Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: The Situation in Egypt is Spiraling Out of (Into?) Control

http://s1.reutersmedia.net/resources/r/?m=02&d=20130725&t=2&i=754029036&w=&fh=&fw=&ll=700&pl=300&r=CBRE96O0O7I00

A little more than a week before the Egyptian coup that resulted in the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader Mohamed Morsi, I went on the record as being critical of any non-democratic means of removing Morsi from office. At the time, and still today, defending Morsi certainly puts one on the less popular side of the debate:

(recap)

I have written many times about the democratic experiment in Egypt here at NN. Egypt is an interesting country, it is the most populous country in the Middle-East, and has a long history of cooperation with Western powers (the U.S. funds the Egyptian military). Egypt’s armed forces will play a crucial role in preventing the Syrian Civil War from turning into a regional conflict (and in maintaining regional security in general). While Turkey is another example of an Islamic state attempting to reconcile democracy and traditional Islamic values, there is something about Egypt’s geographical position that makes it seem like a more robust test of the compatibility of the two ideologies (perhaps Turkey seems European-ized–it is actually seeking EU membership–which may isolate it from more conservative Muslim’s, whereas Egypt is in Africa, which could be more agreeable to those same factions).

For these reasons, alongside the human rights and modernization implications of effective democratic governance, I have been cheering Morsi on in his attempt to bring democracy to Egypt. Sometimes I have been too understanding; Morsi has made mistakes along the way, including targeted violations of the civil rights of his opponents in the name of national security / democracy. President Morsi has owned up to these mistakes, and now seems to have learned what it takes to lead an effective democracy.

Transparency, rule of law, accountability / anti-corruption, personal and societal security, an inclusive and participatory governing process, and the indiscriminate protection of human rights are among the most important aspects of an effective democracy. Morsi has (hopefully) learned that seeking to strengthen the legitimacy of his regime by violating these aspects of democracy, even in the name of national security, is counter-productive. Self-defense is fine, but short of that the opposition must be allowed to assemble. In a religious dictatorship the opposition are terrorists / saboteurs / infidels; in an effective democracy they are simply the opposing political party (again, so long as they use political and not military means to advance their goals).

President Morsi has proposed national reconciliation efforts, including making amendments to the constitution (which was open for vote to begin with, the opposition simply refused to participate). He has also proposed the opposition take part in parliamentary elections. Judicial independence has been tricky, as many of the judges in Egypt were assigned under former dictator Hosni Mubarak (packing the courts with his own judges would not ease concerns of a Morsi power-grab either; anyone he appoints, regardless of his background, would be seen by his opponents only as a “Morsi appointee”. Nevertheless, Morsi has offered basically every legitimate democratic avenue available to address the concerns of his opposition.

The opposition, on the other hand, has refused to take part in the democratic process. It will be satisfied with nothing short of Morsi’s removal from office, calling for early presidential elections. Is that any way to establish the credibility of a brand new democratic process, by tossing that process aside instead of trying to work within it? Early elections would undermine the future of democracy in Egypt by setting a bad precedent.

A week after that blog, the Egyptian military gave Morsi a 48 hour deadline before they would step in and remove him from power–and then made good on that threat

I had this to say in reaction to the coup:

General Asis, by giving Morsi a 48 hour period to negotiate, had already made up its mind about overthrowing Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. 48 hours is not enough time to make meaningful progress on negotiations— all such an unrealistic time frame did was further entrench the opposition’s position to refuse to come to the negotiating table.

Give Morsi 6 months, or a year; an amount of time that allow the opposition to prove its legitimacy, and do something other than stand on its head and watch fireworks and light shows. So far all the opposition has shown is extreme, borderline irrational hatred for Morsi (and the Brotherhood, a hatred that has included decades or persecution under the Mubarak regime) and the inability to participate in the democratic process. Why should we believe that now democracy will work in Egypt?

The Military missed a golden opportunity to play arbiter between Morsi and the opposition, upholding both the principles of democratic institutions while also ensuring an inclusive agenda setting and policy making process consistent with international human rights norms. Instead the coup undermines the very ability of democracy to take root in Egypt, and creates far more questions than provides answers.

