Tag Archives | Egypt


Sec. Clinton has been talking out of both sides of her mouth.   Two weeks ago, she said the SCAF’s delay for Presidential elections until 2013 was ‘appropriate.’   This past wee, she has been verbally scolding SCAF.  But look, every US president who served the last 40 years scolded Mubarak but never left his side.

The Obama Administration is overly concerned about security and Egypt’s treaty with Israel.  Repression by SCAF isn’t going to ensure either.  Stability will come with elections to Parliament, the Presidential election date set for next Spring and overturning the emergency law.

SCAF itself is the provocateur for chaos.  It has sewn dissent between Copts and Muslims.  It has reneged on promises.  It continues to give mixed signals in a volatile situation.  SCAF is either setting the stage for more repression or incredibly clumsy and stupid.

Obama needs to move on this immediately.




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Hundreds of Thousands Egyptians Demand Civilian Rule

UPDATE:  Todays papers report that many ‘liberals’ did not participate in the demonstrations.  However, the April 6th Movement, a key force behind the Arab Spring, did.  However, the NYT reports yesterday’s outpouring was a show of force by Islamists demanding civilian rule.

Most factions of the democratic movement in Egypt came together today at Tahrir Square demanding that the military cede authority to civilian rule without delay.  Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as secular parties, united in this one demand for authentic civilian government.

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians packed Tahrir Square today demanding an end to military rule.  Islamists and non-Islamist forces combined forces on the eve of Parliamentary elections in a show of popular strength demanding a real, rapid transition from military rule to democracy.  The size of the turnout and the unity of the message will send a strong, and incredibly important, message to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: it should not delay a transition to civilian rule, it should back off from its proposed pro-military supra-constitutional document, and it should stop its abuses of military courts and emergency law.

Those Egyptians!  No one said it would be easy.  But they won’t give up!

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Mubarak’s Ghost

Just a few weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed approval of the Egyptian military delaying presidential elections until 2013, she shifted tone:

“If, over time, the most powerful political force in Egypt remains a roomful of unelected officials, they will have planted the seeds for future unrest, and Egyptians will have missed a historic opportunity,” Mrs. Clinton warned.

“When unelected authorities say they want to be out of the business of governing,” the United States expects them “to lay out a clear road map” and “abide by it,” she added.

PLEASE!  The cozy Mubarak-US pattern is re-emerging full throttle in Egypt.  Not only has SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) delayed elections, it has refused to lift Mubarak’s emergency law and is currently drafting a constitution that would give it powers over a future civilian government.

And the most the US Secretary of State can say is: “…they will have planted the seeds for future unrest…”!  ‘Deja vu’ all over again! Picture 40 years worth of US Presidents who expressed identical sentiments to Mubarak but supported his autocracy anyway.  The betrayal of Egyptian democrats is now, not in some more convenient ‘future’ for Clinton .  Unless the US puts teeth into its pronouncements, they mean nothing, as surely as decades of calls for Mubarak to democratize meant nothing.

This is a sinister symbiotic relationship:  the US gives the Egyptian military $1.5 billion a year, and in return, Egypt maintains its peace treaty with Israel.  Everything else about Egypt – elections, a new constitution, the force of the Tahrir democratic movement – is secondary to the Egyptian military and its US enablers.

The Obama Administration has been working with SCAF since before Mubarak even left the scene. There is little chance a US president would call for Mubarak’s ouster without being assured of continuity in Egypt’s relationship with Israel.  The Egyptian people are being played like pawns in yet another ‘Great Game’ powered by the USA.



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Will Field Marshal Tantawi Run for Egyptian President?

Several blogs specializing in Africa and the Middle East report two ominous signs that the head of Egypt’s Military Council may seek the Egyptian presidency.  First, during Sec. of State Clinton’s visit last week, he was seen on Cairo streets shaking hands and greeting people, something rare for Tantawi.  Pictures also showed him in civilian clothes, a first.  Two days ago, two or three neighborhoods in Cairo and Alexandria were plastered with Tantawi posters suggesting he would be most capable to ensuring the ‘stability’ of the Egyptian state.   A previously unknown group “Egypt Above All” were said to be behind the posters.

