Egypt On The Brink

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Laura Dean reports from Cairo:

There is shooting tonight at Cairo University, where the Health Ministry reports that four people have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of the President. In a speech this evening, Morsi was defiant, made no concessions, and included such gems as “my iron will [to remain in office?] is with my people and is unshaken.” To most people, 14 million people in the streets might seem like a difficult thing to ignore. Apparently not to President Morsi, however.

We should know a lot more by the end of tomorrow.

Nancy Youssef thinks that Morsi’s speech is “likely to be read as a call to arms by thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members who’ve been forming their own security force, armed with sticks, helmets and Molotov cocktails.” Josh Marshall notes the Egyptian military’s latest statement:

SCAF, which amounts to the top leadership of the Egyptian army, has issued a statement on its Facebook page saying in so many words it’s ready to fight to the death.

Face Of The Day

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An Egyptian opposition protester holds up the head of a sheep as tens of thousands gather outside the Presidential Palace calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on July 2, 2013. Opponents of Morsi poured onto the streets of Cairo to press their demand that he step down after the Islamist president snubbed an ultimatum from the army to agree to the “people’s demands” or face an imposed solution. By Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images. Update from a reader:

I’m not sure if you’re aware of the symbolism behind the sheep’s head. Brotherhood members and their supporters are perjoratively referred to as “kherfan” or “sheep” by their opponents, partly due to the Brotherhood doctrine of “el-samaa’ weltaa’a”, which very loosely translated means “submission to the will of the leadership”.

The Split In Egyptian Politics

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vux_-vJvHww]

Last week, Nathan Brown declared that “Egyptian politics now seems to operate in two parallel universes”:

On the one side is a simple story of a president and ruling political party that suffered years of oppression but were finally rewarded by the Egyptian people for their endurance, dedication, and honesty. Endowed with clear democratic and constitutional legitimacy — and brought to power on the heels of a popular uprising that his movement helped lead — President Morsi suddenly faces an array of forces who wish to rewrite the rules of the political game in a blatant attempt to overthrow the express will of the people. Stopping at nothing (the opposition uses false charges, accepts foreign assistance, uses shrill and incendiary rhetoric, refuses dialogue, and does not even stop at violating common decency by demonstrating in underwear), a collection of rude youth, power-hungry secular politicians, old regime elements, and scheming security services have conspired to declare, in effect, that Egyptians must be called to the ballot box only on condition that they reject Islamists (and if they make a mistake, they must be summoned back again).

On the other side is an equally simple story of a president who narrowly won office promising competence, inclusiveness, and conciliation but who delivered instead inflation, unemployment, power outages, fuel shortages, autocracy, sectarianism, and divisive rhetoric. Offering meaningless dialogues without the hint of concessions, his erstwhile allies have all abandoned him. And as the ranks of his critics have grown to the extent that they clearly have come to speak for the vast majority of Egyptians, the society has quite simply withdrawn confidence in him as president. Rather than following the text of a constitution that the president’s party rammed through for its own purposes — a constitution that would force the country through three more years of deterioration and despair — Morsi should leave office now and allow the people to pick new leadership.

(Hat tip: Judis)

Morsi Hides Behind Obama

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Juan Cole notes that at “at 2 am Tuesday, President Morsi came on t.v. and rejected the military communique, saying that the president had not been consulted before it was issued and implying that it was an officers’ rebellion against the authority of the elected president”:

Morsi also quoted a conversation he had Monday with President Obama, saying the president assured him that he was committed to the elected, legitimate government (i.e. Morsi). But Obama appears instead to have said that he is committed to the democratic process in Egypt but not siding with any particular party or group. That is, Morsi misrepresented Obama’s call as support for himself. In defying the military ultimatum, the Muslim Brotherhood appears convinced that the US would not permit the officers to make a coup, and that the officers would not dare do so without a US green light. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey called Brig. Gen. al-Sisi on Monday, but we do not know the substance of the call.

Morsi’s misrepresentation of Obama will inflame anti-American opinion further in Egypt, where the opposition generally believes that the US is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt for its own nefarious reasons.