It was encouraging to see diverse interests standing alongside General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. However, the shutting down of Muslim Brotherhood news stations and arrests / killings of Morsi supporters paints a grim picture for the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. What bothers me is what will happen to those not in the meetings mapping out Egypt’s future–namely the Muslim Brotherhood. Suspensions of freedoms of expression and media independence are also alarming, and make for an unstable basis on which to build a new democracy.

How the new government and the Muslim Brotherhood interacts will determine the ability of Egypt to move forward as a cohesive and peaceful democratic society. If the Brotherhood reacts violently, Egypt may be mired in civil violence for years to come. Only if the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition embrace one-another (admittedly a long shot, at least right away, and one that would require significant political and diplomatic maneuvering) can the new government truly represent all factions of Egyptian society. A modernized Egypt that treats Muslims Brotherhood members as second class citizens can never be a true democracy.

I think the coup came down to Egyptians needing a scapegoat, and Morsi’s regime being in the right place at the right time. Nobody in Egypt wants to admit there are structural economic issues; popular fuel subsidies are unsustainable and large investments need to be made in Egypt’s infrastructure and public services. High unemployment, inflation, and insecurity depress economic output and create a basis for anti-establishment behavior. Egyptians want a President who will tell them they can have their cake and eat it too; perhaps this new coalition government will be able to deliver if they are able to secure a loan from an alternative source without IMF preconditions. I for one do not see where that funding could come from.

Sooner or later difficult fiscal decisions are going to have to be made in Egypt, and not everyone is going to be happy. Are they going to overthrow the next president too? I just do not like the precedent that was set–perhaps I am being idealistic instead of pragmatic. It may be that a stronger democracy comes from this military coup, we will have to wait and find out.

Since these events took place, many of the questions that arose from the Egyptian military coup have answered themselves (an excellent analysis of the events leading up to and since Morsi’s ouster was compiled compliments of Reuters). The Brotherhood has not embraced the armies calls for an inclusive road-map to an effective and pluralistic democracy. Instead, they have elected to continue mostly non-violent protests against the Egypt’s interim government which they refuse to recognize as legitimate.

The interim government’s Cabinet was established without a single Brotherhood member, but it did include military head General Sisi as first deputy Prime Minister. Media outlets that appear to be understanding of the Brotherhood’s dismay have been shut down, including Al-Jazeera’s Cairo branch. Fifty plus Morsi supporters were massacred during prayer where Morsi is believed to be held–ensuing investigations have been not into military conduct (of course not–in Egypt the military is above the law), but against Brotherhood leaders for inciting protests.

Throwing salt on the Bortherhood’s wounds (and fuel on the protester fire), Morsi was recently charged with espionage and murder in connection to his escape from jail in 2011. Morsi was a prisoner of former dictator Hosni Mubarak–charging him for a crime against a popularly disposed dictator seems to run against the armies stated goals.

The U.S. government will continue to provide military aid to Egypt, exonerating itself from taking a stand on exactly what happened in Egypt (although it has rightfully called for Egypt’s new leaders to release Morsi from jail):

The senior official did not describe the legal reasoning behind the finding, saying only, “The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.”

“We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say,” the official said.

The alternative source of funding I could not foresee came through from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to the tune of $12 billion in oil products, foreign reserves, and loans / grants. All three of these countries are monarchies, making interesting bedfellows for a country attempting to establish effective and pluralistic democracy. This will allow the Egyptian government to delay cuts to popular subsidies, a precondition for an IMF loan:

“The interim cabinet, chosen this week after the military ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, will probably avoid politically risky reforms of the budget such as cutting the subsidies on which Egypt’s millions of poor depend.

Instead the new cabinet which includes many technocrats and experienced administrators will try to buy social peace with billions of dollars of foreign aid, offered largely by wealthy Gulf Arab states.”

“If the strategy to boost growth fails, the next elected government could take office facing an even bigger cash crunch, forcing it into unpopular decisions early on.

“The concern is that once there is some more permanent government, it will inherit an even bigger economic mess than the one the Mursi administration had,” said Said Hirsh, an economist with London-based consulting firm Volterra Partners.”

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”.

