al-Ahram: "Egypt abandoned to fear"
al-Akhbar: "Egypt on fire"
al-Gomhoureya: "The longest day in the history of Egypt"
Rose al-Youssef: "The people wants to decide its own fate"
Private press (mostly anti-Morsi):
al-Masri al-Youm: "Revolutionaries to Morsi: one year was enough"
al-Shorouk al-Jadid: "30 June: Egypt delivered to its fate"
Youm al-Saba3e: "Red card for the president: 22 million signatures for Tamarrod"
al-Destour: "Today is the end of Morsi and of his gang"
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.Read More
I have been traveling for the last three weeks with only an iPad, which makes blogging difficult. Hence no recent links, so to clear things ahead of June 30 here are the last 50 or bookmarks I kept over the last month.
- Egypt, Its Streets a Tinderbox, Braces for a Spark - NYTimes.com
Good overview by David Kirkpatrick.
- Assad backers reportedly make up 43 percent of dead in Syria | McClatchy
- Twitter / nawaat: Why they hate #twitter?
- Freedom fighters? Cannibals? The truth about Syria’s rebels - The Independent
Handy cheat sheet.
- Syria's proxy war - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition
- Tunisia's 'immunisation of the revolution' draft legislation fiercely debated - The National
Another political isolation law.
- A Pilot’s Refusal, Reimagined by Negar Azimi | NYRblog
- Dangerous Divisions in the Arab World - NYTimes.com
Good op-ed on sectarianism.
- BBC News - US warns against Egypt travel after deadly clashes
Tourists what tourists?
- Will June 30 Be Midnight For Morsi's Cinderella Story?
Nathan Brown - "Calmer language was used in Europe in the summer of 1914."
From this morning Beltone Financial newsletter, by an Egypt-based regional investment bank that does a pretty good roundup of local news:
The size of masses to protest against Morsi, the duration and intensity of the protests, the role of the army, and the support of the west including the US will all determine the outcome of the protests. We are inclined to believe that the end of Morsi’s presidency is looming, but that it will likely take deadly clashes and continued civil disobedience. This may extend beyond the week of June 30th, thus extending the length of political instability in Egypt. We also believe that it would take army intervention to control the Muslim Brotherhood before and after Morsi steps down. The Brotherhood’s dream of a caliphate in the region and beyond is at stake and they will not give up that easily. The West will stop supporting President Morsi only when they see the Egyptians themselves all turn against him. The lack of US and western support of President Morsi will definitely turn the table against him and will result in the end of his rule. The army will intervene when the clashes become deadly and widespread, yet it is unclear whether their role will end there or if they will aspire for more power and thus the scenario whereby the Egyptians turn against the army starts again.
Yup - but it's a tall order to align those conditions. So far, the army is waiting and Obama is supportive of Morsi as legitimately elected leader. But that could change fast.
We asked Nour The Intern to send us a ground-level view of the mood in Cairo ahead of #June30mageddon. This is her response.
Well, the atmosphere in Cairo is relatively calm, as opposed to other governorates, like Sharqia, Alexandria, Assiut, Suez, where unrest arrived a few days early. Whether it’s the kind of calm that comes before the storm or one that could last beyond June 30, no one knows.
The weather has officially lost its spot as the number one topic for small talk to June 30. Asking someone about their views of, or plans for, June 30 is the new "Very humid today, worse than yesterday, right?" and saying "God save us on June 30," or things to that effect, has all but replaced goodbyes.Read More
Seeking to head off the planned June 30 mass protest campaign to push him from the presidency, Mohammmed Morsi delivered a speech last night that, far from being conciliatory, appeared to be an attempt to rally his base and remind voters why they may have cast their ballots for him. Much of it was dedicated to listing what he considered to be his achievements. Morsi's opponents accuse him of trying to apply a radical agenda dictated by the Muslim Brotherhood. But it was striking that, for an Islamist trying to fire up other Islamists, few of the achievements he mentioned had much to do with Sharia or Islam. Also, for someone who came to power in the aftermath of a revolution, little of what he mentioned was particularly revolutionary.
Rather, Morsi's achievements were largely a list of his government's additions to Egypt's social welfare programs. It could have come from the front pages of al-Ahram back when Ganzouri was prime minister the first time around. This seemed aimed at that considerable proportion of the population who had responded to the Brothers' implied message in presidential and parliamentary elections: there's nothing fundamentally unsound about the system, the problem is it hemorrhages money through corruption. Because we fear God, we won't do that.
