Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

22 May 2015

Egypt's Religious Freedom Farce

May 21, 2015 

Sisi sounds the right notes on pluralism, but penalties for “insulting” a faith are enforced only for the majority creed.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt presents himself as an Islamic reformer. He has challenged the sheikhs of Al-Azhar University—Sunni Islam’s preeminent religious institution—to promote moderation, and took the bold step (by Egyptian standards) of wishing worshippers a merry Christmas inCairo’s Coptic cathedral. The moves are commendable, but do little to alter an unfortunate reality: while Egypt’s penal code prohibits “insulting heavenly religions or those following it,” the law is enforced for just one faith: Sunni Islam.

Egypt takes religion seriously. By law, Egyptians are only allowed to practice one of the three recognized monotheistic religions: Islam (implicitly Sunni Islam—the faith of the overwhelming majority), Christianity (representing some ten percent of the population) and Judaism (today, Egypt has exactlyseven Jews, down from 75,000 in 1947). Still, Egyptians may only practice the creed they’re born into—the government does not recognize Muslim conversions to Christianity, and conversion from either faith to Judaism is nonexistent—unless the target faith is Islam.

13 January 2015

DEMOCRACY AND THE THREAT OF REVOLUTION: NEW EVIDENCE – ANALYSIS

By Toke S. Aidt, Gabriel Leon, Raphael Franck and Peter S. Jensen*

Some theories suggest that the threat of revolution plays a pivotal role in democratisation. This column provides new evidence in support of this hypothesis. The authors use democratic transitions from Europe in the 19th century, Africa at the turn at the 20th century, and the Great Reform Act of 1832 in Great Britain. They find that credible threats of revolution have systematically triggered pre-emptive democratic reforms throughout history.

The threat of revolution hypothesis

The wave of violent protests that swept across north Africa and parts of the Middle East during the Arab spring between 2010 and 2012 coincided with the fall of several long-established autocracies; in those that survived, policy reforms and redistributive policies aimed at calming the masses were hastily implemented. A century and a half before, something similar happened in western Europe. The revolutions in France and parts of Germany in 1848 were followed by democratic reforms in Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Episodes like these lend credence to the hypothesis that revolutions, riots, and other types of violent protest can trigger democratic change. The hypothesis is appealing because it resolves the franchise extension puzzle, namely why would incumbent autocrats with a monopoly on political power, and often on economic resources, agree to share their power with broader segments of the population whose goals they do not share? The threat of revolution hypothesis, developed in the work of Acemoglu and Robinson (2000, 2006) and Boix (2003) amongst others, suggests that autocrats might do so when they face a credible threat of revolution that, if successful, would eliminate their entire power base. Seen in this perspective, the reactions of autocrats in the Arab world today, and of monarchs in western Europe 150 years ago, are pre-emptive responses to a credible threat of revolution.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, however. In his discussion of democratic reforms between 1830 and 1930, Roger Congleton (2010, p. 15), for example, argues that: “In essentially all cases [countries], liberal reforms were adopted using pre-existing constitutional rules for amendment. In no case [country] is every liberal reform preceded by a large-scale revolt, and in most cases, there are examples of large-scale demonstrations that failed to produce obvious reform”.

18 November 2014

Counter-Terrorism: Egypt And Israel Unite Against Tunnels


November 11, 2014: In October Israel revealed that they had known in early 2014 of Hamas plans to use tunnels into Israel to launch a major terror attack on Israel. It was later discovered that this attack was planned for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which took place on September 26th in 2014. When the fifty day war with Hamas began in July Israel still not have a lot of details about the Hamas “tunnel offensive”, but they knew that they could now go into Gaza and find out some details.

Before this ground invasion Israel had some knowledge of these Hamas tunnels, mainly because they had already found four of them in the last two years. In March Israeli troops found one that was 1,800 meters long and extended 300 meters into Israel. Hamas dismissed this find as a tunnel that had been abandoned because of a partial collapse. But the Israelis said the tunnel had been worked on recently and equipment, like generators, was found in it. The tunnel was lined with reinforcing concrete and was 9-20 meters (30-63 feet) underground.

Three of these tunnels were near the town of Khan Younis and apparently part of a plan to kidnap Israelis for use in trades (for prisoner or whatever) with Israel. Israeli intelligence knew Hamas leaders were discussing a much larger tunnel program, involving dozens of tunnels. This plan included building the tunnels but not completing them (by tunneling upwards to create the exit in Israel). As long as the tunnel construction stayed deep the available monitoring equipment was slow and often ineffective if there was no one actively working on the tunnel below or if there was no exit (yet) on the Israeli side. Hamas had been building and “stockpiling” these tunnels for at least two years and most of the completed ones could only be detected inside Gaza, where their entrances were.

