U.S. chooses stability over democracy in Egypt – but it will get neither

November 26, 2012

Protesters chased by armed riot police during clashes at Tahrir square in Cairo, on Friday

 


* James Brandon: On Thursday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president declared all his decisions to be irrevocable and immune from any form of judicial challenge or overturn. Morsi said this would allow him to achieve “political and economic stability” and to “defend the revolution”: an ominous phrase beloved by every revolutionary-turned-despot from Robespierre to Lenin and Mao.

* Just hours before, Hillary Clinton told a press conference in Cairo that “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”

* The “stability and peace” trade-off that was reached between Clinton and Morsi in Cairo is clear; in return for Morsi persuading Hamas to agree to a ceasefire with Israel, the U.S. would allow him to seize new ‘temporary’ political powers under the guise of ensuring ‘stability’, both in Egypt and in the region.

* The judiciary was the last branch of government still acting as a significant brake on Brotherhood ambitions. Now opposition protesters will face tougher sentences, while Brotherhood members will be allowed to continue their attacks on rival demonstrators and use sexual assault to intimidate liberal female oppositionists, with impunity.

* Hillary Clinton’s ‘peace and stability’ trade-off has only granted Israel a short-term reprieve and has in the longer-term stacked the odds against the survival of the Jewish homeland. Following Clinton’s visit, Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s real leader, publicly reiterated the group’s view on Israel that “jihad was obligatory” on Muslims.

***

* The Wall Street Journal: The immediate losers will be Egypt’s liberals and the Western journalists who inhaled the vapors of Tahrir Square. But Morsi’s coup is also awkward for the Obama Administration, which had been praising the Egyptian in media backgrounders for his role in brokering the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Hillary Clinton had barely left Cairo before Morsi made his move. He may have figured that all the praise made it easier for him to grab more power.

***

“THE POWER TO DEFINE SUNNI ISLAM ITSELF”

* Barry Rubin: If one views the 2011 revolution as a democratic one, then Morsi is destroying it. But of course he and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists see it as an Islamist revolution, parallel to the 1979 Iranian revolution – though in Egyptian terms. The timing of this takeover is ironic since it coincides with an all-time high for the Obama administration’s regard for Egypt.

* According to The New York Times last week: “Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.”

* Barry Rubin: But the main problems Morsi is focused on is how to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in power, how to get lots of money from the West, and how to make Egypt into a radical Islamist state. Enforcing quiet in the Gaza Strip right now is part of that effort. Being the main sponsor of Hamas, a terrorist group, used to be called “state sponsorship of terrorism,” now it is to be admired as being, in The New York Times formulation, Hamas’s “most important international ally.”

* While the chiefs of Egypt’s religious system, including the powerful mosque-university al-Azhar, are hardly liberal, they are also not systematic Islamists. Once such people are replaced with loyalists, the Brotherhood will have the power to define Islam itself. Given the international authority of al-Azhar, which trains clerics for many different countries, Sunni Islam from Morocco to Indonesia would be closer to becoming thoroughly in line with revolutionary Islamist, anti-Western, anti-Semitic thinking. That is not to say it is open, liberal, and tolerant now. But the situation would be far worse and destabilizing. For example, mainstream clerics would issue a stream of rulings justifying terrorism and condemning anyone who cooperated with the West.

 

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. Morsi’s move “is reminiscent of Gaddafi”
2. “U.S. chooses stability over democracy in Egypt” (By James Brandon, The Commentator, Nov. 25, 2012)
3. “Egypt’s Islamist coup” (Wall Street Journal, lead article, Nov. 24, 2012)
4. “Egypt’s Islamist president assumes dictatorial powers” (By Barry Rubin, Rubin Reports, Nov. 23, 2012)


MOVE “IS REMINISCENT OF GADDAFI”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three articles about the “coup” on Thursday by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi when – with the world obsessing over events in Gaza and Israel – he awarded himself virtually unchallenged control of Egypt, including placing himself outside judicial oversight

On Friday, protests by thousands of Egyptians against the Muslim Brotherhood turned violent. Muslim Brotherhood party offices in several cities were set on fire. In continuing protests yesterday, at least one teenager was shot dead.

One previous Muslim Brotherhood supporter of Morsi described his move “as reminiscent of Gaddafi”. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Morsi now has more power then his predecessor Hosni Mubarak ever had.

Many of the commentators in The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC and elsewhere who have been telling us how “moderate” Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi were likely to be in power, are now strangely silent.

