Archive

Archive for the ‘La Ligue Arabe’ Category

Egypt: Autopsy of a coup d’etat

July 7, 2013 7 comments

These 3 articles (from the Guardian, New York Times, and the WashingtonPost) do a good job at explaining the background of the coup d’etat conducted by the Egyptian military junta. What is clear from these 3 articles is that the military and the clan of former president Mubarak left Morsi no room for maneuvering, acting independently and freely, or to save face.

One the one hand, i understand why Morsi turned down the offer of nominating a new prime minister and a new cabinet with a transfer of all legislative prerogatives to the new PM. If Morsi had accepted that offer under duress, his presidency would have been technically over. The military and the Mubarak clan would have steamrolled him, would have turned him into a rubber stamp. And this would have alienated his base. On the other hand, I think Morsi missed an opportunity early on in his presidency–after he swept out the highest ranks of Egypt’s powerful military and installed new top brass–for taking the initiative and nominating a new PM on his own time table and taking them all by surprise. He didn’t do that. He wasn’t able to properly read the tea leaves, so to speak.

What these 3 articles (see below) show is that Morsi is not a political animal. He’s a creature of the opposition, he made his bones in a clandestine opposition movement, and he is not so much used to political wheelings and dealings, bargaining and logrolling, and compromising and turning political setbacks into victories. This is a classic feature of all leaders who come from the same background as Morsi. The only way for them to survive is to clean house completely and build their own (like Chavez did). If they don’t do that, they have to be super shrewd and conniving (like Erdogan), and that’s the art of politics. Morsi was neither, and he paid the price for that (just like Boudiaf). I also blame his advisers for not warning him of the dangers ahead or directing him to take the initiative. As the fictional character of the television show, The West Wing, Josiah Bartlet said in a dialog with the secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey, the cabinet member who stayed behind during a State of the Union address:

You got a best friend?”Is he smarter than you?” Then, That’s your chief of staff.” (click link for video)

It’s not enough to be smart as president. You need to surround yourself with advisers who are 10 times smarter than you. Ask Machiavelli and read “The Prince” and you would know the importance of a good, loyal, and smart adviser.

Mohamed Morsi’s final days – the inside story

Egypt’s first freely elected president found himself isolated and abandoned by allies as even his guards simply stepped away

  • Hamza Hendawi and Maggie Michael, Associated Press
  • guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 06.23 EDT
Mohamed Morsi

Mohamed Morsi had been at odds with virtually every institution in the country in recent months. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The army chief came to President Mohammed Morsi with a simple demand: Step down on your own.

“Over my dead body!” Morsi replied to General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Monday, two days before the army eventually ousted him after a year in office.

In the end, Egypt‘s first freely elected president found himself isolated, abandoned by allies and no one in the army or police willing to support him.

Even his Republican Guards simply stepped away as army commandos came to take him to an undisclosed defence ministry facility, according to army, security and Muslim Brotherhood officials, who gave the Associated Press an account of Morsi’s final hours in office.

The Muslim Brotherhood officials said they saw the end coming for Morsi as early as 23 June – a week before the opposition planned its first big protest. The military gave the president seven days to work out his differences with the opposition.

In recent months, Morsi had been at odds with virtually every institution in the country, including leading Muslim and Christian clerics, the judiciary, the armed forces, the police and intelligence agencies. His political opponents fuelled popular anger that Morsi was giving too much power to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, and had failed to tackle Egypt’s mounting economic problems.

There was such distrust between Morsi and the security agencies that they began withholding information from him – deploying troops and armour in cities without his knowledge.

Police also refused to protect Muslim Brotherhood offices that came under attack in the latest wave of protests.

Therefore, when Morsi was fighting for his survival, there was no one to turn to, except calling for outside help through western ambassadors and a small coterie of aides from the Brotherhood who could do little more than help him record two last-minute speeches.

In those remarks, he emotionally emphasised his electoral legitimacy – a topic that Morsi repeatedly raised in the talks with Sisi.

