Egypt –on the brink or a new beginning?

Jul 5, 2013

Egypt –on the brink or a new beginning?

Update from AIJAC

July 5, 2013
Number 07/13 #02

Today’s Update follows up on yesterday’’s by offering some of the most interesting analyses of the momentous changes in Egypt. 

First, Daniel Pipes worries that the Egyptian army was premature in removing President Mohammed Morsi from office. He argues “that the quick military removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government will exonerate Islamists” with history showing that popular support for utopian movements really ebbs before the realities of radicalism are truly absorbed. To read this, CLICK HERE.

Next, Jonathan Spyer says that despite the latest turn of events in Egypt “the forces of political Islam, and the armed forces of the ancien regime” are still the only blocks in the Middle East able to exercise power. According to Spyer “the liberal reformers are quite unable to command the kind of potent loyalties by which movements sustain themselves and win” even though they were pivotal in the latest protests and the original Tahrir Square demonstrations of 2011. To read more, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Walter Russell Mead argues that the US must not remain silent if the Egyptian army suppresses human rights in the name of order but neither can it be deluded that democracy is around the corner. He advocates a foreign policy for the US Administration that will “help prevent Egypt’s descent into starvation, misery, anarchy and despair.” To read this, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • Raymond Ibrahim reports that Qatar, which has been propping up Egypt with aid, has shut the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and revoked the citizenship of the movement’s radical spiritual leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has lived in the emirate for years.
  • Another organisation left in the lurch is Hamas, which backed Morsi at the expense of its membership of the Iran/Assad Resistance bloc. 
  • Egyptian human rights campaigner Dalia Ziada writes that Egyptians have learned their lesson that a religious figure does not necessarily bring good government. But this analysis by Stratfor suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood will regroup and challenge the dismissal of Morsi.
  • Egypt’s interim president is accused of being Jewish.
  • Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International, writes that the Palestinian Authority claims it supports US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to bring the parties to the negotiating table to reach a peace deal but is betraying hopes for peace by manipulating the UN to condemn Israel on spurious accusations.


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Egypt after Morsi: Joy and Worry

by Daniel Pipes

National Post
July 4, 2013

The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt delights and worries me.

Delight is easy to explain. What appears to have been the largest political demonstration in history uprooted the arrogant Islamists of Egypt who ruled with near-total disregard for anything other than consolidating their own power. Islamism, the drive to apply a medieval Islamic law and the only vibrant radical utopian movement in the world today, experienced an unprecedented repudiation. Egyptians showed an inspiring spirit.

If it took 18 days to overthrow Husni Mubarak in 2011, just four were needed to overthrow Morsi this past week. The number of deaths commensurately went down from about 850 to 40. Western governments (notably the Obama administration) thinking they had sided with history by helping the Muslim Brotherhood regime found themselves appropriately embarrassed.

My worry is more complex. The historical record shows that the thrall of radical utopianism endures until calamity sets in. On paper, fascism and communism sound appealing; only the realities of Hitler and Stalin discredited and marginalized these movements.

In the case of Islamism, this same process has already begun; indeed, the revulsion started with much less destruction wrought than in the prior two cases (Islamism not yet having killed tens of millions) and with greater speed (years, not decades). Recent weeks have seen three rejections of Islamist rule in a row, what with the Gezi Park-inspired demonstrations across Turkey, a resounding victory by the least-hardline Islamist in the Iranian elections on June 14, and now the unprecedentedly massive refutation of the Muslim Brotherhood in public squares along the Nile River.

But I fear that the quick military removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government will exonerate Islamists.

Egypt is a mess. Relations between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood elements have already turned violent and threaten to degenerate. Copts and Shi’ites get murdered just because of their identities. The Sinai Peninsula is anarchic. The incompetent and greedy military leadership, which viciously ruled Egypt from behind the scenes between 1952 and 2012, is back in charge.

But the worst problems are economic. Remittances from foreign workers have declined since the upheaval in neighboring Libya. Sabotage against the pipeline sending natural gas to Israel and Jordan ended that source of income. Tourism has obviously collapsed. Inefficiencies mean that this hydrocarbon-producing country lacks the fuel to run tractors at full capacity. Socialist-era factories churn out sub-par goods.

Egypt imports an estimated 70 percent of its food and is running fast out of hard currency to pay for wheat, edible oils, and other staples. Hunger looms. Unless foreigners subsidize Egypt with tens of billions of dollars of aid a year into the indefinite future, a highly unlikely scenario, that hunger looks unavoidable. Already, about one out of seven poor families have cut back on their food intake.