Laura Rozen provides the White House’s version of Obama’s call with Morsi. I find the prospect of a democratically elected government in Egypt being prematurely overthrown by a popular military coup as deeply ominous for Egypt’s democratic future. There is no opposition movement capable of replacing Morsi, or producing any better results for Egyptians. But even if there were, they should organize for the next election, not side with the forces of SCAF. Reza Aslan puts it best:

Egypt may soon return to its pre-Arab Spring status quo: an oppressive police state that knows how to keep the streets calm. The only difference, of course, is that it will presumably be General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi maintaining order, rather than Hosni Mubarak, the country’s erstwhile strongman.

So a few years from now, when President-for-Life Al-Sisi is sworn into office, and the Muslim Brotherhood, radicalized by the belief that they were unlawfully thrown out of power, decide to reject politics and return to violence, we may see history repeating itself with equally devastating consequences.

(Photo: Egyptian protesters walk past graffiti against President Mohamed Morsi on the wall of the presidential palace in Cairo on July 1, 2013. By Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

Did Egypt’s Military Ever Stop Ruling?

That’s Judis’s theory:

I want to reiterate something that I wrote two-and-a-half years ago about the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. I wrote at the time that it was a mistake to describe Mubarak’s ouster a “revolution.”  My argument, drawn from Max Weber and Lenin, is that the possession of state power requires a monopoly over the use of force. In Egypt, in the wake of the 1952 coup that brought Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of officers to power, the military gradually fashioned a state apparatus in which they would not formally govern, but would function as a ruling class—enjoying not merely control over the country’s armed forces, but also over a large part of its economy.

In State and Revolution, Lenin wrote that a revolution would have to “smash the state.” That was a vivid way of saying that it would have to alter fundamentally the terms of state power. That did not happen in Egypt, where the military itself eased Mubarak out of power.

Jeff Martini thinks the military taking direct control would require buy-in from Islamists:

Together, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists won nearly three quarters of parliamentary seats in the 2011-2012 election. Although the lower house of parliament has since been dissolved over a technicality in the electoral law, those results and Morsi’s own 2012 victory cannot be dismissed out of hand.

An intervention absent Islamist support would risk an Algeria-like scenario, in which the military’s overturning of an Islamist electoral victory led to a civil war that embroiled the country throughout the 1990s. To mitigate against the possibility of a violent response, the military could try to coax the Muslim Brotherhood to the bargaining table with the opposition. Failing that, it could try reach out to Islamists from outside the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Salafists, or breakaway groups, such as the Strong Egypt and Center parties.

Nour Youssef’s thoughts on military rule:

Shortly after the ultimatum was delivered, pictures of the “blue bra girl” resurfaced on Facebook with the caption: “Remember this?”

“The SCAF conducted virginity tests, they dragged, beat up and killed people, this (meaning the intervention) should not be cause for celebration,” according to my brother. His objection to toppling an elected president aside, he believes, along with the presumed majority of people, that no one other than the SCAF can run the country, given the continued lack of alternative leadership. “(The SCAF) is a necessary evil,” he concluded, after cursing out the people for being deserving better, the president and the SCAF for not being better.

Laura Dean chats with protesters in Cairo:

The “what next” question remains unanswered and each time I ask anyone tonight, I get a different answer. And no answer at all to the question of “who?”

A Military Coup In Egypt?

Gideon Lichfield suspects the protesters are being played and that a “Morsi ouster might not be another victory for the people, but for the military”:

When it became clear that popular support for Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood was overwhelming, the SCAF allowed him to win but passed a series of sweeping measures just before he took office to consolidate its own power and weaken the office of the president. Morsi’s presidency since then has been a power struggle on two fronts, fighting the SCAF with one hand and repressing liberal, anti-Islamist forces with the other.

