June 21, 2012
Number 06/12 #05
This Update deals with the aftermath of events in Egypt over the weekend – both the run-off presidential election (which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammed Morsi claims to have narrowly won, though his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, makes the same claim, but election authorities are reviewing appeals and it is not clear when an official announcement will be made ), and the military’s announcement of a temporary constitutional arrangement which effectively strips the Presidency of most of its power.
First up is Stephen Cook, a Middle East expert from the US Council of Foreign Relations, who focuses on the significance of the military’s constitutional moves. Cook discusses what the military actually did – declared themselves not subordinate to a new civilian President – and what it is and is not about – as well as the context of the Supreme Court decision which ended with the dissolution of parliament last week. Finally, he stresses that the military is not seeking to retain day-to-day power, but is seeking to retain the position it had under Mubarak. For this full primer on Egypt’s constitutional crisis and confrontation, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Barry Rubin’s look at the overall tenor of the Egyptian situation, and how it is likely to affect Israel. He predicts that it is likely that the military will effectively hang on to power until late next year – calling parliamentary elections for mid-2013 and then waiting until a new constitution is written – or else come to an arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood. He also foresees major difficulties for Israel, predicting that Egypt will, one way or another, end up supporting a Hamas-led campaign of insurgency against Israel, if not actually going to war. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE.
A more detailed look at Israel’s security dilemmas, especially in the wake of the latest attacks from the Egyptian Sinai on Monday, comes from Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz. They note that Sinai is increasingly dangerous for Israel, that Egypt’s relationship with Israel is almost certain to deteriorate, leaving Israel more regionally isolated than ever, and that there is very little Israel can do about any of it. They also discuss the possible relationship between the SCAF military council and Morsi, assuming he wins, and how it might affect Israel. For their views in full, CLICK HERE. More insights on how events in Egypt are likely to affect Israel from Israeli columnist Alex Fishman, plus an editorial from the Jerusalem Post.
Readers may also be interested in:
- A report on how Egyptians on the street are reacting to the election and SCAF announcements.
- A report on alleged Saudi efforts to shore up Egypt and military rule there.
- Arab writer Hassan Hassan on why the Muslim Brotherhood’s concept of a “civil state” looks like theocracy by another name.
- A look at Egypt in the context of academic models of revolution, which appear to predict a great deal more violence and upheaval to come.
- News on the barrage of 120 rockets from Gaza into Israel over the past three days – following a terror attack into Israel from Sinai on Monday which killed one Israeli.
- Terrorism expert Aaron Y. Zelin discusses reports that an extreme Salafist group claimed responsibility for the Sinai attack.
- Raymond Ibrahim on the apparent parallels between the 1979 Iranian revolution and the Arab Spring.
- The Iran nuclear talks in Moscow this week ended with failure and no clear agreement to even keep meeting. More on this in the next Update.
- Interesting analyses of the dillemmas of the Saudi Royal Family in the wake of the death of Crown Prince Nayef over the weekend – see here, here and here.
- Veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler writes about promoting Aliyah – immigration to Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro on Israel’s growing defence ties with Thailand as part of a wider trend and the importance of Hamas claiming direct responsibility for the recent major escalation of rocket attacks on Israel.
- Sharyn Mittelman on some interesting developments in the Australian parliament and the absurdity of a recent NGO petition on Gaza.
- Or Avi-Guy on yet more demands for yet more toothless words on Syria from Amnesty International and the latest outrages against Egyptian women.
- Andrea Nadel on a new investigation of the head of Turkey’s IHH, the sponsor of the infamous Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010, for links to al-Qaeda.
- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz on the silence on Syria in too many circles – especially those most eager to condemn Israel for supposed human rights violations.
CFR.org, June 18, 2012
Egypt is awaiting the June 21 expected official result of the weekend’s runoff presidential election between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, prime minister under former president Hosni Mubarak. Regardless of the result, the Egyptian military issued a decree on June 17 that gives itself sweeping powers. Effectively, the military says it “will not be subordinate to a new civilian president,” says CFR Egypt expert Steven A. Cook. While Morsi and Shafiq are both claiming victory, Morsi reportedly seems to be ahead. Cook says that the military’s declaration was intended as “a hedge against Mohamed Morsi.” He adds, “The military is obviously deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood being in a position of power,” regarding it as a threat to its own power as well as its economic interests.
What’s going on now in Egypt?
