Egypt president sees ‘deep state’ as enemy within
President Mohamed Morsi has warned of conspiracies within his government. But some say he wants to simply replace the power structure with one loyal to him.
Members of the opposition Black Bloc movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, in the background, throw stones at each other during recent clashes in Cairo. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist backers have called for the courts to be purged of his political enemies. (Oliver Weiken / European Pressphoto Agency / April 19, 2013)
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
April 24, 2013, 6:13 p.m.
CAIRO — President Mohamed Morsi casts himself as a leader navigating a landscape bristling with conspiracies by corrupt businessmen and shadowy figures plotting from inside a vast bureaucracy his Islamist inner circle has been unable to tame.
While protesters march, workers strike, students rally and the economy is in a scary tailspin, the president’s more serious nemesis may lie behind the scenes in what is known as the “deep state.” The courts, police, army and intelligence agencies were shaped over decades by the secular rule of deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Many police and intelligence officials in particular remain loyal to the old guard, fearing Morsi is moving the country away from its Western alliances and toward religious fundamentalism.
Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the government, accuse those connected to Mubarak of disrupting Egypt’s transition. Talk of intrigue is so pervasive that the Brotherhood’s website this month blamed “deep state corruption” for food poisoning that hospitalized nearly 500 students at Al Azhar, the country’s premier Islamic university.
Recent actions by the judiciary suggest state institutions are in fact moving to put limits on Morsi, who pushed through an Islamist-backed constitution and ignored legal decisions challenging his authority. Court rulings also have delayed parliamentary elections and called for Morsi to reinstate the general prosecutor he fired during a power grab in November. These verdicts came as police and internal intelligence officers — the core of Mubarak’s power — have staged work slowdowns and questioned Morsi’s legitimacy.
Security agents, police commanders and even clerks wielding rubber stamps are part of an imposing government labyrinth that encompasses the Interior Ministry and an edifice known as the Mogamma, a parallel universe of hundreds of thousands of public employees tied up in a system of patronage and favors.
His political opponents respond that Morsi, who was elected in June, is exaggerating the strength of the previous power structure — and that he wants to simply replace it with one loyal to him. Critics say he wants a Brotherhood version of his predecessor’s brand of control and cronyism.
The Brotherhood is backing a bill in the upper house of parliament that could limit judicial independence and force as many as 3,000 judges to retire. Judges claim the legislation is aimed at replacing them with jurists sympathetic to Islamists. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters demonstrated last weekend, calling for a “cleansing” of the courts.
Morsi and the Brotherhood have been “revealed as people who have no experience in ruling and are greedy for domination and power,” said Hassan Nafaa, a respected political science professor at Cairo University. “There’s a sentiment that the revolution was stolen and that there is an attempt at what many are calling the ‘Brotherhoodization’ of the state.”
The 85-year-old Brotherhood, once regarded as the only uncorrupted voice against the old regime, is now often compared to Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party. A panel of judges, relying on a 1950s court ruling, has called for the Brotherhood’s dissolution, saying it was never a legal entity.
Morsi, however, speaks of hidden hands maneuvering to weaken his government from within and without: “Whoever sticks his finger inside Egypt, I will cut it off,” the president said recently. “I see the fingers of people getting inside who have no value in this world. They think that money makes them men.”
The president is seldom specific in identifying outsiders arrayed against him, but they are said to include Israeli agents and, at times, American officials. Egypt and the U.S. engaged in a brief but telling Twitter war recently over Washington’s criticism of Cairo’s interrogation of a popular television satirist charged with insulting Morsi. The State Department said Egypt was restricting freedom of expression; the Brotherhood accused Washington of “flagrant meddling.”
Conspiracies, real or imagined, are a dangerous topic in a country with deepening political and religious schisms, soaring inflation and joblessness, and an imploding economy.
The Brotherhood alleges that Mubarak loyalists and opposition leaders, who failed at the ballot box, want to spur a backlash against Islamist politicians. Antigovernment protests, including a growing number of labor strikes, have left scores dead and paralyzed Port Said and other cities in recent months.
Al Ahram newspaper quoted senior officials as saying Morsi “faces a coup attempt partially orchestrated and executed by the intelligence apparatus.” The paper went on to say that the president is worried about “certain loopholes” within the intelligence community.
But the disparate opposition rarely coordinates anything. It includes the largely secular National Salvation Front, ultraconservative Islamist Salafis, and businessmen and bureaucrats connected to former regime figures. Among the latter are Ahmed Shafik, whom Morsi narrowly defeated in last year’s presidential election, and Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate and Mubarak family confidant imprisoned on corruption charges.
Ezz and Shafik, a retired general who fled the country after Morsi’s victory, are emblematic of the deep state’s nexus of politics and money.
Brotherhood supporters have accused old guard operatives of paying armed thugs to infiltrate antigovernment protests and spark riots. The deep state has also been accused of setting courthouse fires to destroy evidence against Mubarak allies, including Safwat Sharif, the former speaker in the upper house of parliament.
Instability has damaged Egypt’s stature as it negotiates a $4.8-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The desperate economic condition has forced Morsi to seek loans and aid from Qatar and Iraq. Neighboring Libya recently promised to deposit $2 billion into Egypt’s central bank.
The Brotherhood has steadily tightened its hold on public institutions. Morsi has appointed five Brotherhood members as governors. The prime minister’s office and key ministries, including justice, finance, health and interior, are controlled by the group or its sympathizers. Rural preachers have also accused the government of replacing imams at state-run mosques with Brotherhood supporters. Mosques are used as vital campaign stops during elections.
Some commentators say the political opposition’s best option is to advance a strategy of protest and unrest that would force a military coup to prevent economic collapse.
“The army will have to make up its mind again very soon. The state remains as vulnerable as it used to be,” said Ziad Akl, a senior analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “If people decide to rise against the state, the army will be put in the same shoes they were in before.”
Others doubt the generals, who ruled for nearly 17 months after the 2011 fall of Mubarak, want to return to governing. Egyptians revered the army, but human rights abuses and political gridlock have tarnished its image. The military, despite recent veiled threats to intervene, has so far sided with Morsi, who this year backed a constitution granting the army wide autonomy and protecting its business empire.
The Brotherhood’s strategy has been to portray political enemies as spies and infidels, which, especially in the provinces, has raised suspicions about the National Salvation Front and other opposition parties.
“Anyone who speaks out against the crimes of the Brotherhood is soon bombarded with accusations and slander,” Egyptian novelist Alaa Aswany wrote last month in As-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper. “In their opinion, the Brotherhood’s opponents are either remnants of the Mubarak regime, agents of international Zionism, secret Freemasons or, at best, immoral, sexually [deviant] individuals whose main goal in life is to spread immorality in society.”
Parliamentary elections expected in the fall will be a barometer of the Brotherhood’s remaining popularity. Despite a marked slide in its appeal, it remains formidable in the provinces. That support could diminish if instability continues and ultraconservative Salafis broaden their reach into Morsi’s base.
“If they [the Brotherhood] lose the majority in elections, I think their political weight will end forever,” said Nafaa, the Cairo University professor. “It is clear that they are not an alternative to the previous despotic regime.”
