Springborg: Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Egypt's Cobra and Mongoose Become Lion and Lamb?

Robert Springborg updates an earlier column for Foreign Policy arguing that the military and the Brotherhood have decided to co-exist rather than turn Egypt into an Islamist state:

A second, more accurate interpretation is suggested by a new analogy to replace that of the deadly cobra and mongoose to characterize relations between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is that the lion of the military and the lamb of the Brotherhood will lie down together, but as separate, distinct beings each with its own purpose. While there are certainly already fellow travelers of the Muslim Brotherhood in the officer corps and many officers who will see advantage now in associating themselves with it or at least not opposing it, the corps as a whole is not about to become the striking arm of the Brotherhood. Its primary incentive for facilitating Tantawi's removal was not Islamist commitment, but accumulated dissatisfaction with the Field Marshal's debasement of their institution and its capacities, triggered by his inept political maneuvering. The agreement between key officers, on the one hand, and Morsi and his allies, on the other, will have been based on a division of roles and responsibilities in which the military as an institution continues to be the dominant actor in the formation and implementation of national security policies. The assumption underlying the agreement will have been that the re-professionalization of the military and the exercise of constitutional power by the civilian government, presently dominated by the Brotherhood, are compatible, indeed reinforcing objectives. Both sides, in other words, will have professed their respect for constitutional, legal, and professional norms and their centrality to the new relationship. The lion and the lamb, in short, have opted for coexistence, rather than a struggle akin to the cobra and mongoose fight in which one would ultimately destroy the other.

Whether this agreement proves to be durable or not will depend on numerous factors, key being respect for it by either side. If the Brotherhood seeks to impose its will on the state and nation, including the military, it will meet a reaction from the officer corps. This, and even the threat of it, combined with ongoing and probably intensifying civilian opposition, is likely to cause the Brotherhood to move carefully, whatever its real intentions. While a new form of anti-democratic political influence over the military could still result, were the Brotherhood actually to consolidate total power, the removal of the Mubarak military high command was the necessary, if not sufficient condition to begin the long march to institutionalized, civilian, democratic control of Egypt's armed forces. For that reason alone it is a positive step, if one with other potential dangers.

He has good stuff in there about the steps taken to secure himself by Morsi — getting control of Central Security Forces, sacking Mowafi and Ruweini, etc.

I have a column coming out in The National tomorrow, just written this morning, that takes a similar view and offers some advice for the rest of the political actors in this.

Brotherhood considers mass demo Friday in support of Morsy

Brotherhood considers mass demo Friday in support of Morsy

From Egypt Independent, on plans for a march this Friday by the MB to back Morsi and to protect him against a planned protest on August 24:

Karim Radwan, a member of the group’s Shura Council, said the group is capable of protecting its offices against the thuggery that is planned for 24 August. “We only welcome constructive opposition that helps correct mistakes,” he said.

Khalid Saeed, spokesperson for the Salafi Front, said the Salafis reject any destruction on 24 August. “That is why we will help the Brotherhood secure their offices,” he said.

Anti-Islamist activists distributed statements last month advocating a second revolution on 24 August against the Muslim Brotherhood and calling for the downfall of Morsy and the Freedom and Justice Party.

Well of course physical attacks should not be tolerated, but what's wrong with people protesting against the Islamists or August 24 or any other date? It'll be interesting to see how Morsi and the MB handles this.

And, frankly, the idea of a march in support of Morsi (while reading the Quran apparently) this Friday, at this juncture, may do more damage than good, at least among Morsi-skeptics. But the MB probably doesn't care about that if they're still locked in a majoritarian rather than consensual mindset. The worrying thing thus far is that Morsi has not made attempts to reach out to non-Islamists after his arrangement with the younger generals. It would have been a reassuring move.

