Egypt’s Martial Media, Ctd

by Brendan James

Joshua Hersh notes that the creeping censorship of the Egyptian press post-coup is actually “self-censorship, growing out of an instinct for conformity”:

In the final years of the Hosni Mubarak era, private television networks and newspapers had opened the door to critical coverage of the regime; their encouragement and reporting helped pave the way for the revolution. There was hope that with a toppled regime might also come a truly independent press, one of the few institutions that could steer the country as it tumbled through a tumultuous post-revolutionary era.

But now, when the official state-run television channel puts a banner reading “Egypt Fighting Terrorism” in the corner of its screen (referring, of course, to the Brotherhood), the private networks do so as well. Over the weekend, the privately owned OnTV treated viewers to a highlight reel of the police clearing the Brotherhood sit-in, set gloriously to the soundtrack of “Rocky.”

This was the only coverage of the event many of those watching would have seen; local newspapers and television stations give no information about the number of Brotherhood dead, and have never shown images of them. And when reports broke on Wednesday that the former dictator Hosni Mubarak might be imminently released from prison, the local media took hours to mention the news. In the interim, they covered the traffic.

Capturing Egypt’s Killings

by Patrick Appel

Max Fisher has an interview with Egyptian photographer Mosa’ab Elshamy. He reflects on “how significant events really end up taking seconds”:

As a photographer you always have to keep the shutter on — we call it the burst mode. I have full sequences, and sometimes it starts with somebody standing, but in the sixth or seventh photo, he’s got a bullet through his head, and it all took less than a second.

The consequences of that moment, of this guy getting shot or avoiding a bullet that killed someone else — it’s a very significant thing, and more often that’s becoming lost. I try to focus on that in my pictures, I try to include as few people as possible; just a man sitting with a killed friend of his, or a mother mourning next to a daughter. It’s a very individual act, one person killing another person.

Check out a Flickr gallery of Elshamy’s work here.

All Eyes On Egypt

by Brendan James


Madawi Al-Rasheed observes how the Saudi theocracy is keeping its own Islamist opposition in order as Egypt burns nearby. King Abdullah recently set the tone, declaring full support for the junta in Cairo:

The king’s message was clear: zero tolerance for all those who use Islam to pursue political agendas, sort of an oxymoron in the Saudi context as the state itself had been manipulating, co-opting, and promoting Islam for agendas that are nothing but political. The foundation of the state itself is a process of instrumentalizing Islam to revive the Al-Saud control of vast territories, under the pretext of purifying Arabia from blasphemy, innovation, and atheism. The Muslim Brotherhood and its likes appear to be latecomers to the project of politicizing Islam.

King Abdullah’s message, supposedly meant for Egyptians, did not go unheeded among the many Saudi Islamists who abhorred their government’s support for the Egyptian coup. Since July 3, they have turned into defenders of Morsi and the Brotherhood, issuing statements on social media condemning their own government for backing the coup.

A small group of activists launched an online petition to gather signatures against the aid that had been promised to Egypt immediately after the coup. Following the circulation of the petition, a couple of veteran activists such as Mohsin al-Awaji were briefly detained while many other Islamists remain banned from travel, most famous is Sheikh Salman al-Awdah whose television program “you have Rights” was abruptly stopped on an Islamist independent television channel. The government is carefully watching the hyperactivity of Islamists and their statements on television and online, which have so far strongly condemned the Egyptian coup and their own government’s unequivocal endorsement of General Sisi.

Michael Koplow notices that Turkey’s government is alarmed for the opposite reason, as an Islamist party supportive of the Brotherhood:

[T]he specter of crowds massing in the streets and the military overthrowing the government hits a little too close to home for Erdoğan given what he was dealing with in June and the history of Turkish military coups. Erdoğan’s biggest claim to fame is his defanging of the military, and even after demonstrating that Turkish civilian control (and undemocratic intimidation) over the army is complete with the Ergenekon verdicts a couple of weeks ago, no Turkish prime minister – and certainly no Turkish prime minister with Erdoğan’s background – is ever going to feel completely safe from the long arm of the military. Erdoğan looks at what is taking place in Egypt through a distinctly Turkish prism, and in many ways his views on the Egyptian coup are actually a complex psychological projection of his fears about his own position. …

Erdoğan sees the army removing an elected government amidst accusations of policy overreach and undemocratic behavior, and he imagines a nightmare alternate universe where the same could happen to him.

Previous Dish on the region’s reaction to Morsi’s ouster here and here.