These two enemies of Morsi may now have found common cause temporarily. And some liberals, like the journalist Mona Eltahawy, believe this uprising will be the real thing—the event that finally tips the balance of power over to the forces of democracy. But there’s another interpretation: The pro-democracy activists are serving as the army’s tool. Once it is back in power, the SCAF will be in no hurry to liberalize; indeed, it is likely to only step up the repression against the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains popular with a sizable chunk of the people.

Steven A. Cook explains the military’s long game:

[T]he military has been at great pains to emphasize that it “respects the presidential authority,” despite whatever problems it detects and concerns it harbors.  All this helps to create the impression that the officers are the ultimate nationalists who only have Egypt’s interests in mind.

This brings one back to the flag-dropping choppers.  It is plausible that the pilots and crews were acting of their own volition, but it seems unlikely.  Those helicopters were dispatched specifically to Tahrir Square.  Could there be any better way to signal to the Egyptian people that the armed forces is with them and, in turn, burnish their prestige and influence after the searing eighteen month transition than to send flags to people waiting in “Liberation Square” below?  As any number of analysts have pointed out, this morning General al Sisi is the most powerful man in Egypt.  To rule, but not govern….

H.A. Hellyer’s view of the situation:

The Egyptian military is not, and never has been, an ideological institution. Its main concerns have been to maintain its independence vis-à-vis the rest of the state, and to ensure the stability of Egypt — without which it would be forced to involve itself in the mess of governing tens of millions of Egyptians. That is what was behind its move to depose Hosni Mubarak in 2011, whose continued presence was perceived as a liability in maintaining stability. It is also what was behind its self-reconstitution in 2012, retiring Tantawi and taking itself out of governing Egypt. Today, it continues in the same pattern. The military was fervently hoping that President Morsi would prove up to the challenge of governing Egypt, precisely so that it would not have to deal with any mess arising from his failure. The statement today can be summed up, perhaps a bit unkindly, as: “We’ve chosen no-one’s side but our own in this mess, and we’re rather annoyed that you (the political elite) could not sort out things on your own.”

Cairo-based journalist Patrick Galey vents:

I believe that if you gave two shits about the poor people who gave their lives for the revolution, who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that Egyptians could be free to choose their own leaders, you wouldn’t try to mitigate or explain away a return to military rule – you’d rage against it.

What I remember, moreover, is the people who were killed, tortured and terrorised under SCAF. I remember the blood and the injustice and the horrible, terrifying lack of accountability that comes with autocratic rule. I remember the police blinding people outside the Interior Ministry, when – forget birdshot and teargas – fucking bullets were felling people. I remember seeing the grainy video, recorded on a cellphone of a Masri fan in Port Said, of an Ahly fan being physically beaten to death as the police stood and watched.

Now some people are carrying the police on their shoulders. I believe that is a betrayal.

Can Egypt’s Economy Be Saved?

Caroline Freund encourages Egypt to institute economic reforms:

The right approach to Egypt’s economic problems would be to force it to bite the economic reform bullet now by ending wasteful expenditures, especially fuel subsidies. These cost almost half of government revenue at a time when Egypt’s budget deficit is more than 10 percent of gross domestic product and growing, and they encourage energy consumption, especially among wealthier Egyptians, while doing little to help the most vulnerable. Smart budget rebalancing would cut the subsidies, add more to the social safety net for the poor, and reduce the fiscal deficit.

Egyptians Protest The US Ambassador

Fisher notices that “Egyptians demonstrating Sunday against President Mohamed Morsi’s first year in office waved signs singling out U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, telling her to “get out” and accusing her of clandestinely aiding Morsi’s Islamist government”:

[T]he criticism seems most rooted in a perception that Patterson, and thus the United States, are helping to prop up Morsi even at the expense of Egyptian democracy. Partly this is rooted in recent history: the U.S. worked closely with Mubarak’s government for years, at times pressing him for reform but more often looking the other way. But it also appears to comes from a misunderstanding of Patterson’s role in Egypt. When she refuses to more roundly criticize Morsi in public comments, that’s perceived as backing him. But the United States has ongoing business with Egypt, after all, and letting relations sour might satisfy protesters’ desires to punish Morsi, but would be unlikely to help.

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