failure to achieve consensus had led to Egypt's current polarisation, Morsi blamed the refusal of secular politicians to participate in the political process for the impasse. He denied that his government was unduly loaded with Islamists. He went on to list numerous offers he claimed he had made to bring non-Islamists on board, while simultaneously defending the right of a popularly-elected president to promote his allies. "This is the concept of real democracy," he said.

Wael Ghonim asks Morsi to step down

And the build-up to anti-Morsi protests in Egypt on June 30th continues... Here is a video message by world-famous activist Wael Ghonim, taking the Islamist president to task for allegedly breaking the promises he made a year ago. Translated transcript by Nour. 

In the name of God, the Merciful. Allah Almighty said: “And fulfill (every) covenant. Verily! The covenant will be questioned about.”
Last year during the runoff presidential elections, the then-presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi emerged with a number of pledges to the Egyptian people to win their votes. These promises did, in fact, make a difference for him  -- as evidenced by him winning the elections by a very small margin, thanks to many people, a great many of whom are now considered agents of the West and haters of religion. 
Three days after the elections, just like today, I attended the Fairmont (hotel) meeting with the president before the official result was announced, when the Muslim Brothers were afraid of forgery, and so decided to confirm their commitments to their promises. That day, the president promised us to be a president for all Egyptians, he promised to honor his campaign slogan: "Our strength, in our unity.”  But, unfortunately, a year later the slogan is now “Our strength, in our Brotherhood.” The president, that day, promised us to respect the opposition and shared decision-making, but (now) we find that we have replaced a ruling party that considered whoever opposes it to be a traitor and an agent with another ruling party that considers whoever opposes it to be a traitor, an agent and a hater of religion. The president at the Fairmont meeting promised retribution for (the killers) of those who died in the revolution, but what we have seen is that people are still dying under his rule. The youth that took to Tahrir Sq. to chant the day (Morsi) won -- their mothers are now crying with sadness, (grieving) their (youth’s) martyrdom when they took to (the streets) to oppose him. 
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Rebels without a pause

I just wrote something for the NYTimes' Latitude blog about the Tamarrud ("Rebel") campaign -- a petition calling for early presidential elections, which according to the youth groups behind it has gained 3 million signatures.

In my piece I noted that the petition has no legal power to end Morsi's term. I consider it part of the ongoing tug of war between revolutionary and conventional politics, and evidence of how dissatisfying and alienating the political process of the last 2 years as been for so many. I did note how extraordinary it is that "Egyptians today can organize a street campaign to dismiss the president — a president they freely elected last year."

I may have spoken too soon, however. This morning there are reports that Rebel campaigners were shot at in Beni Suef (several others have already been detained and attacked) and that Morsi's prosecutor general has opened an investigation into whether the organizers are  "inciting and mobilising people to overthrow an elected government, inciting hatred against the regime, and promoting a group suspected of violating the law." 

Prison break

One of the many annoying things about following Egyptian politics these days is the sheer amount of disinformation and ridiculous stories out there. The compounded result of the state of the Egyptian media these days is to create a daze in which nothing appears true, and everything appears suspicious. It's psychological warfare based on information overdose, designed to soften minds and ​heighten the general sense of hysteria. Nour The Intern, whom I frequently reproach for spending way too much time reading sensational stories, has dug up this implausible gem below from al-Watan newspaper — to be read in the context of allegations that Hamas broke Mohammed Morsi and other senior MBs out of jail during the uprising against Mubarak. This is her summary.

Testimony of truck driver, Ayoub Othman, who supposedly saw Morsi and friends escape from prison. 

He was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar on Jan 28, when he got a flat tire and had to spend the night by the truck waiting for his aid, who left to fix the tire, to come back. He was right by the Natrun Prison. On Jan 29, around 3:30 am, he saw four microbuses with their number plates partly covered with duct tape. Two of them stopped behind him and two before him. No one came out of them and he started to worry. A while later, 27 other microbuses without number plates showed up.

