The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: How Egypt's constitution will be amended 1/2

This is the first of two translated articles selected from the Egyptian press on the process of amending Egypt's 2012 constitution, which according to Interim President Adly Mansour's Constitutional Declaration (CD) of July 8 will be amended and put to a referendum before new elections are held. This first article is an interview with Mansour's constitutional advisor, the second article contains possible amendments being considered. Both are translated by our long-standing partner, the most excellent Industry Arabic. Please give them translation jobs, you won't be sorry and you'll help them help us continue to provide this free service.

The July 8 CD calls for the formation of a committee of 10 constitutional scholars and judges tasked with preparing the amendments to the controversial 2012 text, which has approved hastily last December by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. These proposals will be then put to a second committee of 50 figures drawn from public life. While the committee of 10 (let's call it C10 for short) is appointed by the interim president, the committee of 50 (C50) is supposed to represent major corporate interests in Egypt, as per Article 29 of the CD which stipulates it represent:

...  all segments, sects and demographic diversities of society, especially parties, intelligentsia, labourers, peasants, members of trade unions, specialized federations, national councils, al-Azhar, the Egyptian Churches, Armed Forces, the police and public figures, provided that ten members at least be young people and women. Each institution shall nominate their representatives, and the Cabinet shall nominate the public figures.

There is a lot of confusion as to how this process might work as it was suggested the C10 would be the only body that can draft the text of amendments, which would mean the C50 is a talking shop with little power. The interview below, if reliable (because everything can change very quickly in Egypt), provides some clarification and at least an indication of the intentions behind this process, which has been criticized by many.

The amendment of the constitution is a key battleground for Egypt's transition, with differences not only between Islamists and non-Islamists but also within the secular camp that broadly backed the July 3 coup. There is of course whether the Islamists of the Nour Party will get to keep the conservative language of the original (the balance of power in the current pro-coup coalition makes that unlikely, unless they decide they need Nour too much in order to break Islamist unity, since the Muslim Brotherhood and some others reject the validity of this entire post-coup process). But then there are questions of the military's privileges, personal liberties and reining in the interior ministry, and much more. 

This interview provides some clarity, notably the surprise that the procedure laid out in the July 8 CD is not necessarily final. Some backers of the coup were disappointed that the CD called for presidential elections after parliamentary ones, and here it is indicated the order could still be reversed. It goes to show how so much is still at play, even beyond the immediate political crisis and assuming the coup and CD holds. 


Mansour's Constitutional Advisor: committee to amend constitution will operate free from any constraints

Interview by Samar al-Gamal, al-Shorouk, 22 July 2013

Constitutional and legal advisor to the president, Ali Awad Saleh, stated that the "Committee of Experts" tasked with amending the country’s constitution, which was formed yesterday by a decree from President Adly Mansour, will operate free from all constraints, and that the constitutional declaration recently put out by the president does not immunize any of the articles that appeared therein from amendment.

In an interview with al-Shorouk conducted by Samar al-Gamal, Saleh – who was recently appointed rapporteur of the Committee of Experts – added that the Committee of Fifty will have the power to add additional amendments to the constitution after the Committee of Experts. The Committee of Fifty will also be allowed to rearrange Egypt’s transitional stage if it feels it is necessary to hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections. Such a scenario will be proposed within the draft constitution and will be carried out if approved in a popular referendum.

In his first press interview, Saleh stated that the president will only exercise legislative authority within narrow limits and with the participation of the cabinet. He emphasized the fact that those currently administering the country are determined not to let the transitional period drag on.

He added that the parliamentary elections law and the dividing up of electoral districts have been put on hold until the constitution is done being amended. According to him, so far no amendments have been made to the constitutional declaration, adding also that no supplementary declaration has been released. He stated that for now it would be best to work and focus on amending the constitution, and that any objections to the constitutional declaration should be put before the Committee of Experts. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

Q: A decree has been issued to form a Committee of Experts for the purpose of amending the constitution. However, some details of its work have been left out. For example, who is its chairman? What is its work method? How does it receive proposals?