If the strategy to boost growth fails, the next elected government could take office facing an even bigger cash crunch, forcing it into unpopular decisions early on.

“The concern is that once there is some more permanent government, it will inherit an even bigger economic mess than the one the Mursi administration had,” said Said Hirsh, an economist with London-based consulting firm Volterra Partners.

Update
Oh boy, it’s looking bad for the Brotherhood and Egyptian democracy:

“The Egyptian authorities unleashed a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters early Saturday, killing at least 65 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 attack provided further evidence that Egypt’s security establishment was reasserting its dominance after President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster three weeks ago, and widening its crackdown on his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. The tactics — some victims were killed with single gunshot wounds to the head — suggested that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.”

“In a televised news conference hours after the clash, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim absolved his men of any responsibility and made no mention of the high death toll. His officers, he said, ‘have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.'”

In Egypt, it appears the military is the judge, jury, and executioner, as well as the President, PM, Cabinet….

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Conflict Watch: The Deteriorating Syrian Civil War and Humanitarian Crisis

The Syria sinkhole

The Syrian opposition recently offered a dangerous ultimatum, which is symbolic of the overall deterioration for the prospect of a political transition in Syria:

“The Syrian opposition will not attend the proposed Geneva conference on the crisis in Syria unless rebel fighters receive new supplies of arms and ammunition, the top rebel military commander said Friday.

‘If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva,’ Gen. Salim Idris said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in northern Syria. ‘There will be no Geneva.’”

“Mr. Assad’s military position has been strengthened by flights of arms from Iran and the involvement of thousands of fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. The change of fortunes on the battlefield was illustrated last week when the Syrian military and Hezbollah fighters captured the town of Qusayr.”

“The proposal to hold talks in Geneva at a point when the Syrian opposition has suffered a bitter reversal has led many in the opposition to question the West’s strategy. In effect, they say, Mr. Kerry is insisting that the Syrian opposition sit down with representatives of a Syrian president who appears as determined as ever to hang on to power and at a time when the opposition’s leverage has been diminished.”

“‘There is agreement on one point within opposition circles: the regime, Iran and Hezbollah, supported by Russia, aim to win; the U.S. aims for talks,’ said Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former senior State Department official who worked on Syria transition issues. ‘This helps to explain the opposition’s reluctance to attend a Geneva conference and the difficulties it’s having organizing itself around a coherent goal.’”

“At the State Department, Mr. Kerry and his aides have long said that it is vital to change Mr. Assad’s “calculation” about his ability to maintain his grip on power in order to facilitate a political transition.”

“At a meeting in Istanbul in late April, Mr. Kerry announced that the Supreme Military Council should be the only funnel for providing Western and Arab military support to the opposition.”

“General Idris said that while the West has been debating how much military assistance to provide to the moderate opposition, extremist groups like the Nusra Front have begun to play a more prominent role in the struggle against the Assad government.

‘They are now winning sympathy from the people,’ he said. ‘They are very well financed.'”

This is essentially textbook protracted social conflict (PSC). The Syrian government denied the majority of Syrians the human rights they believed they deserved. Peaceful protests were met with violence, turning the ideological divide into a civil war. As the war has progressed, opportunistic extremist groups (Al Nursa for example), seeing a void in Western support for the rebels, have filled that void.

This further complicates American intervention, as arming the rebels could eventually lead to greater military capabilities for anti-American Jihadist organizations.

The call for greater European intervention is well heard, and steps have been made in order for Europe to put itself in position to provide weapons to the opposition should peace-talks not bear fruit (which is not unlikely, but they must at least be attempted). But the Syrian opposition has to realize it cannot try to force military aid, that it must play ball and prove in open forum that Mr. Assad’s “calculations” will not be changed (except to be further emboldened by bolstered support while the opposition loses momentum).

It is an order of operations thing; I truly believe that if the opposition comes to Geneva and makes a real attempt to negotiate a political transition, that if that attempt failed, European powers would provide more military support to the Syrian Supreme Military Council.

Another Western ally that is being dragged into the Syrian sinkhole is Israel. This past week, fighting broke out along the Golan Heights.

“The United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) monitors the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.”

