Protesters chant slogans as they gather for a mass protest to support ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo July 26, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]
Egyptian protesters seek ‘new revolution’
Manu Brabo/AP – Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi take a rest in a park near Cairo University last week.
Egypt’s liberals seek to ban Islamists from politics
Coalition that united to remove Morsi from power looks to turn the screw on Muslim Brotherhood
ALASTAIR BEACH CAIRO SUNDAY 21 JULY 2013
A growing backlash against Egypt’s political Islamists looked set to intensify over the coming weeks as the nation’s revolutionary forces outlined demands to ban religious parties and outlaw political campaigning from mosques.
Fuelled by a climate of resurgent nationalism that has emerged since the army toppled president Mohamed Morsi earlier this month, and which has seen hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters arrested, many of the nation’s liberal and secular factions are seeking to turn the screw further on Islamist groups by attempting to erase religion from the party political sphere.
The demands threaten to undermine the fragile coalition of liberals and ultra-conservatives that united to topple Morsi, and will further anger Brotherhood supporters marginalised by the removal of their leader.
“We have a major problem with any political party which is strictly based on religious foundations,” said Ahmed al-Hawary, a founding member of the liberal Al-Dostour Party. “I think the idea of having these parties is not one that should be accepted.”
The development came as a 10-member committee charged with amending Egypt’s constitution met for the first time yesterday.
In what represents one of the key initial phases of the national transition process, the panel – which consists of legal experts and senior judges – has one month to come up with suggested changes.
Some of the revolutionary forces who supported the toppling of Mohammed Morsi are hoping their demands relating to the sidelining of political Islam can be worked into the revised constitution.
One of the reasons for their insistence lies in a purely ideological aversion to mixing politics and theology. But there are also pragmatic considerations. There exists a belief that the power accumulated by Egypt’s Islamists over the past two years – and the opposition’s inverse failure to claim an electoral foothold – was a result of their ability to mobilise along religious lines.
“This has been a pattern since the revolution in January 2011,” said Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, a senior figure from one of the leading coalitions behind the June 30 revolt. “It’s a major concern for all of us who are not related to political Islam.”
“Egyptians are quite a religious people, so playing with such feeling is not a proper thing and should not be considered fair game between us and the Islamists.”
The 1971 constitution which was in place until the toppling of Hosni Mubarak already contained an article explicitly outlawing religious parties.
After taking power in February 2011, Egypt’s generals issued a constitutional declaration featuring the same stricture. In spite of this ban, the fundamentalist Al-Nour Party was given permission to establish itself – leading to suspicions of a clandestine military-Islamist deal among some activists.
Last year, when an Islamist-dominated assembly rewrote Egypt’s national charter, the provision was then modified.
It is unclear exactly how any of the new demands relating to political Islam would be codified and implemented.
Mr el-Ghazaly Harb said the rules on mosque propaganda could be enforced by the security services working in co-ordination with government ministries.
The coalition now seeking to marginalise the Brotherhood led huge protests that eventually led to the army forcing Morsi’s removal from power. The army’s involvement led to accusations of undemocratic behaviour.
Zaid al-Ali, a Cairo-based constitutional expert, yesterday accused Egypt’s new power-brokers are guilty of exactly the same behaviour they once decried in the Brotherhood. “The problem is that we have one group of people adopting a constitution against another group of people,” he said. “It won’t achieve anything positive.”
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets once again yesterday to rally against what they view as an illegitimate coup.
Liberal politicians told The Independent they hoped new legislation might make it possible to outlaw the party.
Walid el-Haddad, an official from the FJP, said he would not comment because he rejected the entire transitional process.
“This government arrived on tanks,” he said.
Brotherhood leaders vowed Monday to continue their protests, and despite a call for an “uprising,” they urged their followers to remain peaceful. But increasingly, they have also vowed to sacrifice their lives for the cause.
“God is our flag, and the prophet is our role model. The Koran is our book, and jihad is our path,” Hamed bellowed to the crowd on the night the generals forced Morsi out. “To die for the sake of God is our highest wish.”
Can Egypt hold together and move forward as a unified country or will it be torn asunder by its own people, like Syria? Nothing is more important in the Middle East today, because when the stability of modern Egypt is at stake — sitting as it does astride the Suez Canal, the linchpin of any Arab peace with Israel and knitting together North Africa, Africa and the Middle East — the stability of the whole region is at stake.
Running red: A river of blood flows down Salem Saleh street in Cairo, Egypt where supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi clashed with the Egyptian military, kiling at least 52 people and injuring hundreds more
Egypt’s new power dynamic, following the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi, is eerily familiar. Gone are the Islamist rulers from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Back are the faces of the old guard, many closely linked to Mubarak’s reign or to the all-
powerful generals. And for a seemingly broad array of Egyptians, that’s exactly the way they want it.
…Many say they would like to see religious political parties such as the Brotherhood’s banned. They want the news media, which they blame for some of Egypt’s political strife, to adhere to a more restrictive “legal framework.” And they think Brotherhood leaders should stay behind bars.
A backlash builds in Egypt
Morsi’s ouster could very well tip the balance in favor of radicals.
Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi hold up a symbolic coffin during a rally in Cairo, Egypt, to protest the killing of more than 50 people by the Egyptian military and police.(Nasser Shiyoukhi / Associated Press / July 9, 2013)
By Ty McCormick
July 10, 2013
To the extent that the Obama administration has responded to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, it has largely accepted the shake-up as a necessary, if not fully legitimate, response to the bumbling incompetence and growing authoritarianism of his government. President Obama is “deeply concerned” by the military’s decision to remove Morsi, but he has not described it as a “coup” — a designation that might have imperiled the $1.3 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives annually — or called for Morsi’s reinstatement. If anything, the White House has exuded a sense of relief that the military was back in charge.
Then, as if on cue, Egyptian troops on Monday massacred more than 51 pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the Cairo headquarters of the Republican Guard. The bloodletting puts the White House in an awkward position and lays bare the folly of embracing the supposedly pro-American military over the supposedly anti-American popularly elected government.
Let’s face it, the United States wields very little influence over anyone in Egypt — military brass included. Now, the United States is stuck with a partner in Cairo that pockets U.S. aid money — which then-U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey described in a leaked 2009 embassy cable as “untouchable compensation” for upholding its end of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel — and then does pretty much what it wants.
This time, the military’s actions could be disastrous. Egypt’s armed forces have not only brought the 2011 uprising to an ignominious end but invited a vengeful extremist backlash in the process.
Those who celebrate Morsi’s ouster seem to think the Muslim Brotherhood — and the millions of Egyptians who are sympathetic to its cause — will suddenly and magically disappear.
This is indeed a fantasy. Even if Egypt’s fractious liberals had anything approaching a coherent plan for governing Egypt, they would not be able to defuse the ticking time bomb that is Egypt’s sizable minority of now-disenfranchised radical-leaning Islamists. These people might have been lousy democrats, but they were at least willing to embrace the process. (That they hoarded power is a pretty baseless U.S. criticism given what passes for bipartisanship in Washington now.)
This was not always the case. For most of Egypt’s modern history, banned Islamist organizations waged low-level warfare against the state. Anwar Sadat was killed by Islamist militants in 1981, and Mubarak survived at least six assassination attempts.
Now, the coup-makers would push the Islamists back underground, where their alienation, in some corridors, will almost certainly turn violent. Armed jihadist groups have already launched multiple small-scale attacks against government targets, including the El Arish airport, a Central Security facility on the border with Gaza and five other military outposts.
Islamists elsewhere in the Sinai announced the formation of Ansar al Sharia in Egypt, an armed group committed to the imposition of strict Islamic law. In a statement posted online, it called Morsi’s deposition a “war declared against Islam in Egypt” and vowed to “preserve the religion and empower the Sharia of the Lord.”
Extremist groups have operated in the Sinai for decades, a response mainly to Egypt’s heavy-handed Central Security services there and to neglect from the government in Cairo. Ultimately, however, few mainstream Islamists were sympathetic to their radical agenda.
Morsi’s ouster could very well tip the balance in favor of radicals. His mention in Ansar al Sharia in Egypt’s manifesto speaks to the power of the new recruiting tool extremists have just been handed: Even if they eschew violence and embrace democracy , there is a convincing case to be made that Islamists will never be accepted as legitimate political actors. This, no doubt, is the message that Islamists across the Arab world are drawing from events in Egypt.
The fear is not that the Brotherhood’s leadership will suddenly endorse the outright use of violence but that the failure of Egypt’s experiment with Islamic democracy will enhance the appeal of more radical players.
And for what? Egypt is now back under the stewardship of the same military that detained, tortured and killed its own citizens for the 18 months it was in charge after Mubarak’s ouster. Those who are lending a civilian face to the transition, moreover, have hardly inspired confidence with their tacit approval of the military’s harsh tactics — detaining Brotherhood members, shuttering Islamist media.
Former U.N. diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, the most visible member of the liberal opposition, has repeatedly defended the military’s tactics. “I would be the first one to shout loud and clearly if I see any sign of regression in terms of democracy,” he told the New York Times as the crackdown was underway. To his credit, ElBaradei condemned Monday’s massacre on Twitter, but he remains committed to a military-led transition. One wonders what, exactly, would prompt ElBaradei to “shout loud and clearly.”
Tyranny comes in many flavors. Some are much worse than others because they are more comprehensive and potentially durable. The tyranny portended by
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood promised no separation of politics and religion, hence the impossibility of pluralism, and a hostility to modernity that guaranteed economic incompetence. Theologized politics, wherein compromise is apostasy, points toward George Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism — “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
Islamists not ready for democracy
By Cal Thomas July 9, 2013 3:55 p.m
The military coup that ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi marks another failure in U.S. foreign policy over several administrations, which have erroneously promoted the notion that American-style democracy in Islamic lands will produce a nation more like ours.
The founders wrote a Constitution. When properly read and obeyed, it guards against pure democracy and makes “we the people” subject to laws that cannot be abolished by popular vote. Benjamin Franklin properly called what the Founders wrought a “Republic.” Representative government would guard against the passions of a majority. No such safeguards apply in Egypt, or for that matter throughout most of the Islamic world.
George W. Bush famously said that freedom beats in every human heart. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on the meaning of freedom.
Definitions are important. To a radical Islamist, Sharia law defines freedom. Constitutions guaranteeing equal rights for all, including religious minorities like Coptic Christians in Egypt, multiple parties and free speech are mostly absent from societies where Islamists rule. And so majorities, often followed by the mob, and then the army, rule.
Secretary of State John Kerry spent most of his recent visit to the Middle East focusing on the establishment of a Palestinian state. This failed policy is a sideshow and irrelevant to the turmoil throughout the region. The Obama administration is calling for an “inclusive” political process in Egypt, which would include a role for the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical religious outlook and earthly agenda are the problem, not the solution. Why should the United States expect a different government if a different “brother” is elected, or if Morsi is somehow re-instated?
