Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: A Coup By Any Other Name…

May be even more deadly.

Days after declaring Martial Law, Thai General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced a Military Coup on Thursday. Since then the Military has stationed troops in major cities, suspended the constitution, enacted a curfew, put a halt to both pro and anti-government protests, taken certain channels and media outlets out of circulation, and detained former PM Yingluck and members of her government. Classic Coup actions.

The Thai army says it will remain neutral and wants to enact certain reforms before holding elections. If this is indeed possible, this Coup could be less disruptive than previous Coups. The big question is what form will reforms take? Will they increase transparency and accountability, curbing the potential for future corruption? Or will they involve drastic legislative redistricting, in an attempt to marginalize the political voice of rural Thailand? Can the army orchestrate meaningful reforms while remaining a neutral intermediary between rival political parties?

The answers to these questions will likely determine how the Coup plays out. There is, however, something reassuring about the Thai army calling this a Coup, especially in comparison to Egypt’s “non-Coup”. By acknowledging this was in fact Coup, the Army is at least taking responsibility for what happens next in Thailand. We should not, for instance, expect a bloody crackdown as we saw in Egypt.

In a previous post, I emphasized the determinative role armed forces can play in regime change. All things equal, it is always best for the military to stay out of politics and focus on security and defense issues. But all things are not equal; countries face unrest for a variety of reasons, and this unrest can turn violent and often has adverse economic consequences, as it has in Thailand.

One could certainly question the necessity of this Coup, violence has not recently escalated and Prime Minister Yingluck agreed to step down 2 weeks ago. Economic deterioration seems to be the most obvious catalyst in this instance. Either way a Coup has occurred, and the focus now shifts to the actions of the Thai army.

If the Army is indeed committed to the things it says, it may be possible for a Coup to play a constructive role in Thailand’s political crisis. Last month the U.N. highlighted this constructive role security forces can play in peace efforts:

The United Nations Security Council today called on countries emerging from conflict and all those assisting them to prioritize the development of domestic police and national defence forces that maintain rule of law and respect human rights, in its first-ever stand-alone resolution on security sector reform.

Stressing that it is the sovereign right and the primary responsibility of the countries concerned to reform their security institutions, the Council, through the resolution, encouraged the UN and other international partners to strengthen their approach to training and other assistance, and to integrate it with other efforts to help rebuild national institutions.

Mr. Ban reaffirmed some of the principles of security sector reform outlined in his latest report on the issue, including the linkage between security efforts and broader processes of political and institutional reforms in the countries in question.

“Strengthening operational effectiveness must be combined with efforts to build a strong governance framework, robust accountability and oversight mechanisms, and a culture of integrity and respect for human rights. National ownership is imperative,” he said.

Security is a necessary prerequisite for stability, human development and economic growth. There is nothing inherently good or bad about security forces. They can restore order and champion principles of democracy, human rights, and rule of law, or they can kill with impunity. There is something very interesting and deeply psychological about the broad spectrum of roles armed forces can play in society–it is in many ways a microcosm of free will.

Thailand is not Egypt, there is no reason to think just because there was a Coup, that the human rights environment in Thailand will deteriorate as it has in Egypt. However, certain actions by the Thai army certainly raise eyebrows, such as imposition of a curfew and suspensions of press freedom. Also, the Thai military’s track record does not inspire confidence; perhaps today is a new day?

All we can do now is wait and see, and hope the Thai army backs up its neutral rhetoric with appropriate actions and reforms. Except more on this topic in the coming weeks.

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Conflict Watch: The Determinative Role of Armed Forces In Regime Change (A Comparative Analysis)

Police leave their position around the Ukrainian p[arliament in Kiev on Friday after the country’s deputy army chief resigned in protest over government attempts to involve the army to put down the unrest rocking Ukraine. Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Disgraced ex-Ukranian President Yanukovych (is it too soon to call him ex-President?) signed an agreement with the opposition for early elections and a new government, pulling Ukraine back from the brink of catastrophe. Do not confuse Yanukovych’s decision for altruism; rather it was a last resort after it became clear the Ukrainian army would not intervene on his behalf.

Today, the Ukrainian Armed Forces reiterated its commitment to neutrality. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commended the move, and his support is well founded. A comparative analysis of recent protest movements shows the determinative role Armed Forces play in domestic political conflicts:

Egypt: In modern Egyptian history, the Army has been the strongest and least unaccountable force in domestic politics. It is therefore unsurprising those in control of the Army are determined to ensure their spot at the top of the pyramid (no pun intended) is preserved. The Egyptian military has a vested interest in a protracted civil conflict; by creating an adversary in the Muslim Brotherhood, it has secured an important role in Egyptian life and public support. Indeed, military supremacy was enshrined in a recently passed constitutional referendum.

The Egyptian military determined the outcome of Egyptian politics by removing democratically elected President Morsi by a coup (as opposed to allowing a political process of impeachment and new elections to decide who leads). The army has restricted media independence and cracked-down on all dissenters (including many who were instrumental in removing previous dictator Hosni Mubarak and the ineffectual President Morsi). Now General Sisi–the very man who organized the coup–is poised to take over as Egypt’s next “democratically elected” president.

