Thursday, July 04, 2013

Real-time revolution in Egypt

We're celebrating the birthday of our American Revolution today. In Egypt, they're experiencing one real-time.

Tamarrud is the movement, often referred to as a youth movement, that was the main organizer of the massive protests against now-ousted elected Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi. Juan Cole uses "Rebellion" as the English translation for the name Tamarrud. Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was a high-profile player in the ousting of the elected government, which was headed by the Muslim Brotherhood. (The spelling of Anglicized Arabic names often varies depending on the English-language source, especially with relatively new figures in the news, e.g., Tamarrud/Tamarod.)

Coup in Egypt generate mixed reactions Aljazeera English 07/04/2013:

Stephen Walt posts this message dated 06/30/2013 (last Friday) from "a friend in Cairo who prefers to remain anonymous" who identifies himself as a political scientist (Letter from Cairo Foreign Policy 07/02/2013), who wrote before the coup:

The stated scenario (some might call fantasy) of many opposing the current government is a temporary military takeover that cleans out the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and sets the stage for a temporary caretaker government (the media has reported on a council of three), a rewriting of the Constitution, the election of a house of representatives (their lower house of parliament), and then the presidential election. This scenario has enormous support among the population that opposes the current government. For them, this is not a coup d'etat -- it is how Egypt can save itself. For the rest of Egypt, who voted for and still support President Morsy (slightly dwindling in the delta area but still at around 43 percent overall), this would be an undoing of a legitimate political process of elections -- and one that those in the United States and Europe endorse and hold as the standard for the transfer of power.
This is the broad public posture being taken by the coup leaders immediately after Morsi's ouster.

The invaluable Robert Fisk gives his crusty take on the supposed non-coup coup in When is a military coup not a military coup? When it happens in Egypt, apparently The Independent 07/04/2013:

For the first time in the history of the world, a coup is not a coup. The army take over, depose and imprison the democratically elected president, suspend the constitution, arrest the usual suspects, close down television stations and mass their armour in the streets of the capital. But the word 'coup' does not – and cannot – cross the lips of the Blessed Barack Obama. Nor does the hopeless UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon dare to utter such an offensive word. It’s not as if Obama doesn't know what's going on. Snipers in Cairo killed 15 Egyptians this week from a rooftop of the very university in which Obama made his 'reach-out' speech to the Muslim world in 2009.

Is this reticence because millions of Egyptians demanded just such a coup – they didn’t call it that, of course – and thus became the first massed people in the world to demand a coup prior to the actual coup taking place? Is it because Obama fears that to acknowledge it's a coup would force the US to impose sanctions on the most important Arab nation at peace with Israel? Or because the men who staged the coup might forever lose their 1.5 billion subvention from the US – rather than suffer a mere delay -- if they were told they'd actually carried out a coup.
He also makes these useful comparisons:

... Morsi was indeed elected in a real, Western-approved election. Sure, he won only 51 per cent -- or 52 per cent -- of the vote.

But did George W. Bush really win his first presidential election? Morsi certainly won a greater share of the popular vote than David Cameron. We can say that Morsi lost his mandate when he no longer honoured his majority vote by serving the majority of Egyptians. But does that mean that European armies must take over their countries whenever European prime ministers fall below 50 per cent in their public opinion polls? And by the way, are the Muslim Brotherhood to be allowed to participate in the next Egyptian presidential elections? Or will they be banned? And if they participate, what will happen if their candidate wins again?
As Fisk makes clear in that column itself, he's not defending the approach of Morsi and the Brothers (as the Muslim Brotherhood is known for short). "He treated his Muslim Brotherhood mates as masters rather than servants of the people, showed no interest in protecting Egypt’s Christian minority, and then enraged the Egyptian army by attending a Brotherhood meeting at which Egyptians were asked to join the holy war in Syria to kill Shiites and overthrow Bashar al-Assad's regime." So the latest turn in the Egyptian revolution is in part a spillover effect of the Syrian civil war.

