The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged #nov23
What Islamists want vs. what liberals want

Politics: Distinct camps find little common ground -

From the FT:

“In a public place, the greater public benefit is much more important than individual freedom,” says Gehad Haddad, a spokesman and strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood. “If a girl wearing a bikini is offensive to 100 people who are not, then the 100 have the say; she should not wear it on the public beach. At the same time, she can wear it on the private beach. She has the right. At the end of the day, there has to be a rule toward the public benefit. We all wear seat belts.”

1. No, in Egypt you certainly don't all wear seat belts.

2. This kind of argument and the fatuous examples chosen are really depressing. Same could be applied to the veil — "most want women to wear it so they have to respect it, they can always not wear at home". And this is from a smart guy who represents the elite of the MB. Soon enough this line of thinking can turn into "everyone believes prayer is a duty, so everyone has to do it, so shops have to close during prayer time and those who don't want to pray have to wait it out or prove they are not Muslim etc." This is exactly what Salafis have been trying to do in parts of Egypt.

Another good quote in the same piece, from the other side:

“It’s a polarisation between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamised Egypt,” says Lina Attalah, editor of the English-language Egypt Independent. “The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”

This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict the Islamists from doing what they want to do. But not vice-versa. That so many outsiders have a difficulty grasping this and are defending the Islamists in Egypt out of a bizarre sort of multiculturalism gone mad is deeply troubling (looking at you, Grauniad).

Baheyya on Morsi and his opponents

On Morsi's Opponents


She's back (also with this piece on Morsi) and this bit of vitriol for the NSF:

My point about the NSF isn’t that it’s infiltrated by feloul or that it’s an alliance of convenience. It’s that its notion of opposition is sophomoric at best and putschist at worst. The sight of politicians refusing to negotiate with an elected president but then agreeing to the military’s “we’re all family” shindig is beyond pitiful. How much more effective to have negotiated with Morsi a cancellation of his decree and a postponement of the referendum. If he refused the latter, the NSF could’ve called his bluff and walked out triumphant, revealing the MB’s bullying to the public while proving themselves to be responsible problem-solvers. Instead, by acting militant in a situation that required hard bargaining, the NSF is left to accept the fact of the referendum while saving face by grandstanding about conditions already in place.

She's right about this, of course, although I think the NSF has made some subtle improvements in its strategy even in the last few weeks. I agree with her profile of its leaders, too, although I'm always dumfounded by her admiration for the execrable Hamdeen Sabahi, particularly considering what we know about the financing of his presidential campaign and his former admiration for Muammar Qadhafi.

An analysis of the Egyptian crisis

The European Council on Foreign Relations | Navigating Egypt's political crisis

I put this out on Twitter a few days ago, but this is a long analysis of the current Egyptian crisis I wrote last week, which takes things to more or less where they are now. It's long, also with a quick take on the draft constitution.

I'm still traveling but will be back in Egypt tomorrow and hope to write more in transit.

Morsi, the MB and the deep state

Morsy past the point of no return: Part 2 | Egypt Independent

Interesting argument by Hesham Sallam — I'm still mulling it over:

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have characterized the clashes at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace as a manifestation of its conflict with the deep state and remnants of the Mubarak era. But in reality, the Brotherhood is not fighting against the alleged “deep state” and Mubarak remnants within the opposition and inside the courts, as it claims, but rather the deep state within the ranks of its sponsored government.

The Brotherhood’s decision to escalate its standoff with the opposition, and the seemingly irrational ferocity with which it has begun to antagonize its opponents must not be understood merely as an attempt to eliminate challengers. Equally important, the Muslim Brotherhood-initiated escalation is a strong message to the deep state that the Brotherhood-controlled presidency is fully capable of erecting a political arena in which its decisions and commitments are supreme. The Brotherhood and its sponsored political order, the message goes, is here to stay, and you would be better served to jump on this bandwagon and come to its defense before it is too late. Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to make this case convincingly remains to be seen.

Read part one here.

From Cairo to London to DC: Please, knock it off

This commentary was contributed by Dr H.A. Hellyer, non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and ISPU, who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer. Had I not been traveling in the last few days I might have written something very similar.