Mohamed El-Baradei, the prominent Nobel-peace prize winning former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called on the United States and European Union to condemn the declaration, calling Morsi a “dictator.”

But so far the response by the U.S. and EU has been pathetic. And Egypt will continue to get almost $10 billion in aid from the U.S., EU and International Monetary Fund, even as it becomes a repressive, Islamist state.

I attach three articles below. The authors of all three are subscribers to this list.

***

Among other recent dispatches about the ongoing Islamist take-over of the Arab world’s biggest country, please see “Egypt’s tremendous military might comes under Islamist control”.


FULL ARTICLES

AN OMINOUS PHRASE BELOVED BY EVERY REVOLUTIONARY-TURNED-DESPOT FROM ROBESPIERRE TO LENIN AND MAO”

U.S. chooses stability over democracy in Egypt
By James Brandon
The Commentator (UK)
November 25, 2012

On Thursday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi passed an extraordinary presidential decree. This unilaterally fired the country’s prosecutor-general, banned the judiciary from dissolving the country’s constituent assembly and, conveniently, also declared all the president’s decisions to be irrevocable and immune from any form of judicial challenge or overturn.

Morsi said this would allow him to achieve ‘political and economic stability’ in Egypt and to ‘defend the revolution’: an ominous phrase beloved by every revolutionary-turned-despot from Robespierre to Lenin and Mao.

This momentous step – which one Egyptian legal expert described as ‘absolute fascism’ – was almost certainly given the nod by the Obama administration, either implicitly or explicitly. Only a few hours before his announcement, Hillary Clinton had told a press conference in Cairo that:

“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”

After Morsi’s announcement, the U.S. State Department merely observed that Morsi’s moves “raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community”, hardly a resounding U.S. denunciation.

The ‘stability and peace’ trade-off that was reached between Clinton and Morsi in Cairo is clear; in return for Morsi persuading Hamas to agree to a ceasefire with Israel, the U.S. would allow him to seize new ‘temporary’ political powers under the guise of ensuring ‘stability’, both in Egypt and in the region.

This move – the latest instance of the Obama Whitehouse dressing up naivety for hard-nosed realism – is short-sighted for two main reasons:

Firstly, it grants the Muslim Brotherhood the power to act with minimal checks and balances from Egypt’s judiciary. Now that Egypt’s non-ideological military has realised that it can prosper under an Islamist regime, the judiciary was the last branch of government still acting as a significant brake on Brotherhood ambitions.

For all its faults, this institution is now likely to be purged and silenced, with knock-on effects for Egyptian politics: opposition protesters will face tougher sentences, Brotherhood members – already widely accused of attacks on rival demonstrators and of using sexual assault to intimidate liberal female oppositionists – will be able to act with greater impunity.

Ongoing, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders, on charges from blasphemy to corruption, will also likely increase. Weakening Egypt’s judges will also enable the Brotherhood to move against other sources of opposition formerly protected by the judiciary.

On Friday, Gehad al-Haddad, a senior Brotherhood adviser, tweeted ominously that after the Brotherhood had dealt with the judiciary, ‘the police needs its own cleansing project, which this declaration enabled. Let’s hope it’s swift’.

Secondly, Hillary Clinton’s ‘peace and stability’ trade-off has only granted Israel a short-term reprieve and has in the longer-term stacked the odds against the survival of the Jewish homeland.

Following Clinton’s visit, Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s real leader who was prevented from standing for the presidency on a technicality, publicly reiterated the group’s view on Israel that “jihad was obligatory” on Muslims, his sole proviso being that an armed attack on Israel by Arab states should only be “the last stage”, once the Muslim world had achieved “unity” – incidentally a word used by Morsi to justify his power-grab.

As will become clear, in the longer-term Clinton’s deal with Morsi has weakened Israel by linking its security to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political ambitions: if the US does not give a free hand to the Brotherhood in Egypt, the Egyptians will cease to rein in Hamas.

Clearly, this new dynamic works actively against Israel; the more Hamas threatens Israel, the more the US will have to concede to the Brotherhood in Cairo; a formula that only motivates the Brotherhood to allow Hamas’ military capabilities strengthen further, all while the Brotherhood uses its control of Egypt to advance towards its planned ‘last stage’, namely the eventual liquidation of Israel.