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On Egypt's cabinet shuffle

There has been plenty of commentary on Egypt's recent cabinet shuffle around, as well as profiles of the incoming ministers. Much of the takeaway on this shuffle is that it represents a modest expansion for the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in the cabinet, and a refusal by the Brothers to reach out to the opposition by including some more neutral figures. While this analysis is correct, I think it misses the broader point of this cabinet shuffle.

When word of an impending cabinet shuffle started spreading a few months ago, it was in the context of the fallout of the crisis over the November 22 2012 constitutional decree (aka "Morsi's power grab" for the opposition) and of the IMF's clear messaging that a) the current cabinet's proposed reforms fell far short of IMF requirements for a loan package and b) more political consensus on these reforms would be required. Along with the evolution of the positions/demands of the National Salvation Front (increasingly centered on setting the right stage for upcoming elections by reviewing the electoral law and ensuring that ministries that have the potential of influential elections are not in the hands of partisans) and the political diplomacy of the Nour Party to resolve the crisis, the outline of a solution was proposed that would involve a compromise pathway to new elections, after which an entirely new cabinet would be formed and a full parliament would have full legitimacy to pass legislation. By that point, elections held before Ramadan were a possibility — but this has not been the case for a few weeks. 

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In Translation: How the Constitutional Declaration came to be

Much of the mayhem currently taking place in Egypt is a direct result of the Constitutional Declaration President Mohammed Morsi announced on 22 November 2012 and the political upheaval it caused. There has been much speculation as to why the declaration was made when it was (just after the end of the Gaza crisis), who had planned it and who was out of the loop and what its purpose was. Mohamed Basal, a reporter for al-Shorouk newspaper, has the inside story of how the Declaration came to be, shedding some light on some of these questions. We bring it to you in English thanks to the upstanding folks at Industry Arabic who make our In Translation series possible.

Basal's article is meticulously — though anonymously — sourced and provides a plausible narrative of how the Constitutional Declaration came to be. Some key points:

  • It was largely drafted by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, in consultation with Brotherhood leaders, but only with late input from presidential advisors.
  • Key judicial figures were only consulted late and opposed some of its provisions.
  • It was initially intended to include bringing the retirement age of judges down to 60 years old. Such a provision could still be implemented later this year to purge a large number of senior judges. The Vice-President threatened to resign over this.
  • The Minister of Justice and the Vice-President, both judges, fought against several of its provisions and did not think it was necessary — or legal — to "protect" the Constituent Assembly from a Supreme Constitutional Court decision.
  • Morsi and the Brothers believed a conspiracy was afoot (this much we know from their cryptic statements) for the Supreme Constitutional Court to launch impeachment proceedings against President Morsi — even though there are no constitutional means for this. They were also receiving information of a destabilization campaign from "sovereign bodies", meaning intelligence agencies.
  • The Constitutional Declaration was originally intended mostly to deal with the replacement of the Public Prosecutor and the extension of the Constituent Assembly, which by late November was far from finishing its work. It was the FJP's legal committee that added other provisions, backed by Morsi notably on the question of protecting the Constituent Assembly from dissolution and giving himself extraordinary powers (intended to deal with a perceived threat of unrest caused by the opposition).

Here's the quite long and detailed article for Egypt-watchers who want to understand the steps that led to the Morsi administration's biggest mistake to date.

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Morsi's popularity dips (just) below 50%

The latest poll conducted by Baseera, one of Egypt's better pollsters, illustrates the hit the Morsi administration has taken in the last two months: President Mohammed Morsi, whose approval rating reached 78% in September at its peak, is now less than 50% for the first time. The trend is clearly a downwards one, and that's in the absence of a strong alternative leader in the opposition. The National Salvation Front, on the other hand, has also taken a hit but may face a greater challenge: some 35% of those polled had never heard of it, a devastating measure of the NSF's lack of street presence (although, to be fair, the NSF's components and individual leaders may be better know.

The full press release from Baseera is after the jump.

 

Press Release on the Poll Conducted by Baseera Center on the Performance of the National Salvation Front and the President’s Approval Rating after Eight Months in Office

Magued Osman

President’s approval rating continues to decline, falling to less than 50% of Egyptians.

One third of Egyptians have not heard of the National Salvation Front, while more than 50% of those who have do not support the NSF.

