February 2012 Archives
February 26, 2012
Egypt NGO Trail encores (delay to April)
The murky and ongoing political trials against NGOs backed by foreign money took another strange twist in the delay to 26 April. God alone knows what is going on now in Egypt, which is sliding chaotically sideways.
However, in this NYT/IHT arty, I rather more Trial of Nonprofit Workers in Egypt Is Abruptly Put Off - was struck by this:
But another contingent of lawyers had turned up to argue on behalf of Egyptians who they said had been harmed by the activities of the nonprofit groups, which officials of the military-led government have charged with stirring unrest in the Egyptians. They shouted back accusations the defendants and their supporters were agents of the United States.Emphasis added. That is a line of agitation - clearly by Salafistes - that is quite dangerous.
As though to complete the sense of a climactic unleashing of pent-up bad feeling between the two longtime allies, another group of protesters outside the courthouse chanted for the United States to release from prison Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian jailed for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Some here have argued he should be released in a prisoner swap for the Americans on trial in the case.
American diplomats, Egyptian lawyers and others involved said the efforts to resolve the case had foundered amid a breakdown in the lines of authority within the military-led transitional government in the final months before the generals have pledged to leave power. American officials say they have tried to find Egyptian counterparts who might intercede, but Egyptian leaders say they cannot intervene in the judicial process.
If the case is not resolved, Congress and the Obama administration have vowed to cut off the $1.55 billion in annual aid to Egypt, potentially rupturing the three-way alliance among Washington, Cairo and Jerusalem that has been a linchpin of regional stability.
There is no dispute that the two groups and their staffs have broken the letter of Egyptian law. Both groups sought, but never received, licenses from the Egyptian government, and both are openly financed from abroad. They therefore violate two restrictions on civil groups left over from government of Hosni Mubarak, the strongman president who was deposed a year ago. But both groups have been tolerated here for years, along with scores of Egyptian nonprofit groups that also break both rules.
But the case has continued to move forward, and the American threats to cut off aid have set off a new wave of Egyptian nationalism.
The arty elsewhere notes the idea being mooted by American officials of some deal to let the Americans go, the Egyptian nationals with short sentences. I would advance the opinion that such would be quite damaging for American image overall.
However, few choices exist.
February 25, 2012
A MENA Econ Analysis to come back to
Libyan situ commentary, Americans thinking Berbers were Pro Qadhdhafi...
Reproducing a comment I made on a pretension to an analysis of the Libyan situation (via Sullivan):
The author, who seems to suffer from the typical "small wars" military/security commentator disease of superficial half understanding, advances some fairly questionable observations (although I wouldn't disagree with the thesis that the Libyan experience does not encourage an intervention in Syria - in fact I agree).
A Preliminary Evaluation of the U.S. Intervention in Libya » Gunpowder & Lead
We’re just over a year past the beginning of the uprisings in Libya that ultimately produced (along with, of course, NATO’s intervention) Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster. And there are now increasing calls for some form of military intervention in Syria. As such, this seems like an important time to evaluate the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Libya, and how it intersects with American interests.
Essentially, there is a dearth of information publicly available about the state of affairs in Libya, but we nonetheless know a number of facts unambiguously:
Unfortunately the facts advanced are not facts.
The TNC has yet to establish its authority within Tripoli. However well-meaning its endeavors may be, they are not being executed or enforced outside a very small geographic area.
The overwhelming majority of the country is ruled by local militias under commanders with no accountability or common code of conduct.
Several towns (including Zintan, Misrata, and Benghazi) are dominated by local warlords who have power equal to, or greater than, the capital. Indeed, the emergence of a western council in the Nafusa Mountains that directly opposes the TNC is a testament to its weakness.
More Zintan and Mistrata, Benghazi is in fact Benghazi is the 'national' government's power base.
Qaddafi loyalists (more tribal than ideological in nature) have successfully retaken Bani Walid, and have not been displaced.
Well, to call the Bani Walid incident an issue of Qadhdhafi "loyalists" is bootstrapping. It is, as noted in parentheses, a tribal issue.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group is well established in parts of Tripoli and Derna. Its rise is directly correlated to attacks against Sufi shrines, and the movement of foreign volunteers going to fight in Syria.