On a recent broadcast of Morning Joe, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman stated that the Arab Spring was a disaster. The Muslim Brotherhood, after fifty years of planning to assume power, is unable to govern.
Bread riots or bankruptcy: Egypt faces stark economic choices
Egypt needs IMF money to stay afloat, but the international lender is demanding tough subsidy cuts from an already-embattled government.
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / April 3, 2013
It was a perilous time for Egypt. The Suez Canal zone and Alexandria and out of the factories in the Nile Delta, and attacking symbols of the government everywhere – furious about the sudden rise in the price of daily staples.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, angry youth tore up sidewalks to hurl stones at riot police when they ran out of Molotov cocktails; the police responded with tear gas and baton charges. By the time the smoke cleared, at least 80 Egyptians were dead in the worst rioting the country had witnessed in a generation.
The Egyptian government restored the subsidies.
While this probably sounds familiar, it describes the 1977 bread riots that almost brought down the government of Anwar Sadat and left ransacked the home of his young vice president, Mohamed Morsi, who is facing decision time on a national financial crisis that dwarfs the one Sadat faced 35 years ago.
President Morsi’s government recently announced a rationing plan for subsidized bread that it claims won’t affect the poor. But few are convinced that the plan won’t either jack up prices or reduce availability of the bread that is now sold at one-quarter to one-fifth of its production cost.
Beyond the bread, more tough choices lie ahead. Morsi’s room to maneuver, however, is shrinking. Political turmoil has frozen high-level decisionmaking, even as the Egyptian pound has plummeted and foreign creditors look askance.
While it’s been a long-held theory that Islamist movements like Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood can easily come to power in Muslim-majority states, they often lose public support as they fail to manage the economy to their citizens’ satisfaction.
“In one way, what’s happening might be good, so people can see that they’re inept, they’re politicians like everyone else, and they get booted out,” says Erin A. Snider, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in Middle Eastern political economy. “But it’s going to be very ugly in the interim … and it’s going to make them incredibly resistant to admitting defeat.”
Past solution, present options
As in the 1977 crisis, Egypt once again faces an IMF demand for subsidy cuts, a working poor whose struggles are mounting and who feel betrayed and oppressed by their political classes, and a loan the government desperately wants but fears could be its undoing.
Then, Egypt muddled through some desperate years for its poor as Sadat (and after him, Mr. Mubarak) pivoted toward the United States and ultimately reaped lavish aid in return.
Late in 1977, Sadat made his historic trip to Israel, and while that cost him Arab financial support, it led to a tight partnership with the US and international lenders like the IMF, which gave the country credit on easy terms, and debt forgiveness when times got tough.
After Egypt supported the US-led coalition to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, Mubarak was rewarded with at least $15 billion in international debt forgiveness.
But Morsi is neither Sadat nor Mubarak, and Egypt is in far more chaos than it was at any other moment in recent decades. The US doesn’t see his Muslim Brotherhood as a reliable partner, and members of Congress are likely to keep loans and aid at a trickle. The IMF has balked at coughing up money without concrete, short-term change in how the government spends that money.
The turmoil, infighting, and occasional rioting of the past two years have scared away foreign and local investment, left the pyramids and the grand temples of Luxor bereft of tourists, and seen already-low wages for the poor deteriorate in real terms.
Morsi is on the hook for all of this, with the elected parliament dissolved by court order last year and yet to be replaced. So far, he and his loyalists have seemed far more interested in consolidating power than in addressing the needs of average Egyptians, despite the rising unrest.
Rioting in February in Cairo and Port Said, the key Suez Canal city, has already dwarfed the events of 1977.
“What we’ve learned since Mubarak is that the new parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, but not just them, are only interested in pursuing their own interests,” says Mustafa Eid, a young Egyptian businessman who cheered Mubarak’s fall, participated in street protests demanding democracy in 2011, and stepped back from politics in disillusionment after watching fellow protesters shot and killed by riot police in central Cairo in late 2011.
“The country is filled with petty corruption, with people that need help, and the people in power are just looking after themselves,” he says.
The country’s coffers are draining fast. The exchange rate was at 5.8 pounds to the dollar at the end of 2010, shortly before the massive street protests began that drove Mubarak from power. Today, it is trading close to 6.8 to the dollar, a 17 percent drop, most of which has come since the start of the year.
Since so many Egyptian consumer goods – like much of the nation’s food – are imported, the collapsing pound has driven up local inflation and put a strain on the government, which planned to spend at least $4.5 billion on subsidized fuel in the first three months of 2013.
Though spending on wheat subsidies has fallen, that’s because the government has been drawing on a strategic wheat reserve to keep the ovens on at government bakeries, which sell flatbread for pennies a loaf. The wheat reserve now holds enough to supply demand for three more months, down from six months in the middle of last year.
The pressure on the pound and total subsidy spending of about $20 billion a year has put the central bank in dire straits. Foreign reserves that stood at $35 billion in January 2011 are now hovering close to $13 billion.
That’s why the IMF money, about $4.8 billion in all, is so crucial. While the IMF’s cash by itself wouldn’t make Egypt’s problems go away, it would signal other governments and subsidized lenders to dip into their pockets as well.
If the IMF loan were granted, “that would probably see our debt ratings upgraded; more money would follow it,” says Mohamed Osama al-Khely, a banker and an appointed member of Egypt’s Shura Council. “But if you increase taxes or cut subsidies, you’re going to hit the poor, the streets. To recover, we need a political rest. Not more turmoil.”
The traditionally ceremonial and powerless Shura has been legislating in the absence of parliament. It is packed with both appointed and elected members of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Since Egyptians didn’t expect parliament would be dissolved, few voted in the Shura elections, which had only 7 percent turnout.)
Mr. Khely isn’t from the Brothers and has a jaundiced view of his new colleagues. The people the Brothers put up for the council were at best the B team, he says. “These guys aren’t really professionals; they spend most of their time waiting for orders from outside.”
Islamic banking focus
What kind of orders have they been receiving? They spent much of the first part of the year trying to hammer out legislation on Islamic financing. This involves borrowing arrangements that dress up payments to creditors not as interest but as equity returns, since usury is forbidden by Islam in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Such Islamic financial instruments are popular with devout lenders, but Khely says his colleagues are under the impression that there’s a groundswell of religiously motivated capital that’s about to head their way thanks to their efforts.
“It’s like talking [about] fixing the windshield wipers when the engine of the car is broken,” he says. “They’re totally consumed with doing something ‘Islamic’ … when the crisis is growing.”
A few months ago, Samir Radwan sat in his elegant flat in Cairo’s Maadi suburb, equal parts rueful about and detached from Egypt’s economic predicament.
The longtime economic consultant with a PhD from the University of London had been called in as interim Finance minister by the military-ruled government at the time Mubarak fell. Egypt was at the brink of a deal with the IMF.
Egypt’s finances were stronger, optimism was high for a country coming out of decades of a military-backed dictatorship, and he was close to a deal. He’d taken the job, working for Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi (acting president in all but name) despite family objections. “I had to. Maybe I could help.”
