How Morsi Could Still be President

Catherine Ashton meets with President Morsi © EU
Catherine Ashton meets with President Morsi © EU

This article from Reuters details a deal that was in place, brokered by the EU with the opposition, that was spurned by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, two months before he was pushed from power:

Under a compromise crafted in months of shuttle diplomacy by EU envoy Bernardino Leon, six secular opposition parties would have recognized Mursi’s legitimacy and agreed to participate in parliamentary elections they had threatened to boycott.

In return, Mursi would have agreed to replace Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and five key ministers to form a technocratic national unity cabinet, sack a disputed prosecutor general and amend the election law to satisfy Egypt’s constitutional court.

The article does not mention the ‘five key ministers’, but the guess is that they were the Brotherhood appointees in charge of influential posts in education, information, supply, and the like. The former prosecutor general was fired and the new one appointed in a process contrary to the constitution Morsi swore to uphold.

But the negotiations didn’t work:

People familiar with the talks said Saad el-Katatni, leader of the Brotherhood’s political wing, helped negotiate the deal but could not sell it to Mursi and key Brotherhood leaders.

A very important caveat:

Mursi, Katatni and senior aides are detained by the army at unknown locations and cannot tell their side of the story.

However, right until the moment the military toppled him on July 3, the president went on proclaiming his electoral legitimacy and showed no signs of willingness to share power.

Of course by right he did not need to. But this report indicates opposition efforts to work with Morsi were not just cover for an eventual ‘coup’:

On that trip, Ashton also met armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who led the military intervention to oust Mursi. Participants said Sisi had also supported the EU initiative, saying the army did not want to intervene in politics and would welcome a broader national consensus.

“Contrary to what the Brotherhood is saying now, the army did its best to keep Mursi in office,” one participant said.

The full story is yet to be written, but if accurate this report provides important details from behind the scenes.


Building Democratic Polity in the Face of Islamism

From The Immanent Frame, an article describing where democracy went wrong in Egypt, and doesn’t blame the Islamists. The author draws on James Madison’s assertion that factionalism cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom, and that the only path is to create democratic governmental mechanisms that prevent a certain faction from taking over the state.

This, unfortunately, never took place in Egypt. Non-Islamist political forces, for one reason or another, were never able to develop the kind of broad and cohesive coalitions that could have effectively represented them. After the constitutional crisis of the fall of 2012, moreover, they effectively threw in the towel, and formed the National Salvation Front.

The article states the NSF sought to undermine the government rather than seek to compete with it.

Even if it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood is essentially an anti-democratic movement, it could not have threatened an Egyptian democracy, at least as long as other Egyptian political movements played their role in such a democracy by organizing their supporters into cohesive parties that could effectively compete at the ballot box. Even if it took a couple of rounds of electoral losses before they successfully organized themselves, it would have been worth it to build a genuine democratic coalition.

The question the opposition might give in response is that the Brotherhood showed inclination not to reform the state and open up a democratic polity, but to inherit the Mubarak state and maintain its relative authoritarianism. The author admits the Brotherhood’s illiberal leanings, but finds it would not ultimately have mattered.

In short, so long as there is at least the credible prospect of a politically competitive system, there is no reason to believe that the principles underlying the median voter theorem would not have applied to restrain the Muslim Brotherhood until such time as the non-Islamist opposition could have organized itself more effectively. Ironically, then, it may very well be the case that the biggest problem facing Egyptian democracy is not that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is too committed to its own organization, as many Egyptian commentators have suggested, but rather that other Egyptian groups lack the internal discipline necessary to form an effective nationwide coalition.

This seems too rosy an application of Madison, but spot on concerning the fault of the opposition. But there is more strong critique to come.

Success at the ballot box is not mere “ballotocracy,” to be casually dismissed, as many Egyptian liberals have claimed. An inability to form an electoral majority signifies an inability to govern—at least in the absence of overwhelming force.

So what then? Here is the author’s hindsight analysis:

The fact that there is no credible liberal democratic political party does not mean, however, that Omar Suleiman was right. It only means that Egypt has not yet produced such a party. The existence of such a party is not, however, a precondition for a functioning electoral democracy; it is the product of the practice of democracy over multiple rounds and iterations.

It is too late now, unless it isn’t too late. This would be the claim of the liberals, that the democratic order is now coming under a strong and guiding hand. The author disagrees, and thinks they took the easy way out.

As a result of their short-sighted strategies, Egypt faces at least several years of renewed authoritarianism. Instead of attempting to exclude their competitors from politics, Egyptians need to embrace competitive politics and accept the substantial costs of building a competitive electoral system from the ground up, even if that requires letting your opponents win from time to time.

Ironically, his advice may have been heeded by an unintended audience. The Salafi Nour Party may have sensed what was coming, took their licks, and ensured their coming place in the order – democratic or otherwise.