This is a popular message -- the great middle ground of Egyptian politics, which is no doubt why Morsi chose to emphasize it. Beyond it, Egypt is a divided country: some want an Islamic state, others a more secular-leaning one. It is also divided among revolutionaries -- those who want government agencies accountable to the public -- and the considerable number of Egyptians who work for one of these institutions who want to be left to do as they please.
Morsi 's decision to fall back on social welfare in defining his presidency in his pre-June 30 speech, like much of the other signature decisions of his presidency, is largely an attempt to chart a course through this particular political terrain. To define Egypt's problems as the fault of a high-ranking feloul left over from the Mubarak era avoids tackling any of the thornier questions about the future identity of the Egyptian state, where you can't take a strong side without alienating one group of the other. Whatever one thinks of the job Morsi has done, any future government of Egypt will face most of the same challenges.Read More
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.Read More
The European Council of Foreign Relations' website is hosting a roundtable of views from around the region on the Syrian conflict that's very much worth reading to get a hold of the complexity of its regional dimension.
Hassan Hassan starts off with what the Gulf states want:
The potential demise of the pro-Iranian regime in Damascus offers the Gulf states the possibility of extending their regional influence. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, believe that a friendly regime in Syria will give them influence over Shia-dominated Baghdad, over whom they have had little sway, but which is seen as a critical player in the regional balance of power. Iraq’s post-2003 alliance with Iran is perceived as one of the key reasons. for Tehran’s growing regional influence over the past decade. A Sunni state in Syria could serve to strengthen currently marginalised Iraqi Sunni forces, giving them – and their Gulf backers – greater influence in Baghdad. At the same time, regime change in Damascus would help the Gulf states bolster their standing in Lebanon, already economically dependent on the Gulf, by strengthening pro-Sunni Gulf actors at the expense of the dominant pro-Assad Hezbollah movement. For the Gulf States, the Syria conflict is thus a critical battle for control of a key pivot state in the region. Drawing Damascus away from the Iranian camp is seen as a way of cementing broader regional influence in the Levant, and reestablishing the more favorable regional balance of power that they lost following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003.
And from Haydar al-Khoei's piece on the view from Iraq:
A diplomatic incident in Damascus sheds some light on how events in Syria are being seen by Baghdad. In the summer of 2011, the Qatari ambassador to Syria invited several Arab ambassadors as well as the Syrian foreign minister to his residence. Whilst sitting around the dinner table the Iraqi ambassador remarked, “The same people who conspired against Iraq are now conspiring against Syria.” This enraged the Saudi Arabian ambassador, who responded, “I dare you to name them. I dare you!” The Syrian foreign minister attempted to calm the situation by saying, “The Iraqi ambassador is referring to al-Qaeda and the Salafis, not Saudi Arabia,” but the undertone of the message was clear.
There's much more to read there - check it out. ECFR's latest report on Syria stakes out the wise position, in my view, that any alternative to diplomacy would be disastrous.
Here is another post about culture in the Arab world. When I was last in Morocco, I discovered Casablanca's Culture Factory, an amazing project to re-purpose the city's abandoned old slaughterhouse as a cultural center. I went back recently and was surprised to discover that although artists have continued to hold all sorts of activities there, the project remains in legal limbo, because the city won't grant it any formal recognition. I wrote about it here.
We have a guest post from occasional (and valued) contributor Parastou Hassouri on the protests by artists and intellectuals that have been going on for some time now at the Ministry of Culture in Cairo.
Over the past week, I have been attending, with some regularity, the protests that are being staged in front of the Culture Ministry in Zamalek.
The protests/sit-in have been taking place on a daily basis since June 5th, when the demonstrators, many of them members of the artistic community, broke into and occupied the Culture Ministry building to demand the removal of the newly-appointed Minister of Culture, Alaa Abdel Aziz, whom they see as trying to “Ikhwanize” the arts. Alaa Abdel Aziz, who was appointed by President Morsi during a cabinet shake-up in early May, promptly alienated the artistic community (often referred to as the muthaqafeen, literally “the cultured”) by firing the heads of the General Egyptian Book Organization, the Fine Arts Sector, the Cairo Opera House, and the National Library and Archives. His firing of the Opera House Director Ines Abdel Dayem, in particular, aggrieved the artistic community and catalyzed them into action. On May 27, the opening night of Aida, the Opera House curtains lifted on performers and staff in full costume holding anti-brotherhood signs and chanting for the downfall of the regime.Read More
One more link to my own work: I sat down for an interview with senior Muslim Brother and secretary general of the constituent assembly that gave us Egypt's current constitution Amr Darrag in the Spring (Mr. Darrag has since become Egypt's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation). The interview is now up on the Middle East Institute's Arab Transitions channel, a valuable new resource.
