Egypt on the edge, political void, unrest far from over,

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August 8, 2013

Egypt on the Edge

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It’s hard to imagine things getting worse in Egypt, but they could. The generals who now call the shots in the world’s leading Arab country and their handpicked civilian government have halted efforts to reach a compromise with the Islamist supporters of the man they ousted — Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president. Instead, they have threatened to forcibly disperse tens of thousands of pro-Morsi civilians from two sit-ins in Cairo.

Such an intemperate response could end disastrously. Nearly 300 people have been killed in political violence since July 3, when the military overthrew Mr. Morsi; among the dead were 80 Morsi backers shot by security forces on July 27. The government has carried out a sweeping crackdown against the Brotherhood, jailing Mr. Morsi in an unknown location, and blamed the group for inviting the crackdown even though the two main sit-ins, which are demanding Mr. Morsi’s reinstatement, are open and seemingly nonviolent.

After working its back-channel ties to the army with little obvious effect, the Obama administration sent one of its ablest diplomats, William Burns, the deputy secretary of state, to Cairo to join a European Union representative and envoys from other Arab states in presenting both sides with sensible, face-saving proposals to calm the crisis. The army, they suggested, would release some Brotherhood leaders from detention and allow the Brotherhood to participate in elections; in exchange, the Islamists would forswear violence.

The generals and some civilian leaders, however, refused to budge, despite warnings in Cairo from two prominent visiting Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, that America’s $1.5 billion aid package could be at risk.

It is difficult to understand why the army, which considers itself the guardian of the state, would think that crushing the Brotherhood could benefit the country. Egypt is existing hand-to-mouth on donations from gulf allies when what it needs is to rebuild a strong economy that provides jobs, housing and education to its people. Tourism and foreign investment will never rebound if there is persistent violence and turmoil.

The Brotherhood, having been tossed out in a coup, might legitimately wonder whether the democratic process can ever be trusted. But that process offers the only path to long-term stability. The United States, which has gone too far in accepting the coup, must keep making the case for a political solution. With Europe and the Arab world, it must also be prepared to condemn the army and consider stronger action if more bloodshed occurs.

 

Regional Affairs: Unrest in Egypt appears far from over

LAST UPDATED: 08/10/2013 04:10
 

With the collapse of international attempts at mediating between the army-installed government and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, both sides are gearing up for confrontation.

A supporter of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi holds up a Koran during a protest.

A supporter of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi holds up a Koran during a protest. Photo: REUTERS

Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour’s statement on Wednesday, that diplomatic efforts to end the political standoff in the country have failed, means the next stage in the turmoil that has wracked Egypt for over two years is about to begin.

This will translate into a severe crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Following the collapse of international mediation efforts, the army-installed government repeated its threat to take action against supporters of Morsi. And Mansour, in a message on the eve of Id al-Fitr, said Egypt was in critical circumstances: “The train of the future has departed, and everyone must realize the moment and catch up with it. Whoever fails to realize this moment must take responsibility for their decision.”

Many of those who follow developments in the region are not surprised, as it dovetails with the culture and history of intra-Arab struggles for political power – a region traditionally led by strongmen and devoid of Western democracy, with a winner-take-all mentality that does not leave room for compromise or losers.

In fact, in a 2006 paper titled “Democracy in the Middle East,” which Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wrote while studying at the US Army War College, he argues that “existing conflict and tension needs to be resolved before democracy can be more fully accepted by the people of the area.”

“On the surface, many of the autocratic leaders claim that they are in favor of democratic ideals and forms of government, but they are leery of relinquishing control to the voting public of their regimes,” wrote Sisi.

He goes on to note that the challenge today is similar to the one faced at the beginning of Islam: uniting “these tribal and ethnic factions.” In any case, he states that Middle Eastern democracy is not likely to follow the Western model, but will have “its own shape […] with stronger religious ties.”

Eric Trager, an Egypt expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in Foreign Policy that Sisi’s argument is basically the same one that former president Hosni Mubarak made, “that Middle Easterners are just not ready for democracy.”

Halim Barakat, a novelist, sociologist and retired professor at The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, was born in Syria and raised in Beirut.

