June 25, 2013
Number 06/13 #05
This Update features two pieces on the increasingly volatile situation in Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt, with a breakdown of state authority, a worsening economic crisis, and a major uptick in mass opposition protests scheduled for June 30 – and perhaps the possibility of military intervention looming. And it also includes some analysis of the succession of a new Emir in Qatar – a country which has played an increasingly important role in much of the Middle East upheaval of the past two and a half years.
First up is Washington Institute for Near East Policy expert on Egyptian politics Eric Trager. He examines the plans of the protest movement set to start major demonstrations under the banner of Tamarod (“Rebellion”) on June 30 – the anniversary of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammed Morsi’s inauguration – and the discontent emanating even from traditional pro-Brotherhood areas which is fuelling the protest movement. More importantly, he analyses the implications of a number of likely and possible consequences – a further breakdown of law and order, the likelihood of violence escalating between an opposition determined to foment chaos and some of the extreme political elements supporting the government, and the possibility of military intervention to restore order. For Trager’s very well-informed look at Egypt’s increasingly volatile political scene, CLICK HERE. Trager also recently analysed some controversial appointments by Morsi, including a new governor for tourism-reliant Luxor who’s a member of the terror group responsible for a notorious terror attack on tourists there in 1997. More on this last from The Times of Israel.
Next up is a leading Egyptian opposition figure, former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, offering his take on what has gone wrong in his country since the fall of the Mubarak regime. He starts by pointing out that law and order have increasingly broken down, making normal economic life impossible and helping further impoverish an already extremely poor country. He says that, setting aside the divide between Islamists and liberals, the problem is the “executive branch has no clue how to run Egypt” and posits a number of terrible outcomes looming, including complete state failure. For this heartfelt view from within Egypt, CLICK HERE. More on the volatility of the situation facing Egyptian President Morsi comes from Jeffrey Fleischman of the Los Angeles Times.
Finally, Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute looks at what it means for the wider Middle East that 33-year-old Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is succeeding his father, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, as Emir Qatar, following the latter’s voluntary retirement. Henderson notes that Qatari politics are completely dominated by the fractious al-Thani family, and its increasingly interventionist foreign policy of recent years has been based on the whims of the outgoing Emir and his cousin, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who is also stepping down. He looks at the many unknowns about how this new leadership will affect Egyptian politics, the Syrian Civil War, and Gulf state relations with Iran, all areas where Qatar has intervened aggressively by using its huge monetary clout – but could now be risking a backlash. For this essential look at a small but influential Middle East player, CLICK HERE. Another salient comment on the impact of the Qatari succession comes from Elliot Abrams.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Egypt also faces a crisis caused by Ethiopian plans to build a dam on the Blue Nile, potentially affecting Egypt’s water supply – as discussed by Ahmed Feteha of the Wall Street Journal.
- Egypt steps up its crackdown on Gaza smuggling tunnels. American foreign policy pundit Walter Russell Mead points out that if Israel had similarly tightened the blockade of Gaza, the world would be ” awash in rage and grief”. Mead also recently discussed the Nile dam issue.
- Columnist David Goldmann – aka “Spengler” – argues that there is no way out for either Egypt or Syria, and both are finished as coherent states.
- Newly appointed Palestinian Authority PM Rami Hamdallah, has abruptly resigned 18 days after being appointed, reportedly because he felt we was being denied any effective role given the powers allocated to two deputies. Palestinian politics expert Jonathan Schanzer comments on the significance of this development for Palestinian politics.
- Meanwhile, there are reports from Israel that the Israeli government and the PA may be close to agreeing on an exchange of gestures that may allow peace negotiations to resume when US Secretary of State John Kerry visits the region in a few days. More on this next update.
- An interesting academic article on the ubiquity of belief in magic and djinns in the Middle East.
- Isi Leibler calls for the international community to “face reality”, rather than simply hoping for the best regarding Iran’s nuclear program in the wake of the election of supposed moderate Hassan Rouhani as President.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Jeni Willenzik looks at what Israel’s hosting of the UEFA Under-21 Soccer Championships last week tells us about Israeli society – and also what coverage of the championship here tells us about the Australian media.
- A post on Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday party last week, and deserved tributes that flowed in for Israel’s remarkable President.
June 24, 2013
Given the opposition’s growing rage and the Brotherhood’s increasingly confrontational stance, the upcoming nationwide protests are unlikely to end well.