Early this week, during two meetings in as many days, Morsi, Sisi and Hesham Kandil, the prime minister, sat down to discuss ways out of the crisis.

But Morsi kept returning to the mandate he won in the June 2012 balloting, according to one of the officials. He said Morsi wouldn’t address the mass protests or any of the country’s most pressing problems – tenuous security, rising prices, unemployment, power cuts and traffic congestion.

A Brotherhood spokesman, Murad Ali, said the military had already decided that Morsi had to go, and Sisi would not entertain any of the concessions that the president was prepared to make.

“We were naive … We didn’t imagine betrayal would go this far,” Ali said.

“It was like, ‘either we put you in jail, or you come out and announce you are resigning,'” Ali added.

Brotherhood officials said they saw the end coming.

“We knew it was over on 23 June. Western ambassadors told us that,” said another Brotherhood spokesman. US ambassador Anne Patterson was one of the envoys, he added.

Morsi searched for allies in the army, ordering two top aides – Asaad el-Sheikh and Rifaah el-Tahtawy – to establish contact with potentially sympathetic officers in the 2nd Field Army based in Port Said and Ismailia on the Suez Canal.

The objective was to find a bargaining chip to use with Sisi, security officials with firsthand knowledge of the contacts said.

There were no signs that Morsi’s overtures had any effect, but Sisi, on learning of the contacts, took no chances. He issued directives to all unit commanders not to engage in any contacts with the presidential palace and, as a precaution, dispatched elite troops to units whose commanders had been contacted by Morsi’s aides.

The end nears

On the surface, Morsi wanted to give the impression that the government was conducting business as usual.

His offices released statements about meetings with cabinet ministers to discuss issues such as the availability of basic food items during Ramadan when Muslims feast on food after a day of dawn-to-dusk fasting. He had four cabinet ministers talk to TV reporters in the presidential palace about fuel shortages and power cuts.

The opposition had set its first mass protest for 30 June, the anniversary of his inauguration, but the demonstrations began early, and Morsi had to stop working at Ittihadiya palace on 26 June.

The next day, he and his family moved into the Cairo headquarters of the Republican Guards, an army branch that protects the president.

Morsi worked at the Qasr El Qouba palace and continued to do so until 30 June, when the Republican Guards advised him to stay put at their headquarters.

His foreign policy aide, Essam el-Haddad, telephoned western governments to put an optimistic spin on events, according to a military official. Haddad was also issuing statements in English to the foreign media, saying that the millions out on the streets did not represent all Egyptians, and that the military intervention amounted to a textbook coup.

According to the usually authoritative newspaper Al-Ahram, Morsi was offered safe passage to Turkey, Libya or elsewhere, but he declined. He also was offered immunity from prosecution if he voluntarily stepped down.

Morsi gave a speech late on Tuesday in which he vowed to stay in power and urged supporters to fight to protect his legitimacy.

Soon after, Sisi placed him under “confinement” in the Republican Guard headquarters. The next day the military’s deadline to Morsi expired. At 5am troops began deploying across major cities and the military posted videos of the movements to its Facebook page in a bid to reassure the public. Republican Guards assigned to the president and his aides walked away at midday and army commandos arrived.

There was no commotion and Morsi went quietly. That evening, Sisi announced Morsi’s removal.


In Egypt, long road to military coup

By , Published: July 5

CAIRO — Less than a year ago, then-President Mohamed Morsi swept out the highest ranks of Egypt’s powerful military and installed new top brass that many expected would be loyal to him.

The Islamist leader enjoyed a three-month honeymoon with his armed forces as a new generation of officers undertook long-delayed modernizations and appeared — for the first time — to be solidly under civilian control. But the relationship soured as Morsi’s rule increasingly challenged the core interests of the military, which functions as a major business power in Egypt in addition to its more traditional role ensuring the security and stability of the nation.

The disagreements started after Morsi’s decree, late one November night, that he had near-unlimited powers over the country and escalated as Egypt’s economy stumbled. The struggles peaked in June, when Morsi stood by twice as officials around him called for Egyptian aggression against Ethiopia and Syria, threatening to suck Egypt into conflicts that it could ill afford, former military officials said.

Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a U.S.-trained Islamist sympathizer who was Morsi’s handpicked man for the office, informed the president on June 22 that he needed to do more to unite the country. The military’s decision to step in was sealed after millions of anti-Morsi protesters took to the streets eight days later, Sisi said in a nationally televised speech announcing the takeover on Wednesday.

Now, with fighter jets performing maneuvers in the clear Cairo sky and armored personnel carriers patrolling the streets, the military is again explicitly in control of an Egypt that it led — either directly or from behind the scenes — for almost six decades before Morsi’s 368 days in power. But for all the military’s might, it appeared unable to restore peace to the streets of Egypt as clashes erupted Friday and continued into Saturday around the nation between Morsi’s supporters and his opponents, leaving at least 30 people dead, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Health.

“The dangers of Morsi’s rule have been apparent for some time now, from the decisions that he has taken and the way he managed the country,” said Talaat Mosallam, a retired major general in Egypt’s army. By June 30, he said, “it was perfectly clear that Morsi’s continuation would cause a very violent conflict between the opposition and his supporters. At that point the armed forces knew they had to move.”

Egypt’s military establishment has long held paramount power over the country, with generals turning themselves into business tycoons over the three decades that President Hosni Mubarak was in office. The army’s business holdings are shadowy and vast, estimated at anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of the economy, and top leaders socialize with each other in manicured country clubs a world away from the vast, smog-filled streets where most people scrape by on just dollars a day. Military officers had run the country since the 1952 revolution, and their leadership has long been willing to go to great lengths to ensure the stability of both their own insular society and Egypt as a whole.

“Their rhetoric has always been the same: that they are there and that they won’t allow Egypt to slip into the dark tunnel,” said Michael Hanna, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Century Foundation in New York.

‘Many governing errors’

The two events in June, in which officials close to Morsi called for aggression in Ethiopia and Syria, put new strains on an already tense relationship between the leader and a military that believed the country could ill afford to involve itself in conflict.

On June 2, politicians meeting with Morsi — unaware that they were on live television — suggested sabotaging an Ethiopian project to build a dam on the Nile by arming Ethiopian rebels, launching a campaign to boast of Egypt’s military might and finishing the job with Egyptian fighter jets. Morsi refrained from giving them explicit support, but he also said later that “all options are open” to defend Egypt’s water supply.

Then, on June 15, Morsi participated in a pro-Syrian-rebel rally at which Sunni clerics repeatedly called for “holy war” in Syria — an implicit push for sectarian violence against Shiites and Alawites. Morsi himself did not call for violence, but he spoke immediately after an ultraconservative Salafist preacher who called Shiites “infidels,” and he said nothing to distance himself from the remarks. Instead, he asserted that the Egyptian “nation, leadership and army will not abandon the Syrian people,” according to Egypt’s flagship state-run al-
Ahram newspaper.

The remarks spooked the military, several analysts said, with many top officers conditioned to be concerned about Islamist sectarianism after decades in which they had worked to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It was quite clear throughout the past year that Morsi was incompetent and there were many governing errors carried out,” said Mohamed Kadry Said, a former major general who is an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and whose remarks echo those made privately by several military officers.

Forming a new leadership

But the final straw, many analysts said, was the Sunday protests that turned millions of Morsi opponents into the streets.

“Had protests really fizzled, I’m not sure the military would have been prepared to intervene,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “It brought together the civilian opposition. For the first time they were really singing off the same hymn sheet. Suddenly everyone was together” against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now the military’s decisions will have a crucial role in shaping the weeks and months ahead, analysts say, as a fragile interim civilian government scrambles to follow a publicly announced road map and reassemble the basic components of a constitutional democracy. In the back of future leaders’ minds will be the fate of politicians who came before.

The potential for conflict is great — and it has already started, with security forces rounding up Muslim Brotherhood leaders at the same time Egypt’s new interim president was calling to include Islamist representatives in a unity government. And a conflict exists within the military’s own rhetoric, as it has struggled to balance law-and-order principles with the right to protest.

