US aid and Egypt: back to business as usual

Josh Rogin, reporting for Daily Beast, says the path is now clear to restore US aid to Egypt to its full level. Here's a quote from Michele Dunne that pretty much sums it up:

“I think there’s a sense of giving up on Egypt [inside of the Obama administration], on the Hill as well,” said Dunne. “There’s a sense that ‘Oh well they tried a democratic transition, it didn’t work, but we don’t want to cut ourselves off from Egypt as a security ally, so let’s just forget about the whole democracy and human rights thing except for giving it some lip service from time to time.’”

Also see this report from Ali Gharib on the crucial role Israel and its US lobby played in mustering Congressional support for this.

Last summer, the language on draft bills from the House and Senate on Egypt suggested a substantial reduction in aid and/or the linking of the aid to various requirements, and also threatened to drop the usual waiver the administration could exercise. Now, the administration is only required to certify that Egypt is maintaining good relations with Israel. The path is clear to restore the aid, and the bilateral relationship, to its Mubarak-era level.

The Arab world into the unknown

The Arab world into the unknown

Our friends Peter Harling and Sarah Birke contributed the following piece, a reflection on the state of the Arab world after a confounding 2013 that saw, for many, the dissipation of the enthusiasm of 2011. Harling is Senior MENA advisor at the International Crisis Group; Birke is a Middle East Correspondent for The Economist.

Two and a half years ago, Arab countries were abuzz with interesting conversations. Rich and poor, old and young, villager and urbanite, Islamist and secular all had their own take on the bewildering turmoil of the uprisings they were caught up in. They tended to be aware of the risks, hopeful that change was both inevitable and ultimately beneficial, and proud that the region could awaken and, after centuries of foreign interference, set its own agenda. Opinions were also invariably sophisticated, with people speaking profoundly about societies they thought they knew and had started to reassess. 

This was a refreshing change from the pre-2011 tune of impotence. The region at that point, as its inhabitants saw it, was hostage to ossified regimes, intractable conflicts, worn-out narratives, and crumbling economies – not to mention Western hypocrisy, and schizophrenia, about urging client regimes to reform. Sterile agitation on the regional or international front, notably around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, distracted from thorough stagnation in domestic politics. Commentary was a cyclical run through the latest episode of violence, round of sanctions, realignment of alliances, or half-hearted diplomatic ventures. Uninspiring solutions to lingering problems left citizens reluctant to choose, among players in this game, the lesser of evils. Standing up to the US (like firebrand Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) or surviving an Israeli assault (as Hezbollah did in 2006 and Hamas in 2009) could certainly make you popular beyond your traditional base, but not for long. 

Less than three years after popular protests streaked across the Arab world, conversations appear to have come full circle. Optimism that societies in the region could no longer be ignored and would bring about change has reverted to doom and gloom. Outside observers have jumped from one label to the next: Arab spring to Islamist autumn to reactionary winter. All-too often, local residents view protests as a conspiracy, a naïve illusion or an ill-fated hope at best. Many see a stark choice between a failing old order and hegemonic Islamist rule—or war, as in Syria. Opinions are generally crude, aggressively intolerant and more rigid than ever. Interlocutors sport surprisingly definite conclusions about their home-region, no matter how fluid and contradictory the current trends actually are. 

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Khaled Dawoud: Point of no return

Another entry in our In Translation series, courtesy of the great team over at Industry Arabic.Khaled Dawoud was the spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a coalition of Egyptian political forces created in 2012 in opposition to Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. Dawoud supported the June 30, 2013 protests against Morsi but resigned from his position after the police attack on Islamist protesters in Rabaa El Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013 that left hundreds dead. In October Dawoud was recognized by pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters, dragged out of his car and stabbed in the hand and chest. He is a critic of the Islamist group, but nonetheless continues to argue against its violent repression. 

Point of No Return

Khaled Dawoud, El Tahrir newspaper, December 28

On a daily basis and sometimes several times a day I receive the following question: "How can you defend the Muslim Brotherhood when they tried to kill you? Do they have to chop off your head for you to realize they're terrorists?" This is in response to my remaining committed to the belief that we must strive toward a broad national consensus and not just rely on security solutions. I consider consensus to be the sole means to bring about true stability in Egypt and to start achieving the real goals of the January 25 Revolution – most significantly fighting poverty, promoting education and health, achieving real development and building a democratic system where Egyptians enjoy rights and freedoms.