“Austria – which contributes about one-third of UNDOF’s troops – has announced its decision to withdraw its soldiers, reportedly citing a lack of freedom of movement and an unacceptable level of danger to its personnel.”

“‘Everyone agreed that UNDOF should continue in its mission, even if it is temporarily reduced in its ability to fulfill the current mandate,’ Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for June, told reporters after closed-door talks on the latest developments.

“‘Everyone felt that UNDOF played a key role in guaranteeing the 1974 ceasefire disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria and also acting as a conduit of communications, including in the last few days between Israel and Syria,’ he added. ‘It was therefore an important symbol of the stability across the Israel-Syrian border.'”

Russia has offered to replace the Austrian troops. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest Russian troops would represent in Syria, the offer was rejected on legal grounds:

The UN has declined a Russian offer to bolster the understaffed peacekeeping force in the cease-fire zone between Israel and Syria. Austria has said it would be withdrawing its troops from the Golan Heights.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Friday that permanent Security Council members were barred from deploying peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, under the terms of the 1974 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria.”

Israel would like to remain out of the Syrian Civil War, but the small military power continues to collect intelligence on the Syrian military and strongly reaffirms it’s right to protect itself:

“The confluence of events confronted Israel with the complex reality of a civil war just across the border in which both sides are hostile to the Jewish state. Hezbollah has vowed in recent weeks that it would facilitate attacks on Israel through the heights. And the most effective rebel force is made up of radical Sunnis aligned with Al Qaeda, while many of the other militias are led by self-identified Islamists.

The result has been a kind of paralysis in Israeli society, where options are debated but no clear consensus has emerged about which outcome of the Syrian crisis is preferable or how to prepare for it.”

If Western powers decided to intervene militarily, they would have to rely on Israeli military supremacy and geographic position to support the operation (Turkey is another important geopolitical ally, while Egypt remains a bit of a wild card). The Syrian opposition and Israeli leaders should be in communication with each other (if they are not already) as they are likely to need to have a working rapport in the foreseeable future.

All the while, the silent majority of Syrian refugees and internally displaced peoples continue to bear the brunt of the suffering and human rights violations, threatening regional stability in the Middle-East:

“The United Nations launched a $5 billion aid effort on Friday, its biggest ever, to help up to 10.25 million Syrians, half the population, who it expects will need help by the end of 2013.”

“The appeal comprises $2.9 billion for refugees, $1.4 billion for humanitarian aid and $830 million for Lebanon and Jordan, the biggest recipients of Syrian refugees.”

“The appeal updates and multiplies the existing aid plan for Syria, which sought $1.5 billion to help 4 million people within Syria and up to 1.1 million refugees by June. The worsening conflict soon overtook those projections.

The new forecasts expect the refugee population to more than double to 3.45 million from 1.6 million now, based on current numbers arriving in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

But it assumes the number of needy Syrians inside the country will remain static until the end of the year at 6.8 million. The number of internally displaced Syrians is also assumed to stay where it is now, at about 4.25 million.

That means the current plan could again turn out to be an underestimate if the fighting goes on.”

“‘We have reached a stage in Syria where some of the people, if they don’t get food from the World Food Programme, they simply do not eat,’ the WFP’s Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator Muhannad Hadi said.”

“A few months ago I would like to recall that there was a donors’ conference in Kuwait, and Persian Gulf monarchies promised to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.N. agencies in order to help Syria,” Russian ambassador in Geneva Alexey Borodavkin added.

“I don’t think that the amounts mentioned in Kuwait ever reached these agencies and were ever used to help the Syrian people.”

World powers are famous for committing money for development / humanitarian purposes and falling short on those commitments. And often it is for understandable reasons, as it is difficult to be sure the money is going where it is supposed to go. But given the global attention and direct UN involvement in the Syrian humanitarian crisis, these fears need not prevent commitments from being fulfilled.

It is difficult to be optimistic about a political end to the Syrian Civil War. Mr. Assad seems recently emboldened, while the opposition continues to shoot itself in the foot. Hopefully the opposition rethinks its position; only with Western support can they hope to remove Assad from power, be it politically or militarily.  All Syria’s most vulnerable can do is sit back and watch, and hope the the UN can raise the aid needed to keep them alive as the conflict grinds towards its eventual conclusion.