If not democratic, Muslim governments have long had their ‘sultan’s sheikhs’, as the Nour Party is now derogatorily called by pro-Morsi Islamists. But if democratic, they stand ready to inherit the Islamist mantle. Perhaps they will lose elections to come, but by building up the polity, their bet is for the long haul.

Who knows the developing political orientation of the people, but if Gulf funding is any indicator, these Salafis may be the best students of Madison.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Election Boycott

Flag Cross Quran


As with many things in Egypt, just because this opposition boycott is announced, does not mean it is final. But as for now the upcoming parliamentary elections will be without drama, unless you are an Islamist, seeing how the spoils will be divided. The primary indicator of worth will be how many people go to the polls.

But wisdom, God, is greatly contested. Should the opposition cede all branches of government to Islamists? Will this result in Islamists greater empowerment, or further discrediting? Or, is it sour grapes in advance, worried they would not win anyway?

Or should they run, accept any losses, but build a democratic process? This is well and good if all is fair; do opposition claims to the contrary ring shrill or true?

God, give Egypt ideas. If all the opposition serves is obstruction, of what value are they? Islamism has been an idea for a long time; finally it is being tested. Judge and prove its worth, God. Save Egypt from its specter if failure is coming, but is this the only way to dull its lure among the religiously-minded?

But if it is of great worth, God, may they endure these present tribulations. Develop their leaders into statesmen, figures who serve beyond themselves to bring hope and prosperity to all. The learning curve is steep and the obstacles are many. Amid all scenarios, God, may right prevail.

Especially as much is wrong, even if there is disagreement over identification. But you can bring order out of chaos, strength out of weakness, life out of death. Even evil cannot escape your purposes, which you transform into the greater good. God, Egypt longs for these days to come.

Help her then to join your redemption. May Egyptians lessen their desire for control, esteem their weakness, and die unto themselves. May they humble themselves, not just that you may lift them up, but that you, your name, and your way receive all due.

But do not make them wait for a miracle. In fact, chastise those who are. May they work hard, argue, and create. Give stomach to endure all difficulty; give heart to love their homeland.

Give mind to boycott, or not. Yes, God, give them elections; give Egypt sovereignty. But give them bread, freedom, and social justice too. Help Egypt to sort out the proper order.




Egypt Conflict Alert

From the International Crisis Group, trying to find a solution to the current political mess:

Reversing these dynamics requires efforts on two fronts. Politically, the key is mutual acceptance of two realities: that the Brotherhood’s electoral victories give their rule legitimacy, but that a historic, complex transition in a challenging security and economic context requires exercise of power to be tempered by meaningful consensus-building.

Several steps would help: an end to opposition calls for the president to step down and agreement by Morsi that the constitution, whose adoption was marred by boycotts and low voter turn-out, ought to be revised to allay the apprehensions of non-Islamists and notably the Coptic community. Likewise, the process for designing the elections law — another topic of sharp disagreement, especially on district boundaries and the representation of women — should be revisited to reflect broader agreement among factions. Finally, in the wake of approaching parliamentary elections, parties should seek to form a national coalition, a result that would serve both the Muslim Brotherhood (which would gain from the opposition becoming a responsible stakeholder) and the opposition (which would be better positioned to impede what it views as efforts to institute single party rule).

Very good analysis (if you read the whole thing), and workable solutions. The main monkey wrench could prove to be the Salafis. Amending the constitution implies making it more liberal and less religious. If the Brotherhood signs off on this the Salafis could turn against them quickly, and it is unlikely middle-ground liberals would come to their electoral rescue.

The concerning point is that the best path to power for the Salafis could be in a full chaotic rupture of society, requiring a full military-religious partnership simply to restore order. Certainly not publicly, but does the Brotherhood implicitly threaten the liberals that they (the MB) are the best bet going? Otherwise, we turn the Salafis on you?

But if this is part of the Brotherhood negotiation tactic, it will certainly ring hollow for liberals when the MB turns consistently to Salafis for support. Their rubber-band-like moves from the right to the center must be wearisome to the opposition. What does the Brotherhood want, and what do they represent, truly?

Not that the opposition plays clean or consistently, either, as the article makes clear. But the constitution has soiled all trust and destroyed the middle ground. It would be a shame if the constitution itself is, in fact, the best middle ground that can be obtained. Ugh, as illiberal as portions of it might become.

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Two Years of a Shrunken State

From the Arabist:

This is a useful follow-up to the previous post on diplomacy:

Perhaps the only viable way to get the state to function is for the Brothers to offer the opposition enough reassurance that major political forces together could reach consensus on the illegitimacy of violent protest. If Egypt’s political forces acted in unison — a general appeal for order, or for justice to take its course, or for disputes to be resolved in parliament rather than in the street — these have a powerful calming effect. The Interior Ministry, for example, has called for such an appeal to “patriotic forces” to calm Port Said.

