The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged scaf
SCAF's long game

A Brief Note about SCAF

From an interesting new blog, Accidental Occidental:

The question is why SCAF would give the “win,” at least on paper, to Morsi. It is no secret SCAF’s days were numbered if they refused to hand over power. This is their exit strategy. SCAF has appeared to castrate themselves in the press, but without losing any of their real power (drawn not from governing but from being the elephant in the room during the governing process). SCAF has feinted, and it appears to have worked. Attacks in the Sinai, power outages, and water shortages are now dropped cleanly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lap. Any public anger is no longer directed towards the military-industrial complex, but towards the civilian government.

SCAF is playing the long game. In my opinion, they are doing it very shrewdly and very well. Juntas normally do not sacrifice battles for the war, but SCAF has appeared willing to do just that. In the end, it appears the military will stand free from any legitimate criticism and there will be no substantive change in the military-industrial complex.

I agree with this take and put it in a different way in a Guardian piece yesterday — i.e. that talk of Morsi's triumph overshadows that generals (just different generals) were still kingmakers. It might develop in a positive way (the military will stay out of most civilian business and things will overall improve in Egypt in terms of governance, human rights, etc.) but there is no reason to believe it will automatically do so.

Accidental Occidental, by the way, appears to chiefly concern itself with a critique of leftist discourse on the Middle East, from a leftist perspective. The author writes:

My contention is that “anti-colonialism” became one of the myths used by Fascist governments in the Middle East to oppresses and eradicate opposition. We on the Left went to bed with murders, crooks and thieves in the fight against colonialism and it has only led to a new fascism in the Middle East. We never considered that we would be the fascists. The purpose of this blog is to question exactly that myth.

I deeply sympathize. Timely reading in context of the current kerfuffle over Rami Khouri's accusations of Orientalism against those analysts who worry about Syria.

The age of incompetence

✚  The age of incompetence

A quite funny take by Z on what will happen in Egypt next, based on the key insight that everyone — the army, the Muslim Brothers, secular forces — is incompetent. I like this part what what will happen to Morsi:

I expect him to benefit from the incompetence of everyone around him. While everything around him is helping him become more confident, and street support for the Muslim Brotherhood automatically is channeled to him, it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not have to live subdued by the organization, but that he should get the place he deserves. We make pharaohs, and we make them fast, and he won't really be any exception.

While he has, together with the Muslim Brotherhood, sidelined SCAF (apparently), he will now more single-handedly sideline the Brotherhood.

Now that would be something!

A pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup?

✚  No Reason to Celebrate, It's Just Another Coup

Wael Iskander offers a not unplausible explanation for yesterday's news in Egypt — what may have pushed some generals to go against Tantawi and Enan was that they felt a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup was necessary to prevent Tantawi & co. leading the military into an untenable situation.

So much of what has been happening has been conducted with much secrecy, that is why all we have today is analysis and speculation. However, it does seem that the likely scenario is a coup to counteract a coup as Hesham Sallam explained:
“Al-Assar, Al-Sisi and others led a coup against Tantawi and Anan in order to preempt a prospective coup attempt that could have gotten the army into uncertain political confrontations—specifically confrontations that could have led the military establishment to lose everything vis-à-vis the MB. Consistent with this theory is the fact that Al-Dostoor newspaper was confiscated yesterday after effectively making a public call for a coup--which suggests that some elements within the SCAF had been prodding their allies inside the media establishment to begin promoting the image of popular support for a coup”
It is clear to me that something was planned for 24 August 2012 and that is what was pre-empted. The Muslim Brotherhood (Morsi) had to have the support of some elements inside the army so as to come out with this decision.
There had been calls for mass protests against Morsi and the MB and the Brotherhood on the 24th, backed by some of the press and political establishment. Maybe this is what forced their hands.
The Morsi Maneuver: a first take

I hate to come out with a full-fledged analysis as the full picture of today’s news from Egypt is still coming out, but the importance of Morsi’s changes to the military and cancellation of the terrible June 17 Supplementary Constitutional Declaration deserves some comment. Here is my preliminary take, which I will no doubt revise in coming days and that is not exhaustive. Please leave what I’m missing out on in the comments.