Zabaleen sidelined by Morsy’s 'clean homeland' campaign

Zabaleen sidelined by Morsy’s 'clean homeland' campaign

Steven Viney in Egypt Independent, on reactions to President Morsi's "Clean Homeland" campaign from the zabaleen community, which handles over half the garbage in Cairo:

So it was of major irritation to members of the Spirit of Youth — an NGO formed by Manshiyet Nasser residents and garbage collectors several years ago to represent the zabaleen and ensure the maintenance of their residences — when Morsy’s “Clean Homeland” campaign coordinators ditched their meetings and ignored their calls for discussions and ideas on how to address the city’s severe waste problems.

“[The campaign] is political propaganda,” says Ezzat Naiem, director of the Spirit of Youth. “They don’t really want to fix Egypt’s waste problems, or discuss how to dispose of the mountains of waste that ends up in zabaleen villages, they want pictures of young Egyptians with brooms for the campaign.”

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Trapwire: It's Not the Surveillance, It's the Sleaze

Trapwire: It's Not the Surveillance, It's the Sleaze | Danger Room

From Wired:

Ever since WikiLeaks began releasing a series of documents about the surveillance system Trapwire, there’s been a panicked outcry over this supposedly all-seeing, revolutionary spy network. In fact, there are any number of companies that say they comb through video feeds or suspicious activity reports in largely the same way that Trapwire claims to do. What’s truly extraordinary about Trapwire was how it was marketed by the private intelligence firm Stratfor, whose internal e-mails WikiLeaks exposed.

The documents show Stratfor being less than straight with its clients, using temporary jobs in government to set up Trapwire contracts, and calling it all a “wet dream.” In their e-mails, executives at Stratfor may have been hyping up a surveillance technology. But what they really did was provide reconnaissance on the $25 billion world of intelligence-for-hire that’s ordinarily hidden from public view. In this case, the sunlight isn’t particularly flattering.

. . .

On Aug. 17 of that year, Stratfor and Trapwire signed a contract (.pdf) giving Burton’s company an 8 percent referral fee for any business they send Trapwire’s way. The essay was partially a sales pitch — a fact that Burton neglected to mention.

When Wikileaks published the Stratfor files, I thought the whole thing was completely overblown and Wikileaks had acted criminally and irresponsibly. (Nuance here: Wikileaks almost always acts criminally, in a strict legal sense, but not always irresponsibly or immorally. I'm overall rather pleased with their release of the Iraq documents and videos, and while their handling of the State Dept. cables could have been better I think it had a net positive effect.) The release of private information was part of the damage here — a relative who subscribed (to the $99-a-year brief service, hardly an evil corporate behemoth) had his credit card details released out on the internet, which was predictably used for fraud. Not to mention the principle that a company like Stratfor, and its employees, have the right to confidentiality (and the duty to protect their data systems better.) But what really stank was the way Wikipedia tried to make an ordinary business and strategic intelligence service sound like SMERSH.

The hyping of Stratfor as an international spy service, which many fools on the web (and some in the media) ate up like candy, was utter bullshit. Stratfor is a publishing company that puts out a mixture of journalism, commentary and analysis within a strategic framework. I'm not at all sold on their intellectual model, which stresses geo-strategic principles rather over ground knowledge, but it's perfectly legitimate. So is using government contacts to get information; it's called cultivating sources.

The above story shows the worse thing Stratfor is guilty of: sleaze. It marketed a product to its customers on commission. I guess Wikileaks revealed that, but if it was a better journalistic enterprise it would have recognized that this was the story worth highlighting, not a fantasy about Stratfor's plans for world domination.

[Via Steve Hynd at the always excellent Agonist]

Update: Liberal Koshari dissents with my take on Wikileaks' criminality:

I fully disagree with an unusually simplistic and inaccurate statement he made in one of his recent posts: 

"Wikileaks almost always acts criminally, in a strict legal sense, but not always irresponsibly or immorally."