There are times that myths circulate so fast; it is hard to keep track of them. In the midst of an extraordinary amount of coverage on Egypt, I was asked for my evaluation of a particular piece, recently published in what I considered to be a respectable media outlet. As I wrote my assessment, I realised that I’d seen those same problems – the same narrative – time and time again in different places. Rather than keep my assessment private, I thought I would turn it into a plea to my colleagues and friends in the media and the think-tank/policy arena.

The plea reads: please knock it off when it comes to your Egypt coverage, and check your sources and facts before you publish in the interests of being ‘balanced’. Believe me: in the long run, you’ll be grateful you did. In the short-run, you probably will too: these Egyptian folks are not tameable, as a friend put it. When they’re misrepresented, except immediate and full retaliation with the full force of the Egyptian wit, sarcasm, and scorn. Trust me: you do not want to be on the other side of that.

Here are a few odd things I’ve noted recently in the Western press. Even my own British press, which I tend to, of course, view as head and shoulders above the rest – and haven’t you lot really let me down lately. You know you who are. Seriously, guys.

  • There seems to be a doubt that these protests were about President Morsi’s decree on the 22nd of November, as though they would have happened anyway. That’s an intriguing suggestion, considering that from the 30th of June 2012, to the 22nd of November 2012, there were virtually no protests against Mr Morsi. So, for 5 months, despite calls for protests from pro-Shafiq elements in August, one could not really find much in the way of street action in Egypt. Odd, that.
  • No matter. Mr Morsi is the ‘elected president of Egypt’ and as such should be able to expect two things: a) that he can give himself supra-legal powers, as stipulated in the decree and b) that we constantly remind ourselves and the world around that he is the ‘elected president of Egypt’. Well, of course, he is the elected president of Egypt – he won the elections in June 2012, in a race where I supported his victory, and I have no regrets over that decision today. Nevertheless, more than 48% of the votes (i.e., pretty much half) went to his opponent – and many who did vote for Mr Morsi, did so to keep his opponent out. That’s not generally referred to as a strong democratic mandate: it’s probably better described as a weak democratic band-aid. Mr Morsi should not have used that slim electoral victory as a sign that he could work outside of the system, as the military council had. My criticisms of that council’s handling of the transition are a matter of public record: but they did have popular support for their institution, as well as their road-map. Mr Morsi did not, and would have been well-advised to have built that support by encouraging consensus, at a critical time for Egypt’s transition, if he wanted to go outside the normal political and legal channels of Egypt’s institutions. Instead, much of his own cabinet (let alone outside of it) didn’t seem to know about his decree before it was delivered.
  • There’s the supposition that the opposition is a motley crew of liberal secularists, nationalists, youth groups, and holdovers from the Mubarak regime; while, of course, the president’s government (all good God-fearing folk) would never have anything to do with former Mubarak supporters. How intriguing, considering the MB has been working with Mubarak-era ‘remnants’ for months, in order to bolster its power within the state. Fancy that.
  • Even more intriguing, this narrative never seems to recognise that on the opposition side, there are (gasp) deeply religious Muslims (and Christians), and also Islamists like [Abdel Moneim] Aboul Futuh. How utterly nonsensical that might be, particularly in a country that is about 90–85% Muslim, and 15–10% Christian. Hey, does that mean the opposition is actually more demographically representative than the MB? (Don’t answer that one.)
    There is, however, a type of religious divide here – one that should be pointed out. One side believes it has a monopoly on what ‘Islam’ is, and what ‘enmity towards Islam’ is. For this side, there is no issue in declaring that ‘their’ dead are in heaven, and the dead of the opposition are in hell. The other side, however, has this odd notion that God alone knows who is in heaven and hell, and that while there are undoubtedly requirements for entering one place or the next, it’s somewhat dubious to consider party-political affiliation to be one of them. Most of them also happen to be Muslims, and so do not particularly appreciate being described as being ‘against Islam’ (very sensitive these folks are, you see).