I’d divide what happened today in two parts. First, what has changed in the military:

  • Defense Minister and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi, who will be replaced by Head of Military Intelligence AbdelLatif El-Sissi
  • Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan.
  • Both Tantawi and Enan have been named presidential advisors, and were recently awarded the Order of the Nile medal. It appears they will be protected from punishment for their actions during the transitional period.
  • The heads of every service of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Air Defenses, Navy) were also retired but were given golden parachutes (one is now head of the Suez Canal Authority, another the new Minister of Military Production, etc.) It appears they will be replaced by their deputies.
  • There seems to be more personnel changes and shuffles — but mostly within the logic of promotion typical of the Egyptian military (i.e. no people were suddenly dropped into the senior ranks from lower ranks or outside the senior staff).

The overall impression I get is of a change of personalities with continuity in the institution. More junior officers are taking the posts of their former superiors, and some SCAF members are shifting positions. The departure of Tantawi was inevitable considering his age and unpopularity.

The really surprising thing is that for months there had been reports of positioning within the military-intelligence nexus for the succession battle for post-Tantawy. Leading candidates were Sami Enan, recently fired Head of General Intelligence Mourad Mowafy and to a lesser extent El-Sissi. There were also inconsistent speculation (from well-informed sources with direct SCAF access) about the relationship between El-Sissi and Mowafi. El-Sissi’s appointment is consistent with the idea that he long was one of the most powerful (but less obviously so) members of SCAF, and Enan’s departure is quite striking.

This continuity suggests to me that we are dealing with a reconfigured SCAF that is nonetheless a powerful entity that still has powers parallel to the presidency and other civilian institutions. It is not, as the initial reaction to today’s news largely was, a victory by Morsi over the military. Rather, it is a reconfiguration of the relationship.

Even so, it does appear the presidency comes out reinforced. This is the second part of the major changes announced today. Morsi also declared though a four-article decree that:

  • the June 17 Supplemental Constitutional Declaration is annulled;
  • the president has assumed the powers outlined in Article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration, i.e. the powers previously held by SCAF
  • the president will, through a national consultation, appoint a new Constituent Assembly within 15 days if the president does not complete its task. A new constituent assembly would prepare a new constitution within three months, be referred to a national referendum within 30 days of completion, and once adopted would be followed by new parliamentary elections within two months.

It’s hard to think of a way to avoid this considering the lack of alternatives and the mess Egypt is in, but Morsi has effectively, on paper, dictatorial powers. It will largely come down to how he uses them, especially as the last thing Egypt needs is a government unable to make decisions and address urgent problems simply because the parliament is not in place.

The appointment of Mahmoud Mekky, a senior judge, as vice-president closes the hole left by the delay in appointing any vice-president. The choice is not a bad one and may help Morsi in his fight with the senior ranks of the judiciary. Of course many will still wait for the Christian and female VPs he promised to appoint (and it would have been smarter to make moves in those directions at the same time.)

Overall, I think this is a very welcome move. But it does not necessarily change much aside from break the deadlock over the constitutional declaration. These moves will be seen by many opponents of the Brotherhood as a power grab, and the fact that Morsi has amassed considerable power (again, on paper) is indeed cause for concern. The power to appoint a new constitutional assembly is particularly key, if he ends up using it, I certainly hope it will be to appoint something acceptable to non-Islamists rather than impose the one Islamists wanted earlier this year (unfortunately, the MB’s sense of electoral entitlement makes me pessimistic here). How Morsi navigates this in the next few weeks will be crucial, as well as how secular parties and movements react, particularly considering their unwillingness to work with the MB in recent weeks. Some of these just want to sabotage Morsi and see the MB fail. Some openly called for a military coup against him.

I’m not in Egypt at the moment so it’s tough for me to get a sense of what the mood is, but I would not be surprised if public opinion backs not so much Morsi but the sense of things finally moving forward again. But I am really unable to say whether, apart from breaking the deadlock, it will be a positive development in the long term. The possibility of a new MB-military understanding is still there, and it’s what appears to be underpinning today’s news. In other words, Egypt got rid of military leaders who outstayed their welcome, but may instead get a more subtle military leadership that is better able to work out an understanding with a Muslim Brotherhood that seems attached to a majoritarian idea of democracy, and of course remains generally illiberal. But at least, it gets rid of what was an untennable form of direct military rule and empowers an elected civilian president. Let's hope he uses his new powers wisely. 