Many would disagree, and most conservatives would agree, with the statement above. The legality of Wikileaks activities is extremely complex and a matter of debate as some believe it is protected as a whistleblower intermediary and would argue, like in the Pentagon Papers, the Supreme Court established that the American constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves break any laws in acquiring it. Back in 2010, publishing those leaked documents was not illegal which is why Senator Joe Lieberman has put forward his proposed SHIELD law (stands for Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination), which made it a crime to publish leaked classified information if doing so endangered U.S. agents or was otherwise not in the national interest.

Point taken about the ambiguous legality of disseminating documents, but what about the legality of obtaining them? Clearly the many US govt. documents were obtained either through sources that broke the law or military code (i.e. Bradley Manning case) or through hacking which was itself illegal. Ditto for the Syrian email trove — to obtain them, something had to be hacked, surely? Likewise in the Stratfor case, the hacking of the company's servers was criminal. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Ahmed Benchemsi on secularists in the Arab world

Ahmed Benchemsi on secularists in the Arab world 

An interesting argument from Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi regarding the plight of Arab secularists and their need to stand for their values rather than compromise. It's a fascinating question, and (as an ultra-secularist like Benchemsi) I have a lot of sympathy for what he says, but I have disagreements about the way he frames it. It's something we've briefly discussed in the past and even thought of having a podcast about.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup

Karen DeYoung reporting for the Washington Post:

The Obama administration’s first reaction to Sunday’s news that Egypt’s military chiefs had been forced from office was deep alarm. The surprise announcement from Cairo seemed to signal that Washington’s worst fears about the direction of the Egyptian revolution were coming true.

Political developments in Egypt during the past year have occurred at a speed that has often overwhelmed U.S. policymakers. The one constant seemed to be the military and its longtime chief, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. His dismissal increased concerns about how much leverage Washington would retain as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi consolidated power.

By early Monday, the administration had exhaled a collective, if perhaps temporary, sigh of relief. The newly named defense minister and armed forces commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, is well-known to U.S. officials. He had “espoused cooperation with the United States and the need for peace with neighbors,” an administration official said.

That would suggest that the administration did not know about this and was caught off-guard. Which was my intuition. It's significant because it highlights — even if Egypt remains allied to the US, as I think it will — how little control Washington has on events and how little it is "in the loop." Which means, basically, a more independent Egypt. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Egypt power map: back to the drawing board

The above chart is something I created about 2-3 weeks ago to illustrate a still-to-be-published report. It's all changed now, and I'm going to have to restart mostly from scratch. The map was put together before the formation of the new cabinet, and I got the question of who would control the ministry of information wrong. But otherwise it stands at a fairly accurate map, I think, of how power flowed in Egypt before Morsi's August 12 decrees. And one of the striking thing looking at it is that many of the same issues remain — the cabinet now in place is still one representing a compromise between SCAF, the president, and corporate identities inside ministries and elsewhere. We still only have a cabinet with about 6-7 Muslim Brothers, at least for now (one might expect that to change once a new parliament is elected.) The big change may come in how external political forces relate to Morsi and the Brothers now that their hopes in the SCAF as a counter-balance are (again, for now) dashed.

The biggest mistake (and something I did because I did not want to overcomplicate an already complicated chart) was not detailing the splits inside SCAF, obviously, although I did highlight the separateness of the major armed forces services from military intelligence and general intelligence.

You can download a high-resolution PDF here.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

Ramadan TV show stirs argument across Arab world

More on Omar, this Ramadan season's hit soap opera about the second caliph, from Reuters' Mahmoud Habboush:

Conservative clerics denounce the series, which is running during the region's busiest drama season, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Scholars see an undesirable trend in television programming; the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has publicly refused to watch it.

But at dinner tables and on social media around the region, "Omar" is winning praise among many Muslim viewers, who admire it for tackling an important period in Islam's history. Some think it carries lessons for the Arab world, which is grappling with political change unleashed by last year's uprisings.