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Links 23 December 2013 - 3 January 2014

Bah humbug:

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NYT calls Snowden "whistle-blower", urges clemency

New York Times editorial, today, in the face of the avalanche of revelations that have came out through Snowden:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

See also Ryan Lizza's incredibly long New Yorker piece on systematic NSA law-breaking and dissimulation over the last decade, and Obama's enablement of it.

DC court ruling suggests Snowden was right

 

The NYT reports on a case in which the NSA snooping program is savaged, indicating it will probably end up in the Supreme Court:

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote in a 68-page ruling. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Egypt's army chief: Will he? Won't he?

From The Economist's Pomegranate blog:

Mr Sisi has so far been coy, shying from the limelight. His reticence has made other potential candidates hesitate to step forward, though two former presidential hopefuls, Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist, and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a centrist Islamist, have both lately aired pointed 'advice' that it might be better for the minister to stick to military affairs. So it was with a mix of fascination and sarcastic glee that Egyptians have responded to what is alleged to be a leaked, not-for-publication portion of an interview with a sympathetic newspaper editor, in which Mr Sisi seems to suggest he may be pre-destined for the highest office.

On the tape the general, or a very skilled mimic, confesses to having often experienced peculiarly prescient dreams. In one of these he, like a Muslim hero of old, raised a sword emblazoned in red with the words "There is no God but God". In another he wore a portentously magnificent Omega watch, etched with a large green star that seemed to him a symbol of mysterious power. And he dreamed of a conversation with Anwar Sadat in which Egypt’s president from 1970-1981 declared that he had known in advance that he was destined for greatness, to which Mr Sisi responded, "I, too, know that I will be president of the Republic".

A couple of things to note here:

  1. There is a cultivated ambience of uncertainty regarding Sisi's candidacy, which increasingly appears likely. This is either deliberate manipulation to create an artificial sense of suspense and build up candidacy until it hits a crescendo when it's made official (while intimidating other potential candidates), or it reflects some level of pushback within the regime about the prospect of his candidacy (hence the focus on Amr Moussa, Sami Enan and other potential establishment candidates). 
  2. The whole dream thing may appear slightly loony to observers, but it's not that loony. There is a rich Islamic tradition of interpretation of dreams (and premonitory dreams) that is perfectly legitimate (it's a major feature of some Sufi practices) in Muslim terms. Some of this will echo with ordinary people, and it serves to increase Sisi's appeal and the myth around him more than discredit him.

Update: AP picks up on the dream thing, too.

30,000 trafficked in Sinai

30,000 trafficked in Sinai

A guest post from contributor Parastou Hassouri, who lives in Cairo, works in the field of international refugee law, and specializes in issues of gender and migration.

On Wednesday night, the report The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond, was launched in Cairo (it was launched simultaneously in several other cities including Tel Aviv, Brussels, and Lampedusa). The 238-page report is based on interviews with 230 trafficking survivors:  persons who survived the hellish ordeal of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured brutally in the Sinai. It is a follow-up to a 2012 reportHuman Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death

I was first alerted to the issue of human smuggling and trafficking in the Sinai around 2007.  At the time, I was working at the NGO Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA).  The issue most often came up when we had to assist those who had been apprehended trying to reach the Sinai (and would be detained by Egyptian authorities, even if they were registered with the UNHCR as refugees). Back then, most of the cases we dealt with involved refugees who were voluntarily crossing the Sinai in hopes of reaching Israel, where they expected to find more work opportunities and perhaps an easier way of reaching Europe. Our biggest concern was the fact that Egyptian authorities in the Sinai were using lethal force to stop this “irregular migration,” which had resulted in numerous fatalities. There was a belief, at the time, that the Egyptian authorities were only responding to pressure being placed upon them by Israelis to stem the flow of migrants. I remember spending a lot of time advising clients against making the journey, telling them the risks were not worth it (especially as so many of them faced detention once in Israel anyway).