  • Tragically, polarisation in this crisis has led to deaths. More repugnant than tragic, however, has been the attempt to describe all the dead as being members of the MB. The Christian doctor who was killed was, it should be assumed, not a particularly likely candidate for an Islamist party that is tacking further and further to the right. The journalist who was killed seemed to keep his affiliations very well hidden: his fiancée and several members of his family were under the distinct impression he opposed the MB. Seeking ‘victory’ even in death brings a new meaning to the word ‘low’.
  • The opposition leadership should have gone to the national dialogue. But it is somewhat easy to see why they did not feel particularly endeared to the invitation; after all, while they were being invited by one hand of the government, another hand was issuing calls from the prosecutor general’s office for them to be investigated for crimes. Moreover, it did not seem they were really needed: the presidency managed to find 54 ‘national’ and ‘legal’ figures to participate instead. Never mind that none of them were significant leaders of the opposition or protest movement – nor that the ‘representative’ of the national dialogue was, actually, a presidential advisor to Mr Morsi only a few days before. Yes, he must have had the opposition’s interests at heart.
  • The fact they did not go, incidentally, is not a sign that they are seeking to overthrow Mr Morsi, and do not recognise him as the legitimate president of this country. The leadership figures of the opposition have been very clear; they want Mr Morsi to stay and do his job, not be overthrown. I’m not sure how many times they need to say that, or perhaps they might want to repeat in several languages to be heard. 
- But back to this process: where the president’s supporters have indicated that a lack of ‘respect towards democracy’ is at the heart of the opposition’s motives, seeing as they rejected the referendum the president insisted go ahead. Because, of course, 15 days is more than enough for a population which is more than 30% illiterate, going through clashes where people have died, millions of people on the street in process over this constitution, to go through a document that is more than 200 articles and confusing for even the legalistically literate to understand… right. Very undemocratic of them to suggest it might be for the best of the country to reduce polarisation, rather than increase it. Naughty opposition.
  • But of course, they are naughty: because they should simply ‘trust’ the President. They should have ‘trusted’ the president, as his supporters suggested, when he gave himself freedom from judicial review – because, after all, he’s a good guy, and he needs to be given time. So, when he ‘commits’ himself to asking the new parliament to amend disputed clauses, the opposition should ‘trust’ him.
    Just as they should have trusted the president when he declared, after taking office, that he would not put the constitution to a referendum without national consensus. (Umm.)
    Just as they should have trusted him when he declared he would have a Christian vice-president – and a female vice president. (Still waiting on that one/two.)
    Just as they should have trusted him when he, and the rest of his movement, declared that the MB would not put forward a presidential candidate (they put forward two). Trust does not go a long way in politics at the best of times, it seems.
  • But that should not matter: because a majority of Egyptians, according to ‘opinion polls’ support the president, and have supported him throughout this latest crisis. I’m perhaps somewhat dubious about this one, considering that senior members of the Freedom and Justice party use Facebook polls to justify support levels…
- Perhaps the cherry on top of this really tasty cake is the idea that the opposition is generally made up of people who a) are in cahoots with foreign powers who seek to neuter a strong Egypt, in pursuit of an imperialist agenda in the Middle East and b) seek to marginalise, or exclude Islamists from the Egyptian public sphere.

