Elections and chaos in Egypt

Mohammed Morsi (l) and Ahmad Shafik (r)

Mohammed Morsi (l) and Ahmad Shafik (r)

The Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia but whose most dramatic outcome was felt in Egypt with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, has clouded over once again.

In the chaos that has ensued since the courts dissolved the Egyptian Parliament last week, (the parliamentary elections took place from November to January and brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power) and with the Presidential elections running into a second round, not even the experts are clear on what is going on and what is likely to happen next. Here are a few links to help us all understand a bit more clearly the events that are happening right next door to us and which might have grave implications for Israel too.

Prof. Barry Rubin starts us off with his article titled “Court dissolves Parliament; Army takes over; Civil War?” and it makes for uncomfortable reading:

The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court has just invalidated the parliamentary election there. The parliament, 75 percent of whose members were Islamists, is being dissolved. The military junta has taken over total authority. The presidential election is still scheduled for a few dozen hours from now.

In short, everything is confused and everything is a mess. All calculations are thrown to the wind. What this appears to be is a new military coup. What is the underlying theme? The armed forces concluded that an Islamist takeover was so dangerous for Egypt and for its own interests that it is better to risk civil war, a bloodbath, and tremendous unpopularity than to remain passive and turn over power. I believe this decision was made very reluctantly and not out of some lust for power by the generals. They have decided that they had no choice.

Yes, it is under legal cover, but nobody is going to see it as a group of judges — appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak, remember — looking deep into the law books and coming up with a carefully reasoned decision based on precedent. In theory, this will be seen by every Islamist — whether Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood — and by most of the liberals — who feel closer to the Islamists than to the government — as if the 2011 revolution has just been reversed. In preparation, the army prepared a new regulation allowing itself arrest anyone.

Prediction: massive violence.

Still, there’s something strange going on. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have not reacted so strongly. Is it that they were caught unawares, or want to keep quiet because they think they’ll win the presidential election, or maybe there will be some kind of deal in which the Muslim Brotherhood backs down, most of the parliamentary members will be allowed to stay on, and the military will retain a lot of political power? Everything is up in the air? So far the Brotherhood doesn’t seem so upset by the decision. Why is that?

[...]

Still, the fact that the court ruled that “establishment” candidate Ahmad Shafiq can run for president will further a perception that this is a conspiracy to return to the pre-revolutionary situation.

I’m not saying that the armed forces told the justices to make such a ruling. But clearly by backing it up the generals are declaring their willingness to confront the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists rather than let them take power. Is there a precedent for this? You bet there is:

Algeria.

In 1991 the Islamic Salvation Front was on the verge of gaining victory. Before the second round of voting could be held, the army staged a coup to stop the election. The resulting war lasted more than a decade — in some respects, it’s still continuing today. Cost in lives? About 150,000 — 200,000 in a country whose population was about one-third that of contemporary Egypt. You do the math.

Read it all if your nerves are strong enough.

The choice of candidates in the Presidential elections is presented in Yisrael Hayom as “A grim impasse“:

For those who saw the Arab Spring unfold in February 2011, Saturday was supposed to be a defining day for a new, post-revolution Egypt. For the first time, 50 million voters were given the right to elect a new president for their country. But June 2012 is not early 2011…

[...]

The two presidential candidates — Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq — made one last attempt on Saturday to win over voters. “Today belongs to the shahids [martyrs], the revolution continues,” said Morsi, the candidate of the religious activist party the Muslim Brotherhood, to an adoring crowd. “I will lead you into a new and stable Egypt. There will be no place for Mubarak collaborators there.”

Morsi was mainly referring to his opponent Shafiq, who served as the last prime minister under ousted President Hosni Mubarak and is said to be an admirer of the deposed president. Shafiq, who has based his campaign on pushing to create stability and securing a secular Egypt, has distanced himself from the old regime. In a recent televised interview, Shafiq said, “It was I who suggested to Mubarak that he resign, I even insisted on it.”

[...]