How can Egypt have a stable government when the Brotherhood claims to be doing the will of God at the same time the military says it carried out God’s will by removing Morsi and secularists say they don’t want Islamists governing Egypt?
Writing in The UK Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, says the Arab world needs capitalism, more than democracy. He suggests that Western aid to Egypt be conditioned upon property rights. Throughout the Arab world, he writes, bureaucracy and corruption keep many people from starting businesses without paying costly bribes: “…under Hosni Mubarak, for example, opening a small bakery in Cairo took more than 500 days of bureaucracy. To open a business in Egypt means dealing with 29 government agencies. The same story is true throughout the region: The average Arab needs to present four dozen documents and endure two years of red tape to become the legal owner of land or business. If you don’t have the time or money for this, you are condemned to life in the black market: No matter how good you are, you will never trade your way out of poverty.”
The right to own property was fundamental to America’s founding. In the beginning, only white male property owners were allowed to vote. Discriminatory, yes, but the point about the importance of being invested in the new nation by literally owning a piece of it was thought to be a fundamental component of citizenship.
American policy in the Middle East has failed over many decades because of false assumptions, especially when it comes to Israel. While often treating that tiny land as a weed that ought to be dug up, rather than a flower in the desert to be nourished, U.S. policy has focused on placating Arabs and Muslims, many of whom wish to destroy Israel and America.
Perhaps now that the United States is rapidly headed toward energy independence (enhanced if the opposition to the Keystone pipeline and fracking can be overcome), this and future administrations won’t feel the need to bow to Middle East dictators and will push a “reset” button that has a better chance at succeeding than the one that for too long has been stuck and inoperative.
Egypt is in free fall. In the year that Morsi was in power, the economy sunk, unemployment skyrocketed, public order collapsed, crime rose, and basic social services have stalled. This would by itself by enough to produce massive public discontent.
…Morsi had won few friends with a foreign policy that zigzagged from an attempt to mend Egypt’s historically poisonous relationship with Shiite Iran to an endorsement of jihad against Shiite “infidels” in Syria.
That policy switch, announced last month, may have sealed his fate by sending signals to the Western-backed military that he was becoming more radical in ways that could entangle Egypt in the region’s brewing sectarian conflict, said Emile Hokayem, a Bahrain-based analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
A large number of Egyptians felt that waiting three years could have pushed Egypt over the edge. The country is so short of foreign currency to pay for fuel imports that gas lines and electricity shortages are everywhere. It was clear that Morsi was not focused on governing and appointing the best people for jobs. He was focused on digging himself and his party into power, so, by the time of the next presidential elections, Egypt could have had the worst of all worlds: an invincible government and an insoluble economic and social disaster.
Anti-Americanism flares in Egypt as protests rage over Morsi’s ouste
Both pro-Morsi Islamists and the anti-Morsi Rebel group accuse the U.S. of supporting the other and allege elaborate conspiracies against Egypt.
Egyptians carry anti-Obama posters as thousands of protesters celebrate in Tahrir Square this week. Each side in the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi accuses the U.S. of supporting the other. (Spencer Platt, Getty Images / July3, 2013)
By Edmund Sanders
July 6, 2013, 4:08 a.m.
CAIRO — As rival camps of Egyptians protest for and against the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi, there is a rare point of agreement: America is to blame.
Anti-Americanism, which has long been an undercurrent here, is erupting again as Egyptians battle over the future of their country. Each side accuses the United States of backing the other and alleges conspiracies in which the Obama administration is secretly fostering dissent in an attempt to weaken Egypt.
It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quagmire in which the U.S. appears to have alienated both sides, underscoring waning American influence and credibility as it attempts to navigate the turmoil.
Islamists at a large pro-Morsi rally Friday afternoon questioned how the U.S. — which claims to stand for the rule of law and free elections — could so quickly abandon Egypt’s first democratically elected president and fail to condemn, or even acknowledge, Wednesday’s military coup.
“The morals of America are not being reflected in their politics toward Egypt,” said Sharif Hegazy, 37, who manages the Cairo office of a U.S. company he preferred not to name. “Because of its past support for [deposed President Hosni] Mubarak, America has always been seen as a veiled enemy. Now they are just waiting to see which side will win. That’s not ethical. The U.S. should support the election.”
Though U.S. officials and analysts say American influence in Egypt is increasingly limited, many Morsi supporters are convinced that a U.S. hand is at work behind the scenes in the country’s recent troubles. A common viewpoint expressed on the streets is that the Obama administration worked with the Egyptian army to cause power outages, fuel shortages and other problems that soured public support for Morsi.
The deposed president’s supporters complain that the U.S. never supported Morsi because of his roots in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
“The U.S. silence [to Morsi's ouster] proves that the U.S. has always been against political Islam, even when political Islam arises through democratic means,” said Mohamed El Sayad, 40, a Cairo father of three.
Sheik Abdel Khalea Fahmi, 33, struggling to be heard over buzzing military helicopters that protesters say were sent to intimidate pro-Morsi crowds, saw an even more devious U.S. conspiracy. Mindful of the rising anti-American sentiment, he said the United States pretended to embrace Morsi’s government as a way of discrediting him.
“It was part of the U.S. plot to support Morsi so that the people would turn against him,” Fahmi said.
Just a few miles away in Tahrir Square, anti-Morsi protesters insist the U.S. is on the ousted president’s side, just as Washington supported Mubarak. They have been holding up signs reading “Obama supports terrorism” and pictures of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson with an “X” mark.
Now many of the young Egyptians whom Obama tried to reach out to in his landmark 2009 speech here view the U.S. president as a hypocrite.
“America is using the Muslim Brotherhood to impose the kind of order they want to create a new Middle East, which would guarantee Israel’s security and U.S. interests,” said Ahmed Salam, 20, a law student and member of the Rebel movement, which organized the massive protest Sunday that helped bring down Morsi.
“The U.S. isn’t listening to the people,” he said, speaking from a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square.
Much of their anger has been focused on Patterson, ambassador since 2011. She infuriated anti-Morsi activists last month by saying she was “deeply skeptical” about calls to use street protests to unseat Morsi, adding that elections are a better route. She also explained U.S. support of Morsi by noting that he was the nation’s democratically elected leader.
After that, activists used a variety of foul language to describe Patterson and called for her to be kicked out of the country. Anti-Morsi protesters say such criticism is justified because the U.S. failed to speak out more aggressively when Morsi was accused of cracking down on political opponents, journalists and judges.
“It’s not only about elections,” said Mohammed Farahat, 27, an advertising account manager. “Hitler was elected too. It bothers me that the U.S. presents itself as a peacemaker, but then they supports a fascist regime like Morsi’s.”
Asked whether he was worried that the United States might cut off $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt, Farahat said his country could do fine without it, a statement that seemed to ignore Egypt’s deep economic troubles. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 70% of Egyptians were opposed to their country accepting further American assistance.
“I’m tired of being threatened with losing our aid,” he said. “How many times can they play that card?”
Defending the Coup
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: July 4, 2013
The debate on Egypt has been between those who emphasize process and those who emphasize substance.
Those who emphasize process have said that the government of President Mohamed Morsi was freely elected and that its democratic support has been confirmed over and over. The most important thing, they say, is to protect the fragile democratic institutions and to oppose those who would destroy them through armed coup.
Democracy, the argument goes, will eventually calm extremism. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood may come into office with radical beliefs, but then they have to fix potholes and worry about credit ratings and popular opinion. Governing will make them more moderate.
Those who emphasize substance, on the other hand, argue that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are defined by certain beliefs. They reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy. The important thing is to get people like that out of power, even if it takes a coup. The goal is to weaken political Islam, by nearly any means.
World events of the past few months have vindicated those who take the substance side of the argument. It has become clear — in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere — that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. Many have absolutist, apocalyptic mind-sets. They have a strange fascination with a culture of death. “Dying for the sake of God is more sublime than anything,” declared one speaker at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo on Tuesday.
As Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest, put it in an essay recently, for this sort of person “there is no need for causality, since that would imply a diminution of God’s power.” This sort of person “does not accept the existence of an objective fact separate from how he feels about it.”
Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern. Once in office, they are always going to centralize power and undermine the democracy that elevated them.
Nathan Brown made that point about the Muslim Brotherhood recently in The New Republic: “The tight-knit organization built for resilience under authoritarianism made for an inward-looking, even paranoid movement when it tried to refashion itself as a governing party.”
Once elected, the Brotherhood subverted judicial review, cracked down on civil society, arrested opposition activists, perverted the constitution-writing process, concentrated power and made democratic deliberations impossible.
It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam. We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus.
The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.
This week’s military coup may merely bring Egypt back to where it was: a bloated and dysfunctional superstate controlled by a self-serving military elite. But at least radical Islam, the main threat to global peace, has been partially discredited and removed from office.
The Obama administration has not handled this situation particularly well. It has shown undue deference to a self-negating democratic process. The American ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, has done what ambassadors tend to do: She tried to build relationships with whoever is in power. This created the appearance that she is subservient to the Brotherhood. It alienated the Egyptian masses. It meant that the United States looked unprepared for and hostile to the popular movement that has now arisen.
In reality, the U.S. has no ability to influence political events in Egypt in any important way. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas. Right now, as Walter Russell Mead of Bard College put it, there are large populations across the Middle East who feel intense rage and comprehensive dissatisfaction with the status quo but who have no practical idea how to make things better. The modern thinkers who might be able to tell them have been put in jail or forced into exile. The most important thing outsiders can do is promote those people and defend those people, decade after decade.
It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
Mohamed Morsi’s downfall determined by coffee shop rebels rather than army
A born-again opposition and a president who consistently failed to see his errors were key elements of the 3 July coup d’etat
Martin Chulov and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Friday 5 July 2013 15.18 EDT
Egypt’s problems had been piling up since November, little more than three months into the four-year term of Mohamed Morsi’s government. Photograph: Zuma/Rex Features
On Wednesday morning, as Mohamed Morsi sat discussing his plight with a small coterie of aides at a base in the east of Cairo, a senior adviser reassured him that the presidential guard would protect him no matter what.
But, as the Egyptian troops moved in on the base following the orders of army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sissi, even this elite unit slipped away, so Morsi could be easily detained. As with so many of the political errors that dogged his presidency, Morsi hadn’t seen it coming.
The 3 July coup may have been executed by the military, but its roots lie in a civilian movement.
On the evening of 15 April, Mohammed Abdul Aziz and five other friends sat down in Borsa coffee shop in central Cairo to plot ways to invigorateEgypt’s tired civil opposition.
According to Aziz, the group’s aims were simple at first; to reignite support for a movement that had ground to a halt almost a year into the increasingly unpopular presidency of Morsi.