Over the course of months, we started to hear about situations involving hostage taking: that the smugglers who had promised to take the refugees, asylum seekers or other migrants to the Sinai would inform them mid-trip that they were being kept hostage until they could pay them more money than initially demanded.  However, the situation was one that still started out “voluntarily”:  the migrants were choosing to undertake the journey, despite the risks. The numbers choosing this route seemed to increase as the number of refugees being resettled to third countries (i.e. the U.S. and Canada) declined (this started during a period when the resettlement of Iraqis had taken priority for political reasons).The people going were from different countries:  Sudan, Ethiopia, and often Eritrea. I once assisted two men from the Ivory Coast who had been detained after being abandoned by their smuggler, when he realized he had no chance of getting more money out of them. Looking at the turn things have taken, those men are lucky they lived. 

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Zogby says Egypt "split down the middle" on coup [PDF]

From a Zogby poll of public opinion in Egypt, from this September:

A plurality (46%) of all Egyptians believe that the situation in their country has become worse, not better, since the Morsi government was deposed. Eighty percent (80%) of FJP supporters express this view. But only about one-half of the rest of the country feels that Egypt is better off, with nearly one in five saying that the situation is the same as it was before the military intervened.

The military remains the institution in which Egyptians have the greatest confidence, but their positive rating has declined to 70%, owing to a sharp drop in support from those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP and a slight decline in support among liberals and those Egyptians who associate with none of the country’s parties.

The country is split down the middle in its view of the military’s July 3rd deposing of the Morsi government. The FJP, of course, is unanimous in finding the military’s action incorrect, while almost two-thirds of the rest of Egyptians support the deposing of Morsi.

With the caveat that polls in Egypt can be unreliable, this suggests that coup-skeptics are more numerous than imagined – but perhaps too intimidated by pro-coup propaganda and the ongoing crackdown to go out and demonstrate about it. And it's not about being pro-MB, either, or anti-military. 

Podcast #44: Just how bad is it exactly?

On this podcast, journalists Ursula Lindsey and Ashraf Khalil speak to Human Rights Watch's Sarah Leah Whitson about the greatest threats to human rights across the region, and about how to defend human rights in the midst of Egypt's "war on terrorism" and its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Show notes: 

Egyptian constitutions galore

Courtesy of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), a handy chart of Egypt's recent experiments with constitutions, including a partial draft of the current work-in-progress. Thanks to Zaid al-Ali for compiling.


 

English

Arabic

Commentary

Draft Constitution by the 50 member committee (C50)

 10 November 2013

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Link
Link

 

The 50 member committee (C50)'s rules of procedure
 
12 September 2013

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The presidential decree establishing a 50 member committee (C50) to prepare a final version of the draft constitution
  
1 September 2013

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The proposed changes to the 2012 Constitution by the 10 member expert committee (C10)
  
20 August 2013

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The Constitutional Declaration suspending the 2012 constitution and establishing a new road map for the country
 
8 July 2013

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The 2012 Constitution 

  25 December 2012

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Link

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The March 2011 Constitutional Declaration
  
30 March 2011

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Egypt and the f-word

Egypt and the f-word

 

This guest post is written by Bilal Ahmed, a writer and activists who is preparing for graduate research that compares the tribal laws and central governance of the tribal areas of Pakistan, and Yemen.

During their brief tenure in power, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammad Morsi were increasingly accused of fascism. Now, as Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood continues, the accusations of fascism have begun again. Much of this is because popular discourse has a knee-jerk tendency to link any form of authoritarianism with Nazi Germany. It becomes easier to do that in a national context in which we see fierce nationalism, growing xenophobia, assault against domestic minorities, and the gleeful celebration of state violence.

Let us be clear: Egypt hasn’t gone fascist. And saying that constrains how we should think about its politics in the coming years.

When we compare trends in Egyptian politics to something as complicated as the rise of Continental European fascism, we are as much probing the idea of Egypt going fascist as we are the nature of fascism itself. The rise of fascism in Europe was the result of specific political factors that, although currently present in Egypt, have not been rallied in the service of mass politics in a way that invites the word.


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