Mohamad Bazzi writes: On June 29, Egypt’s top prosecutor was killed in a car bombing as he left his home in Cairo. He was the most senior official to be assassinated since Islamic militants launched an insurgency two years ago after the Egyptian military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president.
The assassination of the prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, is a tragedy but it’s not surprising. Egypt spiraled into a cycle of state-sanctioned violence, repression and vengeance as soon as the military removed Morsi from power in July 2013. The new military-backed government launched an aggressive campaign to suppress all political opponents, hunt down leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled after the coup and undo many of the gains made during the 2011 uprising that toppled then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
That is the danger many in the Arab world and in the West failed to grasp when they remained silent after Egypt’s coup: while authoritarian rule appears to provide stability over the short term, it breeds discontent and affirms the idea that the only way to achieve political power is through violence.
On June 16, an Egyptian court upheld the death penalty against Morsi, the first Brotherhood leader to assume the presidency of an Arab country. He was initially sentenced to death in May, along with more than 100 co-defendants, for taking part in an alleged prison break. It was the latest in a series of sham trials and mass death sentences decreed by the judiciary since the military coup. If the former president is ultimately hanged, it would be a grave miscarriage of justice that would make Morsi a martyr for millions throughout the Muslim world.
Beyond Morsi’s fate, the mass death sentences send a dangerous signal to Islamists throughout the region: that election results will not be respected. The Brotherhood’s recent experience in Egypt shows that authoritarian and secular forces, which often fare poorly at the ballot box, will mobilize to undermine the Islamists before they have had a chance to rule. Ultimately, Egypt cannot be a viable democracy without the Brotherhood’s participation. [Continue reading…]
IB Times reports: The United States said on Monday that it would lift its ban on providing security and military aid to Bahrain, which was imposed after the Gulf state cracked down on Shia-led protests in 2011. U.S. officials said the decision was taken because Bahrain had made meaningful reforms since then.
However, Washington did not specify the weapons or military equipment that would be sent to the country.
Dozens of people died when the government clamped down on protesters in 2011, who were demanding that the ruling Sunni family end its discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population. [Continue reading…]
Ian Black writes: “If you think you understand Lebanon, you haven’t been properly briefed”. Thus went the advice dispensed by the spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in the wild south of the country in the mid-1980s. The same worldly-wise adage applies these days to the entire Arab region, wracked by collapsing states, terrorism, sectarianism, proxy wars and alliances of the strangest bedfellows.
It takes patience, clarity and perspective to explain the whole grim picture and the links between its constituent parts. These qualities are on impressive display in an important new book by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu. His particular skill is to describe the development, survival and resurgence of the Arab “deep state,” the security agencies that have kept it going and the “monster they helped create” – in its most extreme form the jihadis of the Islamic state (Isis).
Filiu traces how autocrats in Syria, Egypt and Yemen used their experience of managing internal dissent to unleash their own thugs – different names in different countries, same vicious methods – to enforce their will when the call went up to reform or change their regimes. Anyone who experienced the heady events of 2011 will recognise the bitter truth in his admission that the excitement of the Arab spring obscured the prospects of successful counter-revolution.
I thought I had seen it all from the Arab despots. Their perversity, their brutality, their voracity. But I was still underestimating their ferocity and their readiness to literally burn down their country in order to cling to absolute power.
Following the departure of Hosni Mubarak, counter-revolution triumphed in Egypt with the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. The overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, compared with the success of Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunisia, provided an instructive lesson, Filiu argues: Islamists who succeed at the ballot box, in complex and volatile circumstances, must not take their electoral victories as a “blank cheque.” To ignore that is to invite the backlash that brought Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi to power and forged a reality even worse than under Mubarak. [Continue reading…]
Marc Lynch writes: On Friday, WikiLeaks and the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar released just over 60,000 out of a half-million leaked diplomatic cables from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The immediate response to the announcement followed a predictable script. First, elites sympathetic to Saudi Arabia rushed to minimize the importance of the cables, declaring (remarkably quickly, given the number of documents to be perused) that there was nothing new or interesting to be found in the release. Then, a legion of online Arabs dug into the archive and posted titillating nuggets online, while media outlets began reporting the major finds. Now, those documents are circulating widely through social media, dominating public discourse and could continue to do so for quite some time, with more than 400,000 more documents slated for release over the course of the month of Ramadan.