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The US ambassador's speech

As I've previously written (and I'm not the only one to think so), I think US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been too incautious in her embrace and praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last two years. Her recent speech in Alexandria, though, helps correct some of her recent media statements and strikes many right notes for where US policy should be. Her assessment of the economic situation is devasting, and a pointed critique of the Morsi administration's handling of this. The speech does not touch on politics much, but does hint at great alarm at Morsi's poor leadership.

I am pasting the whole thing after the jump.

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Egyptian activist to Obama: at least have the decency to stop voicing support for Morsi

A striking open letter to President Obama by veteran Egyptian human rights activist Baheieddin Hassan:

Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.

Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president. Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.

I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

Read the whole thing. 

The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.

Egypt: To the barricades, again

Egypt: To the barricades, again | The Economist

From the conclusion of a long briefing on Egypt:

Mass defiance of the president’s curfew order in the canal cities, along with persistent protests elsewhere, have deeply dented Mr Morsi’s prestige. Few elsewhere in Egypt fully share the fury of Port Said; many despise the destructive antics of, as they have been called on Twitter, “spoiled brats living out Che Guevara fantasies”. Yet the frustrations of rising unemployment and soaring prices are keenly felt, and exacerbate the political discontent.

Mr Morsi is trying harder to coax the NSF into his hitherto vacuous dialogue. He speaks with new seriousness of being open to revising the constitution. He is working on securing backing from the International Monetary Fund for economic reform. Without broad support, though, enacting such reform will be impossible, and so far he has rejected demands to form a broader-based government of national unity, an idea endorsed by leading Salafists as well as the NSF. If he could summon to such a task of reconciliation the boldness he has previously displayed in his own interest, his country might move forward. If he does not, Egypt’s divided narratives will split further asunder. Radical Islamists could seek to settle scores with those they see as challenging “their” revolution. If so their opponents will fight back, and the world’s willingness to help would fade. Miserably, his people might just decide that things were better in the old days.

Morsi got into this mess. He's got to get out of it by paying a price and making a significant concession — everything else besides the point.

In Translation: A president who does not know how to address his people

This week’s translation — made possible by our partners Industry Arabic, whom you should hire immediately for your translation needs — is a light-hearted one to catch a break from all the doom and gloom.

Newara Negm is an Egyptian journalist and activist. She’s the daughter of the irrepressible leftist poet and world-class hashish smoker Ahmad Fouad Negm and the irascible Islamist writer Safinaz al-Kazem, and the author of the blog Gabha al-Tahyyes al-Shaabiya (Popular Front of Sarcasm). This commentary is a little hard to translate because of the casual writing style, but she provides an original take on one of Morsi’s mistake: he doesn’t know how to talk to the Egyptian people. It is largely in reaction to his most recent television speech, during which he waved his finger at the camera and scolded protestors.

That’s Not the Way to Do Things

Nawara Negm, al-Tahrir, 1 February 2013

A friend of mine from the Gulf, who loves Egypt and loves to speak in Egyptian dialect, told me that he deals with different nationalities in his capacity as a company manager, and he would do humorous impressions of each nationality. When he got to Egypt, he said that you can be three months late in paying an Egyptian’s wage, but you have to meet him with a big smile and speak to him with the warmth of kinship, saying “You’re different from the rest, you’re important.” No sooner than that will the Egyptian put his hand in his pocket and say: "Do you need money? Really, please, in God’s name, take it, please…”

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Rashidi: The Rule of the Brotherhood

Egypt: The Rule of the Brotherhood by Yasmine El Rashidi | The New York Review of Books

Yasmine's latest, on the November-December crisis:

When Morsi took office last summer, the big question on people’s minds was whether he would be able to separate himself from the Brotherhood, the group that had authorized, guided, and financed his presidential campaign. Aside from his symbolic act of resignation from his post in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, could a longtime member of a secret fraternity distance himself from the control of the Guidance Bureau without being kicked out or defamed in the way that Morsi’s Islamic rival Aboul Fotouh had been the summer before?