“In the beginning all we wanted to do was gather petitions to renounce Morsi,” he said. But the group soon got a name, Tamarod (Rebel). Within weeks it had also gained a momentum that propelled it to centre stage of a defining period in Egypt’s modern history – the ousting of the country’s first democratically elected leader.
“I was sure by the number of petitions flowing that Tamarod was going to transform the Egyptian political scene,” said Aziz.
The means seemed simple enough, not dissimilar to the campaign that led to the toppling of the previous president, Hosni Mubarak, 30 months ago. Smartphones, Facebook and other forms of social media were critical organising tools, but this time the boot leather of volunteers and old fashioned petitions also played a pivotal role.
“We had a website with an electronic petition and a space for people to put their name down and fill the form out,” said Aziz. “They would then print the form out and give it to a volunteer.”
By mid-May, he said, there were 8,000 volunteers in 15 of Egypt’s 22 governorates.
“That’s when it became a popular movement. That’s when the idea became a reality.”
Egypt’s problems had been piling up since November, little more than three months into the four-year term of Morsi’s government. Morsi had enjoyed the briefest of political honeymoons. The economy was in torpor, the body politic barely functioning and society deeply polarised.
On one side of a by now gaping divide was the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful Islamic group that had largely been responsible for sweeping Morsi to power in elections last June.
On the other was the rest of the country — about 48% of voters, according to the poll, which gave Morsi the presidency with close to 52% of the popular vote.
The disaffected included a band of unlikely allies, who sit uneasily even now; at one end were the leftists and secularists, who had been squeezed in January 2011 by the Islamists, at the other those who resented the toppling of Mubarak.
The latter had been a formidable foe-in-waiting. Away from the sweeping scenes of Tahrir Square in January 2011, many millions of Egyptians were uncomfortable with Mubarak’s demise. They had been safe under the dictator and some of them had prospered.
The 17 months after his ignominious exit had been unsettling for the Mubarak faithful. But the year since Morsi’s inauguration had been even worse.
“It was becoming clear that everything that the state had built, everything that it had stood on, was coming crumbling down,” said Ahmed Badawi, a mid-ranking police officer who was unhappy to see Mubarak go. “It was a case of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend, so we joined them in Tahrir Square this time’,” he said of this week’s revolts.
A senior western diplomat who had spent time with Morsi, his inner court and Brotherhood leaders said the writing was on the wall for his presidency by early this year.
“We had noticed particularly in the past nine months that they had become increasingly disconnected from reality. The army had become more and more worried by the [Brotherhood].
“The economy was being wrecked by the movement. They were spending at least $1.5bn per month more than they should have. They were using months and months of reserves at a critical level. You couldn’t deny the underlying trend that the government was heading for bankruptcy.
“Whatever mess they had created was going to lead to civil revolt. Soon they wouldn’t have been able to pay for civil servants’ salaries.”
By March, serious diplomatic efforts had started to convince Morsi to form a government of national unity.
“We were trying to convince them to broaden the base of political participation,” said the diplomat. “After much negotiation, they declined and then went about making it even worse by maintaining a technocratic government run by newly promoted lower-grade officials with bad ideas. What did it for me was the appointment of the culture minister.”
The nomination of Alaa Abdul Aziz led to the sacking of five key cultural figures, including the head of the opera house and the National Library and Archives, and a view that he was trying to impose an Islamist agenda on cultural institutions which had always been avowedly secular.
From every angle, Morsi was increasingly being seen as, a captive of his constituency. “By that time, the Tamarod movement was really becoming something,” said the diplomat. “And that added a dynamism and sheer scope to what had been taking place.”
By mid-June, with other state institutions now sharing the military’s alarm, the tide was clearly turning against Morsi. Tamarod claimed to have received more than 20m petition signatures.
Within a week, citizens experienced shortages of essentials, especially food and fuel. Long queues for fuel are rare in Egypt, where the military has a significant stake in the gas and oil sector and is usually a guarantor of supply. But in the leadup to the first anniversary of Morsi’s swearing in – June 30 – the date chosen by Tamarod for a march en masse to the place where it all began, Tahrir Square, the shortages seemed specially severe.
By then, the army had given Morsi the first ultimatum: find ways to end the crisis within a week. Unable to deliver, Morsi watched as the large crowds hoped for by the born-again opposition materialised.
The army posted statements on its Facebook site acknowledging “huge crowds of protesters” on the streets. Things were moving quickly now; when the first deadline expired, the Egyptian military chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sissi gave Morsi another deadline, this time 48 hours. It was to be his last as leader.
Last Saturday, with his political legacy crumbling, Morsi cut a serene figure when the Guardian met him in his office in Quba Palace, Cairo.
The streets of the capital were tense, but Morsi appeared cocooned, even oblivious to what had begun to take shape.
“How confident are you in the army?” the Guardian asked him. “Very,” he replied. How wrong he was.
tom mcmahonmillis ma
There is more civil unrest now in the middle east than in many decades. From Turkey, Syria ,Egypt, across the region. Islam is quite literally tearing itself apart in the power stuggle between Sunni & Shia. I fear it will get far uglier before the skies clear and people control their own destinies. Many more gov’t’s will fall & rise before this all ends, not without much bloodshed. The very best thing the U.S. can do, is keep nuclear weapons away from these people, they’ll use them, on each other. If the wrong ones win, they’ll use them on us. Insanity vs sanity.
July 1, 2013 at 1:22 a.m
Morsi’s fate would be clearer if the opposition could offer a better alternative. But it, too, is divided and unorganized. The result is a nation that’s largely fed up, saying the last year has taught it Morsi is incapable of leading the country and tackling its seemingly intractable corruption, economic and political problems.
As nightfall came to Cairo, opponents of Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi protest were still gathered in their thousands outside the presidential palace
Anti-Morsi protesters and residents clashing at in a huge protest in the streets of Alexandria
President Morsi’s opponents accuse him of failing to tackle Egypt’s grave economic and security problems
Opponents of Egypt’s Islamist President hold posters which read ‘Leave’ as they protest outside the presidential palace in Cairo
An Egyptian woman kisses a poster of President Mohamed Morsi
Egyptians opposing President Morsi wave their national flag while one of them wears chains and a face mask
Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi: I have made mistakes
President pledges radical reforms to state institutions, but also denounces ‘enemies of Egypt’ for sabotaging democratic system
Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi
Anger at Egypt’s Leaders Intensifies in Gas Lines
Egyptians waited for hours in gas lines on Wednesday in Dokki, a Cairo neighborhood
By BEN HUBBARD
Published: June 26, 2013
CAIRO — It was well after midnight when Mahmoud Hifny finally lost it.
He had sweated through traffic while his fuel needle hovered ominously over the red “E” and finally joined a snaking line leading to one of the few downtown gas stations still pumping fuel. Two hours later, he was still waiting, stranded in an exhaust-choked sea of cars whose drivers had also lost hours trying to fill their tanks.
“We’ll get rid of those sons of dogs!” Mr. Hifny, 42, yelled to no one in particular, though everyone knew he meant President Mohamed Morsi and his allies. Nearby drivers nodded their heads. “They’re responsible for all the problems in this country!”
A powerful confluence of crises is engulfing Egypt as summer temperatures reach punishing heights, fraying tempers and fueling anger among many toward the country’s leaders.
Economic malaise is spreading just before Ramadan, the year’s costliest season for Muslims who fast by day and celebrate at night. Adding to tensions, the government has failed to ease frequent electricity cuts and a worsening fuel crisis that has left gas lines clogging major thoroughfares for hours.
Underpinning the discontent is a deep sense of foreboding that mass protests planned for this weekend to call for Mr. Morsi’s ouster could set off new street violence or push the country deeper into political instability.
Protests and counterprotests are expected to pick up on Friday and peak on Sunday, the anniversary of Mr. Morsi’s inauguration as the country’s first freely elected president, though the opposition says it will stay in the streets until Mr. Morsi falls. On Wednesday, one man was killed in the city of Mansura in an attack on a Muslim Brotherhood march.
“There is so much tension between people over what is going on,” said Mohammed Ali, a film director who has accelerated his production schedule because of the protests. “It is like seeing gas next to a fire, but you’re not sure who will set it alight.”
Families are rushing to finish their Ramadan shopping early in case shops remain closed, and others are rushing to finish projects, fearing they may not get the chance once the protests begin. Egyptians have grown used to the gridlock that mass protests can produce, so they know to prepare.
“It’s not about what will happen during those three days,” Mr. Ali said. “It is what will happen after those three days. No one has any idea.”
That sense of discontent filled the air on a recent night around the gas station just off Galaa Square in Dokki, a neighborhood in central Cairo.
The square, named to commemorate the end of Britain’s occupation of Egypt after the 1952 revolution, had been transformed by the gas crisis, as hundreds of cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles unable to find fuel elsewhere crowded onto every patch of pavement near the gas station and formed maddeningly long lines that reached into the surrounding streets, clogging them.
The police had erected barriers to separate the gas lines from passing traffic, and they occasionally intervened to stop attempted line cutters and prevent fistfights. A man was shot dead Tuesday night in a gas station dispute elsewhere in Cairo.
The drivers passed time chatting and arguing with their neighbors, taking brief naps and playing on their cellphones. An old woman did brisk business selling newspapers.
“We try to laugh about it because what else can we do?” said Khalid Shaaban, 35, as he turned up the music and got his wife, sister and three children to clap and rock to the beat. “But we’re really, really tired of it.”
This was the sixth gas station he had visited, Mr. Shaaban said, and he had been in line more than an hour. Like many others waiting in line, he blamed Mr. Morsi.
“Under Mubarak, we knew that people were stealing, but we never had crises like this,” Mr. Shaaban said, referring to Hosni Mubarak, the president who was ousted in 2011. “It is all because the guy driving the country now doesn’t know how to drive.”
Two unemployed young men sat in a nearby car, one offering limited support for the president and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. “They are good people and they fear God, but they do not have the right policies to run the country,” said the man, Ashraf al-Adawi, 27, adding that he would not protest because he feared instability.
“If the country has already fallen by 90 percent, it will fall by 100 percent if they topple the president,” Mr. Adawi said. “And if Morsi leaves, who will come next? There is no one that everyone will like.”
Most drivers had no idea what caused the crisis, though many exchanged conspiracy theories. Some accused Mr. Morsi’s enemies of interfering with supplies to build support for the protests. Others suggested that the president had limited distribution to strand potential demonstrators.
The government has done little to clarify the situation, and a number of ministers at a news conference on Tuesday placed blame for the crisis on news-media-fueled paranoia, black marketers and Egyptians themselves.
The petroleum minister, Sherif Haddara, played down the extent of the shortage, saying there had been a technical error at a storage facility and that the government’s introduction of a new “smart card” system to prevent illegal gas sales had slowed distribution. But few believe that these were really the reasons for long lines and empty pumps.
