Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why does no one care what's behind the dissolved - reinstated - pending parliament?

Ever since Morsi was elected, I have been taking a mental break from Egyptian politics. I was also busy with other things which could potentially serve as an excuse for the silence that reigned on this blog in the last weeks. But let's face it: I simply embraced the relief that Morsi's victory meant for me and many Egyptians and used the occasion to not think politics for a while. In the eyes of an activist friend of mine, this is what most Egyptians have done as well. But from his point of view this is a fundamental mistake, reproducing the people's failure to be active and resilient citizens in the last 30 years. In my friend's eyes, by not paying attention, people give SCAF a free hand in preventing Morsi from actually governing. And my friend himself was already worried because "it's been a week and Morsi has not done anything."

Even though it was clear which struggles where lying ahead of the newly elected president, this couldn't dampen his supporter's joy on the day of celebration. (Unfortunately I have not recorded the woman ululating.)

By now it's been a bit more than a week, and indeed, Morsi has not yet solved the traffic problem in Caro. But obviously it is not the case that nothing has happened since he was officially announced winner of the 2012 presidential race in Egypt. Rather, a lot has been ging on since then, even though the outcome remains unclear: Morsi was sworn in, gave speeches in Tahrir and at Cairo University, and allowed for a lot of speculation about potential ministers in his cabinet. Morsi also met with the heads and ministers of other states, among them the king of Saudi Arabia and Foreign Secretary Clinton, and maybe most importantly he decreed that the parliament be reinstated. Reinstating the parliament was possible (and maybe necessary?) because it had previously been dissolved by SCAF after the Supreme Court had declared parts of the electoral law unconstitutional. SCAF and the Supreme Court on the other hand refuted the legitimacy of Morsi's decree, but up to now the case is still pending as the administrative court also has a word to say in that issue.

The issue of the dissolved - reinstated - pending parliament is illustrative of the overall situation: none of the power struggles has come to closure yet. And: there is a lot of unfinished business, in pretty much any field that you can think of.
While this was to be expected from an ongoing revolution facing a counterrevolution (or at least a resilient military regime), what's shocking me is the lack of sound analysis in both Egyptian and international, commercial and non-commercial media and in the public discourse. Take the parliament issue: Barely any journalist, politician or self-proclaimed commentator (like I am) discusses the question whether SCAF's decision to dissolve parliament was legal or legitimate in the first place. Hardly anyone makes the effort of distinguishing between the judiciary's verdict (= Supreme Court declaring electoral law as unconstitutional) and the executive's action (=SCAF dissolving parliament). I started going through the English version of the court's decision, in an (eventually futile) attempt to figure out what exactly the court had decreed. In face of several pages of legal slang (Arabic legal slang translated to English might even be worse than legal slang per se), I soon threw in the towel and gave up to make up my mind about the legality of Morsi's reinstatement-decree. Thanks God, the absolutely incredible journalist Issandr El Amrani was more persistent and eventually commented on the issue in his post "Moustafa: Don't call the SCC's decision on parliament a dissolution" on his blog The Arabist. Yet, and this is the surprising part: hardly anyone else does.

People dozing away in the summer heat, giving in to exhaustion after 17 months of revolutionary turmoil and worries, helpes SCAF and the judiciary clinging to power and preventing democratically elected politicians from actually ruling. But the mediocre quality of political analysis in media and public discourse might do the bigger share. What we see is the endless swamping of the audience with rumours, conspiracy theories, and dramatic catchphrases. What we need is transparent, well-informed, and analytically sharp writing. 

The above mentioned blog "The Arabist" and the website "Jadaliyya" are proof that this is possible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Muslim Brother Morsi leading the polls BUT...

As if last night's counting of the votes for the presidential election had not been exciting enough, SCAF issued a new "constitutional declaration" before midnight. If you wanna understand what that means, please go ahead and read

Nathan Brown's "Instant analysis of Egypt's new constitution" on Issandr El Amrani's fabulous blog The Arabist

or have a look at AlAhram's summary of the declaration in English

or (for those how can) at the Arabic original .