Juan Cole in Egypt's "Revocouption" and the future of Democracy on the Nile Informed Comment 07/04/2013 reminds us how risky the current situation in Egypt is. Revolutions are very messy events, messier than normal politics. If the only legitimate goal of war is to establish a better peace, a revolution is a means to establish a new and hopefully better boring normal routine. (We'll talk about "permanent revolution" another time.) And Cole notes that the coup in Egypt does have some striking features not present in your run-of-the-mill coup d'tat:

In fact, there certainly was a popular revolutionary element to the events, with literally millions of protesters coming out on Sunday and after, in the biggest demonstrations in Egyptian history. You can’t dismiss that as merely a coup d’etat from on top by a handful of officers.

But on Wednesday there was also a military coup, provoked by the officer corps’ increasing dissatisfaction with President Muhammad Morsi as well as a determination not to stand by as the country threatened to devolve into chaos, as rival street crowds confronted one another.

The Minister of Defense and de facto head of the military establishment, Brig Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was the one who set forward the framework for the change in government. ...

The interim president is Adly Mansour, the acting chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
And both revolutions and coups can turn out badly:

The mass arrests and the resurrection of Mubarak-era phony prosecutions are both extremely troubling, since they have the effect of criminalizing the Muslim Brotherhood and creating again the category of thought crimes in Egypt, the abolition of which was one of the gains of 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters maintain that Wednesday’s events were nothing more than a seedy military coup against a legitimate, freely elected president. They are angry and despondent about having the military steal from them the fruits of their victory at the polls. Some more radical elements of the Brotherhood have threatened to turn to terrorism as a result of Morsi being deposed.

What Rebellion and al-Sisi have done is extremely dangerous. Not only does it risk undermining the legitimacy of democratic elections, it risks discouraging Muslim religious groups from participating in democratic politics. The danger is real. A similar revocation of the results of a revolution in Algeria late in 1991 threw the country into a decade and a half of civil war that left over 150,000 dead. The 'debaathification' program of the post-2003 Iraqi government, which was vindictive toward former members of the Baath Party, probably helped throw that country into a low-grade guerrilla struggle that continues to this day. Egyptians who think their country is immune from such phenomena are fooling themselves. [my emphasis]
During the Cold War, the US and Israel actively promoted Islamist political movement as an alternative to anti-capitalist, left-leaning movements that would be less friendly to the West and more supportive of Soviet positions. Robert Dreyfuss describes this process in his book Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (2005), which also gives an account of the development of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the diverse evolution of its international influence. The Osama bin Laden brand of jihadist ideology was one of those influences, most of which have been less obviously malign. We're seeing in Egypt and in Turkey the playing out of the contradictions of a party with theocratic inclinations (Marsi's Brothers in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party in Turkey) working within democratic institutions. Those democratic institutions are far better established in Turkey than Egypt, of course.

Walt's Anonymous friend gives this perspective on the Egyptian context of the non-coup coup idea:

One of the two core challenges in this current dynamic is the fact that there are only two institutions that its people trust. While Americans have trust and confidence (at various times) in the media, the president, elections, the Supreme Court, local elected officials, and maybe even their police, Egyptians really only have two: the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF -- often just referred to as the Army for shorthand, but it includes a navy and an air force among a few other services) and their devout faith for Islam. This is not a political Islam for a majority but a spirituality that, at most, imbues their every action in life and, at least, encourages a sense of surrender and acceptance -- the idea that there are many things beyond one's control and the best you can do is to do your best. ...

The second challenge of the current dynamic is Egyptians' perception that the only way they have been able to achieve any real change in their system -- and in their elected government's behavior -- has been through street protests and demonstrations. Hosni Mubarak fell due to 18 days of protest. Morsy changed his stance on extensive presidential oversight and power in the draft of the Egyptian Constitution only after massive street protests last November and early December. The decision to call for earlier parliamentary elections (which later was undone) was achieved after the Jan. 25 protests this year. Hence, Egyptians' almost supernatural belief in the ability of the demonstrations -- starting June 28 -- to force a change in the government.
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