By June 2011 Mr. Radwan had worked out a loan with the IMF for more than $3 billion at 1.5 percent interest – a steal – and without any of the IMF’s often onerous, and potentially destabilizing, subsidy cuts. Then Egypt’s military leaders stepped in.
There were rumblings about Egypt’s “dignity” being compromised from the street and in the country’s halls of power.
Before the deal could be done, “Tantawi said to me that he didn’t want to leave a legacy of debt when he left,” Radwan says. So the deal was abandoned.
Egypt’s economy, as well as the trust that can be as valuable a commodity as cash, continued to deteriorate. IMF demands started to go up along with Egypt’s needs. Radwan says he doesn’t envy Egypt’s current financial stewards.
“The situation has changed … in my time I had $35 billion in reserves and a stable currency,” he says. The wheels really came off at the end of last year, when Morsi decided to decree to himself legislative powers that allowed him to rush through a new constitution, but which polarized Egyptian politics to such an extent that international lenders like the IMF don’t trust he’ll be able to make good on any promises he makes.
“The government found themselves caught in a paradox,” says Radwan. “They wanted the loans on the one hand, and on the other they wanted to rush through the constitution.”
A constitution and a fissure
Morsi got his constitution. But he also got a badly split, furious country. Protests almost every Friday since have racked Cairo and other cities; in mid-March, clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters sent another paroxysm through the body politic.
The situation is burning up the political capital the Brothers had when Morsi was elected president last summer. Never tested by power in their 80-year history, they had projected to Egypt’s public a can-do, clean, religious image. Their fall from grace may open the door for more secular-oriented politics, in the view of some analysts.
For now, Egypt is caught between two old imperatives: the need for international aid and the need to look after its poorest citizens. The clock is ticking.
Sadat, with the cold war raging and the option of pivoting toward the West, for which Egypt was handsomely rewarded, staved off subsidy cuts and ended up getting the money his country needed.
Morsi’s situation is as dire – if not more so. But finding new friends, or rekindling old friendships, may prove harder for him.
The Arab Quarter Century
I guess it’s official now: The term “Arab Spring” has to be retired. There is nothing springlike going on. The broader, but still vaguely hopeful, “Arab Awakening” also no longer seems valid, given all that has been awakened. And so the strategist Anthony Cordesman is probably right when he argues: It’s best we now speak of the “Arab Decade” or the “Arab Quarter Century” — a long period of intrastate and intraregional instability, in which a struggle for both the future of Islam and the future of the individual Arab nations blend together into a “clash within a civilization.” The ending: TBD.
April 10, 2013 4:53 pm
begins to wane in Egypt
By Borzou Daragahi in Cairo
To become the youngest president of the students’ union in the college of law at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, Mohamed Shaker did not have to do much. He just presented himself to fellow students as an opponent of everything the Muslim Brotherhood had done and stood for during its months of dominating campus and national politics.
“I put up signs saying, ‘The presidency, parliament and shura [consultative council] are enough! At least leave us the universities’,” the energetic 20-year-old boasted. “‘No to the Brotherhood,’ was our slogan.”
Across Egypt’s campuses and in some professional associations, the once formidable electoral prowess of the Muslim Brotherhood shows signs of waning in a trend that could have an impact on parliamentary elections due this year.
After overwhelming wins in student union elections last year, the Brotherhood looks likely to have a drastically reduced influence on campuses. Results compiled by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian rights group, also show the Brotherhood and other Islamists likely to lose elections for the national students’ union.
Elections for syndicates representing pharmacists and journalists have also been won either by independent candidates or by those openly hostile to the Islamist group, which controls the presidency and legislature.
Salafis, or puritan Muslims, who polled well in parliamentary elections that concluded in early 2012, are faring worse than the Brotherhood on many campuses.
The results reflect opinions polls showing support dropping for Mohamed Morsi, the former Brotherhood leader who became president last year. His approval ratings have dropped from nearly 80 per cent in September to less than 50 per cent this month in polls conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research.
The Brotherhood played down the latest losses, saying that it didn’t campaign hard in some elections or contest as many seats as last year to show that it was not trying to dominate the country’s political life.
“They succeeded in 50 per cent of the 50 per cent of seats they contested,” Dina Zakaria, spokesperson for the Brotherhood, said of the student union losses. “They didn’t compete in 100 per cent of the elections. They wanted others to bear responsibility with them. Now they have to share the responsibility of power.”
Brotherhood rivals say mistakes made on campuses cost the group popularity and votes. “They were in power last year, and people saw clearly how they talk but take zero action,” said Walid al Moghazy, a first-year law student and member of the 16-member student union leadership at Cairo University. The Brotherhood failed to win a single seat there this year.
The groups’s behaviour at the university – which included standing up in the middle of classes to make calls to prayer and pleading with men and women to segregate themselves on campus – annoyed many students. A call to ignore Valentine’s Day made the group especially unpopular.
Students at other universities pointed to similar antics. “Students felt they were trying to show off how religious they were,” said Mr Shaker.
Regardless of the reasons for the Brotherhood’s losses, they suggest a potentially novel political dynamic that could provide a fresh incentive for secular, liberal and leftist opposition groups to campaign fiercely in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Until now most of these groups have said they would boycott the poll because the Islamists have skewed the electoral rules in their favour.
After taking all but one of the seats for leadership of the pharmacists’ union last year, the Brotherhood won only two of 12 up for grabs in this year’s elections, giving them a slight, but much diminished majority. Winners of seats at the journalists’ syndicate also oppose the group, which has been seen as hostile to an increasingly boisterous media.
“This is a strong, clear, bright, decisive and perhaps even angry message that journalists sent to the ruling elites,” wrote Kareem Mahmoudin, a journalist who won a seat on the board, in a column for the leftist Al-Tahrir newspaper.
Turnout in many of the elections was low, reflecting the political malaise that has afflicted much of the country since the uprising two years ago that has failed so far to deliver on many of its promises. Only about 11,000 of 84,000 eligible voters cast ballots in the pharmacists’ syndicate elections. The journalists’ syndicate had to lower its quorum from 50 per cent to 25 per cent to elect a new leader.
Still, emotions occasionally ran high. Scuffles broke out between activists supporting and opposing the Brotherhood at Helwan University, south of Cairo, where the Islamists maintain a majority of seats but have lost five to their opponents since last year.
For its part, the Brotherhood acknowledges some losses but says it is satisfied with the results, even among students.
“One of the things that we’re criticised for is that we want to manipulate and dominate everything,” said Ms Zakaria. “This shows that the new system lets everyone operate. No one was banned. We prove that we give the opportunity to everyone to participate. We don’t want to exclude anyone from the scene
The Belly Dancing Barometer
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: February 19, 2013
The Daily News of Egypt reported that the national administrative court ruled last week that the popular Al-Tet “belly dancing channel” be taken off the air for broadcasting without a license. Who knew that Egypt had a belly dancing channel? (Does Comcast know about this?) It is evidently quite popular but apparently offensive to some of the rising Islamist forces in Egypt. It is not clear how much the Muslim Brotherhood’s party had to do with the belly ban, but what is clear is that no one in Egypt is having much fun these days.