Last March, I made a point of saying Egypt’s Tahrir Square movement was a reform movement, not revolution.  Although the old Mubarak party is dissolved, the SCAF are high level military lifers with close ties to the former president and to the US military.

Obama Pledges Support for Egyptian Military

Meanwhile, the White House released a read-out of President Obama’s October 24th call to Field Marshal Tantawi:

President Obama called Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi today to reaffirm the close partnership between the United States and Egypt and to underscore his full support for Egypt’s transition to democracy. The two leaders agreed that Egypt’s upcoming elections must be free and fair and be held in accordance with democratic standards. The President underscored that the United States supports a strong, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Egypt that responds to the aspirations of its people, and that the outcome of the election is for the Egyptian people to decide. He welcomed Egypt’s willingness to accept international election witnesses and urged that Egypt lift the emergency law and end military trials for civilians. The two leaders also discussed Egypt’s economic situation. The President emphasized his support for full funding by the Congress of the Administration’s request for assistance for Egypt, without conditions, and stressed his commitment to help Egypt secure international assistance to address its economic needs.

Just replace the Field Marshal’s name with Mubarak and this sounds like a run-of-the-mill statement such as the WH delivered to Mubarak under several presidents.  It is certainly a statement of support for “Egyptian stabiity”, not a warning against anti-democratic actions taken by the military council.  And how many times did American presidents’ ‘urge’ an Egyptian leader to lift the 40-year-old emergency law?  It meant nothing.

Egyptian Instability: Suspicious Origins

Much of the ‘instability’ faced by Egyptians over the past several months have suspicious origins:

1.  Soccer thugs attacked the Israeli embassy after splitting off from a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration near Tahrir Square.  No Egyptian police were to be found.  Major news organizations said the Israeli ambassador to Egypt called Netanyahu who called Sec. Clinton who called President Obama, who called the Supreme Military Council in Egypt to tell them the Israeli embassy was under attack in their own backyard.  Stranger that fiction?  Maybe not.

2.   After a Coptic Church was vandalized, the army attacked protests, killing two dozen people, some crushed by tanks rolling over them.  Many observers believe the SCAF is deliberately throwing fire on to sectarian biases.  So far no one has been brought to justice.

3.   The Emergency Law remains in effect.

4.   SCAF postponed presidential elections until 2013, against the wished of Democrats.  Clinton supported the postponement.

5.   Pro-democracy activists are still being thrown in jail at security services will under the emergency law and some are being tortured.



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Tunisia: Winners Enter into Negotiations for Coalition

Inevitably, a history-changing event like the Tunisian elections will take some time to completely sort out.  However, I think it is worth quoting extensively from articles in the New York Times and Al Jazeera for their initial takes:


By Monday afternoon, Tunisian liberal parties said they were entering discussions to form a government led by their Islamist rival, Ennahda, after it swept to a plurality of about 40 percent in preliminary vote tallies. The acceptance of the results by rivals signaled the beginning of a partnership seldom seen in the Arab world, where Islamists’ few opportunities for victories at the voting booth have sometimes led to harsh crackdown or civil war…

“This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “We are as democratic as any country.”

Leaders of Ennahda noted that their party championed a greater commitment to the principles of Western-style liberal democracy than any other Islamist party in the region, and they said they hoped their example would help lead other Islamists in a similar liberal direction.

“We are the most progressive Islamic party in the region,” said Soumaya Ghannoushi, a British newspaper columnist and a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the daughter of Ennahda’s founder and acts as a party spokeswoman.

“Accepting each other, accepting pluralism, accepting diversity and trying to work together — this is the lesson Ennahda can give to other Islamic political movements,” Ms. Ghannoushi said.

In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within the Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth — groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder. But in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state that might enforce religious laws.


The leaders of two leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakol, said they were fighting for second place, while the leader of the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat on Monday evening.

“Al-Nahda is certainly the majority, but there are two other democratic entities, Ettakatol and the CPR, who were weak at the start but now find themselves in the position to contribute to political life and usher a rational modernity in this Arab-Muslim country,” Khalil Zaouia, Ettakatol’s number two, said.

Late on Monday, the Reuters news agency, citing senior al-Nahda official Ali Larayd, reported that al-Nahda was considering forming a coalition with both Ettakol and the CPR…

Tunisia’s independent electoral body was created early in the year after Ben Ali was forced from power by a popular uprising.