SCAF: Is Ruweiny being kicked upstairs or promoted?

Important news for Egypt Kremlinologists: New Central Military Zone commander appointed:

Celebrations were held Wednesday to mark the handover of leadership of the Central Military Zone to Commander Tawhid Tawfiq Abdel Samie.

The ceremony opened with a speech for outgoing Commander Hassan al-Roweiny, who was appointed assistant defense minister. Roweiny has reached the age of retirement.

Roweiny lauded the continuing support of the leaders of the armed forces, who he said helped the Central Military Zone carry out its mission and training activities after the 25 January revolution.

Roweiny is considered to be one of the most influential members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. He told protesters in Tahrir Square in 10 February 2011 that their demands would be met.

The following day, former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, handing power to the army.

But Roweiny later became a hated figure among revolutionary forces, especially after he accused the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the main youth groups that helped kick-start the uprising against Mubarak, of destabilizing the country. He alleged that its members are trained by foreign agents.

Two questions/consequences arise:

  1. This should mean that SCAF has a new member in General Abdel Samie, but does Ruweiny also stay on in his new capacity?
  2. Is this a promotion for Ruweiny, a way to keep him on despite his having reached the retirement age (and if that is being enforced, what about Tantawy?), or is this a way to demote him? 

Update: Another possibility comes to mind: Ruweiny is being sent to be Deputy Defense Minister for when Tantawy leaves, at which point he will become the new Defense Minister, and that this is an effort to outflank Chief of Staff Sami Enan.

The clock is ticking... for Washington

I took this photo on January 29, 2011 in Tahrir Square. Back to the same issue.

Readers of this blog know that I am against US military aid to Egypt. I was against it under Mubarak and am against it under SCAF. I am partly against aid because I'm not a big fan of any of the big Middle Eastern aid packages, because of the specifics of the Egyptian situation, although I am not against it under any circumstances. The national security waiver exercised by the Obama administration in March was premature and unwarranted, and now they have egg on their face. Washington can buy itself a few days to figure out what's going to happen in Egypt this week — this is what the recent statements frm the State Dept. being "troubled" by the recent developments amount to but the clock is ticking: they will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF's constitutional coup if they continue it.

It's a situation as black-and-white as the one we see in Egypt today, despite all attempts to fudge the issue. Sara Khorshid puts it well in this NYT op-ed, The Betrayal of Egypt's Revolution:

Given the military’s consistent disregard for basic democratic norms over the past 16 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment last week that “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people” sounded ridiculous.

Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.

America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.

If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.

Shadi Hamid (with whom I cordially disagree on many issues) also put it well yesterday on Twitter:

These two are Egyptians (Shadi is Egyptian-American), which is important — I think more Egyptians are willing to publicly take this stance. More Americans need to care about this, too. I'm not Egyptian, and care mostly about this for American reasons. It's not just that I don't want my tax dollars to subsidize the US defense industry and pampered generals in Cairo. It's also that I don't want the blowback when Egyptians turn to Americans and say, "you supported our dictators".  The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.

No matter which way you look at it, trouble ahead

As I warned on Twitter, there should be caution about rushing to think Mohammed Morsi is Egypt's next president. From my understanding from this morning's figures, the difference between he and Shafiq is about 900,000 votes with over 3,000,000 votes uncounted. The Presidential Election Commission says it will not give the final results until Wednesday or Thursday and there is likely to be some contestation by both sides, and perhaps even partial recounts. Ultimately what the PEC says will hold, since you cannot appeal their decision.

So one real possibility is that Shafiq will be declared president and the MB, having already announced its victory, will go ballistic. Or that Shafiq will lose and his supporters will go ballistic.

And then there's the question of parliament. It's still expected that tomorrow MPs (at least Islamist ones) will march to parliament to hold a session on which they will decide parliament's response to the court verdict. Except that parliament is surrounded by army troops who have orders not to let anyone in.

Likewise there is confusion about the state of the constituent assembly — notably whether the one appointed by parliament last week (which has already had walkouts by secular members because of a dispute on its composition) is still valid. When the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament, it specified that its actions were still valid. There was a law on the formation of the constituent assembly passed last week, but SCAF did not sign it. So it's probably not valid. And SCAF clearly seems to intend to form its own constituent assembly with its own rules, different than those agreed upon in the negotiations of the past two weeks (one sign if the requirement of an 80% approval of the draft text, as opposed to 67%).