The country is more divided than ever between Islamist and less religious and liberal parties, and the Egyptian currency has lost 8 percent of its value against the dollar in the last two months. Even more disturbing, there has been a sharp increase lately in cases of police brutality and rape directed at opposition protesters. It is all adding up to the first impression that President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are blowing their first chance at power.
Sometime in the next few months, Morsi is to visit the White House. He has only one chance to make a second impression if he wants to continue to receive U.S. aid from Congress. But the more I see of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, the more I wonder if it has any second impression to offer.
Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. This was true whether it was about how quickly to hold elections (before the opposition could organize) or how quickly to draw up and vote on a new constitution (before opposition complaints could be addressed) or how broadly to include opposition figures in the government (as little as possible). The opposition is not blameless — it has taken too long to get its act together — but Morsi’s power grab will haunt him.
Egypt is in dire economic condition. Youth unemployment is rampant, everything is in decay, tourism and foreign investment and reserves are down sharply. As a result, Egypt needs an I.M.F. bailout. Any bailout, though, will involve economic pain — including cuts in food and fuel subsidies to shrink Egypt’s steadily widening budget deficit. This will hurt.
In order to get Egyptians to sign on to that pain, a big majority needs to feel invested in the government and its success. And that is not the case today. Morsi desperately needs a national unity government, made up of a broad cross-section of Egyptian parties, but, so far, the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to reach any understanding with the National Salvation Front, the opposition coalition.
Egypt also desperately needs foreign investment to create jobs. There are billions of dollars of Egyptian capital sitting outside the country today, because Egyptian investors, particularly Christians, are fearful of having money confiscated or themselves arrested on specious charges, as happened to some after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall. One of the best things Morsi could do for himself and for Egypt would be to announce an amnesty of everyone from the Mubarak era who does not have blood on his hands or can be proved in short order to have stolen government money. Egypt needs every ounce of its own talent and capital it can mobilize back home. This is no time for revenge.
The Brotherhood, though, doesn’t just need a new governing strategy. It needs to understand that its version of political Islam — which is resistant to women’s empowerment and religious and political pluralism — might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt and basically your only natural resource is your people — men and women — you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of their potential for growth.
Bottom line: Either the Muslim Brotherhood changes or it fails — and the sooner it realizes that the better. I understand why President Obama’s team prefers to convey this message privately: so the political forces in Egypt don’t start focusing on us instead of on each other. That’s wise. But I don’t think we are conveying this message forcefully enough. And Egyptian democracy advocates certainly don’t. In an open letter to President Obama last week in Al-Ahram Weekly, the Egyptian human rights activist Bahieddin Hassan wrote Obama that the muted “stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.”
It would not be healthy for us to re-create with the Muslim Brotherhood the bargain we had with Mubarak. That is, just be nice to Israel and nasty to the jihadists and you can do whatever you want to your own people out back. It also won’t be possible. The Egyptian people tolerated that under Mubarak for years. But now they are mobilized, and they have lost their fear. Both we and Morsi need to understand that this old bargain is not sustainable any longer.
Egypt’s Morsi declares state of emergency, curfew after deadly clashes
At the heart of the crisis is growing national frustration over the pursuit of justice two years after Mubarak’s fall. Egyptians across the political spectrum complain that the abusive security forces cultivated under his rule have evaded punishment for crimes committed during the uprising and since his ouster.
Egypt’s court system remains opaque and marred by allegations of corruption and politicized rulings.
Although the clashes in Port Said occurred in response to the court verdict Saturday, Michael Wahid Hanna, a Middle East expert at the Century Foundation, said the city’s crisis also reflected Egyptians’ growing dissatisfaction with Morsi and the slow pace of reforms.
“People no longer have confidence in the institutions of the state, and they are willing to exercise that rejection through violence,” Hanna said.
Throwing projectiles: Egyptian protesters throw fire bombs and stones at the presidential palace during a demonstration in Cairo
Egyptian mosque turned into house of torture for Christians after Muslim Brotherhood protest
Published March 26, 2013
Amir Ayad lies in a hospital bed after he was allegedly beaten by Islamic hardliners who stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo. (MidEast Christian News)
Attack on Christians in Egypt Comes After a Pledge
Justin Wilkes/European Pressphoto Agency
An injured man was helped outside the main Coptic Christian Cathedral in Cairo on Sunday. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and KAREEM FAHIM
Published: April 7, 2013
CAIRO — Police officers firing tear gas joined with a rock-throwing crowd fighting a group of Christian mourners Sunday in a battle that escalated into an attack on Egypt’s main Coptic Christian Cathedral that lasted for hours.
It was the third day of an outburst of sectarian violence that is testing the pledges of Egypt’s Islamist president to protect the country’s Christian minority. By nightfall, at least one person had died from the day’s clashes, bringing the weekend’s death toll to six.
Later Sunday, President Mohamed Morsi called the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, to reassure him. “I consider any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally,” Mr. Morsi said, according to state media.
The president ordered an investigation of the violence and instructed security forces “to protect the citizens inside the Cathedral,” state media reported, and he pledged to protect both Muslims and Christians.
The violence began Friday when a sectarian dispute in the town of Khusus outside Cairo escalated into a gunfight that killed four Christians and a Muslim — the first major episode of deadly sectarian violence since Mr. Morsi’s election last year. Hundreds of Christians and sympathetic Muslims gathered at the cathedral Sunday for the four Christians’ funeral, chanting for the removal from power of Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies.
“With our blood and our soul we will sacrifice ourselves for the cross,” the crowd intoned.
Clashes erupted immediately after the service between the emerging mourners and a crowd outside the cathedral. It was unclear who started the violence. But later dozens of riot police with armored vehicles and tear-gas canons appeared to enter the fray on the side of crowds of young Muslim men who were throwing rocks and fire bombs at the mourners.
In what seemed like a siege of the cathedral, tear-gas canisters fell inside the walls of its compound, sending gas into the sanctuary and two nuns running for shelter in a nearby loading dock.
Later, some of the young civilians who had been attacking the cathedral switched to taunts, making lewd gestures involving the sign of the cross. The riot policemen made no attempt to stop them, either from throwing rocks toward the cathedral or insulting the Christians.
“The police are not trying to protect us or do anything to stop the violence,” said Wael Eskandar, a Coptic Christian activist. “On the contrary, they are actively aiding the people in civilian clothes” attacking the Christians, he said.
Dozens rushed to defend the cathedral, and many pulled back their sleeves at the iron entrance gate to display the cross that many Copts tattoo on their wrists.
Groups of young men stood on the cathedral walls and rooftops nearby, throwing fire bombs and the shards of bricks at the riot police. At least two of the young men on the church grounds carried what appeared to be crude pistols. Others prepared crates full of fire bombs.
The Interior Ministry, in a statement on its Web site, said the mourners had started the violence and that the riot police intervened to stop it. “Some mourners vandalized a number of cars, which led to clashes and fights with the people of the area,” the statement said, adding, “Interference to separate the clashing parties is ongoing.”
Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s roughly 85 million citizens, were already anxious about the dominance of elections by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the former secular autocrat.
