The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged presidency
Why Sisi hasn't announced yet

There has been a lot of speculation lately over what is holding up the seemingly impending announcement of Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El Sisi's presidential campaign. Commentators and analysts have been -- rather un-persuasively -- reading the tea leaves of the latest cabinet re-shuffle (which retained Sisi as Minister of Defense and Mohamed Ibrahim as the Minister of Interior while shedding most of the "liberal" ministers that had given the June 30th coalition some credibility) and of recent presidential decree making the minister of defense, rather than the president, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. All that has been clear to me is that there is an awful lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and some trepidation before this big step. Thank goodness, though, Egyptian tabloid El Watan can reveal the real reasons behind the delay (the following is an abridged translation of the article): 

Intelligence sources have revealed to El Watan that Sisi will make the announcement around March 10-12, after the new law regulating presidential elections is issued. He will tell the public the reasons for his delay, which are: 1) the need to detect and foil plans by the Muslim Brotherhood, some Western countries, Turkey and Qatar, to commit terrorist attacks following Sisi's announcement 2) genuine fears that the Field Marshall will be personally targeted, after the detection of such plans on the part of the American intelligence services and those of some neighboring countries 3) putting the final touches on the international and regional alliance Sisi is shaping to face the American moves in the region, and which consists of Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to face the Western alliance headed by America and including the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and Qatar. The sources revealed that Egypt is lobbying the Chinese dragon to join its alliance. 

Only room for one general

There has been much media focus lately on the ongoing, growing campaign to get defense minister and commander of the armed forces Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for president -- a bandwagon on which we can expect see many more flatterers and opportunists jump. El-Sisi's candid discussion with other officers on how Egyptian need to get used to paying more for services and talk on the phone less, how the army can get the media to practice some self-censorhip, and how military personnel will never be held responsible for killing protesters were recently leaked, and seen as evidence of his nefarious dictatorial tendencies by Islamists and of his economic genius and straight-talking by army supporters. 

It is also instructive to see the reaction to another possible military contender. Nour Youssef has this report. 

While it is generally good to be a soldier rather than another weakling civilian in Egypt, it has not been so for former Chief of Staff General, Sami Anan.

After news of Anan’s announcement of his run for president spread, and despite it being followed by a quick denial, the pro-military media began airing his dirty laundry and then tried to suffocate him with the clothesline. So far Anan, aka  The Bringer of the Brotherhood (or at the very least:  Key Person Who Helped Make Mistakes That Lead To MB Rule), has been accused of having an under-qualified son as head of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, wasting state land (200 acres of it by Cairo-Alexandria desert road on himself and his wife), having grandchildren born in the US for the citizenship, buying a whole floor in a fancy hotel, among other things.

Although many, like Mahmoud Saad, perfunctorily expressed their respect for Anan's constitutional right to run before all but telling him not to, much of the talk about Anan has been focused on his newly published memoirs and his past.

In his memoir, Anan quotes the simple man, saying “If America’s got you covered, then you’re naked,” when he learns that Al Jazeera reported his US visit in January 2011 - which in case you're still wondering was a pre-planned military visit, not a pep rally for Operation Divide Egypt - a tip they must have gotten from a US official source, apparently. 

He goes on to paint the military as politically deaf, blind and mute institutionalized love for Egypt. For instance, he, along with Tantawi and Omar Suleiman, thought the NDP’s rigging in the 2010 elections was insultingly obvious, and separately warned Mubarak about it, but the former president was at ease because “Ahmed Ezz (had) everything taken care of.”

The military leaders never had any interest in politics, he maintained, before writing about the time when he suggested planning a soft coup to stabilize the country in 2011 to Field Marshal Tantawi, seeing how popular the army and “The people and the army are one hand” chant had become. Tantawi told him not speak of it again.