Salam Sarhan, a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Diyar, said the show was part of a gradual trend for the Islamic world to re-examine its heritage more critically, and would open the door for more television and cinema productions depicting central figures in Islam.

"If anyone dared to depict these figures 20 years ago, he would have been accused of blasphemy," he wrote. "Simply put, depicting these revered figures with their mistakes, limitations, rivalries, anger, hunger and thirst will thrust Islamic societies into a new phase."

I'd previously noted the show here.

SCAF's long game

A Brief Note about SCAF

From an interesting new blog, Accidental Occidental:

The question is why SCAF would give the “win,” at least on paper, to Morsi. It is no secret SCAF’s days were numbered if they refused to hand over power. This is their exit strategy. SCAF has appeared to castrate themselves in the press, but without losing any of their real power (drawn not from governing but from being the elephant in the room during the governing process). SCAF has feinted, and it appears to have worked. Attacks in the Sinai, power outages, and water shortages are now dropped cleanly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lap. Any public anger is no longer directed towards the military-industrial complex, but towards the civilian government.

SCAF is playing the long game. In my opinion, they are doing it very shrewdly and very well. Juntas normally do not sacrifice battles for the war, but SCAF has appeared willing to do just that. In the end, it appears the military will stand free from any legitimate criticism and there will be no substantive change in the military-industrial complex.

I agree with this take and put it in a different way in a Guardian piece yesterday — i.e. that talk of Morsi's triumph overshadows that generals (just different generals) were still kingmakers. It might develop in a positive way (the military will stay out of most civilian business and things will overall improve in Egypt in terms of governance, human rights, etc.) but there is no reason to believe it will automatically do so.

Accidental Occidental, by the way, appears to chiefly concern itself with a critique of leftist discourse on the Middle East, from a leftist perspective. The author writes:

My contention is that “anti-colonialism” became one of the myths used by Fascist governments in the Middle East to oppresses and eradicate opposition. We on the Left went to bed with murders, crooks and thieves in the fight against colonialism and it has only led to a new fascism in the Middle East. We never considered that we would be the fascists. The purpose of this blog is to question exactly that myth.

I deeply sympathize. Timely reading in context of the current kerfuffle over Rami Khouri's accusations of Orientalism against those analysts who worry about Syria.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Muslim Brothers' state media powergrab

Bad News for the Brotherhood

Meritte Mabrouk on how Egypt's state newspaper editors were appointed, and how the process was taken ove Islamist lawmakers, in Foreign Policy:

None of the signs boded well.  The 14-member selection committee was headed by FJP member Fathy Shehab and included three other FJP members. Two of its four journalists dropped out protesting what they saw as a naked attempt by the Islamist members to force their own candidates and another seven syndicate board members dropped out of discussions with the council altogether. Magdy el-Maasarawy, a Shura Council member who resigned from the committee last month, told Egypt Independent that the original criteria, which drew heavily on what he referred to as professional skills as agreed upon by the journalists, were scrapped by the rest of the committee. Additionally, he said that the 234 candidates didn't all fulfill the criteria, most notably Abd el-Nasser Salama, appointed head of Middle East's most prominent newspaper, Al Ahram. Salama, said Maasarawy, was never at Al Ahram for the required 10 years. He'd been the Muscat bureau chief for three years before returning to Cairo in 2009 as columnist.

Gamal Fahmy, secretary general of the Journalists' Syndicate, also told Egypt Independent that he thought the majority of the new editors were weak, professionally speaking, and certainly not qualified to lead the kind of large staffs involved in these papers. Professional competence is an especially sore point; Yasser Rizk, the former editor of Al-Akhbar is generally acknowledged to have worked wonders with the ailing publication. However, he has not been supportive of the Islamists and was replaced during the shuffle.

The new editors appear to fall into three categories: the cooperative, the Islamist, and the difficult-to-categorize.