Looming over all these dangers, the Ethiopian government exploited Egypt’s weakness a few weeks ago to begin building a dam on the Blue Nile that could entail a reduction in water being supplied to Egypt from 55 billion cubic meters to 40 billion, a move that has incalculably negative implications for life in the country known as the Gift of the Nile.

As these economic disasters hit, the year-long interlude of Islamist rule by Morsi & Co., which did so much to exacerbate these problems, may well be forgotten – and whoever inherits the rule will take the blame. In other words, the pain Egyptians have and will go through may be for naught. Who knows, they might in desperation turn again to Islamists to pull them out of their future predicament. Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief time in power means other Muslim peoples will also not gain as they should from Egypt’s dire experience.

On another subject, Lee Smith of the Hudson Institute speculates that Egypt’s new rulers will see a short war with Israel as the only way to “reunify the country and earn Egypt money from an international community eager to broker peace,” as well as “return Egypt to its former place of prominence” in the Middle East. Such a war would likely achieve none of these goals – Egyptian forces would probably get clobbered, leaving the country yet poorer and weaker – but one cannot discount this possibility. Egypt’s military leaders have many times before engaged in follies against Israel.

In short, my joy at Morsi’s departure more than offset by my concern that the lessons of his misrule will not be learned.

July 4, 2013 update: Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University goes further than do I, finding no joy and only worries. He argues that Morsi

    should have allowed .. his full term in office [and] to fail. At that point, a weak president ruling over an even weaker state might have been pressured to hold democratic elections once again. Washington could have placed pressure on the Egyptian government to hold free elections in such a situation, reminding Morsi that an American withdrawal of financial and technological aid could cause Egypt to collapse. The Muslim Brotherhood, in the biggest and most important Arab state, would have then been elected out of office. …

    Instead, the bitter adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist groups (and at a later stage the youth in Tamarod once they realize that they were wronged again) might learn an entirely different lesson, an ominous one played out in other revolutions: the beheading of potential counter-revolutionaries in a manner they themselves refrained from doing after Mubarak’s ouster.

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.

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Power and the Arab Revolutions – some thoughts on the latest events in Egypt

Jonathan Spyer

July 3, 2013

The latest events in Egypt confirm one of the salient patterns that have governed the upheavals in the Arab world of the last years. This is the troubling but unmistakable fact that despite all the chatter about peoples’ power, democracy, civil society and the rest of it, when it comes to the real, grown-up exercise of political power in the countries in question, there remain only two contenders: the forces of political Islam, and the armed forces of the ancien regime.

That this is so seems empirically irrefutable – from Algeria to Gaza, via Syria and Egypt – the forces that when the talking is done go out to do battle with one another for the crown are the Islamists and the armed men of the regime (the latter usually organized under the banner of a secular, authoritarian nationalism.)

What is currently taking place in Egypt is a military coup in all but name. The army – the force through which Mubarak, Sadat and Nasir governed – is mobilizing to end the one year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. It remains to be seen whether Mohammed Morsi and his comrades will yield to this mobilization, or attempt to resist it.

If they attempt the latter, Egypt will stand before a situation analogous to that of Algeria in 1991, when the regime’s military sought to annul the election victory of the Islamist FIS movement. The result was a bloody civil war which in retrospect may be seen as the precursor of what is now taking place in Syria, and what may now lie ahead in Egypt.

If, on the other hand, the Brotherhood choose to acquiesce to the demands of the military, then President Morsi’s remark that this will represent the reversal of the 2011 revolution is entirely correct. What will transpire will be military rule, presumably with a few civilian figureheads placed on the mast to enable the west to pretend that it is something else.

In 2010, I wrote a book called ‘The Transforming Fire’ which contains the following sentence; “In the Middle East, it is the regimes or the Islamists; there is no third way.” I undertake the somewhat vulgar act of quoting myself not in order to demonstrate what a very clever boy indeed I’ve been, but rather to indicate that this basic fact of the presence of two serious contenders for power in the main countries of the Arabic speaking world has been obvious and apparent before the events of 2011, which are usually (though inaccurately) held to mark the advent of the historic processes currently being witnessed in the Middle East.

To paraphrase George Orwell’s poor Winston Smith, however, I understand how, but I do not quite understand why. After all, the throngs of young people that we have witnessed in recent days in the streets of Egypt are not a mirage. No more were the young civil society activists who began the uprising in Syria, or the sophisticated liberals and reformers in Egypt. What are the factors which time and time again prevent the emergence of a muscular, representative, civilian and secular politics in the Arab world?