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Why the bad news in Egypt is worse than you thought"

A good article by Mohamed El Dahshan, explaining why it's not been a military coup, and pointing to the importance of the more or less clandestine restoration of the "emergency law":

“We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted.’’

...Hossam Baghat, head of the well-known NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, tweeted on Thursday, commenting on the most recent turn in Egypt's transition. Washington Post article by Leila Fadel describes the situation in Cairo yesterday, one day after the court ruling to dissolve parliament and one day before the presidential run-off:

"Only a few bedraggled demonstrators turned out to protest the latest turn in Egypt’s turbulent journey — the court-ordered dissolution of parliament. Honking cars inched past symbolic tombs honoring protesters slain by security forces. With presidential balloting to begin Saturday, people on the sweltering streets looked fatigue and numb.
Even Friday’s shuttering of the Islamist-dominated parliament by Egypt’s ruling military generals, who were carrying out the court ruling, did not stir much in the way of condemnation. Many of those who fought hardest for the toppling of Hosni Mubarak now appear resigned to see the old guard come back to power."

"Fatigue and numb" seems an appropriate description to me. And it appears that the revolutionaries where wrong when they claimed, in face of the military coup on February 11, 2011 and throughout the entire transitional period: "now the future is ours and they cannot really take the revolution from us'. And each time we feel this, then again we go to the streets" (from an interview conducted in December 2011, with a 23-old student here in Cairo). The idea that "Tahrir is always there" and any step of the ruling powers could be met by another large protest rested on the wrong assumption that the events of January 2011 were nothing but a spontaneous expression of people's will. In fact however, the large-scale processes had been preceded by a long phase of preparation and mobilization. They did not come out of the blue - and so today a mass protest won't come out of the blue, especially not if people are tired and worn out by last years developments.

So if massive protests are not likely now, is there no way to prevent Ahmed Shafiq from becoming Egypt's next president? (Note: A president with completely unchecked power now that parliament has been dissolved, no constitution is in place, and the judiciary is no longer deemed independent.) Well, there is a simple option to at least prevent a smooth takeover by Shafiq and keep the political game open for another round: more than 50% of those polling vote for Morsi.

To me, that seems a viable option, in particular in face of the daunting alternative. Yet, this might only be so because I am not worried about the geopolitical consequences of an MB-led Egypt, and because I don't find the idea of Islamic standards of behaviour enforced in the public sphere too threatening. Already being in Egypt means that I can not behave the way I am used to, that a high degree of adaptation is enforced on me and that questions of morality are constantly on my mind. And, to be fair, the fact that other than Egypt's religious minorities, staunch liberals and Westernized youth, I can simply leave and settle elsewhere if it pleases me.

For many Egyptians however things look different (quoting again from WP): "'The revolution is dead,' said Omnia Nabil, 24, holding an Egyptian flag among protesters in the square outnumbered by vendors peddling revolutionary paraphernalia. Still, she added: 'I will vote for the devil before I vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.'"

Ok, wait: "I will vote for the devil" rather than for Morsi? Either I completely underestimate the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the old regime's propaganda has been extremely successful. For years, Mubarak and his aides cultivated the storyline: "It's either us or the Islamists." The West and many Egyptians bought in this narrative and supported the regime no matter what, out of fear of ... well, of what exactly? One of Leila Fadel's interview partners has a response, "he will vote for Shafiq, because Islamists cannot be trusted to make good on the demands of the revolution: 'If they win, this will be Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran'".

If I had the chance to argue with this desperate (former?) revolutionary, I would like to point out that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran might not be quite the same. For understanding their form of Political Islam and their current situation, the countries' history, as well as past and current influences of (neo)imperialist powers need to be taken into consideration. I would side with those who say "Egypt will never be Iran". Yet, of course, this is arguable. In any case, however, it is remarkable that in Egypt the alternative to a military regime and police state, "the Islamists" has never been "tried". (This was by the way an argument of some for voting for the MB in the parliamentary elections.)