A: The Committee, as formed by the constitutional declaration, was not required to appoint a chairman. However, according to a decree recently issued by the president, a technical secretariat was formed comprising an administrative, clerical and technical official, along with a supporting team, for the purpose of aiding the Committee in its work. This will include receiving suggestions for proposed amendments to the constitution. The Committee itself will determine the mechanisms through which it conducts its work.

Q: And who is to determine the scope of the amendments and the articles of the constitution which are to be changed?

A: The Committee's mission will be to review the text of the 2012 constitution, while at the same time receiving suggestions and ideas put forth by various actors, political forces and popular movements. The Committee will be open to all those who seek to contribute to the process of amending the constitution. At the end of the day, it will give shape to these proposals in the form of a draft amendment that will then be presented to the Committee of Fifty.

Q: If disagreements arise, how will they be solved?

A: The Committee is supposed to be a collegial entity, and as is our custom in the judiciary, will make decisions based on the majority rule of its members. However, it will be members of the Committee themselves who will determine the means by which they will conduct their work, as opposed to it being imposed on them from outside the Committee.

Q: What if the Committee receives a suggestion from outside its ranks which does not make it into the final amendments draft?

A: When the Committee of Experts presents its work to the Committee of Fifty, it will record either in its minutes or in an explanatory brief all of the proposals it has received and its reasons for rejecting any of them.

Q: So what is the role of the Committee of Fifty if the draft amendments will be referred to it ready-made?

A: The Committee of Fifty, in so far as it represents all sectors of society according to the constitutional declaration, will determine whether or not the draft amendments it receives are complete and satisfy the will of the people, or if the constitution needs additional amendments. Then in the end it will put them forward for national dialogue.

Q: So you’re saying that the Committee of Fifty could ask for additional amendments? If so, would the text of the draft amendment then be sent back to the Committee of Experts?

A: Yes, the Committee of Fifty has the right to insert additional amendments. Most likely the Committee of Experts and the Committee of Fifty will work together in order to better achieve integration and avoid wasting time.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better then to just start with the Committee of Fifty?

A: This is one point of view. However, we feel that the Committee of Fifty already has its work cut out for it due to the time constraints. Otherwise, the Committee of Fifty would need to form various committees, similar to what happened with the country’s previous Constituent Assembly, such as the system of government committee, the executive branch committee, the drafting committee, etc. All this would require more than the two months allotted.

Q: Simply adding amendments to the Muslim Brotherhood’s constitution does not satisfy people's aspirations. Is it possible to devise a brand new constitution all together?

A: The Committee of Experts is bound by the constitutional declaration and the decree issued regarding the committee’s formation to insert amendments into the suspended constitution. It is true that on the street and in the media it appears that there is a genuine desire for a new constitution. However, this matter is up to the Committee of Fifty, in so far as it represents society.

Q: What about those articles included in the constitutional declaration? Does their inclusion in the declaration protect them from being amended?

A: No, it does not protect them at all. The Committee of Experts has complete freedom to consider all the articles in the constitution. The constitutional declaration only governs Egypt’s transitional period, and the articles in it do not place any restrictions on the Committee of Experts or the Committee of Fifty.

Q: There exist fears related to freedoms, particularly with regards to the status of the military establishment and oversight of it, in addition to the articles dealing with religion. Do you envision that the Committee of Experts will amend these controversial articles?

A: The Committee will operate free from any restrictions.

Q: Will the Office of the Presidency offer up any ideas regarding specific amendments?

A: The Office of the Presidency is keen on leaving such issues to specialists, and does not seek to play any role or offer any guidance in this process.

Q: What about guidance from the military establishment regarding amendments?

A: We so far haven’t received anything from them. If the military establishment has any ideas regarding amendments they can forward those ideas to the Committee of Experts.

Q: We know that there exists an interplay of forces which may perhaps cast its shadow over the process of amending the constitution. So what guarantees do we have?

