When Shafiq sought MB backing

When Shafiq sought MB backing

From Egypt Independent's press review:

On a rather different note, everyone’s new favorite newspaper, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice (this reporter’s newspaper vendor says it outsells all other papers and that customers now suspect he’s hiding it because it’s always unavailable) puts a picture of none other than Ahmed Shafiq on its front page, the last person one would expect to see.

The reason why the almost-president-of-Egypt is there is because Brotherhood member Hassan Malek is spilling the beans on a meeting he had with Shafiq before the nominations for the presidential election began. And what a story it is.

According to Malek, Shafiq called him and asked for a meeting in July 2011 (that year again), which happened at the house of a “mutual friend.” During the meeting Shafiq asked Malek for the Brotherhood to back his candidacy for the presidency. He also requested a meeting with Mohamed Morsy and Saad al-Katatny to ask them their opinion on his candidacy because “if they don’t agree then I won't do it.” Malek then purportedly told him that it wouldn’t be a good idea because his connection with Hosni Mubarak had “burned him.” Malek then informed the other Brotherhood members of Shafiq’s wish to meet them and they refused.

And it doesn’t end there. Shafiq apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept calling Malek, at one point urging him to arrange a surprise meeting at his house, before chiding Malek by saying, “Are you stingy or what?” Malek then met him again to convey the Brotherhood’s polite refusal to meet him. Politics and gossip can sometimes be one and the same.

There are no permanent friends or enemies in Egyptian politics, just permanent personal interests.

Egypt: Morsy Tells Local Community in U.S - I Have No Power to Interfere in Constituent Assembly Works

Egypt: Morsy Tells Local Community in U.S - I Have No Power to Interfere in Constituent Assembly Works

This is B.S., because Morsi clearly has moral authority to help strike a compromise agreement between political leaders, and is able to dissolve this assembly and appoint another. If he is to be the "president of all Egyptians" he claims to be, one would think he would have gathered political and civil society leaders around the table for this. But perhaps he believes, accurately, that the gap between Islamists and secularists is too great for compromise and wants to see his fellow Islamists get their way.

On the IMF and Egypt

IMF U-Turn in Jordan Shows Egypt Need to Engage Public on Policy

Alaa Shahine and Mohammad Tayseer, reporting for Bloomberg:

Mohammad al-Sheikh was among hundreds of Jordanians who joined protests against an increase in fuel prices, pushing King Abdullah II to scrap a policy aimed at meeting pledges to the International Monetary Fund.

“The government increased the prices in secret, like it was afraid of something,” al-Sheikh, an air conditioning salesman, said in an interview in Amman, explaining why he joined a street protest for the first time in his life. “This is provocative. We have the right to know.”

Al-Sheikh’s comment signals the new engagement among Arab citizens after the protests that brought down governments last year. A consequence is that the fiscal restraint backed by the IMF and investors is harder to implement without the kind of broad support that requires a public debate. That’s especially resonant in Egypt, where talks with the IMF on a $4.8 billion have been on and off for more than a year.

Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, already faces near-daily strikes by labor groups empowered by last year’s uprising. After campaigning on the promise that he had a detailed plan to end Egypt’s worst slump for a decade, Mursi is coming under fire for stalling on the specifics of what his government will commit to in return for IMF money.

“If I were the government I would start talking in a language that the average man on the street would understand,” said Mohamad Al-Ississ, assistant economics professor at the American University in Cairo. “A quick solution is going to bring down the government with it.”

International financial institutions cannot reveal their own demands without the approval of the government. So there has to be more pressure on the government to reveal the terms of the loan — and sell it to the public — than before.

The irony about the current situation is that for much of 2012 the IMF did not want to go ahead with the loan (unlike the World Bank) because parliament was contesting it as part of the MB-SCAF-Ganzouri cabinet fight. But now that there is no parliament but an elected president, the IMF appears satisfied that there is consensus! The Qandil government might be better than the Ganzouri one — in fact it almost certainly is more coherent, at least — but the current negotiations are essentially taking place with one political group (the Brothers) and the technocrats at the Ministry of Finance, whereas at least beforehand there has been consultation with the broader political spectrum.

Yes, there is a risk that this simply become about the politics rather than the merits of the plan — after all the MB itself opposed the plan under a certain set of political circumstances but now unreservedly endorses it, even dropping ethical objections to the fact that IMF loans are not disbursed under Islamic finance principles. But surely that was the point of making a fuss about democratic accountability and consensus in the first place, no?


