Archive for June, 2012

Egypt: The election of Morsy, an analysis

June 25, 2012 3 comments

Another excellent post by Dr. Juan Cole.


Mursi and the Brotherhood in a Pluralist Egypt

Posted on 06/24/2012 by Juan

Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mursi has been officially declared the president of Egypt. But under the terms of the military constitutional guidelines issued last Sunday night, he comes into office in the framework of a military government headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.

That is, all the doomsaying about Egypt turning into Iran is to say the least premature, since Mursi at the moment is more Tantawi’s vice president than anything else.

Moreover, despite the Orientalist impulse in Western writing to see everything in the Middle East as black and white, as fundamentalist or libertine, Egypt’s political geography has been revealed by this year’s elections to be diverse. It isn’t just puritans versus belly dancers.

Here are the major factions according to the outcome of the first round of presidential elections, in which there were numerous candidates with strong ideological commitments. I was in Egypt for that election and did a lot of interviewing with Egyptians of all stripes, coming away impressed at how all over the place the electorate was. (Obviously I’m using the candidates below as a sort of political shorthand, and there is more overlap than the categories suggest, but this is ballpark):

1. The Labor Left, led by Hamdeen Sabahi (20.17%)
2. Classic liberals, led by Amr Moussa (11.13%)
3. Authoritarian secularists,led by Ahmad Shafiq (23.66%)
4. Muslim liberals, led by Abdul Moneim Abou’l-Futouh (17.47%)
5. Muslim fundamentalist, led by Muhammad Mursi (24.78%)

Egyptian Politicas

Mursi won by retaining the fundamentalists and picking up the Muslim liberals and at least some of the Labor Left, and even a few classic liberals such as novelist Alaa al-Aswani. His victory is not solely a victory for the hard line fundamentalists, who probably only accounted for about half of his voters. He owes the Labor Left and those classic liberals who preferred him to the authoritarian Shafiq.

Mursi will now appoint a prime minister and a cabinet (the Egyptian system is a bit like that of France), and he may well reward his non-fundamentalist allies with key cabinet posts. (That pluralism is exactly what did not happen in Iran after the fall of the Mehdi Bazargan government with the Hostage Crisis of 1979).

Moreover, if in fact Egypt now moves to a new constitution and new parliamentary elections by the end of this year, the more diverse political landscape revealed by the first round of the presidential elections may get reflected in parliament in a way that did not happen in the first election after the revolution. I argue that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi hardline fundamentalists did so well last year because the electorate was still afraid of the Mubaraks returning, and they wanted to put the opposition strongly in power. Now, they’ve soured to some extent on the Brotherhood, and want some law and order and economic initiatives, and may well vote in a significantly different way.

Hamdeen Sabahi is forming a labor left party, and labor flexed its muscles in the first presidential round, given him the major port city and Mediterranean province of Alexandria. Alexandria went to Mursi in this second round, but he can’t count on it in the new parliament.

The strong showing of the liberals and the authoritarian leftovers of the old regime, in provinces of the Delta and key districts of Cairo also suggests that some reformulated National Democratic Party (the old party of Hosni Mubarak) may do well in any new parliamentary elections. Could Ahmad Shafiq end up leader of a powerful bloc in the new parliament?

So not only is Mursi hemmed in by the military, he may well end up having to compromise with a more pluralist political landscape by the end of this year. Whereas he could have gotten legislation through the December, 2011 parliament easily, he may have a more uphill battle in any new parliament.

Admittedly, Mursi is now in the position, as an elected president with a clear popular mandate of about 52 percent of the vote, to maneuver against Tantawi’s constraints. But it remains to be seen whether he can succeed. Mursi on Friday gave a speech in which he rejected the Supreme Court’s dissolution of parliament, which had been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The Brotherhood line is that the court had the right to find that a third of the seats, set aside for independents, had been improperly filled by party-backed candidates. But, they say, the executive decision of what exactly to do about that should have been left to the president (e.g. instead of dissolving the whole body of parliament you could have held a do-over for that one-third of seats). Mursi also rejected the military constitutional amendments designed to constrain the president until a new constitution is written.

Among the prerogatives the military claimed was to appoint a new constituent assembly to draft the constitution. But a court-ordered process had already established a constituent assembly, which met over the weekend and insisted they are still in business. Mursi may well back them, setting the stage for one of the first and most important struggles between himself and Tantawi.