As for the frequent electricity cuts, the minister of local development, Mohammed Ali Beshr, suggested that Egyptians follow the example of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, who works through the heat.
“We sweat in his office,” Mr. Beshr said, offering the kind of remark that was unlikely to cool tempers. “He takes off his tie, and he never agrees to turn the air-conditioning on.”
In a major speech on Wednesday, Mr. Morsi renewed his call to the opposition to offer constitutional amendments, but dismissed the protesters as seeking to undermine the democratic process to “turn back the clock.”
“If you don’t like the government, form a parliamentary majority and bring the government that you want,” he said.
Acknowledging the fuel crisis, he said he was empowering ministers and governors to crack down on illegal sales and to purge those benefiting from the crisis.
But ideology and politics had little place on the gasoline line, where tempers flared in the stagnant heat of the night. It appeared as if amnesia had taken hold, as many said the best solution was for the military to run the country, as it had after the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, at least until stability could be achieved. The military ran Egypt for a year before Mr. Morsi was elected, a period that was not exactly trouble-free.
“God willing, Morsi will fall and the army will take control,” said Hani Abdel-Fattah, 35, who had come to Cairo from Port Said and needed gas to get home.
He, too, was nervous about what the protests would bring.
“The day is approaching and there are those who want Morsi to be president and those who don’t,” he said. “Nobody really knows who is right.”
Mohamed Morsi’s betrayal of democracy
By Editorial Board, Published: May 13
AHMED MAHER, one of the leaders of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, supported Islamist Mohamed Morsi in last year’s presidential election because he believed Mr. Morsi’s victory over a military-backed candidate would be more likely to consolidate democracy in their country. But during a visit to Washington last week, Mr. Maher told us that Mr. Morsi had betrayed him and his April 6 Youth Movement. “They lied, they broke promises, they killed members of April 6,” Mr. Maher said. Mr. Morsi’s government, he said, increasingly resembled that of former strongman Hosni Mubarak: “They only seek power.”
Mr. Maher’s strong charges soon were substantiated by another transgression: Upon returning to Cairo from the United States on Friday, he was arrested at the airport. The 32-year-old, who founded the April 6 movement in 2008 to organize protests against the Mubarak regime, was charged with inciting a protest in March against Mr. Morsi’s interior minister. His transfer to a high-security prison quickly provoked a backlash both in Cairo and in Washington, and on Saturday authorities backed down. Mr. Maher was released, his case was transferred to a lower court and Mr. Morsi’s office and political party repudiated the airport arrest.
That retreat still left Mr. Maher facing charges, according to the state news agency, of “resisting the authorities, insulting the police, gathering and obstructing traffic” — counts frequently used by the former dictatorship against public demonstrations. It offered new cause for concern about a government that repeatedly has proclaimed its commitment to both democracy and compromise with its opponents even as it prosecutes critics and prepares repressive new laws.
Mr. Maher’s youth movement has resisted the polarization that has overtaken Egyptian politics in the past year. Though its leaders are secular liberal democrats with left-leaning views, they supported Mr. Morsi after obtaining direct assurances from him that he would seek consensus on the terms of a new constitution. The president broke that commitment in November, when he granted himself absolute power in order to force through a constitution favored by the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, a state prosecutor Mr. Morsi appointed in what opponents contend was another illegal maneuver has been bringing charges against critics, including journalists and organizers of demonstrations. A legislative body dominated by the ruling party has given preliminary approval to a law that would eviscerate Egypt’s civil society, shutting down almost all government-watchdog and human rights groups.
Mr. Morsi’s spokesmen have asserted that he does not favor the political prosecutions and that the government is preparing a new version of the civil society law. But the president has not removed the prosecutor he appointed nor met other reasonable opposition demands, such as the correction of a gerrymander of electoral districts legislated by his party.
Mr. Maher opposes counterproductive strategies embraced by other opposition leaders, including a boycott of future elections or support for a military coup. But he warns that the United States is repeating past mistakes in Egypt by appearing to tolerate Mr. Morsi’s consolidation of power. “If you want to support democracy, say we are here in Egypt to support democracy, not whoever is in office,” Mr. Maher says. That’s advice the Obama administration should heed.
Protesters in Cairo, unhappy with President Mohamed Morsi, have occupied the offices of his new culture minister, preventing him from entering.
By BEN HUBBARD and MAYY EL SHEIKH
Published: June 20, 2013
CAIRO — Across Egypt, angry crowds have barred President Mohamed Morsi’s appointees from their offices, millions have signed petitions calling for his ouster and work crews have fortified the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood that propelled him to power to prevent attacks the police have failed to stop.
As the one-year anniversary of Mr. Morsi’s inauguration as Egypt’s first freely elected president approaches, he faces widespread discontent from a swath of society and stinging grass-roots campaigns that have undermined his ability to wield power and address the country’s most pressing problems.
“If I were a ruler, I would be very concerned about this, because the street is out of your control,” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “It is out of everyone’s control.”
Mr. Morsi inherited a dysfunctional state, one worn down by decades of Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian system, which marginalized the masses and empowered and enriched an elite few. But during his year in office, life has grown only harder. Now as the summer heat arrives and the holy month of Ramadan approaches, power cuts, gas shortages and rising food costs have made the crisis a profoundly personal matter for many citizens.
“The whole country is sinking, and it is people like us who feel it the most,” said Emad Mohammed, who reupholsters chairs in the poor Cairo neighborhood of Deir al-Malak. He said that all of his costs had risen and that drivers charged more for deliveries because buying gas means waiting in hourlong lines.
All of this has left Mr. Morsi with few allies beyond the Muslim Brotherhood. This week the country’s top Muslim cleric rebuffed those who called anti-Morsi protests un-Islamic and declared it religiously permissible to protest peacefully against one’s leaders, and the patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Church publicly criticized Mr. Morsi’s performance.
And the situation may soon grow even worse for the president. Egypt’s disparate and disorganized opposition is calling for mass protests on June 30. Many worry that demonstrations could inflame the country’s intensely polarized politics and ignite new unrest, further weakening the nation.
Mr. Morsi and his allies argue that he still has electoral legitimacy and that the opposition has rebuffed his efforts to reach out, leaving him no choice but to rely on Brotherhood members for support and top posts. They also say post-revolution difficulties are no surprise.
“When it comes to our current performance, we had hoped to do better, but the challenges are great and we believe that nobody could have performed better,” said Murad Ali, a spokesman for Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Egypt’s economy has been declining since the revolution, with unrest chasing away investors and tourists. Foreign currency reserves are half of what they were under Mr. Mubarak. The country’s stock exchange hit an 11-month low last week, Reuters reported, and the Egyptian pound has fallen by 10 percent since last year.
Analysts describe the government as stuck in a downward spiral: its weakness prevents it from taking decisive measures, which allows the situation to get worse, which causes more discontent.
For months, the government has been negotiating a $4.8 billion loan on fairly easy terms from the International Monetary Fund. The thinking is that if the I.M.F. approved a loan, that could give the government the credibility it needs to unlock billions more dollars in aid and loans. But if a deal is reached, it will probably mean reducing subsidies for energy — a step many fear will incite the public.
Ragui Assaad, an economist at the University of Minnesota who studies Egypt, said such a deal had been possible in other countries — but only when there had been a strong government.
“There are ways to do it, but you need a credible government so that when you say people will be compensated, they believe you,” he said.
But it is just that — credibility — that Mr. Morsi is struggling to regain as protesters challenge his authority across the country.
His newly appointed culture minister has not entered his office in two weeks since demonstrators who accuse him of trying to “Brotherhoodize” the ministry occupied the building.
Mr. Morsi seemed to aggravate the situation this week when he appointed 17 new governors, 7 from the Muslim Brotherhood, setting off protests in many cities as activists burned tires, chained shut doors and blocked some new appointees from reaching their offices while besieging others inside, the state news media reported.
In the city of Tanta, clashes between Brotherhood members and protesters left 32 people wounded.
In Luxor, the naming of a member of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, a group that once carried out terrorist attacks in the same area, prompted carriage drivers to block the city’s Nile-front boulevard. Egypt’s tourism minister threatened to resign in protest, though it was unclear on Thursday if he had left his post.
Harnessing the anti-Morsi feeling is a grass-roots campaign that claims to have collected millions of signatures calling for Mr. Morsi to step down.
The group’s volunteers have fanned out to cities across the country to gather signatures, holding signs that read “Leave!” The group says it will present its final petition to Egypt’s Constitutional Court to request that it withdraw confidence from Mr. Morsi and appoint an interim president to lead until new elections.
The campaign has exasperated Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who have initiated a countercampaign and accuse the opposition of being antidemocratic. The Muslim Brotherhood is planning its own rally on Friday under the banner of “No to violence,” although activists on both sides acknowledge that the anniversary protests could lead to clashes.
“When George W. Bush had a 22 percent approval rating, Americans didn’t talk about early presidential elections,” one aide to Mr. Morsi said.
Mr. Morsi himself has dismissed the opposition as antirevolutionary and loyal to the old government.
“With the current state of polarization and without reaching an understanding or working together, we will reach hell and kill each other in the streets,” said Mr. Ali, the spokesman for Mr. Morsi’s party.
Egypt’s Morsi gets poor reviews from Islamists after first year of presidency
Khaled Elfiqui/EPA – Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
By Griff Witte, Published: June 17 | Updated: Tuesday, June 18, 6:50 AM
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT — As the first year of Mohamed Morsi’s presidency draws to a close later this month, this country is bracing for what organizers promise will be approved by voters late last year, says that “the principles of Islamic law form the main source of legislation.” But Egypt’s previous constitution said much the same thing. In practice, Egypt remains moderate by regional standards.
That’s a source of anguish for many Islamists who rejoiced last year at the election of one of their own, after decades of relatively secular rule by autocratic Egyptian leaders.
The promise of sharia
In Alexandria, a historically cosmopolitan and tolerant port city that has become a haven for Islamist hard-liners in recent years, Salafist leaders say they have no intention of joining the anti-Morsi protests called for June 30. The president, they say, has a right to finish his four-year term, even if they are disappointed by the results so far.
Hammad, the Watan vice president, said Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies lured in voters last year with the politically popular promise of Islamic law, known as sharia. But since then, he said, Morsi has offered only excuses — including the turbulent political environment and the ravaged economy — for why he has been unable to act. To Hammad, those explanations don’t wash.
“Sharia is a system based on justice, freedom and equality,” Hammad said. “If you run the country through Islam, everything will be solved after that.”
In recent days, Morsi has courted Salafists with a series of moves, including his decision to cut ties with the Syrian government — an enemy of hard-line Sunni Muslims — and his appointment of a number of Salafist governors. The new governor of Luxor comes from the political arm of a group that killed dozens of tourists there in 1997. The group has since renounced violence.
