The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged morsi
The Farce Behind Morsi’s Death Sentence - The New Yorker

Jon Lee Anderson:

As its leaders present and former grapple with their legacies, Egypt, no longer a regional leader of any sort, is mired in a miasma of self-made miseries, a nation best known for its corruption, poverty, and the absence of the rule of law. The 2011 “revolution” that seemed to have pulled it briefly from its steadfast implosion seems not only to have come and gone but to have been a mirage.

Tragically, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is likely to be remembered as a place where hopes were raised for democratic change, only to have those hopes dashed by the country’s perennial powers-that-be. The decision by Egypt’s judiciary to kill Morsi is not only a crudely cartoonish attempt at the implementation of justice; it defies even the kind of canny political logic that one might expect from a military élite like Egypt’s. If Egypt’s generals thought that brutality would buy them control, they didn’t get it. In the Sinai, ISIS now runs amok, seizing police posts and massacring captives. As for the heroes of the country’s Arab Spring, so vaunted by the West during that fateful spring of 2011, most have left the country, been killed, or are themselves in prison. The farcical show trials, in which Morsi and other former senior officials are exhibited in courtrooms in cages, covered with soundproofed glass so that they cannot be heard shouting, must be seen for what they are, alongside a myriad of arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of journalists.

"Frank discussions"

These State Dept. press briefings on Egypt regularly have some telling exchanges (I bet the journalist here is AP's Matt Lee.) On the sentencing to death of former President Morsi:

QUESTION: I have a question on Egypt --


QUESTION: -- and whether or not you have any reaction to the sentence handed down to Mohamed Morsy and whether the U.S. has shared any of those thoughts or concerns with Egyptian officials.

MR RATHKE: Yes. We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former President Morsy. We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences which are conducted in a manner that’s inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations and which are frequently used against members of the opposition and nonviolent activists. This practice, which in this instance was directed against, among others, a former elected president, is unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.

QUESTION: And did you – I mean, has this message been sent to Egyptian authorities somehow?

MR RATHKE: Well, we continue to have frank discussions with the Government of Egypt about our human rights concerns, including this. I don’t have a detailed readout to share, but this is certainly a topic that we continue to have conversations about.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think similar statement was told on Sunday morning by an unnamed State Department official, and shortly after the readout Egyptian court hanged six people. One of them was high school student, which is described by the Amnesty International as grossly unfair. So it’s clear that U.S. – or Egyptian authorities does not really care about U.S. concern or other countries’ condemnation, and I’m wondering if U.S. is planning any other measures regarding the human right abuses in Egypt.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I don’t have steps to preview, but we continue to stress the need for – with our Egyptian counterparts, we stress both publicly and privately the need for due process and for individualized judicial processes for all in the interest – in the interest of justice. We think the right to due process is critical to the stability and the prosperity that Egypt seeks. And so we certainly continue to make that point to our Egyptian colleagues.

QUESTION: The court’s final decision will be on June 2nd, I guess. And any U.S. official present or Secretary planning to call any counterpart in Egypt?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have – I don’t have calls to preview, but we do – we do note that this is a preliminary sentence that was handed down over the weekend. And as I said, we continue to have frank conversations with our counterparts.


QUESTION: Since this is a preliminary sentence, which was going to be my next question, what’s the threat to Egypt if they actually go forward, confirm this sentence, and then hang or otherwise kill the former president?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about that. We have made our views and we continue to make our views clear to the Egyptian Government. We believe that all Egyptians, regardless of their political affiliation, are entitled to equal and fair treatment before the law. That includes full respect for their rights to due process, and we remain opposed to politicized arrests and detentions.

QUESTION: So you can’t spell out any possible repercussion to Egypt if they --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to spell out in advance ---

QUESTION: -- if they flagrantly ignore what you just said and do what you just said was so unjust – in your words?

MR RATHKE: Well, what I also said is we continue to have frank, private discussions with the Government of Egypt. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- that’s not a punishment. Frank discussions is sometimes even a reward for countries that have problems as well with you. So I mean, is that it? If you do this, we’ll have frank discussions?

Another ex-president on trial

Mohammed Morsi stood trial today in the same venue where Hosni Mubarak did in 2011. As I note here, there were other similarities between the cases: a heavy police presence; angry supporters outside who let off some steam journalist-beating and rock-throwing; lawyers who nearly came to blows; and journalists who very professionally called for the death penalty for the defendants.   

The defendants themselves reportedly (the trial is not being televised) chanted against the military and told journalists they have been tortured and denied access to family and lawyers. Morsi refused to wear prison whites and insisted he is still president. The judge suspended the session a couple times because of the disorder; the next court date is January 8.  

Morsi and 14 others are on trial for inciting violence that led to the death of 7 people last December, during protests against him. Incitement is a hard charge to prove. They couldn't manage to hold Hosny Mubarak responsible for anything more than failing to prevent the killing of over 800 demonstrators (who did the killing was never addressed). But I better not get started on transitional justice in Egypt or rather the scandalous lack thereof. 

Karl reMarks answers commonly asked questions about the trial: 

What charges does Morsi face?
‘Being in office while elected’, which is a severe offense against Egyptian laws and conventions. As this is not actually a criminal offence, the prosecution team has helpfully come with a professionally-typed list of trumped-up charges. 
What is the maximum penalty Morsi faces? 
This depends on the imagination of the judges. The Egyptian judicial system likes to encourage creativity and innovation. The military junta will also have a say, although this will be relayed to the judges in secret because the military are shy and withdrawing. 



Under Morsi, Red Lines Gone Gray

Jonathan Guyer, in Jadaliyya, looks at political cartooning under Mubarak, Morsi and the military. His very interesting article (based on a year's worth of Fulbright research) confirms my sense that there was more freedom of expression under Morsi than before or after -- not because the Brother's weren't authoritarian, but because they weren't able to impose their control. All those cases brought against journalists and others for insulting the presidency were also the result of the fact that the presidency was getting mocked and criticized as never before. 

The most significant change in Egyptian caricature since 2011 is the implicit permissibility of satirizing the president. Nevertheless, during President Mohamed Morsi’s year in office, the same penal code article maintained that “whoever insults the president… shall be imprisoned.” Yet, according to Judge Yussef Auf, it does not clearly stipulate what insulting the president means or what the precise penalty should be.[3] Additionally, nearly seventy other articles limit freedom of expression. These range from prohibitions against “insults” to the parliament, army, courts, and other public authorities, to injunctions against the reporting of false news. Nonetheless, mocking these institutions became a core part of cartooning even in government-run newspapers, in spite of—or because of—these regulations.  


A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

Even taking into account lackluster performance, one of the features of political life in the past year has been a relentless media machine demonizing and delegitimizing the Morsi administration far beyond its self-inflicted damage. Anyone watching CBC, ONTV, al-Qahira wal-Nas and other satellite stations, or reading hysterical newspapers like al-Destour, al-Watan or al-Tahrir (and increasingly al-Masri al-Youm) has been fed a steady diet of anti-Morsi propaganda and agitprop. Some attacks he deserved, but follow even a respected journalist like Ibrahim Eissa (once a leading opponent of Hosni Mubarak) and the discourse about Morsi was out of control. In the video below, Eissa not only attacks Morsi, but the entire transition process of the last two years.