A: The guarantee is that the people want a constitution that can bring about a national consensus and help the country achieve progress. We do not want to take a step backwards. Therefore, the Committee of Experts was created to include those with a great deal of experience, who do not have any partisan affiliation, and who are united by a single goal: to put out a good product. For this reason as well we do not want to restrict their work.

Q: At the end of the day these are appointed committees. If the Committee of Experts understands things so well, does this not also apply to the Committee of Fifty?

A: The Committee of Fifty will be appointed, but according to nominations, criteria and specific rules to be determined during the work of the Committee of Experts.

Q: Why was it not decided that the Committee of Fifty should be elected?

A: We do not want to repeat the previous experiences and drag out the transitional period – which we've laid out very precisely. What we want at the end of the transitional period is for state institutions to be restored. Elections may not necessarily produce the ideal body, to say nothing of the high cost of running elections and other details involved. For example, will such elections be direct elections, or will they take place in two stages, with the people choosing a group of representatives who then select the Committee? Doing it this way would require more time, while those who are currently overseeing the country’s transitional period do not want to drag it out. Rather, what they want is a satisfactory constitution, in addition to functioning executive and legislative branches.

Q: Wouldn't it be possible to lodge an appeal against the constitutionality of such a formation? Similar to what took place with the previous Constituent Assemblies?

A: This grounds of this formation were made clear in the constitutional declaration, and there does not currently exist any appeal against the constitutionality of any text in the declaration. Rather, the challenge comes from the un-constitutional nature of legislative texts, and so it is not possible to appeal against the Committee's formation.

Q: What if the Committee of Experts disagrees with the Committee of Fifty regarding an article, who will decide the issue?

A: In my personal opinion the final say would lie with the Committee of Fifty. Such criteria and the mode of coordination between the two committees will soon be drawn up. Right now our focus is on the Committee of Experts and granting it the opportunity to begin its work.

Q: The constitutional declaration talks about societal dialogue – how do you envision that this will be conducted?

A: This dialogue will serve to gauge the people's orientation, in so far as they are the ultimate source of power. What I mean of course is not a dialogue with all 90 million Egyptian citizens, but rather surveying the views of various actors,and an exchange of perspectives between them and the Committee. This will take place during the Committee's work. Then, after the the constitution has been drafted, a whole month will be given to the people to read the draft constitution.

Q: In response to objections by a number of Egyptians – particularly the country’s youth – to the constitutional declaration, the Office of the Presidency promised to release a supplementary declaration or a series of decrees with legal force to amend the original declaration. Will such an amendment process actually take place?

A: As of now there has not been any amendment or supplemental declaration. I think what is best now is to move past the issue of the constitutional declaration, and begin the process of working on and thinking about the amendments to the constitution itself, and to submit such suggestions to the Committee of Experts.

Q: Of course you have heard the objections being made about the country’s road map and the powers of the president – what is your opinion regarding these issues?

A: I think the primary concern regarding the powers of the president has to do with the legislative powers he possesses. The constitutional declaration states that the president can only exercise legislative power after consulting the cabinet. As a close confidant of the president, I am saying that he will only exercise legislative authority within a narrow scope.
Usually legislation is made through a draft law prepared by one of the country’s various ministries and proposed to the cabinet. From there it will make its way to the parliament and then on to the president. Another way for legislation to be made is for parliament to propose a law.
However, at the moment there currently is no parliament, which leaves us with just the first option. If the president receives a proposal, he will then forward it to the government. In any case, the cabinet will also participate in this process.

Q: Is there a vision for the upcoming legislative agenda?

A: A law was passed having to do with Military Medical Academies which the Shura Council had approved before it was dissolved. Now we are trying to grant cabinet the power to take up legislation before it is presented to the president.

Q: The most prominent point brought up among the various objections made to the constitutional declaration has to do with the order of the road map, as the main call made within the declaration was to conduct presidential elections first.

A: Early presidential elections was one of the demands when the previous president was around, so that he would have to run for election again against other candidates. However after the events of June 30, we feel that it is more appropriate to start with the constitution and then for a parliament to speedily take over legislative authority. Presidential elections would then be conducted based on an elections law passed by parliament.