Genre-defying Egyptian electric guitarist extraordinaire Omar Khorshid (get, if you can find it, the excellent antholohy used by Sublime Sounds) covers Gershon Kingsley's Popcorn - a tune I for some reason associate with Moroccan state television in the 1980s, perhaps because it was being used as a jingle. It has been overplayed of course and sounds cheesy (it was meant to be, in any case) but I have a fondness for this tune. I wonder if Khorshid was aware that Kingsley's music (although I'm not sure in this case) often used Yiddish folk tunes for its melodies. But then again most people associate this tune with early Jean-Michel Jarre but he played it later and included it in Oxygene IV) who did purify it from the original.

[Thanks, MR]

The surrealism of the US-Pak relationship

The surrealism of the US-Pak relationship

Adam Entous and colleagues report for WSJ:

About once a month, the Central Intelligence Agency sends a fax to a general at Pakistan's intelligence service outlining broad areas where the U.S. intends to conduct strikes with drone aircraft, according to U.S. officials. The Pakistanis, who in public oppose the program, don't respond.

On this basis, plus the fact that Pakistan continues to clear airspace in the targeted areas, the U.S. government concludes it has tacit consent to conduct strikes within the borders of a sovereign nation, according to officials familiar with the program.

Read the whole thing.

Podcast #35: The embassy riots and their aftermath

We're back in Cairo and devote most of this episode to the US embassy riots: how they started, what they represent, the culture wars they involve, the MB-Salafi battle for who is the biggest defender of Islam, and much more. Also, we ask, what was Morsi thinking, and how might he make it up in his first visit to the US as president of Egypt.

Show notes:

Podcast #35:

In Translation: Salafis vs Ikhwan

We’ve discussed several times, on this blog, the rivalries between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. If one goes by the results of the 2011–2012 parliamentary elections, the Salafis are the MB’s most potent political adversary, able to challenge them at the ballot box better than any other political movement. In terms of social outreach, the Salafis have a far more diverse and spread charitable movement than the MB’s, albeit one that is fragmented among any different organizations. And with regard to religious legitimacy, not only can the Salafis out-Islam pretty much everybody, they have a longstanding suspicion towards the MB’s secretive structure and the idolization of figures such as the movement’s founder, Hassan al-Banna (indeed, the former regime used to encourage Salafis to denounce Brothers as practitioners of shirk — basically polytheism or undermining the oneness of God — and hizbiyya, the prioritizing of the movement/party over pure adherence to Islamic values.

The article below is about video appearances by major Egyptian Salafi preachers in which they lambast the MB on religious ground. This is based on the usual roster of Salafi critiques honed by late 20th-century Saudi Wahhabi clerics such as Sheikh Bin Baz and Sheikh Rabee al-Madkhali — hence the references to “Madkhalis” in the article below to denote his followers. If you really want to know more, follow a site such as this one which goes on at length about Madkhali’s “exposure” of the MB, and especially al-Banna as a Sufi (the horror!) and Sayyid Qutb as a crypto-Leninist Ash’ari. There is a whole universe of anti-MB Salafi literature on the internet. Of course, this tension (which is not universal to all Salafis, of course) is one aspect of the uneasiness the Saudis feel towards the Muslim Brothers’ rise in Egypt and elsewhere. It appears it is bound to be a major feature of the post-uprisings Arab world for years to come, too.

Featuring translations from the Arabic press in Egypt and elsewhere is made possible with the support of Industry Arabic, a really good translation service specializing in Arabic. Reports, press articles, technical documents — you name it, they can do it. If you have professional Arabic translation needs, check these guys out.

Salafis Wage Video Warfare Against Muslim Brotherhood

Abdel Wahab Eissa, al-Tahrir, 16 September 2012

Political disagreement, or maybe even rupture, has come to characterize the relationship between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood recently, as statements from both camps against each other have become more heated and full of invective, which indicates that the united front they seem to present is only against common enemies. Some of these statements have been compiled by the Madkhali Salafi Front in a single video that contains harsh commentary and criticism against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) by Sheikh Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini. It also includes grim, virulent attacks by Sheikh Yasser Burhami, and a fierce offensive waged by the premier Madkhali sheikh in Egypt, Sheikh Mohamed Said Raslan.

Read More

Why Do Americans Believe in Muslim Rage?