“Freedom of expression and speech is guaranteed for everyone,” a military spokesman said on the military’s Facebook page Thursday. But “the excessive use of this right . . . could represent a threat to social peace and the country’s best interest,” it said

Sharaf al-Hourani and William Booth contributed to this report.

Egypt: MILITARY COUP D’ETAT IN EGYPT–7 Immediate Consequences

July 3, 2013 1 comment

The Egyptian military has just conducted a coup d’état, thus forcing out Mohammed Al-Morsi from power. It’s useful to remind the readers that Morsi was legitimately elected in a free and fair election a year ago.

There are no justifications for this military coup, or for any military coup, or for any intervention of the military in civilian democratic governance. None whatsoever. Those who claim that Morsi mismanaged the economy (which could be a valid claim, though he found when he took over the Egyptian economy was already in the tank) or overstepped his power, or was tone deaf to the demands of the opposition do not advance solid justifications for the intervention of the military and the coup. Moreover, all these grievances are normal political grievances found in any democracy and could have been resolved and dealt with through normal democratic and legal means and mechanisms that all democracies–including the Egyptian one–provide.

Moreover, those who argue that this is not a coup d’état, but an civilian inspired intervention of the military in politics to stop Egypt from descending into anarchy and chaos cannot change the fact that Egypt’s military transferred power illegally from a legitimately elected official and placed it in the hands of an unelected and illegitimate official. This is the definition of a coup d’état. And there is no further debate about that aspect of the event.

Having said that, what are the immediate consequences of this military coup d’état in Egypt & in the Arab/Muslim world?

1-High likelihood of a civil strife and civil war

Civil unrest, and a probable civil war, is very likely and sadly almost unavoidable. The supporters of Morsi will probably protest this coup. They will organize sit-ins in parks, streets, avenues and even  mosques. The military will somehow look away for a couple of months, but sooner or later will intervene forcibly to disperse  the protesters, and that would be the spark which would ignite the first round of violence, which, sadly, wouldn’t the last one. Even if the leaders of the MB have announced that they are against and do not support violence and have denounced it repeatedly, violence is more than likely to occur. In this case, who do we blame? The military or the radical wings of the Islamist movement? It’s clear to me that the blame should go first and foremost to those who organized this coup and stole the legitimate and democratic victory of the MB. After that, the blame game starts again, and we will soon not know who did what, why, and when. Sadly, this has always been the hallmark of the cycle of violence in almost all civil wars and civil strife. But as of now, the aggrieved are the member of the MB, and the aggressors are the military. This much is clear.

2-Victory of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and defeat of the moderate one

For decades, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has been engaged in a serious and tough internal debate to convince its rank and file that democracy is a valid and a legitimate means to arrive to power and do politics. During those years, there were divisions within the movement, the radicals were forced out, outnumbered and muted, and serious fights, fatwas and religious edits were issued to justify democracy, and undermine all alternative means that were so popular in the movement back in the 1960s and 70s. Those who won that debate are the biggest losers today since this coup will provide cover, support, and justification for the rhetoric of the radicals. So, we will probably see the revival of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which has never believed that Arab/Muslim autocrats would allow an Islamist Party to win elections and exercise power.

3-U.S. will be fairly or unfairly blamed for the coup d’état

The U.S and Israel will be directly or indirectly, fairly or unfairly, blamed for this coup. Even if the U.S did not have any involvement in the coup, the fact that it did not put sufficient pressures on the Egyptian military (with whom it has great relations) will be held against it. Already all over social media networks and Internet forums pictures of a collage of Mossadegh, Salvador Allende and Morsi are floating intimating that this was a coup designed in the West (you add to that Israel) and carried out by “their stooges”, the Egyptian military.