Not that sectarian animosities were absent under Mr. Mubarak. Copts suffered from discrimination as well as recurring episodes of sectarian violence, and the Mubarak government worsened the problem by denying the existence of domestic sectarianism and pinning blame on either local conflicts or foreign conspiracies.
Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have sometimes appeared to understand that as Islamists they have more to prove to Egypt’s Copts. During elections, Brotherhood candidates have emphasized their commitment to equal citizenship and security for Copts, even sending young Brotherhood members to stand guard outside churches at a Christmas service one year.
When a dispute over a shirt burned at the laundry exploded into a sectarian battle that killed a Christian and damaged several properties last year, Mr. Morsi departed from the Mubarak script, sending a legal adviser to meet with the Christians, instructing the local governor to compensate the victims and asking the prosecutor to investigate without prejudice.
But on Sunday, many Copts blamed Mr. Morsi for the violence. “Who is responsible for the surroundings of the cathedral being unsecured for more than five hours today?” demanded Bishop Bakhomious, a senior Coptic cleric who had been acting pope until the designation of Tawadros II. “If the security services want to know who is behind these events, they will.”
It is unclear how much practical control Mr. Morsi exercises over the police. He has done little to reform the force left over from Mr. Mubarak despite continuing complaints about its abuses. A rash of police strikes has showcased widespread insubordination, and the riot police lack training in effective crowd control. On Sunday, they sometimes appeared to fire tear gas at random into the surrounding neighborhood.
But even before the police joined the fray, human rights advocates said Mr. Morsi and his party had failed to confront the sectarianism driving the violence. Until late Sunday, both Mr. Morsi and his party appeared to fall into the Mubarak pattern, denouncing the violence but without acknowledging the problem of sectarianism. Instead, the Islamists suggested a conspiracy by some unknown party to sow dissent among Egyptians.
Only on Sunday night, after the clashes had subsided, did Mr. Morsi publicly acknowledge the role of sectarian aggression or personally pledge to protect the Copts. “He seems to have begun to realize the scale of this,” said Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: WOMEN’S RIGHTS BETTER UNDER MUBARAK THAN MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian human rights activist announced that the situation for women in her native country was better under Hosni Mubarak than it is now under the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It is sad to say that the situation for women was much better during the Mubarak era,” the activist told ANSAMed.
“It was not the best possible but it was still better than today because there was a state which supported women’s rights.”
Ziada, who serves as director of the Ibn Khaldum Center for Democratic Studies said that women are “an integral part of Egyptian society” even though they are the ones hardest-hit by the economic crisis.
“Over 30 percent of women are ‘caring women’ like widows or divorcees who are working to support their families,” Ziada told ANSAMed.
“They work at a time when men are having a hard time finding a proper job.”
She also noted that underprivileged women fared well in Egypt under Mubarak as they were sponsored by the former leader’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak.
Now “they have no one sponsoring them.”
“Suzanne Mubarak was a women’s rights activist before being the president’s wife and a staunch supporter of new laws in favour of women…Now we have a regime which is very hostile to women, an extremist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood which doesn’t like women, least of all in public life and the economy.”
The activist went on to tell ANSAMed that the Muslim Brotherhood is so hostile that it actually blames men’s unemployment on women. The reasoning is that if women were to stay home and take care of the house, there would be jobs for men.
Ziada explained, however, that men’s unemployment numbers are based squarely on their qualifications, or rather, lack thereof.
Of course since the Muslim Brotherhood assumed power, sharia law and an erosion of women’s rights is ruling the day.
Ziada explained that under Mubarak, “many programmes of the National Council for Women were aimed at poor women living in rural areas, and their objective was to enable them to help change the condition of their families.”
The activist also sounded the alarms when it comes to the disturbing topic of female genital mutilation, which she said is poised to make a comeback under the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The issue exists from previous eras and I, a sort of survivor, have always fought to abolish it,” Ziada told ANSAMed.
“But we are threatened by the fact that the laws making this practice a crime could be abolished. The Muslim Brothers have started a major campaign among the poorest saying it is in agreement with Islamic customs, which is not true, and stating that people should be free to carry it out.”
Rise in Sexual Assaults in Egypt Sets Off Clash Over Blame
Women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square protested on the second anniversary of the revolution on Jan. 25.
By MAYY EL SHEIKH and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: March 25, 2013
CAIRO — The sheer number of women sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square had become too big to ignore. Conservative Islamists in Egypt’s new political elite were outraged — at the women.
“Sometimes,” said Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker and ultraconservative Islamist, “a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.”
The increase in sexual assaults over the last two years has set off a new battle over who is to blame, and the debate has become a stark and painful illustration of the convulsions racking Egypt as it tries to reinvent itself.
Under President Hosni Mubarak, the omnipresent police kept sexual assault out of the public squares and the public eye. But since Mr. Mubarak’s exit in 2011, the withdrawal of the security forces has allowed sexual assault to explode into the open, terrorizing Egyptian women.
Women, though, have also taken advantage of another aspect of the breakdown in authority — by speaking out through the newly aggressive news media, defying social taboos to demand attention for a problem the old government often denied. At the same time, some Islamist elected officials have used their new positions to vent some of the most patriarchal impulses in Egypt’s traditional culture and a deep hostility to women’s participation in politics.
The female victims, these officials declared, had invited the attacks by participating in public protests. “How do they ask the Ministry of Interior to protect a woman when she stands among men?” Reda Saleh Al al-Hefnawi, a lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, asked at a parliamentary meeting on the issue.
The revolution initially promised to reopen public space to women. Men and women demonstrated together in Tahrir Square peacefully during the heady 18 days and nights that led to the ouster of Mr. Mubarak. But within minutes of his departure the threat re-emerged in a group attack on the CBS News correspondent Lara Logan. There are no official statistics on women attacked — partly because few women report offenses — but all acknowledge that the attacks have grown bolder and more violent.
By the second anniversary of the revolution, on Jan. 25, the symbolic core of the revolution — Tahrir Square — had become a no-go zone for women, especially after dark.
During a demonstration that day against the new Islamist-led government, an extraordinary wave of sexual assaults — at least 18 confirmed by human rights groups, and more, according to Egypt’s semiofficial National Council of Women — shocked the country, drawing public attention from President Mohamed Morsi and Western diplomats.
Hania Moheeb, 42, a journalist, was one of the first victims to speak out about her experience that day. In a television interview, she recounted how a group of men had surrounded her, stripped off her clothes and violated her for three quarters of an hour. The men all shouted that they were trying to rescue her, Ms. Moheeb recalled, and by the time an ambulance arrived she could no longer differentiate her assailants from defenders.
To alleviate the social stigma usually attached to sexual assault victims in Egypt’s conservative culture, her husband, Dr. Sherif Al Kerdani, appeared alongside her.
“My wife did nothing wrong,” Dr. Kerdani said.
In the 18 confirmed attacks that day, six women were hospitalized, according to interviews conducted by human rights groups. One woman was stabbed in her genitals, and another required a hysterectomy.
In the aftermath, victims of other sexual assaults around Tahrir Square over the last two years have come forward as well. “When I see Mohamed Mahmoud Street on television from home, my hand automatically grabs my pants,” Yasmine Al Baramawy said in a television interview, recalling her own attack last November.