It’s easy to be jaded by the routinized script of such leaks, by the pugnacious politics surrounding WikiLeaks itself, by the limited impact of previous leaks, or by the toxic public discourse surrounding the Middle East’s sectarian and partisan conflicts. What’s more, the leaks can have only a limited direct political effect in the current highly polarized and collectively repressive regional environment. Don’t expect the cables to cause uprisings in Riyadh or the expulsion of Saudi diplomats from Arab capitals anytime soon. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss the significance of these leaks. They are likely to matter more than many of the previous such leaks because of how they resonate with two of the most potent issues in today’s Middle East: the regional proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran; and fierce Arab regime efforts to control an inexorably expanding Arab public sphere and erase the gains of the 2010-2011 uprisings. [Continue reading…]
Amr Darrag writes: When the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in April, in a trial internationally condemned as unconstitutional, unfair and deeply politicised, many saw it as a test of the international community’s resolve to stand up to the series of show trials currently under way in Egypt. For those who back democracy and human rights, the wall of silence from the international community was as predictable as it was tragic. At that time, I predicted that such silence would be interpreted by the Sisi regime as a green light to a death sentence for Morsi.
Where once politicians from Downing Street to the White House lauded the ideals and actions of the 2011 revolutionaries, now they were rendered mute as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was effectively sentenced to a life behind bars. Many also saw the sentence as a nail in the coffin for the ideals and dreams of the Arab Spring.
This week, the gradual purge of this first democratic government in Egypt took a darker turn. The Sisi regime, buoyed by the clear apathy of its international partners, upheld a death sentence handed down in May to Morsi and more than 100 people. The trial was nothing but a farce. Amnesty International called it a grossly unfair charade, which demonstrated a “complete disregard for human rights”. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: An Egyptian court upheld Tuesday a death sentence against former President Mohamed Morsi in sweeping judgments against the ousted leader and dozens of his Muslim Brotherhood allies.
The court decisions mark the latest move by prosecutors to punish and discredit Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Islamist-inspired government was ousted by military-led pressures in 2013.
It also showed the increasingly tough stance of Egypt’s current government, led by former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, against political opponents more than four years after the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: During the early days of the revolution against President Hosni Mubarak, a sense of shared purpose and community made Tahrir Square feel like the safest place in Cairo, for women and men. But that collapsed almost the moment Mr. Mubarak left office, on Feb. 11, 2011. Sexual assault and the harassment of women in public, an epidemic problem in Egypt for decades, became alarmingly common again.
The security forces have long used sexual assault as a weapon against political dissent. In a notorious episode in 2005, security officers watched pro-government thugs sexually assault four female demonstrators outside the journalists’ syndicate in Cairo. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, and state and private media outlets blamed the women for exposing themselves.
After Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, military forces trying to disperse demonstrators detained a group of women and subjected them to “virginity tests.” A military intelligence officer named Abdel Fattah el-Sisi publicly defended the practice, arguing that it was necessary to protect soldiers from rape allegations. He is now Egypt’s president. [Continue reading…]
Cicero Magazine: In your new book, Once Upon a Revolution, you tell a well-known story from a previously unexplored perspective—that of the revolutionaries themselves, before, during, and after Tahrir Square. Why did you choose that approach?
Thanassis Cambanis: I wanted to follow the progress of the idealistic project at the heart of the January 25 Revolution: the quest to develop new politics, new ideas, and new, more accountable forms of power. There was a comparatively small group of people who were determined from the start of the uprising to build an enduring political project. I sought out and followed members of this core group as they embarked on what was always a quixotic experiment. Against them were arrayed all the status quo powers—the state, the bureaucracy, the military, the police, the old regime cronies—as well as other regressive but organized forces, like the Muslim Brotherhood. Their story was inherently personal: the unfolding history of an idea as it played out in the struggles of individuals. I believe this story contains much of the potential for transformative change, a change sadly still unrealized in Egypt. We have witnessed remarkable transformations at the individual level, however, and I expect that many of these activists and thinkers will play a role in Egyptian life and politics for decades to come.
What missed opportunities were there to put Egypt on a better path in the first year after Tahrir Square?
Firstly, it’s important to emphasize that revanchist old regime forces defeated the uprising. A concerted campaign to restore military-authoritarian role won out. Even had the revolutionaries made fewer mistakes, or smarter strategic moves, they might well have been foiled by the machinery assembled by Egypt’s new dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—who built his comeback on the scaffolding of military intelligence. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Tears, tight hugs and cries of “Welcome home” greeted a frail American citizen on his sudden return to the United States on Saturday night after nearly two years spent in an Egyptian jail cell.
It was a surreal homecoming for Mohamed Soltan, 27, a citizen journalist and activist who survived a year-long hunger strike and a life sentence, only to be whisked from his cell and later onto a plane bound for Washington, the product of months of advocacy by his family and quiet, frantic negotiations between the U.S. government and Egypt, his family said.
Soltan, an Ohio State University graduate who was once chubby and energetic, entered the arrivals area of Dulles International Airport on Saturday night in a wheelchair, his frail frame quickly mobbed by family and cheering friends.
He clutched his 1-year-old nephew for the first time and the tears came. Then a fierce embrace from his sisters, and then came the sobs.