These were also hidden, at least from aerial observation. Israeli intelligence had discovered some of these entrances by detecting the Hamas activity around the entrances (entering and leaving, removing dirt). Hamas tried to hide this activity and Israel knew this meant they probably succeeded in some cases. Thus before the Israeli troops went into Gaza on July 17th, commanders had lots of information on where to look. Israeli combat engineers had been trained to destroy the tunnels, which was not easy because Hamas had booby-trapped some of them. Israel at first suspected there are over fifty of these tunnels and soon decided it was essential to stay inside Gaza until they were sure they had found all of them, and collected information on how they were built and how they could be detected from the ground or air. If Israel knows where a tunnel is, before they destroy it they can run some tests with their sensors and that knowledge will make it more difficult for Hamas to build new tunnels.

5 June 2014

Interpreting the Egyptian mandate

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s election confirms that Egypt has a military-guided democracy. But this should not make us jump to the conclusion that it is not democracy at all

Egypt has a new President. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was the country’s Army chief and Defence Minister, has won a landslide victory in the presidential election held in the last week of May. He defeated his opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, by securing 96.91 per cent of the votes polled.

Mr. Sisi, 59, is Egypt’s sixth President (not counting interim heads of state), and the fifth with a military background, since the country became a republic in 1953 following the removal of King Farouk by the Army. The only non-military person ever to become Egypt’s elected President was Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and now in jail. Mr. Sisi’s election marks both a closure and, perhaps, partial continuation of the strong socio-political turbulence that has gripped Egypt for over three years. It began with a popular uprising in 2011, known as the January 25 Revolution, which brought Mr. Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-long dictatorial reign to an end. Mr. Morsi was elected in June 2012, only to be unseated from power in July 2013, when he became the target of an even bigger, popular uprising.

 A majority of Egyptians are against religious extremism and prefer peace, safety and stability. 

The yearning for a strong leader

Mr. Sisi’s victory was a foregone conclusion going by the immense popularity he gained after he, as Army chief, backed the huge countrywide protests against Mr. Morsi. He earned the reputation of being a strong leader when he served Mr. Morsi an ultimatum to resign within 48 hours. When the Muslim Brotherhood protested angrily by staging indefinite sit-ins in Cairo squares, he ordered a crackdown by security forces in which nearly a 1,000 of Mr. Morsi’s supporters were killed. He was the de-facto ruler of Egypt even during the reign of the post-Morsi interim government, when a new Constitution was adopted. This is when the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and declared a “terrorist organisation.” In the run-up to the presidential poll, Mr. Sisi went to the extent of saying that the Muslim Brotherhood would cease to exist during his presidency.

His election confirms that Egypt has a military-guided democracy. But this should not make us jump to the conclusion that it is not democracy at all, simply military rule in a civilian garb. This is unlikely to happen. The tumultuous events since the overthrow of the hated Mubarak regime have shown that there has been a democratic awakening and activism on a scale unprecedented in Egypt’s history or even Arab history. This mass awakening cannot be suppressed. After his victory, Mr. Sisi has sought to quash apprehensions on this score by saying, “We know that some people fear a return to the past, but this will not happen, there is no going back and we will move forward.”

10 May 2014

The Conspiracy Theory Capital of the World

4 May 2014



Conspiracy theories exist everywhere in the world, but they’re especially common in the Middle East and are rampant in Egypt even by regional standards. They’re generally harmless when only crackpots on the margins believe them, but when they go mainstream and infect the highest levels of government and the media—watch out.

National Geographic has the story on the latest ludicrous theory making the rounds in Egypt, this one put forward by the governor of Minya province.

Local mobs looted a museum and burned fourteen churches to the ground a while back, and he’s blaming the United States in general and the White House in particular.

“It was Obama,” he said. “And all of the American politicians who have divided all of the world. They are the only people who supported the Muslim Brotherhood because they knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would destroy all of Egypt.”

This kind of talk is typical in Egypt and has been for decades. If you don’t think so re-read the essay Samuel Tadros recently wrote about Egypt’s Jewish problem inThe American Interest.

“Israel, Turkey, the United States, the European Union, and Qatar are all conspiring against Egypt, screams a self-proclaimed Egyptian liberal; the United States is working against Copts for the benefit of Jews, shouts a Coptic activist; the Brotherhood is implementing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, writes thenewspaper of what was once Egypt’s flagship liberal party; Israel aims to divide Egypt into a number of smaller and weaker states, writes another; Brotherhood leaders are Masonic Jews proclaims a Sufi leader; no, it’s the coup that is working for the benefit of the Jews, declares the Brotherhood’s website. These are all symptoms of a decaying society.”