Why Do Americans Believe in Muslim Rage? : The New Yorker

Steve Coll:

Last week, Newsweek launched a Twitter hash tag, #MuslimRage, to spur chatter about its cover story. What followed may constitute the most inspiring revolt yet of new media against old. Scores of English-speaking Muslim Twitter users, offended by the magazine’s clichéd imagery, hijacked (“pun intended,” one wrote) the online forum to post jokes about Muslim rage in the real world. One lamented a shortage of “Sharia Garcia” ice cream. A woman in a head scarf wrote, “I’m having such a good hair day. No one even knows.” Another, much re-tweeted entry read, “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him.” We await an explication of the roots of Muslim irony

Certainly the best thing to have come out of this entire fiasco.

Haaretz: Listen to Morsi

Listen to Morsi

From today's Haaretz editorial:

The time when Israel could enjoy peaceful relations with Egypt while freezing progress with the Palestinians and building settlements is over. It's also possible that we're approaching the end of the era in which we enjoy the United States' blind support for a government that consistently works against the American position on settlements and publicly criticizes its president. But the choice between welcome initiative and cursed inaction is still in Israel's hands.

Avigdor Lieberman put out a marker yesterday that Egyptians will take not of, ruling out any changes to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that has become a major Egyptian demand with cross-partisan support.  But it's never been clear in the current Israeli administration who Lieberman speaks for; foreign and national security policy is in the hands of the Netanyahu-Barak tandem, and Lieberman is routinely ignored. Furthermore, there is a line of thinking among some Israeli officials that renegotiating the peace treaty would amount to a positive commitment by Morsi / the MB to the treaty itself — i.e. more of a buy-in then there currently is despite their repeated statements that the treaty would be respected. One might also expect the Israelis to make it a condition of renegotiating the treaty that Morsi sign it personally — because so far it appears he has no intention of meeting an Israeli official at all (indeed, there might be some strenuous avoiding of even an accidental meeting by the Morsi team at this week's UN summit).

The delisting of the MEK

Years of hard work by the MEK, their lobbyists, parts of the Israel lobby (esp. when it overlaps with the anti-Iran lobby and the neocons) have finally borne fruit. A rather strange, cultish organization that once bombed Iran's parliament is no longer on the US list of designated terrorist organizations. It comes at the time of the most concerted effort to put pressure on the Iranian republican regime since its creation, and with much talk of war as background chatter.

There's an aspect of the delisting of the MEK that may have some merit: the refugee issue, i.e. where resident of Camp Ashraf might end up because they're no longer welcome in Iraq (as they were under Saddam Hussein, and ironically aren't under the Iran-leaning Iraqi government that the US overthrow of Saddam made possible.) But it shouldn't overshadow the many other reasons the MEK — a fundamentalist guerrilla movement, essentially — will now make a handy recipient of US (and other) funding should things continue to heat up with Iran. Or indeed the story of how this was possible: perhaps not so much because geostrategic calculations as intense lobbying and a lot of money.

Selected links: 

  • On US decision to delist MEK | The Back Channel
  • MEK decision: multimillion-dollar campaign led to removal from terror list | World news | guardian.co.uk
  • US takes Iranian MEK group off terror list - FT.com
  • Iranian Group M.E.K. Wins Removal From U.S. Terrorist List - NYTimes.com
  • By Delisting the MEK, the Obama Administration is Taking the Moral and Strategic Bankruptcy of America’s Iran Policy to a New Low « The Race for Iran
  • MEI Editor's Blog: The MEK is Delisted

    Phil Weiss' change of plan

    Change of plan | Mondoweiss

    Phil Weiss writes on his growing belief that he needs to expand his advocacy on Israel/Palestine beyond a Jewish audience:

    I want to spend more time talking to Americans period. The recent uprising against the Jerusalem plank at the Democratic convention shows that liberal Americans are getting hip about this issue. The recent politicization of the Iran attack by Netanyahu was also helpful; it put the matter on our front pages, it allowed Obama to come out more strongly against war, because he knows that the American people are deadset against it. Barbara Boxer told Netanyahu to mess out; so did a former ambassador in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. These are the people my wife should be bringing that backgammon set to.

    One reason I spent time in the Jewish community was compassion. I thought I could help to save my own group by giving them the news. I worry about people losing their lives. I think about the community I grew up in and try to imagine a way to get out of the current situation without anyone else dying; and I imagined that if I could convince American Jews that some Jewish kids in Israel won't die if they would just wave the wand and declare, We don't need a Jewish state, they'd wave that wand. I think that’s an illusion. There’s little I can do to end that belief, and at some level I’ve given up caring.

    It's a very good post and I can only say: about time, Phil. This is an American issue. Jews in America and elsewhere tend to encompass the best and the worst on this issue, because it's close to the heart. But ultimately they don't matter as much as the rest of the population. The Eretz Israel crowd is not going to change their mind. They are going to have to be defeated, full stop, by getting the wider community (American, international, etc.) to stop being afraid to talk about this issue.  

