Suzanne Mubarak's memoirs

I would approach this story with caution – after all it was published in the trashy Rose al-Youssef – but I'd like to confirm some of these tidbits:

In “Egypt’s First Lady: 30 Years on the Throne of Egypt,” to be published this year, Mubarak says that the United States gave her and her family asylum. A special envoy from the United States, she wrote, arrived in Cairo in early February 2011 with all the documents required to have in order to leave Egypt, but her husband refused to leave.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait gave the Mubarak family the same offer. However, the author adds, all those asylum documents were taken from the family in the Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh on February 11, 2011, the day the president stepped down.

In the memoirs, Mubarak recounts how she had a nervous breakdown when she knew she was to be arrested, which drove her to try to commit suicide through overdosing on sleeping pills.

She was later rescued and her husband conacted several countries and begged many officials to let her stay with him in the hospital. His wish was granted, provided that she does not leave the hospital.

I like the bit where she says her childhood dream was "to become a flight attendant." After all, she was married to a man whose hope for retirement was to run Egypt Air. And also this nugget:

Among the secrets Mubarak reveals in her memoirs is that her husband did not think that he would be able to leave the palace and was almost certain that he would be assassinated. That is why he asked the Presidential Guard not to leave him alone for one minute and even used to let them accompany him to the bathroom.

Update: Reader "S" writes in with a reminder – "AUC Press was on the verge of publishing her memoirs in time for the 2011 Cairo Book Fair and was copy editing them just as the January protests started... "

The law in these parts

From a long piece by Eyal Press in the New York Review of Books Blog, How the Occupation Became Legal:

In 1979, a group of Palestinian farmers filed a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice, claiming their land was being illegally expropriated by Jewish settlers. The farmers were not Israeli citizens, and the settlers appeared to have acted with the state’s support; indeed, army helicopters had escorted them to the land—a hilltop near Nablus—bringing along generators and water tanks. The High Court of Justice nevertheless ordered the outpost dismantled. “The decision of the court… proved that ‘there was justice’ in Jerusalem and that Israel was indeed ruled by Law,” exulted one Israeli columnist.

But the frustration of the settlers did not last very long. As revealed in The Law in These Parts, an engrossing new Israeli documentary making its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival, just hours after the ruling was handed down, Ariel Sharon, a keen supporter of the settlement project who was then Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, organized a meeting to discuss how to circumvent it. Alexander Ramati, then a legal advisor to the West Bank military command, raised his hand to tell Sharon about an Ottoman concept known as “Mawat land.” The Ottomans, who had controlled Palestine until World War I, had used the term to designate land far enough from any neighboring village that a crowing rooster perched on its edge could not be heard. Under Ottoman law, if such land was not cultivated for three years it was “mawat”—dead —and reverted to the empire. “With or without your rooster, be at my office at 8:00 in the morning,” Sharon told Ramati, who was soon crisscrossing the West Bank in the cockpit of a helicopter, identifying tens of thousands of uninhabited acres that could be labeled “state land” and made available to settlers, notwithstanding the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on moving civilians into occupied territory. In the years that followed, a string of new settlements was built on this territory, eventually prompting another challenge before the Israeli High Court. This time, the Court denied the challenge, ruling that settlement construction was permissible while Israel served as the temporary custodian of the territory. This provided a legal basis for land expropriation that has since enabled hundreds of thousands of Israelis to relocate to the West Bank.

Read the rest, which is about a new Israeli documentary on the legal justifications for the settlements, The Law In These Parts.

The regional diplomacy of Syria

Here's a little mix of links under the theme "Diplomacy on Syria as a subset of, Iran-Saudi/UAE/Qatar, Sunni-Shia rivalries and the US-Saudi-Israel alliance", a riff off Roula Khalaf's good analysis piece in the FT, Riyadh plays its hand over Syria:

Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent Saudi commentator, sees Syria policy now as part of “the war against Iran”, one strand of a multifaceted battle that includes Saudi support for the European oil embargo and western financial restrictions on the Islamic republic. Amid growing confidence that the kingdom has escaped the winds of change sweeping through the region, he adds, the attitude in Riyadh is “let’s get the most” out of the situation.

Yet no one in Riyadh is under any illusion about the complexity of the crisis in Syria – a country with a delicate sectarian balance and a strategic position in both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Sunni Arab states’ power struggle with Shia Iran. The conflict on the ground, moreover, has become increasingly militarised as defectors challenge Mr Assad’s security forces, and the government loses control of parts of the country.