There has been a rash of ongoing retaliatory ethnic and tribal fighting against communities perceived to be pro-Qaddafi, most notably Tuaregs, Berbers, and black Africans.
As I note below this just shows a complete lack of knowledge of Libya. Calling the Berbers a community "perceived to be pro-Qaddafi" is pure nonsense.
The influx of weaponry and returning Tuareg mercenaries after Qaddafi’s fall has helped to destabilize a not-inconsiderable part of Mali. Violent incidents occurring in Algeria, Niger, and Tunisia have also been traced back to Libya.
Well, yes. But the cat was out of the bag well before hand, and in evaluating the situation it is dishonest to cite incidents in Tunisia (post-Revolution rather rare) and glossing over the pre-Revolution, Qadhdhafi backed incidents.
The destabilised part of Mali, the vast desert expanse where the Tuareq live is "not -inconsiderable" however it is also virtually unpopulated Sahara. Nor has it been particularly stable pre-Libyan revolution. AQIM and the Tuareq on-and-off again rebellions / banditism are issues that pre-existed the Libyan revolution and hardly can be blamed on it. An outflow of Taureq mercenaries post-Libyan revolution was always going to happen.
The incidents that I am aware of re Algeria are all quite marginal, and trivial relative to Algeria's ongoing and pre-existing security problem.
My comment was:
I am afraid it is very hard to take seriously an analysis that contains the phrase “There has been a rash of ongoing retaliatory ethnic and tribal fighting against communities perceived to be pro-Qaddafi, most notably Tuaregs, Berbers, and black Africans.”
The Berbers (who are the same people as the warlords of the Nafusa Mountains – the appellation itself is one preferred by the Berber speaking community), are most certainly not perceived as pro-Qadhdhafi. Quite the contrary, they are well known as among the most antti-Qadhdhafi communities in Libya. To write the above rather highlights a lack of knowledge about Libya.
The Tuareq (themselves, of course, linguistically Berber, but distant from the settled Berberophone communities) are another matter, having long served as mercenaries for Qadhdhafi – particularly the Taureq from Mali, for reasons particularly their own.
The Black African attacks, however, are nothing new. Populist violence against Black Africans has long been a feature of Libyan society, and was rarely punished with any real severity. Resentment againts The Guide pissing away billions on his African dreams and old racism in Libyan society, not a Libyan revolution, are the reasons.
This is, overall, a silly, superficial analysis.
For the issue of no interests, the primary interest was not having a counter-revolutionary Qadhdhafi – after the inevitable massacres in Benghazi – destabilising Tunisia and Egypt. Already before his own revolution started, in Tunisia there were credible signs of Qadhdhafi funding the Benalistes, issues that not-at-all-coincidentally evaporated once Qadhdhafi had his hands full on home territory.
As for Good Will in the Arab Street for the Americans, no magic wands exist, but in the Maghreb where I operate as an investor and have for a decade, this gets positive comment.
In all, a rather dishonest or stupid evaluation.
I would add to this comment that the underlying point that Libya does not encourage the idea that intervening in Syria. One need not, however, indulge in factual misrepresentations (or just plain ignorance) to make that point.
February 19, 2012
Problematic but re Egypt and over reaction
Judith Miller is a gullible git, but this arty in her new ghetto (newsmax, well deserved) Egypt on the Brink: An Exclusive Look at the Hunted Men Who Brought Growth and Reform does touch on some legit issues (between channeling indirect Mubarek regim apologia) re the liberal reformers. Perhaps not what she meant but it reflects on who liberal (economic) reform was contaminated by cronyism and thus deeply compromised. She does not grapple with that honestly, sadly.
For amusement value
I am not going to go through this column to rebut anything. I highlight it for its sheer insanity and amusement value. Slaes, who FT fired, apparently now writes for Bloomberg, giving her economically illiterate self a platform for spouting bizarre free association ideas: If U.S. Troops Pull Out, Economic Growth May Slow: Amity Shlaes - Bloomberg
She actually makes the argument that American military bases build other nations and claims that somehow the French economic problems of the 1970s have some connection to their booting American troops out a decade earlier. This is the land of sheer insanity. I can't quite decide if the stupid git actually believes this, or is just an utter whore for the most lunatic fringe of the Imperialist wing of the American NeoCon movement. that dreams of real empire.