The opposition would probably not try to coax protesters out of Tahrir, nor would it be necessary — the square can probably remain an open-air museum of the revolution as the state rebuilds itself elsewhere. But a joint appeal for order would at least contain street violence and push Egypt’s flare-ups of violence to become less frequent and bloody.

The opposition knows however that to stand alongside the Brothers would be handing Morsi a major concession. The National Salvation Front has demanded as the price for its cooperation that a committee be empowered to amend the constitution. If Morsi’s objective in pushing through the constitution in December was to provide some security for his administration — ie, to prevent the Supreme Court’s from topping off its dissolution of parliament by pushing Morsi out of office, as Brothers said they suspected might happen — then perhaps he would take that risk.

But the first articles targeted would be ones that circumscribe civil rights with religion. The Brothers have in theory agreed to revisiting the constitution. If the Brothers are committed to aggressively Islamicizing society, or if they are worried about having their Islamic credentials challenged by the Salafis, they aren’t going to give the opposition what it wants.

This is an excellent analysis of why the opposition is being somewhat mum on all the street violence. Conspiracy will say they started it, but they are not standing in the way. In fact, rightly in a sense, they lay the burden of responsibility on the state. Ongoing violence is a function of state ineptitude and political intransigence.

So after sidelining the opposition to get what they wanted (i.e. the constitution), Morsi now calls them back for dialogue – but as above – will he be willing to pay the price? It is as if the opposition is saying: You cheated to get your constitution, we’ll cheat to take it back.

Islamists may say the opposition has been cheating from the beginning, but this only opens up the conspiracies even further, which most liberals are happy to slap back at the Brotherhood. It gets Egypt nowhere.

The only thing that will, as the author suggests, is consensus. Can it be found? If not, what is the price?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Second Anniversary

Flag Cross Quran


Who will win? Who is fighting? Is the revolution discredited? Is the revolution succeeding? Does this aid Morsi and the Brotherhood? Will it overthrow him/them? Is the National Salvation Front orchestrating? Are they carried along? Is chaos coming?  Is a crackdown coming? Is Egypt being destroyed? Is the old regime being destroyed? Who will win?

God, when so much has been wrong – when so much is wrong – it is not easy to put right. But right can only be built with right. There has been right – there is right – in Egypt. But it has not all been right. A good bit of right doing has been done wrong.

But where, God? Call out righteousness and justice and proclaim it to the people. Anoint men of clear conscience and pure heart to place pure good above all else. Men who will not compromise on the right. Men who will accept failure over hypocrisy. Men who will stand aside that principle may triumph over personality. If these men are already here, God, aid and support them.

Ah, but are such thoughts hopelessly idealistic? Are they futile and self-defeating? Do they pave the way for men of cunning and ambition?

God, bless politics. Bless revolution. Bless every good intention men possess.

Give wisdom. Give courage. Give the power necessary to the necessary people.

But also purge.

Purge good men from the evil within them. Purge good movements from those who seek profit. Purge good ideas from flaw and error. And as purging is always painful, be merciful.

But then restore. May no purge be permanent. May none be excluded. May Egypt rise in cooperation of all her people, all her movements, all her ideas.

God, prayer is not the place for the hard work to make this possible; this is for men in all their counsel. But might it be? If they pray, will you bless Egypt with this solution? If only some pray, will you give it anyway?

God, give Egypt this solution, and give it quickly. Spare her more trouble, but do not leave her with only partial good. Remake her to reflect your perfection, through only that which is good and right. And as long as she falls short, may she repent, regroup, and try again.

Who will win, God? May it be according to your righteous knowledge, however messy it must be to those waiting, striving, and suffering.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Referendum

Flag Cross Quran


Tomorrow, Egypt will vote. Many say she should not be, as the process was rushed, non-consensual, and dictatorial in its final stages.

Others say the opposition hopes Egypt never votes, fearing the real choice of the people.

God, whatever the reality which brought Egypt to this point, the people have a choice. The problem is their choice is framed differently.

Is the choice ‘for’ a vote for stability? Is it a vote for sharia? Is it a vote for the revolution?

Is the choice ‘against’ a vote for consensus? Is it a vote against the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it a vote for the revolution?

God, you know. You know what is best. You know what Egypt needs. You know what is right and good and honorable.

In framing this choice, God, it appears many have been less than these. Each accuses the other of unrighteousness, and you know, God, if all are right.

Yet as you do the king, God, you hold the heart of these men in your hand. Forgive them, have mercy on them, and bring them to repentance. But for the referendum tomorrow, God, it is too late.

Therefore, turn the heart of the people towards you. Turn them to what is best, to what is needed, to what is right and good and honorable. Turn them to check the box of your choice.

But Egypt needs far more than several million boxes, God. She needs trust, dialogue, and commitment to a common will. Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, may the result push people closer to each other. All political momentum is driving them apart; for the health of the nation, reverse this.

Have mercy, God. Give Egypt stability, justice, integrity, and consensus. Tomorrow, and in all that follows, give her wisdom and peace.