He writes in his book The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State about the importance of the classic Arab family as the fundamental unit in Arab society – holding just as true among a traditional Beduin family as it does among that of a modernized urban Arab.

“The success or failure of an individual member becomes that of the family as a whole. This centrality of the family as the basic socioeconomic unit is now being increasingly challenged by the state and other social institutions. But the network of interdependent kinship relations continues to prevail. In this network, the father continues to wield authority, assume responsibility for the family, and expect respect and unquestioning compliance with his instructions.”

It is these patriarchal values that “prevail at work, at school, and in religious, political and social associations. In all of these, a father figure rules over others, monopolizing authority, expecting strict obedience and showing little tolerance of dissent.”

Barakat goes on to conclude that these values are critical for political leadership in the Arab world: “While kinship loyalties may conflict with national loyalty and undermine national consciousness, much of the legitimacy of political orders and rulers derives from the family and its values.”

In Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, Philip Carl Salzman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University, describes how the ethos of Arab tribal culture functions and how it is still prescient today. The book helps clarify what we have been witnessing with the recent regional upheavals, particularly in Egypt.

He writes: “Democracy only works when all parties are committed to the electoral rules and are prepared to defer to the results of the polls. Otherwise, election results become an occasion for a standoff between opponent parties and a rebellion by the unelected party.

Equally, a violation of democracy is the permanent monopolization of power by a once-elected party: one man, one vote, one time.”

Is this what we are seeing in Egypt, simply a power-struggle between two main factions? When Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood controlled the government, they tried to take complete control of the state – just as the new army-backed government is doing today.

Into this environment entered US Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who held a press conference on Tuesday calling the overthrow of Morsi a “coup,” and telling the Egyptian leadership that Morsi should be released and steps towards democracy should be taken immediately.

The Egyptian media and government officials lashed out at the “interference” of the Americans, predictably rejecting their comments.

Trager told The Jerusalem Post, “Negotiations were never likely to succeed, because the fact that the military removed the Brotherhood from power means that its fight with the Brotherhood is existential, and vice versa.”

“I expect that the military’s attempt to decapitate the Brotherhood will continue, because the generals fear that liberating Brotherhood leaders would threaten their own lives,” said Trager.

The fact that the generals have substantial public support means that a crackdown on the Brotherhood is “all the more likely.”

Anna Boyd, a senior Middle East analyst at the London-based IHS Country Risk, told the Post that she thinks the attempt to clear Rabiya al-Adawiya, where the protesters supporting Morsi are concentrated, “has to come sooner rather than later, while the army is still buoyed by support from the Tamarod and youth movements, and by the demonstration that Sisi called by way of a ‘popular mandate’ to crack down on terrorism.”

“If they leave it too long, there is a risk that this support will start to diminish as the reality of ongoing economic problems and army repressive tactics start to kick in,” she said.

Boyd thinks that the army wants Islamists in the next government so that it would be representative, but adds that it is unlikely they would be allowed to regain any real political power. And an Islamist election boycott cannot be ruled out, she said.

The army crackdown may increase the chances that the more extreme elements of the Brotherhood and Salafi groups will respond with violence, as they feel closed out of the political process, said Boyd.

“This is already happening, for example with recent attacks on police stations,” said Boyd, stressing that this “will play into the army’s hands, as it provides an excuse to continue with the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which will be blamed – fairly or not – for such attacks.”

The other crackdown is in the form of legal action to cut off the Brotherhood’s funding.

In a recent brief, Boyd described some of the actions that Egypt’s public prosecutor was taking against the movement’s figures. In addition to criminal charges such as incitement to violence, there are accusations that $10 billion of the Qatari aid money intended for Egypt was diverted into Brotherhood-affiliated bank accounts.

Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told the Post that the army has no choice but to act, because it has “put itself in a corner by asking the people to come out and give it their support.”

“You can’t ask the masses to mobilize and then give them nothing. That would mean the erosion of Sisi’s popularity, and he surely wants to keep that,” said Tadros.

He says that the Brotherhood’s strategy thus far has been based on martyrdom, and by continuing the protests, they are essentially “offering their members as martyrs” – betting that the army will be forced to compromise, instead of risking a large death toll.