In the space of a few months, it has written new electoral rules and created electoral lists from scratch, receiving high praise on Monday from a delegation sent by the National Democratic Institute, a US-based organisation that helped monitor Sunday’s vote.

“This election to me was hands down, the best, the most promising I’ve ever seen, including in the United States,” Jane Harman, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center and former US congresswoman from California, said at a press conference in Tunis.

The elections in Tunisia will undoubtedly reverberate throughout every country put in play by the Arab Spring.  The Tunisian democratic movement has led the way in inspiring not only its own public to overthrow autocracy,   but every nation in the world to rethink its relationship to the Middle East, its neighbors and the global community.  An outsized legacy for such a small country.

Congratulations to the Tunisian people on their march toward true self-determination.

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Tunisians Vote Sunday

“Even if this choice of opting for peaceful political engagement doesn’t bear fruit very quickly, we believe that in the longterm, it is good for the people and for the country.” -  Rachid Ghannouchi

Tunisians go to the polls this Sunday.  Voting by Tunisians overseas began Thursday.  Strict rules are in effect.  According to Al Jazeera:

Election day inside Tunisia is on Sunday, and the results are expected to be announced the following day.

The ISIE, the Tunisia electoral authority created earlier in the year to oversee the electoral process, has introduced strict rules to govern campaigning. Some, such as the ban on campaign advertising ahead of the official campaign period (October 1-21), were introduced only weeks ahead of the election.

This is the first democratic election coming out of the Arab Spring, as Tunisia was the spark that started a region-wide democratic uprising.  I can’t help to put a bit of subjectivity into this post.  I am excited.  I can’t wait for the results.   But Ghannouchi’s quote above is realistic.

Tunisia and Egypt almost made ousting autocrats ruling for 30 to  40 years look easy.  It’s not.  Egyptian democrats are right now confronting the Egyptian Military Council’s (SCAF) postponement of presidential elections until 2013 and the multiple delays on ending Mubarak’s emergency laws.

Nevertheless, one of Tunisia’s front runners has laid the gauntlet down”

In a meeting on Thursday, al-Nahda, the pro-democratic Islamist party headed by Rachid Ghannouchi that polled highly in the run-up to the election, warned that if the party suspected the election results were rigged, they would take to the streets. (Ed: the party is committed to non-violence and democratic rule.)

Tunisia’s democratic transition is being watched throughout the region, with many considering it a trial case for genuine democracy in the Arab world.

In other words, there is no turning back.  The Arab Spring successfully drew a line between the post-independence autocratic rulers in Northern Africa and the Middle East and a future of democratic sovereignty. Nevertheless, set-backs are inevitable.  The Tunisian elections are a test.  May they deliver the leadership and promise of the Arab Spring!

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Hillary’s New BBF: Field Marshal Tantawi?

The other day, I mentioned Hillary Clinton’s approval of a postponed date, sometime in 2013, for the Egyptian elections, a delay the pro-democracy movement in Egypt opposes.  A column in Asia Times today gives insight into Hillary’s support of the decision by SCAF (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) from the perspective of how the Hamas-Israeli prisoner swap ‘changed’ the geopolitical map of the Middle East.

First and foremost, Egypt is being widely applauded for its role in negotiating the swap deal and thereby it has moved to the center stage of regional politics, regaining its traditional leadership role in Arab politics. The fallouts are going to be immense in terms of its relations with the United States, Israel and its neighbors.

Conversely, the outcome of the current political transition in Egypt has transformed and has become a phenomenally significant thing for the entire region and beyond. In the process, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi may just have consolidated his power base and underscored his importance to Western powers, especially the United States. It stands to reason that the US played a behind-the-curtain role “dialoguing” with Tantawi over the intricacies of the deal and encouraging him to go ahead.

These two paragraphs are troublesome.  If ‘Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi may just have consolidated his power base and underscored his importance to Western powers’, where does that leave the Egyptian democracy movement?

The goal of the democracy movement is not to endear itself to Western powers.  It is to deliver the promise of self-determination in domestic and foreign affairs to the Egyptian public.  In contrast, the chief fear of the US and other Western powers has been the potential ‘destabilization’ of the Middle East, meaning how the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian movement as its vanguard, might negatively affect Israel.