By this winter, the public seemed to accept the fact that there was no alternative to Morsi’s Brotherhood running the show. As a source close to the Brotherhood’s leaders told me, “Morsi is simply overseeing the presidential portfolio on behalf of the Supreme Guide’s Office, and so in negotiating with him you are simply speaking to a messenger.” For many, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, for all its defects, seemed to be the lesser of two evils. In the lead-up to the referendum, as political tensions were high and protests continued, talk of a civil war seemed to be everywhere. I kept hearing, repeatedly, people “pray” for an intervention by the army.

On December 11, I went to a local sporting club where retired ministers and officials are often found around the pool. A former Interior Ministry chief warned a circle of keen listeners—of whom my father was one—that the Interior Ministry could no longer contain the situation and that the army would be forced to intervene. I was told later that the interior minister had met with the defense minister and told him as much. That afternoon, the army made its appearance, putting out a call and invitation on Facebook to hold a meeting for a “national dialogue” the following day. The president’s office reacted, saying the invitation was a rumor. The army responded that the president would be attending. The president’s office said he wouldn’t. The army responded by changing the wording—they were inviting Morsi to a “humanitarian dialogue” and “luncheon.” Eventually the president’s office said Morsi would be attending “given that the invitation had come upon counsel from him.” Politics would not be discussed, and lunch would be served.

The next afternoon, the meeting was canceled. The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood had intervened. For him, it was not tolerable that the armed forces should be seen as capable of gathering together all factions, including the president, in a national dialogue, while the president himself had utterly failed to do the same. At the state TV and radio building that day, a reporter told me that the media’s hands were increasingly tied:

It’s no different from when Mubarak was in power. The red lines of what we can say and can’t say are being redrawn. Instead of Mubarak, now it’s Morsi. We know that it was the Supreme Guide who gave orders for the lunch to be canceled. We know there is a tension between the army and Brotherhood, but we can’t say that.

Read the whole thing.

Morsi won't meet with the intellectuals

Morsi won't meet writers at Cairo book fair opening - Books - Ahram Online

According to culture minister Saber Arab, Morsi will not meet with intellectual figures at this year's inauguration, but will hold a meeting with publishers, and Arab told Ahram Online that this year's fair will be open to the public from 3pm.

Egyptian writers and intellectuals expressed their dismay at the cancellation of the "old tradition" of a presidential meeting, saying that the decision would deepen the rupture between culture and politics.

"It's plain that he chose to meet the industry men, not the ones who give life to this industry. He chose to meet the businessmen instead of the writers and intellectuals," said writer and former presidential consultant Ayman El-Sayyad.

Writer Mohammed Salmawy sees the move as proof of the hostility towards culture by the Muslim Brotherhood. Salmawy believes that most Egyptian writers and intellectuals would not attend the meeting if they were invited, but he asserts that political authorities have a duty to do in caring for Egypt's culture.

"Ignoring intellectuals and writers is a prejudice against them. The state is giving up on its responsibilities."

Writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid told Ahram Online that Morsi was seeking to spare himself embarrassing questions, which the writers would have sought to ask him, especially as he has not considered any of the things he agreed to with the intellectuals at their meeting at the presidential palace last September.

"The only question I would have for him if I attended such a meeting would be: Why you are being an elusive president?" Ibrahim said.

This year's fair is guaranteed with an insurance policy worth LE100 million (approx. $16 million) and the fair's theme is "Dialogue not Clash."

Pretty clearly he does not want to face a hostile crowd. Several years ago the much-lauded Egyptian leftist intellectual and political scientist Mohammed Sayyed Said embarrassed Mubarak at one of these "meetings with the intellectuals" — that was a very courageous move back then. In the current atmosphere, Morsi has everything to lose and little to gain. 

That being said, I've never liked this "meeting with the intellectuals" — it always reeked of presidential pageantry and comes from the paternalistic tradition of the president / father-of-the-nation style of politics. I doubt any of Egypt's presidents ever had anything substantial to share intellectually (certainly that was the case with Mubarak), and while Morsi is certainly more academically accomplished than his predecessor, I'm not sure he has much to say either.