4-Good days ahead for Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda has just gotten a fresh batch of new recruits, slogans, narrative, and material. All that material will point an accusatory finger toward the U.S and accuse the U.S (and by extension Israel) for its hypocrisy–i.e., the U.S loves democracy only when it doesn’t involve Islamist Parties–and for being anti-Islam. The “I told you so” will be the new recruiting slogan for Al-Qaeda. Members of Al-Qaeda as well as its ideology never believed and/or supported democracy and have always undermined moderate and not so moderate Islamist political parties. Probably, the biggest blow to the Al-Qaeda as an ideology was the Arab Spring and the electoral victories of moderate Islamist parties in Tunisia and Egypt. However, Al-Qaeda’s biggest victory so far was handed to it by the Egyptian military today. I have no doubt that Al-Zawahiri is celebrating and dancing in his cave right now.

5-Delegitimization of future Islamist Parties in Egypt post Morsi’s MB

All Islamist Parties that choose to take part in future elections in Egypt will have no credibility, just like all Islamist Parties in Algeria now have lost all popular credibility and legitimacy. The loss of credibility will result from 2 sources: 1) the alleged mismanagement of the economy during Morsi’s first year in office (though it is extremely unfair to blame him for the economic situation since he inherited a collapsing economy); and 2) if the MB engages in violence, and clearly calls for a violent uprising against the military or loses control over its base. This will be held against the MB and will harm its political and social brand, and might even lead to its ban.

6-Delegitimization of democracy as a valid means of governance in Egypt

This is a deadly blow to democracy in Egypt. I am afraid that it might even be a complete delegitimization of the democratic process. Regardless of all the spin that we are listening to right now and is coming from Egypt notwithstanding, democracy has died tonight in Egypt. The consequences of that is the rise of an electoral authoritarian system with a democratic veneer, but with deep layers of authoritarian rules.  The freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, freedom of association and speech are, as of now, something of the past.

7-Chilling effect on new democracies in the Arab World and Sub-Saharan Africa

This coup will have a chilling effect on all new and fledgling democratization processes in Tunisia and Libya (there is also another effect that i will develop in future posts). The military in those countries (and in Sub-Saharan democracies as well) will feel emboldened by the Egyptian example. They will feel that they can intervene at any time in the political process to shape politics in the manner they see fit. Effectively, the military has become in the Arab World a very powerful veto player in civilian democratic governance. This is the death of democracy as we know it, and the rise of electoral authoritarianism, which will last a generation or two.

Video of president Morsi’s last speech moment before he was placed under house arrest

Bibi Netanyahu’s U.N. Speech Today and the Doomsday Gap

September 28, 2012 5 comments

Today Bibi Netanyahu put on a show, a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, before the U.N. General Assembly. His performance was so over the top that it actually reminded me of George C. Scott’s performance as General “Buck” Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Good ‘Ol Bibi showed up with props and ACME-like-Bugs Bunny cartoon to alert the world to a danger that only he seems determined to eradicate in the most destructive and suicidal way. In fact, Good ‘Ol Bibi was as ridiculous and extreme as Ahmadinejad. While he was speaking, i couldn’t help myself thinking that i heard this speech before–it was like a déjà vu experience, and then it hit me: I was in fact listening to and watching Dr. Strangelove talking about the terrible Doomsday Machine and Doomsday Gap. At that point, i stopped worrying about Bibi, about his speech, about his concerns, and learned to love containment. There is something that good ‘ol Bibi needs to learn very fast: ain’t nobody on this side of the Atlantic who’s willing to start a doomsday scenario that no one knows how to end it. So Bibi, go peddle your fear-mongering and warmongering somewhere else.

Here is to Bibi Netanyahu’s U.N. Speech

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.

Egypte: les résultats de l’élection présidentielle–Mohamed Mursi vs. Ahmed Shafiq

May 25, 2012 2 comments

The MB candidate in the pole position to win the run-off

From all the news sources that i consulted today, the results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections won’t be released until Monday. The race, as the electoral commission has stated in its last press release, is too close to call.

However, early indicators derived from television network exit poll data show that Mohamed Mursi, the MB candidate, is in the lead. When Mursi entered the race, quite late, the Egyptian newspapers and television mucked him and dubbed him the Muslim Brotherhood’s “uncharismatic” candidate. Some other newspaper called him the “spare tire” candidate because the MB’s first choice candidate was disqualified by the electoral commission.

