Normative Narratives

Conflict Watch: Ghosts of Egypt’s Past, Present, and Future

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Quick historic background on the Muslim Brotherhood

The NYT has an excellent interactive timeline of events Egypt from the resignation of former President Mubarak–present day.

Last night I stayed up until 2:30 am to watch the UNDP Oslo Group / FAFO conversation on Egypt’s immediate future. Silly me, as I could have just streamed it today.

Today I will focus primarily on major events since the Mubarak ouster (credit to the NYT), and insights from the conversation last night. It is also helpful to brush up on some of the basic historic power-dynamics of Egypt’s current major political players.

Mubarak Steps Down

Feb. 11, 2011

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid report from Cairo on the aftermath of President Mubarak’s resignation.Zena Barakat

Vice President Omar Suleiman announces that President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has turned over all power to the military, passed all authority to a council of military leaders and named his prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to lead the cabinet.

The announcement, which comes after an 18-day revolt led by the young people of Egypt, shatters three decades of political stasis and overturns the established order of the Arab world.

Egypt’s Military Extends Its Power

June 15, 2012

Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo as Egypt’s military rulers moved to consolidate power on Friday, the eve of the Egyptian presidential runoff election. The day before, the Supreme Constitutional Court moved to shut down the Islamist-led Parliament, locking out lawmakers and seizing the sole right to issue laws.Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Egypt’s military rulers move to consolidate power on the eve of the presidential runoff election between Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister to Mr. Mubarak. They shut down the Islamist-led Parliament, predicated on acourt ruling a day before, and seize the sole right to issue laws even after a new head of state takes office. Their charter gives them control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from any oversight and the power to veto a declaration of war.

The military counsel also issues an interim constitution, all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mohamed Morsi of Brotherhood Sworn In as President

June 30, 2012
President-elect Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood spoke to hundreds of thousands of supporters in Tahrir Square. Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Mr. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the winner of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, handing the Islamists both a symbolic triumph and a potent weapon in their struggle for power against the country’s top generals.

Mr. Morsi, 60, an American-trained engineer and former lawmaker, is the first Islamist elected as head of an Arab state. He becomes Egypt’s fifth president and the first from outside the military. But his victory is an ambiguous milestone in Egypt’s promised transition to democracy.

Military and President Escalate Their Power Struggle

July 2012

Graffiti in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, the epicenter of antigovernment protests that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, depicts members of the former government. From right are Mr. Mubarak; Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who had acted as head of state until last week and will maintain the title of defense minister; Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and presidential candidate; and the former general and presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik. Tomas Munita for The New York Times
The battle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military intensifies when Mr. Morsi summons back into session the democratically elected Parliament that the generals had dissolved after a hurried court ruling. Egypt’s highest court and generals dismiss the order, but Parliament meets in defiance and votes to appeal the court’s decision, creating a chaotic mess of conflicting legal authorities and jurisdictions.

The power struggle reflects dueling claims to Egypt’s emerging politics, with each side trying to frame the debate as a contest for ideals, legitimacy and democracy.

Morsi Seizes New Power

Nov. 22, 2012
Supporters hail President Mohamed Morsi’s move to take new power and retry his predecessor.Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

With a constitutional assembly on the brink of collapse and protesters battling the police in the streets over the slow pace of change, President Mohamed Morsi issues a decree granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution and uses his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.

The unexpected breadth of the powers he seizes raises immediate fears that he might become a new strongman.

Nov. 29, 2012

Egyptian Islamists Approve Draft Constitution Despite Objections

The Islamists drafting Egypt’s new constitution vote to approve a charter that human rights groups and international experts say is full of holes and ambiguities. The result will fulfill some of the central demands of the revolution. But it will also give the generals much of the power and privilege they had during the Mubarak era and will reject the demands of ultraconservative Salafis.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands fill Tahrir Square to protest Mr. Morsi’s expansive new powers.

Egypt Struggles to Revive Ailing Economy

March 2013
Egyptians in a gas line in the city of Luxor. Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And Egypt is struggling to pay the billions of dollars it owes foreign oil companies.

For months, the government has been negotiating a $4.8 billion loan on fairly easy terms from the International Monetary Fund. The thinking is that if the I.M.F. approved a loan, it could give the government the credibility it needs to unlock billions more dollars in aid and loans. But if a deal is reached, it will probably mean reducing subsidies for energy — a step many fear will incite the public.

In April, Egypt presses to increase the loan size, but discussions are pending and won’t start again until October.