The only difference between those outrageous theories—which span the political spectrum—and the latest is that the United States rather than Israel is at its center.

First let’s get the obvious out of the way. American politicians can’t be the only people in the world who supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Their candidate Mohammad Morsi won 51 percent of the vote in the presidential election, the first and only free and fair one in history.

The Brotherhood’s support cratered, of course, after an epic bout of buyer’s remorse, but nobody—nobody—forced millions of Egyptians to vote for Morsi and his party. That’s on them.

I’m not sure why so many Egyptians think Israelis and Americans are hell-bent on destroying their country. Maybe it’s related to the spotlight effect. But for whatever reason it’s a startlingly common belief. I heard some version or another repeatedly in Cairo even, occasionally, from people who otherwise seemed semi-reasonable.

1 May 2014

Egypt: Danger in the Sinai

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
April 30, 2014

When Egypt’s long-time President Hosni Mubarak fell to the throes of the people in 2011, one of his crony institutions to also collapse was the Mabahith Amn ad-Dawla, Egypt’s State Security Investigations Service, responsible for security in the Sinai Peninsula. Already a weak link in the Egyptian security chain, Sinai has since become a semiautonomous zone, proliferated with Salafi-Jihadist groups, Bedouin militias, militant members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda.

To plug the security vacuum in Sinai, Egypt and Israel have made bilateral, de facto modifications to their 1979 peace treaty which imposed strict limitations on the number of soldiers, type of weapons, and areas within Sinai where Egypt could deploy its forces. The agreement has permitted a greater number of heavily-armed Egyptian military forces into much of Sinai, resulting in a large-scale crackdown on the insurgency. However, Egypt’s counterinsurgency effort has neglected any population-centric initiatives, which is resulting in casualties in the indigenous Bedouin communities. Egypt has failed to understand that insurgencies promote fragility—they grow stronger from chaos. Through the use of brute force, Egypt is actually fueling the fire of extremism in Sinai, where Bedouin support for extremists is growing.

Projecting sovereignty across its entire territory is not a new problem for Egypt, but the revolution of 2011 and the coup d'état in 2013 have hastened Egypt’s need to quell the unrest. For Egypt to regain control of Sinai, at least to the level that it existed prior to the revolution, it is important to understand the changing dynamics of Sinai, and how this is impacting security in the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood

With the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, almost certain to be elected as Egypt’s next president, his main priority once in power will be to suppress the current wave of Islamist anger, which Egypt claims is being led by the Muslim Brotherhood, who consider the current government as illegitimate following the overthrow of President Morsi in 2013. However, the recent bombings [3], which have swept through Cairo and other cities, have largely been carried out by Sinai’s most active militant group—Ansar Bait al-Maqdis. Recently designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, the jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a host of terrorist attacks since the revolution of 2011, yet the Egyptian government has shifted the blame for the attacks and ensuing chaos onto the Muslim Brotherhood. While this move has worked politically to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood, it is foolhardy for Egypt to heighten the perceived threat of the Brotherhood, while lessening that of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, especially when there have been allegations of financial and military cooperation between the groups [4].

16 February 2014

The Egypt Effect: Sharpened Tensions, Reshuffled Alliances


 FEBRUARY 13, 2014 


SUMMARY

Throughout the Middle East, the overthrow of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi has heightened Islamist-secularist tensions and pushed actors toward zero-sum politics.

The military coup that overthrew then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in early July 2013 and the new government’s ensuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood are having a dramatic impact on the politics, security, and rights environment in Egypt. But the effects of these events outside Egypt’s borders—in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf, and Turkey—are also significant.

The Egypt effect has generally heightened Islamist-secularist tensions and pushed the region in the direction of zero-sum politics rather than consensus building. Islamist leaders and parties that behaved just a year ago as though their ascendance to power through elections was a historical inevitability are now on the defensive. At the same time, secularists—whether in opposition or in power—are more assertive and less ready to compromise. This dynamic has led some Islamists to become increasingly defiant in their isolation. In some cases, it has enlivened Islamist dissent in surprising ways.

Other Islamists have become more modest in their expectations as a result of these trends. In some countries—notably Tunisia—elected Islamists with much to lose have looked at their fellow Islamists’ fate and decided to compromise to avert all-out confrontation.