Q: However, the constitutional declaration states that presidential elections should be called just one week after parliament convenes.

A: I know that it is a short period of time. However, if the constitutional amendment committee believes that that arrangement is inappropriate for the country's current conditions and that the best thing to do is to hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections, it could propose this scenario and a referendum would then be held based on provisional regulations, and a date for presidential elections would be set for after the referendum held on the constitution. Either way, the matter will be left up to the committees.

Q: Does this not violate the constitutional declaration?

A: The declaration governs the transitional period. However, when the people – who are the source of power – take part in the referendum on the draft, the constitutional declaration will expire and the country will begin to be governed by the new constitution that the people will have approved.

ElBaradei and his detractors

Mohammed ElBaradei -- now Egypt's vice-president for foreign affairs -- has taken to the Western and Arab media lately to defend the July 3 coup but also to make the case for negotiating with the Brotherhood and taking their fears and grievances at least partly into consideration. Here he is in the Washington Post: 

People are very angry. People are very angry with me because I am saying, “Let’s take time, let’s talk to them” [The Brotherhood]. The mood right now is, “Let’s crush them, let’s not talk to them.” That would last for one week, and then they would come back. It would be a disaster everywhere, inside Egypt and outside Egypt. We need to get a long-range view based on restoring order and based on national consensus and reconciliation. I hope the Brotherhood understands that time is not on their side. I’m holding the fort, but I can’t hold it for very long.

ElBaradei clearly does not have the support of the deep state (which would apparently like nothing better than an endless cycle of violence/repression) or of a considerable portion of the political and media elite, which sees this as its chance to keep Islamists out of politics for the foreseeable future. Witness the fresh onslaught of attacks on him. Here is a presenter on Tahrir TV (once a "revolutionary" channel, now apparently a mouthpiece for the intelligence and police) tearing up ElBaradei WPost interview on the air and berating him for "submitting to terrorism."


Egyptians' Views of Government Crashed Before Overthrow

No surprise to those of us who have been living through Egypt's exhausting mood swings, but Gallup's polling in Egypt shows some incredibly dramatic shifts in public opinion over the last few years. Whether the loss of faith in Morsi, the Brotherhood, and the political process generally can all be laid at the Islamists' feet is a matter of opinion. 

A few weeks before massive protests and a government decree ended Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's presidency, 29% of Egyptians expressed confidence in their national government -- the lowest level Gallup has measured since Egypt's revolution began in 2011. 


Pity Egypt, It Has No Liberals

Even back in the 1920s, during Egypt's so-called Liberal Age, there were no true liberals, argues Samuel Tadros. 

Egyptian liberalism was flawed from the start. Egyptian liberals were born, not from an independent bourgeoisie, and from the tension of the individual and the state, but from the very bosom of that state and its bureaucracy. Obsessed with modernization, they always allied themselves with the ruler, hoping that he would turn out to be an autocratic modernizer.


Egypt’s popular sovereignty: not an alternative

Seems like everybody in Egypt these days is acting/talking in the name of the "people." In the New Left Project, Egyptian photographer Ahmad Hosni parses the pitfalls of the concept of popular sovereignty.  

Elections give us precise percentages of the popularity of different political parties, along with that of those who decide not participate. The sum of all these percentages is totality of the people. Under the rubric of popular sovereignty, on the other hand, “people” is always a totality that has no partitions. It is not a subject of numbers but is a totalizing signifier, an approximation of the population that is less than the sum of all parts.