Ahmed Shafiq vs. Mohamed Mursi

However, the 60-year-old engineer conducted a very energetic campaign despite his soft-spoken voice and stands on most controversial issues. Mursi, according to the partial projections, came first in this opening round. These partial projections are also backed up by the MB tally, which showed off a remarkable and unequaled level of organization during this campaign.

Ahmed Shafiq, a former Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister, came in second position, which sets the run-off round to be of high quality between two well-qualified candidates. Moreover, the run-off (scheduled to be held on June 16 and 17) gives Egyptians a stark choice between a military man representing the past in many ways (Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last prime minister) and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and frightens others (and not only in Egypt).

According to Muslim Brotherhood sources with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling precincts, Mursi has garnered 25%, Shafiq 23%, a rival Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh 20%, and the leftist Hamdeen Sabahy 19%.

These early projections if confirmed give a strong electoral base and reservoir of voters to Mursi. There is no doubt that most of the About Fotouh’s voters will easily vote for Mursi in the run-off. However, Safiq will probably play the nationalist card and will call upon Egyptian’s high and keen sense of “the nation”. Safiq has already started casting and framing Mursi as a dangerous candidate for Egypt who will probably isolate the country with his stances and policies and will hurt Egypt with his amateurism and inexperience.  But i doubt that this electoral strategy will work. Egyptians clearly want change, and want a clean break from the past. That’s what they have been expressing for the last year or so.

Having said that, Mursi, in the recent weeks, has given plenty of material to Shafiq to work with and use it to attack him as a novice politician. Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbor has not respected the agreement–a stance that mirrors the position of most of the other candidates in the race. Talking before a large crowd this Sunday, Muris declared “We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing…If they [meaning the military and the pro-Mubarak regime crowd] take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will of the people and fiddle with security, we know who they are…we will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”

Mursi is also one of the rare candidate who has an actual campaign program, which he promoted throughout Egypt these last two months. It is called “The Renaissance Project”, an 80-page manifesto based on what Mursi calls a  “centrist understanding” of Islam.”The Renaissance Project” outlines Mursi’s and the MB’s vision on everything from fighting inflation to unemployment to forging ties with the U.S. on a more equal footing. It also envisions deeper diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey. In Mursi’s vision and speeches, an Egyptian-Turkish alliance is a goal that must be achieved. It is also the only alliance that would create a counter-power, and a strong check on the behavior of Israel, the U.S. and Iran in the region.

Calling the “The Renaissance Project” a centrist understanding of Islam is a clever way for Mursi to distance himself and his political stances from the extremist Salafists ones. In sum, this manifesto has been quite successful. Mursi turned out to be an excellent campaigner despite a very shaky start, a very shaky debate performance, and a very stern and austere speech delivery.  However, the non-Islamists, not least Christians who make up about a 10% of the population, are still unconvinced by his promises that freedoms, civil liberties, as well as religious freedoms will be safe under his leadership.

“It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were … thrown into prison. Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now…we will work together to realize their dream of implementing sharia.” Campaign speeches like this one do very little to alleviate the fears and concerns of the non-Islamists and non-Muslim minority in Egypt. He has clearly some work to do and he cannot force his agenda through once he is elected.

And now, i leave you to read a very good analysis of our friend Juan Cole. As always Juan hits the nail on the head.

Egypt’s Presidential Election: Between Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Posted on 05/25/2012 by Juan

The results of the Egyptian presidential election, held on Wednesday and Thursday, won’t be announced until Monday, say official sources in the government. In contrast, the High Electoral Commission is indicating that it will announce the results as soon as they are definitively known. Egypt is on a precipice between a relatively smooth transition and a lot of social turmoil, depending on who the front runners are.