Meanwhile, the Egypt effect has not been limited to domestic politics, impacting foreign policies across the region as well. Following Morsi’s ouster, Egypt’s regional partnerships have been completely reordered. Egypt’s relations have deteriorated sharply with countries that were friendly to the Islamist government and have rebounded with those that opposed the Muslim Brotherhood. The coup has invigorated regional foreign policies of the Middle East’s more conservative powers—led by Saudi Arabia—while countries unhappy with events in Egypt, primarily Turkey, have been left on the sidelines to protest the actions of Egypt’s military-backed government.

NORTH AFRICA: TUNISIA, LIBYA, AND MOROCCO

Tunisians were “the only people who won something out of what happened in Egypt,” according to activist Amira Yahyaoui. The ripple effects of the Egyptian coup initially exacerbated tensions between Islamists and secularists in Tunisiabut then helped persuade Islamists to compromise to prevent the failure of the country’s democratic experiment.

Initially, Tunisia’s political transition following the 2011 ouster of then president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was marked by increasing polarization between Islamists in the governing Ennahda party (affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood) and their secular opponents. The tensions heightened after the assassination of prominent leftist politician Chokri Belaid in February 2013.

5 February 2014

Where is Egypt going?

February 3, 2014


Now that three years have elapsed since the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, it is pertinent, nay, imperative, to ask the central question: Where is Egypt? Where is it going? On January 25, 2011 Egyptians shed fear of their repressive government that had deprived them of their human rights for decades and gathered in the world famous Tahrir Square to demand that President Hosni Mubarak resign. Mubarak, in office for thirty years, fell eighteen days later. Millions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square and elsewhere saw the exit of Mubarak as signaling the beginning of Egypt’s journey towards democracy. Three years later, it is painfully clear that Egypt has lost its way towards democracy; in fact, it is heading fast in the opposite direction. The police state under Mubarak is being restored; freedom of expression has been drastically abridged; dissent does provoke punishment; political prisoners total up to twenty one thousand; and political demonstrations need prior permission. Egypt is under military rule and a field marshal is soon going to be elected president.

The Egyptians who assembled, or more accurately, who were permitted to assemble, in Tahrir Square on January 2014 did not go there to celebrate the 2011 Revolution. They went there to bury that Revolution and to celebrate the 2003 coup. Many carried big photos of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and of Nasser, the most charismatic leader in the Arab world in our times. The obvious intention was to suggest that al-Sisi is the Nasser of the day, and the savior of Egypt. Some carried photographs of Mubarak, a clear indication that the Mubarak loyalists, known asfulul, are actively engaged in politics, supporting the regime in power. It was a state-funded and state-sponsored, superbly and expensively choreographed event. There was a state-of-the-art stage, a far cry from the rickety, shaky one in 2011 the same day. The lighting system was sophisticated and expensive. The crowd was there to cheer General al-Sisi. There were t-shirts and sweets displaying his image in galore. Predictably enough on January 27 the General was promoted Field Marshal and the SCAF(Supreme Council of Armed Forces) ‘approved’ his candidature at the Presidential election, dates for which are yet to be announced. Incidentally, the choreography is unerring. The interim President, Adly Mansour, appointed by al- Sisi, had earlier said that the election to the Parliament would take place before that of the President. Later, it was announced that there was flexibility, meaning the sequence could be reversed. The intention is to take advantage of the current high popularity of al-Sisi whom many women say on television that they want to marry.

It is time to look analytically and critically at the political developments in Egypt since the exit of Mubarak in February 2011. Otherwise it will not be possible to understand what is now happening. The first and foremost point to note is that it was a flawed and incomplete revolution: Mubarak fell, but the ‘the Deep State’ that supported and enabled him to sustain his dictatorship did not fall. The concept of the Deep State was originally applied to Ottoman Turkey and its republican successor founded by Ataturk. It basically meant secret sources of political power. Currently, in Egypt’s case, it means the triumvirate of the Army, the Higher Judiciary, and the Intelligence agencies, generally known as the Mukhabarat in the Arab world. Out of the three the Army is the leader and others are ‘attendant lords’.

The second point to underline is that the Deep State did not want Egypt to be a democracy as it had everything to lose if that were to happen. The SCAF grabbed power when Mubarak fell; Egyptians hold the Army in high esteem and when the Army announced that it would arrange for election in six months time and hand over power to a democratically elected government most Egyptians believed it. However, the Army was in no hurry to hand over power. It delayed the election, finally held and completed in eleven months. Here it is important to look at the collaboration between the Army and the Higher Judiciary. Judge Tahani el Gebali, Deputy President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was the friend, philosopher, and guide to SCAF in legal matters. She advised the postponement of the election to the parliament pointing out the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory. When the results came with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists winning a 70% majority, SCAF regretted the holding of election and told her that she was right.