This all an argument that the US should continue to have troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. (and bizarrely claims African countries have foregone growth for lack of American bases...).
February 08, 2012
Egypt-US relations further downhill: military delegation cancels Washington visit.
As this has interesting regional implications, some thoughts on the FT arty Egypt-US meetings cancelled amid trial row and on the recent Gallup polling on Egypt and US assistance
An Egyptian army delegation visiting Washington abruptly cancelled meetings with senior American lawmakers on Monday as US government officials warned the country’s $1.5bn aid package was in jeopardy.
Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the US Senate armed services committee, were among a number of congressional leaders scheduled to meet the Egyptian military representatives in the coming week.
But the delegation was recalled home after 19 US citizens, including Sam LaHood, the son of the US transportation secretary, were referred by the Egyptian authorities for criminal trial on charges of operating civil society groups without permission and receiving unauthorised foreign funding.
I'm actually fairly surprised that Egypt has decided to play hard ball on this. They seem to truly feel that USA won't dare suspend aide, however, I don't know the US administration will be able to hold back the political backlash:
Cairo’s decision to try US citizens has put in doubt $1.5bn of US aid after a warning from Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, at the weekend. “We will have to closely review these matters as it comes [to the] time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances,” she said.
The Obama administration repeated its warning on Monday. “We have underscored how serious a problem these actions are. We have said clearly that these actions could have consequences for our relationship, including regarding our assistance programs,” said Jay Carney, White House spokesman.
It's worth noting the amounts, Econ aide at USD 250 mln is enormous. Serious American allies don't receive such levels. A questionable one....
Under the budget approved by Congress for this year, Egypt is to receive $1.3bn in military aid and $250m in economic aid. However, allocation of the military aid requires the secretary of state to certify that Egypt is supporting the transition to a civilian government, including holding fair elections and ensuring freedom of speech.
And for the political climate in USA, this looks quite problematic to support:
Opposition to aid for Egypt continues to grow. On Friday, Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator who chairs the subcommittee on foreign aid, said: “We want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank cheques are over.”
More than 40 members of Congress signed a letter sent to both the Obama administration and the Egyptian military council warning that it would be difficult to maintain aid in “the absence of a quick and satisfactory resolution to this issue”.
On this last observation below, (which I suppose suggests that just before aide is cut the trials will be suspended (but not dismissed) or some similar bit of theatre, the Gallup polling rather suggest that they are playing to a willing audience. Of course, it does raise substantial questions about the US-Egyptian relationship, given a political system that has positively nurtured paranoia re outsiders, including supposed allies.
Rabab al-Mahdi, an Egyptian political analyst, said the ruling generals appeared to be involved in a game of brinkmanship with the US but that it was unlikely they would allow the aid to be cut. She said that for the moment they seemed to be playing to nationalist sentiments in a country deeply suspicious of US intentions in the region. ...“I think what we are seeing is part of a populist campaign on the part of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in which they take extreme positions against the US and foreign powers. It feeds into the propaganda [they have been spreading] about foreign plots to destroy Egypt.”
The IHT / NYT arty on this subject In Egypt, a History of Distrust of U.S.-Aided Groups - NYTimes.com
A useful reminder that the process was launched under the deposed President, again highlighting the very problematic fundamentals of that regime, happy to accept a nearly USD 2 bln bribe, but at the same time played a double game.
Two groups were targets of an Egyptian investigation into their role in supporting opposition to President Hosni Mubarak before he fell from power last February. “Data was collected about the activities of the American Embassy through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute,” Mr. Mubarak’s former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, said in a deposition....
That being said, I do agree with these observations:
But Paul J. Sullivan, a Middle East expert at Georgetown University who has long studied the Egyptian military, cautioned against interpreting the criminal charges as a result merely of high-level machinations. He said Egyptians of all affiliations are wary of undue influence from the United States, which they view as having propped up the Mubarak regime for many years.