Links 23 July - 3 August 2013
  • An interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, who hopes for reconciliation in Egypt - The Washington Post
  • A Moroccan political template for the Arab Gulf states? | openDemocracy
    Sultan Qassemi - learning the wrong lesson from Morocco, methinks.
  • Interview With Hamid Mir of Geo TV
    That Kerry interview in full.
  • Pédophile espagnol gracié : qui a mis son nom sur la liste ?
    Tout le monde ment dans cette affaire.
  • Une manifestation contre la grâce d'un pédophile dispersée au Maroc
  • Qaeda Messages Prompt U.S. Terror Warning -
  • “General al-Sisi at the U.S. Army War College” by Sherifa Zuhur | sherifazuhur
  • Hamas in the Post-Morsi Period - Sada
  • Egypt coup costs Hamas rulers their most important foreign ally and deepens Gaza’s isolation - The Washington Post
  • Cairobserver — Cairo as History: David Sims on Raymond, Rodenbeck and Golia
  • Iraq - 1,057 Killed in July, U.N. Says -
  • UK court hears Saudi prince threatened to behead partner -
    Straight out of Goodfellas
  • Saudi prince defects from royal family | The Top Information Post
  • What Did Cleopatra Really Look Like? Her Image (and "Infinite Variety") Through the Ages
  • Mainstream media likes simple labels | Operation Egypt
    A man after my own heart makes a great Venn Diagram.
  • Middle East: Battlelines drawn -
    Nice map of sectarian distribution here.
  • Ten Little Known Facts About Al-Sissi | Cairo Gossip
    Sisi gets the Chuck Norris treatment.
  • Jonathan Wright - Elite angst in Sisi's Egypt
    Good post, comments.
  • Secretary of State Kerry says Egyptian military restored democracy, didn’t take over Egypt - The Washington Post
    From Pakistan, of all places.
  • A Falling-Out Among Brothers? - Sada
  • Moroccans to protest against royal pardon for Spanish paedophile - Reuters
  • The regional struggle for Syria | The European Council on Foreign Relations
    New report.
  • IRIN Middle East | Analysis: Egypt’s way out
  • Netanyahu hasn't crossed the Rubicon | Haaretz
    Daniel Levy on the why of Bibi okaying peace talks.
  • [Perspective] | On the Selling of the Egyptian Coup to Liberals, by Ken Silverstein | Harper's Magazine
    Some good points but also mistakes - and Brooks is no liberal.
  • How Egypt Will Shake the World : The New Yorker
    Steve Coll.
  • Pretty Names and Ugly Things: Getting to Know the Law of Egypt’s Second Transitional Period
    Amr Shalakany
  • Egypt: textile strikes put pressure on new government | MENA Solidarity Network
    Over wages, not Morsi.
  • Egypt: Competing for Corpses - Al-Monitor
    Wael Nawara
  • Egypt - Analysis - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
    Latest update.
  • Shadow of the army over Egypt's revolution - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition
    Good piece by Alain Gresh.
  • Egypt minister wants Brothers in politics, not arms | Reuters
    Nabil Fahmy
  • Insurgency takes root in Egypt’s Sinai - The Washington Post
    Good piece.
  • Some Observations, Simplified | Atlantic Council
    Amr Hamzawy
  • Kénitra : condamné à 30 ans de prison, un pédophile espagnol est gracié
  • Egypt restores feared secret police units | The Guardian
    State Security Investigations, it's as if you were never gone.
  • The green shoots of recovery? Morocco considers the legalisation of marijuana cultivation - The Independent
  • Morocco's Islamists Set for Power Deal with Center Right
    Good detail of corruption charges against govt new partner.
  • Egypt: Legal Experts Demand a New Constitution for the Country Instead of Redrafting the 2012 Constitution
  • Adam Shatz · Short Cuts · LRB 8 August 2013
    On the coup in Egypt.
  • Egypt's wheat problem: how Mursi jeopardized the bread supply | Reuters
  • Hammonda. » Sisi – Too sexy for his military fatigues (Get that man a presidency)
  • US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Hearings - Crisis in Egypt
  • NSF agrees to nominate Hamdeen Sabbahi for president, says official

    Another disaster.