Saudi Arabia has now given fresh ammunition to western allies at the UN Security Council to push back against Russia, which has so far blocked action. The Arab League is asking the Security Council to adopt a peace plan that calls on Mr Assad to give powers to a vice-president and form a national unity government.

The rest of the links:

[Thanks, PM]

Controversial US Police Chief hired by Bahraini Interior Ministry

I missed this, but it turns out that in addition to a bevy of lobbying – much of it centered on English-language media management – before and after demonstrations peaked, Bahrain’s government was also quick to tap American expertise in containing public demonstrations following the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report:

… the former police chief of Philadelphia and Miami, John Timoney, has been recruited by Bahrain’s Interior Ministry to advise the Bahrainis on policing strategies, will come as no comfort to those in the opposition hoping that the next American intervention would be more constructive. They may be particularly sceptical considering his policing style was so notorious it came to be dubbed Timoney’s ‘Miami Model’ by Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who covered the chief’s heavy-handed policing of protests around the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit meeting in Miami in 2003. Timoney’s militarized crowd control strategy involved ‘the heavy use of concussion grenades, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges to disperse protesters.’

Timoney has a reputation as a turn-around police chief from his work in the US, but his handling of these demonstrations has made him controversial. Another controversial cop, John Yates of the UK, (who gained notoriety during the News of the World voicemail hacking scandal) is also working with the Interior Ministry now. Given the charges of torture presented against Bahraini police, I imagine everyone in these circles is keeping the case of Ian Henderson in mind, a former British colonial officer who led Bahrain’s secret police for 32 years and gained the sobriquet “Butcher of Bahrain” because of the security apparatus’s use of torture against dissidents during that time.

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The Muslim Brothers and their heretics

One of the more significant developments taking place in Egyptian politics in the last few years is the fragmentation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is perhaps part of a wider erosion of its monopoly on non-violent political Islam in Egypt. The rise of the Salafis may be a cause for concern, but the movement of young Muslim Brothers who left the Brotherhood to form their own movement, joined by major former leaders such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Mohammed Habib, is telling of the creation of a wider Islamist identity. And I think that's a good thing, because it dampens the authoritarianism that exists in the Brotherhood's tradition of discipline and hierarchy.

This testimony by a young former Brother is excellent, especially when talking about why he's not tempted to rejoin now that the Brotherhood is in a position to have real influence on society.

Hamas and a Palestinian Spring?

The “Arab Spring” brought hundreds of thousands of activists out into public plazas in the Middle East. Many of those activists have new foreign policy visions in mind - ones that worry both Israel and the U.S. - but so far few have acted to change the status quo. An established Islamist organization stands the best chance of making rhetoric reality. Hamas’ leaders are ideally positioned to accomplish this within the Palestinian political sphere. The Arab Spring has given the Islamist party – still proscribed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU and the U.S. – the space in which to turn its military weakness into diplomatic strength.

Evoking the “Arab Spring,” Hamas’ outgoing leader Khaled Mashaal has announced the organization will now commit to popular protests to confront Israel. He has also announced that Hamas might be willing to be party to a two-state solution taking the pre-war 1967 borders between Israel and Jordan as starting points, reiterating a statement made earlier in 2011. At the same time, Hamas is also successfully pursuing membership in the PLO, and may yet reach a deal with Fatah to actually hold the long-deferred Palestinian legislative elections in May 2012.

As Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el argues, “Hamas and Fatah are reconciling - not because of Israel’s beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians’ interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about.”

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Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.

On the US-Egypt NGO debacle

First US, German and Egyptian NGOs were raided in late December, and now US personnel that has been unable to work in Cairo because their equipment has been confiscated are barred from leaving the country, prompting outrage in the US. Congress is now putting emphasis again on the need for conditionality on US aid to the military, and the likes of Senator Patrick Leahy now say “But we no longer have a blank check for the Egyptian military.” A high-level delegation is now coming from Washington to defuse tensions.