“I understand the purpose of the N.D.I. and I.R.I.,” Dr. Sullivan said of the Democratic and Republican institutes. “But this is a newly freed state and a very brittle and emotional environment. It’s not the best environment for them to work. How would we react if a foreign country came here to teach us how to conduct elections?”
Many Egyptians appear to share the military-led government’s suspicions of American motives. “Eighty percent of the people think this is America’s work,” said Sherif Mohamed, 33, surveying metal fragments, garbage fires and dusty tear gas residue left on his block from five days of battles between protesters and security forces in Cairo.
“America does not like Islam,” he said, echoing a common sentiment here.
In recent days, several members of the newly elected Egyptian Parliament have said they look forward to the results of the investigation, asserting that it was wrong for the United States to violate Egyptian laws barring foreign financing of nonprofits.
Emphasis added. Given USA mainstreet popular paranioa about all things foreign (and the lunatic conspiracy theories that seem to have wide credit in the populist right like NAFTA highway, etc), one can hardly disagree.
However, turning to the Gallup note re Most Egyptians Oppose U.S. Economic Aid beyond the headline that ~70% of Egyptians oppose US assistance to Egypt, economic or political, the non-headline result that there is openness to international assistance via WB or IMF rather suggests a specific problematic relationship that the US would be better served from stepping back from:
LOS ANGELES -- About 7 in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup in December 2011 oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt, and a similar percentage opposes the U.S. sending direct aid to civil society groups. This rebuke of U.S. financial support may be a challenge for Egypt's newly elected parliament and its future president as the government attempts to bolster the nation's financial stability.
Egyptians are much more willing to receive aid from international institutions, with 50% favoring this type of help. Egypt's military and political leaders initally rejected an offer of support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but later changed their minds. Last month, Masood Ahmed, Director for the Middle East and Central Asia Department for the IMF, was in Egypt to discuss a potential $3.2 billion IMF loan to Egypt. Egyptian leaders' ability to attract foreign aid and investment will be important to collecting the capital needed to move the nation's economy forward.Well, Gulf state promises should always be subject to an enormous discount rate. Like 50% plus. Even on their private investment front, they have an El Dorado image, but actual investments in real terms lags badly.
Egytians are nearly as likely to favor aid from Arab governments as they are to oppose help from the U.S. Almost 7 in 10 favor aid from Arab governments.This may in part reflect high-profile announcements by several of the country's Arab neighbors about their involvement in projects to help rebuild Egypt's economy.
However, some Egyptian politicians have begun to voice concerns about collecting on their neighbors' promises. Fayza Abouelnaga, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in Egypt, recently noted that her country had received only $500 million of the $3.7 billion promised by Saudi Arabia and $500 million of the $1.5 billion pledged by Qatar. Further, she said the United Arab Emirates has paid none of its promised $3 billion. Abouelnaga estimated in December that Egypt's foreign debt reached $34.4 billion, representing 15% of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Posted by The Lounsbury at 05:00 AM
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Filed Under: Economic Development , Economic Policy , Egypt Mamlouk Coup , Foreign Policy & MENA , North Africa , The MENA '48 , US Foreign Policy
February 07, 2012
Most Eguptians oppose US Econ Aid
Such is the news, perhaps non American aide is less dimly viewed.Most Egyptians Oppose U.S. Economic Aid
About 7 in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup in December 2011 oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt, and a similar percentage opposes the U.S. sending direct aid to civil society groups. This rebuke of U.S. financial support may be a challenge for Egypt's newly elected parliament and its future president as the government attempts to bolster the nation's financial stability.Given the history USA has in Egypt, this is not a surprise.