The emergence of the Salafists as a political force in Egypt was one of the major surprises of last year’s elections. While Muslim Brotherhood candidates won the presidency and a plurality of the votes for parliament, the Salafists came in second in the parliamentary elections and provided crucial support in Morsi’s runoff win against a secular candidate.
The Brotherhood and the Salafists both advocate Islamist governance. But the Brotherhood casts itself as a moderate force, while the Salafists are unabashedly orthodox. They preach a literal interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Koran, and a lifestyle patterned after that of the prophet Mohammad and his seventh-century followers.
The substantial ideological differences have led to policy spats. When Morsi’s government raised taxes on beer and wine this year in order to discourage consumption, many Salafists recoiled, wondering why authorities were not banning the beverages.
Azza al-Garf, a member of the supreme committee of the Brotherhood’s political wing, said Morsi’s Salafist critics are living “in an alternative reality.” After 30 years of ruinous and irreligious rule under President Hosni Mubarak, she said, there is a limit to how much any Egyptian leader could expect to accomplish in just one year.
“We know that to reach our goals, we have to be gradual. I tell Islamists that without meeting people’s demands on security, health care, the economy and education, we can’t build a new system,” she said. “We can’t come to a country as exhausted as Egypt is and just declare sharia.”
Pressing for patience
Such arguments resonate with Salafists — to a point — and account for why Morsi has not lost their support entirely.
“After four years, he’ll have achieved a lot,” said Mohammed Suleiman, a 37-year-old perfume dealer who, like many Salafists, has a long beard and no mustache. “But you don’t harvest on the same day you spread the seeds.”
Suleiman spoke as he walked the Alexandria waterfront, a place that typifies Egypt’s cultural contrasts. In the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean, women wearing Western-style swimsuits bathe next to others donning the full Islamic hijab.
Suleiman said that he is confident that Islamists are winning the struggle for Egypt’s future direction and that implementation of what he considers true Islamic law is only a matter of time.
“The non-Islamist minority in Egypt is becoming smaller and smaller,” he said, citing last year’s election results.
Hassan Nafaa, a Cairo University political scientist, is less sure. The Islamists won less because of their ideology than because of their reputation for being free of corruption, he said. But after a year in which both the economy and public safety have deteriorated, “there’s a strong fear that they are not capable of ruling this country.”
With a court-ordered rerun of the parliamentary vote expected later this year, Nafaa said the Salafists may try to outflank the Brotherhood and position themselves as the true Islamist alternative. It is not clear, however, whether that will be a winning message.
“We don’t know that the Salafists have gained,” Nafaa said. “I have the impression that all the Islamists have lost a lot.”
Daily power cuts spark new anger at Egypt’s government
An Egyptian man plays snooker by candlelight Saturday at a club in Giza, Egypt. (Hassan Ammar / Associated Press / May 25, 2013)
By Ingy Hassieb
May 29, 2013, 7:33 a.m.
CAIRO — With temperatures climbing, Egyptians are taking to the streets and the Internet to protest daily power cuts that have paralyzed cities across the country and generated fresh anger at the embattled government.
In a memo to the Cabinet, a local medical rights group said it had received at least 50 reports in just three days from hospitals complaining about equipment failures because of the blackouts. The Egyptian Center to Protect the Right for Medicine appealed for a quick solution, noting the diesel-powered generators at most public hospitals are old and unreliable.
A patient at the state-run Medical Research Institute in the coastal city of Alexandria reportedly died when the power failed in the intensive care unit. In Kafr El Sheik, a governorate north of Cairo, residents gathered outside a local hospital to help transfer newborns to another facility when 10 incubators stopped working recently.
The power cuts have also been a problem for thousands of students across the country who are preparing for their end-of-year exams. Governors in Cairo and other cities have urged authorities to refrain from cutting the electricity when students are taking the exams, but many complain it’s hard to study when the lights go out and there is no electricity to run the air conditioning.
“It’s difficult to focus when you’re frustrated. That’s the toughest challenge,” said 17 year-old Ahmad Belal, who wants to be a heart surgeon and needs top grades to get into medical school. “Trying to concentrate on your studies but being interrupted every two minutes because the weather is hot or because you’re angry you don’t have electricity for most of the day just makes it impossible.”
Belal lives in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, where he said the power cuts sometimes last more than four hours at a time. He studies by candlelight when the lights go out at home.
“Some of my friends go out to cafes, but it’s always very crowded and loud, and it’s also difficult to focus,” he said. “Plus, the lights go out in cafes too.”
Power disruptions are nothing new in Egypt, especially in the summer months, when consumption spikes. But this year’s blackouts are more frequent than in the past, often occurring several times a day and lasting for hours.
“God, I’m not asking you for a fancy villa, or the latest car model, or millions of pounds even … All I want is for the power not to go out,” wrote one frustrated Twitter user who goes by the handle @AmgdAboZeid.
The crisis is adding to the pressure on President Mohamed Morsi, who had promised to tackle the country’s ubiquitous power and fuel shortages, along with a host of other problems, in his first 100 days in office.
Hundreds of residents in Alexandria, Kafr El Sheikh, Aswan and other areas have taken to the streets in recent weeks to voice their displeasure, blocking roads and even railway lines while chanting anti-Morsi slogans, according to the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm. More demonstrations are planned June 30, to mark the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency.
There have also been calls on social networking sites for Egyptians to refuse to pay their electricity bills until service improves, calls the electricity ministry said were “destructive.”
A popular meme doing the rounds on Facebook complains: “Egypt is the only country in the world that collects money for the garbage that is filling the streets and the electricity that is always out from the salaries of its unemployed citizens.”
Last week, the electricity ministry issued a rare apology, explaining in a statement that it had been forced to resort to load-shedding because consumption is outpacing production. It urged residents to ration their electricity use and said it was working with other departments to obtain the fuel needed to generate more power.
Monday, May 20, 2013 at 4:28 PM
Egyptians don’t like Morsi’s presidency, but opposition flounders anyway
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Foreign Staff
CAIRO — As Egypt’s first democratically elected president nears the completion of his first year in office, there is growing resentment among Egyptians about his tenure. The dismal economy has grown worse, sectarian tensions are greater, and government services have declined – something many people thought would have been impossible.
Indeed, many here feel that Mohammed Morsi’s time in office represents the dashing of hopes for the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and was supposed to give rise to a better Egypt.
A Pew Research poll released last week found that only 30 percent of Egyptians believe the nation is headed in the right direction, compared with 65 percent during the 2011 uprising. The number is back to the levels of Mubarak; in the year before his ouster, only 28 percent of Egyptians thought the country was headed in the right direction.
Yet no one here is talking about a potent challenge to the Morsi presidency, despite the failures of his first year. The opposition National Salvation Front, comprised of more than 40 organizations that have sponsored innumerable protests to Morsi’s actions, is no better, say most Egyptians.
Many say the group is too large, represents too many opinions and is too inexperienced to launch a formidable challenge to Morsi. But observers, opponents and analysts also agree that the opposition faces a challenge that also plagues Morsi – how to function in a democratic state.
Just as Morsi, who rose to prominence through the secretive Muslim Brotherhood religious society, has used presidential power as a blunt instrument against his opponents, the opposition has yet to adjust to challenging a democratic leader instead of a 30-year despot.
“The opposition is making the same mistake . . . of simply hating someone rather than coming up with a strategy. They have replaced Mubarak with the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Khalid Ismail, a businessman who was active in the anti-Mubarak movement.
While opponents call Morsi undemocratic, they often adopt undemocratic tactics to fight him. Many voice their frustrations by calling for a usurping of the June 2012 election that led to his presidency. Some call for a return to the military rule that governed the country between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s election victory.
They’ve started a petition calling for his removal over the economy’s failings. They’ve offered a contradictory view of elections, calling for delaying parliamentary elections because of problems with the election law, while demanding early presidential elections, under the same election law, in hopes of removing Morsi from office.
Still others, including the National Salvation Front, are considering whether to boycott the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for fall.
In some cases, opponents confront those supporting Morsi with violence.
“All these inconsistencies have affected the opposition’s popularity,” said Manar el Shobagy, an associate professor of politics at the American University in Cairo and a former member of the Constituent Assembly that was charged with writing a new constitution.
Ahmed Maher, who leads the 6th of April movement, one of the largest of the so-called revolutionary organizations that led the protests that toppled Mubarak, is among those who is trying to create a viable opposition movement. He concedes his movement is disorganized and that his followers don’t know how to work as an opposition in a country where recent elections have been, by all accounts, fair and legitimate.
Part of his job, he said, is to educate his members about how to operate in the new Egypt. When members propose getting rid of Morsi or for the military take over again, he said, he answers with questions.
“Ok, we get rid of Morsi. Who comes next?” Maher, 32, explained. “A military coup? Is that a revolution? Is that democracy? They killed your friends.”
A viable opposition is years away, el Shobagy said, as a new generation learns that working in opposition goes beyond protests and demonstrations and must include the hard work of building a grassroots organization of supporters.
That step is especially critical for the upcoming parliamentary elections, when the opposition must field hundreds of candidates in scores of districts, not just one for the presidency.
Maher said he is trying to create such a grassroots organization, but often his followers are more interested in the quick rush of taking to the streets than the laborious effort of building a movement.
“We will work together for two weeks so well. Suddenly, there is a protest and everyone runs to it,” Maher said. “It’s easier and a lot more fun, especially when there are clashes. People like the adrenaline.”
The result, Maher concedes, is an opposition that can’t even begin to counter the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, he said, has 100 members in every neighborhood reaching out to Egyptians, while Morsi’s opponents might have no more than five. The National Salvation Front “is not a real alternative,” he said.
The Pew Research numbers reflect that frustration with the Front. While 63 percent favorably view the Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely affiliated with Morsi, only 52 percent feel the same for the National Salvation Front.
To be sure, opposition groups had little opportunity to organize a grassroots movement under Mubarak. Such efforts were illegal and quickly suppressed. And the opponents have historic justification for questioning election laws, which under Mubarak were designed to maintain the status quo, rather to represent the will of the electorate.
But Ismail and el Shobagy agree that the opposition also has made a series of critical mistakes that have contributed to its being seen as not ready to challenge Morsi.
For one, many of the younger groups that helped topple Mubarak ceded authority to an older generation of leaders who’d spent their lives opposing a system that no longer exists.
“You don’t need the experience of the older generation who breathed authoritarian rule,” el Shobagy said.
Mohamed ElBaradei, 70, is now a leading figure in the National Salvation Front and defends the party’s practices. In an interview with journalists last month, he said that the opposition would win seats in Parliament because of Morsi’s failing rather than any platform the opposition might run on.
“My feeling is that right now if we go into elections, there is a good chance that we will get, if not a majority, a good chunk of the Parliament, not because our ingenuity, but because the Brotherhood messed up so badly that again people will say, in my view, ‘Anybody but the Brotherhood,’ because they haven’t delivered,’” he said.