The intended takeaway from the memoirs seems to be that the SCAF did not strike any deals with the MB and that the Brothers won fair and square without their help. If the people still want someone to blame for the MB’s electoral winnings, other than themselves and the lack of political alternatives -- Well, let's not forget the media now. A denial statement even more belated, but probably more effective, than Anne Patterson’s response to the two-year-old US-put-the-Brotherhood-in-power conspiracy theory.

At some point, Anan recalls a conversation with Tantawi where the latter asks him if he would use violence against protesters, if ordered to do so, like his Tunisian counterpart, to which Anan said no, before adding that he was sure such orders would never be made. He cited the Palestinian incursion in Rafah as an example of a time when Egypt's political leadership demanded violence and the military didn't deliver. And they were Palestinians, so could he shoot Egyptians? Anan had a similar conversation with Gen. James Mattis, retired commander of U.S. Central Command, while waiting for his plane back to Egypt, which according to Abdullah Kamal, was suspiciously cut down to a four-sentence moment when it actually was an over-an-hour long meeting.

The fuss about the memoir and the denied announcement earned Anan a lot of belittling questions about whatever gave him the (false) impression of popular support anyway, where he would get the kind of money campaigning require, in addition to criticism about his timing, not to mention his writing, which could potentially "cause confusion" and risked national security by divulging “military secrets” without permission. This has lead some to believe that General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s recent remark about the army’s no-position position in the next elections was a message to Anan specifically, as opposed to everyone.

That being said, it is worth noting that Anan denied announcing the intention to run for president, but not the intention itself. When it came to that possibility, Anan always maintained a “Well, if the people asked me to...I mean, it would be rude not to” approach.

Gems from the memoirs include a time when parents called him saying that their civilian offsprings couldn’t come home because Brothers, desperate to make the mass hostage situation look like continued street resistance, wouldn’t let them out of Tahrir, and concluding that Mubarak's true mistakes in the 18 days was making the right decisions, like appointing Omar Suleiman as VP and Ahmed Shafik as prime minister, too late.


Insulting the president

More 'insulting president' lawsuits under Morsi than Mubarak - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online

I have a hard time believing this but Gamal Eid is a serious guy:

There were four times as many 'insulting the president' lawsuits during President Mohamed Morsi's first 200 days in office than during the entire 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak. This is the claim made by Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Moreover, the number of such lawsuits during the Morsi era is more than during the entire period dating back to 1909 when the law was introduced (originally for 'insulting the king'), Eid said via Twitter.

They will have a full report on it tomorrow with the list of names.

The president, the prosecutor, and the press

Over the weekend in Egypt, as if the fighting that took place in Tahrir Square between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (or impostors) and their detractors was not enough, a major institutional type of Mortal Kombat also took place between, on the one side, President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and on the other, Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud and the judicial establishment. On the latter’s side — out of convenience as much as principle, as Mahmoud is not a popular figure — were secular political parties who seized on this to denounce what they saw as the Brother-President’s all-out attack on the rule of law.

If you haven’t been following this story, here’s the lowdown.

On Wednesday, a verdict in the trial of the officials and former regime bigwigs alleged to be involved in the February 2–3, 2011 “Battle of the Camel”, one of the bloodiest episodes of the 2011 uprising, were acquitted. The public reaction was fury, partly at the judge who made the ruling but especially at prosecutors for doing such a poor job in preparing the case. The following day, Morsi asked Mahmoud to step down from his position and take the sinecure of a post as Egypt’s ambassador to the Holy See (one of the most prized posts in Egyptian diplomacy, apparently because there’s not too much work and yet you get to live in Rome). Mahmoud refused to step down, on the grounds that the president does not have the authority to sack him — only a judicial institution called the Supreme Judicial Council does. Opposition politicians and many luminaries of the judiciary condemned the move as a brazen attack on the independence of the judiciary — precisely at a time when tensions are already high between the judiciary and the Muslim Brotherhood, over a new judicial reform law and the part of the new constitution that will define the powers of the judiciary. Later, Mahmoud revealed that he has received threatening phone calls from the vice-president and senior Brotherhood figures, including hints that it would be a shame if his life was put in danger by popular fury. The president’s side initially holds its ground, but soon backtracks as the Judges’ Club holds a meeting and comes out saying sacking Mahmoud would be a coup against the independence of the judiciary. Within 48 hours, Morsi and Mahmoud meet, begin to downplay the entire episode as a misunderstanding — that Morsi was just making an innocent proposal, or that his intention was to protect Mahmoud, etc. Judges, in the meantime, say that there will be “no Tantawis in their rank”[1] and even pro-MB legal luminaries like Tarek al-Bishri condemn the whole episode.