Can Mursi force the military to back down on any of these three urgent institutional issues? He certainly can put millions of protesters in the streets if it came to that. But the Brotherhood has a long game, and may well adopt a more piecemeal and less confrontational approach.

One problem for Mursi is in mollifying the half of Egyptians who are absolutely terrified of him, fearing that he wants to turn their fun-loving, moderate country into a puritan, grim, Saudi Arabia. More activist women, Coptic Christians, and the secular-minded middle and upper classes are among these groups. Moreover, the hardline puritan stances he has taken would kill the Egyptian tourism industry (nobody is going on vacation to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada to wear their street clothes into the water and be deprived of so much as a beer). There are a lot of powerful economic interests in Egypt that depend on tourism, and on foreign investment. Mursi has to prove he can avoid scaring the horses, or he and his party will crash and burn even without military opposition.


Egypt: Morsy elected president of Egypt. What now?

June 25, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s official. Mohamed Morsy is the president-elect of Egypt. Finally, the Brotherhood won it. This movement that was established in 1928 by Hassan Al-Bannah has finally achieved one of its objectives. This social, economic, and political movement has endured a tremendous systematic persecution over the years. It is a movement that has gone through phases of radicalization, negotiation, moderation, armed opposition, cooptation, cooperation and finally legalized and rightful opposition, which has ultimately led the Brotherhood to the highest office of the executive in Egypt.

The secret of this movement is no secret at all. It has lasted and overcome obstacles, torture, banishment and so on because it has always had a solid popular basis. It is a movement that is rooted in the hearts of a large number of Egyptians, and it is only fair that this large number of Egyptians got to elect their candidate to the highest office in the land.

You may ask, what now? Well, the hardest, the most taxing and the most ungrateful endeavors await the Brotherhood. They have a long list of serious economic grievances to deal with. From now on, they are going to be judged on their results, not on the perseverance of their resistance and struggle. They either deliver, or they will be voted out. As they say, the hard work starts now Mr. Morsy.

This is the small clip of president Morsy acceptance speech

Joy and Jubilation in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Football: “The Fields of Athenry”, une chanson qui nous en dit plus sur l’esprit Irlandais que…

June 19, 2012 Leave a comment

“The Fields of Athenry”, when a song tells us more the Irish spirit than…

Those of you who are football fans (that is, soccer for Americans) love to watch a good game, and love the joyful environment, hysteria, and euphoria created by the fans. Well, during this European Cup of Nations–i.e., euro 2012–we have been blessed with high quality football. The Spanish team is just wonderful to watch. They are literally at another level and they have changed how football is played and conceived. However, today, i am not going to talk about football, but about football fans, in particular the Irish fans. We all heard that beautiful song they sang while Ireland was losing to Spain 4 to nothing. That song is called “The Fields of Athenry.”

“The Fields of Athenry” is an old Irish folk song set during the great Irish famine of 1840s. It’s about a man named Michael who lived in a small village called Athenry in Galway county. Because he stole some food to fed his starving family, Michael was sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, Australia. The story behind “The Fields of Athenry” could be fictional, but i would not be surprised if it were factual. The great Irish famine caused a great havoc, millions of people starved, thousands died, and pushed millions of Irish men and women to migrate to America and elsewhere to seek a better life. The great Irish famine is an integral part of the history of Ireland, and thus it is part of its folk stories and songs.

I have to be honest, I love the song. It’s a sad song with a wonderful dark and yet powerful hopeful melody. So when all Irish fans started  singing “The Fields of Athenry” in the last five minutes of the game against Spain while their beloved team was down 4 to nothing, down on its knees with no hope of a possible come back, listening to that song permeating the walls of the stadium and traveling all the way from Gdańsk, Poland, to invade every living-room in the world, that said a lot of about the Irish spirit than all anthropological and sociological studies combined. See, “The Fields of Athenry” is a song of sorrow and sadness and injustice. It is also a song that is full of hope and pride and its melody literally gives you goosebumps. It’s a song that said a lot about the Irish people and those of us who vibrate with its melody and lyrics.  It says that no matter how hard we fall, we will always rise up.

So, without further do, here is “The Fields of Athenry” as it was sung during the Ireland v. Spain game.

And here is “The Fields of Athenry” performed by the famous folk band, The Dubliners.