Finally last night the Muslim Brotherhood (to its credit) said it does not recognize the new constitutional declaration issued by SCAF as legal or valid. So that's another fight.

So to recap, you have a possible fight on the result of the presidential election, an almost certain fight on the fate of parliament and the constitutional declaration, and a longer-term fight on the drafting of the future constitution. If you're not worried already, start worrying now.

Update: Another way to look at this is that the MB is being forced to pick its fights. It can't challenge on all front, so what will it choose to focus on, the presidency, the parliament, or the constitution? Especially as it has no major allies and very few political actors, including the MB, has a history of acting on principle. 

Update 2: I am reminded by Ed Webb that there is case to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood that will begin tomorrow, adding another threat to the Brothers should they contest the above.

An instant analysis of Egypt's new constitution

Nathan Brown — a professor at GWU and Carnegie Scholar whose fantastic writings on Egypt’s transition you can find at Foreign Policy and Carnegie among other places — has hastily jotted down some very quick observations on the supplementary constitutional declaration just issued by SCAF (here's a scan of the constitution [PDF] Update: English text.). Here they are:

The supplementary constitutional declaration really does complete the coup in many obvious ways–basically returning martial law (in its more original sense rather than the “state of emergency” that just expired), making the military unaccountable, and grabbing back oversight of the political system for the military just weeks before the scheduled end of military rule. Most of this is clear on the surface and does not need much analysis.

Two more detailed notes I would add that may otherwise be missed:

  1. The new article 53 refers to the SCAF in its current formation. What people had forgotten about the SCAF was that it was a body that existed before February 2011, established by statute that placed the president of the republic at its head. Without this declaration, President Shafiq or Morsi would have headed the SCAF upon taking office (unless there was some change in the legislation on the SCAF’s formation I was unware of over the past year) In freezing the SCAF’s current membership in place and giving it such sweeping powers, the provisions really do constitutionalize a military coup.

  2. Giving the constitutional court a binding veto over any constitutional provision with only the vaguest guidance on the standards to use is simply a constitutional obscenity. With all my respect for some of the Court’s justices, this is simply a bizarre role for the Court. It is a parody of the South African transition, in which the Court was given the task of reviewing the draft constitution in light of a group of principles negotiated by political forces at the start of the process. The South African Court did find some violations and asked for changes. In that case, however, the Court was a new structure, it was a far more diverse body, the standards were clear, and those standards had consensus agreement.

One other brief legal and historical note: there is a brewing struggle over whether or not the parliament is dissolved. The SCAF’s argument–apparently supported by some Court justices in some comments if I recall correctly–is that the publication of the judgment in the Official Gazette has made the decision part of the legal order.

The Brotherhood’s argument is that the 1987 and 1990 dissolution came only after a popular referendum approved them, and that based on that precedent, a referendum is required now. I do not find that argument convincing because the previous referenda were based on a provision in the 1971 constitution permitting the president to dissolve parliament if that dissolution was approved in a referendum. When the 1987 and 1990 decisions came, the Court apparently advised the president that it was up to him as the executive authority to dissolve the parliament but that his authority to do so could be exercised only with the approval of a referendum (Lord only knows what would happen if the referendum had been rejected, but such things did not happen in those days).

Tariq al-Bishri’s argument is that the constitutional declaration does not give the SCAF any authority to dissolve the parliament and that therefore the correct way to enforce an SCC judgment (since the SCC only rules on the law) is to go to the administrative courts. This argument seems to be legally stronger but politically totally without legs.

There is a weird precedent here–in 1925 after the king dissolved the parliament immediately after it sat, the parliamentary majority, led by the Wafd argued (probably correctly) that the dissolution was unconstitutional. So they met in a hotel after the Parliament was sealed off. I don’t expect that precedent to govern the outcome now, but we might see Sa’d al-Katatni positioning himself as Sa’d Zaghlul.