(Photo: Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami activists march in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in Karachi, Pakistan on August 20, 2013. Supporters of Morsi announced new demonstrations as Egypt grew increasingly polarised and the death toll in four days of violence topped 750. By Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images)

What Happens If We Cut Off Egypt?

by Patrick Appel

Noah Millman is unsure:

America already has had the experience multiple times of cutting off clients who have crossed a red line of one sort or another. For example, we abandoned the Shah when he had plainly lost the support of his people. This did not win us any goodwill once the Iranian revolution brought to power a profoundly anti-American regime – because the Iranians had not forgotten America’s longstanding support of the Shah, and because the Ayatollahs had their own reasons for setting themselves up in opposition to America.

For another example, in response to Pakistan’s escalating program of nuclear weapons acquisition – and, not incidentally, in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union – beginning in 1990 the United States increasingly distanced itself from Pakistan. Over the course of the next decade, Pakistan still developed a nuclear arsenal, a generation of Pakistani officers grew up without relationships with the United States, and Pakistan became deeply involved in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. We all know what happened next.

His larger point:

On a relative basis, Egypt is much less-influential than it was fifty years ago. On an absolute basis, though, it’s a much, much bigger country. If we decide that Egypt doesn’t much matter to us, I think we can safely say that we’ve decided that the Middle East doesn’t much matter to us.

Which it well might not. But I am not shocked that the American government is reluctant to decide on the fly and under the pressure of rapidly-changing circumstances in one country to significantly reorder its priorities in this part of the world.

Does Egypt Deserve So Much Attention?

by Chas Danner

Bobby Ghosh thinks the US and international community overestimate Egypt’s importance:

Cairo is no longer the region’s cultural heart: Egypt doesn’t produce great art, music or literature. Arab TV audiences are much more likely now to be watching Turkish soap operas, Lebanese music videos and Qatari satellite news channels. Egyptian universities are now laughably bad, and the Gulf states prefer Indian, Pakistani and Filipino labor to Egyptian. Egypt’s media scene is a regional joke.

After decades of mismanagement by corrupt generals and bureaucrats, Egypt is an economic basket case. It has few valuable resources to sell the world, and its mostly impoverished people don’t have the money to buy anything from the world, either. Even the Chinese, who aren’t deterred by political instability or violence, aren’t exactly queuing up to invest in Egypt.

Ghosh adds that Egypt poses no conceivable threat to Israel, and that its political weight within the Arab world has been eclipsed by other countries like Qatar and Turkey. He thinks Egypt’s symbolic value is waning as well:

The Arab Spring was an import from Tunisia, but it once again made Egypt a laboratory of a new, powerful political idea: post-totalitarian democracy. Egypt’s size meant its democratic experiment would be watched more closely than, say, Libya’s. Alas, as we’ve seen this summer, that experiment has failed. Rather than show the way forward, Egypt is in full retreat. It now falls to Tunisia and Libya to show that the Arab Spring wasn’t simply a replay of the Prague Spring.

As for Egypt, it seems now that its main relevance in regional and global affairs is as a potential source of trouble. Its combination of instability, corruption and ineptitude makes Egypt fertile soil for radicalism and Islamist militancy.

Ghosh makes some interesting, contrarian points, but Egypt’s political influence and cultural exports aside,  I don’t think the world is going to stop paying attention anytime soon either. What happened in Egypt in 2011 was undoubtedly the emotional high point of what may have only been the first phase of the Arab Spring, and for that reason I think many around the world will remain engaged and hopeful.

Has Egypt’s Revolution Been Reversed?

by Chas Danner

Many Feared Dead As Egyptian Security Forces Clear Cairo Protest Camps

Adam Shatz believes that the counter-revolution is in full swing:

To each setback they have undergone since the overthrow of Mubarak, Egypt’s revolutionary forces have responded with the reassuring mantra: ‘revolution is a process.’ But so is counter-revolution, which seems to have prevailed for the foreseeable future. It won not only because the army and the feloul (remnants of the old regime) had superior resources at their disposal, but because they had a unified sense of their aims, something the leaderless revolutionaries conspicuously lacked. The revolution has been a ‘process’ in the manner of a 1960s happening, a meeting of different, often bickering forces that shared the stage only to go their own way after Mubarak’s overthrow. While accusing one another of betraying the revolution, both liberals and Islamists, at various intervals, tried to cut deals with the army, as if it might be a neutral force, as if the people and the army really were ‘one hand’, as people had once chanted in Tahrir Square. Neither had the ruthlessness, or the taste for blood, of Khomeini, who began to decapitate the Shah’s army as soon as he seized power. While the old regime reassembled its forces, Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution. By the time Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power on 3 July, the revolution existed mainly in their imagination.