It seems that at the given time, the Egyptian society is too divided to unite behind Morsi in order to prevent Shafiq. Shafiq has already announced that he would crush any further protests after being elected. Other than that, two recent state advertisements might give a taste of what's to be expected from his presidency (first one with subtitles, second one only in Arabic)

Advertisement warning Egyptians to speak to foreigners about "sensitive" issues.

Advertisement warning Egyptians not to spread exaggerated news about the protests 
(in Arabic only)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Don't you ever think it couldn't get worse in Egypt

                 "Opening soon" reads this grafitti, sprayed on the wall of the former NDP headquarters. By Zeft.

So, more than one year down from the "Revolution of January 25th", many people have learned a lesson. Most importantly, revolutionaries have learned that you really shouldn't congratulate yourself on your achievements too early. The "old" regime has probably learned a lesson how to deal with unwanted attempts at democratisation more successfully.

In fact, since yesterday it seems that the regime has provided us with the perfect blueprint of how to abort a revolution: Wear the revolutionary forces down in small fights over time, while at the same time maintaining the promise of a transition of power following democratic principles. Prepare everything for the handover of power, and make sure you keep all the oppositional forces busily involved in that process. Then, few days before the final (democratic) battle supposedly decides who obtains presidential power, make sure you concentrate all powers in your hands again by following 5 simple steps: 1) get the respected judges are on your side, 2) issue a law-like decree that grants you unlimited power to arrest people, 3) make the judges dissolve the democratically elected parliament, so that legislative and constitutional power wanders back into your hands again, 4) finally, install the president of your choice, and 5) enjoy.

This might not be a blueprint working in other countries (coz of course we know how different they are, even if they belong to the Arab, Moslem, African or short non-Western world), but it definitely proved successful in Egypt. The second round for presidency is scheduled for 16th and 17th of June, so that is tomorrow and the day after. The competitors in the run-off are the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, and a remnant of the old regime (of the "folool"), Ahmed Shafiq. Earlier this week, "Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid issued a decree (...) giving military intelligence officers the power to arrest civilians until a new constitution is put in place" (POMED, 13.06.2012). As "obstructing traffic" (which pretty much equals "demonstration") is one of the "crimes" that military personnel can arrest citizens for, the decree's effects resemble those of the infamous "emergency law", which had blurred the border between police, military, and judicial powers for years until it was cancelled after the revolution. 

Other than undermining the rule of law, SCAF also regained legislative power yesterday by a court ruling: the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled 6 month (!) after the parliamentary elections, that they were partially conducted in unconstitutional ways, and thus the entire parliament had to be dissolved. Apparently, this also affects the legitimacy of the 100-men strong constituent assembly, which had been elected by parliament two days ago. The assembly was charged with drafting a constitution, given that the country's constitution was disbanded and substituted by SCAF's constitutional declaration last year. In face of the parliament's dissolution, SCAF announced it would appoint the members of a new constitutional assembly today. 

Effectively all this means that SCAF controls the constitution-giving body and has re-gained legislative power after the dissolution of the legislative body. Above that, the military has the right to arrest people as it pleases. Oh, and last but not least, the upcoming elections are expected to make Shafiq the new President of Egypt. Shafiq used to be Prime Minister under Mubarak. He has repeatedly shown his condescension for revolutionaries and, actually, citizens in general. Shafiq promised to crush further demonstrations after being elected (maybe that is the reason why he made it to the run-off?) and all in all, is as anti-revolutionary as you can get. He is going to be a president, without a parliament, without a constitution and with the military establishment on his side. I wonder whether Mubarak envies him.