When all else fails, it seems, it’s easy to rely on foreign conspiracies, and forget that the opposition counts among them staunch Egyptian patriots. As for the exclusion accusation – that’s kind of weird, considering much of the opposition fought for the MB when they were the ones in jail, and many of them aggressively supported Mr Morsi against Shafiq in the run-offs. They obviously got the wrong memo.

There is much to criticise the opposition on. I could probably write quite a few pieces on that subject myself – but misrepresenting them does not help anyone’s cause. On the contrary: Egypt, one would think, is big enough for all of them. As the Western media continues to cover this country, one would also think, they might ponder upon that – and report accordingly. Just might.

It really is the #referendumb

Concerns loom over referendum's legality | Egypt Independent

Nothing to see here, move along:

Hours before the referendum kicks off in Cairo, concerns are looming about the legality of the process. Unlike other referendums, it is taking place over two rounds staged a week apart, and there is also controversy surrounding the judicial oversight of the voting process.

Legal disagreements on conducting the referendum over two phases started after President Mohamed Morsy issued a law last Wednesday that allows the referendum to be held in multiple rounds of voting. Introduced at the request of the High Elections Commission (HEC), the law was intended to address the shortage of judges willing to participate in the process.

More on Morsi's tax u-turn

Mursi’s tax U-turn casts doubts over government's competence


A dramatic U-turn by Egypt’s embattled president Mohammed Mursi over a proposed tax hike has raised serious questions about the decision-making process within the government, casting doubts over the administration’s competence and ability to craft a coherent economic policy. It has also brought into question the fate of a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan Egypt is awaiting, set to be ratified by the fund’s board next week.

Experts derided both the government’s unilateral decision to raise taxes at a time of political crisis and the president’s swift retraction of the measures in the face of public uproar.

Some feared the president’s volte-face indicated a desire to pass the Islamist-penned constitution first and then subsequently institute a tax hike. Others said his quick retraction undermined his leadership and exposed a lack of political maturity.

Why the "MB militias" are not an exaggeration

Allies of Egypt’s Morsi Beat Protesters Outside Palace -

The NYT covers the extremely disturbing events of Wednesday night:

CAIRO — Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi captured, detained and beat dozens of his political opponents last week, holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him.

“It was torment for us,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat with a badly bruised face and rope marks on his wrists. He said he was among a group of about 50, including four minors, who were held on the pavement overnight. In front of cameras, “they accused me of being a traitor, or conspiring against the country, of being paid to carry weapons and set fires,” he said in an interview. “I thought I would die.”

. . .

It is impossible to know how much Mr. Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, knew about the Islamists’ vigilante justice. But human rights advocates say the detentions raised troubling questions about statements made by the president during his nationally televised address on Thursday. In it, Mr. Morsi appears to have cited confessions obtained by his Islamist supporters, the advocates said, when he promised that confessions under interrogation would show that protesters outside his palace acknowledged ties to his political opposition and had taken money to commit violence.

The most galling thing is this quote by MB spokesman Gehad Haddad: 

Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, defended the group’s decision to call on its members and other Islamist supporters of the president to defend the palace from a potential attack by the protesters. He said Mr. Morsi could not rely on the police force left over from Mr. Mubarak’s government. By keeping the protesters from trying to storm the palace walls, Mr. Haddad contended, the Brotherhood and the president’s supporters had prevented a bloodier conflict with the armed presidential guard. “We will protect the sovereignty of the state at any cost.”

Any cost, really? Unbelievable — especially since the protestors had been there for a while and not stormed the palace walls (not that even of they did it would justify the formation of vigilante militias — which incidentally is forbidden in the new constitution.) And Haddad and other senior MB people appear to have been at the front line.

David Ignatius asked the right question a few days ago:

How did Washington become the best friend of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, even as President Mohamed Morsi was asserting dictatorial powers and his followers were beating up secular liberals in the streets of Cairo? It’s a question many Arabs ask these days, and it deserves an answer.


There's going to be a press conference with more info on what happened:

Invitation to a Press conference

In their own words

Victims Recount What Really Happened Outside al-Ittihadiya

You are cordially invited to a press conference detailing in the words of victims, their families, and eyewitnesses what really happened on Wednesday 5 December outside al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, after supporters of President Morsi stormed a sit-in set up by protesters of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

They will present testimonies showing what they were subjected to: they will tell the stories of arrests, beating, torture, and sexual abuse; they will also tell the stories of those who lost their lives.

Footage from the clashes will also be shown.

Where: Press Syndicate, Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street, Down Town, Cairo

When: Wednesday 12 December 2012, 5-7.30 pm

Simultaneous interpretation from Arabic to English will be available.

The best thing you'll read today on Egypt

Egypt's Political Crisis - By Ellis Goldberg | The Middle East Channel

Forget the legalities, it's about process and symbolism, and Morsi has royally fucked up:

The answer no longer lies in a draft constitution that very few of the demonstrators, on either side, are likely to have read. Egyptians along with the citizens of a great many other places have learned what is on paper is only a part of the constitution. The other, most important, part lies in the institutions that give the constitutional language presence in everyday life. To some degree this means the habits and choices of low level officials and to some degree it means the courts. And the simple and sad reality for the Brotherhood is that a great many Egyptians distrust, dislike, or fear them and worry that, having come to control the legislature and central executive, they plan to take over the courts as well as staff many of the lower levels of the government.

President Morsi has been unable to allay this distrust, fear, and dislike and over the last week he and his allies have, through words and actions, intensified it. This may be unfair and its results may be tragic, but it remains a profoundly political issue with which he and any Egyptian politicians who aspire to lead the country will ultimately have to deal.