Here are the lyrics:

The Fields of Athenry
By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Micheal they are taking you away
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matter Mary when your free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity.Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.By a lonely harbor wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

Egypte: Pourquoi les généraux ont fait pression sur le juge pour dissoudre le Parlement?

June 18, 2012 6 comments

Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole

Did the Egyptian Generals make their Coup because of a Conspiracy Theory?

Posted on 06/17/2012 by Juan

The initial reaction of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party to the high court decision dissolving parliament had been acquiescence. On Sunday, they got a bit more active, arguing that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) did not have the right to dissolve parliament despite the court ruling (i.e. that it wasn’t the body with legal standing to do so). They also argued that the dissolution must be put to a popular referendum, since it voided the vote of millions of Egyptians.

All of this raises the question of why the Mubarak-appointed judiciary backed by SCAF moved against the parliament, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t believe that the SCAF coup was based on a rational calculation. Rather, I think the generals see the world as a conspiracy against them, and that the basis for their action was likely irrational.

Gen. Omar Suleiman addressed a letter to the Egyptian people Saturday, urging them to vote in the elections but implicitly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood as arrogant and overbearing, and suggesting that you might hear them now talking about cooperating with everyone, but alleging that such talk is merely manipulative. Suleiman is a former head of military intelligence and was vice president in the last Mubarak government. He had wanted to run for president but was disqualified by the courts on the grounds that he hadn’t gathered enough petition signatures.

When I was in Cairo in May, a reporter told me that Suleiman gave a talk at the al-Ahram Center in which he alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing to develop a violent paramilitary capability. Generals such as he view the Brotherhood as not very different from al-Qaeda and as potentially violent, even though the organization gave up violence in the 1970s and has been disciplined about only using civil means to gain power ever since.

It also seems clear that the generals have a conspiracy theory that the United States is somehow behind the Jan. 25, 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, and that Washington is secretly funding the leftist youth groups that spearheaded the big demonstrations then and since. That is why they keep harassing foreigners and journalists who seem too interested in Egyptian politics, and why they aired commercials recently discouraging Egyptians from speaking to foreigners.

Only a conspiracy theorist could simultaneously hold that the Muslim Brotherhood is a theocratic cabal with paramilitary aspirations and that the US is supporting it and other revolutionary forces.

Another alleged foreign player in Egypt is Qatar, which Egyptians see as a supporter and funder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Mufti or chief Muslim legal adviser of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, on Sunday riposted to an attack on him by the Muslim televangelist at al-Jazeerah Arabic, Yousuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi had blasted Gomaa for saying he was neutral in the presidential contest. Qaradawi insisted that all clerics had to come out for Muhammad Mursi, the Brotherhood candidate. (Actually using the pulpit to promote a partisan candidate is illegal in Egypt). Gomaa implied that Qaradawi is after personal glory and thinks he is a real Muslim while others are ersatz.

The subtext here is that many Egyptians see Qaradawi as a Muslim Brotherhood icon supported by the Qatari government. One Egyptian told me that when Qaradawi showed up in Tahrir Square in Feb. 2011 during the attempt overthrow Hosni Mubarak, it reminded him of Vladimir Lenin showing up in Russia after the initial revolution. Of course, Lenin later overthrew the parliamentary regime that briefly emerged, making Russia a communist dictatorship in the October Revolution of 1917. My friend was wondering if Qaradawi hoped to play Lenin in subverting a democratic revolution and putting in power an ideological one-party state.

Libye: Dr. Juan Cole, un témoignage direct de la Libye. Il est allé. Il a vu. Il raconte

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr. Cole was in Libya. So, I am tempted to use the cliché and say that he went, he saw, and he is recounting what he witnessed. So, without further ado, here is a good analysis from Dr. Cole from Libya

Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole.

Despite Airport Incident, Henry Kissinger is Wrong about Libya

Posted on 06/05/2012 by Juan

I spent May 27 through June 3 in Libya, and flew out of Tripoli airport to Cairo a day before a small Tarhouna militia came there to demonstrate against the disappearance of its leader. Despite that close call, I came back optimistic about Libya over-all. The Tarhouna demonstration was dealt with efficiently by the new Libyan army, which took control of the airport weeks ago, and there is every reason to believe that it will reopen shortly. When I flew in and out of the Tripoli airport, there were no militiamen there, just regular army and police (who have distinctive red-marked vehicles). There are also now regular flights from Cairo, e.g., to provincial cities like Misrata.