And indeed, the attacks on Morsi have led — perhaps necessitated — an attack on the the events that led to his becoming president. The presidential election once accepted by many as fair — or fair enough — is now routinely in doubt. This has been the work of not only rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq's claims (now being considered by the courts) that mass fraud took place with a Brotherhood cell at the National Printing House printing pre-filled ballots, but also increased media speculation about Morsi's victory being the result of a negotiation between the MB and SCAF head Tantawy. There has been no need to prove any of this, just repeat ad nauseum a narrative that has some plausibility (after all there were MB-army deals) and its into the emergent sentiment of buyers' remorse many reluctant Morsi voters feel. There is now routine doubt expressed about that election — which was objectively flawed enough and so badly prepared that there it is easy sow doubt. (As readers of the blog will know, I have considered the entire transition process and its elections in particular a disgrace for how badly they were planned for and advocated their postponement.)

Or, as another example, look at the recent anti-MB campaign that has sought to paint them as aided by Hamas during the anti-Mubarak uprising and that accuses them of having used hired hands (Hamas or otherwise) to break out MB leaders, including Morsi, out of prison? Despite the fact that they were imprisoned unfairly, without charges? Such narratives flooded much of the independent media, with the presidency and the MB being able to little about it. And much of it came from TV talk show hosts such as Lamiss al-Hadidi and Amr El-Dib who were close Mubarak media collaborators (the former was his 2005 campaign spokesperson, for instance). When Morsi mentioned in his speech the hands of the former regime in the media, in other words, he was quite right. But he proved unable to do much about it — particularly as he alienated all of his possible defenders outside of Islamist circles. 

This campaign of delegitimization is one reason June 30 is able to happen. And I suspect this abuse of media (with all of the questions it raises about the limits of media freedom) will leave the Egyptian media scene with problems (starting with credibility and professionalism) for years to come.  

Update: I should add that according to press reports, the owners of several private satellite stations have just been excluded from Media Production City (the state production facility that regulates satellite media and provides the linkup to Egypt's NileSat satellites) and that media mogul Mohamed al-Amin (owner of CBC and al-Watan newspaper) is being investigated for tax fraud, while the entire family of Dream owner and media mogul Ahmed Bahgat is reported to have fled the country. 

Morsi regrets constitutional declaration - kinda

From the Guardian's interview with Mohamed Morsi:  

In a rare moment of contrition, Morsi admitted for the first time in the English-language media that he regretted using unilateral powers to force through Egypt's controversial new constitution – a move that the opposition saw as dictatorial. This was the pivotal moment of his first year, sowing the seeds for widespread dissent against his administration.

"It contributed to some kind of misconception in society," Morsi said, distancing himself from one of the most divisive clauses in the new Islamist-slanted constitution, which allows for greater religious input into Egyptian legislation. "It's not me who changed this article. I didn't interfere in this constitutional committee's work. Absolutely not."

The president added that once MPs were finally elected to Egypt's currently empty lower house of parliamentary, he would personally submit constitutional amendments for debate in the house's very first session.

But Morsi's contrition only went so far. Amid opposition claims that the failure to achieve consensus had led to Egypt's current polarisation, Morsi blamed the refusal of secular politicians to participate in the political process for the impasse. He denied that his government was unduly loaded with Islamists. He went on to list numerous offers he claimed he had made to bring non-Islamists on board, while simultaneously defending the right of a popularly-elected president to promote his allies. "This is the concept of real democracy," he said.

Wael Ghonim asks Morsi to step down

And the build-up to anti-Morsi protests in Egypt on June 30th continues... Here is a video message by world-famous activist Wael Ghonim, taking the Islamist president to task for allegedly breaking the promises he made a year ago. Translated transcript by Nour. 

In the name of God, the Merciful. Allah Almighty said: “And fulfill (every) covenant. Verily! The covenant will be questioned about.”
Last year during the runoff presidential elections, the then-presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi emerged with a number of pledges to the Egyptian people to win their votes. These promises did, in fact, make a difference for him  -- as evidenced by him winning the elections by a very small margin, thanks to many people, a great many of whom are now considered agents of the West and haters of religion. 
Three days after the elections, just like today, I attended the Fairmont (hotel) meeting with the president before the official result was announced, when the Muslim Brothers were afraid of forgery, and so decided to confirm their commitments to their promises. That day, the president promised us to be a president for all Egyptians, he promised to honor his campaign slogan: "Our strength, in our unity.”  But, unfortunately, a year later the slogan is now “Our strength, in our Brotherhood.” The president, that day, promised us to respect the opposition and shared decision-making, but (now) we find that we have replaced a ruling party that considered whoever opposes it to be a traitor and an agent with another ruling party that considers whoever opposes it to be a traitor, an agent and a hater of religion. The president at the Fairmont meeting promised retribution for (the killers) of those who died in the revolution, but what we have seen is that people are still dying under his rule. The youth that took to Tahrir Sq. to chant the day (Morsi) won -- their mothers are now crying with sadness, (grieving) their (youth’s) martyrdom when they took to (the streets) to oppose him. 
The president, that day, promised to rely on those who are competent, but today he is working on the theory of “those who can be trusted.” And his appointment of ministers and governors, some of whom have nothing but the fact that they are members of the MB or are supporters of them to justify their appointment as a minister or a governor, serves as the best proof of that. 
His [President Morsi’s] Brotherhood is now threatening to pass the judicial authority law to terrorize the judges, and not to reform the judiciary. And sentences like “If I don’t respect the constitution, I want you to revolt against me,” or “This constitution will not be ratified without a consensus,” where just nice lines that resulted in him winning the elections, but, unfortunately, they were forgotten when he came to power. 
During this year, we saw an unconstitutional declaration that divided Egyptians, one that (caused) a group of presidential advisers to resign. Even his legal adviser said he didn’t have any prior knowledge of it, even the minister of justice and the vice president announced their opposition of it. Who is making these decisions? 
As a result of all of this, we are now in a political crisis, which caused an economic crisis. It is true that the current regime inherited the (latter) from the former regime, but its bad policies have contributed to worsening the crisis, rather than solving it. Crises like price hikes, the depreciation of the (Egyptian) pound against the US dollar and the evaporation of the 100-days promises after a year has passed, and not just a 100 days, and the poor economic conditions, have brought us to a point where the supporters of the president now consider the news of Egypt borrowing from another country good news, despite the fact that the price of the loans will be paid by our children and our grandchildren. 
Instead of admitting (their) mistakes, we find conspiracy theories to excuse failures and talk about imaginary achievements. And what’s more dangerous and catastrophic than all of that is the (state of) division we’ve reached. The exclusionary, hateful and inciting speeches, the legitimizing violence and blood, and the fighting between supporters and opponents, like what happened in Eitihadia, Mokattam and many of Egypt’s governorates -- These things have becomes a dangerous phenomenon in society, because no country advances when the society is divided like this. And the main role of the president of the republic is to unite, but, unfortunately, Dr. Morsi, the president of the republic, has miserably failed to do this. I was hoping that after a year from the election of Dr. Morsi, I would be thanking him for what he did for Egypt, but, unfortunately, the Egyptian scene right now has become very dangerous and all the parties are motivated against each other, and anyone who loves this country must be worried about what is happening, because in the current conflict, regardless of its future victor, Egypt will lose. And that is why it is important that the president of the republic sets an example as a patriotic, loyal, Egyptian, who is keen on the homeland’s interest being bigger than his own personal interest, or that of his group.
Today, I direct my call to the president of the republic: Dr. Morsi, every vote that elected you believing that “Our strength, in our unity” was not a slogan, but what was to be an on-the-ground reality, you have lost today. Every vote that elected you thinking you would be a president for all Egyptians, not just your people, clan and supporters, you have lost today. Every vote that elected you believing that you would honor your electoral promises, you have lost today. Dr. Morsi, Egypt is bigger than any current, any group and any party, and you yourself announced, the day you assumed the presidency, that we are not obliged to obey you unless you fulfill your pledges, and that you won’t betray Allah(‘s teachings) when it comes to us. Dr. Morsi, put an end to the strife we’re on the brink of, for God and for the homeland, and announce your resignation before June 30.  