Mr. Darrag is an articulate and personable man and in the interview he gives the Freedom and Justice Party's view on the NGO Law (which he admits is draconian); Egypt's role on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations; and the IMF negotiations.
But there were some strange moments in the interview, such as when he insisted that the current government (appointed by President Morsi) was "not an MB government;" when he suggested the NGO law was not proposed or backed by the FJP, even though it controls the legislature; and -- more strikingly -- when he insisted that the FJP and the MB were too completely separate organization, with almost no coordination between them.
UL: The FJP recently issued a strong dissent to a statement by the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Some members of the party also question the international human rights conventions to which Egypt is signatory, saying that these rights should be shaped by the commitment to Shariah found in the constitution.
AD: First of all, the FJP did not issue the statement. It was the Muslim Brotherhood, and that was based on a misunderstanding. There was the perception in the Brotherhood that the document was final, whereas it was just a draft. Someone got carried away and issued the statement.
UL: But the criticism is still there on the website.
AD: Well, you should go to the Muslim Brotherhood and ask them. As a party we are totally against that statement.
UL: But aren't you also the Muslim Brotherhood?
AD: No, we're not. We're an independent organization. You have to realize this.
I actually went on to ask him: "But aren't you a member of the MB?" To which he replied: "I'm a member of many things! I don't necessarily agree with everything they do."
I wrote this story recently for the Al Fanar site (a new site dedicated to covering higher education and academic and intellectual issues in the Middle East) : an overview of interesting developments and ventures in translation to and from Arabic. The article has an optimistic title, and certainly the interest in Arabic literature in translation -- which I have seen grow in the 10 years I've lived in Cairo -- is heartening to those of us who know how much great writing there is in Arabic, and who believe that a greater familiarity with it might nuance Western views of this part of the world. That said translation of other fields of knowledge, to and from Arabic, remains dispiritingly low. We included a list of references at the end of the article -- do write in to signal any others you think should be featured.
The Arabist's secret asset, Nour The Intern, visited Ismailiya last week and wrote this dispatch about an anti-Morsi rally (specifically focused on a proposed Suez Canal development law). Enjoy.
“They are as bored as they are politically divided,” I thought as I watched a group of young bearded men walk right past the wooden stage of the anti-MB “Da’ Canaly” (which translates to “Leave my canal”) public conference in Ismailia. They just shook their heads and waved their hands dismissively, apparently not provoked enough to mention Allah's take on infidels.Read More
One of the strangest things about traveling from Egypt to Morocco is exiting a news maelstrom and entering a low-news-pressure zone. Egypt is so full of news these days, and so the focus of international media, that it is almost shocking to me to be in a country that, when Google-searched, does not even return any news stories. And yet, of course, things are happening here too. I was also shocked, for example, to find out that 80 people have set themselves on fire in Morocco since 2011.
I was traveling last weekend (to Fez, which after the devastation that Aleppo has suffered is probably the most amazing medieval Arab city in the region) so I have just found time to link to this post, for the NYTime's Latitude blog, about Morocco's political scene.
A closer reading of the second (Constituent Assembly) ruling suggests I got one thing absolutely right and one thing absolutely wrong. But this is a very complicated ruling, because the SCC is sorting through all sorts of issues (standing, jurisdiction, governing constitutional text, etc). So I would love to hear others weigh in!
What I said before was that the SCC struck down the law by which the Constituent Assembly was elected that this had little effect on the constitution. That is what I got right.
What I now think I got wrong was that I said this tossed the matter back to the administrative courts but did so too late to make any difference. But a closer reading suggests the ruling does not toss the matter back to the administrative courts; it seems to argue they shouldn’t have been involved in the first place. And if I read the ruling right (and I may not!) the implication is that the first Constituent Assembly should never have been dissolved—which is again, the opposite of how I read the verdict first.Read More