The Middle Egypt governorate of Beni Suef, an agricultural province located 70 miles south of Cairo, is an Islamist stronghold. Islamists won 14 of Beni Suef’s 18 seats during the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections in December 2011, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi won nearly two-thirds of Beni Suef’s votes in the second round of the 2012 presidential elections en route to an otherwise narrow victory.
Yet Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who teaches in the veterinary school of Beni Suef University, hasn’t visited his home in the governorate since late March, when activists hoisted anti-Brotherhood banners and surrounded the mosque where he was scheduled to deliver a Friday sermon. “The people planned to attack him and hold him in the mosque,” Waleed Abdel Monem, a former Muslim Brother who owns a socialist-themed cafe up the street from Badie’s home, told me. The Supreme Guide’s son now holds down the fort, and Brotherhood cadres are occasionally called upon to protect his home whenever demonstrations are announced on Facebook.
The anti-Brotherhood backlash that has forced Badie from Beni Suef is the product of mounting popular frustrations regarding the organization’s failed governance of Egypt during Morsi’s first year in office. Rising food prices, hours-long fuel lines, and multiple-times-daily electricity cuts — all worsening amidst a typically scorching Egyptian summer — have set many Egyptians on edge, with clashes between Brotherhood and anti-Brotherhood activists now a common feature of Egyptian political life. And this low-grade unrest may soon intensify: On June 30, the anniversary of Morsi’s presidential inauguration, opposition activists will launch nationwide protests under the banner of “Tamarod,” or “Rebellion.”
The “Tamarod” campaign claims to have collected nearly 15 million signatures (take those numbers with a massive chunk of salt) on petitions that list Morsi’s many failures — such as “the economy collapsed” and Morsi “follows the Americans” — and demand early presidential elections. If this demand sounds unrealistic, well, it is: There is no legal basis for using a petition drive to force an elected president of Egypt to call for early elections.
To be sure, this is something that many “Tamarod” supporters recognize, which is why they have another goal in mind: channeling popular exasperation with Morsi’s presidency into mass protests that will force him and his Brotherhood-dominated government from power. “We will leave our homes [on June 30] and not go back unless the regime steps down, or we will die,” said Abdel Fattah Sabry, the chief organizer of “Tamarod” in the Nile Delta city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra. Sabry anticipates millions pouring into the streets — “this revolution will break all records,” he told me — and forcing Morsi’s ouster. Thereafter, he said, the military will appoint an interim presidential council largely comprised of non-Islamists, which would administer new elections.
Of course, this is equally improbable. The only foreseeable way that mass protests could topple Morsi is if things get so violent after June 30 that the military is impelled, against its better instincts, to intervene to stop what would have to be unprecedented bloodshed. But it likely wouldn’t end there: An intervention of this sort would bring the military into direct confrontation with Islamists, some of whom would take up the very arms that they were prepared to use exactly a year ago, when they believed that Egypt’s then-ruling junta might deny Morsi the presidency. This scenario is one that the military knows and desperately wants to avoid, which is why Morsi will probably still be Egypt’s president on July 1.
But that shouldn’t be a source of consolation to either Morsi or the Brotherhood because, political titles aside, the country may fall entirely out of their control. “Marches will start from different places, and will reach the presidential palace,” said Mohamed Haikal, one of the five “Tamarod” founders. “We will also surround other places: governorate offices and even Egyptian embassies abroad, including in Washington.” The activists intend to sit in these locations indefinitely, perhaps fortifying their position by parking hundreds of cars at the various protest grounds. Meanwhile, labor activists in Egypt’s industrial areas are planning major strikes to shut down the economy until Morsi goes. “The atmosphere is ready because workers are ready,” a labor leader at a major textile factory in Mahalla told me. “On June 30, factories will turn off, and we are organizing in factories all over the country.”
Whether or not the June 30 protests achieve the numbers that “Tamarod” anticipates — and it’s impossible to know, because the average person’s decision to join an uprising is typically an in-the-moment kind of thing — the basic, anti-Brotherhood rage that their plans reflect is, indeed, widespread.
The Brotherhood, however, is in complete denial of this. Brotherhood leaders and members contend that Morsi has been a mostly successful president, and they view the planned protests as validation that their long-term project of building an Islamic state in Egypt is progressing. “[Brotherhood founder] Imam Hassan al-Banna told us this would happen 70 years ago,” Mahmoud Rashad, the Brotherhood party’s media chief in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, told me. “So I am not worried, but confident that we are on the right track.”