February 06, 2012
End American (and other) Aid to Egypt
Noted this via the Arabist, frankly Steve Cook is spot on: From the Potomac to the Euphrates » Egypt and the United States: It’s Not You, It’s Me
I say we oblige Aboul Naga and wind down the aid program—including military assistance—as soon as practical. It’s hard to run against the “foreign hand” if there is no foreign hand. In addition to undermining Aboul Naga’s claims (and hopefully weakening her) bringing an end to the aid program and shutting down the USAID mission has multiple political benfits. First, Washington will no longer be in the unseemly position of providing taxpayer largesse—however small in the grand scheme of things—to a government that resents the United States and clearly does not share its values. Second, it will provide an opportunity for a much-needed change in military-to-military relations in which the United States merely pays for the services it needs like expedited transit through the Suez Canal. Third, it is consistent with this moment of empowerment and dignity for Egyptians many of whom do not want U.S. assistance either because they believe it actually stands in the way of a democratic transition or accept Aboul Naga’s argument along with those who couldn’t care less about U.S. assistance because it doesn’t touch their lives. Finally, it will free up funds for the United States to help others who actually might want Washington’s help, perhaps the Tunisians, Moroccans, or some sub-Saharan African countries would be grateful for development assistance.This goes for others aide as well (UK, Germany).
Assistance spent on Tunisia, Morocco, the Sahel, would make rather more sense. Egypt, well, would do well to go through a "cure."
Posted by The Lounsbury at 07:13 PM
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Filed Under: EU Foreign Policy , Economic Development , Egypt Mamlouk Coup , Foreign Policy & MENA , North Africa , Political Development , The MENA '48 , US Foreign Policy
Econ model for democracy survival
While the author's scepticism re the utility of the modelling is well advised, the two main countries chances as modelled sound right: Economic Growth and the Survival of New Democracies « Dart-Throwing Chimp
I’ll wrap this post up by going back to where we started, namely, the Middle East after the “Arab awakening.” Even though GDP growth doesn’t contribute much to it, the model’s overall performance isn’t bad. After looking at those ROC curves, I wondered what the model would say about the prospects for the survival of new democracies in three Arab countries on the cusp of new tries at democracy: Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Of the three, only Tunisia would already qualify as democratic by my definition, but Egypt and Libya are both in the midst of transitions from authoritarian rule that could put them over the threshold soon. So I took the IMF’s latest projections of their growth rates and plugged them into the model, along with recent data on their levels of economic development and my best guess as to whether or not they would qualify as acutely polarized according to the data set I used for that indicator. Here’s what came back as estimates of the probability that each of those new democracies would make it to their sixth birthday, assuming that, of the three, only Tunisia would not qualify as acutely polarized:
Egypt is quite screwed.
February 04, 2012
A NYT arty I have been meaning to come back to, on entrepreneurship in the Arab
First, a good observation from an otherwise not terribly interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by an Under Secretary of State.
Private entrepreneurship is a vital antidote to this mix, but deep skepticism of markets persists in North Africa. A 2010 poll in Tunisia revealed that well over half the population preferred government jobs over any type of private-sector employment. And no wonder: In their experience, a market economy stands for crony capitalism that benefits only the well-connected. It's important to correct this perception.The interesting observation here is relative to the distrust of private employment, and the US official connecting this with their experience of market economies as crony economies "only benefiting the well-connected." That it should be noted, is not purely corruption it is also the economic expression of social mores and lack of trust in society. That's an important thing to keep in mind. While note the sole driver, it is an important one.
Turning to this IHT / NYT arty which is worth a few notes, Entrepreneurial Spirit Awaits Its Moment in the Middle East in particular in keeping in mind the above.
“Ideas are cheap, but it is about whether you can find an entrepreneur who is passionate about the idea,” Mr. Ito said. “You need passion, some experience and good investors, but also you need the ability to have structure. Corporate structure is tricky and bankruptcy structure is tricky. Those tend to inhibit entrepreneurs that might otherwise be taking the risk.”In addition to the cultural issues, I also agree that poor, outdate corporate law and structures are significant barriers in the region. The cultural barriers cry for adopting innovations from North America in particular to help better deal with the risk.
While the legal system differs from one Arab country to another, limits on foreign ownership and the need to have a local sponsor in the Gulf region in particular will limit the extent to which entrepreneurs can flourish. Bankruptcy laws also remain opaque and the interpretation of investor rights is often arbitrary. Censorship of Web sites and the banning in some countries of alternative phone providers like Skype also pose hurdles.Eh, the Gulf is the major area where ownership restrictions are barriers, much worse are opaque and slow resolution makes it even worse.