Morsi and his advisors also seem to believe that they can use any stratagem, as long as it remains formally valid, to accomplish their substantive ends. In this they are, regrettably, all too like Egyptian governments of the last 60 years. One of Morsi's advisors admitted that, having been unable to remove former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud by ordinary means, Morsi simply changed the constitution to make it feasible (this was supposed to be one of the sections of the declaration that rendered it palatable to the public). Equally remarkably, the MB members of the Constituent Assembly even overrode the advice of the assembly chair and ally, Hosam al-Gheriani, to deny former leaders of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party political rights for a decade and to grant members of the government's prosecutorial staff judicial immunity. Al-Gheriani was reduced to leaving the dais of the assembly in protest against these provisions. He described the one as political vengeance and the other as an assault on the rights of citizens.

There are probably very few sections of Egyptian society that the Brotherhood and its allies in the Salafi movements have not antagonized.

The other important thing is that the anti-Morsi sentiment out there is not directed by the opposition leaders who are appearing on TV. It's a popular movement of anger by people who feel they were slapped in the face — twice — by the Morsi administration rushed, unthinking actions and the discourse of their supporters. 

Goldberg also has some fine words about Obama policy on this.


Why Morsi's mess will have a long legacy

Egypt's Constitution Conundrum | Foreign Affairs

The bottom line from Nathan Brown's latest on the draft constitution:

It makes little sense to read such provisions in the abstract: mechanisms of accountability work quite differently depending on who is in government. And here there is cause for worry. As long as Islamists keep winning parliamentary and presidential elections, there will likely be no push to rein in the presidency. But if the two authorities fall into competing hands, the new constitution could produce gridlock rather than real oversight.

For too long, observers have analyzed the prospects for democracy in Egypt by speculating about the intentions of important politicians and movements. Now almost everyone in the country claims to be a democrat, even if they all have very tarnished credentials. But the viability of Egyptian democracy depends not on real or claimed intentions but on healthy processes, accepted rules, and well-designed structures. And that should give us little reassurance.

Of course a constitution produced in a rushed process that created extreme polarization and a sense of injury among large elements of society is not going to result in that.

FT: Morsi’s betrayal

Morsi’s betrayal -

This strongly-worded FT editorial is a good antidote for that terrible Guardian one (and I know whose paper's take I trust on most things, generally speaking — and I've contributed to both!):

As the democratically elected president of Egypt – by a thin majority – Mr Morsi is obliged to govern for all Egyptians, not take dictation from the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood. He should scrap the referendum, and sit down for talks without preconditions with the opposition National Salvation Front, an alliance of some two dozen groups headed by Mohammed ElBaradei, the liberal Nobel laureate.

The temptation will be to press ahead, reliant on the tacit backing of the army, whose enormous privileges the new charter jealously protects. But the imperative need is for a constitution that commands much more consensus, for Egyptians to feel they have a future they do not have to keep fighting for in the streets.

What the National Salvation Front wants

Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum | Reuters

I think it's important to clarify the stance of the National Salvation Front because it is often ambiguously reported. First what they said:

(Reuters) - Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation".

Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

"We are against this process from start to finish," Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

But there has been some doubt whether this is a call for boycott or not. In fact, a vote was held by the NSF in which they had three options: campaign for "no" in the referendum, boycott, or continue to push for the referendum to be postponed. They chose the third option, and I am told the boycott option got the least votes. They will push for this with more protests.

I can understand there is concern with legitimizing what has become an illegitimate process, but I expect campaigning for no will be the only recourse left if protests, strikes, legal maneuvers and getting the backing of judges and other constituencies involved in the referendum's administration does not work. A postponement of the referendum (not a cancellation) is what makes the most sense here, and if Morsi was not stubbornly stuck on an insane process he started he could do that easily without losing face.  

And the New York Times gets it wrong again here in a story titled "Opponents of Egypt’s Leader Call for Boycott of Charter Vote".