At the same time, the Brotherhood views “Tamarod” as a conspiracy by a small, though vocal, minority — one that it wants to expose by counter-mobilizing more emphatically, and earlier. “We will go even before June 28 in all governorates all over the country to celebrate one year of a legitimately elected president,” said Reda Ghanem, another Brotherhood media official in Gharbiya. Indeed, the Brotherhood announced on Friday that it would hold a “series of million-man marches to protect the sharia” during the week leading up to June 30, and it has repeatedly signaled its willingness to confront “Tamarod” directly. As Brotherhood party secretary-general Hussein Ibrahim recently declared, “the people will not allow their will to be assassinated…and will defend their will with everything they own.” In this vein, at its mass protest on Friday, the Brotherhood ominously featured Islamist youths performing martial arts.
Of course, the Brotherhood has confronted its opponents violently before — and the results were disastrous. On December 5, 2012, the Brotherhood dispatched cadres to attack a mass opposition protest outside the presidential palace in Ittahadiya. As the New York Times reported, Muslim Brothers “captured, detained and beat dozens of [Morsi’s] political opponents…holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him.” Seven people were killed in the fighting, and many activists contend that the ruling party’s use of violence against its opponents was the point at which they decided they could no longer tolerate Morsi’s presidency.
Yet Muslim Brothers still see their December 5 mobilization as the right move. “The MB…saw that what’s happening around Ittahadiya as sort of taking off the rule and trying to end the legitimacy of the president,” former Brotherhood party spokesman Ahmed Sobea, who now runs the Cairo bureau for the Hamas-owned al-Aqsa network, told me. “So the people went to protect — to defend — the palace.” Will the Brotherhood once again send its cadres against anti-Morsi protesters? “What the organization or the Muslim Brotherhood [leaders] see is right, we will obey,” Sobea said.
Meanwhile, rather than working to calm the political atmosphere at this critical moment, Morsi is doubling down on confrontation. Consider, for example his most recent round of gubernatorial appointments, in which he bucked opposition demands for more inclusive rule by granting governorships to seven more Muslim Brothers. Most astoundingly, Morsi appointed a member of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to govern Luxor, which was the site of a horrific 1997 al-Gamaa terrorist attack in which 58 tourists were murdered. Predictably, these appointments set off immediate — and often violent — demonstrations, which ultimately forced the governor to resign on Sunday.
Yet, from Morsi’s perspective, the al-Gamaa appointment might have been worth the blowback. Two days later, al-Gamaa leader Assem Abdel Maged announced that “the Islamists will face violence with violence on June 30,” warning that his organization would respond to violence by declaring an Islamic state from Tahrir Square. And lest one thinks that these are idle threats, take heed: Abdel Maged was imprisoned from 1981 to 2006 for providing “moral and material” support to the assassins of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and he previously shared a prison cell with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
So this is where most Egyptians find themselves on the eve of yet another planned mass demonstration: between an enraged opposition seeking a new uprising whose “success” depends on its ability to foment unprecedented chaos, and an utterly incapable, confrontational ruling party that now counts some of Egypt’s most violent political elements as its core supporters. Whatever happens on June 30, it can’t end well.
Eric Trager is a Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute.
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Egypt is on the brink — not of something better than the old Mubarak dictatorship, but of something even worse.
BY MOHAMED ELBARADEI
Foreign Policy, JULY/AUGUST 2013
Two years after the revolution that toppled a dictator, Egypt is already a failed state. According to the Failed States Index, in the year before the uprising we ranked No. 45. After Hosni Mubarak fell, we worsened to 31st. I haven’t checked recently — I don’t want to get more depressed. But the evidence is all around us.
Today you see an erosion of state authority in Egypt. The state is supposed to provide security and justice; that’s the most basic form of statehood. But law and order is disintegrating. In 2012, murders were up 130 percent, robberies 350 percent, and kidnappings 145 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. You see people being lynched in public, while others take pictures of the scene. Mind you, this is the 21st century — not the French Revolution!
The feeling right now is that there is no state authority to enforce law and order, and therefore everybody thinks that everything is permissible. And that, of course, creates a lot of fear and anxiety.