Rebels without a pause

I just wrote something for the NYTimes' Latitude blog about the Tamarrud ("Rebel") campaign -- a petition calling for early presidential elections, which according to the youth groups behind it has gained 3 million signatures.

In my piece I noted that the petition has no legal power to end Morsi's term. I consider it part of the ongoing tug of war between revolutionary and conventional politics, and evidence of how dissatisfying and alienating the political process of the last 2 years as been for so many. I did note how extraordinary it is that "Egyptians today can organize a street campaign to dismiss the president — a president they freely elected last year."

I may have spoken too soon, however. This morning there are reports that Rebel campaigners were shot at in Beni Suef (several others have already been detained and attacked) and that Morsi's prosecutor general has opened an investigation into whether the organizers are  "inciting and mobilising people to overthrow an elected government, inciting hatred against the regime, and promoting a group suspected of violating the law." 

Prison break

One of the many annoying things about following Egyptian politics these days is the sheer amount of disinformation and ridiculous stories out there. The compounded result of the state of the Egyptian media these days is to create a daze in which nothing appears true, and everything appears suspicious. It's psychological warfare based on information overdose, designed to soften minds and heighten the general sense of hysteria. Nour The Intern, whom I frequently reproach for spending way too much time reading sensational stories, has dug up this implausible gem below from al-Watan newspaper — to be read in the context of allegations that Hamas broke Mohammed Morsi and other senior MBs out of jail during the uprising against Mubarak. This is her summary.

Testimony of truck driver, Ayoub Othman, who supposedly saw Morsi and friends escape from prison. 

He was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar on Jan 28, when he got a flat tire and had to spend the night by the truck waiting for his aid, who left to fix the tire, to come back. He was right by the Natrun Prison. On Jan 29, around 3:30 am, he saw four microbuses with their number plates partly covered with duct tape. Two of them stopped behind him and two before him. No one came out of them and he started to worry. A while later, 27 other microbuses without number plates showed up.

Four armed men came out of one the microbuses, they spoke with a Palestinian accent. They asked him to get out of the way, he said he couldn't. Suddenly four microbuses took off and the armed men told him to follow them back to a microbus to get a phone. That's when he saw [Wasat Party politician/former MB] Essam Sultan come out of one the microbuses, holding a black phone with an aerial coming out of it and it flashed a green light. He was followed by [pro-MB preacher] Safwat Hegazy and [current head of Shura Council and MB] Ahmed Fahmy. Inside the car, he saw the Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie. 

Then he heard gunshots, which lasted for 20 minutes. Then he saw [top MB figures] Morsi, Katatni, el-Erian and others run out of prison. When Morsi got into the microbus, he kissed Badie on the forehead, praised the "Brothers 95" (MB's alleged military branch) and changed into a suit like the others. 

The man then sent telegraphs to the then-Field Marshal, Tantawi, telling him that he has information about the MB prison escape, asking him to reply if he loved Egypt, but he was ignored. Finally, a month and a half later he received a letter telling him to go to the Citizen Services and Complaints Office in Cairo, during working hours, to meet the head of the office to see about his request. He went there and demanded to meet Tantawi. A colonel told him to write whatever he has to say to Tantawi in a letter and send it to him. He got angry, yelled at the colonel and left.

A year later, during the presidential elections, Othman went to the General Intelligence where he met General Hisham el-Eissawy, who wrote down his testimony. Three days later, he was asked to come back and to use a different door than the one he used the first time he went there. Once there, his phone and ID were taken. A new officer reviewed his statement him in a room. This was recorded. Near the end, the officer asked him if he has the papers to prove that he was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar at the time. Othman said he will have to go look for it. The officer said he will call him in two hours.

Two hours later the officer called to ask if Othman had the papers ready. "Not yet," he said and then all lines of communication were lost and Morsi became president.

On Egypt's cabinet shuffle

There has been plenty of commentary on Egypt's recent cabinet shuffle around, as well as profiles of the incoming ministers. Much of the takeaway on this shuffle is that it represents a modest expansion for the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in the cabinet, and a refusal by the Brothers to reach out to the opposition by including some more neutral figures. While this analysis is correct, I think it misses the broader point of this cabinet shuffle.

When word of an impending cabinet shuffle started spreading a few months ago, it was in the context of the fallout of the crisis over the November 22 2012 constitutional decree (aka "Morsi's power grab" for the opposition) and of the IMF's clear messaging that a) the current cabinet's proposed reforms fell far short of IMF requirements for a loan package and b) more political consensus on these reforms would be required. Along with the evolution of the positions/demands of the National Salvation Front (increasingly centered on setting the right stage for upcoming elections by reviewing the electoral law and ensuring that ministries that have the potential of influential elections are not in the hands of partisans) and the political diplomacy of the Nour Party to resolve the crisis, the outline of a solution was proposed that would involve a compromise pathway to new elections, after which an entirely new cabinet would be formed and a full parliament would have full legitimacy to pass legislation. By that point, elections held before Ramadan were a possibility — but this has not been the case for a few weeks. 

It may be debatable whether such a compromise was reachable. But the more interesting point is why it did not happen, and why the shuffle's initial scope — a big shake-up of government that would  address both economic mismanagement and the political crisis — has been considerably downsized. In my view, it is chiefly the result of the FJP/MB's lobbying with the presidency, and the compromise is between these two camps more than with anyone outside. FJP leaders have made it clear that they resented Morsi's attachment to PM Hisham Qandil and would have liked to see him go. Instead they received a few extra positions, as well as a modest seat (Minister of State for Antiquities) for a member of the Wasat Party, which has faithfully rallied to the FJP since the political crisis began (clearly in the hope of benefiting through future electoral deals and ministerial appointments that Wasat would not get on its own). The FJP is working according to a party logic, where members want to maximize their personal power, that correlates with the MB's wider logic of placing its faithful in positions of influence. This appears to trump what one might assume to be the presidency's need to calm the political crisis.

