One of the odd outcomes of the Egyptian uprising is the disenchantment, not to say anger, of part of the secular opposition with the West in general and the US in particular. These have, the idea goes, betrayed democratic ideals by encouraging, even boosting, Muslim Brotherhood rule after the fall of Mubarak. The US Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, is widely believed to have told Washington that the MB are "the only game in town" (as have a number of analysts). Many voice disappointment with the silence of the Washington and Brussels over abuses by SCAF or Morsi, or the muted response to the recent constitutional declaration crisis.
Thomas Carrothers, in a recent Carnegie piece (to be discussed separately later), mentions this malaise between diplomats and policymakers. His former colleague Amr Hamzawy, a political analyst turned revolutionary politician, turns the tables around and accuses the West, in the piece below, of reinforcing the "shadow government" of the Brotherhood at the expense of the formal government controlled by the Morsi administration and the Freedom and Justice Party.
As always, our In Translation series is made possible through the support of Industry Arabic, whose friendly and efficient services we urge you to try out. Read More
What started out as a blurb on the Xinhua news site this week on the smuggling of KFC for US$30 an order into Gaza via Egypt - a tunnel trek that can take between 3 and 7 hours - has gone viral, prompting several other outlets to send correspondents into Gaza to report on the Al Yamama delivery company’s entrepreneurial niche. The tunnels have been used to deliver everything from rockets and rebar to TVs and fiancées - up to 30% of all the strip’s imports come through them, says Reuters - so fast food is not a stretch, even at the prices quoted.
Unfortunately, most social media responses to it have focused on the novelty at the expense of the context, even though the two fullest accounts I have read, from the NYTand Christian Science Monitor, do address the environment of the Israeli blockade and the tunnel economy that the Egyptians have been cracking down on so hard these days to try and interdict Sinai arms smuggling. Read More
The question of what to do about former elites haunts countries that have undergone a radical political transformation. Retain them in office, and dissidents will complain their revolution has been "betrayed." Purge them, and the inevitable fall-off in state services, even if it is temporary, will feed instability and spread nostalgia for the fallen regime. This dilemma has recently surfaced in Libya, where militias made up of mostly working-class ex-rebels have backed a law to purge from office anyone -- including their wartime middle class allies -- who held even a minor government position under Qaddhafi. Similar laws have been drafted in Tunisia and contemplated in Egypt, and will almost certainly figure in an aftermath to the Syrian conflict.
The United States faced this dilemma in Iraq. May 16 is the ten-year anniversary of the decision it took: Coalition Provisional Authority Order 1, the decree that removed top-ranking members of the Baath party from their positions in Iraqi state institutions, swiftly followed by CPA number 2, which dissolved the military to be rebuilt anew. As Sunnis tended to rise more easily to top posts than Shiites, both decrees affected Sunnis disproportionately. Collectively they are often termed "de-Baathification."
Today, CPA Order 1 is one of the most universally condemned American foreign policy decisions of this generation Even proponents of the war tend to describe it as a terrible mistake. With Iraq's legacy under review, both because of the 10 year anniversary and because of contemplated intervention in Syria, CPA Order 1 has been invoked by both sides in the debate: one side frequently depicting it as an indication of the headstrong mindset by which the Americans helped plunge Iraq into the chaos, the other side seeing it as a mistake that, because it can be avoided in the future, does not necessarily condemn intervention as a doctrine. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
Here's the Egyptian government's, through its foreign policy blog – clearly highlighting that the NGO law, about domestic regulation of society, is perceived as a foreign policy issues (indeed, I would say bargaining chips) by the Morsi administration because it makes Americans and Europeans (and so many Egyptians too of course) so anxious:
The NGO draft law proposed by the Presidency affirms the basic concepts of access, empowerment, and supporting various forms of civil work upon which the law is based, while taking into account the principles of transparency, respect for the constitution and law, and openness to different experiences around the world in the field of civil society work. The bill also activates the role of Egyptians abroad and aims to restore Egypt’s soft powers internally and externally.
. . .
The Presidency believes that the new NGO bill will encourage civil society work, facilitate its procedures and expand its sphere, away from any bureaucratic and monitoring constraints other than the general follow-up of the responsible body to ensure transparency and protect the rights of all Egyptians in conformance with the constitution and law. Read More
Since we recently discussed the phenomenon of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi preachers warning their followers against wishing Coptic Christians a happy Easter, some reading I did yesterday may shed some light on the matter. It's from a book of essays called Global Salafism edited by Roel Meijer that contains contributions by many leading experts on the subject — Stephane Lacroix and Bernard Heykal on the Saudi variant to name but a few. The introduction refers to four "tensions" of Salafism as currently understood (that is, in its heavily Wahabbi-influenced dominant contemporary). These tensions, the author argues, have transformed a revivalist / puritan movement into one that is more politically problematic and often intolerant. Here's some screen grabs from the Kindle edition, since Amazon's Cloud Reader does not allow for even limited cut-and-paste: Read More
Nour the intrepid intern writes in:
Lately, I have been taking a lot of taxis. Naturally, that means hearing unsolicited political opinions, life lessons, and impromptu stories about women who match my exact physical description and share my sense of style (and, sometimes, my name) getting mugged, raped or murdered, in the hope of scaring me into begging them to my full-time driver and shield of protection.
Last week, one managed to convince me. Instead of suggesting I promptly take his phone number and call him whenever I need to venture out into the jungle that is Cairo, Reda, my new driver, casually offered me a shotgun for a reasonable LE600.
Being the picky shopper that I am, I refused to simply buy the first gun I hear of and asked for options. Obligingly, Reda decided to call a guy, who knows a guy, to get me a beginner's collection. "Something small for a small lady," he told him. Read More