You can’t expect Egypt to have a normal economic life under such circumstances. People are very worried. People who have money are not investing — neither Egyptians nor foreigners. In a situation where law and order is spotty and you don’t see institutions performing their duties, when you don’t know what will happen tomorrow, obviously you hold back. As a result, Egypt’s foreign reserves have been depleted, the budget deficit will be 12 percent this year, and the pound is being devalued. Roughly a quarter of our youth wake up in the morning and have no jobs to go to. In every area, the economic fundamentals are not there.
We in the opposition have been urging President Mohamed Morsy and company for months that Egypt needs a government that is competent and impartial, at least through the upcoming parliamentary election. We need a broad-based committee to amend the Egyptian Constitution, which pretty much everyone agrees falls short of ensuring a proper balance of power and guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms. And we need a political partnership between the other established parties — including those with an Islamic orientation — and the Muslim Brotherhood, which represents probably less than 20 percent of the country. Unfortunately, these recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.
The Brothers are also losing badly because, despite all their great slogans, they haven’t been able to deliver. People want to have food on the table, health care, education, all of that — and the government has not been able to meet expectations. The Brotherhood doesn’t have the qualified people, who hail mostly from liberal and leftist parties. You need to form a grand coalition, and you need to put your ideological differences aside and work together to focus on people’s basic needs. You can’t eat sharia.
We are paying the price of many years of repression and strongman rule. This was a comfort zone for people — they didn’t have to make independent decisions. Right now, after the uprising, everybody is free, but it’s very uncomfortable. It’s the existential dilemma between the yearning to be free and the old crutch of having somebody tell you what to do. Freedom is still new to people.
Most of our challenges are a byproduct of the old dictatorship. We still have an open wound and need to get a lot of the pus out. We need to clean that wound — you cannot just place a Band-Aid on it. But that is what is happening — relying on the same worn-out ideas. The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mindset. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.
How bad could it get? Different scenarios, of course, present themselves if law and order continues to deteriorate. People are now saying something that we never thought was possible before: that they want the Army to come back to stabilize the situation. Or we might have a revolt of the poor, which would be angry and ugly. There are worse things than state failure, and I’m afraid Egypt is teetering on the brink.
Egypt could risk a default on its foreign debt over the next few months, and the government is desperately trying to get a credit line from here and there — but that’s not how to get the economy back to work. You need foreign investment, you need sound economic policies, you need functioning institutions, and you need skilled labor.
So far, however, the Egyptian government has only offered a patchwork vision and ad hoc economic policies, with no steady hand at the helm of the state. The government adopted some austerity measures in December to satisfy certain IMF requirements, only to repeal them by morning. Meanwhile, prices are soaring and the situation is becoming untenable, particularly for the nearly half of Egyptians who live on less than $2 a day.
The executive branch has no clue how to run Egypt. It’s not a question of whether they are Muslim Brothers or liberals — it’s a question of people who have no vision or experience. They do not know how to diagnose the problem and then provide the solution. They are simply not qualified to govern.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and leader of Egypt’s Constitution Party.
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By Simon Henderson
Foreign Policy, June 14, 2013
Knee-deep in Syria’s civil war and surrounded by family quarrels, Qatar’s emir is looking to hand over the country to his thirty-three-year-old son.
Which country is most actively throwing its weight around in Syria and Egypt? It’s not the United States (population: 316 million) or Iran, Saudi Arabia, or even Russia. Rather, it’s the small Persian Gulf state of Qatar (population: 2 million). In Syria, Qatar is showering money and arms on anti-Assad militia groups and is competing with Saudi Arabia as the opposition’s primary patron. It is also the largest funder by far of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s government, providing $5 billion-plus in loans — without the conditions for reforms that the International Monetary Fund would have demanded.
Why is Qatar so involved in Egypt and Syria? Good question. Part of the answer is certainly because, in the absence of the United States, Qatar perceives a vacuum — and therefore a new opportunity to raise its international profile.
Qatari foreign policy has been based on the whims — or more politely, the vision — of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who is currently serving as prime minister and foreign minister. The two leaders’ personalized control has produced a decisiveness lacking in their larger allies. On a visit to Doha, the Qatari capital, in March 2011, at the time of the international intervention in Libya, a Qatari friend laughed as he showed me a cartoon in London’s the Independent, depicting a fighter jet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy fighting over the controls, while U.S. President Barack Obama dozed in the back seat (“leading from behind”). Riding the aircraft’s nose was the Qatari emir, holding up his finger to see which way the wind was blowing. The caption of the cartoon, which you would never get away with in the United States, was “FU-2 Infighter Jet.”