A lot, as usual. First, with regards to the candidates, they are both claiming victory. There are conflicting reports as to who is leading. Egypt’s major daily Al-Ahram is reporting that Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, leads Ahmed Shafiq by nine hundred thousand votes or so. This is going to be an interesting next few days while they come to an official vote count. There’s obviously a lot of opportunity for all kinds of things to happen during this period, including challenges to the voting, fraud–although there have not been reports of too much fraud.
What was the military’s action all about?
Over the weekend, they issued an addendum to the constitutional declaration that they issued in March 2011. Without getting too much into the details of it, it essentially says that the military will not be subordinate to a new civilian president. It says that the president may not declare war without the assent of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). It maintains the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as is. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was an organization that existed before–it was a much broader, bigger subset of the Egyptian Officer Corps. It will now remain the nineteen officers that we’ve grown familiar with over the last sixteen months, and it will be autonomous unto itself, which is essentially what this constitution declaration–which has created a tremendous outcry in Cairo–is all about. People are suggesting that the military is trying to create a state within a state. Others have said that it is, along with the dissolution of the parliament, a coup d’état.
What brought this about?
The decree was related to two things: One, the SCAF was not at all convinced that its candidate Ahmad Shafiq would win, so this was a hedge against Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. The military is obviously deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood being in a position of power. It is an effort on the part of the military to preserve a position that it has enjoyed since the regime was founded by military officers in the 1950s and to maintain the economic interests that it has developed over these many years. If he wins, Shafiq would be in a situation similar to what the officers enjoyed while Mubarak [a former air force general] was in power, a delegate of their own looking out for their own interests. Morsi is a very different story.
Talk a bit about the abolishing of the lower house of Parliament, which occurred right before the election. What’s all that about?
The Supreme Constitutional Court issued the decision last Thursday in which it found that a third of the seats–the seats reserved for independents–were null and void because of the way in which the independent candidates were chosen. The court said this violated the principle of equality between the candidates, and nullified the independents’ seats. The chief of the Supreme Constitutional Court the next day said this means that the whole parliament can be voided, and then the SCAF stated in a decree that the parliament is dissolved. Yet there is nowhere written down that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has the ability to dissolve the lower half of the parliament. All it says in the constitutional declaration going back to March 2011 is that it has the right to adjourn the People’s Assembly, but not to dissolve it.
Clearly the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is stepping outside the legal bounds to undermine a parliament that is dominated by both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour Party. Although this is obviously controversial, oddly it has not produced an explosion of demonstrations in opposition either among revolutionaries, liberals, leftists, labor, or even the Muslim Brotherhood, against whom it was clearly targeted.
You’re saying it hasn’t created that much of a stir, but there seems to be talk about people trying to force parliament open on Tuesday, June 19. Are big riots in store?
It’s certainly possible. We were in some ways expecting this to happen when these decisions were handed down Friday, but it didn’t materialize. Some of the indications were that people were tired, that they have been mobilized for sixteen months, that some of the groups that have been working and struggling toward a different Egypt have now decided that they cannot take on this situation, that they need to take a longer view and try to develop a political program over the course of five years to mobilize people and develop a more democratic Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood has had a very interesting response. The parliamentary leaders from the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, had rejected the dissolution of the parliament, but didn’t mobilize the Brotherhood to go out into the streets. That may yet be coming; it also may be an effort on the part of the Brotherhood to step back and not engage in a direct confrontation with the military, which has historically been the Brotherhood’s tactic. They have avoided since the mid-1950s a direct confrontation with the state for fear of being systematically destroyed.
The Brotherhood wants to see if in fact Morsi wins the election before they do anything crazy, right?
But if Shafiq is declared the winner, will people accept that?
There are a lot of people who will not accept Shafiq as the new president of Egypt, who they think would essentially be a return to the status quo in a lot of ways. But so much has changed in Egypt that I don’t think that Shafiq in combination with the military can recreate Mubarak’s Egypt so easily, but he does certainly represent the interests of the leadership of the old regime of the military. The question is if Shafiq is declared the winner, whether his claims of having a popular mandate will actually go over well. Certainly, it will with his voters–he apparently has the majority in Cairo– but what will be the response of those who, in particular, instigated the uprising? Many of those people spoiled their ballots saying that they would vote neither for Morsi nor Shafiq.
The vote count is fairly low. Is that right?
I’ve heard this as well, but the last turnout number I saw was close to 50 percent–that doesn’t seem like a lot, the parliamentary elections were in the neighborhood of 54 percent, but 49 percent is still a lot. Clearly, despite the problems associated with this election and the controversy surrounding it, there’re still lots of people willing to vote.
If you had to predict the next weeks, what is going to happen? Is the Egyptian military going to take on more power again?