It'd be politically difficult, but most of these publications should be shut down, or at least made to adhere to a budget plan aiming at self-suffiency. They're a drain on state coffers and in many cases not very good. And if they continue to exist, there is no reason to have parliament appoint the editors — hopefully something that can be addressed in the next constitution.

What do Egypt's new top generals think of Amreeka?

Some of the military officers who have risen to prominence after the recent shuffle/purge/power grab in the senior ranks of the Egyptian military are pretty unknown. The military is an isolated institution, and only a few of its members became very public figures over the last year and a half. There have been many rumors that the new top honchos are American favorites, chiefly on the spurious ground that they have been in contact with the US in the past. The truth is we don't know much about them, or specifically how they feel about the United States. 

Wouldn't it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East?

Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do. And he's written a rather thoughtful essay advocating for one of my pet causes: a complete US military withdrawal from the Middle East. It's titled "THE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE INTHE MIDDLE EAST: ISSUES AND PROSPECTS" and was carried out as part of a Masters in Strategic Studies at the US Army War College in 2005, when he was Brigadier General. It's available on a US army website

Here's the basic gist from his conclusion:

The future challenges and prospects ofthe U.S. military presence inthe Middle East in general and Gulf in particular are inseparable from the overall U.S. national security strategy in this region. This national security strategy cannot define the issues within the narrow geographic context of the Gulf region and its oil resources, or the narrow confines of rather outdated "containment" concepts. It is this author's opinion that the security challenges for the U.S. interests inthe Middle East and the Gulf, including Iraq, are interlinked with the ideological foundations that underpin these challenges. The solutions of security challenges inthe Gulf will not necessarily be solely found in Baghdad or in the Gulf itself. These solutions will find their ideological underpinning ifthe U.S. were to truly work for a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. can continue to pursue its current strategy in the Gulf that is largely based on its U.S. military presence and potential. This strategy will not lead to the solution of political problems that are deeply rooted in ideological, religious, and cultural causes. The U.S. and its willing partners will continue to be immersed in a long-term asymmetric military conflict without clear political and ideological goals. Truly international cooperation, and heeding the ideological, religious, and cultural concerns of the Arab and Muslim world, can successfully change the current course of events.

I don't agree with everything but I like the way he thinks. Some choice excerpts after the jump.

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Egypt, Israel and Sinai: The need for triangular co-operation

✚ Egypt, Israel and Sinai: The need for triangular co-operation

One of the best analyses of the fallout from the Sinai attack I've read, from The Economist, worth a long quote:

For years Hamas has suppressed jihadists groups in Gaza, especially those espousing puritanical Salafist ideals that hark back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Hamas sought to prevent them from attacking hairdressers, internet cafés, Christians and other supposedly decadent influences. But it has been less eager to curb their missile attacks on Israel or to stop them infiltrating Egypt.

More recently, however, Hamas has closed the tunnel complex to slow infiltration and gun-running. If Hamas really wants to please the Egyptian government, it would arrest the 200-odd jihadists still at large in Gaza. Hisham Saidini, a jihadist preacher whom Hamas had freed soon after Ramadan started last month, defended the killing of Egypt’s soldiers on the grounds that they were protecting Jews.

Israel, too, will have to let both Egypt’s security forces and those of Hamas in Gaza control their borders more effectively. Israel may have to allow Hamas to operate in a buffer zone along Gaza’s eastern border. Egypt’s air attack on the jihadists on August 8th was the first time that air power had been deployed in anger by Egypt in Sinai since the war with Israel in 1973, and was co-ordinated with Israel in advance. The Israelis say they have had several discreet high-level talks with the Egyptians since Mr Morsi was sworn in a month ago.

The three governments also need to agree on new economic arrangements. For the past five years, the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that fostered smuggling through the tunnels has hugely benefited people in Sinai who are beyond the law—of any country. Opening the borders to legal traffic and trade should lessen the power of jihadists and smugglers in Sinai and Gaza, and thus strengthen the arm of the governments in Cairo and Jerusalem.