(Photo: Feet from the bodies of supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi lie on the floor of the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Centre in the Nasr City district on August 14, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. By Ed Giles/Getty Images)

Realism Isn’t Always Realistic

by Patrick Appel

Egypt Public Opinion

Douthat makes smart points:

I think in general, the kind of realism on display in our relationship to Egypt has been a better model for dealing with problematic governments in unstable regions than some of the alternatives, from Iraq to Libya, that recent presidencies have experimented with.

But there also moments when the ground moves, and you have to take a step back and reassess whether the approach that realism seems to dictate is actually realistic. So, for instance: There is a difference between supporting a longstanding, creaking dictatorship on terms negotiated during the Cold War and supporting a second-generation junta that’s just deliberately overturned a democratic election. There is a difference between supporting a leadership, however corrupt, with a proven record of delivering relative stability and a leadership that so far is mostly delivering bloody chaos. And there’s a difference between supporting a government that’s willing to bend to your wishes at crucial moments and a government that seems intent on embarrassing you while telling the world it doesn’t need your help.

Larison adds:

When a client is engaged in behavior that seems both self-destructive and dangerous to us, it is irresponsible for the U.S. to continue the relationship as if nothing is amiss. That’s a standard that the U.S. ought to apply to all of its client relationships, but it certainly applies in the case of Egypt.

(Chart showing that the public supports cutting aid to Egypt from Pew)

The Bodies Pile Up In Egypt

by Chas Danner

Friday night, Egyptian security forces laid siege to Cairo’s al-Fath mosque, where pro-Morsi protesters had been holding up after Wednesday’s massacre and Friday’s violence, which killed at least 173 people. Once the mosque complex was cleared, as many as 1,000 protesters were arrested. Yesterday, another 38 Morsi supporters were killed while in police custody, apparently suffocated by tear-gas inhalation under circumstances which remain unclear. Then today, 25 off-duty police officers were found executed on the side of a road in Sinai, as is purported to be seen in the tweet above. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is certain the chaos will continue:

As Egypt plunges headfirst into a deadly downward spiral with no end in sight, many of its citizens are baying for still more blood. Both sides leading the conflict, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, are playing a zero-sum game, based on a false binary demanding that Egyptians choose one or the other. Both are defined by hierarchy, patriarchy, secrecy, mendacity and a blinding sense of their own superiority. Both are juggernauts in the Egyptian body politic that have heedlessly clawed away at Egypt’s social fabric in their struggle for power, proving time and again that their own political and economic interests trump all. …

Today, many of the revolutionaries who fought the country’s successive authoritarian regimes—first Mubarak, then the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, then the Muslim Brotherhood—now find themselves sitting on the sidelines, pushed out of the discourse and forced to watch as the bloodletting continues. The transformative revolutionary moment that exploded on January 25, 2011, has become a faint glimmer, in danger of being extinguished completely. “Despair is betrayal” is the mantra that has echoed throughout Egypt during the many tough times over the past two and half years. Today, it is very hard not to feel like a traitor.

Adding to the craziness, there are even reports that Mubarak will soon be released, while Morsi will face yet more charges. Elsewhere, Kristen Chick reports on the anti-Christian violence:

The Coptic Orthodox church had just opened in April after 13 years of construction, in a country where the government strictly curtails building permits for churches. Now, its elaborate dome stands above a ruined, charred interior. The walls are blackened and rubble litters the floor. A picture of Jesus is half burned, the charred edges curling where they were licked by flames.

“The religion of God is Islam,” reads graffiti sprayed in yellow on a wall of the church. Three burned out cars, one of them upside down, rest in the courtyard. Next to the gate, sprayed in black, is another phrase: “Victory or martyrdom.”

The Saint Virgin Mary church in Al Nazla is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked since Aug. 14 in a wave of violence against Christians since the brutal police crackdown on the former president’s supporters, according to Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He adds that dozens of Christian schools, other religious buildings, homes and shops have also been attacked and burned, and seven Christians killed. Police have done little to stop the attacks.

And lest anyone forget Egypt’s economy, which is still a complete mess and getting worse due to the near total cessation of tourism as well as widespread cancellation of foreign investments. Nonetheless, H.A. Hellyer thinks the country can still right itself:

The future of politics in Egypt, along with the regional and international repercussions that accompany it, directly depends on how this crisis is resolved. The same path that was open before this terrible turn of events is still open. The basic outlines of a political accommodation are still there for everyone to grasp. An interim government is unsustainable, and means for little or no accountability of anyone — and the reinstatement of Morsi is also a bad move. Fresh presidential elections under the watch of international observers are needed as soon as possible, but that is only a starting point. Consensus is key to unlocking Egypt’s deadlock — and that demands an alternative vote system for the presidency. Whoever becomes Egypt’s next civilian president must have the largest possible mandate and be best positioned within a vote system in which the winner is the first or second choice out of many candidates.