For many Egyptian citizens, though, it was the Egyptian military’s decision to dissolve Parliament, legalized on Thursday by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which made them prefer a third alternative: Boycotting the elections. “Who can you vote for?” Asked kiosk owner Mohamed Bayoumi in Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. “I voted for parliament and it was dispersed. There are forces making decisions behind the scenes. Even if all 80 million Egyptians vote for Mohamed Morsi, Shafiq would still win. The race was already settled the day Mubarak resigned.

The implications of a Muslim Brotherhood win are summed up by Amos Gilad, head of Israel’s Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take control of Egypt and change the country’s character completely, Defense Ministry Diplomatic-Security Bureau head Amos Gilad said Sunday.

Gilad made the comments as Egyptians vote to choose between a conservative Islamist and Hosni Mubarak’s ex-prime minister in a presidential runoff once billed as the country’s long-awaited shift to democracy but now clouded by pessimism over the future.

[...]

“The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take control of Egypt and change the country’s character completely. They’re doing this as part of their vision to change the entire Middle East. They have said this for a long time now: that the day will come when they will entirely change the political map of the Middle East,” Gilad said.

Last week, a prominent Egyptian cleric with ties to the brotherhood vowed that should the brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi win, he would make Jerusalem the capital of the Muslim caliphate.

[...]

Gilad noted that as Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately sees Israel as an Islamic “waqf,” a “holy trust” that must be returned one way or another to Muslim control.

[...]

The race between Ahmed Shafiq, a career air force officer like Mubarak, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, a U.S.-trained engineer, has deeply divided the country after the stunning uprising that ousted Mubarak after 29 years in office, and left many disillusioned about the elections’ legitimacy. Morsi has said that if elected, he would bring the continuation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel to a public referendum.

[...]

With the fear of new authoritarianism in the future, some said they were choosing whoever they believed would be easiest to eventually force out with new protests.

“We are afraid Egypt will turn into a religious state. Even though Shafiq is not the best one, we want him to maintain the civil state,” said Marsa Maher, a Christian housewife.

It is Israeli policy that under no condition do we interfere or express our opinion, and not to express our admiration or support for this person or that person. Any support we give to one side could lead to irreparable damage, and any disapproval of anyone can similarly lead to irreparable damage. That’s why it is Israel’s policy not to interfere,” Gilad added.

And how is the West reacting to all this chaos? In a scathing article in Ynet, Shaul Rosenfeld writes that “Obama just doesn’t get it”.  The article lashes out at liberals, and particularly journalist Thomas Friedman, as much as at President Obama.

In February 2011, a few weeks after Egypt’s uprising erupted, when the Arab Spring was supposedly just around the corner and meant to bring us a new Middle East in the undying spirit of Shimon Peres, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times stood at Tahrir Square and delivered his own, no less immortal vision.

 Friedman, whose name is mentioned by Israel’s finest colleagues without forgetting to note that he is “the world’s most important journalist,” examined the Cairo square with his sharp eyes, and found no hint of Islamic inspiration or influence, and certainly no Islamic forces behind the scenes patiently waiting for the reward that Tahrir’s “Facebook kids” will hand over to them.

What he did see using his incredibly developed journalist prowess was genuine de-colonization of Egypt, the rise of progressive democratic forces that will forever change Egypt’s dictatorial face, an Egyptian Pharaoh (Mubarak) removed from power with the vigorous encouragement of President Obama, and an Israeli Pharaoh (Netanyahu) who, being a lowly man, cannot grasp the significance of the regional change. So much for Thomas Friedman’s interpretation.

 As we know, much water, and mostly blood, has flowed through the Middle East ever since then.

[...]

Yet in New York, the “world’s most important journalist” still does nothing but write about the march of folly of those who, unlike him, have yet to recognize this great Mideastern era.

Yet Friedman is no more than an example of an allegory for the way many in the West, including its leaders and journalists (led by Obama) formulate their doctrine in line with the ideological color of their worldview, and as result of an overdose of wishful thinking. For them, reality is no more than a burdensome nuisance.

 According to this mechanism, the Egyptian people’s deep desire for democracy, equality, civil rights and respect for women and minority rights is attested to by the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people in Tahrir Square, and not, heaven forbid, by the mood of the more than 80 million citizens of this country.