Mr Morsi seems well aware of the dilemma. Egypt’s main military academy and senior civil posts have been opened up to the Bedouin, and plans are afoot to improve the peninsula’s several hundred villages, many of which have no piped water. He had already made a point, early in his presidency, of visiting Sinai. He has also hosted Hamas leaders. Before the Sinai attack, he received Mr Haniyeh and discussed definitively lifting Gaza’s siege.

Israel may also have to consider co-operating with Hamas, its avowed enemy. After the attack on August 5th, Israel’s leaders were careful to blame global jihadists rather than Gazans or Hamas. Although Egypt has yet fully to open the crossing at Rafah, Israel has already reopened its one nearby at Kerem Shalom, for trade if not yet for people. With the influence of Islamists in Syria likely to grow in the event of Bashar Assad’s fall, Israel may have to decide whether to accommodate itself to the likes of Hamas lest a still fiercer version of Islamism comes to the fore.

The age of incompetence

✚  The age of incompetence

A quite funny take by Z on what will happen in Egypt next, based on the key insight that everyone — the army, the Muslim Brothers, secular forces — is incompetent. I like this part what what will happen to Morsi:

I expect him to benefit from the incompetence of everyone around him. While everything around him is helping him become more confident, and street support for the Muslim Brotherhood automatically is channeled to him, it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not have to live subdued by the organization, but that he should get the place he deserves. We make pharaohs, and we make them fast, and he won't really be any exception.

While he has, together with the Muslim Brotherhood, sidelined SCAF (apparently), he will now more single-handedly sideline the Brotherhood.

Now that would be something!

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

A pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup?

✚  No Reason to Celebrate, It's Just Another Coup

Wael Iskander offers a not unplausible explanation for yesterday's news in Egypt — what may have pushed some generals to go against Tantawi and Enan was that they felt a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup was necessary to prevent Tantawi & co. leading the military into an untenable situation.

So much of what has been happening has been conducted with much secrecy, that is why all we have today is analysis and speculation. However, it does seem that the likely scenario is a coup to counteract a coup as Hesham Sallam explained:
“Al-Assar, Al-Sisi and others led a coup against Tantawi and Anan in order to preempt a prospective coup attempt that could have gotten the army into uncertain political confrontations—specifically confrontations that could have led the military establishment to lose everything vis-à-vis the MB. Consistent with this theory is the fact that Al-Dostoor newspaper was confiscated yesterday after effectively making a public call for a coup--which suggests that some elements within the SCAF had been prodding their allies inside the media establishment to begin promoting the image of popular support for a coup”
It is clear to me that something was planned for 24 August 2012 and that is what was pre-empted. The Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi) had to have the support of some elements inside the army so as to come out with this decision.
There had been calls for mass protests against Morsi and the MB and the Brotherhood on the 24th, backed by some of the press and political establishment. Maybe this is what forced their hands.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Massad on Egypt and the Palestinians

✚  Egypt's nouveaux riches and the Palestinians

I find Joseph Massad wrong on most of what he writes about, and far too nativist for my taste. In this piece, while he outlines the terrible anti-Palestinian actions of the Mubarak regime, he is delusional when he argues that it was a narrow nouveau riche class that adopted anti-Palestinian postures. It's a lot more complicated than that, and while there are wonderful pro-Palestinian efforts in Egypt from the left and Islamists, there is also a very widespread suspicion of Palestinians (much of it the result of regime propaganda, of course). Some of it is part of a wider xenophobia, some of it due to a reluctance to be drawn into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But I feel, after over a decade in Egypt, that there is more anti-Israeli sentiment than thoughtful pro-Palestinian sentiment, at least outside the activist groups. Just look at the sorry state of the normalization debate in Egypt, as if it were the 1980s, and general ignorance of Palestinian-led movements like BDS.