In a surprise move, Egyptian authorities on Saturday had quietly shuttled him onto an airplane and sent him home to be with his family in Virginia.
In April, a Cairo court sentenced Soltan to life in prison for his support of the protests that followed the group’s overthrow, including financing a weeks-long sit-in and “spreading false news” in his role as unofficial spokesman of the protest.
It was unclear what ultimately decided Soltan’s release. There was no court ruling to reverse his April sentence to life in prison and no formal announcement of clemency from Egypt’s president. [Continue reading…]
Morsi death sentence sends dangerous message to Islamists: This is what democratic participation gets you. AQ/Daesh must be delighted.
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) May 16, 2015
The New York Times reports: An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Morsi, the country’s deposed president, to death on Saturday over his involvement in a prison break during Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising.
Mr. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was the country’s first democratically elected president and came to power following the 2011 revolt that ended the three decades of autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. After a divisive and chaotic year in office, Mr. Morsi was ousted from power by the military in July 2013 following another wave of protests.
The jailbreak case was a sign of the sweeping reversal of Egypt’s political tide since the 2011 uprising. The former head of state had been detained in a revolution that many Egyptians hoped would bring about an end to arbitrary detentions and other abuses by the security state. [Continue reading…]
The Economist: It is hard to gauge the popularity of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, but most Egyptians seem to approve of their president. The turbulence of recent years, starting with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and through the chaotic presidency of Muhammad Morsi, who was himself toppled in 2013, has left many longing for order and stability. Mr Sisi, a former general, has provided both. The sense of relief is captured in a catchphrase of pro-government types: “At least we are not Iraq or Syria.”
But at what price? As Mr Sisi has kept Egypt from descending into mayhem, he has unremittingly repressed critics. Several thousand dissidents, both secular and Islamist, have been jailed; at least a thousand were killed. “We don’t have the luxury to fight and feud,” says the president. But his authoritarian habits leave Egypt looking a lot as it did before the Arab spring, when Mr Mubarak, another military man, ruled with an iron first. The repression is even worse now, say many.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Mr Morsi has borne the brunt of the crackdown. Mr Sisi, the power behind the coup, has stripped the Islamist group of power and crushed it, labelling it a terrorist organisation. Hundreds of its supporters have been killed by state-security forces during protests. The politicised judiciary has handed down death sentences (many since commuted) to hundreds more. Mr Morsi got off relatively lightly on April 21st when he received a 20-year sentence for, ironically, inciting the killing of demonstrators in 2012. But he still faces two more capital charges.
Bemoaning the dismal political climate, several opposition parties decided to boycott parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for March. These would have been held in an “environment full of oppression, hatred and vendetta”, said the Building and Development Party, which is Islamist. The liberal Constitution Party criticised the government’s “grave human-rights violations”. The vote was postponed after the law governing it was found to be unconstitutional. Critics say that it was designed to create a parliament in thrall to the president, who continues to rule unchecked. But few think the new law, expected by the end of the year, will be fairer. [Continue reading…]
Henri J. Barkey writes: The state as we know it is vanishing in the Middle East. Strife in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, foreign intrusion from states within the region and outside it, and dreadful rule by self-serving elites have all contributed to the destruction of societies, infrastructure and systems of governance. Nonstate actors of all kinds, most of them armed, are emerging to run their own shows. Generations of mistrust underlie it all.
It is difficult to see how Humpty Dumpty will ever be put back together again. To be sure, many Middle Eastern states were mostly illegitimate to begin with. They may have been recognized internationally, but their governments exercised authority mostly through repression and sometimes through terror. They relied on a political veneer or constructed narrative to justify the rule of ethnic or sectarian minorities, mafia-like family clans or power-hungry dictators. In most countries, the systems that were built were never intended to create national institutions, so they did not.
The Arab Spring shook some of these societies to the core, precipitating their disintegration. But it was the rise of the Islamic State, and the ease with which it spread through Syria and Iraq, that truly laid bare the incoherence of the existing states. [Continue reading…]
Aaron Bastani writes: At the beginning of March a photo emerged of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force (the extraterritorial element of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard), smiling as he despatched troops into Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace and now a front line in the fight against Isis. Ben De Pear, the editor of Channel 4 News, tweeted it alongside a similar photo, of a dozen men in desert fatigues and with smiles as wide as Suleimani’s, making victory signs to the camera. They were US marines in Tikrit in April 2003.
— bendepear (@bendepear) March 14, 2015
During that brief period of euphoric triumphalism in the White House and Downing Street, you’d have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that Tehran would gain the most from Saddam’s overthrow, and that within 12 years its sphere of influence would extend to four Arab capitals. More likely, the experts would have rejoined, that Iran would itself see regime change, by force if necessary.