But evidence of that seems slim. Talk to ordinary Egyptians and their conclusion is often “we don’t want any
“They are all the same. Who is looking out for the good Egyptians who cannot eat, who cannot survive in these difficult circumstances?” asked Mohammed Mustafa, 30, a tour guide turned taxi driver because the number of tourists has fallen so dramatically. “It will take years before we have such a person.”
Like many Egyptians, Mustafa said that whoever leads Egypt must be guided by Islam, but opposition groups have yet to determine what role Islam has in their movement. The same Pew Research poll, conducted among 1,000 Egyptians in face-to-face interviews from March 3-23, found that 58 percent of Egyptians want laws that adhere strictly to Islam. Most of the opposition is secular.
Maher said the next face of the opposition could be one-time presidential candidate Abdel Moniem Abou Fatouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood member who is quietly employing Brotherhood tactics to build a grassroots movement. And Maher said he, too, is trying to start a new youth coalition.
The upcoming parliamentary election “is for me training for future elections,” Maher said. “The big problem with the opposition is that we don’t have grassroots. We need time.”
Posted on Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Proposed Egyptian law on nonprofits seen as echo of Mubarak era
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Foreign Staff
CAIRO — A draft Egyptian law regulating so-called nongovernmental organizations would limit the private, nonprofit groups in many of the same ways that the government of President Hosni Mubarak sought to control their operations – a sign, analysts here say, that President Mohammed Morsi fears that the groups could be used to oppose his government in the same way Mubarak supporters felt they’d helped topple his.
Under the proposed law, the government would have a say over how NGOs operate internally, how they’re funded and how much foreign organizations could be involved in elections, according to a draft of the law that McClatchy reviewed.
That Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, has endorsed the numerous barriers to how NGOs operate that would be enshrined in the new law is seen by many here as the latest assault on the political liberalization ushered in by the 2011 uprising that led to his election.
Since Mubarak fell, the most marked changes in Egyptian life are increased freedom of expression, assembly and association. But Morsi’s government has taken to intimidating the president’s opponents, charging politicians, pundits and even comedians with insulting him, and sending the police to violently confront anti-Morsi protesters.
Overall, the proposed law is only marginally different from the Mubarak-era regulation, which allowed Egyptian officials to raid 17 NGOs in 2011, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, and charge 43 employees – including 16 Americans – with improper acts. Fifteen of those Americans fled and were tried in absentia. The 16th, Robert Becker, remained. The court is expected to rule on the case next Tuesday.
In some ways, the new law is more restrictive. Under Mubarak, American NGOs could work alongside Egyptian political parties, but the new law would outlaw foreign NGOs from participating in “partisan activities that are practiced by political parties and activities that infringe the national sovereignty.” The measure doesn’t explain what “partisan activities” entail.
The 13-page, 74-article proposed law requires that an NGO pay at least 50,000 Egyptian pounds – or about $7,142 – to register. It also says that no more than 25 percent of the organization’s staff members may be non-Egyptian. The NGO must submit a copy of its bylaws and membership to a newly created government steering committee for approval.
According to Article 10, NGOs should limit their work to “achieving the interests of the society,” vague wording that some say would allow the government wide authority to limit an NGO’s operations if it didn’t agree with its goals.
The proposed law makes a distinction between foreign and domestic NGOs, requiring foreign NGOs to submit all their funding sources to the steering committee.
Officials said the proposal reflected “the openness of Egypt,” though they declined to release it publicly. The draft will be released after the Shura Council, the only operating legislative body, votes on the law.
Several NGOs and human rights groups expressed concern that the proposed law is similar to the one in place during Mubarak’s years.
“There have been no major changes. It still gives the government the power to restrict their activities and cut off funding,” Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told the Reuters news agency. Morayef had seen a copy of the draft law.
In Turnabout, Syria Rebels Get Libyan Weapons
Crates of recoilless rifle rounds in a rebel cache in Idlib, Syria, bear the triangle symbol of arms sent to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
By C. J. CHIVERS, ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: June 21, 2013
During his more than four decades in power, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya was North Africa’s outrageously self-styled arms benefactor, a donor of weapons to guerrillas and terrorists around the world fighting governments he did not like.
Even after his death, the colonel’s gunrunning vision lives on, although in ways he probably would have loathed.
Many of the same people who chased the colonel to his grave are busy shuttling his former arms stockpiles to rebels in Syria. The flow is an important source of weapons for the uprising and a case of bloody turnabout, as the inheritors of one strongman’s arsenal use them in the fight against another.
Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters. Libya’s own former fighters, who sympathize with Syria’s rebels, have been eager collaborators.
“It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” said Fawzi Bukatef, the former leader of an alliance of Libyan brigades who was recently named ambassador to Uganda, in an interview in Tripoli.
As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.
For Russia — which has steadfastly supplied weapons and diplomatic cover to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria — this black-market flow is a case of bitter blowback. Many of the weapons Moscow proudly sold to Libya beginning in the Soviet era are now being shipped into the hands of rebels seeking to unseat another Kremlin ally.
Those weapons, which slipped from state custody as Colonel Qaddafi’s people rose against him in 2011, are sent on ships or Qatar Emiri Air Force flights to a network of intelligence agencies and Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey. From there, Syrians distribute the arms according to their own formulas and preferences to particular fighting groups, which in turn issue them to their fighters on the ground, rebels and activists said.
Qatari C-17 cargo aircraft have made at least three stops in Libya this year — including flights from Mitiga airport in Tripoli on Jan. 15 and Feb. 1, and another that departed Benghazi on April 16, according to flight data provided by an aviation official in the region. The planes returned to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The cargo was then flown to Ankara, Turkey, along with other weapons and equipment that the Qataris had been gathering for the rebels, officials and rebels said.
Last week the Obama administration announced that it had evidence that Mr. Assad’s military had used sarin nerve agent in multiple attacks, and that the United States would begin providing military aid to the rebels, including shipments of small arms.
In doing so, the United States could soon be openly feeding the same distribution network, just as it has received weapons from other sources.
The movements from Libya complement the airlift that has variously used Saudi, Jordanian and Qatari military cargo planes to funnel military equipment and weapons, including from Croatia, to the outgunned rebels. On Friday, Syrian opposition officials said the rebels had received a new shipment of anti-tank weapons and other arms, although they give varying accounts of the sources of the recently received arms. The Central Intelligence Agency has already played at least a supporting role, the officials say.
The Libyan shipments principally appear to be the work of armed groups there, and not of the weak central state, officials said.
Mr. Bukatef, the Libyan diplomat, said Libyan militias had been shipping weapons to Syrian rebels for more than a year.
“They collect the weapons, and when they have enough they send it,” he said. “The Libyan government is not involved, but it does not really matter.”
One former senior Obama administration familiar with the transfers said the Qatari government built relationships with Libyan militias in 2011, when, according to the report of a United Nations Panel of Experts, it shipped in weapons to rebel forces there in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
As a result, the Qataris can draw on their influence with Libya’s militias to support their current beneficiaries in Syria. “It’s not that complicated,” the former official said. “We’re watching it. The Libyans have an amazing amount of stuff.”
Syrian activists and Western officials say that like the unregistered arms transfers organized by other Arab states, the shipments from Libya have been very large but have not kept up with the enormous rebel ammunition expenditures each day.
And most of the weapons have been relatively light, including rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms ammunition and mortar rounds.
But the Libyan influx appears to account for at least a portion of the antitank weapons seen in the conflict this spring, including Belgian-made projectiles for M40 recoilless rifles and some of the Russian-made Konkurs-M guided missiles that have been destroying Syrian tanks in recent months.
Syrian rebels, working with Qatari backers and the Turkish government, have developed a system for acquiring and distributing Libya’s excess stock, Syrian activists and rebels said.
Orders are placed and shipments arranged through the staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, a Western-backed opposition committee that was formed in Turkey late last year.
Safi Asafi, a coordinator commander active on Syria’s northern borders, one of the unofficial gates for weapons shipment to the opposition, said that rebel groups seeking Libyan arms approach the council to arrange the deals.
“Any fighting group in Syria that wants weapons from Libya will go to the staff asking for the approval from the Turkish authorities involved in the transfer, then gets it, the weapons arrive in Syria, and everyone gets his due share,” he said.
By one common formula, Mr. Asafi said, the staff will take 20 percent of the weapons designated for individual groups and distribute them to others. But the ratio can fluctuate, he said, depending on the group’s stature and influence, and less powerful groups sometimes yield a larger cut.
The Supreme Military Council generally does not distribute weapons to blacklisted or extremist groups, Syrian activists said, but these groups have little trouble acquiring the weapons once the arms enter Syria, often buying them directly from groups that receive the council’s support.
Signs of munitions from the former Qaddafi stockpile are readily visible.
Late last month The New York Times found crates, storage sleeves and spent cartridge cases for antitank rounds from Libya in the possession of Ahfad al-Rasul, a prominent group fighting the government and aligned with the Supreme Military Council.
The crates were immediately identifiable because they were painted with a distinctive symbol — 412 inside a triangle — that has been used by many manufacturers, including in China, the Soviet Union, Russia, North Korea and Belgium, to mark ordnance shipments designated for Colonel Qaddafi.
Stenciling on the crates’ sides declared their original destination in 1980: the “Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahirya.”
Looted Libyan Arms in Mali May Have Shifted Conflict’s Path
Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
EVIDENCE The projectile of an NR-160 recoilless rifle round, left, identical to ordnance documented in Libya, at a Mali base previously occupied by Islamist extremists.
By C. J. CHIVERS
Published: February 7, 2013
Since the war that toppled Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began in 2011, arms-tracking analysts have warned that weapons looted from the colonel’s stockpiles could find their way to militants in sub-Saharan Africa.
Although public evidence for transfers has been scarce or not fully verifiable, persistent accounts of smuggled arms reaching Mali have circulated for more than a year, just as reports have repeatedly suggested that weapons formerly in Libya were turning up in Egypt, Gaza, Chad, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.
In the case of Mali, the reports appeared alongside signs of the growing strength of jihadists in the country’s north. The timing, researchers said, suggested that weapons from Libya had changed the course of Mali’s war — so much so that the French military eventually intervened.
Recent photographs from Mali provide perhaps the clearest publicly available indication yet that these transfers have in fact occurred.
The first photograph, filed on Jan. 26 by Reuters, shows a slightly damaged finned projectile resting on the dirt in Konna, the city in central Mali from which a French-led military attack expelled militants last month. A New York Times photographer later documented more examples of the same weapons.
The projectiles in question were NR-160s, antitank munitions manufactured by a now-defunct company in Belgium that in the 1970s and 1980s extensively sold arms to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Fired through American-designed recoilless rifles that have a history in Libya since early in the cold war, the projectiles were identical to ordnance documented in Libya in 2011.