That consensus cannot be established without the full participation of all political forces in the country — and that means the Muslim Brotherhood, popular or not, must be permitted to have political representation as a group.

One piece of good news: amazingly, the unarmed man who was gunned down by security forces in the brutal video we featured on Friday, survived.

The End Of The Muslim Brotherhood?

by Chas Danner

Bassem Sabry outlines the treacherous path that lies ahead for the organization:

On one hand, the Brotherhood is faced with the combined power of an antagonistic administration, the media, the judiciary and a substantial number of people who seem to be confronting the Brotherhood in the streets out of their own volition. The Brotherhood is even facing the leaderships of the country’s top two religious institutions, the Coptic church and Al-Azhar. Most remarkably, a senior Al-Azhar leader and scholar, Dr. Ahmed Kreima, had reportedly declared that Al-Azhar’s council of Sharia scholars has deemed the Brotherhood apostates.

On the other hand, as the Brotherhood seemingly continues to lose control over its base, and and as supporters resort to open violence, their cause and any sympathies garnered are damaged, and the position of the government strengthened. The prevailing narrative in Egyptian media of an “Egypt Fighting terrorism” becomes more palatable for some than it previously seemed.

Eric Trager adds that, while the Egyptian military has been very successful in targeting the Brotherhood’s leadership, the consequences of that success may prove dire:

[The generals have] demonstrated that they understand the Brotherhood’s vulnerabilities, since the Brotherhood cannot function effectively once its top leaders have been apprehended. After all, the Brotherhood is at its core a hierarchical vanguard, in which legions of fully indoctrinated cadres are organized under a nationwide, pyramidal chain-of-command. …

Still, the military’s decapitation of the Brotherhood is a double-edged sword.

By removing the top layers of the organization, the military has made it impossible for the Brotherhood to execute a change in strategy. The military thus has no way of compelling the Brotherhood to abandon its disruptive protests and instead re-enter the political process, as the military says is its goal, because all of the top and provincial leaders who could command their cadres to change course are being removed from the scene.

Even worse, by disorganizing Egypt’s most cohesive Islamist group, the generals have turned hundreds of thousands of deeply ideological Muslim Brothers into free radicals, who will no longer listen to their typically cautious leaders.

Lynch surveys the response of other prominent Islamists across the Arab world, noting that the crackdown in Egypt may result in greater polarization between Islamist organizations and Gulf nation governments, most of whom have loudly offered their political and financial support to Egypt’s military-backed government. And then there’s the Syria angle:

These Islamist networks and personalities have been instrumental in building support and raising money for the various factions of the Syrian opposition. Now, they are prominently equating Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Suwaidan, for instance, proclaims that “the right is clearly with the revolutionaries in Syria and with those who adhere to legitimacy and reject the coup in Egypt.” What will happen if the Islamist networks which have been working to support the Syrian opposition begin to turn their fundraising and mobilizational efforts to Egypt?

Egypt’s Martial Media

by Brendan James

Sarah Carr worries about the Egyptian state controlling the press:

It looks like we are heading towards media oppression that will be worse than under 2011. There is a public appetite for it, and the security bodies have apparently been given a green light to do as they please.  Wars on terrorism rely on crude binaries: You are either with us or against us, and this is the constant message being relayed to us ([presidential advisor Mostafa] Hegazy even said during the presser yesterday that Egypt is “taking note of who is with it and who is against it”).

Laura Dean connects Egypt’s polarized media to the country’s deepening divisions:

When the army took power they shut down several Islamist channels, and since then the state and independent outlets have shown unwavering support for the army and the military-backed government. When 51 Morsi supporters were killed by security forces outside the Republican Guard, the army said they were provoked and did little to attempt to justify what was, at the very least, a disproportionate use of force. Despite the overwhelming number of dead Morsi supporters, no one in the mainstream media questioned the military’s line. …

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is not innocent of biased and faulty coverage. Following the Republican Guard killings, they used images of dead Syrian children, claiming they were Egyptians that had been killed in the shooting.

David Kenner takes note of the military’s intimidation of foreign journalists:

The official criticism of the foreign press corps has coincided with an increase in attacks on journalists as they cover events in Cairo. The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley, the Washington Post‘s Abigail Hauslohner, the Independent‘s Alastair Beach, the Wall Street Journal‘s Matt Bradley, and McClatchy‘s Nancy Youssef were all threatened by Egyptian security forces or civilians in the past several days. Brazilian journalist Hugo Bachega was also detained while covering the protests on Friday, as was Canadian filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani, whose current location remains unknown.