So the question pivots around the role of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi representing the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces..  The Supreme Council so far has shown several faces to the people of Egypt and the world, leading to the following questions.  Will Tantawi turn real power in Egypt over to a civilian government?  Or will an ‘elected’ parliament and civilian President become appendages of military rule as they did under Mubarak?  Is there a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the US and Tantawi regarding Israel?  What is the Supreme Council demanding and getting in return?  In others words, is there a plan to continue the ‘status quo’ with a different dressing?

The military council in Egypt has positioned itself expertly.  Internally, it fanned religious divisions between Coptic Christians and Muslims and used them as a reason to crack down on the democrats and postpone elections.  On the other hand, it lifted the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, knowing the Brotherhood is the most organized electoral movement in Egypt and could win the majority in Parliament.  How far has this relationship gone?

On the international front, SCAF has inserted Egypt into the middle of Palestinian-Israeli peace politics, first brokering a weak Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, then boosting Hamas with the prisoner exchange.  The Supreme Council clearly has a more activist agenda than the Mubarak regime, which had become ossified and unable to navigate deep changes in the Middle East.  SCAF’s shown it’s ability to ‘deal’ by allowing the Israeli embassy to be sacked by dissident Egyptians, then turning around to broker a prisoner exchange with Hamas that President Abbas and the PLA could not pull off.

That Clinton heralded Egypt’s role in the prisoner exchange and at the same time publicly called SCAF’s postponing democratic elections ‘appropriate’ is highly troublesome.  We’ll see.  The Supreme Council may be trying to do a deja vu Mubarak all over again and in the process, stamping out or co-opting the democratic movement.  Or it may be teaching the civilian leadership how to navigate huge international interests.  Either way Egypt is center stage as an object lesson in political maneuvering and high-stakes diplomacy.




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Egyptian Court Bars Activist

In another sign of Egyptian back-tracking on pro-democracy promises, a court upheld the conviction of  Ayman Nour and barred him from making a Presidential run.   Mr. Nour, a long-time activist, was accused of forging documents to form an opposition party in 2005.  His arrest and conviction was widely seen as a Mubarak set-up and condemned by rights activists and governments around the world.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood won election to leadership of several professional syndicates, including those of physicians and teachers, demonstrating its appeal and electoral organization after decades of repression.

In recent weeks, Egyptian politicians have sharply criticized the interim military council for not doing enough to exclude members of the former regime from politics or accelerate the transition to democratic rule, sparking concerns that the military leadership is hoping to extend its authority.

The exclusion of a prominent pro-democracy activist like Mr. Nour while politicians from the former ruling National Democratic Party, or NDP, register unimpeded for parliamentary elections strikes many activists as a blow to secular-minded politicians and another signal of a revolution gone wrong.

The military was praised by Tahrir Square protesters last winter for refusing to move against the democratic movement.  And whenever the military council dragged on some of its decisions, Tahrir Square filled again.

Not shooting down its own citizens, however, never meant the military actually ‘surrendered’ to the democratic agenda.  The military, considered  Egypt’s most professional and respected institutions, controls vast business interests, and certainly saw the writing on the wall.  The tide against Mubarak certainly impressed top military leaders, who played a smart political hand by dropping their support for the President and seizing control of the interim government.

Although welcomed by the pro-democracy movement at the time, skepticism regarding the military council, known as SCAF has grown strong, especially from secular democratic who are not as well-organized as the Brotherhood.

At this point, the military’s given-in to some of the democrats’ demands, postponed others (such as presidential elections), tried Mubarak, let the Muslim Brotherhood function openly even as the court system has approved many Mubarak supporters to run in parliamentary elections next month and for president in 2013, an election switched from spring, 2012.

Obviously, increasing the time for holding Egyptian Presidential elections allows more time for a candidate acceptable to the military to come forward or be groomed.

I’ve said all along, the Egyptian Spring was and is a reform movement, not a ‘revolution’ in the common meaning of the term.  The military has supreme command, is causing divisions between Copts and Muslims and in other ways after giving with the right hand, taking back with the left.

Whether the reforms won will be truly democratic or merely a show remains to be seen.


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