There is a lot at stake in this first major spat between the US and Egypt since Mubarak is overthrown, and it’s gotten a lot more complicated than when it was just about Egyptian reticence to allow uncontrolled foreign funding and getting a bargaining chip over the military aid issue. Whether it is the real cause of the travel ban, there is a judicial process in the works, a real issue of sovereignty for Egypt. And there is what is interpreted an attempt by SCAF to cast activists as foreign-funded, distract from Gulf financing which may be overlooked (very few of the NGOs under investigation are Gulf-funded ones, despite widespread knowledge of millions being channeled to Islamic charities). NDI and IRI’s quasi-governmental aspect (they receive much of their funding through the National Endowment for Democracy and the US government) is one aspect of the problem, but so is the general legal limbo they have operated under for several years (it is true they are unregistered, but that’s because they were not allowed to so yet tolerated), as well as their more aggressive funding posture since the revolution and a certain amount of tone-deafness to Egyptian officials’ concerns about sovereignty.

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Freeze on US Arms Deal with Bahrain Ending

This first paragraph of this post was updated on 2012-Jan-31 to add new information.

A US$53 million arms sale, put on hold in November pending an investigation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into Bahraini security forces’ human rights violations, is being pushed forward by the Obama Administration in defiance of Congressional opposition and criticism from human rights observers. In the meantime, a new arms sale is going through, which the US State Department claims has nothing to do with the original one. The Cable reports that the new deal was going to be done “without any formal notification to the public,” and that the State Department told Congress that it has “gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required” to address critics’ human rights complaints.



At the same time, the Kingdom of Bahrain is denying entry to observers from the US-based Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First organizations, which have been sharply critical of how security forces and the judiciary have behaved towards demonstrators.

I think the logic behind the Obama Administration's approach works (in theory) as follows: a trickle of aid coming at the same time the government is reportedly taking investigators' reports into consideration will compel the royal family to do more to democratize the country in exchange for more aid.

If the royal family changes its mind about those observers, I'll start entertaining more optimistic thoughts about the efficacy of this "behind the scenes diplomacy." Why? Because if they were being let it, it would demonstrate that the US is actually accomplishing a conditional aid policy that is pushing the government to fully implement the recommendations in the Commission's report. I often turn to the concept of "uncivil society" to discuss entrenched interests in countries experiencing democratic protests, and it's clear that the US is going to have to offer tastier carrots, and brandish much heavier sticks, if it is truly committed to democratization in Bahrain (and Egypt).

Granted, if these observers' entry became permissible (and it's not an impossibility), it could just as easily be read as a decision by the government to chaperone these people around to mute further criticism - something their PR firms back in the US have already been working very hard at (the Kingdom of Bahrain has retained the US lobbying group Qorvis for US$40,000 a month since 2010, with a particular emphasis on English-language media management).

Nothing signals "our priorities" like using a legal backdoor to funnel arms to a key Arab ally in the face of human rights criticism, and this holds true along the coastlines of both American littorals, the Mediterranean and the Gulf. How we will respond to growing pressure on NGOs in Egypt will address the dichotomies facing Egyptians willing to work with Western NGO. The resumption of arms sales to Bahrain, alongside the lockout of these groups, offers a much more concrete lesson of what Bahrainis can expect in the coming months.

At least when Moscow decides to send a message about a Mideast naval base, it sends that message clearly.  

Jon Alterman responds on the "SQL"

Jon Alterman, an prominent Egypt expert who is the director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, felt I treated him unfairly in a recent post when I took a piece he had written in the NYT as an example of the "Status-Quo Lobby" or SQL. For clarification, what I meant by SQL is not Egypt-specific, but the perpetuation of a strategic situation in the region in place since the end of the Cold War at least, and I remained convinced that the notion the SQL is a useful one, separate from that of the Israel lobby.

I appreciate that Jon took the time to write in and am glad to be corrected in my initial interpretation of his NYT article. Here is his letter.

Issandr:

You write that I am part of the “status quo lobby” in Washington on Egypt affairs. I’m not sure from whence the perception comes that such a lobby exists, or why you would think I am a member of it.

There is, of course, a group of lobbyists the Egyptian military pays to push its arguments in Washington. I don’t know anyone not on their payroll who accepts their arguments.

As far as I can tell, there are two principal lobbies in Washington on Egypt: the group that wants this political transition to fail, and those who want it to succeed. On the failure side are those who fear that a more democratic Egypt is a more dangerous Egypt. They see salvation in what they believe to be secular-oriented generals who trust Israelis, distrust Islamists, and have a healthy disdain for the appeals of the Egyptian street. As far as I understand it, they hope that the newly elected government in Egypt will utterly fail to address the country’s problems, discredit itself, and arouse such popular discontent that a coalition of army officers and liberals will be swept into power to right Egypt’s course.