She and a friend were each surrounded by two separate rings of attackers, she said. Some claimed to be protecting her from others but joined in the attack. They used knives to cut most of the clothes off her body and then pinned her half-naked to the hood of a car. And they continued to torment her on a slow, hourlong drive to a nearby neighborhood, where, she said, residents finally interceded to rescue her.
“They told people I had a bomb on my abdomen to stop anybody from rescuing me,” Ms. Baramawy said.
The attacks have underscored the failure of the Morsi government, with its links to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, to restore social order. The comments by the president’s Islamist allies blaming the women have proved embarrassing.
Pakinam el-Sharkawy, the president’s political adviser and the highest-ranking woman in his administration, called such statements “completely unacceptable.”
She attributed the attacks to the general breakdown in security but also to the refusal of the protesters to allow the police into the square since the revolt against Mr. Mubarak. “The protesters insist on keeping security out of the square, even to regulate traffic,” she said.
On Sunday, the Morsi government convened a meeting of women to discuss plans for their advancement. So far, though, its most tangible measure to address the problem is draft legislation to criminalize sexual harassment.
But women’s rights advocates say the bill would do nothing to protect women from social attitudes and scorn that assault victims face in hospitals and police stations — not to mention in the Parliament — if they try to bring legal complaints.
Ms. Moheeb said in an interview that after she was attacked, nurses told her to keep silent in order to protect her reputation.
With police protection negligible, some women are taking their security into their own hands. At a recent march to call attention to the sexual attacks, several women held knives above their heads. “Don’t worry about me,” said Abeer Haridi, 40, a lawyer. “I’m armed.”
Members of the political elite, meanwhile, have appeared more concerned with blaming one another. The Muslim Brotherhood “plotted the sexual harassment in Tahrir Square” to intimidate the demonstrators, asserted Mohamed Abu Al Ghar, the president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
The Muslim Brotherhood said opposition leaders “ignored the brutal party of harassment and rape” in the square, according to a column on the Brotherhood Web site. The rapes are “a disgrace on their foreheads,” the column declared.
Other Brotherhood lawmakers faulted protest organizers for failing to segregate the demonstrators by gender as the Islamists usually do.
Some ultraconservative Islamists, now a political power alongside the Brotherhood, condemned the women for speaking out at all.
“You see those women speaking like ogres, without shame, politeness, fear or even femininity,” declared a television preacher, Ahmed Abdullah, known as Sheik Abu Islam.
Such a woman is “like a demon,” he said, wondering why anyone should sympathize with those “naked” women who “went there to get raped.”
Ms. Moheeb called such remarks “scandalous” and accused Islamist lawmakers of being complicit.
“When ordinary people say such things, ignorance might be an excuse,” Ms. Moheeb said, “but when somebody in the legislature makes such comments, they’re encouraging the assailants.”
Egyptians Struggle as Wary Tourists Stay Away
Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
Few visitors were at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut near Luxor on March 17. In 1997, tourism rebounded shortly after an attack on tourists there.
By KAREEM FAHIM
Published: April 2, 2013
AL-BAIRAT, Egypt — Many of this country’s post-uprising troubles wash up here, in a crumbling shack on a dirty canal, where 13 members of the Abdul Latif family have long relied on tourism to keep them from slipping from poverty into ruin.
Adel Abdul Latif supported his family making the Pharaonic alabaster figurines that vendors hawk at the temples around Luxor. He also worked in construction, which depended on the prosperity of the local hoteliers and other businesspeople who hired him.
Then the tourists stopped coming.
This winter there was so little work — during what had been the high season for tourism in Luxor — that the family had to rely on cash handouts and free blankets from a local charity staggering from its own financial woes.
For Egyptians taking nervous note of the country’s mounting calamities, with security ebbing and prices rising, the sustained drop-off in tourism has been especially alarming. Tourism provides direct jobs for nearly three million people, critical income to more than 70 industries and 20 percent of the state’s foreign currency — now desperately needed to prop up the plummeting Egyptian pound.
The changes to Egypt’s complexion have been just as startling, as coveted tourism destinations have become bargain stops, celebrated temples have emptied and residents have directed their anger at the capital, Cairo, the site of the interminable political squabbles and street violence that have kept the tourists away.
“We are the ones that suffer,” said Ezzat Saad, the governor of Luxor, where in better times tourists relax on Nile cruises or stroll through the Great Hypostyle Hall at the nearby Temple of Karnak. These days, on the streets below the governor’s office, idle workers spend much of their time talking about the failings of the government. “Whatever I do on the local level,” Mr. Saad said, “whatever the minister of tourism does, it has a ceiling. We will never get back what was without political stability or security.”
Tourism plummeted in 2011 with the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and the unrest that followed. Some tourists have started to return, but officials say they are mostly beachgoers rather than the more lucrative cultural tourists who spend 10 days or more in Egypt, and spend accordingly during once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
Every headline about a riot in Egypt deepens the crisis. Cairo has been the hardest hit, with hotel occupancy falling to below 15 percent or worse in parts of the city closest to protests, according to Hani el-Shaer of the Egyptian Hotel Association. From Cairo, the hardship ripples across the country, affecting taxi and horse carriage drivers, boat operators, tour guides and store vendors.
“If something goes wrong in Cairo, tourists cancel the whole trip,” said Hisham Zaazou, Egypt’s minister of tourism.
Officials have thrown up their hands at a problem that no amount of salesmanship seems able to fix. They have already been forced to abandon the grand marketing campaigns of the past; there is little money for advertisements, and in any case, a slick television commercial for Egypt would be useless, if followed by a news report on the latest bloodshed, officials said.
“The perception is that they’re not welcome,” Mr. Zaazou said. “That the Egyptian people are hostile. I need to change this.”
So the country’s promoters are focusing on what they say are inflated fears about Egypt’s safety, which they are countering with a limited effort to portray “the reality,” Mr. Zaazou said. One plan is to stream live video of Egypt over the Internet — of beaches and tourist attractions like the Egyptian Museum — to show that all is well in many of Egypt’s most treasured spaces.
It is an approach that Mexico has tried as well in its effort to draw attention to the distances, sometimes vast and sometimes not, between a prime beach or plaza and headline-grabbing, drug-related slaughter.
“We want to give assurances that Egypt is not just a square kilometer where there are disturbances,” said Nasser Hamdy, the head of the Egyptian Tourism Authority.
Officials also are pushing to attract tourists from new markets, to replace the American and other visitors sitting out the current crisis. The government has focused on India, and especially Iran, whose relationship with Egypt has started to warm after decades of official animosity.
But even that effort has been troubled by politics: a few days ago, the arrival of the first planeload of Iranian tourists brought a fevered response from ultraconservative Sunni Islamists, who promised new efforts to warn Egyptians about what they called the “dangers” of Shiite Islam.
For now, Luxor feels like a ghost town, haunted by the trappings of its glamorous past. Cruise ships are idle and moored together in bunches along the Nile. On the Corniche promenade, horse carriage drivers scuffle among themselves over the few tourists who emerge from the grand Winter Palace Hotel, its gardens and restaurants splendid — but deserted.