It is of course possible that Morsi will keep his promise to relinquish his powers once a constitution is in place. However, Morsi and his followers believe their party acts on earth on behalf of God; how then can they reduce God’s earthly powers and remain devout?

It is also possible that Morsi’s unseemly lunge for the levers of power will galvanise the group’s much-hyped ‘liberal’ wing. Certainly it has unnerved overseas supporters. Osama Saeed, the Scottish Brotherhood activist now working for al-Jazeera, described Morsi’s defence of the move ‘as reminiscent of Gaddafi’.

Dali Mogahed, a long-time U.S.-based defender of the Brotherhood, described the move as ‘a disaster’. It is also possible that effective domestic opposition to the Brotherhood will now finally coalesce: Mohamed ElBaradei’s powerful denunciation on Friday of Morsi as a ‘pharaoh’, the Brotherhood’s preferred term for Mubarak, clearly struck a nerve.

Yet these developments may be too little, too late. With the Brotherhood seizing dictatorial powers and silencing opposition voices, while simultaneously re-writing the country’s constitution in order to hardwire Islamism into the country’s governmental DNA, all apparently with the tacit support of Obama’s White House, it may be too late to save Egypt from despotism.

 

MR. OBAMA SHOULD CONDEMN THE POWER GRAB”

Egypt’s Islamist Coup
The Wall Street Journal (lead article)
November 24, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood’s man claims more power than Mubarak had.

The Egyptian revolution took another bad turn Thursday, as President Mohamed Morsi gave himself dictatorial powers over the legislature and courts. The world has feared that the Muslim Brotherhood would favor one-man, one-vote, once, and the Morsi coup is an ominous sign.

“The people wanted me to be the guardian of these steps in this phase,” Reuters quoted Mr. Morsi as saying on Friday. “I don’t like and don’t want – and there is no need – to use exceptional measures. But those who are trying to gnaw the bones of the nation” must be “held accountable.”

Mr. Morsi says his diktat will merely last as long as it takes the country to adopt a new constitution, which is what authoritarians always say. They claim to be a necessary step on the way to democracy, but democracy never arrives. Mr. Morsi’s rationalization is that he must have this power to “protect the revolution,” as if the demonstrators who deposed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely wanted another Mubarak with a beard and prayer rug. Mr. Morsi is claiming more power than Mr. Mubarak ever had.

Egyptians took to the street on Friday in protest, sometimes violently, and nearly every other major political leader denounced the putsch. That includes Abdel Monheim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and presidential candidate. The violence is regrettable, but the protests may be the only way Egyptians can prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from becoming their new dictators.

The Brotherhood doesn’t control the military or Ministry of Interior, yet neither one is going to rush to defend a more liberal Egyptian state. The military’s main goal is to protect its role in government and its economic interests, and the Brotherhood’s draft constitution puts the military outside of civilian control.

As long as Mr. Morsi doesn’t challenge those interests, the military and police may let him control the courts, the media and the legislature. This is a recipe for rule a la Pakistan, with an increasingly Islamist state but the military and intelligence services as an independent power. The immediate losers will be Egypt’s liberals and the Western journalists who inhaled the vapors of Tahrir Square. But whatever Mr. Morsi intends, the Pakistan model is not a recipe for a more stable Egypt.

Mr. Morsi’s coup is also awkward for the Obama Administration, which had been praising the Egyptian in media backgrounders for his role in brokering the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Mr. Morsi was hailed as a moderate statesman. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had barely left Cairo before Mr. Morsi made his move. He may have figured that all the praise made it easier for him to grab more power.

Mrs. Clinton and President Obama had said nothing as we went to press, though a State Department spokeswoman issued a tepid statement saying the U.S. had “concerns” and calling for “checks and balances.” The Obama Administration has invested its prestige in a moderate Muslim Brotherhood, and it may be loathe to admit that this hope might be going the way of its Russian “reset” or its claim that the “tide of war is receding.”

Mr. Obama should condemn the power grab and hope this has some sway with those who want to maintain good U.S. ties. If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the Islamist Mubarak, it will be a blow to U.S. interests and further evidence of a Middle East sliding away from American influence.

 

THE POWER TO DEFINE SUNNI ISLAM ITSELF”

Egypt’s Islamist President Assumes Dictatorial Powers
By Barry Rubin
Rubin Reports
November 23, 2012

The French press agency headline says it all: “Egypt’s [President] Morsi assumes sweeping powers, branded new pharaoh.” Morsi has issued a decree giving himself virtually dictatorial powers and contradicting the assumption that he – and his Muslim Brotherhood organization – intend to rule democratically. Opposition forces said this constituted a coup.