According to polls undertaken in Egypt in 2008 and in 2010 by Gallup, some 95% of Egyptians want Islam to have greater influence in politics, 64% want Islamic Law to be the basis for legislation, 54% support public segregation of men and women, 82% support stoning as punishment for adultery, and 84% endorse the death penalty for those who shun Islam.

[...]

Yet since the outset of 2011, equipped with the same divine ideals of spreading democracy to all, including the Levant, and utilizing an amazing inability to foresee the future, Obama, Friedman and the finest liberal forces in the West continue to joyfully market their goods, while refusing to wake up from the ideological slumber they’ve slipped into many years ago.

Ouch!

And to finish off this sombre read, I return to Barry Rubin who gives us some things to think about as we await the election results in Egypt:

While one can certainly sympathize with the idea of letting an elected parliament take office, that’s not necessarily such a clear call in strategic terms. The parliament — which will write the constitution and thus define the powers of the president — is almost 75 percent rabidly anti-American and antisemitic. (I don’t write that last word lightly, but it is quite accurate.) Imagine if this situation had arisen in Iran in 1979 with the Iranian military refusing to turn over power to the forces led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Would it have been wise for Washington to demand that this be done as soon as possible?

Yet, here is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calling on Egypt’s military in a manner that “highlighted the need to move forward expeditiously with Egypt’s political transition, including conducting new legislative elections as soon as possible.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy has called for withholding U.S. aid to Egypt, saying, “I would not want to see the U.S. government write checks for contracts with Egypt’s military under the present uncertain circumstances.”  What circumstances are more appropriate for sending U.S. arms and money? When the Muslim Brotherhood dominates parliament, the presidency, has written a constitution mandating Sharia law, and follows a policy of death to America and death to Israel? Who are you going to cheer for if Islamists rebel against the regime?

Maybe now is a good moment for the U.S. government to remain quiet.

[...]

The Western mass media, academic experts, and government officials may assure you that the Muslim Brotherhood is really a moderate group and that worrying about what it will do in power is silly. Pay no attention. The Brotherhood daily makes clear what it believes and intends to do.

So does it make sense for a U.S. government to take up the doctrine of “neo-conservative” naivete and demand a Brotherhood victory over the army in Egypt? A proper U.S. government would — and I apologize for the “amoral” requirements of realpolitik — secretly be backing the military to keep the Brotherhood out of power. We now know that President Harry Truman’s administration did certain things to ensure Communist parties didn’t win power in France and Italy which would not meet contemporary “ethical” standards of electoral results over American national security interests. Thank goodness for that!

If the outcome weren’t so potentially dangerous for Israel I would wish that all the candidates would lose. Israel will just have to stay alert and be prepared for all eventualities.

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5 Responses to Elections and chaos in Egypt

  1. NormanF says:

    According to the Muslim Brotherhood itself, the Islamists appear to have lost a quarter of their votes since the parliamentary elections. A 52% win is a surprise. I expected the Islamists to win a sweeping victory. What this means they are weaker today than at any time since Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011.

    In a related move, the Egyptian army has assumed complete control over the writing of a new constitution and stripped Egypt’s future President of command over the army. If it allows Morsi to take office, he will likely have very little real power and serve a democratically elected figurehead for the military. Your guess is as good as mine whether the MB will accept a ceremonial figurehead President.

    Stay tuned.

    • anneinpt says:

      I think the Islamists lost votes because the populace is fed up with having their votes discounted by the judges/junta. Even so, it looks like the MB won.

      As you say, it’s anyone’s guess how this is going to play out.

      • NormanF says:

        According to Barry Rubin, the old regime candidate Ahmed Shafiq won big in Cairo but that wasn’t enough to overcome the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate’s Mohammed Morsi’s lead in the Egyptian countryside.

        Now the question is how much real authority the new Egyptian President will be allowed to have by the army – if it doesn’t stop him from taking office at all. What is clear is Egypt is headed for more conflict and a period of extended chaos, which will certainly result in even further terrorism reaching Israel from the Sinai, whether or not its incited by the Muslim Brotherhood.

        Bottom line, things are not going to get better any time soon.

  2. Pingback: Worrying about Egypt | Anne's Opinions

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