A proprietor at Gaddis & Co., a souvenir shop below the hotel that opened in 1907, called this the most sustained tourism crisis in Luxor since the period between Egypt’s last wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973. Even after militants killed 60 tourists in 1997 at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, visitors stayed away for only a few months, said Badawy Fikri, a guard who works at the temple.
Before the uprising, he said, “I wouldn’t recognize a friend in the crowds.”
On a recent Sunday, only a trickle of visitors walked through the temple’s colonnaded terraces. Ahmed Allam, a frustrated tour guide, said Egypt needed to “think outside the box,” searching, as many do, for novel ways to make Egypt desirable again. He noted that ancient Egypt had lost its most tireless promoter, the flamboyant archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who was sidelined after the uprising because of legal troubles and his ties to the former government.
“We need to make it easier to film movies here,” Mr. Allam said. “We need celebrities. Rock ’n’ roll bands. Weddings at the Pyramids. This will take years.”
There were no visitors at the nearby mortuary temple of Ramses II to see the fallen statue linked by legend to Ozymandias. A group of Egyptian schoolchildren had the Luxor museum largely to themselves, troubled only by a group of tour guides who strolled through — mostly, one of the guides said, because they had nothing better to do.
“I have colleagues who have tours every three or four months,” said Mohamed Aziz, who has worked as a guide for eight years and is on the verge of trying something else. “Lots of people are working without salaries. We have hopes and dreams. Reality is something else.”
By some estimates, up to 90 percent of people working in Luxor and the surrounding towns like Bairat were dependent on tourism, officials said. A local charity in Bairat that provided aid to poor families, orphans and disabled people said that many of its most important donors — like hotel and cruise boat owners — had stopped giving.
Abulatta Ibrahim, who sits on the board of the charity, said they had stopped construction on a community center that was to include a school, a manufacturing center for dressmakers and a clinic. “If we don’t have tourists,” he said, “we can’t do this.”
A joke too far – top satirist Bassem Youssef arrested over insults to President Morsi
ALASTAIR BEACH CAIRO SUNDAY 31 MARCH 2013
He is one of Egypt’s most famous television stars – a wildly popular satirist whose Friday night shows are eagerly awaited by tens of millions of viewers.
But tonight, the Egyptian authorities were facing accusations of conducting a political witch-hunt after Bassem Youssef – whose weekly programme regularly lampoons the President, Mohamed Morsi, and his Islamist allies – was arrested over allegations that he insulted Mr Morsi and the Islamic faith.
Youssef answered his summons to the general prosecutor’s office in Cairo today in typically irreverent fashion. Mobbed by cameramen and a few dozen supporters, he arrived wearing an absurdly oversized graduation hat – the kind donned by President Morsi when he was awarded an honorary degree in Pakistan last month.
“Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general’s office want to be photographed with me,” he said via his Twitter account after entering the building. “Maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?”
After being interrogated, Youssef was released on a bail of E£15,000 (£1,450). Campaigners have warned the arrest represents a dangerous development.
Last week, following a series of clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s general prosecutor issued arrest warrants for five prominent opponents of Mr Morsi’s. They included the high-profile blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who was arrested in 2011 and also back in 2006 during the time of Hosni Mubarak.
On Friday, following another eruption of violence in Alexandria, 13 more people – among them liberal activists and four lawyers – were arrested, further stoking allegations of a political crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents.
“It’s obvious that Mohamed Morsi is using the general prosecutor to serve his interests,” said Nihad Aboud, from the Cairo-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. “They can see the threat from someone like Bassem Youssef, a man who has more than one million followers on Twitter and whose show is one of the most famous in Egypt.”
The current general prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim, was appointed by Mr Morsi last November under controversial circumstances. His elevation to the job came after the President, a lifelong member of the Muslim Brotherhood, selected him via a highly divisive constitutional decree. It led to suspicions among some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents that the office would become politicised and used as a tool to browbeat Egypt’s liberal and leftist opposition groups.
Youssef, a heart surgeon, found fame after uploading a series of skits on to YouTube following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The clips, which featured Youssef skewering a variety of politicians and public figures, were watched by tens of millions of people and secured him his own television show. But the programme has often earned the ire of fundamentalist sheikhs, some of whom have angrily denounced the comedian.
Arrest of Anti-Islamist Figures Is Ordered in Egypt
Stop the Tweets: Egypt’s president doesn’t find Jon Stewart funny
Carolyn Kaster/AP – Jon Stewart had ridiculed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed government Monday for arresting an Egyptian satirist instead of focusing on the country’s spreading crime problem.
By Anne Gearan, Published: April 3
Note to American diplomats: Jon Stewart does not translate well.The U.S. Embassy in Cairo briefly shut down its Twitter feed on Wednesday and removed a tweet that linked to Stewart’s monologue from “The Daily Show.”
Stewart had ridiculed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed government Monday for arresting an Egyptian satirist instead of focusing on the country’s spreading crime problem. Comedian Bassam Youssef is well known in Egypt for tweaking the devout and often stern Islamists who took charge following the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
President Mohamed Morsi was not amused, and an unusual Twitter war broke out between the embassy and the president’s office.
“It’s inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda,” Morsi’s office tweeted.
“We’ve had some glitches with the way the Twitter feed has been managed,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said when the dust settled Wednesday.
The Stewart tweet didn’t meet proper standards, Nuland said, but she insisted the department will not back away from the sometimes perilous practice of digital diplomacy. Each embassy is required to have a Twitter feed, she said, and Cairo was told to restore its feed shortly after it went dark Wednesday. When the feed returned, the Stewart link was gone.
“I think that they came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn’t accord with (the embassy’s) management of the site,” Nuland said. She would not say whether it was pulled because of Morsi’s complaints, but did note that the Cairo embassy also got into trouble over tweets that offended the Egyptian government during protests last fall about an anti-Muslim video.
The spat was largely played for a laugh on the English-language version of Twitter, but reflects a deepening split between the Obama administration and an Arab ally that has been the mainstay of U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast for three decades.
“We share a very real concern in the Obama administration about the direction that Egypt is apparently moving in,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday in comments related directly to the Twitter controversy. “This is a key moment for Egypt. It’s really a tipping point for Egypt.”
Nuland and other U.S. officials have spoken increasingly bluntly about Egypt’s failure to curb rising sexual assaults against women. Kerry has said Egypt must also make hard economic decisions to avoid fiscal disaster, but his latest critique took stock of the country’s social and political chaos, too.
“It is our hope that there is still time to be able to turn the corner,” Kerry said. “But the recent arrests, the violence in the streets, the lack of inclusiveness with respect to the opposition in public ways that make a difference to the people of Egypt, are all of concern today.”
Morsi’s office denies playing a direct role in the Youssef case and pledged Wednesday to respect freedom of expression.
“The presidency reaffirms that Egypt after the revolution has become a state of law with independent judiciary,” Morsi’s office said, and the arrest of any citizen “regardless of his title or fame” is a matter for the courts.