On the success side – the one on which I put myself – are those who see promise in democratic change and in broadening Egyptians’ political participation. The hope is that more robust politics will make for a more resilient Egypt that is more responsive to its citizens.

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ElBaradei proposes alternative transition path

Mohamed ElBaradei seems to be picking up from the clear enthusiasm in Tahrir for an immediate transition to civilian rule and the refusal by many activists of a constitution drawn under military rule and offering a new initiative:

Egyptian dissident Mohammed ElBaradei on Friday proposed a new political timetable for the country, amid growing discontent over the military rulers’ handling of the transition from Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

The ex-UN nuclear watchdog chief called for the newly elected “parliament to elect an interim president immediately”, followed by the formation of a panel to draft a new constitution.

In a statement on his Facebook page, ElBaradei said the new charter “must define the political system and guarantee a civil state, rights and freedoms.”

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Latest Gallup poll on Egypt

Some interesting findings – a strong desire for the military to hand over power to civilians and no further delays in elections, and a sizeable majority against the military being involved in politics after the handover. I feel that this is not emphasized enough: Egyptians seem to be clearly rejecting the last 60 years of military rule and not want to perpetuated the 1952 regime and its successors. Civilian rule is a real desire, even if there is still overwhelming respect for the military (which might be interpreted as no desire to really attack the military but just get it out of power, reflecting a cautious – perhaps wisely so – approach to this momentous change in Egyptian politics). Gallup:
LOS ANGELES -- As Egyptians mark the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled their last president, 82% believe that the military will relinquish power to a civilian government after they elect their next president.

Military hand over power

Despite continued protests in Tahrir Square since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow one year ago, 88% of Egyptians still express confidence in the military generally and 89% are confident in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) specifically. Still, the majority (63%) think it would be bad for the military to remain involved in politics after the presidential election.

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The Brothers and the Interior Ministry

An interesting tidbit from the trial of Habib al-Adly, Mubarak's interior minister, from Ahram:

Essam El-Batawi, defence lawyer for former interior minister Habib El-Adly, continued laying out his case for his client’s innocence on Tuesday, claiming that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had planned in advance to participate in last year’s 28 January “Friday of Rage” demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in coordination with the interior ministry, with the understanding that protests would remain peaceful in nature.

According to El-Batawi, meetings were held between Brotherhood members and representatives of the State Security apparatus in the run-up to 28 January.

This is entirely plausible and consistent with everything I've known about the Brothers over the last decade. Senior leaders were in constant contact with their State Security handlers. Is this damning for the MB? Perhaps. But maybe they weren't sure what to expect, and were waiting to see what the turnout was. Certainly they very quickly sided with the new powers that be on January 29, cozying up with Omar Suleiman who dangled recognition. And then again changed their position when he was compromised, although they never explicitly called for Mubarak to step down if I remember correctly. They adapted to the situation as it evolved, and it's worth remembering many Brotherhood leaders were arrested prior to the 28th.

The question is now whether they are continuing this approach with SCAF and the new security bosses. They almost certainly are, something that makes them sellouts to many of the revolutionary groups – as the rejection of their siding with SCAF on a handover of power to civilians in July rather than immediately shows.

The Arab Spring, US foreign policy, the Status-Quo Lobby and the Dream Palace of the Zionists

I'd like to touch upon America and Egypt, because I've seen a lot of hand-wringing in American newspapers about the future of that relationship and a sense of misplaced buyers' remorse about the Egyptian revolution – misplaced because the US had little to do with the revolution, and because it is wrong-headed thinking about an unstoppable, irreversible event.

Generally speaking, the American foreign policy establishment is stuck on Egypt. It is having a hard time imagining a different Middle East. Its path of least resistance is banking on their financial and political relationship with the generals now in charge and maintaining the ability to project power in the region that it has had since 1945 to some extent and since 1990 in particular. If it continues on this path, which is unfortunately likely, because of the dearth of imagination in a foreign policy elite that has grown lazy in its imperial thinking, and because of the dire state of American politics, it will fail. 

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Happy anniversary, Egypt

So, it's already been a year since the Egyptian uprising began, and the crowds and marching in towards Tahrir in numbers that might surpass in the 18 days. Mabrouk, ya Masr!