Insulting the president

More 'insulting president' lawsuits under Morsi than Mubarak - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online

I have a hard time believing this but Gamal Eid is a serious guy:

There were four times as many 'insulting the president' lawsuits during President Mohamed Morsi's first 200 days in office than during the entire 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak. This is the claim made by Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Moreover, the number of such lawsuits during the Morsi era is more than during the entire period dating back to 1909 when the law was introduced (originally for 'insulting the king'), Eid said via Twitter.

They will have a full report on it tomorrow with the list of names.

The Brotherhood in power, cont.

Brotherhood Struggles to Exert Political Power in Egypt - NYTimes.com

David Kirkpatrick writes:

Mr. Morsi still appears to exercise little day-to-day authority over the judiciary, the police, the military and the state-run news media.

“If you think of the main pillars of the bureaucracy, the Brotherhood has not gotten control of them yet, and I don’t think they will completely,” said Hani Shukrallah, 62, the left-leaning editor of an English-language state news Web site who was recently was asked to retire by its new management. “There are so many people who are very difficult to bring to heel,” he said. “I think we are in for several years of turbulence where state power is diffused.”

Although Mr. Morsi has the legitimacy of a democratic election, he has inherited the still-intact remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian state, built on fear, loyalty and patronage, and much of it permeated by a deep distrust of the Islamists.

It is very true and important to highlight the difficulties the Morsi administration has had to get effective control of the bureaucracy — that part of government that implements decisions taken by the presidency, parliament, and the courts. Some parts of the state bureaucracy are in a state of passive aggressive rebellion, like the police. Others, like the military and the intelligence services, can act semi-independently because that is the nature of the deal that Morsi has negotiated. 

But it is odd to lament that the president of a country that is supposedly trying to democratize exercises "little day to day authority" over the judiciary and the state media. He's simply not supposed to, yet  has tried to intimidate the judiciary and is putting his yes-men in the media rather than either dissolving state media (i.e. privatizing it) or reforming it to make it independent. We don't  wonder aloud why David Cameron can't control the BBC or the Lords Justices, after all.

The quote he has there from Supreme Court Justice Maher El-Beheiry is apt in this regard:

The president of the court sneered with disdain at a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood trying to address the reconfigured bench, stripped of 7 of its 18 members. “As if you left a court to be spoken of like this!” Judge Maher el-Beheiry snapped. He had already declared that the court, perceived as an enemy of the Islamists, “can never forget” the Brotherhood’s protests against it during the constitutional debate.

Like it or not, the challenge of post-Mubarak Egypt is not so much Mubarak holdovers who are plotting (what are they plotting, exactly, bringing him back?) as the centrifugal forces that are pushing state institutions towards corporatism and an obsession with autonomy. It's not an altogether unhealthy thing, but often goes too far. And the challenge for Egypt's first post-Mubarak president is managing these forces and institutions in a manner that asserts his constitutional authority without antagonizing them. That kind of skill in a politician is usually called statesmanship, and thus far Morsi has not shown much of it.

Do read the piece, which has glimpses of a wide range of the state machine that is in semi-rebellion against Morsi and the Brotherhood, sometimes for bad and sometimes for good reasons. 

More on Morsi and the Egyptian economy

Morsi Manages Egypt’s Economic Decline - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East — www.al-monitor.com — Readability

Nervana Mahmoud's take on the Egyptian economy:

Morsi’s rush to secure political power has cost him a lot on the economic front. However, he doesn't have to save the economy to survive as president. He just has to manage its decline well enough to prevent an acute dip toward bankruptcy and default. That is why his buzzwords for 2013 will probably be “appeasement,” “loyalties,” and “subsidy cards.” It would not be a step forward for Egypt’s economy; neither easy nor pretty. Sadly, the real game is survival, and not “renaissance."

Mubarak was arguably ousted not because thousands poured into Tahrir Square, but because most elements in society were united against him. If Morsi succeeds in managing a declining economy and securing loyalties, he can avoid the same fate. That is what autocrats in Iran and Sudan have been doing successfully for decades. It is not what many brave youth aspired to achieve, but it is the ugly new reality (with a retro-’70s flavor) that they have to accept if the opposition leaders continue to be divided, elitist, and disengaged from the rural regions of Egypt.