The irony in all this is that sacking Mahmoud was a demand of revolutionary groups since just after Mubarak’s fall. But, either because Morsi did it in apparent contravention to the laws and traditions of the Egyptian judiciary (exactly how that is the case still escapes me, but I’m sure Nathan Brown will explain it all), or because it was seen as intolerable executive encroachment, it could not fly. Perhaps, overall, it was because this did seem like a brazen, over-confident attempt to leverage an unpopular verdict to get a man who, in recent months, had allowed many cases against the Muslim Brothers’ political interest (some of them absurd or frivolous, such as the case to judge on whether the Brotherhood is legal — does it matter when it party is definitely legal?) to get to court. And to send a message of toughness to the judiciary. On Mahmoud’s side, it appears what initially was an easy way to get out at a time when he has multiple cases against him and risked to face the revolutionary music became unfeasible when it became the center of attention. Quietly going to Rome is one thing, doing so in this manner is another. His calculus must have been that taking such an offer would be tantamount to an admission of guilt.

I thought it was worth recapping all this as I glanced at today’s headlines in the main Egyptian newspapers. I think the headlines tell us a little something about where the papers stand in today’s Egyptian political spectrum, and about their professionalism.

Government press

  • Al-Ahram (new editor is close to Brotherhood): The president reconsiders his decision, the prosecutor-general is maintained
  • Al-Akhbar: End of the prosecutor general crisis; The president cancels his decision to appoint him as ambassador
  • Al-Gomhouriya: Prosecutor general crisis: The law and legality triumph
  • Rose al-Youssef (formerly fiercely anti-MB): Prosecutor general crisis: Victory for rule of law

Private press

  • Al Masri al-Youm: Morsi reconsiders his decision; the prosecutor general wins
  • Al-Shorouk al-Gedid: The president of the republic loses his fight against the prosecutor general
  • Al-Tahrir (Anti-MB, pro-revolutionary): Justice comes out victorious in fight over prosecutor general

Partisan press

  • Al-Wafd (Anti-MB party): Morsi reconsiders his decision to sack the prosecutor-general
  • Al-Horreya wa al-Adala (Muslim Brotherhood newspaper): The president accepts a petition to maintain the prosecutor in his place[2]

  1. In reference to the sacking of army chief Hussein Tantawy on August 12, 2012.  ↩

  2. That headline appears to be a lie — by the newspaper and by the presidency.  ↩

Eric Schewe's map of the presidential election results

Eric Schewe's map of the Egyptian presidential election results

The above map of from Eric Schewe's blog, which has some great analysis of the presidential election and much else. It's a great blog for Egypt nerds. He writes of the map and the data behind it:

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood count from June 18 and the official state count were so close gives me confidence that, while votes may have been illegitimately influenced by actions outside the polling booth, that the polls themselves were relatively fairly conducted. This means this body of data is the first reliable indication ever of Egyptians’ preferences over a very stark binary choice for the direction of the state: Islamism or “Feloul” (old-regime) revanchism. Obviously, many Egyptians went out to vote AGAINST either choice, but the geographical distribution of the result shows very strong regional tendencies, raising interesting questions about voters’ overall motives.

Getting this kind of data and spreading will lead, over time, in a quantum leap in how we understand Egyptian politics. Of course it needs to be combined with new data added over time and knowledge of local-level dynamics. But at long last, we have a base based on an electoral process that was reasonably free and fair.