July 3, 2013

Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Denounces ‘Military Coup’

In an announcement read on state television, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian defense minister, ousts Mr. Morsi, the nation’s first freely elected president, suspending the Constitution, installing an interim government and insisting it was responding to the millions of Egyptians who had opposed the Islamist agenda of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military intervention, which Mr. Morsi rejects, raises questions about whether the 2011 revolution will fulfill its promise to build a new democracy at the heart of the Arab world.

Dozens of Morsi Supporters Are Killed in Cairo Protest

July 8, 2013

Supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, demonstrated outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on Monday.Yusuf Sayman for The New York Times

Soldiers and police officers open fire on hundreds of supporters of Mr. Morsi outside the facility where he is believed to be detained, killing at least 54 people and wounding more than 300.

A military spokesman, contradicting dozens of witnesses who say the attack had been unprovoked, says the violence had started when Brotherhood members attacked the officers’ club of the Republican Guard.

It is the single deadliest episode of violence since the final days before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi

July 10, 2013
Relatives of Christians killed near Luxor, where Muslim mobs invaded Christian homes and set them alight while besieging other Christians in their homes.Ibrahim Zayed/Associated Press 

The sudden end of crippling energy shortages and the re-emergence of the police suggest that those opposed to Mr. Morsi had tried to undermine his administration.

The new military-led government accuses Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood of a campaign to incite violence before and after his ouster as president.

July 16, 2013

Egypt’s New Government Doesn’t Include Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood supporters tried to block the Six October Bridge in Cairo during demonstrations Monday into Tuesday morning.Mahmoud Khaled/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Adli Mansour, Egypt’s interim president, swears in a new cabinet that is dominated by liberal and leftist politicians. Not one of the 34 cabinet members belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood or to any other Islamist party. The cabinet does include three women and three Coptic Christians, making it slightly more diverse, in some respects, than Mr. Morsi’s cabinet.

Crackdown in Egypt Kills Islamists as They Protest

July 27, 2013

This was the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks.Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The Egyptian authorities unleash a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters, killing at least 72 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and the deadliest attack by the security services since Egypt’s uprising in early 2011.

The tactics — many were killed with gunshot wounds to the head or the chest — suggest that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.

Egyptian Forces Storm Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Yesterday (Aug 14)

Supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, tended to the wounded near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the Nasr City district of Cairo.Narciso Contreras for The New York Times

Security forces launch a bloody crackdown on two sit-ins by supporters of Mr. Morsi, setting off waves of violence in the capital and across the country. More than 500 are killed and 3,700 people injured in the the bloodiest day since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. Muslim Brotherhood supporters urge followers to take to the streets the next day.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the interim vice president and a Nobel Prize-winning former diplomat, resigns in protest, as General Sisi declares a one-month state emergency.

(Again big thanks to the NYT for putting together such an extensive timeline)

Since my most recent post about the crisis in Egypt, things have taken a decidedly ominous turn. Here’s an excerpt from my post two weeks ago:

Is Egypt spiraling into or out of control? I suppose the answer you receive to that question would depend on who you ask. Ask a Morsi opponent, and he will tell you that the Morsi regime was little more than an illegitimate power-grab. Ask a Morsi supporter and they will tell you Morsi’s failures were due to the “deep state” (military, police, judiciary) and a refusal of his opponents to embrace the democratic process, undermining his rule.

So instead lets look at the indisputable facts. Sectarian divides are stronger now than they were when Mubarak fell–did the coup avert a civil war, or lay the foundation for civil conflict? Human rights are not being upheld in an indiscriminate way, as anybody that supports Morsi may be silenced with impunity by the military (either by having media outlets shut down / being arrested / or killed). A larger budget deficit is all but certain for Egypt’s next democratically elected government.

In Egypt, as long as the army has a popular mandate (or what it deems a popular mandate), it can act with impunity. Human rights violations, unsustainable fiscal policy and government deficits, media censorship, and lack of accountability from the military are week pillars to build democracy on.

Having said all this, there does seem to be a legitimacy with the new Egyptian coalition government; it has said all the right things and seems to back the will of Egypt’s pluralistic civil society. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Egypt’s military and interim government–combined with The Muslim Brotherhoods determination to play spoiler in Egypt’s second attempt at democratization–does not bode well for the implementation of Egypts “road-map to democracy”.

Even I, who was pessimistic about the implications of the coup for political Islam and democracy since the beginning, did not foresee the military misplaying it’s hand as catastrophically as it has. And again, as always, time has answered many questions that a few weeks ago were a mystery.