The reaction of Egyptian public is not yet clear, the public outcry that I would have expected yesterday did not happen. Indignation was limited to the media and Twitter. All the people I randomly spoke to in the streets approved of what had happened. Either because "Mubarak was a good man", because "The Muslim Brothers want to forbid tourism. They want to forbid drinking - but why do the tourists come here?", because "Parliament didn't do anything", because "I don't like Ikhwan (the MB)."

If you want to learn more about the bleak situation the Egyptian revolution finds itself in, I can recommend the following articles:

Egyptian court rulings seen as reversal of last year’s ‘revolution’
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, Thursday 14 June 2012,

Egypt, a country lost in transition
Progress from autocracy to democracy has been complicated by tensions, divisions and violence at every turn
By Ian Black, The Guardian, Thursday 14 June 2012,

By Nathan J. Brown, Foreign Policy, Thursday 14 June 2012,

By David D Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Thursday 14 June 2012,

What to know on Egypt's new political drama
By SARAH EL DEEB, AP, Thursday 14 June 2012,

By AlArabiya, Thursday 14 June 2012,

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The latest victim: Ahmed el Sayed Soroor killed this morning

After waking up I checked the newssites AlJazeera and some Egyptian ones, and was reliefed to find that no massacre had happened at night, and that apparently, for a third day in row everything was quiet and calm. Then I signed in to Twitter, looking at the thread for #Tahrir, and learnt that this morning a young man named Ahmed el Sayed Soroor had been killed in front of the cabinet. Some tweets report his dead as a consequence of the police (or: military police? Amn Markazy in Arabic) breaking up the sit-in in front of the Cabinet. Yet, a video allegedly showing the events leading to Ahmed's death, to me does not seem to show the break up of a sit-in. And also the actual chain of events remained rather unclear - yet, what sticks to the mind is the image of the blood on Ahmed's back, flowing from the wound that would kill him little later. 

Another short video shows ho a group of men carries the wounded away and eventually enters a bus, while those remaining outside shout "there is no God but God". If you want to follow latest events you can follow the threads #Tahrir and #OccupyCabinet.

In light of news like these reaching us nearly every day, for me it seems difficult to remain optimistic. But others, like Firas Al-Atraqchi, are still hopeful and see what is happening as the birth of a new Egypt. In an article for Huffington Post he speculates: "It is now that the seeds of a true revolution are being planted. Ten months ago, shortsightedness and political infighting allowed the pillars of the old regime -- the medieval Ministry of Interior and State media -- to survive.Today, however, protesters in Tahrir and other governorates have realized what it is they failed to do.By taking to the streets they are creating a new convention between the military and the people, and redefining the concepts of citizenship in their country."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Should I stay or should I go? ...Thoughts of Tantawi and Ganzouri

In a press conference yesterday, military's representatives stated that the police had shown "self restraint" in dealing with the protesters who were allegedly intending to attack the Ministry of Interior. The SCAF affirmed that police had used nothing bur teargas on the protesters - an assurance slightly at odds with an  earlier statement by the health ministry confirming that 7 deaths had been due to gunshot wounds.
And while 77-years-old new and former prime minister Ganzouri is still pondering whom to appoint as minister, the people holding a sit-in in front of the cabinet buildings have already appointed their own salvation government, according to Al Ahram Online. According to some participants interviewed by Bikyamasr, protestors had moved to this new location for symbolic reasons: "It sends a better message than Tahrir, meaning we can take the parliament(...)We aren’t going to take Tahrir, we are going to take other streets." I am wondering whether it wasn't rather the understanding that they would be unable to hold the Midan because of a lack of people...
While it seems more like a symbolic move so far, the appointment of a civilian transition government would be in line with the latest demands of the US as well. Other than in the last days, the US government seems to now voice its support for the immediate transfer of power to civilian authorities: "Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible". Yet, according to the British The Guardian, the US' move rather intends to empower and back Ganzouri than an entirely new revolutionary government made up of various presidential candidates as proposed by groups of protesters.