    LinksThe EditorsComment
    The Great Collision

    An interesting essay by the Reuel Marc Gerecht – although there's much I disagree with it has some good insights: 

    Some observers in Washington—the New York Times’s David Brooks, the Washington Post’s George Will, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Rob Satloff, for example—appear to believe that Egyptian military rule has at least the potential to evolve in a more positive direction than government by elected Islamists, who’ve shown their “anti-modern,” “anti-pluralist,” “anti-secular,” and “revolutionary” teeth. But how? What exactly can the Egyptian military do now that it hasn’t done in the past to fertilize “real democracy”? How in the world could the Egyptian army—assuming it had even a smidgeon of the historical mission that drove the Turkish army to nurture the development of a European democracy within the Turkish Republic’s top-down secular society—do a better job than Kemalist officers and judges, whose eight decades of secular repression and stage-managed balloting produced an electorate that freely voted for a Turkish offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood? 

    Neocons like Gerecht (and Kagan, below) have been all over the place lately. 


    Tunisia's Ennahda won't contest presidency

    Le Monde reports on the crisis in Tunisia, after the murder of Mohammed Brahmi and eight soldiers at the Algerian border, now compounded by the Egyptian June 30. As rumored for a few weeks, this suggests Ennahda has officially taken a decision not to present a presidential candidate in elections next year:  

    Devant l'urgence de la situation, les débats internes sont mis en sourdine. "Le courant dur chez nous est mis à la retraite", assure ce responsable. Des décisions devraient sous peu être annoncées, comme celle, prise depuis un moment mais encore jamais rendue publique, qu'Ennahda ne présentera pas de candidat à la prochaine élection présidentielle.

    Of course, circumstances can change (as they did for the Brothers in Egypt, although they must regret that choice) and a new decision on the presidency can be made next year. Or they can choose to back a third-party candidate (or indeed even President Moncef Marzouki, the incumbent, for re-election as he has been fairly loyal to the Troika alliance). But it shows the events in Egypt have had their impact. 

    The new normal in Damascus

    Sarah Birke, reporting from Damascus for the NYRB blog: 

    While the brutal devastation caused by the Syrian conflict, now entering its third year, has affected many parts of the country, the Syrian government has long sought to portray the capital as an oasis of calm. Unlike Aleppo, parts of which have been destroyed by a year of battle, central Damascus shows few physical scars of war, apart from the many roadblocks and checkpoints, and the burned-out remains of a building northeast of the city that was bombed. Unlike Raqqa, a city in the east of Syria that is in the hands of extremist rebels, Damascus looks like a bastion of tolerant, vibrant life. In this view, the functioning city demonstrates both the continued strength of the regime and the dangers of the increasingly fractured opposition. But as my visit to the Umayyad Mosque revealed, under the surface things aren’t the same in the Syrian capital.

    The same day, I went out for dinner with a well-connected businessman—he went to school with Bashar al-Assad and Bashar’s elder brother Bassel and has flourished under the regime, even more so since the crisis started. The restaurant served a take on continental food and any type of alcohol you might fancy. A coiffed young woman with a photo of Bashar as her iPhone cover sang songs as her smiling companions knocked back drinks at a price that would pay the rent of a displaced family for a month. At one point, the businessman got up to use the bathroom and something clattered to the floor. It was a pistol. “Oh, that,” he said. “I am so afraid of being kidnapped. I would rather kill myself than have that happen to me.”

    Two quotes from Sisi
    The Washington Post  — possibly the publication that is most critical of the Egyptian military in the US – has landed an interview with the generalissimo himself. He uses it for chastising Washington: 

    “You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that,” said an indignant Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, speaking of the U.S. government. “Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?”

    So does he want the US to not turn its back and lend support? Because the official media in Egypt seemed to be arguing that the US should not involved at all. 

    And then there's this gem: 

    The most important achievement in my life is to overcome this circumstance, [to ensure] that we live peacefully, to go on with our road map and to be able to conduct the coming elections without shedding one drop of Egyptian blood,” he said, before adding, “When the people love you, this is the most important thing for me.”

    Surely too late about the blood? 