The Military has shown it’s true colors. Mass killings, media censorship, and a further grip on power have defined the so called “road-map to democracy”. The interim government was formed without a single MB member, while military loyalists assumed many top positions. VP Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN negotiator, Nobel Prize winner, and bastion of legitimacy for the interim governments, resigned from his position in dissent of the army’s actions. Experts expect further resignations in the coming days and weeks. 19 / 27 provincial governors appointed were ex-military (for comparison sake, 11/27 appointed under Morsi were from the MB).  The police have come back essentially as another arm of the military. The state media has become an anti-Morsi propaganda engine, (even more-so than it was during Morsi’s rule)

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how much of a power grab the MB made during Morsi’s brief time in Presidency, it pails in comparison to the power grab the military has staged for the last half a century. The military cemented it’s rule prior to Morsi’s election, via confirmation from a Mubarak era judge, fueling speculation that the “deep state” never truly gave up power. For all we know, Mubarak is living in the lap of luxury; his resignation a calculated move to win popular support for the military in order to further sustain it’s nontransparent, undemocratic rule. OK, maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself, but at this point no revelation would surprise me.

The Egyptian army is concerned only with self preservation–everybody else is dispensable. The military has little reason to care for the people; as long as it can continue to finance it’s operations, the productive capacity of society is a distant secondary concern. It was willing to let Morsi rule, until it seemed that the MB could become so powerful that it would be able to hold the military to account. Seizing on popular dissent, the army removed the MB “threat” as part of a “mandate of the people”. Very soon, if not already, liberal Egyptians will come to realize their revolution was hijacked not by Morsi, but by Sisi. 

Democratic gains made during the revolution have been reversed since the coup. Political and civil rights and freedoms, including rights of self-expression and assembly, no longer exist. Media liberalization has been reversed. The economy continues to collapse, while the military only exacerbates the problem by borrowing more, creating more debt and larger future cutbacks for whoever ends up ruling Egypt. The sectarian divide is deeper than ever, putting Egypt on the verge of civil war. It is interesting to note the rule the Salifi movement  has played in Egypt’s ongoing political chaos. A historically conservative group, it has emerged as an even handed, pluralistic, pragmatic, and centrist force in Egyptian politics. Of course it remains to be seen how the movement reacts to the most recent massacre of the MB. Consolidation of Islamic forces between the MB and Al Nour would make Civil War that much more likely.   

Egypt is bleeding, literally and figuratively. The ghosts of authoritarian regimes past have reared their ugly heads–Sisi yesterday imposed a month-long “state of emergency”, further exonerating his forces from any wrongdoing. Just like in the past, the MB is being excluded from politics and driven to the margins of society, where their human rights can be violated with impunity. The ghosts of the present are the people currently being massacred in an attempt to “restore order” to Egypt. The ghosts of the future may be casualties from a future Egyptian Civil War, or perhaps they will be ghosts of westerners, as the jihad movement seizes on the coup as a way to recruit disenfranchised young Muslims.

I can no longer find any reason to be optimistic about Egypt’s democratic transition. It seems that the army did not fully think the coup through by underestimating the resolve of the MB; after 3 separate massacres totaling close to 700 MB deaths, a prolonged civil conflict–if not an all out civil war–seems almost unavoidable at this point. Far from a “road map to democracy”, it seems Egypt’s military is steering the country down the Highway to Hell.


If you have made it this far, and want more insight, take a look at my notes from last nights conversation on Egypt’s current and future prospects.

FAFO_UNDP_Egyptnotes

Two general lessons from this talk.

1) The situation is still very fluid and there impossible to predict (but it wont stop me from hypothesizing!) 

2) Both the Egyptian military and the MB are running parallel and conflicting propaganda campaigns. It is very difficult to get a straightforward account of what is going on on the ground. Every movement has conservative, moderate, and liberal components. Things are not as black and white as they appear.

I am admittedly not always impartial here, that is not what Normative Narratives is about. When I take a stance here at NN, I am speaking in the aggregate; there will always be individual examples that run counter to my arguments. I take information from the most transparent sources I know (mainly the NYT and Reuters), and combined with my education experience and knowledge of history (which is of course not all-knowing), come up with what I believe are reasonable conclusions. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes I am right, but I will never not have an educated opinion on a matter I find important.

One thought on “Conflict Watch: Ghosts of Egypt’s Past, Present, and Future

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