Tadros believes the problem with this strategy is that the army monopolizes the local media narrative, and the only real constraint on a clampdown on the protests is worry about international reaction.

The army will win this battle, says Tadros, “but the war has hardly begun.”

Reuters contributed to this report

Egypt’s political void

On

Sat, 10/08/2013 – 11:06
 

There are at least three things to consider when looking at the current crisis unfolding in Egypt.

Contrary to the navel-gazing some political analysts and activists are still finding time to indulge in, the thing most Egyptians worry about now is national security. They took to the streets on 26 July to reiterate their rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood, its political failures and attempts at hegemony over state institutions and the economy. That day army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also asked for a mandate to confront “violence and terrorism." Finaly, it was a message to the international community from both Sisi and the people to refute claims that 30 June was a military coup.

Violence and terrorism certainly need to be tackled. No country can rebuild itself with the threat of terrorism on its borders, inside its cities. The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to militarise its fight to return Mohamed Morsy to power has delegitimised the organization as well as its message. It has left no room for dialogue because no nation on earth would agree to negotiate with terrorists and armed militias.

The Brotherhood has to make the decision to put an end to violence, whether in the Sinai (through their affiliates and supporters who are waging a daily war on military targets and personnel), or in the cities of Egypt (and put an end to bombing public areas like Mansoura, initiating violence against civilians and military targets, and attacking innocent people on the streets). Only then can there be any hope of a national reconciliation and a possible rehabilitation of the Brotherhood back into the fold of Egyptian society.  

The second concern is the social aspect of this war against terrorism. Any hopes of national healing are gone for the short term. The 25 January revolution failed to create any coherent consensus, due to a lack of political will and the absence of strong leadership.

The scene was already set for the Brotherhood to further inflame social divisions, causing religious tensions, social strife and a general disintegration into lawlessness. For the first time in recent history, Egyptians felt it was alright to take matters into their own hands and make sure “justice” was served. In the absence of a strong security presence, many incidents took place across Egyptian governorates were people decided to punish individuals or religious groups for crimes real or imagined, causing chaos and bloodshed.

This spirit has not miraculously lifted after 30 June and the ousting of the Brotherhood from power. We have witnessed a return of sectarian violence in Minya, which was condemned by only a few so-called liberals and politicians, both at home and abroad. There have also been some sporadic outbreaks of social violence carried out by citizens against members of the Brotherhood in their neighbourhoods, such as the recent reports of torching Ikhwan-owned shops in Port Said. There is a fine line between tackling terrorists and demonising the other, and this line should never be crossed. It is a dangerous and slippery slope that could lead to exclusion, oppression and a vicious circle of civil strife. 

On the political front, the situation is not any better. The same political ineptitude, prevarication and lack of leadership that plagued the scene after January 2011 is still present. Many analysts and activists are still arguing over whether 30 June was a revolution or a coup; should people have taken to the streets on 26 July in support of the army; is this a “militarisation of the Egyptian collective psyche,” etc.

While all these questions are important for analysts, writers and historians to deliberate over in years to come, now is the time for political action and strong leadership. Instead of wasting time pondering whether the military, and General Sisi, are planning to take over ruling the country, all so-called “democratic,” “liberal" and non-Islamist political elements need to focus their efforts on making sure that scenario doesn’t actually happen. If they do not want the country to fall into military rule, they should provide a strong civil alternative. They should start working on the ground, gaining grassroots support, and developing a vision for the nation to move forward. What they should worry about right now is that in the absence of strong political leadership and vision, the army could very well find itself left with no option but to be the de facto ruler of the country. General Sisi has proven, throughout last year and since Morsy was installed as president, that he is perfectly willing and capable of working with any civilian government that is in power. In spite of the conspiracy theories trying to prove otherwise, the main reason the army literally had no option but to intervene on 3 July was the complete absence of other strong state institutions.

After decades of dictatorship, and a year of Ikhwan rule, Egypt almost became a failed state, with fragile institutions and a complete lack of potential civilian leadership. If political actors continue theorising and don’t start acting now, the army again will find itself in the unenviable position of having to take over to save Egypt from complete and utter failure.

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