One result of this cabinet shuffle is that it will become markedly more difficult for anyone to accept the FJP/MB's improbable claim that the government did not represent it and that it is effectively still in opposition. (Indeed, the MB's claim that even this latest cabinet only has 1/3 MB/FJP members is rather moot, Egyptian cabinets have long contained "technocrats" with no partisan affiliation.) The FJP/MB's claim for a presence in the cabinet stems from its electoral success, and it can argue that it still has less of its own in the cabinet than its 45% share of the dissolved lower house of parliament might entitle it to. And, in any case, if the cabinet were supposed to be representative of the political balance, one might ask where are the Salafi cabinet members (some 25% of the dissolve lower house of parliament) and the non-Islamists (another 25% or so). The reality is that the composition of the cabinet remains, as under Mubarak, a presidential prerogative. Morsi and the FJP/MB increasingly "own" this cabinet, and thus its handling of the country in the time remaining to elections. 

It can certainly argued that this is a mistake in light of Egypt's economic deterioration. But there are good reasons for increased FJP/MB control of ministries, and not just those advocated by their supporters, i.e. that these institutions must be purged of ancien regime supporters. The main reason other than the one I highlighted above — that there is intense competition for these posts inside the FJP — is the one provided by the opposition: that control of some of these ministries (information, supply, local administration, interior) will be electorally useful. (This is the same reason that Ennahda has negotiated hard to keep an influence, even indirect, on the ministry of interior in Tunisia.) The name of the game remains "capture the castle".

Beyond that, the identity of the new ministers is secondary, even if there are some interesting additions. Perhaps the most important is Hatem Bagato, a senior judge and legal expert who as minister of parliamentary affairs should be in a position to solve the Shura Council's (currently the only legislative authority, with contested legitimacy since it has full legislative powers despite not being elected to have them and with only an 11% turnout) chronic inability to pass laws that will not easily be countered by a finicky judiciary. His judicial colleague Ahmed Soliman, a judge who support's the FJP's proposed (and widely contested) judicial reform measures, also makes sense as a signal that they are not going to back down on this. (See Nathan Brown and Mokhtar Awad's profiles of these two.) The ministries of agriculture and culture are going to a Brother and a fellow traveler — most probably because these are electorally useful, in reaching out to the rural population and fighting the culture wars that are the Islamists' go-to wedge issues. The appointment of a new finance minister only a few months after a new one had been appointed — and that they are both little-known "Sharianomics" experts — highlights the rather worrying lack of high-caliber candidates the MB has access to in the economic realm, as does the appointment of a refreshingly young but clearly under-qualified former presidential campaign spokesman as minister of investment. The respected and very polished Amr Darrag, a professor of engineering and FJP foreign policy committee head, is a more reassuring appointment as minister of planning and international cooperation — on the latter especially his PR skills should be handy.

In short, this is a shuffle to tackle short-term issues facing the government rather than one that changes its direction. There are skirmishes to fight on the way to the big battle of the next elections, and dealing with the opposition (ranging from Salafi to secular, since they are all against this shuffle) will be left until after the elections, suggesting confidence that the FJP and its allies will dominate in the elections.

In Translation: How the Constitutional Declaration came to be

Much of the mayhem currently taking place in Egypt is a direct result of the Constitutional Declaration President Mohammed Morsi announced on 22 November 2012 and the political upheaval it caused. There has been much speculation as to why the declaration was made when it was (just after the end of the Gaza crisis), who had planned it and who was out of the loop and what its purpose was. Mohamed Basal, a reporter for al-Shorouk newspaper, has the inside story of how the Declaration came to be, shedding some light on some of these questions. We bring it to you in English thanks to the upstanding folks at Industry Arabic who make our In Translation series possible.

Basal's article is meticulously — though anonymously — sourced and provides a plausible narrative of how the Constitutional Declaration came to be. Some key points:

  • It was largely drafted by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, in consultation with Brotherhood leaders, but only with late input from presidential advisors.
  • Key judicial figures were only consulted late and opposed some of its provisions.
  • It was initially intended to include bringing the retirement age of judges down to 60 years old. Such a provision could still be implemented later this year to purge a large number of senior judges. The Vice-President threatened to resign over this.
  • The Minister of Justice and the Vice-President, both judges, fought against several of its provisions and did not think it was necessary — or legal — to "protect" the Constituent Assembly from a Supreme Constitutional Court decision.
  • Morsi and the Brothers believed a conspiracy was afoot (this much we know from their cryptic statements) for the Supreme Constitutional Court to launch impeachment proceedings against President Morsi — even though there are no constitutional means for this. They were also receiving information of a destabilization campaign from "sovereign bodies", meaning intelligence agencies.
  • The Constitutional Declaration was originally intended mostly to deal with the replacement of the Public Prosecutor and the extension of the Constituent Assembly, which by late November was far from finishing its work. It was the FJP's legal committee that added other provisions, backed by Morsi notably on the question of protecting the Constituent Assembly from dissolution and giving himself extraordinary powers (intended to deal with a perceived threat of unrest caused by the opposition).

Here's the quite long and detailed article for Egypt-watchers who want to understand the steps that led to the Morsi administration's biggest mistake to date.

Freedom and Justice Party drafts the declaration’s articles. President agrees without consulting the Vice President. Al-Shorouk provides a behind-the-scenes look at the November 21 declaration.

Mohamed Basal, al-Shorouk, 5 March 2013

The constitutional declaration, issued by President Morsi on November 21 of last year, remains the most dangerous and pivotal event of the Morsi administration thus far. The declaration became a land mine, exploding in the faces of the President, the Brotherhood, and the opposition. It helped to divide Egypt as never before, and resulted in the bloodshed that continues to this day.

The declaration was a serious one, as it the dismissed former Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, protected the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly against being declared invalid and dissolved, and canceled all legal suits brought against them in either the Supreme Constitutional Court or the Administrative Judiciary. It also placed all decisions and constitutional declarations made by the President of the Republic above review and granted him the power to take extraordinary measures to protect the revolution, without specifying the nature of these measures.

The constitutional declaration (which was partially revoked on December 8) was followed by the demonstrations outside the Presidential Palace, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people of various political orientations. The situation deteriorated still further after that, and the scene become one of complete polarization, pitting the Muslim Brotherhood against the National Salvation Front.

The full, behind-the-scenes truth of the declaration has remained a secret, known only to those who were present as it was drafted and issued, and a large part will still be unknown even after the coverage by Al-Shorouk. This article is not intended to represent a journalistic ‘scoop’ so much as an effort by the newspaper to document this sensitive period in the history of the revolution. It is based on conversations and the testimony of six individuals who lived through the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the declaration, and the scenes at the Presidential Palace which immediately preceded it. At the request of these six sources, Al-Shorouk has not revealed their names.