“Most of the companies I invested in, in Singapore, were transplanted with entrepreneurs coming from other places,” Mr. Ito said. “Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and other non-U.S. hubs have fairly easy corporate structures that started to mimic the U.S. Here, if you change the structure a little bit, you attract a lot of entrepreneurs, and then they would create jobs locally.”
Besides helping introduce investors abroad to opportunities in the region, Mr. Ito is eager to transport the M.I.T. Media Lab culture to the Middle East by hosting meetings in the region and encouraging Arab companies to join.Last observations are interesting to reflect on.
“Arab companies in the past wanted to do big things; they like big names and big projects,” Mr. Ito said. “I think the way the Media Lab innovates, which is undirected free thinking, is a little bit different than the culture here, which is to plan things and do five- to ten-year projects.”
Released tourist, but
And indeed it did turn out as predicted. Nevertheless not going to help Egypt come back in tourism. Kidnapped US tourists released - FT.com
Kidnapped US tourists released
By Heba Saleh in Cairo
Two American tourists were released hours after they and their Egyptian guide were kidnapped in the tourist hub of south Sinai, one of the few places still receiving visitors despite the political turmoil raging elsewhere in the country.
Bedouin sources quoted by Reuters news agency said the kidnappers agreed to free the tourists in exchange for four fellow tribesmen held by police.
February 03, 2012
American politics, non-existence of Arab Xians
Worth a read, came across by accident
They also demonstrated their ignorance of a crucial part of the world. The Middle East isn’t exclusively Muslim; Hassan, for example, points out that he and his “massive family” are part of “a vast Palestinian community… in North Florida, nearly all of them Greek Orthodox or Catholic.”
But Hassan gets the anti-Muslim bigotry, especially because it comes back to haunt him (he, an Arab Christian American, is tarred with Islamist Hamas). For those in the GOP who might be reading this, allow me to tell you: The percentage of Christians among the Palestinian population is about the same as the percentage of African Americans in the U.S.A.
For a party so concerned with America’s Christian identity, Romney and Gingrich’s dismissal of the Palestinians is part of their broader disinterest in the Muslim world, and its diversities and differences. Namely, most Muslims aren’t Arabs, and most Arab Americans are Christians. You read that correctly.
Egyptian Tourism, not getting better PR
Egypt just is not getting any breaks - nor creating any. Besides the football riots, we have kidnappings and violence in the Sinia and in Sharm El Sheikh and St. Catherine's area.
Gunmen Kidnap 2 Americans, Egyptian In Sinai Peninsula | Fox News
Now this is probably just your old-school Yemani type kidnapping, but along with other events, I can not see Egypt recovering its badly needed tourism revenues.
"Egyptian officials have informed us that two tourists of American citizenship have been kidnapped in Sinai," an embassy spokesperson said. "We are currently working to confirm that. In the meantime we are working with Egyptian authorities to do as much as possible to ensure the tourists' safety."
The tourists were among a group traveling between St. Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, NBC News reported.
Bedouin sources told AFP the kidnappers were demanding the release of relatives held in Egyptian jails. South Sinai security chiefs, in coordination with Bedouin elders, were in talks with the kidnappers to secure the release of the hostages.
A military plane was deployed to the area as a search operation started, Egyptian state TV said.
The kidnapping took place just days after Bedouins in north Sinai briefly seized 25 Chinese workers to demand the release of Islamist relatives detained over bombings in the peninsula between 2004 and 2006.
A French tourist was killed during a shooting in Sharm el Sheikh last weekend, raising concerns over security in the popular resort area.
February 02, 2012
Illustrative of Egypt's developing political culture, Death to the Marsha
As horrid as the football match disaster was, this just does not speak well : Calls to Execute Egypt's Military Ruler Echo on Cairo's Streets - NYTimes.com
According to an eyewitness account posted online, one of the team’s star players, Mohammed Abu Trika, joined the fans in chanting for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the military council that still rules Egypt, to be put to death. Modifying the popular revolutionary chant, “The People Demand the Fall of the Regime,” the protesters shouted, “The People Demand the Execution of the Marshal.”
But fifty odd years of conspiracy thinking...