But now, the team that has overseen Qatar’s growth into a regional powerhouse is changing. Arab and Western diplomats reported this week that Emir Hamad, 61, is soon going to replace the prime minister with his son, the 33-year-old Crown Prince Tamim, and would then abdicate power himself in favor of Tamim. The news prompted an almost audible “OMG” across major world capitals, and among Qatar’s neighbors — a novice leader at a time of tension and great flux, after all, seems enormously risky.
Why now? One thought is that Emir Hamad’s health has taken a turn for the worse. He is said to have only one functioning kidney — though it is not known whether it is his own or a transplant he received in 1997. If one compares a 2009 photograph of him with Obama in New York City with one taken in the Oval Office this April, it is clear he has lost a prodigious amount of weight. A Qatari friend denies there is a health issue, claiming instead that this is a well-planned transition for which Tamim has been groomed for several years.
Transitions in Qatar rarely go smoothly. Emir Hamad himself seized power from his father in 1995 while the latter was at a sanatorium in Switzerland. Indeed, it is hard to identify a trouble-free change in power in the last 100 years. Over those years, there have been roughly eight transitions — the exact number depends on your definition of “transition” — but all are based on the theme of forced abdication. The result is a history of family antagonisms within the Al Thani clan, which numbers at least several thousand.
Qatar is not a democracy — the Thanis are the country’s only real political constituency. But clan unity has been strained since Emir Hamad’s deposition of his father, whose own elevation in 1972 upset parts of the family because he was seen as outmaneuvering a rival. Family members are said to bear grudges and have long memories. Tamim will be forced to navigate this snake pit while many veteran political hands closely watch how the young emir performs.
Tamim is Emir Hamad’s fourth son and is the second to have the title of crown prince. Of the emir’s two eldest sons, a former ambassador in Doha told me, “One partied too much; the other prayed too much.” When I asked the same ambassador what happened to Tamim’s elder brother Jassim, the third eldest son who lost the title of heir apparent in 2003, he responded, “Oh, he listened to his Palestinian advisors too much.”
Tamim, it seems, has managed to avoid all those pitfalls for a Qatari heir apparent. He was trained at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and has a reputation for diligence. But his crucial advantage may well be that he appears to be a favorite of Sheikha Moza, Emir Hamad’s second and highest-profile wife.
It is still unclear how this political changing of the guard will work in practice. Will his father stay on in Doha, effectively undermining Tamim’s authority? Emir Hamad’s own father lived in exile for many years, until his resentment at being overthrown had burned out. The elderly father has now returned to Qatar, and apparently to political irrelevance.
And what about the prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, known to diplomats as “HBJ”? At a ceremony held by the Brookings Institution this April, he was presented with a huge plaque and eulogized by the great and good representatives of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment as essentially irreplaceable. Perhaps he is — there are no names yet in the frame for who will take over from him as foreign minister. HBJ will remain in charge of the Qatar Investment Authority’s estimated $200 billion portfolio, but may well decide to reside in London, where the Shard, the British capital’s tallest and newest building, is Qatari-owned.
Once the handover is complete, Tamim will be in charge of guiding Qatar’s intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as well as maintaining Qatar’s influence across the Arab world. With the revenues received as the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, he is not going to be short of cash. He can also buy advice and assistance, which has been a Qatari specialty in the past: After all, roughly 1.7 million residents of the peninsula, the vast majority of the population, are not citizens but hired help.
But will he continue to be the biggest financial backer of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? Will he still back what are probably the most extreme, albeit effective, jihadi fighters in Syria? And will Iran, which lies 100 miles north and with which Qatar shares the world’s largest natural gas field, seek revenge for losses in Syria by challenging the neophyte? What about Qatar’s Sunni Arab rival, Saudi Arabia, where the now-deceased Crown Prince Sultan used to refer to Emir Hamad contemptuously as a “Persian” for what was perceived to be the less-than-pure Al Thani bloodline?
For the soon-to-emerge Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the quarrelsomeness of his own family may present a challenge as equally daunting as the turbulence in the Middle East. For years, Qatar has been punching above its weight. Now, some may just try punching back.
Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.