And the language in this piece is really OTT.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

I hate to come out with a full-fledged analysis as the full picture of today’s news from Egypt is still coming out, but the importance of Morsi’s changes to the military and cancellation of the terrible June 17 Supplementary Constitutional Declaration deserves some comment. Here is my preliminary take, which I will no doubt revise in coming days and that is not exhaustive. Please leave what I’m missing out on in the comments.

I’d divide what happened today in two parts. First, what has changed in the military:

  • Defense Minister and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi, who will be replaced by Head of Military Intelligence AbdelLatif El-Sissi
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan.
  • Both Tantawi and Enan have been named presidential advisors, and were recently awarded the Order of the Nile medal. It appears they will be protected from punishment for their actions during the transitional period.
  • The heads of every service of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Air Defenses, Navy) were also retired but were given golden parachutes (one is now head of the Suez Canal Authority, another the new Minister of Military Production, etc.) It appears they will be replaced by their deputies.
  • There seems to be more personnel changes and shuffles — but mostly within the logic of promotion typical of the Egyptian military (i.e. no people were suddenly dropped into the senior ranks from lower ranks or outside the senior staff).

The overall impression I get is of a change of personalities with continuity in the institution. More junior officers are taking the posts of their former superiors, and some SCAF members are shifting positions. The departure of Tantawi was inevitable considering his age and unpopularity.

The really surprising thing is that for months there had been reports of positioning within the military-intelligence nexus for the succession battle for post-Tantawy. Leading candidates were Sami Enan, recently fired Head of General Intelligence Mourad Mowafy and to a lesser extent El-Sissi. There were also inconsistent speculation (from well-informed sources with direct SCAF access) about the relationship between El-Sissi and Mowafi. El-Sissi’s appointment is consistent with the idea that he long was one of the most powerful (but less obviously so) members of SCAF, and Enan’s departure is quite striking.

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Links 5-12 August 2012

Not many as much of this week was spent offline. Note also that this week I also implemented short posts (in the linked list style found on tech blogs) where I make a few remarks on links. From now on there will be a mix of these links-posts and a weekly or so linkdump. Perhaps next time I will also add a "this week on the blog" catch-up list to these link dumps. And remember everything below (and more) is first linked to on Twitter.
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The rise of Salafism in Syria

"we’re even willing to say we’re al-Qaeda to annoy the regime"

Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith reporting for the FT from Beirut:

Syria’s rebels are also driven by religion in their relentless 17-month campaign to bring down Bashar al-Assad, first through peaceful protests and now through a military struggle. Abu Berri says he became a committed Salafi, the ultraconservative Sunni sect, after spending nine years in conservative Saudi Arabia.

Many of his peers, he says, are becoming Salafi even if they have little understanding of this brand of puritanical Islam. The charismatic leader of a Homs brigade, Abdelrazzaq Tlas, traded his moustache for a beard, he notes. “They grow beards to defy the regime,” he says. “In fact, we’re even willing to say we’re al-Qaeda to annoy the regime.”

This kind of comment goes to the heart of the trouble in identifying who's a jihadist in Syria, and what that exactly means, as discussed here the other day. Worth reading the whole thing.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Turkey's nightmare - in Syria

Turkey's nightmare

Today's editorial in the FT:

Turkey is watching its deepest fears become reality on its southern border. As Kurdish forces take control of towns across north-east Syria, Ankara faces the possibility of an autonomous Kurdish area emerging, in loose federation with adjacent Iraqi Kurdistan.

To the Turkish establishment, this is an existential threat: an embryonic Kurdish state is bound to embolden Turkey’s 13m-plus Kurdish population in demands for regional autonomy, and could try to claim chunks of Turkish territory. Worse, a powerful element in a new coalition of Syria’s Kurdish groups is the PYD – an ally of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 27-year struggle against the Turkish state. The PKK is now exploiting the situation, launching massed attacks, not the usual scattered raids, on army posts in Turkey’s south-east.

And there are reports that Assad is evacuating the Kurdish areas of Syria to give militants there a free rein.

Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.