They already have taken on more power; they now hold legislative power, something they had during the transitional period before the parliament was elected. There will be, ostensibly, a new election for the parliament in September. The military had a press conference saying that increasing power is not its intention, but certainly given the constitutional decree of Sunday, it seems that they are prepared to take on more power. That’s not to suggest that they want to stay in government. That’s not to say that they want to continue administering Egypt on a day-to-day basis. That would be a misreading of what this constitutional decree indicates. What they would like to do is return to the position that they were in under Mubarak where they could play an influential role from behind the scenes–that they would be the ultimate force of authority and power in this system; and that their economic interests would be taken care of. The military is concerned that, potentially under Morsi, these types of things would be under threat, and thus this constitutional decree, which basically says the army will not be subordinate to the next president of Egypt.
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Muslim Brotherhood Wins Presidency; Egyptian-Islamist/Hamas Jihad Against Israel (Apparently) Begins
As for Egypt’s presidential election: Brotherhood candidate Muhammad al-Mursi is now clearly the likely winner by about 52 to 48 percent. His rival Ahmad Shafiq won Cairo by a big margin, but it was not enough to overcome al-Mursi’s lead in the countryside. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are claiming victory and appear to be accurate in doing so. Official results will be presented on June 21.
Al-Mursi has openly declared his support for Hamas and the priority of battling Israel on some level. Those campaigning for him have said – in his presence — that the Brotherhood is seeking a Sharia state in Egypt and a caliphate over the whole Middle East whose capital will be in a conquered Jerusalem. The Salafists — a coalition of many hardline Islamist groups — gave the Brotherhood candidate full support.
An armed squad of two men — said to be Hamas, though this is not confirmed — crossed the border after traveling 30 miles from the Gaza Strip through Egyptian territory. They wore flak jackets and camouflaged uniforms and carried a large amount of explosives. Members of their support team remained on the Egyptian side of the border. The two men hid by Israel’s Highway 12 near an area called White River Lake.
When two vehicles came by, carrying workers finishing up a security fence to guard against just such attacks, they set off a bomb that had been placed on the roadway and fired a rocket-propelled grenade. Both missed — but bullets from a Kalashnikov hit one of the vehicles, which flipped over. One Israeli, an ethnic Arab labor contractor, was killed. Two or three terrorists have been shot dead.
Within minutes, Israeli soldiers arrived and fired on the terrorists. Their bullets blew up a suicide vest being worn by one of them, killing two of the attackers.
This event follows a report in Haaretz newspaper attributed to Israeli security officials claiming the Muslim Brotherhood had asked Hamas to attack Israel. According to the story, an Egyptian Bedouin unit was given the job of firing a rocket, which landed in open ground in southern Israel. This story was not picked up by other Israeli newspapers, suggesting either that it was wrong or that it had been due to a security leak which the army then stopped.
So far this year, 280 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. This has prompted no international concern or action. The new fence along the Egypt-Israel border is mostly complete, but due to difficult terrain the last portion will only be finished late this year.
At any rate, we are now at the beginning of Egypt’s involvement, directly or indirectly, in a new wave of terrorist assault on Israel. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt — a likelihood made less probable perhaps by the military’s dissolution of parliament — this offensive will enjoy official support. Even if the army remains in control, the Brotherhood and Salafists will use their considerable assets to back this new insurgency war.
The ultimate scenario would be if Hamas decided to renew a large-scale offensive against Israel from the Gaza Strip using rockets, mortars, and attempted cross-border attacks. Egyptian Islamists would send volunteers and money. The Egyptian army would not be scrupulous in stopping the smuggling of weapons, terrorists, and money across the border. As Egyptian fighters are killed in the Gaza Strip, the hysteria in Egypt would escalate.
In such a scenario, the army would also allow Hamas to have military bases and headquarters on Egyptian territory — where Israel could not attack them. Indeed, this is already happening. And the Egypt-Israel border would not be protected from cross-border attacks.
A most serious scenario would be if Egypt itself was dragged (under an army regime) or went willingly (under a Brotherhood one) to war with Israel.
At the same time, however, that’s a longer-term perspective. The army is almost certain to remain in power for the next year. The Brotherhood is not taking over Egypt at this point. That is the effect of the military’s coup: the president has no power.
If I were to speculate — and forgive me if I’m wrong on this point — here’s how I see the timetable:
– The army stays in power and announces a parliamentary election near the end of this year or early 2013.
– After the election, if it is held, the parliament would be given six months to write a new constitution. That puts us into mid-2013.
– If there is a lot of violence and conflict, the military might at some point suspend elections, and here we are back in 1952 with a “new” military regime in power for many years. I don’t see the Islamists defeating the army in a battle.