Yet as Alireza Zakani, a member of parliament for Tehran, said last September, three Arab capitals – Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus – now ‘belong’ to the Islamic Revolution. The rise of Ansar Allah in recent months (the Zaidi Shia militias fighting in Yemen, often referred to as Houthis) means that Sana’a could be added to the list, though for how long is unclear.
The expansion of the Islamic Republic’s reach can’t be seen in isolation from the Arab Spring. Iran considers the uprisings the continuation of a historical movement it initiated. The former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati said in December that Iran supports the ‘rightful struggle’ of Ansar in Yemen, and considers the movement part of the ‘successful materialisation of the Islamic Awakening’ – Tehran’s name for the Arab Spring, which it views as evolving rather than defeated. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and 13 other senior members of the group to death for inciting chaos and violence, and gave a life term to a U.S.-Egyptian citizen for ties to the Brotherhood.
The men were among thousands of people detained after freely elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was toppled in 2013 by the military under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is now president.
Sisi describes the Brotherhood as a major security threat. The group says it is committed to peaceful activism and had nothing to do with Islamist militant violence in Egypt since Mursi’s fall following mass protests against his rule.
Egypt’s mass trials of Brotherhood members and people accused of links to the group, as well as its tough crackdown on Islamist and liberal opposition alike, have drawn international criticism of its judicial system and human rights record.
The sentences, pronounced at a televised court session on Saturday, can be appealed before Egypt’s highest civilian court in a process that could take years to reach a final verdict.
U.S.-Egyptian citizen Mohamed Soltan was sentenced to life in jail for supporting the veteran Islamist movement and transmitting false news. He is the son of Brotherhood preacher Salah Soltan, who was among those sentenced to death. [Continue reading…]
In the wake of last week’s attack at the national museum in the heart of Tunis, Nicholas Noe writes: Tunisia is, quite simply, a country unable to protect the real progress it has made over the last four years. Its people are not familiar with violent conflict, its army isn’t ready, and its body politic is deeply and often personally divided, despite the statements over the last 24 hours about national unity.
Most crucially, however, the security services in general — especially when it comes to the preponderant Interior Ministry — are ill equipped and ill trained for the kind of conflict that they are now likely to face. Perhaps the commanders directing today’s attack were betting on this. A heavy-handed response on the domestic scene (which is likely, largely as a result of the neglect of security sector reform over the past four years) will probably entail a violent counter-reaction within Tunisia, even though the real enemy lies in its strategic depth, waiting for the right moment, just beyond the country’s borders.
In one particularly prescient speech, the recently defeated president of Tunisia warned Europe and the United States about neglecting Tunisia and specifically about the core need for rebooting and building-out the security sector. “The military didn’t have any training or any arms for 30 years,” former President Moncef Marzouki told a conference last summer. “We need about 12 helicopters, Blackhawks, and we need them now. We also need devices for night vision and communications” to allow Tunisia to get through the upcoming elections. “If Tunisia fails,” he concluded, “you can say goodbye to democracy in the Arab world for a century.” [Continue reading…]
Most of us take for granted that we can read, say, the street signs outside of our house. But for an overwhelming number of women in the Arab world, basic literacy is not a given. That’s why in 2009, photographer and TED Fellow Laura Boushnak began “I Read, I Write,” a series that documents the state of women’s education across Arab states. Having struggled to be able to attend college herself, the Palestinian refugee sees education as the key to a woman’s financial independence.
Mona El-Naggar reports: He winced at the mere mention of his son’s name, visibly overcome by an unceasing thought that he struggled to articulate. He looked down to hide the tears in his eyes.
“You have to understand, I am in pain,” said Yaken Aly, choking on the words: “My son is gone.”
Mr. Aly raised his son, Islam Yaken, in Heliopolis, a middle-class Cairo neighborhood with tended gardens and trendy coffee shops, and sent him to a private school, where he studied in French. As a young man, Mr. Yaken wanted to be a fitness instructor. He trained relentlessly, hoping that his effort would bring him success, girlfriends and wealth. But his goals never materialized. He left that life and found religion, extremism and, ultimately, his way into a photograph where he knelt beside a decapitated corpse on the killing fields of Syria, smiling.
“Surely, the holiday won’t be complete without a picture with one of the dogs’ corpses,” Mr. Yaken, now 22 and fighting for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, wrote in a Twitter post in July, during Ramadan.
The West is struggling to confront the rise of Islamic extremism and the brutality committed in the name of religion. But it is not alone in trying to understand how this has happened — why young men raised in homes that would never condone violence, let alone coldblooded murder, are joining the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. It is a phenomenon that is as much a threat to Muslim nations as to the West, if not more so, as thousands of young men volunteer as foot soldiers, ready to kill and willing to die. [Continue reading…]