But news is coming in as the ballots are being counted, and as I write on Friday, the race is too close to call. For profiles of the candidates, see my report earlier this week

Egyptian Voters at Polling Station (Muqattam), May 24, 2012

Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, the “Muslim liberal” candidate who had broken with the Muslim Brotherhood, can be counted out. He has conceded, and has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Mursi. He had been favored to win the election only two or three weeks ago, but his attempt to make everyone from liberals to hard line Salafi fundamentalists happy badly damaged him, since it raised the question as to what his real agenda was. I suspect that the support he garnered from some Salafi leaders, who urged their followers to vote for him instead of for Mursi, also scared away a lot of the leftists and liberals who had considered voting for him.

Abou’l-Futouh also had the effect of splitting the Muslim fundamentalist vote, depriving Mursi of a clear victory and damaging the Brotherhood’s image as a party machine juggernaut.

Early returns also suggest that another possible front-runner, Amr Moussa (former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League), has also faded and looks unlikely to be in the run-off. His constituency deserted him in favor of Ahmad Shafiq.

As I write it is mid-afternoon on Friday, and there is a reported surge for the leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. He is now said to be in second place, ahead of former Aviation Minister and Air Force General Ahmad Shafiq. Sabahi won big in Alexandria, which had been trending fundamentalist, but which is a modern Mediterranean port city with a big, organized working class, who appear to have swung to him (perhaps along with a lot of government workers and the secular middle class, along with committed revolutionaries). Al-Nil television’s correspondent is reporting as I speak that Sabahi also took Port Said, a smaller port city.

If Sabahi can maintain his narrow lead over Ahmad Shafiq, the resulting run-off will give Egyptians a choice between a leftist secularist and a Muslim fundamentalist, both of them from the opposition to Mubarak.

If Shafiq can pull back ahead of Sabahi, the resulting election would be a huge catastrophe for Egypt.

If Egyptians have to decide between Mursi and Shafiq, they’ll have a stark choice. They could give the Muslim Brotherhood two of the major branches of civilian government and risk a swift move to Islamic law and one-party dominance. They could split the ticket and support the secular Shafiq, who is very much a creature of the old regime and of the Egyptian military. In some ways he would resurrect Mubarak’s policies but will face new limitations in presidential rule by fiat. He speaks warmly of Mubarak, and would be a highly polarizing figure who would certainly provoke a whole new round of big demonstrations on the part of the New Left youth and perhaps also Muslim fundamentalists. He has ominously promised to crack down hard on “destructive demonstrations.” Although the Western politicians and business classes might favor Shafiq for surface reasons, in fact they’d be buying a whole lot of trouble if they backed him.

A Mursi-Shafiq contest would certainly result in riots and fistfights all over the country, and if Shafiq won it would likely throw the country into substantial instability (an ironic outcome since the people voting for Shafiq in the big cities and the countryside are looking for a law and order candidate who can fight a slight rise in crime). It seems to me that the resulting demonstrations and unrest would risk further damaging Egypt’s economy.

A Mursi-Sabahi contest, in contrast, will be much smoother, though still contentious. Sabahi is probably acceptable to most of the New Left revolutionaries, though they were ambivalent about him because of his Nasserist commitments (raising questions about his dedication to parliamentary democracy). Still, he was a steadfast foe of Mubarak, and was involved in the key Kifaya! (enough) movement of 2004 and after, which laid the foundations for the revolution. As a critic of imperialism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, he might have some support from some of the Muslim fundamentalists who focus on that issue. And his insistence on social justice obviously has wide appeal across ideological groups.

Egyptian voters in a Mursi-Sabahi match-up would have a real choice between a pluralistic system and a return to virtually one-party rule. They’d have a choice between Muslim Brotherhood emphasis on private property/Turkish-style Neoliberalism and a more socialist policy (a la Hollande in France, perhaps). And in any case, both candidates would have a claim on opposition to the old Mubarak regime, and so an extreme polarization and “a further revolution”, as promised by the New Left, could be avoided.

The final results will therefore be highly consequential for Egypt, and for US and Israeli foreign policy. Those rushing to declare the two run-off winners today, though, are probably jumping the gun, given the very small spread among the front-runners after Mursi.

Egypte: Le comportement électoral et l’idéologie

May 23, 2012 1 comment

A great post by our friend Juan Cole, and as always he nailed it.