They had been left behind in Konna by Islamists who had been pounded by an aerial attack, and suffered many losses.
Many other types of weapons that could have come from Libya have been present in the fighting in Mali, including Soviet-era assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Unlike these items, the NR-160 was not a widely distributed or globally produced export product that could have come from myriad sources. It was a peculiar item with a limited circulation and a well-established tie to Libya.
When combined with images of other weapons strongly associated with Libya that have also turned up in Mali, the presence of NR-160s suggests that evidence is hardening that weapons cast loose in Libya are contributing to instability elsewhere, perhaps most vividly in Mali.
It also offers insight into arms deals that have gone awry, and foreign policy choices that had costly, unintended effects.
“What was incredible in Libya was how much was there, and the things that turned up that haven’t been seen anywhere else,” said Neil Corney of the Omega Research Foundation, which examines the manufacture and circulation of military and police equipment.
Of the likely effects of Libyan weapons on Mali, he said, “There was a sudden push by better armed, better equipped and better organized forces in Mali that pushed Mali’s army out.”
“The timing,” he said, “was right.”
According to the conventional wisdom of governments and arms manufacturers, well-coordinated arms exports can help strengthen vulnerable states, professionalize military forces and promote stability.
In Libya, the opposite occurred, and the related dangers radiated outward.
This presumed influx of weapons to Mali from Libya has in turn underscored the unwanted effects of a war supported by the West, and raised questions anew about why NATO and the allied militaries that helped defeat the Qaddafi military did little to contain weapons that foreign military intervention helped set loose.
In the case of the NR-160s, several strands of evidence point to Libya as the source.
A projectile with an armor-penetrating shaped charge, the NR-160 was one of several rounds in the 106-millimeter class produced by Poudreries Réunies de Belgique, a Belgian company that sold ordnance to Libya in the early Qaddafi era.
These rounds were manufactured for M40 recoilless rifles, which were designed in the United States in the 1950s.
As part of efforts to prop up King Idris of Libya and retain access to an air base near Tripoli, the State Department and the Pentagon helped create and equip Libya’s army in the 1950s and 1960s. The engagement included providing the nascent army with recoilless rifles.
By 1969, Washington’s ambition had backfired. Rather than protect the monarchy, the army nurtured by the United States had produced Colonel Qaddafi, who overthrew the throne and forced the United States to abandon the base.
After the coup, as Colonel Qaddafi sought new sources for weapons, the Belgian company helped satisfy Libya’s procurement desires. It sold Libya many classes of ordnance, including land mines and antitank projectiles.
Research in Belgium’s state archives by Damien Spleeters, an independent arms researcher, found that from 1973 to 1980, the company received multiple licenses to ship 106-millimeter recoilless rifle rounds to the “Directorate Military — Tripoli, Libya.”
Mr. Spleeters’s searches of public records found no evidence of other transfers of 106-millimeter rounds to any other country in the region, with the exception of a 1971 license approving a tiny shipment — 200 rounds — to Morocco. One license alone for shipments of 106-millimeter rounds to Libya, by contrast, authorized the transfer of 30,000 rounds.
For decades these arms were locked up within Colonel Qaddafi’s secretive state, their quantities unknown. The Belgian company’s 106-millimeter rounds resurfaced spectacularly in 2011, used by both Qaddafi loyalists and rebels who seized them from captured government stockpiles.
The M40 ultimately proved to be one of the most effective weapons that the rebels acquired, and it was repeatedly used to breach buildings where pro-Qaddafi soldiers had hidden.
As the war ran its course, Belgian 106-millimeter rounds and their associated wooden crates were photographed several times by The Times, by rebel logisticians and later by bomb disposal technicians.
The projectiles found in Mali, whose army, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, does not possess M40 recoilless rifles, match these records. One arms-trafficking researcher who has examined the stocks of many African states said the photographs of the projectiles in Konna documented a weapon that had no likely regional source other than Libya.
“From what I have seen in the sort of fossil record in situ in armories of Western African states, you don’t find this particular weapon,” said James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, a private arms-tracking company in Britain. “We would have seen them. And we haven’t.”
Sunday 7 April 2013
Libya’s future looks bleak as media focus turns elsewhere
World View: Two years after Nato’s intervention, the militias are still terrorising the country
The second anniversary of Nato’s intervention on the side of the Libyan rebels and against Muammar Gaddafi passed with scarcely a mention by foreign governments and media who were so concerned about the security and human rights of the Libyan people in 2011. This should be no surprise, since Libya today is visibly falling apart as a country and Libyans are at the mercy of militiamen who prey on those whom they formerly claimed to protect.
A sample of the news from Libya over the past few weeks gives a sense of what is happening and is worth repeating because it goes largely unreported by the foreign press who once filled the hotels of Benghazi and Tripoli. For instance, last Sunday, the chief of staff of the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan disappeared in the capital and appears to have been abducted. This may have been in retaliation for government ministers saying militias acted with impunity. On the same day, a militia group stormed the justice ministry demanding the minister’s resignation after he accused it of running an illegal prison.
The situation shows every sign of getting worse rather than better. On 5 March, the Libyan parliament met to discuss whether Libyans who had worked as officials during Gaddafi’s 42 years in power should be purged and banned from office. This would include even long-term dissidents, who played a leading role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising, but decades ago had been ministers under the old regime. Protesters demanding a purge forced MPs to move for their own safety to the state meteorological office on the outskirts of Tripoli where they were mobbed by gunmen who broke into the building as its police guards disappeared. MPs were held hostage for 12 hours and others braved gunfire to escape.
Outside Tripoli, the rule of the gunmen is even more absolute. This comes to the attention of the rest of the world only when there is a spectacular act of violence, such as the killing in Benghazi last September of the US ambassador Chris Stevens by jihadi militiamen. This was the sole act of extreme violence in Libya to get extensive coverage by the foreign media, but only because the Republican Party made it a political issue in the US. But the ambassador and his guards are not the only foreigners to die violently in Benghazi since the overthrow of Gaddafi. An Egyptian human rights group reported last month that an Egyptian Copt named Ezzat Hakim Attalah was tortured to death in the city after being detained with 48 other traders in Benghazi municipal market.
Human rights organisations generally haven a better record for even-handed and in-depth reporting of Libya than, with a few honourable exceptions, the international media. In keeping with this tradition, the New York-based Human Rights Watch last month produced a detailed report on the ethnic cleansing of the town of Tawergha where 40,000 people were forced out of their homes and subjected to “arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings”. The largely black population has been targeted as supporters of Gaddafi by militias from Misrata. HRW used satellite imagery to record the destruction of Tawergha, most of which has occurred since the end of the 2011 war when some 1,370 sites were damaged or destroyed. Fred Abrahams, a special adviser to HRW, said that the satellite images confirm that “the looting, burning and demolitions were organised and systematic destruction was intended to prevent residents from returning”.
This lack of interest is in sharp contrast to the wall-to-wall coverage of Libya during the war. In the spring of 2011, I was reporting on the fighting around the town of Ajdabiya south of Benghazi. There was something of a phoney war atmosphere which did not come across in the exciting reportage. At the southern entrance of Ajdabiya I remember watching with some amusement as television crews positioned themselves to avoid revealing that there were more journalists than insurgents.
I never saw any rebel fall-back positions or even checkpoints between Ajdabiya and Benghazi, two places which remained dependent on Nato airpower for their defence. Of course, there were brave and dedicated rebel units, as there were journalists writing about them, but the insurgents would have been rapidly defeated without support from Nato.
The fact that the overthrow of Gaddafi was achieved primarily by foreign intervention has profound consequences for Libyans today. It means that the insurgents, while claiming and believing that their victory was all their own work, have proved too weak to fill the vacuum left by the fall of Gaddafi’s version of Arab nationalism. Without it there is little to counterbalance Islamic fundamentalism or tribalism.
Does this matter? Libyan nationalism was discredited in the eyes of many Libyans by its manipulation and abuse by Gaddafi and his family. Many of the disasters which befell Iraq after 2003 are now beginning to happen in different guises in other Arab states. They are finding, as did Iraqis, that outward forms of democracy count for little unless there is agreement between the main political forces on the rules of the game determining who holds power.
National self-determination should be at the heart of any new order. But a problem for the Arab Spring revolts is that they have all been highly dependent on outside support. But, as what has happened in Iraq and Libya shows, foreign intervention is always self-interested. Revolutionaries in all eras look to opportunistic outside powers to help them, but for long-term success they must end this dependency just as soon as they can. And they must build a strong law-abiding state, because, if they do not, a fresh crop of dictators is waiting in the wings.
Libya sees a violent return to democracy
The first elections since the fall of Gaddafi have revealed a Libya that is still bitterly divided
Kim Sengupta Monday 09 July 2012
The call to tell Hussein Abdullah Barsi that his son had been killed came as he and his friends were debating how to vote. A helicopter carrying election material had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade; the pilot managed an emergency landing, but the 22 year old student did not survive his terrible injuries.
Abdullah Hussein died in the hands of those in eastern Libya who dispute the legitimacy of first elections in ‘Free Libya’ for half a century and have repeatedly declared that they would not recognize the official results.
“He worked getting aide to poor families during the fighting last year, my son. He had volunteered for election work because it was the right thing to do” said his father, as relatives and friends came up to him offer their condolences at his home in Benghazi. “We should be thankful many more weren’t killed in such an attack. Abdullah wanted to do something for the future, the people who murdered him are opposed to progress in our country.”
The opponents of the election, going by the collective term of ‘federalists’, showed on polling day that they were organized as well as armed. The Independent followed flatbed trucks and cars full of activists, some carrying placards, others Kalashnikovs, a few rocket propelled grenade launchers, as they stormed polling stations in the city, destroying ballot boxes and papers. There were running fights, a few people were shot, insults and vows of retribution traded.
The violent assaults in Benghazi, the “birthplace and heartbeat of the revolution” as the posters declared when it began last February, does not mean that the elections nationally were a failure. But it does illustrate the divisions in Libya as it struggles to go forward after the 42 years of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship.
At Al Wiya Khadra, Zaituna and Tolitula three of the centres looted by the protestors, ballot boxes and papers were either torn or smashed or taken away to be ceremonially burned at a city centre roundabout where a rally has been held for the last two days. The administration in Tripoli, the National Transitional Council, claimed that only one location had come under threat and the attackers had been driven off by voters.
No election observers, who have deployed in the country in numbers, were present at any of the stations attacked. Security presence was light, with a rule that there should be weapon should be within 200 meters of a voting centre, checks were unobtrusive.
It was a laudable attempt to show democracy in action away from the shadow of the gun. It also meant, however, that the guards were caught by surprise and quickly overwhelmed when the federalists struck. At Zaituna, Ibrahim Saleh, with blood streaming from a cut on his head was beside himself with rage at how semi-automatic rifle had been grabbed from him and then, to add further insult, the raiders had shot up his home.