So in the end, I think that Egypt will follow Hobbes’s maxim “in matter of government, when nothing else is turned up, clubs are trumps.” Those clubs, according to al-Ahram, have already been deployed. “Security” personnel have taken over the parliament and discovered–brace yourselves–that FJP deputies were doing things like preparing a budget different from that of the Ganzuri government.. And they were even talking about what positions people should have after the presidential elections. What clearer evidence could there be of a nefarious attempt to have elected officials govern the country?

The MB and SCAF after the elections

SCAF, Brotherhood in talks over post-election cooperation: Sources - Ahram Online:

The Brotherhood leadership, according to sources who spoke to Ahram Online, is hoping to clinch the top position in the next government, should Mubarak-era premier and presidential finalist Ahmed Shafiq beat Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi in this week's runoff vote.

"Deep down, nobody is expecting Mursi to win; it has become very clear that the SCAF is supporting Shafiq," said a Muslim Brotherhood source. "We don’t want to get into a confrontation, but we want to make sure that Shafiq won't be running the state in the absence of revolutionary forces – this is why we want a strong presence in the next government."

A former associate of El-Shater who previously defected from the Brotherhood told Ahram Online: "Khairat El-Shater is a realistic and pragmatic man. He knows that Mursi's electoral prospects are slim, and that the chances of the Brotherhood making its presence felt will be much better if it comes via the government rather than the presidency, in which case Mursi would be confronted by all top state bodies, including the SCAF itself."

According to this article, the chief connection here is between Gen. Sami Enan and al-Shater. When I met Shater after the first round, he seemed depressed and fatalistic about how the election is rigged against the MB. But Shafiq's promise to appoint a MB-led cabinet (which he stands by despite his repeated attacks on the group as a force for darkness) and SCAF's encouragement of such a step makes it likely that the MB will simply live with the cabinet, and especially the PM's position, if it loses the presidential election.

All of this confirms my take on the Morsi-Shafiq runoff: it's an existential crisis for the felool — the remnants of the NDP, establishment power networks, parts of the security services — which stand to lose all access and be subject to further judicial reckoning if Morsi wins. But it's not as much as an existential crisis for the MB if Shafiq wins, because they don't believe Shafiq will institute a crackdown against them (others will suffer first), because they think they will retain control of parliament, and because they think ultimately they can deal with Shafiq and SCAF. I think that's a miscalculation, but it's coherent with their past behavior and deal-making inclinations. 

In Translation: Fahmi Howeidy on SCAF

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to put up a translated article about the early May clashes in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo, near the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, that appeared earlier this month. The clashes may have receded into memory with the excitement of the presidential elections, but they’re still relevant — if only because more clashes might be expected if the results (as the polls predict) exclude revolutionary candidates or are seen to be rigged.

For a reminder of what happened in Abbasiya, check out this Storify stream compiled by Arabist contributor Paul Mutter, which he put up on FPIF. The column we’re featuring today deals not so much with the clashes themselves as the reaction from the SCAF, and their repeated lack of accountability and scape-goating in such incidents. It raises important questions about whether the next president will even to hold anyone accountable, since the army appears to have successfully buried the investigations with their cryptic talk of “third elements” and so on. In my mind, this is one illustration of why a presidential election should not have been held under military rule, as their record is far too flawed.

The column below was written by Fahmi Howeidy, who has had an interesting turn lately. A conservative writer often seen as close to the Muslim Brothers but also close to the Egyptian establishment, he has voiced doubts about the wisdom of the Brotherhood’s presidential run and is also increasingly critical of the SCAF. Since he is considered to be the most-read columnist in Egypt, his voice counts and speaks of the unease with the SCAF beyond revolutionary circles — and, if you read between the lines, the effort to distinguish between the military and the SCAF.

As always, this article provided by the translation gnomes at Industry Arabic, who do sterling work when it comes to putting out clear copy of your Arabic articles, reports, documentation, and much more into whatever language you want and vice-versa. Professional, bespoke translation with a fast turn-around — what more could you want?

They warned us, but did not understand us

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 5 May 2012

It is not enough for the Military Council’s spokesmen to say that the army is innocent of the Abbasia massacre, and it is not appropriate for one of the Council’s members to say that the protestors rejected an offer from the authorities to protect them. The former statement could be made by anyone, with the exception of those who run the country, while the latter should not be made by any state official.

