Friday, July 05, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Collection of articles on the Egyptian coup

by Salman Hameed

The Egyptian coup was already bad. Yes, Morsi's actions were getting worse by the day and there were extraordinary (really extraordinary!) protests out in the streets. Nevertheless, military's intervention dials back the clock - even when backed by the public. In Pakistan we have seen such coups and none of them have ended well in the long run. Just to make things just a bit worse, the army has arrested the head of the Muslim Brotherhood along with Morsi's aides, has shut down television stations owned by the Brotherhood, and has opened fire on pro-Morsi protestors. One positive action was that the announcement of Morsi's overthrow was accompanied with the sight of disenfranchised minority leaders standing along side the general. But this may turn out to be a fig leaf if the army stays in power or if it pulls strings from behind the scenes to keep Muslim Brotherhood from political participation. I'm not a fan of Brotherhood politics, but their participation in the electoral process is essential. Lets see how things shape up and wishing well to our friends in Egypt.

In the mean time, here are a few articles on the current Egyptian situation (also for broader context, see this lecture by John Calvert that I posted a few weeks ago on the history and politics of the Muslim Brotherhood).

Good Articles:
Downfall in Cairo by Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy (tip Amel Ahmed) (you will probably need a subscription to access it):
Nobody should celebrate a military coup against Egypt's first freely elected president, no matter how badly he failed or how badly they hate the Muslim Brotherhood. Turfing out Morsy will not come close to addressing the underlying failures that have plagued Egypt's catastrophic transition over the last two and a half years. The military's intervention is an admission of the failure of Egypt's entire political class, and those now celebrating already probably know that they could soon rue the coup. 
This new uprising certainly upends what U.S. policymakers considered to be their best efforts to support a shaky democratic transition. Few in Washington are sorry to see Morsy go. But few believe that this process, a mass uprising culminating in a military coup, will restore stability or lead to a more democratic outcome. The Muslim Brotherhood performed atrociously in power, but the real problem was always the weakness and illegitimacy of the political institutions. If the coup and uprising solve the first at the expense of the second, then the political reset will fail....What now? There remains a very real, urgent risk of major violence and further political or even state collapse, of course. But even if the worst is avoided, Egypt faces a real risk of becoming trapped in an endless loop of failed governments, military interventions, and popular uprisings. The very idea of democratic legitimacy has taken a severe beating, and the coming constitutional reforms and new elections will not pass easily. Building real consensus behind genuinely democratic institutions has to remain the guiding light for U.S. policy and the Egyptian political class, no matter how difficult this appears. 
That means finally establishing political rules and institutions that can end the pervasive uncertainty and fear that have dominated the entire transition. Egypt's transition has been profoundly handicapped by the absence of any settled, legitimate rules of the game or institutional channels to settle political arguments. The procedural and substantive legitimacy of every step in the transition has been deeply contested, from the initial March 2011 constitutional referendum through the constitutional assembly and elections. The Supreme Constitutional Court's dissolution of parliament on the eve of the presidential election left the new government with no legitimate legislative branch other than the weak Shura Council for which few had bothered to vote.
On a more pessimist side, here is Shadi Hamid in NYT, Demoting Democracy in Egypt
 The Brotherhood’s fall will have profound implications for the future of political Islam, reverberating across the region in potentially dangerous ways. One of the most important political developments of recent years was the decision of Islamist parties to make peace with democracy and commit to playing by the rules of the political game. Leaders counseled patience to their followers. Their time would come, they were told. 
Now supporters of the Brotherhood will ask, with good reason, whether democracy still has anything to offer them. Mr. Morsi’s removal will breathe new life into the ideological claims of radicals. Al Qaeda and its followers have long argued that change can’t come through the democracy of “unbelievers”; violence is the only path. As the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri once said, “What is truly regrettable is the rallying of thousands of duped Muslim youth in voter queues before ballot boxes instead of lining them up to fight in the cause of Allah.” 
Al Qaeda’s intellectual forebears emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and were shaped by events that bear an eerie similarity to those of this week. In 1954, a popularly backed Egyptian Army moved against the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands and dismantling the organization. Prison had a radicalizing effect on Sayyid Qutb, a leading Brotherhood ideologue, who experienced torture at the hands of his captors before being executed in 1966. Many of Mr. Qutb’s followers later left the Brotherhood’s embrace and went their own way, setting up militant organizations that would begin perpetrating acts of terrorism. 
In 1954, no one could have guessed that the brutal crackdown against the Brotherhood would set in motion a chain of events that would have terrible consequences for the region and America. 
The events of this week could have similarly profound implications. In the hours after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the new military leadership suspended the Constitution, shut down at least three Islamist television stations, and, more ominously, issued arrest warrants for at least 300 Brotherhood members. Prominent liberal voices are calling for “dissolving” the Brotherhood and holding what would amount to dubious show trials.