“We weren’t expecting this. They came suddenly and they were well prepared. We tried to fight back but they were pointing their guns at us and others came from behind and hit us. The worst is that a bunch of them went into my home and threatened my wife and family. I will kill them if I catch them.”
A woman who had come to vote with her two children was afraid and angry. “Where are the police, they are supposed to be protecting these places, protecting us.”
The police arrived belatedly at Tolitola. There was a confrontation with the federalists, both sides fired shots in the air and then at each other: a man fell and was dragged away. Murad Ali Fartusi, in his early teens, showed off his Glock pistol. “I used this in the revolution to fight Gaddafi, now I’ll use it against those who want to steal our revolution. Now watch, we’ll pretend to run away and the police will follow us. Then others will go and close other [polling] stations.”
For a while chasing convoys roared around the streets, sirens and horns blaring. It was like the heady days of the revolution all over again. There was something else from the days of the war, large groups of armed men on the streets, mostly supporters of the election forming roadblocks to stop the protestors.
“I had put this away six months ago, but now we must protect this election, there is no other way”, said Omar Mohammed Hussein, wiping a rag over his Kalashnikov. “We are the majority and when the federalists fight us, they will lose.”
By late afternoon Benghazi was full of police, soldiers and vigilantes. Tanks were deployed at the east gate of the city, supposedly to stop paramilitaries arriving for an onslaught on voting.
By the evening the federalists have been driven from their gathering place at Dubai Street. Anti-election pamphlets were being burned in the same drums used earlier to incinerate ballot papers. A rally was being held outside the city courthouse where the first demonstrations of the uprising had taken place.
At a sideroad we came across two carloads of federalists. They carried weapons and warned that this was not the end of the matter. “They will be shown to have manipulated the vote and then we’ll act” said Jaffar Ahmed Athadeen.
At the gathering for the fallen Abdullah Hussein, his uncle, Fawzi Barsi, vowed revenge. “We want the authorities to catch and punish those responsible. Otherwise we’ll take matters into our own hands, we Barsis are a clan 50,000 strong.”
The Deeper Blame for Benghazi
By ETHAN CHORIN
Published: May 13, 2013
THE spectacle in Washington over the terrorist attack last Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, is focusing on the wrong thing.
The biggest American failure wasn’t in the tactical mistakes about security at the diplomatic mission where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died. It lay in thinking that an intervention in Libya would be easier or less costly than it has proved to be — a judgment that led the United States to think it could go in light, get out fast and focus on the capital, Tripoli, without paying enough attention to Libya’s eastern provinces, where the rebellion began as a call for a constitution and increased civil liberties.
As a result, we underestimated the regional importance of Libya before the West intervened; misunderstood Benghazi’s importance in stabilizing postwar Libya; and left ourselves unprepared for the ability of terrorist groups to undermine advances toward civil authority there. In short, if the United States and its NATO and Arab allies had learned from the Iraq experience and implemented a full, well-supported plan for Benghazi, covering everything from technical assistance to security and staffing, we might have averted the attack and the momentum it has given to extremists.
I have always argued that the Western intervention that helped bring down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was inspired and skillfully executed, and had the potential to do more good than harm. But American policy has suffered historically from the mistaken belief that Libya was at best a sideshow to whatever else was going on in the Arab world. And that assessment may have led many in the American government to think the consequences of an intervention there would be easily contained.
Certainly, they failed to foresee how Libyan arms could fuse criminal and extremist elements and intensify Islamist insurrections in the Sahel and beyond, including the spread of rebellion to Mali and of lethal weaponry to jihadists in Syria and Gaza. The lapse dictated a low priority for stabilization projects in Libya itself. And that inattention, I believe, made an attack on the American compound in Benghazi all the more likely.
Benghazi was traditionally the intellectual and cultural capital of Libya. I came to know it well when I was among the first American diplomats posted to Libya after President George W. Bush resumed normal relations with Colonel Qaddafi. More recently, I made several trips to Benghazi: before the revolution to speak with authors and writers; during the revolution to research a book about Libya; and since the revolution to work to improve trauma medicine in the east — a project that put me in Benghazi on the night of the consulate attack, hoping to meet with Mr. Stevens the next day.
He had already told me a healthy Benghazi was the key to stability in Libya. He understood the international community’s hesitation to get further involved, but hoped to nudge the American government and multinational agencies to do more for reconstruction and reconciliation. Benghazi is not only the traditional cultural capital of Libya, but also the seat of its oil wealth. It had been critical to the democratic rebellion against Colonel Qaddafi, but it also was cultivating extremists, on whom Colonel Qaddafi had warred for decades.
Now Washington is engaged in a fierce effort to place blame for the attack not only with the State Department, whose failings were highlighted by the Accountability Review Board appointed by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but also with Mrs. Clinton herself. The most recent hearings, including testimony by so-called whistle-blowers, among them Mr. Stevens’s deputy, Gregory Hicks, have intensified Republican calls for higher level accountability, while former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he would have handled the crisis in the same way were he in Mrs. Clinton’s place. She, meanwhile, has assumed general responsibility for being in charge at the time, which seems to me appropriate for any secretary of state.
From the outside, it seems almost inexplicable that Mr. Stevens was in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11, in the midst of increasing attacks on foreign targets. Some of his colleagues in Tripoli say it was just bad timing, that Mr. Stevens felt this was the only time period available for an essential trip, and that every day in Libya was dangerous. But none of that explains why the compound was lightly guarded, why the United States was relying on fickle Libyan militias for defensive support, and why extra security resources were sent back to the States shortly before the attack.
Still, the deeper question is why the United States and its NATO allies believed that international responsibilities to Libya would end with military action, and that Libya would somehow right itself. We will probably never get to have a meaningful discussion about this, as long as we are tantalized by theories about conspiracies or political malfeasance.
When power shifted from the rebel capital of Benghazi back to Tripoli in late 2011 with the ouster of Colonel Qaddafi, fear began taking hold in the eastern provinces. The Islamists began appropriating public assets like hospitals. They had already assassinated a former Qaddafi interior minister who had become a rebel commander. Nevertheless, exemplary local elections were held in May 2012, and before the ambassador’s death Benghazi seemed, at least on the surface, to be far more orderly than Tripoli, with its warring militias and criminal gangs.
But now, Ambassador Stevens’s death has led to the undermining of an already weak central authority, the further isolation of Benghazi from Libya’s political center, a slowing of American and international technical aid and the empowerment of the Islamists.
There is a direct connection between the West’s post-intervention policies, the Benghazi attack, and the current political crisis in Libya. The Obama administration needs to address Benghazi head-on, to work actively to separate fact from fiction, and in the process, to commit to examining and reforming long-broken and inefficient bureaucratic processes — from long-term planning, to security assessments, to coordination between agencies. If it does not, the outcome in Libya promises only to get worse.
Ethan Chorin, a consultant, was a Foreign Service officer in Libya from 2004 to 2006 and is the author of “Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution.”
Old animosities are thriving in Libya
Tribesmen’s goal of trying Kadafi’s son themselves is emblematic of the divide
April 09, 2013 | Jeffrey Fleishman
ZINTAN, LIBYA — The prized scion of Moammar Kadafi is a prisoner of tribesmen in these mountains of scrub and ocher rock.
The rebels who captured him after the 2011 civil war that toppled his father have refused to turn him over to the central government in Tripoli or the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The militiamen patrolling hillsides of winding roads and scattered bunkers want Seif Islam Kadafi tried in a rural courtroom and hanged.
“Seif is a murderer and a liar. We have our own high court so we’ll try him in Zintan,” said Alramah Mohammed Elmerhani, a former rebel commander who was wounded in a tank battle. “It will bring pride to our city, which was forgotten by his father’s regime.”
The militia’s sway over Seif Kadafi’s legal fate is emblematic of the danger this fractured nation faces as it attempts to unify amid tribal animosities, territorial disputes and economic turmoil. The political disarray and weakness of the government were evident when the General National Congress abandoned its chamber in February after it was seized by former revolutionaries demanding compensation for wartime injuries.
Signs of progress in Libya have been few but noteworthy. The country has not, as some predicted, broken into autonomous pieces. Oil production has rebounded and Prime Minister Ali Zidan has established a degree of normality. However, drafting a constitution has been delayed and the government has yet to stem unemployment, rising drug and alcohol abuse and deepening social problems.
Moammar Kadafi’s 42-year rule was an inscrutable game of playing tribes and regions against one another. That legacy of suspicion now threatens the country’s crucial oil industry and the security of a region where Islamist militants are on the rise and neighboring Tunisia and Egypt are also precariously emerging from decades of autocratic rule.
It seems as if every other man in Libya can show off a bullet scar or a bump of shrapnel beneath the skin, the price of overthrowing a dictator. But the post-revolution has brought allegations of billions of dollars in financial mismanagement and a disturbing security vacuum that has overwhelmed a fledgling national army, which has been forced to integrate with tribal militias — which often have conflicting agendas — to keep order across lawless coasts and deserts.
These crisscrossing interests have ignited clashes between tribes and revenge against Kadafi supporters. A Human Rights Watch report released in February said that “several thousand” detainees were being held illegally by private militias. Those armed groups include Ansar al Sharia, blamed for the attack in September that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans but now policing the city where he died, Benghazi.
The government is paying millions of dollars a month to militias in attempts to appease them. A deadly battle between militias from Zintan and Zuwara last month at an energy complex temporarily suspended oil production and natural gas exports to Italy. The fight was predictable in its irony: It erupted when Zuwara tribesmen challenged Zintan fighters for the contract to protect the plant.
“We need better security. The militias are still stronger than the army,” said Mohammed Alagile, a soldier who moonlights selling fabric and sequins for wedding dresses in the capital, Tripoli. “We in the army are new volunteers, but the militias have better weapons and more experience from fighting in the revolution.”
Adjusting to a new era has also tested a political culture not accustomed to transparency. Libyans have followed allegations of financial waste by a top official who claimed that the preceding transitional government spent about $3 billion last year on furniture, stationery and other supplies. The charges were denied, but the larger question for many was how to build a credible government after decades of a despot’s rule.
“We are not used to politics, and now the people want more than the national congress can offer,” said Khalifia Shebani, an oil worker and former rebel from Zintan. “It’s difficult to start a new democracy. Tunisia and Egypt went through revolutions too, but they had existing parliaments and militaries. We’re starting from scratch.”
He shook his head and wondered — amid all the national uncertainty — if his own dream would ever be complete: “I’ve been building a house for 15 years and it’s still not finished.”
The road to Zintan snakes from the valley to a blustery mountaintop. Men huddle around shops and women hurry through bullet-pocked alleys in black abayas. Electricity is sporadic and water is delivered by trucks that growl past the photographs of young and old faces peering out from a “martyrs” memorial.
Libyan violence disrupts international oil company operations
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