Some of these six, who for various reasons have refused to reveal their identity, are close to the group of decision makers at the Palace, while the rest belong to higher judicial bodies.

The most important and surprising detail upon which these sources agreed was that the declaration was a brainchild of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, and not the President's advisors. As such, it is unlike the decision to reinstate the People’s Assembly, as well as the August 11 declaration that abolished the Supplementary Declaration. They also revealed that the first draft of the declaration lowered the retirement age of judges to 65, thus going beyond just dismissing the Prosecutor General, who was 66 at the time.

Here are the details:

Act 1: The Palace Committee

It was interesting that for several days in October and November of last year, several members of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party met at the Presidential Palace, without anyone knowing the reason. Of particular interest was the presence, at these meetings, of the President’s legal advisor, Mohamed Fouad Gadallah.

The members, who met personally with both the President and his Chief of Staff Dr. Ahmed Abdel Ati, did not disclose the purpose of their meetings to anyone inside the palace.

Some members of the Legal Committee of the Brotherhood Party spoke of a conspiracy, whereby certain judges within the Constitutional Court were said to be trying to impeach the President. There was and still is an outstanding legal dispute between the Court and two Legal Committee members who accused the Court of rigging the ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly, despite the results of an investigation conducted by office of the Prosecutor General.

This talk of conspiracy was communicated to the Brotherhood's lawyers by individuals who had had several friendly meetings with a member of the Constitutional Court, during which he spoke recklessly of “our ability to impeach President Muhammad Morsi, ” saying: “Just as we appointed him, so we can impeach him. ” This is according to the narrative related by the Brotherhood's lawyers, who conveyed the same version to the President.

The President then relayed this information to several members of what was then his presidential team. Even though judges at the Constitutional Court denied the possibility of impeachment, chief among them their president, Counselor Maher al-Beheiri, the Brotherhood took the matter seriously, and it became a major factor in the countermeasures taken against the Court, both from within the Constituent Assembly and otherwise.

Meanwhile, talk of conspiracy and concerns over the Constituent Assembly began to dominate the atmosphere in the Presidential Palace, especially when the Court, in its November 7 meeting, scheduled a session on December 2 to review both the dissolution of the People’s Assembly and striking down the law to immunize the Constituent Assembly. This latter issue was promoted as if it would result in a dissolution of the Assembly, even though this was legally impossible according to high-level sources in the Court.

The decision only increased apprehension within the Brotherhood, especially in the wake of the fragmentation and resignations which were then taking place within the Constituent Assembly. At that point, the Assembly was not even close to completing a first draft of the Articles, a task that would certainly require stability within its ranks, not additional disruptions.

Thus, during the second week of November, the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party began to seriously think of clearing the Constitutional Court, or at least preventing it from examining the issues that awaited on December 2.

Morsi and the Judges

President Morsi has maintained a cautious attitude towards the judges since the day he took office, and his choice of Counsellor Mahmoud Mekki as Vice President was in no way intended to satisfy or flatter the judges, as some have tried to portray it.

At the first meeting to which the President invited the heads of the various judicial bodies, and before Mekki was appointed to his position, the President explicitly stated that there was no intention to undermine the judges. This announcement came amid rumors of a law that would lower the retirement age for judges.

Two weeks after Mekki’s appointment on August 12, the President put a proposal before him to lower the retirement age of acting judges to 60. This would legally dispose of former Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, as well as a large number of judges on the Constitutional Court. This includes a number of judges known for their opposition to the Islamist movement, chief among them former Counselor Tahani al-Gabali.

The Vice President strongly objected to this proposal, and indicated that he would resign if it was put into effect. Before this, Counsellor Mekki had personally assured the senior judges that they would not be affected, at least until the end of the judicial year on June 30, 2013. This marked the end of the issue between the President and his deputy.

Following the formation of the presidential team, the matter was again proposed by advisors to the President, at meetings attended by both the President and the Vice President. The President agreed to the idea, while the Vice President rejected it, and warned that it would potentially shock the legal community, as well as cause general agitation among the people.

Amid increasing demands for the Prosecutor General’s dismissal, there was a plan to transfer the Prosecutor to the Vatican as ambassador, but then they backpedaled away from this decision. The Freedom and Justice Party still persisted in its desire to lower the retirement age of judges.

Act 2: The Revolutionary Prosecution

During the second week of November, the Presidential Palace began to move towards issuing a new constitutional declaration. At that time, the declaration would only “extend the work of the Constituent Assembly by two months, ” by amending Article 60 of the then-in-force constitutional declaration.

This action received strong support from the President’s legal advisor, as well as from the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice party. For them, the legal basis for the right of the President to amend the article, despite the March 11 referendum, came from the fact that the referendum concerned other articles, not ones which had been effectively included by the constitutional declaration. Furthermore, the deadline mentioned in the text was by way of organization, and was not binding.

It was also agreed within the presidential circle that a special prosecutor be set up to protect the revolution, and to retry the cases of demonstrators killed in the revolution. The President tasked his legal counselor with drafting a law to organize the office of this special prosecutor and its judicial business.

This was how it appeared on the surface. Behind the scenes, the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party was busily engaged in drafting other articles to be included in the new constitutional declaration, one of which was originally devoted to extending the activities of the Constituent Assembly.

In the matter of the Prosecutor General, the administration had already prepared to cooperate with the Vice President, Mahmoud Mekki, and his brother, the Minister of Justice, Ahmed Mekki, following the dismissal of the Prosecutor General and his transfer to the Vatican. They had called for the résumés of a number of counselors, including several living abroad, as well as associate justices of the Court of Cassation, and the President of the Court of Appeals in Cairo. However, at the last moment, the Prosecutor General backed down from his agreement to move to the Vatican, which held back both the final step in his overthrow, and the announcement of his replacement, who the President had decided would be Talaat Abdullah.

The name Talaat Abdullah, however, was still in contention for Presidential appointments, and remained the strongest candidate for the post of Prosecutor General, as soon as the first opportunity arose to dismiss Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.

Act 3: Behind the Curtain

The Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party prepared the complete constitutional declaration, whose first article provided for a special prosecutor to defend the revolution, as well as the agreed-upon retrials. The fourth article stipulated an extension of the work period of the Constituent Assembly, another matter that had been agreed to within the Presidential Palace.

However, the other articles would come as big surprises to members of the presidential team, as well as those non-Brotherhood members close to the President.

The second article placed all presidential decisions and declarations above scrutiny, meaning that cases against the declaration could not be brought before the Administrative Judiciary.

The third article was the most dangerous, as it lowered the retirement age for judges to 65, meaning that the Prosecutor General would be gotten rid of along with the heads of all judicial bodies, chief among them the Supreme Constitutional Court, as well as five associate justices of the Court, Tahani al-Jabali not among them.