– Might there be a deal in which the Brotherhood gets limited governing power in return for doing what the army wants on key issues? Maybe.
Of course, everything here is unprecedented and unpredictable.
Where is the U.S. government in all of this? Insisting that the Egyptian military turn power over to a civilian government, which until last week would have been a Brotherhood government. Washington is merely a distant observer, and one continuing to insist on Muslim Brotherhood moderation despite that group’s extremist history and actions. The policy choice taken by Obama is to issue statements supporting democracy and to view the Brotherhood as a force that can be co-opted and moderated. The mass media generally follows this lead in setting the narrative.
A different president would understand that the Islamists are the enemy of America, and would support the military in trying to limit their power. This distinction matters, big time. It helps determine not only the fate of U.S. interests, but also the future of 80 million Egyptians, Israel’s security, and the likelihood of further upheavals and wars in the Middle East.
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If the Muslim Brotherhood wins Egypt’s run-off presidential election, the country can expect instability, while Israel, who will be further isolated in an already hostile Middle East, will have to sit back quietly and cop it.
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
Haaretz, Jun.18, 2012
The terrorist attack on Monday morning near Be’er Milka and the firing of Grad rockets toward Ovda and Mitzpeh Ramon over the weekend, alongside numerous reports in Egyptian media of increased activity among Palestinian terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula over the two-day voting period, make it clear that certain sources in Egypt have a clear interest in heating up the Israeli border.
Regardless of who wins Egypt’s run-off presidential elections – Mohammed Morsi or Ahmed Shafiq – it is clear that Israel can expect to see further incidents of this sort. The chaos in Sinai is not expected to disappear any time soon, and the Egyptian security forces will be busy with repeated attempts to stabilize the security situation in the country’s large cities.
With every day that passes since the Egyptian uprising, the peninsula becomes even more appealing to Palestinian, Islamist and other terrorist groups.
One of the central problems that Israel will be forced to deal with in future events or attacks, is the lack of address: the identities of the terrorists who carried out Monday morning’s attack, along with the launchers of the Grad rockets over the weekend, are unclear.
The Israeli government, which finds itself more isolated than ever in a hostile Middle East, especially in the case of an election win by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi, is not interested in another escalation with Cairo and will therefore avoid carrying out any action on Egyptian soil.
Even in Gaza, Hamas denies that it was involved in launching the rockets, despite claims by Israeli security officials that the organization is connected to a Bedouin cell that launched the rockets.
Israel’s hands are tied, and therefore its great effort to complete the fence on the Egyptian border is understandable. While it will not prevent a future terrorist attack, the fence will at least make it harder for an attack to be carried out.
The Muslim Brotherhood already declared victory in the presidential elections during the early hours of Monday morning. But the results are not yet final, and, according to local media, the outcome is too close for a clear winner to be announced as of yet.
No matter, it would not be a wild bet to guess the Israeli-Egyptian relationship would not improve if Morsi did indeed win. On the other hand, one can assume that if the outcome suddenly flips on its head, and Shafiq is announced the winner, we will witness mass protests in the coming days claiming the ballots were rigged.
In Egypt’s political reality, even a Morsi win will lead to instability, especially with the presence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ announcement Monday morning of the newest amendment to the constitution that dictates presidential authorities. Mass protests are already expected to take place Tuesday in light of Monday’s announcement that due to the dissolution of the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, the ruling military council will from now on be the legislating authority and the country’s budgeting authority.
The amendment to the constitution also rules that elections to the “People’s Council” (the lower house) will not be held before a new constitution is formed, even though at this stage it is unclear as to who will formulate it. The military council has already made it clear that the legislative committee, which was established by the parliament shortly before its dispersion, will not continue to operate. The military council has said that the authorities of the president, any president, are reasonably limited and will include managing Egypt’s foreign affairs, or being the chief of the armed forces.
As such, a confrontation between a Muslim Brotherhood president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is likely to shake up the relationship between the two sides, paralyze the political system and perhaps even lead to the president’s resignation (if, of course, that president is Morsi). Not to mention renewed protests.
In the meantime, it appears that the military council does not intend on moving aside, out of concern that the Muslim Brotherhood would bring the state to devastation and, of course, weaken its armed forces.
Even so, it seems the two sides’ common interest in calm and stability will lead to cooperation between them. The military council will attempt to embrace Morsi and include him in decision making, while the Muslim Brotherhood will maintain the status quo. It is hard to say just yet where the winds will blow. For now, we will need to wait patiently for at least a few hours in order to find out who won the elections.