Preparing for freedom before it comes
By Anne Applebaum, Published: February 7
Egypt “celebrated” the second anniversary of its revolution last week with riots, tear gas and angry demonstrations against an increasingly authoritarian regime. A few days earlier, the Tunisian army deployed to the southern part of that country to fight demonstrators who were demanding, on the second anniversary of their own revolution, to know why their lives had not improved. In anticipation of the Libyan revolution’s anniversary on Feb. 17, authorities are calling for vigilance and high-security measures. Lufthansa has suspended its flights to Tripoli.
Much has changed in North Africa since the winter of 2011. But a lot more has not. To understand this, it’s worth looking at other countries that have undergone similarly radical changes. In post-communist Europe, for example, countries that faced similar problems took very different paths after they elected democratic governments in 1990. Yet some fell into economic stagnation or political turmoil while others thrived.
Neither politics nor economics alone explains the differences. On the contrary, the factor most closely linked to the arrival of stability and growth is human: Those countries that had an “alternative elite” — a cadre of people who had worked together in the past, who had thought about government and who were at some level prepared to take it over — were far more likely both to carry out radical reforms and to persuade the population to accept them. Hungary, Poland — and, to a lesser extent, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states — all benefited from the presence of people who had been thinking about change, and organizing to carry it out, for a long time. The Polish opposition had created the Solidarity trade union in the early 1980s. In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel had been advocating and promoting democratic values since the 1970s. Hungarian and Polish economists had spent a decade discussing how it might be possible to decentralize a centrally planned economy.
Elsewhere, opposition groups had not been so unified or repression had been harsher. So when the Soviet Union disbanded, former communists — perhaps dressed up as social democrats or nationalists — took charge again. Some were better, some were worse. On the whole they did not press for radical change — because radical change was not in their interests.
As the Arab Spring nations mark their second anniversaries, it’s worth keeping this precedent in mind. True, there were dissenters of many kinds in pre-revolutionary Egypt, as one expert told Foreign Policy this week. But “they were largely suppressed, except for the mosque and the soccer pitch. With these two institutions, the numbers were too big and the emotions they evoked were too strong.” The result: The Muslim Brotherhood was the only political “party” with any organizational capacity after 2011. And Egyptian soccer clubs are the only organizations that can reliably be counted on to create major protests, as they have recently. Another alternative elite was not available.
Nor is there a North African equivalent to those Polish and Hungarian economists who were waiting in the wings with plans to fix things once they got the chance. The Muslim Brotherhood arrived in power with no clear ideas about Egypt’s economy. In Libya, where the economy had been largely organized for the personal benefit of the Gaddafi family, a new leadership — drawn from the exile community and the leaders of the armed revolution — is starting to analyze and understand the country largely from scratch. In Tunisia, where both the Islamic party, Ennahda, and liberal democrats were heavily repressed in the past, the friends and relatives of the old ruling family are still thought to pull most of the economic strings. Radical change is not in their interests.
It’s not easy to draw policy conclusions from these observations. After all, the time to help create an alternative was three, five or, better yet, 10 years ago. But even then, an authentic alternative elite couldn’t have been wholly created on the outside, by exiles or by foreigners: If opposition leaders aren’t the product of an indigenous impulse to create alternative institutions — political parties, charities, newspapers, human rights organizations — then they won’t have the political clout to push through radical reforms when they get the chance. Yet in many Arab states, the opportunity to start doing so arrived only in 2011, and the alternative elite is forming only now.
Be careful of those who say, in the coming weeks, that the Arab revolutions are over: Maybe they’re just beginning.
Recalibrating U.S. policy in Egypt
Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president-elect speaking before a packed Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, on June 29,2012.
ByThomas Carothers and Nathan J. Brown, Published: May 2
Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where Nathan J. Brown is a nonresident senior associate.
After Egypt’s presidential elections last summer, the Obama administration adopted a pragmatic policy toward the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government. The basic message to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was straightforward: Respect Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and basic democratic norms, and the U.S. government will be a helpful, productive partner. By sincerely putting forward this line, the administration put to rest the long-held Arab suspicion that the United States would never accept Islamist electoral victories.
This approach fit the situation well enough for some months. Morsi showed no signs of questioning the peace treaty with Israel and even worked closely with the United States to end a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Domestically, the new government showed an inexperienced (and heavy) hand on many occasions but still seemed to steer the country in a vaguely democratic direction.
Yet in the past five months, Egyptian politics has taken a seriously troubling turn. Egypt is wracked by harsh street protests, an angry impasse and utter distrust between the government and the main opposition parties, massive public disaffection, growing sectarian tension and increasing murmurings of a possible military coup.
The Muslim Brotherhood did not create all of these problems. It faced a difficult political landscape upon taking power — a brooding military, a fractious and often unrealistic opposition and a resistant, stagnant state. Yet its actions have aggravated the conditions. Although some of its complaints about an implacable opposition and resistant state apparatus are legitimate, the Brotherhood controls the presidency, giving it tools and responsibilities that other actors don’t share. The Brotherhood has shown a willingness to deploy, rather than reform, authoritarian mechanisms inherited from Hosni Mubarak and is, in some ways, deepening authoritarian practices. Examples include rushing through a new constitution and appointing a new prosecutor general, despite strenuous judicial objections firmly anchored in Egyptian law. Brotherhood parliamentarians are pushing to impose new restrictions on independent civic organizations. And supporters of the Brotherhood have gone to court to harass their critics and sometimes have taken to the streets to violently confront opponents.
Meanwhile, Egypt is approaching a buzz saw of economic woes: Either the government reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund and has to impose painful cuts on public spending, or it fails to reach a deal and faces a devastating fiscal shortfall.
The Obama administration is commendably trying to help Egypt avoid the buzz saw and has promised significant new aid if a deal is reached with the fund. Yet Obama officials are clinging to their earlier narrative in which the Brotherhood is politically well-intentioned, even if inexperienced and sometimes heavy-handed. That narrative no longer fits the facts: The administration’s habit of playing down the severity of the Egyptian government’s anti-democratic actions risks making the United States look not flexible and reasonable but self-delusional or deeply cynical.
The U.S. message to Morsi should no longer be “We’re with you, watch out for some details around the edges.” Instead, Obama officials should be telling Egyptian leaders: We’re extremely concerned about your violations of core political and legal principles; we can’t be the partner we would like to be, and the partner Egypt needs, if you undermine the fulfillment of Egyptians’ democratic aspirations.
Putting this message into practice will require much sharper, clearer public responses by the White House and State Department to violations of basic democratic and rule-of-law norms. It will mean an end to justifying the Brotherhood’s negative political steps. And the United States should indicate that the possibility of new aid is not isolated from domestic Egyptian political realities.
This tougher line should not be coupled with an embrace of the opposition. U.S. policy should be based on firm support of core democratic principles, not on playing favorites.
Recalibrating the current policy line will require careful nuance. It has to be clear that the United States is not turning against the Brotherhood but is siding more decisively with democracy. The Obama administration must also make it well known to all that it adamantly opposes any military intervention in Egypt’s politics. The United States is understandably sensitive about being accused of an anti-Islamist stance in an Arab world roiling with Islamist activism. Yet showing that Washington is serious about democratic standards with new Islamist actors in power is ultimately a greater sign of respect for them than excusing their shortcomings and lowering our expectations.