This article would also mean that no review could take place, or ruling be issued, against the Constituent Assembly or the Shura Council, as might have occurred in the December 2 session of the Constitutional Court. However, leaving nothing to chance, the committee also drafted Article 5, which banned any judicial authority from dissolving the Constituent Assembly or the Shura Council.

The President was presented with the draft of the constitutional declaration within days of the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and he agreed to it in principle. However, he ordered that it be shown to both his legal advisor and to the Minister of Justice, in order to get their opinion concerning the judges.

On November 21, President Morsi was able to score a strategic and political victory when acting under the patronage and blessing of the U.S., he oversaw the truce between Israel and Hamas. This cleared the way for the bomb that was the constitutional declaration to explode upon the Egyptian political scene.

That evening, the President apologized that he was unable to travel to Pakistan for an Islamic summit, and sent his deputy Mahmoud Mekki in his stead. He was preparing to detonate the constitutional bomb.

Mekki knew that something was happing without him, but did not know what exactly. On November 7, he had left his resignation at the discretion of the President, after having been assured that the judges’ retirement age would not be lowered, and that no other move would be made to dismiss the Prosecutor General.

Act 4: The Bomb Goes Off

The Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party had finished drafting the declaration and several of its members had been at the Presidential Palace since the morning of November 22. Some committee members specifically informed Brotherhood leaders of several of the declaration’s clauses, in particular the lowering of the judges’ retirement age. Clearly, they considered the matter “over and done with,” and not subject to change.

As a matter of fact, Brotherhood leaders began informing their headquarters of the need for a demonstration at the Supreme Court building in support of important presidential decisions concerning the judges. In their words: “A popular demonstration in support of these decisions is strongly needed. ”

At noon, the president summoned Ahmed Mekki, the Minister of Justice, and Doctor Mohamed Mahsoub, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, asking them to come quickly. A meeting was held, involving them as well as members of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party and the President’s legal advisor, Mohamed Fouad Gadallah.

Mekki and Gadallah strongly opposed lowering the retirement age, and warned of a violent reaction from the judges. They suggested that this step be postponed, and that it be implemented in phases, beginning gradually after the end of the judicial year. Such a step, according to them, should absolutely not be taken at the present time.

The discussion, which lasted almost two hours, ended in a compromise. Article 3, concerning the appointment of the new Prosecutor General, would provide for a four year term, and a new clause would be added: “This provision applies to the one currently holding the position with immediate effect.” Mekki and Gadallah supported this course of action, given that the dismissal of the Prosecutor General was one of the central demands of the Revolution.

The new Prosecutor General, Counselor Talaat Abdullah, was immediately summoned so that he might take the oath of office prior to the official announcement of the Prosecutor General’s dismissal. They were eager to maintain secrecy and not repeat the Vatican incident. As for immunizing the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly and stopping litigation on all legal actions calling for their dissolution, some of those at the meeting argued that this was not needed, and that it was not legal to prevent the Constitutional Court from reviewing a case. However, a majority of Freedom and Justice Party members considered immunization to be necessary if the retirement age was not lowered. They argued that the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly would be left exposed, and subject to dissolution at the December 2 session.

Some replied that the Constituent Assembly case that was currently before the court would under no circumstances result in its dissolution. It was merely a dispute with regard to implementing the ruling that dissolved the People’s Assembly. The most that could happen was that it could allow a new case to be brought before the Administrative Court to invalidate the Constituent Assembly. However, the President, wanting to prepare for all contingencies, supported the article.

Article 6 expanded the powers of the President to include extraordinary measures to protect the revolution, and was also insisted upon by the President. He based his decision on reports, which stressed that the chaotic atmosphere on the streets demanded that he take measures against forces hostile to the revolution.

This was almost 10 days after the President received reports from sovereign bodies that businessmen, some belonging to the former regime, were holding meetings in a major hotel to coordinate efforts to destabilize his government. The declaration was issued in a routine manner, and marked with the previous day’s date -- November 21 -- in order to facilitate immediate implementation.

Act 5: No to Extending the Constituent Assembly

After the declaration was issued, a controversy arose among members of the Technical Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly and Counselor Hossam al-Gheriany, concerning the extension granted to the Constituent Assembly. Al-Gheriany contacted the President, and emphasized his support of the declaration, despite one reservation concerning the extension. This was that a change had been made to an article that had already been approved by a referendum of the people.

Article 60 of the constitutional declaration sets a period of six months for the work of the Constituent Assembly. This deadline is binding, not merely a guideline, and as such cannot be interfered with. Therefore, this article of the declaration was ultimately disregarded. In the end, the Constituent Assembly finished its work two days before the scheduled December 2 meeting of the Constitutional Court.

The declaration then became like a ball of fire, burning everyone it touched. It continues to enflame the political street, and no one knows how it will end.

Morsi's popularity dips (just) below 50%

The latest poll conducted by Baseera, one of Egypt's better pollsters, illustrates the hit the Morsi administration has taken in the last two months: President Mohammed Morsi, whose approval rating reached 78% in September at its peak, is now less than 50% for the first time. The trend is clearly a downwards one, and that's in the absence of a strong alternative leader in the opposition. The National Salvation Front, on the other hand, has also taken a hit but may face a greater challenge: some 35% of those polled had never heard of it, a devastating measure of the NSF's lack of street presence (although, to be fair, the NSF's components and individual leaders may be better know.

The full press release from Baseera is after the jump.


Press Release on the Poll Conducted by Baseera Center on the Performance of the National Salvation Front and the President’s Approval Rating after Eight Months in Office

Magued Osman

President’s approval rating continues to decline, falling to less than 50% of Egyptians.

One third of Egyptians have not heard of the National Salvation Front, while more than 50% of those who have do not support the NSF.

The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research "Baseera" conducted its periodic poll to track the President’s approval ratings after eight months in office. The results showed a continued decline in approval ratings. The percentage of those who approve the President’s performance reached 49% compared to 53% at the end of the seventh month, and 78% at the end of the first 100 days in office. This is the first time to observe an approval rating that is less than 50%. At the same time, the percentage of those who disapproved rose to 43% compared to 39% by the end of the seventh month in office and 15% by the end of the first 100 days. The approval rating of the President is only 35% among university graduates, compared to about 54% among those with less than intermediate education.

At the same time, the percentage of those who would re-elect President Morsi, if elections were held tomorrow, continued to decline, reaching 35% compared to 39% at the end of the seventh month and 58% at the end of the first 100 days in office.

The poll conducted this month included a number of questions about the National Salvation Front (NSF). The results show that 35% of Egyptians have not heard of the NSF at all. This percentage rises to 45% in rural areas, compared to about 24% in urban areas. The percentage of those who have never heard of the NSF is about 20% in urban governorates compared to 39% in Lower and Upper Egypt. Moreover, half of those who have less than intermediate education have not heard of the NSF, compared to 7% of university graduates.

Respondents familiar with the NSF were asked whether they support the Front. The results indicate that 35% do support it, 53% do not, and 12% are undecided or have no opinion about NSF. The percentage of supporters is higher in Lower Egypt governorates, reaching 42%, versus 35% in urban governorates, and 27% in Upper Egypt.