A politics of this type, which can combine the readiness for the use of force with a commitment to the open society seems to me to be the foundation stone for workable democracy.

In my own country, Israel, it very clearly exists. The primordial call of Jewish identity is the bedrock on which the democratic structure stands and is defensible and defended. Take away the former, and the latter would soon fall too.

Now the willingness to use force in order to defend rests at root always on something ‘irrational’, ie deeper than profit-loss, self-interested thinking. It must by necessity do so, since by engagement in such activity, the individual increases the possibility of his or her own early extinction. The ‘trick’ for making the open society work and be defensible seems to me the ability to combine or harmonize this deeper, non-rational layer of human motivation with the entirely rational commitment to institutions, structures, checks, balances and so on.

In the highly populated countries of the Arab world, glaringly, this has never been achieved. The liberal reformers are quite unable to command the kind of potent loyalties by which movements sustain themselves and win. Today, in Egypt, it is not they who are the real political and military actors. The required levels of commitment exist, solely, in the hands of Islamists on the one hand, and authoritarian nationalists on the other.

For as long as this remains the case, secure, rights based societies are likely to remain elusive in the Arabic-speaking world. But is the reason why it is the case, ultimately, because of powerful, pervasive ideas and practices in these societies which militate against the development of the kind of movements and institutions which could form the basis for a defendable civil society? It may well be. An unreformed, power-oriented religion that commands the deep loyalty of masses of people, and a stress on community security over individual rights would be the most notable factors here. And if it is so, it means that the anger of the populations at mis-managed societies will continue to be mis-directed, and that much remaining strife almost certainly lies ahead.

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy.

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Still Wrong About Egypt—and Wrong About the World

Walter Russell Mead 

July 4 2013

Both the Armed Forces of Egypt and President Obama made important statements last night. The Egyptian statement justifying the overthrow of President Morsi is here, and President Obama’s statement of concern is here. Looking carefully at both statements, it appears that the non-coup coup or whatever we want to call it may not create too much tension in US-Egyptian relations. Looking forward, President Obama wants Egypt’s military to move swiftly toward the restoration of civilian rule. That is pretty much what the Egyptian brass also wants. There are no gaps here that good diplomats (and both the US and Egypt have plenty of those) cannot paper over.

There are two flies in the ointment. On the Egyptian side, while there are no references to the suppression of opposition in the military statement, there are reports that news stations have been closed down, and both reporters and hundreds of pro-Morsi politicians have been arrested. On the American side, President Obama’s statement referenced provisions in US law that would require aid cuts in the event of a military coup:

Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.

That will certainly get some attention from Egypt’s new government; besides the army’s keen interest in US aid, the country is in the midst of a cascading economic disaster and aid of all kinds has never been more necessary, or harder to come by.

There seems to be an implicit tradeoff being suggested here; it might be necessary to make some short term arrests when the streets are aflame and civil order has broken down. But if the army overplays its hands and keeps prominent political figures in jail once normality has returned, then the US would begin to twist arms.

President Obama won’t do anything to cut off aid right this minute — after all, those dratted bureaucrats are sometimes very slow when it comes to processing paperwork — but if the generals go too far, the option of aid cuts down the road remains open.

The President is right to keep this card up his sleeve. One should never forget that over the years a great many Muslim Brotherhood members have been tortured, raped and otherwise abused in Egyptian prisons. Many of those being led to prison tonight have been there before, and the memories aren’t good. No US president of whatever party could remain wholly indifferent to evidence that these tactics were being used deliberately and on a large scale in a political dispute of this kind.

But again, if the Egyptian armed forces mean what they say in their statement, and President Obama means what he said in his, then US-Egyptian relations should survive this storm, as they have survived others in the past.

Where the American President’s statement becomes more troubling is at the end. Concludes President Obama:

No transition to democracy comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people. An honest, capable and representative government is what ordinary Egyptians seek and what they deserve. The longstanding partnership between the United States and Egypt is based on shared interests and values, and we will continue to work with the Egyptian people to ensure that Egypt’s transition to democracy succeeds.