The original January 25 Police Day protests were meant to be about Khaled Said, police brutality, and general fed-up-ness with the regime. The Tunisian revolution turned them into the largest protest in Egypt in decades, with the same slogan that all Arab uprisings would eventually adopt: the people want the fall of the regime. The turnout surprised the organizers, and when they came back a few days later on January 28, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian crippled the police state, burning down dozens of police stations, forcing the regime to send in the army. But the army, although it was sent in to end the protests, made the calculation that it could not do so. The sclerotic Egyptian regime made a first attempt at maintaining itself through Omar Suleiman, but the protestors forced the military to reconsider that scenario, and it forced the departure of Suleiman along with Mubarak. We still know too little about how that decision was made, and I think it's fair to say that there was a military coup against Mubarak. But, since then, there's also been a real, ongoing, revolution.

Much ink will be spilled on this day. My own take is here, referring to this video – I'm optimistic.

The best op-ed I've read so far, parly because it is written by a man I consider to be the most powerful Egyptian on earth, Mohammed El-Erian, the CEO of the mega investment fund PIMCO whose interviews can make or break markets, is this one. (Egypt would be lucky if El-Erian should one day decide to play a role in his native country's politics.) El-Erian writes, echoing my own thoughts:

What Egyptians are experiencing today is not new; it is familiar to many countries that have gone through a fundamental systemic change. After all, revolutions go far beyond popular uprisings and the overthrow of old regimes. They are dynamic processes that must navigate a number of critical pivot points, including, most importantly, the move from dismantling the past to establishing the basis for a better future.

Some contend that Egypt will not be able to undertake this shift. But, while I acknowledge their arguments, I think that they misunderstand what is fundamentally at play in the country today.

Doubters note that what remains of Egypt’s internal and external institutional anchors serve to retard the revolutionary process rather than to refine and accelerate it. They believe that the country’s growing economic malaise will strengthen the argument for sticking with what Egyptians know, rather than opting for a more uncertain future. Finally, they point to the wait-and-see attitude of Egypt’s friends and allies.

These are all valid and important considerations, but they are not overwhelming. Rather, they are headwinds that can and will be overcome, for they fail to capture a reality that is evident from the sentiments of a broad cross-section of society. Egyptians will not settle for an incomplete revolution – not now, and especially not after all of the sacrifices that have been made.

I think another nice op-ed, critical of both Egyptian government society, is this one on Mikael Nabil by my friend Michael Wahid Hanna, that looks at the mixed feelings towards the Nabil case because of his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had touched upon that in this post. The more important part of what's happened in Egypt is a moral revolution, but it remains hampered by many national myths that will have to be re-examined over the next few years. 

Today what's important is the big picture, not the next few months of political games and negotiations between parliament, activists and SCAF. This revolution was partly about Egyptian society reaching a tipping point, with enough people (partly because of the youth bulge, but not only) beginning to see the world around them in a radically different way then the country's rulers. This is a fundamental point that is more important that Islamists vs secularists or army vs. civilians. 

Questions around HRW's world report

Yesterday HRW released it's latest world report, with much emphasis on the Arab spring and a call on the international community to strengthen its support for democratic transitions. It was launched in Cairo, and I was at the press conference and asked the question in the clip above about Egypt. With so many observers of the Egyptian scene talking about some kind of deal between the new parliament (esp. the Muslim Brothers) and the military, I thought it was worth talking about. HRW's Ken Roth doesn't like the idea, seeing it as a bad start to a democracy.

I also asked about what the West can do, a major theme of Roth's, including about aid conditionality, which I've been a big believer in for years (and indeed the more radical notion of "no reform, no aid of any kind.")

[Thanks DS for making the footage available.]

Cold Comfort for Egypt

Paul Mutter writes in with a Egypt-Russia comparison.

With the Muslim Brotherhood taking a clear majority in the parliamentary elections (followed by the Nour Party), SCAF now finds itself with a more concrete array of forces to work to manage. 

SCAF is neither incompetent nor omnipotent. But "uncivil society" – a term historian Stephen Kotkin uses to describe the Eastern European equivalent of "the hybrid military-civilian deep state and its manipulations" – has strong roots in Egypt. And while many former Warsaw Pact nations offer encouraging examples of how newly emerging civil society can mitigate the old guard's machinations, there is one former Warsaw Pact member whose post-communist history does not offer an encouraging example for Egypt's near-future, and that is Russia. The convergence of Egypt's civilian and military management with the aspirations of both the Brothers' and Salafis' leadership.

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