Courtesy of Juan Cole

Are Egyptians voting Ideologically?

Posted on 05/23/2012 by Juan

Interpreting political behavior in a brand spanking new democracy such as Egypt is trying to become is littered with pitfalls, and these are multiplied when dealing with the Middle East.

The Muslim world, and especially the Arab world, has been depicted by some Western historians and social scientists as exceptionally impervious to democratic ideals and practices. Much of this Muslim or Arab exceptionalism derives from twentieth-century attempts to justify Western imperialism (rule over the Muslims for their own good by Europeans). Some of it is also rooted in apologetics for the Israel project, which is opposed by most Arabs and Muslims; if there is something wrong with the latter, then their complaints about the displacement and denationalization of the Palestinians can be dismissed. (Ironically, Israel under the Revisionist Likud Party is becoming less and less democratic itself, and many of the fundamentalist Jewish Haredim, now 8% of the population and growing, are no more democratic than the Saudi Wahhabis; so many of the arguments about “Islam” and Muslims and exceptionalism that had been made in the past increasingly could be applied to Israel itself).

The exceptionalism argument is ahistorical and peculiarly lacking in a comparative perspective. There is a major argument in modern German history about whether Germany was peculiar in lacking a national business class and in clinging to authoritarianism, save for the brief Weimar period, until the end of WW II. But then what of Spain? Italy? Austria? Hungary? (We are still not sure about Hungary, and Berlusconi’s Italy rather fell in the rankings). Which European countries were there, exactly, that did not have democracy imposed on them from the outside?

Then there are the other exceptionalisms. Most people who speak Chinese still live under relatively authoritarian governments, with Taiwan the major example of a Sinophone people’s transition toward parliamentary rule with regular contested elections. But just as being Muslim cannot possibly be related to people’s receptivity to democracy, neither can speaking Chinese.

There is something else going on. Most likely it has to do with the way the peasants of Egypt and Algeria made the transition to urban modernity, and likewise the Chinese. Some of the lack of democracy even derives from Western intervention against it (colonial regimes were poor teachers of democratic habits, and parliamentary regimes were overthrown by the West via coups from time to time, rather setting things back).

As for why Egyptians vote as they do, like any electorate they are complicated and even individual voters could go either way often. Egyptians did not give a majority to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis because a majority of them is pious (and 24% of Egyptians are definitely not hard line fundamentalists of the Salafi sort!) My interviewing suggests that in the parliamentary elections they wanted parties that a) were not connected to the corrupt and hated Hosni Mubarak and b) would be honest and transparent and avoid stealing from them or dunning them constantly for bribes. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis fit those bills. In contrast, a lot of the left had its roots in Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s progressive thought, and they were initially tainted with the brush of the longstanding military regime (Nasser was a leader of the Young Officers who made the 1952 coup, to which the current military junta is the heir).

But the Muslim Brotherhood made several major errors. They promised not to put up a candidate for president, to reassure people they weren’t trying to recreate Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, i.e. a one-party state. But then they reneged and put up Khairat al-Shater, a businessman with corruption convictions. They also tried to stack the committee charged with writing the constitution with their own members, causing even other Muslim forces to withdraw in disgust. And, they haven’t been good about reestablishing security, providing services, or bringing back the tourist trade.

As for the Salafis, they unwisely began talking about banning beer, and if there is one thing the Egyptian electorate is sure about it is that they like beer.

Ironically, you meet lots of Egyptian men with beards and prayer beads who are leftists, and clean-shaven, dapper men who are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. You suspect that they could fairly easily change their minds.

You have to think about what people are voting against, not just what they seem to be voting for. Last fall they were voting against the fulul, the remnants of Mubarak’s corrupt regime. This May, some large number of Egyptians are telling pollsters that they will be voting against a Muslim Brotherhood one-party state. They will be voting against Salafi puritanism. It is not that the Muslim fundamentalist candidate cannot win, but he now has high negatives to overcome.

Egyptian politics in this miraculous year is all about the rebound, not about the straight throw.