Egyptian Fantasies, American NeoCon dreams
I spotted this intriguingly deluded and/or dishonest read of the Egyptian revolution and American policy via, if I recall, Andrew Sullivan. Although I haven't any particular faith in the Egyptian revolution, this eval is simply daft.
Exactly one year ago today, I stood in front of the Lawyers Syndicate in downtown Cairo and watched as a few thousand protesters suddenly streamed into the area from the north, overwhelmed Egypt’s notoriously violent riot police, and pushed onward towards Tahrir Square. That mile-long march, which culminated with the protesters bursting through a human chain of officers and seizing the Square, was the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains so. Long presumed to be politically passive, ordinary Egyptians bravely amassed with one simple demand: That decades of dictatorship had to end. When Hosni Mubarak resigned eighteen tumultuous days later, the Arab Spring had bloomed.
Ahem, that would have been when Ben Ali left... but leaving aside Egypto-centricism,
Or so we wanted to believe. The reality of the past twelve months, however, has undone whatever high hopes one might have held. Egypt is now headed for radical theocratic, rather than liberal democratic, rule. And a befuddled Obama administration has failed to do anything to stop the coming disaster.
This is simply daft.
First, one had to be deluded if last January one thought Egypt was heading towards liberal democratic rule. And to advance the argument, either stupid, deluded or simply dishonest.
Of course currently it is far from the case they're headed towards "radical theocratic" rule - it rather looks more like the same old Neo-Mamlouk rule with a bit of a Brotherhood façade. And the Brotherhood isn't radical theocrats, nor even radical religious. Nour party is, but they're far from allies at this stage.
As for the swipe at the Obama administration... That is in
IT IS TEMPTING to believe that things might have turned out differently had Washington worked harder to bolster the young revolutionaries who seemingly exemplified America’s own liberal values when they took to the streets last January.
Sure, if one is inclined to wishful thinking and hasn't the slightest fucking clue as to Egyptian society and political structures after decades of Mubarek dictatorship.
These brave activists, after all, had won America’s hearts to the tune of an 82-percent approval rating at the height of the revolt, and their photogenic faces carried the promise of a more democratic, friendly Egypt.
But the activists were never who we hoped they were. Far from being liberal, their ranks were largely comprised of Nasserists, revolutionary socialists, and Muslim Brotherhood youths—an alliance of convenience for opposing Mubarak and, later, for denouncing the U.S.
Well, surprising that, denouncing the USA, after USA poured billions and billions into supporting the very regime they were toppling.
As for the idea of liberalism in the revolution... What a peculiar fantasy.
Thus, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt in March 2011, a group of leading activists refused to meet with her. They also turned out to be intolerant conspiracy theorists: When classically Cairoesque rumors that a “Jewish Masonic” ceremony was to be held at the pyramids on November 11, the April 6th Youth Movement’s Democratic Front declared that this non-existent event should be prohibited. “We are committed to the achievements of the revolution, which emphasized freedom,” they said in a statement. “But freedom is not absolute freedom, and … it is constrained by the regulations and beliefs of the Egyptian people, who do not accept that these celebrations be protected in the wake of the revolution.”
Oh how very surprising.... Egyptian political culture was not magically transformed by people bopping around Tahrir Square. Stunning insight.
Not that the revolutionaries were the horse to bet on anyway.
As opposed to who to bet on?
Their continued reliance on street protests following Mubarak’s ouster angered the wider Egyptian public, which desperately wanted a return to normalcy. In late October—only one day before the registration deadline—they finally formed an electoral coalition, the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA), to compete in parliamentary elections, but it was too late. The RCA won merely 2.35 percent of the parliamentary seats, and will play a minimal role in shaping Egypt’s political future. Meanwhile, Islamist parties captured nearly 70 percent of the vote by tapping into the Egyptian public’s religious sentiments and using their well-established social services networks to turn out supporters.
Again, very stunning that after decades of Mubarek regime actively working to stunt any and all political activity outside of the Neo Mamlouk system, the youth didn't get it right. Who could have possibly predicted such a thing. Oh just about anyone, that's right.
Well, that's how revolutions work.