Respondents familiar with the NSF – supporters and opponents – were asked about their views about its performance. Around 12% evaluated its performance as good, 33% as average, and 42% as poor. The rest of the respondents were undecided. These percentages vary considerably between NSF supporters and non-supporters. The percentage of those who perceive the NSF’s performance as good is as high as 33% among supporters, compared to only 1% among opponents. Similarly, the percentage of those who see its performance as average is 58% among supporters compared to only 17% among non-supporters. The percentage of those who perceive its performance as poor was only 3% among supporters compared to 75% among non-supporters.

When respondents familiar with the NSF were asked their views about the best political figure, Amr Moussa came first (19%), followed by Hamdein Sabbahi (12%), and Mohamed El-Baradei (6%). However, 27% reported either that there was no worthy political figure or that they were all undeserving, while 29% were undecided.


The survey was conducted using landline and mobile telephones. The size of the probability sample was 2275 Egyptians above 18 years old. All interviews were conducted on Monday and Tuesday February 18 and 19, 2013. The response rate was approximately 74%, and the margin of error was less than 3%. Income brackets were determined based on ownership of durable goods. For more information on the detailed findings and the methodology used, please refer to our website

The US ambassador's speech

As I've previously written (and I'm not the only one to think so), I think US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been too incautious in her embrace and praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last two years. Her recent speech in Alexandria, though, helps correct some of her recent media statements and strikes many right notes for where US policy should be. Her assessment of the economic situation is devasting, and a pointed critique of the Morsi administration's handling of this. The speech does not touch on politics much, but does hint at great alarm at Morsi's poor leadership.

I am pasting the whole thing after the jump.