In the mean time, here is an article in the NYT arguing in favor of the coup: A Coup, but Backed by the People by Sara Khorshid: 
Yes, this is a military coup. But without people power, no change could have taken place. I hold on to a hope that Egyptians have learned a lesson from the past two and a half years, that they will ensure that this new “transitional period” will be a time for laying the groundwork for true democracy. 
We must avoid the sort of vague legal roadmap established by the military after Mr. Mubarak’s departure, which left us in constant dispute over the allocation of powers among the branches of government. That plan was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood because it helped them take power. And the military temporarily aligned itself with the Brotherhood because it was then the most powerful political force. 
I hope that the military has sided with the people this time because it has realized that the people are the more powerful force. One priority now is to oppose any violation of the rights of Brotherhood members and their families. 
Am I certain that this second round will lead Egypt to true democracy? No. But whoever rules Egypt next will be aware of the fate of rulers who lose the faith and support of the Egyptians. 
We are back at square one. We have paid a high price for it the past two and a half years, but democracy is worth it.
Here is an article that looks at the future of the Muslim Brotherhood - Where Does the Muslim Brotherhood Go From Here: Reckoning with Morsi's Failure by Nathan Brown in The New Republic (tip from Leyla Keough)
In studying Islamist movements over the last decade, I generally found that the most rewarding time to speak to leaders was about a year or so after an election. During the heat of the political battle, they made decisions like most politicians do (on the fly, often overreacting to yesterday’s headlines) and spoke like most politicians do (providing glib spin than reflective analysis). But at calmer moments, they spoke less like politicians and more openly. And there was a reason why: The movements prided themselves (justifiably) on an ability to learn. 
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its sister organizations represent the most successful non-governmental organizations in Arab history. No other movements have been able to sustain, reinvent, and replicate themselves over so much time and space. And there are two secrets to that success: a tight-knit organizational structure that rewards loyalty and the ability to adjust and adapt. 
And those two features led to the experiment with political Islam that is now in such grave crisis. The organizational tightness of the Brotherhood made it more able than any other potential opposition force to organize for campaigns: In many countries, they were the only political party worthy of the name (even in places where they were banned from calling themselves a party). And their adaptability allowed them to take advantages of the cracks and openings that appeared in Arab authoritarian orders over the past few decades.
When the uprisings of 2011 occurred, the Egyptian Brotherhood had become sufficiently adept at the political game that it hit the ground running far faster than any possible competitor. And the organization had also evolved over the past couple decades to place politics at the center of its agenda. Founded as a general reform movement that carried out charity, self-improvement, education, mutual assistance, preaching, and politics, the Brotherhood had become a primarily political creature. 
But just as its political project seemed poised to realize full success, it suddenly and ignominiously collapsed. The immediate reaction among its members will be to complain that the Brotherhood was cheated. And in a sense it was, but complaint will not substitute for reflection forever. What will be the movement’s more studied reaction? In a conversation two months ago with a Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag, I made a bold prediction that in ten years, the organization will regret having sought the Egyptian presidency in 2012. He politely disagreed. In retrospect we were both wrong: The regret will likely set in over the next several months.
Which lesson will the Brotherhood learn, and how will it apply them? The organization first needs some time to think, and it is not yet clear how the disparate coalition that has destroyed the Morsi presidency will react to the Brotherhood’s continued role. In this respect, it would be wise for those who are now victorious in Egypt to remember that the issue is not only what the Brotherhood learns; the issue is also what Islamists are taught.
Bad and Ugly articles: 
But hold on. We can't leave here without pointing out two articles that fall under the category of Bad and Ugly: 
Here is David Brooks in NYT that defends the coup and uses a broad brush for the entire region: 
It’s no use lamenting Morsi’s bungling because incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam. We’ve seen that in Algeria, Iran, Palestine and Egypt: real-world, practical ineptitude that leads to the implosion of the governing apparatus. 
The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process. 
This week’s military coup may merely bring Egypt back to where it was: a bloated and dysfunctional superstate controlled by a self-serving military elite. But at least radical Islam, the main threat to global peace, has been partially discredited and removed from office.
Oh and of course, they are inhabit a culture of death (talk about quote mining and ignoring the long history):
It has become clear — in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and elsewhere — that radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. Many have absolutist, apocalyptic mind-sets. They have a strange fascination with a culture of death. “Dying for the sake of God is more sublime than anything,” declared one speaker at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo on Tuesday. 
As Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest, put it in an essay recently, for this sort of person “there is no need for causality, since that would imply a diminution of God’s power.” This sort of person “does not accept the existence of an objective fact separate from how he feels about it.” 
But wait. The title of the ugliest article goes to the Wall Street Journal. The article (is it an editorial?) uses Chilean dictator Pinochet as a positive example for Egypt! No seriously. Here is the last paragraph from After the Coup in Cairo
Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy. If General Sisi merely tries to restore the old Mubarak order, he will eventually suffer Mr. Morsi's fate.
There you have it folks. Egypt will be lucky if it gets its own set of the Disappeared. What rubbish!

In any case, hope these will give some sense of the happenings in Egypt.


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