Syria: In Syria’s dynastic authoritarian regime, the armed forces are controlled exclusively by President Assad; the military cannot be expected to support the will of the people. Assad ordered a military response to peaceful protests, resulting in a protracted civil war with no end in sight.

Thailand:  The Thai army is committed to remaining neutral in anti-government protests (which was not a given; Thailand has a long history of military intervention in politics), allowing the political process to play itself out (the army has positioned itself near protest sight for security purposes, but hasn’t taken a side).

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has proposed early elections; her opposition wants an appointed caretaker government to implement reforms before elections are held. In a recent development, Yingluck has been called in to answer for corruption charges related to a rice subsidy (a policy symbolic of her Pheu Parties popularity with Thailand’s poor), which could result in her impeachment.

Venezuela: Paratroopers we’re called in to “maintain the peace”, which is allegedly a cover for a brutal crackdown of the anti-Maduro opposition. The future remains uncertain in Venezuela; if reports of a bloody crackdown are true, a protracted civil conflict is likely.

When it comes to regime change, the means are just as important as the endsThe extent to which Armed Forces remain neutral / indiscriminately uphold security (in order to give the political process time to run it’s course) is a good indication of both how “ugly” protests will become, and the direction a country will move ex post facto.

In Egypt the military could have remained neutral, allowing the Egyptian people to impeach Morsi and setup elections. Instead, the military decided to intervene, securing it’s own interests. Morsi had to go, but the way he was removed has set the country on a path divergent from pluralistic democracy. In a similar vein, Sisi may indeed be the President Egyptians want. If so, why the need to crackdown on dissenters?

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck may indeed be a corrupt ruler unworthy of her office. If this is the case, allow the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to conduct an impartial investigation. If she is found guilty, there may be grounds for impeachment. If not, the vocal minority opposition will have to rethink it’s position.

Notably, the Thai Military is allowing the political process to determine the countries political future (as in Ukraine), increasing the likelihood that a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Thailand can emerge from this current bout of unrest (Unlike Egypt, Syria, and likely Venezuela).

If a countries Armed Forces are committed to the goal of pluralistic democracy, the best thing they can do is remain neutral and allow domestic political conflicts to be resolved politically. Democratic governance is derived from “soft power“–inclusive politics, non-violent protest, self-determination. The need to resort to force against non-violent protests is proof in and of itself that human rights rhetoric is being used to human rights violations.

When the global champions of human rights (U.S., E.U., U.N. etc) urge deescalation and dialogue, these are not empty words (as Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay has urged in Venezuela). Over the past few decades, “soft power” has played an increasingly important role in both domestic and international affairs. Governments that embrace this shift will ultimately be the most successful.


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Bizarro Egypt

Egypt has actually turned into Bizarro World–the country is literally upside down. I swear you can’t write this stuff, or maybe you can… either way, I can’t. But I can analyze whats going on with some clarity and insight:

  • The first democratically elected President in Egyptian history is in jail for crimes against the regime of popularly toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
  • At the same time, it appears said toppled autocrat is said to soon be released from jail (cases are heard by a judiciary that is largely still intact from Mubarak’s days in power)
  • The Egyptian government has shut down all national media outlets sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, while stepping up anti-Brotherhood rhetoric and propoganda.
  • At the same time, General Sisi lashed out at foreign media outlets for not evenly portraying both sides of the story; essentially for not recognizing the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Does Sisi actually thinks he can control what independent international media outlets report?
  • Sisi also insists he has a “mandate from the people” to provide security from “terrorists”. No mandate can give the authority to kill innocent people with impunity. Democracy is about indiscriminately upholding and protecting the rights of everyone, not only certain groups.
  • Far from trying to justify the killings, and offer any sort of olive branch or iota of accountability, the Egyptian government has commended itself for using “a huge amount of self-restraint and self-control.” Who exactly are they trying to convince, the international community, Egyptian civil society, or themselves?
  • The United States decides not to suspend aid to the Egyptian military, despite the insurmountable evidence that what has transpired in Egypt since July 3rd was a coup. The official U.S. ruling on whether or not the Morsi ouster was a coup: “it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.” Way to really lead by example there America!
  • It now appears that the U.S. and the E.U. are finally going to review their ties with the current Egyptian government–a little bit late but still good news. The first official move against the Egyptian government, the U.S cancelled joint military exercises–also a good move.
  • The next move makes no sense; the U.S. plans to pull the plug on $250 million in government aid, while leaving $1.3 billion in military aid in tact. In other words, aid that could give the U.S. some leverage in the Egyptian political arena, or for economic development projects that would benefit all Egyptians, is being cut. At the same time, we will continue to supply the Egyptian military with hundreds of millions of dollars in firepower, because you know killing all those “terrorists” won’t be easy…

Egypt and the Middle East in general are at a crossroads. Both the U.S. and the E.U. are currently reviewing their relationship with the Egyptian government, so it is likely we will have a clearer picture of their respective stances soon. Should Egypt deteriorate into civil war, it will be interesting to see if there is another U.N.S.C. showdown between “Western Powers” and China and Russia along the lines of the current Syria impasse.