Press Release  
February 10, 2013
U.S. Ambassador to Egypt
Anne W. Patterson
Rotary Club of Alexandria Mariout
February 10, 2013
Alexandria, Egypt
Thank you Dr. El-Akad, for that kind introduction.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.  The Rotary plays a critical role in civic and charitable activities in many countries, including Egypt.  In other places I have lived, I have found Rotarians to be excellent partners.   I am a member of Rotary in my home town of Fort Smith Arkansas.  Organizations like Rotary reflect values that we all hold dear: outreach in our communities, generous charitable work locally and overseas, and a forum to learn more about local and international issues. 
I will never forget sitting in a Rotary meeting in Bogota, Colombia when a big boom went off and we all thought it was a car bomb in the neighborhood, an occurrence which was depressingly familiar.  But yet these Rotarians were meeting with each other and talking about how to help the least fortunate in their country.  So I am very grateful to be asked to speak to you today.     
I want to take this time to speak about the issues facing this country and realistic steps Egypt can take to move forward.  Two weeks ago, Egypt marked the second anniversary of its 2011 revolution.  What should have been a day of celebration was marred instead by violence in the streets, which intensified in the days following.  Two years ago the world stood by in amazement as the people of Egypt took control of their future and ended Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year reign.  This year the world watched rock wielding youths face off against the police of a democratically elected government armed with truncheons and tear gas as roads and bridges were closed, vehicles were burned and a major tourist hotel was looted.  Potential tourists who represent a vital lifeline for Egypt’s economy saw not the natural and historic beauty of this country, but violence and instability.  This is the last thing Egypt needs. 
Egypt has made great strides in the two years since January 25, 2011.  Elections generally regarded as free and fair elected a new president and, despite considerable controversy over the process that produced it, a referendum endorsed a new constitution.  But while elections and constitutions are a necessary part of democracy, they are not enough.  For Egypt to complete its transition to a free democratic nation, it needs much more.
Democracy needs a healthy and active civil society.  Non-Governmental Organizations are vital – not just political NGOs, but organizations like Rotary International working in a wide range of areas.  My embassy staff and I have met with NGOs focused on improving education, creating business opportunities, promoting dialogue between members of different religions, nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship and offering opportunities for vocational training.  These are just a small sample of what a thriving civil society can do for a country and its people, without unduly burdening the country’s treasury. 
NGOs, however, need an environment in which they can grow and thrive.  There must also be people like Rotarians who are willing to volunteer their time and resources to create and maintain the organizations of civil society.  Egypt needs a new NGO law that clarifies the role of civil society and more importantly defines a clear and simple process by which these organizations can register themselves and protects their rights.  By adopting a law that is consistent with international norms for freedom of association, the Egyptian government can create a firm foundation on which civil society can flourish.  And Egyptian organizations do not have to carry the burden alone.  They can get help from other organizations in other countries.  Egyptians can learn from the experience of others who have gone through their own political transitions.  Your government should ensure that they too can register themselves in a timely and efficient manner.
The burden for creating and nurturing civil society does not rest solely with elected officials.  Those who went to Tahrir square two years ago brought down a dictator and earned their freedom, and did so with remarkably little violence.  Their courage as they joined arms to protect the Cairo Museum and the Alexandria Library was an inspiration.  But courage needs to be combined with commitment to the hard work of building political parties and engaging in the electoral process. 
Now is the time to build up the political structures of the country.  Egypt’s activists need to channel their courage and effort into creating political institutions – not merely legal structures, but true institutions that are widely respected by all elements of the society and restrain leaders or groups that might seek to impose their will.  They must gather to form effective political parties, participate in the electoral process, and commit to the hard work of building grassroots support for their values.  The people who will build Egypt’s future are the ones who are best at finding reasonable compromises and building national consensus.
To build the future Egypt deserves, Egypt will need all of its people, regardless of their faith, ethnic background or gender.  For this reason, Egypt needs to ensure the protection and participation of the full breadth of its rich tapestry of citizenry.  Christians and Jews have been a part of Egypt for thousands of years.  Egypt is also home to members of other religions and denominations, including Bahais and Shia Muslims.  Many are now frightened that they will have no role, or even that they will be unsafe, in Egypt’s future.  That is a tragedy.  They need to know that they are welcome and their contributions to society are embraced and encouraged.  Similarly, women are half the population; they are strong, smart, able and fearless.  For years, they have stood side by side with men working together to build this country.  Now is the wrong time to backslide on their participation.  As Christine Lagarde of the IMF noted in Davos on January 23, all studies point to the economic benefits of full female participation in the labor force, in the economy, in society.  Societies that learn to give women the scope to fully participate in the workforce alongside men have faster economic growth.  And economic growth is something Egypt sorely needs.  It is difficult for democracy to survive alongside widespread poverty and a stagnant economy. 
Two years after the revolution, it is time to focus on the most critical economic needs of the Egyptian people.  Egypt’s numbers paint a bleak picture: Currency Reserves are at a critical level, roughly $14 billion or three months’ worth of imports.  While this has held steady since July, that is only because of the regular injections of cash by Qatar and Turkey.  These numbers do not take into account the billions that the government is in arrears to oil companies.  And more importantly they don’t highlight what Egypt is importing – basic food items and refined energy products, key determinants of social stability.  If Egypt cannot pay its import bill, her people will not be missing out on television sets and cars, but on electricity, gasoline and food.  In other words a more careful look at the reserve numbers show they are not close to what a country like Egypt needs for a smooth running economy.
As the Central Bank tries to manage a gradual depreciation of the pound to market levels, I know that the Central Bank is taking steps to reduce the black and gray markets for foreign exchange.  Black markets are dangerous because large amounts of money now move unsupervised by the authorities of legitimate institutions, weakening the legitimate banking sector and eroding respect for law.  The longer Egypt restricts access to foreign exchange, the more it will undercut investment interest in the country.  It is a simple fact of life.  Investors will not enter the market if they cannot get their money out of the country.    
The exchange rate is a key price in any economy and needs to respect fundamental laws of economics.  If not, evasion of legal exchange and stunted growth will be the result as domestic producers turn to imports and close their factories and domestic business formation is retarded.  Meanwhile, key sectors are hurting, perhaps none more so than tourism, which had seen something of a recovery in arrivals but no real recovery in receipts.  I visit Luxor occasionally, and the situation there, with some of the most incredible historic sites in the world, is heartbreaking.  Tourists who are coming to Egypt are not spending very much, and this will continue to erode the quality of the product that Egypt can offer, so that jobs are lost and communities dependent on tourism will be crippled.  
Every economy goes through bad periods, but economies only recover when they are tended.  And that means someone has to take ownership of the solutions (even if they are difficult) and lead the way out.  People must be shown a vision of how the future will reward the sacrifices of the present. 
The most catastrophic path is for the government and the political leadership of the country – whether in power or in opposition – to avoid decisions, to show no leadership, to ignore the economic situation of the country.  When management of the economy is treated as a by-product of political disputes instead of a core function of political leadership, the business community is left trying to protect itself instead of investing and growing.  The talks with the IMF need to be brought to closure.    
The current system of fuel and energy subsidies is unsustainable.  This needs to be discussed openly and the public needs to debate the solutions.  A way must be found to bring the cost of the energy subsidies down while protecting Egypt’s poorest citizens, but possible solutions require an open public discussion – a discussion that is not taking place.  
The engine for future growth in Egypt is small and medium enterprises, the kinds of firms that can innovate and grow more rapidly than the rest of the economy.  The government needs to streamline the process for getting into business, reducing red tape, forms, fees, taxes etc.  Research into innovative new ways of doing things, new crops for the Delta, allowing the private sector to take advantage of all the efficiencies promised by high speed internet, and assuring that good ideas can get financing are all vital.  And these are things SMEs do well. 
One thing that has come through to the Embassy loudly is the banks have not been willing to lend to small and medium enterprises.  SMEs are not able to prosper when banks refuse to finance them, even when money is available.  The government and the Central Bank need to find a way to make financing for small and medium enterprises available and affordable or the ability of the Egyptian economy to “take-off” into sustainable high rates of growth will be severely constrained.
Egypt has a great economic future.  It has a diverse economy, a large internal market, and an enviable strategic location.  It has a well-respected financial sector and abundant growth potential.  And even as bad as the economy has become, it is still growing at about two percent.  Egypt’s economy is, in a word, remarkably resilient.  It has withstood a lot of tribulation over the last two years, and it is a credit to the country’s private sector and to its diversity that it is still standing at all. 
More than that, we know there are foreign investors who still have an eye on this country.  Last September, Egypt hosted the largest American business delegation to visit in the Middle East in history; many of the giants of the U.S. business world – Google, Boeing – enthusiastically attended.  We talk to portfolio managers regularly who want to know when it will be time to get back into Egypt.  We know of major multinationals that have plans for significant additional investments once stability returns to the economic space.  And it will be key not just to attract foreign investors, but also to lure back Egyptian investors who have left out of fear or uncertainty.      
No individual has all the answers, but there are three key things Egypt must do without delay to restart the engines of growth:
First, Egypt needs to conclude a credible agreement with the IMF.  Reaching agreement will unlock IMF funds and financing from other sources, including the U.S. Government, and more importantly will send a strong signal to the investment community that Egypt is committed to reforming its economy.  The IMF agreement’s biggest impact will be as a catalyst, encouraging additional lending, and sparking interest from short-term portfolio investors, then perhaps longer-term portfolio investors, and then eventually a return of badly-needed Foreign Direct Investment.
Second, Egypt needs to fix its energy sector, fundamentally overhauling a simply unsustainable subsidy program that costs billions of dollars every year.  The money saved can repay its arrears and once again secure the credit terms it needs for imports.  And in the longer term, Egypt will be able to make critical infrastructure improvements, expansions, and modernizations that will lead to greater efficiency and cost-savings while ensuring the country can meet the energy needs of a growing population.
Finally, Egypt needs to make peace with its past.  It needs to provide clear public assurances that investors are safe from arbitrary acts.  Contracts no matter when signed or under what circumstances will be honored except when they are found illegal by a due process of law in an impartial judicial system.  A framework of law must be in place making clear that contracts will be honored.  Those who invested in Egypt in the past cannot be threatened with jail or severe financial penalties years later because that forces investors to invest elsewhere.  When investors are confident they will be treated fairly, they will return to the opportunities Egypt presents in droves.  New investment is the foundation for economic growth; it must be nurtured, not disciplined. 
Are these decisions easy?  Absolutely not.  Leadership is hard.  It sometimes means sacrificing short-term gain for the greater good of the country.  But by building a stronger Egypt, it ultimately brings benefits to all of Egypt’s people, and that’s what leadership is all about.


Egyptian activist to Obama: at least have the decency to stop voicing support for Morsi

A striking open letter to President Obama by veteran Egyptian human rights activist Baheieddin Hassan:

Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.

Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president. Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.

I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

Read the whole thing. 

The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.

Egypt: To the barricades, again

Egypt: To the barricades, again | The Economist

From the conclusion of a long briefing on Egypt:

Mass defiance of the president’s curfew order in the canal cities, along with persistent protests elsewhere, have deeply dented Mr Morsi’s prestige. Few elsewhere in Egypt fully share the fury of Port Said; many despise the destructive antics of, as they have been called on Twitter, “spoiled brats living out Che Guevara fantasies”. Yet the frustrations of rising unemployment and soaring prices are keenly felt, and exacerbate the political discontent.

Mr Morsi is trying harder to coax the NSF into his hitherto vacuous dialogue. He speaks with new seriousness of being open to revising the constitution. He is working on securing backing from the International Monetary Fund for economic reform. Without broad support, though, enacting such reform will be impossible, and so far he has rejected demands to form a broader-based government of national unity, an idea endorsed by leading Salafists as well as the NSF. If he could summon to such a task of reconciliation the boldness he has previously displayed in his own interest, his country might move forward. If he does not, Egypt’s divided narratives will split further asunder. Radical Islamists could seek to settle scores with those they see as challenging “their” revolution. If so their opponents will fight back, and the world’s willingness to help would fade. Miserably, his people might just decide that things were better in the old days.

Morsi got into this mess. He's got to get out of it by paying a price and making a significant concession — everything else besides the point.