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Transparency Thursday: “Ghost Money” Flows From the U.S. to Afghani President Karzai

A true transparency piece, aimed at making common knowledge formerly secret financial transactions between the C.I.A. and Afghani President Hamid Karzai, was released last Sunday:

“For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

‘We called it ‘ghost money,’’ said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. ‘It came in secret, and it left in secret.’”

“…there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

‘The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,’ one American official said, ‘was the United States.’”

“…the C.I.A. has continued to pay, believing it needs Mr. Karzai’s ear to run its clandestine war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to American and Afghan officials…’We paid them to overthrow the Taliban’, the American official said.”

 “The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. And while there is no evidence that Mr. Karzai has personally taken any of the money — Afghan officials say the cash is handled by his National Security Council — the payments do in some cases work directly at odds with the aims of other parts of the American government in Afghanistan, even if they do not appear to violate American law.”

“While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.”

“Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, where the United States built the government that Mr. Karzai runs. To accomplish that task, it had to bring to heel many of the warlords the C.I.A. had paid during and after the 2001 invasion.

By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.”

“Some of the cash also probably ends up in the pockets of the Karzai aides who handle it, Afghan and Western officials said, though they would not identify any by name.

That is not a significant concern for the C.I.A., said American officials familiar with the agency’s operations. “They’ll work with criminals if they think they have to,” one American former official said.”

Leaving out the little bit about how Iran was also attempting to buy influence, this seems like it may pretty much be common practice for the C.I.A.

I am admittedly torn on this issue.

The money is not a big deal in terms of the U.S. fiscal position. Tens of millions of dollars, over the course of a decade, amounts to a little more than a drop-in-the-bucket for American defense and intelligence expenditures.

If this money has gone to financing fighting that would otherwise have involved U.S. defense forces, it may well have saved money and American lives. From the American point of view, we may have been backing the lesser of two evils:

“Mr. Salehi, though, is better known for being arrested in 2010 in connection with a sprawling, American-led investigation that tied together Afghan cash smuggling, Taliban finances and the opium trade. Mr. Karzai had him released within hours, and the C.I.A. then helped persuade the Obama administration to back off its anticorruption push, American officials said.

After his release, Mr. Salehi jokingly came up with a motto that succinctly summed up America’s conflicting priorities. He was, he began telling colleagues, “an enemy of the F.B.I., and a hero to the C.I.A.”

 The fact that we have to buy influence in Afghanistan, on top of billions in official aid, shows just how costly and unsustainable nation-building can be, especially when that nation does not particularly want us there. What happens when the money stops, does the Karzai government lose control of the factions it was paying? Does the U.S. lose whatever little influence it does have over Afghani politics? Does the C.I.A. continue paying President Karzai indefinitely until the intractable “War on Terror” is won or abandoned?  

These are not easy questions; one thing I am sure of is that future payments to Karzai will come with stricter conditions of anonymity.

While the practical side of me says perhaps this money was needed, and indeed may have saved money and American lives compared to not paying it, the political and developmental economist in me is unabashedly opposed to this money.

Any time a government collects “rents”, be it from natural resources, official development aid, or secret financial transactions, that government further tightens its grip on the country. Similar to the “natural resource curse”, this money insulates the government from having to invest in human capital and infrastructure needed to raise the standard of living and productivity of the average Afghani, and put the country on a path to long term sustainable human development. Most governments, like the U.S. government, rely on tax revenue to operate, which is why the U.S government has stake in investing in the American peoples’ productive capacities (beyond the obvious moral and ethical considerations).

If the desired end result is true democracy in Afghanistan, then this money undoubtedly undermined U.S. interests. If the desired end result is a geopolitical ally who we know we can pay off, then the money has arguably served its purpose (although you can certainly argue U.S. influence in Afghani politics is minimal, considering how much we have invested in the country).

How do you feel about this? Do the ends justify the means, or is the U.S. thinking way too short-sighted and simply financing the next autocratic-anti-American regime in the Middle-East? I look forward to hearing some of your thoughts on the matter in the comment section.