I have read articles saying this is not the time for Democracy in Egypt or the Middle-East, that we should set our sights lower and hope for stable governments. While these articles make goods points and tend to be well written, I refuse the believe this is true. I am of the belief that the majority of all parties and factions in Egypt want the same thing; security, health, family, an opportunity to realize their full potential and a better future for their children. 

Not to get to abstract or philosophical, but the future is yet unwritten; if we set our sights low, then we will never know if we could have done better. Much of the groundwork for realizing the normative goals of the Arab Spring is still as ripe as it will be for some time. Old autocracies have been broken (although the inability for democracy to fill the power void has created opportunities for a return to autocratic rule that vested interests–who tend to be opportunistic by nature–will fight for tooth and nail, bullet and rocket). People have never been as empowered as they are today, thanks to innovations in ICT, social media, and the unprecedented recognition of human rights as the key to sustainable human development by the international community.

The international community can no longer turn a blind eye or claim ignorance, not in 2013. The world is getting smaller, and global action or inaction affects all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. By turning a blind eye to Sisi’s gross human rights violations and abandoning the goal of pluralistic democracy in the ME, we would essentially be putting a band-aid on a festering infected gash. Surely the international community can help the Egyptian people come up with a better and more sustainable solution than that.

We cannot let determined spoilers derail this goal, or “put it off for a few decades”; this is not an acceptable solution and will lead only to another round of autocracies in the Middle-East. This would only serve to further cement the ideas that only autocracies can survive in the ME / democracy cannot exist in the ME, that Political Islam and democracy are irreconcilable, and that Jihad is the way for young Muslims).

The goals of the Arab spring have not been fully met–anybody who thought establishing effective democracies in the ME could be achieved quickly, linearly, or peacefully was fooling themselves. But we cannot abandon those goals; if we do because the global champions of human rights / democracy think they cannot afford to help, or that the time is not right due to regional security concerns, the opportunity may not arise again for decades.

On a personal note, as a progressive Jew from NY, I never would have thought that I would be sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood…a coup, a series of massacres, and gross human rights violations make for strange bed-fellows no?


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

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.


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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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Initial Reactions to the Egyptian Military Coup D’etat

Looking Back:

Make no mistake about it, actions taken today by the Egyptian military represented a coup; Morsi was elected democratically and passed his constitution democratically. A military removing a democratically elected leader is a coup, regardless of how you spin it. At no point in the last year has there been any legitimate claims of unfair election / voting processes in Egypt. The only thing Morsi’s opposition can muster a majority over is, apparently, their dislike of Morsi.

Morsi’s year as President was marked by continued refusal by the opposition to take part in the democratic process. He was by no means a perfect leader, his rule was marked with civil and human rights violations as he struggled to keep at bay a power-grab by his long suppressed supporters while also upholding the responsibilities of running a pluralistic democratic society.

In addition to sectarian divides, the economic aftermath of the Mubarak ouster plagued the Morsi regime. Popular subsidies had to be cut in order to unlock international aid after the economy collapsed. Political divisions made such measures impossible to pass, and further economic degradation only reinforced divisions amongst Egyptians, leading to a degenerative cycle of poverty, insecurity, and political division.

No one will invest money, be it the IMF or General Electric, if a country is so divided that the ruling party and the opposition cannot even sit down together a come to agreements on policies with significant and immediate human rights and economic development implications. And certainly no family is going on a vacation to a country where their livelihood could constantly be in danger. As a result, Egypt’s foreign reserves dwindled, leading to inflation and a further deterioration of the Egyptian standard of living. 

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, 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 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.

I sure hope I am wrong about the precedent being set in Egypt.

Looking Forward:

“Flanked by political and religious leaders and top generals, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the suspension of the Islamist-tinged constitution and a roadmap for a return to democratic rule under a revised rulebook.”

“The president of the supreme constitutional court will act as interim head of state, assisted by an interim council and a tecnocratic government until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held.

Those in the meeting have agreed on a roadmap for the future that includes initial steps to achieve the building of a strong Egyptian society that is cohesive and does not exclude anyone and ends the state of tension and division, Sisi said in a solemn address broadcast live on state television.”

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.

US Support

There is also the question of whether America will continue to back the Egyptian military. If the U.S government finds the Egyptian military indeed seized power via a coup, which lets be honest they did, aid would legally have to be suspended. However, lawyers and politicians will work to keep the long-standing relationship going. Egyptian stability is necessary for Middle-Eastern stability, which is currently in short-supply as is; American leaders will be pragmatic as opposed to idealistic. 

Lots is still up in the air; I will be sure to keep my readers up to date on Egypt’s outlook as more details present themselves.