The Obama administration, however, had already pegged its hopes on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after Mubarak’s resignation with Washington’s approval—and reasonably so. After all, the military’s historic relations with Washington and its widespread support among the Egyptian public seemed to make it the ideal partner for shepherding Egypt toward a stable, democratic future.
What other choices were there?
Our dear writer has already highlighted the youth groups of non-Islamist cast were disorganised and inexperienced - and not terribly well-disposed to USA (although he glosses over the reasons). And it's clear his feelings on the Islamists....
So apparently the American administration was to invent some magical partners in Egypt.
But there were early signs that the SCAF was far more concerned about stability than it was interested in democracy. Last spring, as sectarian violence rose considerably, the military hesitated to interfere in domestic strife for fear of inciting a backlash.
Big surprise, SCAF not interested in democracy. I doubt anyone in the American administration, in private, was particularly surprised by this.
Then, when a sluggish transition towards civilian rule catalyzed new Tahrir Square protests in the autumn, the military unleashed an unprecedented crackdown, entirely abdicating whatever democratic credentials it could once lay claim to. Between October and December, the military killed at least 80 demonstrators and wounded hundreds, deploying armored military vehicles, snipers, and weapons-grade teargas again its own people, and manipulating the state-run media to incite civilians to take up arms against protesters. Meanwhile, the SCAF subjected at least 12,000 Egyptians to military trials and, in late December, stormed the offices of seventeen pro-democratic NGOs, many of which are U.S.-funded.
As the SCAF’s repressive rule has undermined its legitimacy both within Egypt and abroad, the Obama administration has looked increasingly to the Muslim Brotherhood as a potential partner. Thus, administration’s policy of “limited contacts” with the Muslim Brotherhood, which it announced in June, expanded to diplomatic meetings with the organization in October, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with the Brotherhood’s political leaders in January. The Brotherhood, the thinking goes, won a 47 percent plurality in the recent parliamentary elections, and Washington’s interests are hardly served by having hostile relations with Egypt’s legitimately elected leaders. This argument, however, is only half right: While Washington should maintain open lines of communication with the Brotherhood, it should have no illusions about the Brotherhood’s willingness to act as a partner on key American interests.Emphasis added.
And why is it expected, after decades of American backed dictatorship, any Egyptian party coming out of the Revolution is particularly "partnering" on key American interests (whatever they are in this author's active imagination). What there is to criticize in the American approach right now escapes as the Brotherhood is clealry a popular power. Our dear author doesn't like them, but elections have consequences.
In this vein, the Brotherhood’s leaders have said repeatedly that the organization intends to put the Camp David Accords to a referendum—a strategy that it apparently believes will enable it to sink Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel while escaping the blame.
Ah Israeli interests.
Of course this rendition of the Brotherhood's position is rather tendentious, as the majority of declarations by the Brotherhood have in fact indicated they're not inclined to
Brotherhood leaders have additionally called for banning bikinis, beach bathing, and alcohol despite the fact that these are essential elements to Egypt’s tourism industry, which comprises roughly ten percent of Egypt’s stagnating economy.
Some have, only to be rebuked.
The organization also supports new legislation that would limit foreign funding of NGOs, thereby undercutting Washington’s ability to aid pro-democratic organizations.
Oh what a surprise, after decades of Americans supporting a dictatorship and engaging in faux democracy promo, why post revolution they're less than keen on Americans funding NGOs... Odd given American sensitivities about anything foreign funded in USA.
(I'll leave aside again the factualness of the claim - here I haven't noted the Brotherhood promoting this in specific, but perhaps I did miss that).
Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, the Brotherhood intends to establish the sharia as the principal source of Egyptian legislation and criminalize criticism of Islamic law, thereby rendering Christians and secularists unequal citizens.
Again, exaggerated and tendentious.
Perhaps the administration is betting that recently reported negotiations between the SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood will yield an agreement that satisfies both parties and, at the very least, promotes domestic tranquility. If so, it would be a telling indicator of where things stand: a year after the ebullience of Tahrir, an alliance between military autocrats and radical theocrats is viewed, sadly, as a best-case scenario.
Islamists are not per se theocrats, although he does love the scare language
But I would say that on the very days of Tahrir, the best case scenario was always this.
Eric Trager is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.