There is nothing new in the statements that seek to exculpate the army – and often the police – from the charge of suppressing protestors and opening fire on them. We have heard this talk several times before. Not only did some official spokesmen not wash their hands of the incident, but they went so far as to deny that there were snipers in the first place, even though hundreds of thousands of people saw them standing on the tops of buildings shooting at them.

These repeat occurrences, however, cause the argument to lose its credibility. It may be possible to accept the official version once, and doubt what everyone witnessed and experienced, but it is nearly impossible to believe these statements every time. The country is supposed to have investigative agencies and bodies whose duty is not to exonerate people of crimes, but rather to lay their hands on the elements responsible and the people pulling the strings in order to hold them to account and prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents. In this case, the choice is either to follow the thread of the crime to reveal those who planned and executed it, or to admit their failure to do so, and step aside to clear the way for those who are more up to the task. But when neither of these two things takes place, and society is expected to be convinced by their statements, and to be satisfied with the continual attribution to hidden “unknown elements” every time, that is what is hard to accept. Furthermore, this leaves the door wide open to suspicion, which could lead some people to believe that there are elements concealing and protecting the perpetrators of these crimes, whether because the official bodies are happy with what these unknown actors are doing, or because they are collaborating with them, if not directing them outright.

When Military Council officials are intent on exonerating the army every time, and content themselves with that, they are acting like the guilty person with a “head wound” they want to hide. It is noteworthy that people did not accuse the army in the first place, but were just wondering who perpetrated, planned and had in interest in suppressing and killing protestors. They draw a fine distinction between the Military Council that is governing the country — and it is their right to criticize its governance and policies — and the army, which continues to enjoy the trust and respect of the people. They also distinguish between the combat army that defends and secures the country, and some of its arms that have begun to carry out domestic roles. Condemning these arms – the military police, for example – does not have to go along with condemnation of the army, since its place in the transition period almost corresponds to the role played by the apparatus of the Interior Ministry that citizens have constantly been clashing with.

We know that the “thugs” were the Interior Ministry’s weapon in confronting people demonstrating against Mubarak and his regime, and that link indicates that talk about their connection to the authorities is neither an insult nor a slander. When newspapers publish statements by protestors talking about the weapons and gas canisters in the possession of these thugs, and the meals sent to them by some official guest houses, our suspicions mount that the authorities are not far from the issue.

We want to believe that the Military Council has no connection to the massacre that took place in Abbasia Square, but the statements by members of the Council do not help us with that. Their words are trying to convince us that they are watching the country, not responsible for running it. It is a statement we got from one of them, who said that the demonstrators refused an offer by the authorities to protect them, as if protecting citizens was not the state’s duty, but a choice. This means that there is confusion between the role of the official and that of the average citizen, or between the official’s role and that of the foreign tourist, who has no sense of obligation toward the society he visits.

In summary, the previously mentioned statements do not encourage us to have faith in the current investigations into the Abbasia massacre. Would that the People’s Assembly would form a committee from its members to investigate the “thugs” and figure out who is doing this, like it did before for the massacre of al-Ahly fans in Port Said.

My final remark on the press conference in which representatives of the Military Council spoke is that it was a form of self-defense and an attempt to deny the existence of “thugs” or rule them out. Then, they aimed to warn us and frighten us out of concern for our safety, and to make us understand, or offer us condolences for what happened in Abbasia.

Because we promised a time of fear, I’m claiming that what they said showed that they did not understand us, and that their remarks were an example of the wrong words at the wrong time.

How SCAF is seeking to resolve corruption cases behind closed doors

The following post, on legislation dealing with economic corruption recently decreed by SCAF, was contributed by Shereen Zaky, a lawyer in Cairo. 

On January 3rd, SCAF discreetly passed an amendment to the Investment Law essentially permitting the settlement of economic corruption crimes via financial reconciliation, as well as designating an extra-judicial process for the settlement of disputes regarding government contracts. Published only a few days before parliament was due to convene, the timing is significant both in terms of circumventing parliament’s assumption of legislative power and because the amendment could escape scrutiny, overshadowed as it was by greater events.

Law 4 of 2012 permits the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones, the regulator of investment and companies in Egypt, to settle with investors who have committed either in person, or as an accomplice of a government employee, embezzlement, theft, illegal acquisition or misuse of public funds and property, harming the public welfare, and similar offences, while undertaking any of the investment activities covered by the law, provided they restore the disputed amounts or reimburse the state for their approximate value at the time the offence was committed. The settlement can take place any stage before a defendant is convicted by the final court of appeal.