    Kagan: The U.S. is complicit in Egyptian military’s actions

    Robert Kagan weighs in on the question of Egypt-US relations: 

    Some supporters of the aid claim that it gives us leverage over the military’s behavior — that fear of an aid cutoff will curb Sissi’s more extreme inclinations and lead the government to moderation. Recent events suggest the opposite. Why should military leaders fear losing aid when the Obama administration did not even abide by U.S. law requiring it to cut off that aid after the coup? The recent delay of F-16 deliveries had no effect.

    Egypt’s military knows there has been only one constant in U.S. policy toward its country over the past three decades, including during the turbulence of the past three years: Regardless of who has been in power — Hosni Mubarak, the military, Morsi and now the military again — and how that government has behaved, military assistance has flowed. We didn’t use our military aid to pressure Mubarak to reform; we didn’t use it to pressure Morsi to govern more democratically; and we are not using it now to pressure the military to cease its violent, undemocratic behavior.

    Quite aside the merits of this argument, there is a logical flaw in the "we can't pressure them because we'll lose the only leverage we have" argument: if you can't use your leverage because you'll lose your leverage, then you do not in fact have leverage. 

    Democracy and hypocrisy

    The Economist on the lack of Western condemnation after the killing of some 150 protestors in Cairo: 

    After the killing, Barack Obama kept his counsel. It fell to John Kerry, the American secretary of state, to speak out—and then he merely called on Egypt’s leaders to “step back from the brink”. Likewise in Britain David Cameron, the prime minister, left it to William Hague, the foreign secretary, to rap the generals over the knuckles. America’s protest at the ousting of Mr Morsi had been to delay the supply of some F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. But that modest gesture was more than undone just before the shootings. In an unwise precedent, the administration declined to say Egypt had suffered a coup, because to do so could have triggered an automatic block on aid.

    The Muslim Brothers—and other Muslims across the Middle East—will conclude from all this that the West applies one standard when secularists are under attack and another when Islamists are. Democracy, they will gather, is not a universal system of government, but a trick for bringing secularists to power. It is hard to think of a better way for the West to discourage the Brothers from re-entering Egypt’s political process.

    In any case, even supposing that the Brothers wanted to return to politics, it is unclear whether the army would let them back in. The generals now know that the West has given them more or less a free hand to do as they will. The army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has claimed that marches on July 26th gave him a “mandate” to confront “potential terrorism”. Already, the new government is resurrecting the hated arms of Hosni Mubarak’s security state.

    The editors go on to argue that "the only way they [the MB/Islamists] can be excluded from politics is if the security forces hold much of the power" - they're right.

    The Syrian crisis in Jordan

    This is a belated link to an article by dear friend of the blog Matthew Hall, a beautifully written and sharply observed piece that maps the geographical, social and economic dimension of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan in the excellent publication MERIP  -- which you should all subscribe to.

    (In addition to writing about the MIddle East, Matt is also a scholar of musical esoterica).

    Rumble in Cairo

    Nour, The Arabist's invaluable Intern, share this account of what has become everyday violence in Cairo. 

    Verse 99 in Quran is a fragment of a conversation between the prophet Yūsuf, not Allah, and his parents, and not all of mankind, in which he says: "Enter Egypt, if Allah wills, in safety." The verse, which many Egyptians read too much into, is often partly quoted on talk shows, usually near the end of an episode in which the host wants to leave the audience on a hopeful note, or in the middle of a monologue about the eventual failure of terrorists (meaning Islamists) to control it and thus make it unsafe to live in.

    That quote, which is closer to a causal "You'll be alright, God willing" than a divine promise of perpetual security and safety, the chronic lack of which Egyptians don’t need to be reminded of, is by far the most ironic sentence one can hear from a man, who just three hours ago was threatening to burn the face of an annoying stranger with acid.

    It all began when my sister, who operates under the belief that she is worth seven (very small)  men, “unavoidably grazed” a toktok and then told its driver to bugger off. He would not. Instead, he  demanded that she pull over, which she did, despite my offering to kiss the dust underneath her feet for her not to.

    To my great relief, what came out of the toktok was only a scrawny teen, who began wildly waving his arms at us, perhaps to make himself appear bigger or attempt flight. They exchanged a few words about blinkers and the need to use/notice (verb depends on whose side you take) them and then threw the should-be inoffensive and self-evident fact that both their mothers have had sexual intercourse at some point in their lives in each other’s faces.