Morsi isolates himself

As Egypt’s Crisis Deepens, Morsi Turns to Muslim Brotherhood -

As tens of thousands chanted for his downfall or even imprisonment in a fourth day of protests outside the presidential palace, Mr. Morsi’s advisers and Brotherhood leaders acknowledged Friday that outside his core base of Islamist supporters he feels increasingly isolated in the political arena and even within his own government. The Brotherhood “is who he can depend on,” said one person close to Mr. Morsi, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Morsi appears to believe that he and the Brotherhood can deliver a strong vote for the draft constitution in next Saturday’s referendum — strong enough to discredit the opposition, allow him a fresh start and restore some of his authority.

And this:

“He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to become a human shield and protect the presidency because he can’t trust the state,” said the Brotherhood leader. “He is isolated.”

Some leaders might have concluded that this is because they simply don't have a broad mandate to do what they would like to do. Morsi  overreached by implementing a decree that resulted in a much stronger pushback than he expected, and then compounded his mistake and doubled down on rushing the constitution. He has pushed himself increasingly to rely solely on Islamists, and if this referendum takes places he will have only them to rely on for the rest of his administration. Moreover, he and his party last Wednesday incited people to go out into the street and "defend the presidency" — an unjustifiable action with predictable consequences (and an unnecessary one, after all he has the Republican Guards even if interior ministry forces are not to be trusted). Muslim Brothers went out there and held (and allegedly tortured) protestors for 12 hours, on presidency grounds, to extract confessions of a conspiracy. Morsi referred to these as "evidence" of a conspiracy in his speech the following day, but his own public prosecutor released these people. I am struck that this has been missing from much of the coverage of the situation in US media.

Morsi has pushed himself to rely on Islamists and appears to be accepting their resorting to violence on the grounds that violence has been used against the MB. On this trajectory, one can easily see him rely on such "muscle" for the foreseeable future because these protests will not stop once the referendum is held.

Two takes on why Morsi did what he did

Tarek Masoud, writing for CNN (not his headline, btw), argues an Egyptian tradition of a  strong executive is what counts:

But, as shocking as Morsy's actions are, they do not prove that Islamists cannot be democrats. Morsy's decision to grant himself unquestioned authority was not the final, spectacularly public phase in some hitherto clandestine Muslim Brotherhood plan to erect a holy autocracy. Instead, the Egyptian president simply did what Egyptian presidents have been doing for more than 60 years — that is, loosening institutional restraints on their authority in order to more easily fulfill their agendas.

That Morsy is an Islamist is largely irrelevant. It's likely that the autocratic temptation would have seized Egypt's president regardless of his party or ideological orientation. This is not only because Egypt has had a distressingly long history of powerful executives, it's also because, at this moment in Egypt's political history, there is no actor, institution or organization able to keep the presidency in check.

Steve Cook, writing in Foreign Affairs, says it's an attitude to governance shared by the MB and the Free Officers:

The Brothers, like the Free Officers who came to power in 1952 and produced Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak, are what the Yale anthropologist James Scott calls "high modernists." High modernism, which places a premium on scientific knowledge and elites with special skills, is inherently authoritarian. It might seem a strange designation for the Brotherhood, since most observers think of it as a religious movement. But in reality, the group has used religion to advance a political agenda. To suggest that the organization's leaders are dilettantes when it comes to Islam would be an overstatement, but the majority of them are first and foremost doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers. They think of themselves as a vanguard that is uniquely qualified to rebuild Egypt and realize its seemingly endless quest for modernization. Moreover, they believe that the people entrusted them with the responsibility to do so as a result of free and fair elections in late 2011 and 2012.

With the Brotherhood in control of the now-dissolved People's Assembly, Shura Council, Constituent Assembly, and the presidency, this vanguard thought it could choose a path for Egypt within the councils of its own organization. There was no need for consensus or negotiation, hence Morsi's August 12 decision to decapitate the national security establishment and his subsequent efforts to place sympathizers in influential positions within the state-controlled media. In a television interview broadcast on November 29, he even called his recent decree an effort to "fulfill the demands of the public and the revolution." There is, he implied, no reason to question his decisions, which were in the best interest of Egypt.

I must say I lean towards Cook's "high modernist" interpretation because this is how the MB has behaved since the revolution: it's excited to be in a position to implement its project, makes a big fuss about its Renaissance Project, and sees others as saboteurs of that perfect plan. But where I disagree is with the decapitation of the SCAF: the SCAF decapitated itself and enabled Morsi — who had no power to do any of this without the consent, tacit or explicit, of the military.