One hopes the President understands what drivel this is. It is not at all clear that Egypt is in the midst of a transition to democracy. It is in the midst of a crisis of authority and has been wallowing for some time in a damaging crisis of governance, but is Egypt really in a transition to democracy? And is democracy really what “ordinary” Egyptians want?
Right now one suspects that most Egyptians fear that the country could be in a transition to anarchy, and that what ordinary Egyptians (who are extremely poor by US standards and earn their bread by the sweat of their brow with very little cushion against illness or a bad day at the market) want most of all right now is security. They aren’t fretting so much about when they will have a government more like Norway’s as they are terrified that their country is sliding in the direction of Libya, Syria or Iraq.
As is often the case, Washington policymakers seem to be paying too much attention to the glibbest of political scientists and the vaporings of the Davoisie. Egypt has none of the signs that would lead historians to think democracy is just around the corner. Mubarak was not Franco, and Egypt is not Spain. What’s happening in Egypt isn’t the robust flowering of a civil society so dynamic and so democratic that it can no longer be held back by dictatorial power.

Virtually every policeman and government official in the country takes bribes. Most journalists have lied for pay or worked comfortably within the confines of a heavily censored press all their careers. The Interior Ministry has files, often stuffed with incriminating or humiliating information about most of the political class. The legal system bowed like a reed before the wind of the Mubarak government’s will, and nothing about the character of its members has changed. The business class serves the political powers; the Copts by and large will bow to the will of any authority willing to protect them.

And Americans should not deceive themselves. While some of Morsi’s failure was the result of overreaching and dumb choices on his part, he faced a capital strike and an intense campaign of passive resistance by a government and business establishment backed by an army in bed with both groups. Their strategy was to bring Morsi down by sabotaging the economy, frustrating his policies and isolating his appointees. Although Egypt’s liberals supported the effort out of fear of the Islamists, the strategy had nothing to do with a transition to democracy, and it worked.

This is not to say that Morsi or his movement had a viable alternative policy or governance model for Egypt. They didn’t. The Muslim Brotherhood had no clue how Egypt could be governed, and a combination of incompetence, corruption, factionalism and religious dogmatism began to wreck Morsi’s government from Day One.

If American policy toward Egypt is based on the assumption that Egypt is having a “messy transition” to democracy and that we must shepherd the poor dears to the broad sunny uplands, encouraging when they do well, chiding when they misstep, Washington will keep looking foolish and our influence will continue to fade. If that is the approach our foolishness compels us to take, look for more cases in which American good intentions just make us more hated—not because we are wicked, but because we are clueless.

The White House needs to purge all short or even medium term thoughts of promoting Egypt’s transition to democracy. There aren’t enough “good guys” in Egypt to Americanize or even to Malaysianize the place. Democracy in Egypt right now is an “if we had some eggs we could have some ham and eggs—if we had some ham” kind of dream. Our first goal must be to help prevent Egypt’s descent into starvation, misery, anarchy and despair.

We can’t take for granted that we or they will succeed in this; Egypt’s economic problems are pressing. It’s likely that the non-coup will lure some Egyptian money back into the country, but if violence continues and Islamist terrorists foment disorder and attack, for example, tourists, bad things can happen fast. Egypt is much closer to being a basket case than it is to becoming a democracy.

Less study of the fine print of the Egyptian constitution, more concern about a strategically important country headed over Niagara Falls in a bucket, please.

Beyond that, we need a fundamental rethink of our approach to the promotion of democracy abroad. It is neither racist nor orientalist nor any other ugly thing to say that different societies around the world are at different degrees of readiness for the rise of genuine democratic institutions. Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not going to be building modern states anytime soon, much less democratic ones. China seems closer to building a stable and working democracy than Egypt is, and the obstacles facing democracy in China are immense and intimidating.

Many people who came of age politically in the late 1980s and 1990s have a warped sense of history. They lived at a time of rapid democratic advance: East Asia, Latin America, South Africa and above all Central and Eastern Europe hosted a galaxy of new democratic stars. One belief uniting the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama is that this democratic revolution would irresistibly sweep the rest of the world.

But it didn’t and it won’t, at least not anytime soon. The low hanging fruit has been picked; the fruit higher up in the tree isn’t ripe, or has been pecked by the birds.

In many places, the “irresistible tide” has rolled back. In others, the clear streams of liberal revolution have been polluted and fouled by ethnic and religious hate.
This doesn’t mean our work is done or that we must despair of democracy’s future. But it does mean we need to shift strategy. Less money for sock-puppet NGOs whose leaders obligingly tell us everything we want to hear, and more, for example, to help Egypt reform and develop an educational system that could give future generations a chance. I will be writing about democracy promotion in a difficult time; America is not and never will be a purely realist power and our foreign engagement can and must respond to great moral and political truths.

But if George W. Bush’s failures at democracy promotion in the Arab world weren’t enough of a lesson, surely Barack Obama’s failures should bring home the reality that our whole approach to this region needs some deeper, wiser, and more practical ideas.

Walter Russell Mead is a co-founder of the New America Foundation.

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