Morsi’s spokesman explained the decree in these terms: the president can issue any decree he wishes to protect the revolution. “The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”

It seems apparent that this is another step in the process toward the fundamental transformation of Egypt into an Islamist, Sharia-ruled state. If one views the 2011 revolution as a democratic one, then Morsi is destroying it. But of course he and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists see it as an Islamist revolution, parallel to the 1979 Iranian revolution – though in Egyptian terms, of course. Lest there be any illusions about what this means, note that Morsi is one man whose legitimacy is not established in practice – despite having won an election – and who cannot depend on the country’s institutions to obey him. The power behind Morsi is not that he is president but that he has the support of the country’s strongest group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and can generally count on the Salafists as well.

The timing of this takeover is ironic since it coincides with an all-time high for the Obama administration’s regard for Egypt, following that regime’s brokering of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, including a continuous insistence from the U.S. government and mass media that the Brotherhood was now moderate and pro-democratic. In a normal universe, a U.S. president would be furious at Egypt for being made to look foolish after lavishing so much praise on Egypt and its insistence that the Brotherhood was moderate and democratic. Of course, that will not happen with this administration.

It is true that Morsi acted “pragmatically” on the ceasefire issue. But what does that mean? He took into account his own regime interests and didn’t just howl “Alahu Akhbar!” repeatedly. Westerners seem to think that for someone to be a radical Islamist they have to be a wild man. If Osama bin Laden wore a suit and tie, he’d still be alive today.

But of course Morsi wants to stay in power and strengthen his regime. He’s not going to throw away $10 billion in aid (U.S., EU, IMF) for some wild adventure in the Gaza Strip that Hamas began without asking him. He doesn’t yet control the country or the army. There’s no constitution and no functioning parliament. If the Muslim Brotherhood has proven anything, it is that it has patience.

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were – here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

Barry Rubin now continues But the main problems Morsi is focused on is how to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in power, how to get lots of money from the West, and how to make Egypt into a radical Islamist state. Enforcing quiet in the Gaza Strip right now is part of that effort.

Being the main sponsor of Hamas, a terrorist group, used to be called “state sponsorship of terrorism,” now it is to be admired as being, in the New York Times formulation, Hamas’s “most important international ally.” Another interesting parallel is that Hamas, like the fellow Brotherhood branch in Egypt, won an election and then seized power completely. Things in Egypt have not yet gone that far, but Morsi has taken a big step in that direction.

At home, it has taken only a few weeks for Morsi to return to dictatorship. The decree comes as secular-minded groups demonstrate in the Tahrir Square area while the Islamists call for suppressing them.

Morsi’s offensive seeks to give him the power to purge existing institutions and put supporters in control.

Perhaps the highest priority is to take over the court system by appointing Islamist judges. During the late Mubarak regime, judges were among the most courageous of dissidents, issuing decisions the government doesn’t like. After the revolution, judges gave rulings against the Brotherhood’s goals, for example, saying that the election of parliament – which is three-quarters Islamist – was illegal. Morsi wants to reverse this ruling by decree rather than face new elections where Islamist vote totals will probably plummet.

The other key institutions are the armed forces, where top generals have already resigned, and the religious establishment. While the chiefs of Egypt’s religious system, including the powerful mosque-university al-Azhar, are hardly liberal, they are also not systematic Islamists or Brotherhood supporters. Once such people are replaced with loyalists, the Brotherhood will have the power to define Islam itself.

Given the international authority of al-Azhar, which trains clerics for many different countries, Sunni Islam from Morocco to Indonesia would be closer to becoming thoroughly in line with revolutionary Islamist, anti-Western, antisemitic thinking. That is not to say it is open, liberal, and tolerant now. But the situation would be far worse and destabilizing. For example, mainstream clerics would issue a stream of rulings justifying terrorism and condemning anyone who cooperated with the West.

The Egyptian regime’s cooperation on a Gaza ceasefire, then, was in large part intended to defuse any reaction against its movement toward dictatorship at home. It is doubtful, for example, that the Obama administration will condemn the new decree giving Morsi total power in the country. And Egypt will get almost $10 billion in aid from the United States, European Union, and International Monetary Fund, even as it becomes a repressive, Islamist state.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.