    By then a crowd had quickly formed to separate the two, as I sat in the car, eyeing the gear stick, wondering if I could, very quietly, drive past them. Then someone remembered that it was Ramadan after all and that it was probably just their empty stomachs screaming. Moments later they were both being ushered back to their vehicles, red-faced and grumbling “May Allah bless him and give him peace” after someone in the crowd invoked the prophet Muhammed’s name. The altercation was over. Or so we thought.

    Shortly after we arrived at home, we were told that there was a disgruntled young man muttering in a toktok about a thuggish woman who walked into the building after she irreparably destroyed his toktok. The man swore he was going to kill, or at least maim, the said woman, and had already called a group of friends and family to join him in doing so.

    Prior experience said not to call the police, because, in all likelihood, they would just call back in a few hours later to ask why you called them again and if there was any blood yet (if you answer no to that question, you may be charged with false reporting of a crime for wasting the authorities’ time. All four minutes of it. And if you answer yes, they will ask you to call back when it’s over. They will swing by later to collect the bodies and scribble down a report - their general indifference made worse by the closeness to Ezbet El-Nakhl and El-Marg, areas they would sooner nuke than enter). So instead of the police, we called the mechanic.

    Ahmed, the mechanic, may not be the bulkiest of men. But what he lacks in muscles, he more than makes up for with a generally unhealthy, but, in light of the circumstances, suddenly commendable obsession with vigilantism. An obsession he developed after he lost a brother in a street fight over a car tire that was tragically blown out of proportion. The fight, not the tire.

    Without introduction, the two groups, Ahmed and his friends, and the toktok driver and his friends,  began cursing each other out, brandishing their pistols, sticks and the likes. As if on cue, the unarmed ones (by unarmed I mean lacking a gun) scattered around after each other, while the armed ones exchanged aimless birdshots. The unarmed ones then clashed, broke apart, ran after each other, and then clashed again. Some were trying to suffocate and kick each other at the same time. Their physical proximity made the latter impossible, but they kept trying nonetheless, giving the impression that they were trying to climb, rather than kill, each other.

    About an hour later, four of the toktok driver’s relatively uninjured friends remembered they had other pressing commitments and left to tend to them. Once outnumbered, Hamada opted for dialogue.

    It didn’t take much after that to persuade  Hamada to accept the removal of the dent for free in exchange for never showing his face within the perimeter again. During that process, in an effort to show goodwill, Hamada told Ahmed that my sister’s face was safe. “I wasn’t going to burn it, burn it, you know... I have sisters! I was just going hit and scare her a bit, you understand?” he explained in the end, before recalling the comforting fact that Egypt was mentioned in the Quran 5 times.

    It’s actually just four times. That must be why.

    It is worth noting that although these men had never met each other until that day and most of them didn't even know what they were fighting about, they were quite eager to seriously wound each other. In fact, after the fight came to a disappointingly peaceful (to some extent) end, they almost got into another fight trying to arrange a meetup and really “finish it” later. They exchanged phone numbers and settled on next Thursday night, if not Friday morning before the prayers. Another equally, if not more, fascinating fact is how normal all of this has become.


    Not in our name!

    Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists -- a small, influential and, in the Egyptian political scene today, remarkably coherent and clear-eyed group -- has issued a statement that explains why giving General Al-Sisi a "mandate" to "fight terrorism" is a bad, and illogical, idea. Egypt's April 6 movement -- the activist group that began youth protests against Mubarak -- has also come out against heeding Al-Sisi's call for mass demonstrations today. 

    Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed against the people and against the Copts in defence of its power in the name of religion, we do not give army chief Al-Sisi our authority. We will not go into the streets on Friday offering a blank cheque to commit massacres.
    If Al-Sisi has the legal means to do what he wants, why is he calling people into the streets? What he wants is a popular referendum on assuming the role of Caesar and the law will not deter him.