There is a kind of black legend about Libya, that it has become a failed state and is a mess, that there are armed militiamen everywhere, that everybody is a secessionist, that the transitional government is not doing anything, that people of subsaharan African heritage are bothered in the streets, etc., etc. The black legend is promoted in part by remnants of the Qaddafi regime and his admirers in the West, in part by overly anxious middle class Libyans navigating an admittedly difficult transition, in part by media editors looking for a dramatic story.

Henry Kissinger, in his recent op-ed against intervention in Syria, listed the erasure of the Libyan state as an argument against such interventions. I read the allegation with disbelief. Libya is not like Somalia! It isn’t even like Yemen. (The Libyans I talked to about Yemen sympathized with the country’s problems but were astonished to hear that some Western observers looked a their situations as similar!)

So imagine my surprise on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children’s carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 pm, that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.

As someone who has lived in conflict situations, I take as a very serious gauge of security whether shops are open and how late they stay open. Jewelry shops in particular are easily looted, and the loot is light and easy to fence. But in Tripoli there was loads of gold in rows of jewelry shops, along with clothing stores newly stocked with Italian fashions. Shopkeepers I interviewed were fully stocked, confident and glad to finally be rid of Qaddafi’s erratic governance, under which they were never sure if they would make a profit because policies changed frequently.

I caught a little celebration by recently graduated Libyan police at Martyr’s Square in Tripoli last week:

And here is a little set of carnival rides near Martyr’s Square in the capital:

Children’s Rides in Tripoli, Libya, June 2012

And, shopping:

Shopping in Tripoli

Life is pretty normal. I talked to a Libyan of African heritage who had worked in Germany 14 years and recently had returned. He said he is *much* happier in Libya, even though he is working two jobs (one of them teaching Arabic). A friend of mine is organizing a music festival in the capital. People are gearing up for the election of the National Congress, which will draft a new constitution and gradually create a new government.

Cities unhappy with the foot-dragging of the transitional national government have simply staged their own municipal elections. Benghazi just held its successfully, and Misrata did this months ago. I met the husband of a newly-minted female city council member in Benghazi; she was the number one vote-getter among the candidates that ran, and may chair the council. The municipal governments have the legitimacy of the ballot box and are beginning to address local problems.

Campaigning in Benghazi, May 2012

So if you aren’t in danger of being mugged at night in Tripoli or Benghazi, are there other problems? Sure, loads of them. While I was there the dock workers went on strike at Tripoli to complain about the poor management of the port. Then, in an oil state, money flows to municipalities rather than cities raising money through taxes, and the transitional government still isn’t very good about remitting the money. There is a human rights situation that needs to be addressed in the small town of Tawergha, the militias of which committed war crimes on behalf of Gaddafi; Tawergha has been cleared of its inhabitants, and they need to be allowed to return to their homes. And while security on the whole is fine for individuals in the big northern cities, it probably is still not entirely satisfactory for new investors bringing in expensive equipment to places like Benghazi (though BP has decided to get back into Libya). You have occasional moments of militia protest like the one yesterday at the airport in Tripoli.

But I was struck at the air of normality everywhere I went, and by the obvious comfort people had in circulating, selling and going about their lives. There are no bombings, there is no civil war, there is no serious secessionism. One man told me that the biggest change is that people are no longer afraid. They had been captive of the revolutionary committees and the secret police. And that end of political fear, the Libyans I talked to insisted, made the uncertainties of this transitional period all worthwhile.

I went to Libya expecting to find people nervous about going out, expecting to find a lot of shops shuttered, and expecting to be stopped at militia checkpoints (which was common in Beirut in the late 1970s when I lived there in the first years of the Civil War). Maybe such things exist in smaller provincial cities that I didn’t visit, like Gadames in the South. I don’t know. In the urban north, I found a society actively reconstructing itself where people clearly were going about their ordinary lives, where stores were open and people were sitting in sidewalk cafes, where there were no militiamen on the streets, no checkpoints, and where there were actually traffic cops directing traffic.

So while I wouldn’t want to minimize what difficulties remain, and while I am aware that a week on the ground won’t reveal all the society’s problems, I can say with certainty that the image found in the Western press of the place is far more negative than what I saw with my own eyes and what I heard from locals in Arabic-language conversations.

And I can say categorically that Henry Kissinger is wrong about Libya.