Essentially, this could allow the likes of Ahmed Ezz and other corrupt businessmen to slip neatly out of prison, as well as many other regime figures. It seems like one of SCAF’s now-familiar counter-revolutionary gambits, designed to protect their corrupt cronies and conceal their own implication in crime, but with a little adjustment it would actually be a reasonable means of protecting Egypt’s collapsing economy.

It seems self-evident that after an extended period of corruption it will be neither possible nor desirable to hold every (non-government official) perpetrator to account, for several sound policy reasons. First, the sheer number of possible perpetrators, many of whom are foreign nationals and entities, would defeat the efforts of even the soundest and most efficient judicial system, which Egypt certainly does not possess. Second, mounting a widespread campaign against businessmen would have the dual effect of inducing them to escape justice, and of killing any potential for recovering the illegal gains. Thus far the efforts made to recover funds embezzled by former government officials, including Mubarak, has proven fruitless, and a year later, any other guilty party has had ample time to dispose of evidence. Third, many ostensibly guilty businessmen had no choice but to comply with the illegal demands of corrupt government officials in order to do business in Egypt. Reporting a corrupt government official would certainly have had no other effect than to prevent that businessman from ever doing business in Egypt again. Morally dubious though an investor’s complicity in some of the relevant crimes might be, it should not necessarily entail a long prison sentence given the coercive nature of the involvement.

However, as with much else undertaken by SCAF, this initiative falls far short of addressing the real need for justice and restitution in several major ways, eloquently made by a recent memorandum authored by EIPR on the subject and sent to Parliament’s legislative committee.  According to the amendment, the investor and a GAFI representative sign a document together with the terms of the settlement, which is subject to the approval of the Chairman of GAFI. It need hardly be stated that this presents a conflict of interest, as the Chairman of GAFI, if not actually personally implicated by the crime in question, has a strong interest in protecting unfettered investment and avoiding legal issues with foreign investors in particular. An even greater miscarriage of justice is that the amendment neatly circumvents the supervision of the judiciary, by stipulating that these settlement agreements will be binding and enforceable – and thus not subject to judicial review, placing entire responsibility for this process in the hands of one person, and more generally with the executive branch, in violation of accepted principles of separation of powers and justice. There is also no evidence that this extra-judicial resolution process is temporary, basically allowing investors to continue to violate the law with impunity, knowing they can easily pay their way out of it if the political tide should turn against them. Essentially, the amendment defeats the three objectives behind all criminal laws: deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation.

EIPR also opined that under Egyptian law, this different treatment of investors compared to public employees – or other non-investors - guilty of the same offence is unconstitutional discrimination, as all are equal before the law. I, personally, see no moral issue with this discrimination against public employees in particular because it is made for a rational reason – the greater responsibility and control that public employees have over public resources – but a constitutional challenge is currently making its way through the courts on this ground. Of course, with such uneven enforcement of court decisions, this could well mean nothing.  

Further reading:

Daily News Egypt: Rights group slams law allowing settlement with corrupt investors  

Ahram online: Egyptian NGO contests ruling army's investment law

PostsGuestEconomics, Egypt, scaf
I hold these facts (about MB and SCAF) to be self-evident

Fact: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in its stewardship of Egypt's post-Mubarak transition, has not restored security, stability, economic growth.

Fact: The SCAF's transition plan has been so badly thought out that they have made a successful democratic transition extremely difficult, and the timeline for this transition appears still undecided.

Fact: While no political party has particularly shone during this transition, the Muslim Brothers in particular had a decisive influence in backing SCAF's transition plans from an early date.

Fact: The MB's calculations positioned it for a while as the party of stability, which voters responded well to. But now that it is elected, it is as unable to deliver stability as SCAF is.

Fact: The recent events and change in public attitudes towards SCAF — in part due to the patient work of activists – is discrediting the generals and their political allies. This cannot have escaped the MB's attention, or that of their opponents.

Fact: SCAF is on the verge of losing, if it hasn't already, whatever backing it had in the US over the NGOs affair, which is the most serious crisis in bilateral relations since the beginning of the alliance in 1975.