    All the King's Islamists

    All the King's Islamists

    Maati Monjib in SADA, on an anti-corruption campaign launched by the palace apparently mostly for the purpose of embarrassing the prime minister, who was not consulted, and as a form of revenge for the PJD's own anti-corruption campaign. This is reminiscent of the "campagne d'assainissement" of the 1990s by then-PM Driss Basri:

    The PJD’s powerful election campaign focused on what it deemed financial corruption, political corruption, and the rentier economy which benefits the ruling elite—including those close to the monarchy. During the first weeks of the new Islamist government, which the press mocked as “half-bearded,” some ministers wanted to uphold their campaign promises to expose some of the rentier economy practices which are at the heart of the traditional political system. This alarmed the influential elite—including some representatives of the parties loyal to the palace within the ruling coalition—who considered their Islamist colleagues’ behavior to be populist. Then the Islamist Minister of Justice Mustafa Ramid, a PJD hawk whose appointment set off the first crisis between Benkirane and the palace, made the risky decision to open investigations against two figures close to the monarchy: the former minister of finance Salaheddine Mezouar and the current treasurer Noureddine Bensouda, citing financial documents published by the press as sufficient evidence of their corruption. This move clearly upset relations between the palace and the PJD.

    In this atmosphere, and in an attempt to allay fears of a witch hunt, Benkirane told Al Jazeera “God has pardoned what is past” (Qur’an 5:95), thinking that this would alleviate the royal pressure on him. But Benkirane did not take into account that the palace would turn his statement against him, and show its own will to fight corruption by arresting dozens of police and customs officials. Benkirane, who sought a moderate, conciliatory stance, was instead blasted by pro-regime media for his inaction in confronting corruption—all the while, of course, praising the monarchy’s own move.

    The irony here is that fighting genuine, large-scale corruption in Morocco isn’t really on the agenda of either the palace or the government: it is so deeply entrenched in the state that an actual attempt to uproot it could uproot the regime itself.

    Sinai's human traffic horror

    This has been a mounting problem for years in Sinai — is a wholesale part of the terrorism problem in Sinai too. Like in the Sahel, trafficking (often by nomadic pastoralists like the Bedouins or Touareg) often finances extremism. 

    Like the terrorists in Sinai, Egypt should not negotiate with these people — it should arrest them and shut down their activities by force. This is why Morsi's stupid failed negotiation initiative with jihadists in Sinai was a waste of time.

    Islam and the protests: Rage, but also self-criticism

    Islam and the protests: Rage, but also self-criticism

    The Economist's take on the embassy riots:

    Yet the debate has also sharpened criticism of religion’s intrusion into politics. To expose the pitfalls of Egypt’s blasphemy laws, for instance, activists have filed suits against a sheikh who angered Egyptian Christians by publicly burning a bible in response to the anti-Muslim film clip. Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic leader of Hizbullah, Lebanon’s Shia party-cum-militia, provoked an angry backlash by staging a giant rally to protest against the film. Critics not only charged him with manipulating the incident to ingratiate himself with Sunni Muslims, among whom Mr Nasrallah’s star has waned with the region-wide rise of sectarian animosity. They called him a hypocrite for condemning America as a shielder of blasphemers while ignoring the offences to God committed by his ally, Syria’s regime. Its soldiers have destroyed mosques and, by the evidence of YouTube footage, forced prisoners to say, “There is no God but Bashar Assad”.

    In Latitude: Cairo's Walls of Shame

    In Cairo, Mixed Feelings About 'Innocence of Muslims' - NYTimes.com

    I have a short comment on the IHT blog Latitude. Here's the conclusion:

    But the protests also highlighted more important problems. Such as why the police were not able to contain the rioters, or what impact the protests might have on sectarian relations in Egypt: the film’s alleged producer is a Coptic émigré from Egypt. He and several other exiled Egyptians — as well as Terry Jones, the Florida fundamentalist said to have been consulted in the making of the film — face arrest should they come here. (One poor soul, Albier Saber, a Copt, was taken into custody merely for linking to the YouTube trailer on his Facebook account.)

    And there’s the matter of the double standard that is created when a sheikh who burned a Bible — rather perplexingly, since Muslims consider it a holy book — is free whereas Christians who insult Islam face immediate backlash.

    Even as the anger against America dies down, the underlying tension stirred up by this affair may have ongoing consequences in Egypt — not least because it will boost the case of the Islamists who want to put a ban on blasphemy at the heart of the constitution currently being drafted.