Fact: While the MB and the US are not natural allies, neither are SCAF and the MB. But the MB has an opportunity to be the adult in the room it claims to be here. When a MB leader like Khairat al-Shater says:

“The democratic transition in Egypt is hanging in the balance […] We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship.”

surely he can see that the SCAF is hurting Egypt's recovery by antagonizing the very allies that would provide the country with economic relief. Perhaps he should share his views with Brotherhood MPs who applaud the NGO crackdown and Mostafa Bakri's reference to foreign conspiracies.

Fact: The MB needs to strongly consider what Egypt's long-term interests are, as well as its own political interests. It can be a leader in parliament in the call for a civilian-controlled transition process by dropping its attachment to what remains of SCAF's haphazard transition plan and move closer0 to the protest movements' demands for presidential elections and a new constitution produced without SCAF. Or it can continue to defend SCAF's ongoing mistakes and accept the drip-feed of minor concessions, like shuffling former regime prisoners about in jails.

Fact: If it choses the latter, history will not remember the MB kindly.

Fact: A confrontation with SCAF is not without risks. The political unity on a transition plan that should have been there after the overthrow of Mubarak is urgently needed.

Great new anti-army video calling for Egypt general strike

This video, put out by Aalam Wassef, is one of the most daring and well-made I've seen yet by the anti-SCAF movement. The basic narrative is that the SCAF represents a military that has run Egypt into the ground for some sixty years, while enjoying the fruits of its economic empire, luxury hospitals, clubs etc. It calls for a boycott of military-produced products and a general strike on February 11.
About the Port Said stadium massacre

I have an op-ed in The National about last night's events, in which I argue that beyond conspiracy theories, the event highlights Egyptians' profound sense of insecurity and the urgent need for police reform and civilian oversight of the security services.

Are these conspiracies within the realm of possibility? Perhaps - security at the stadium was certainly extremely lax despite warnings.

But the unproven speculation is distracting from the reality that Egypt needs an operational, authoritative (but not authoritarian) police force, as any state does. The question of police reform, and the rebuilding of its self-confidence, has yet to be tackled seriously, with the past year wasted on superficial changes. The new parliament needs to work with the government so that civilians finally get an understanding of what is behind all this violence - the old regime "remnants", "foreign hands" or perhaps more simply a state and a society that still has to forge a new, hopefully more humane, relationship.

I also have a post in the London Review of Books Blog about the political fallout, notably how it might affect the last few days standoffs between the protest movement and the Muslim Brothers over the latter's backing of SCAF's transition schedule:

Until yesterday, the top concern in Cairo was the mounting tension between revolutionary protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) now controls 46 per cent of parliament and is in a position to negotiate – alone if it wants to – the terms by which the military will transfer power to civilians later this year. The protest movement wants an immediate handover of power, either to a senior judge as interim president, to parliament, or to a president to be elected as soon as possible – and certainly earlier than 15 June, the date the generals have set for a presidential election. The Brothers, along with the more hardline Salafi Islamists, were sticking with the military schedule, but what happened last night has changed that.

In a special session of parliament today, the idea of forming a government of national salvation was discussed. MPs, including those of the FJP, also want to sack the interior minister and interrogate the chief of intelligence. It is as yet unclear whether they have the power – legally or practically – to do this, and what it might mean for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But it is a first sign of confrontation between the Brothers and the SCAF, and is encouraging the Tahrir protesters to hold fast to their demand for accountability and civilian rule sooner rather than later.

The idea that an Egyptian deep state has been manipulating public fear of chaos is not new. Convicted criminals were released during last year’s uprising in order to terrify ordinary Egyptians into rejecting calls for Mubarak’s resignation. The later violent crackdowns against anti-military protesters seemed to be fairly widely accepted, as people blamed revolutionaries for perpetuating the insecurity. But the reaction to the Port Said stadium massacre shows that the silent majority’s trust in Egypt’s military rulers is waning fast.

As clashes are now underway in the center of Cairo and more protestors converging towards the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, I have no doubt the situation will grow more complicated. It's going to be a long and, unfortunately, bloody night. But the bottom line is that politically, these events have the potential to change key actors' attitudes towards the military – most notably the Muslim Brothers and the so-called silent majority.

Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.