Category Archives: Egypt

Egypt’s Democratic Hopes Imperiled

Check out my piece in The National Interest:

The emergence of an elective presidency in Egypt will essentially be the rise of a third branch of government. There is an enormous institutional potential here. While the president will be forced to carve out authority from the two older branches, the position will come with enormous weight. A capable president could play the older branches off each other and force them to resolve their tensions via appeals to the public. Ultimately, the president would aim to eliminate the old executive, returning the military to a quieter role in politics and consolidating his power. All this would be enormously beneficial to the development of a legitimate and democratic government in Egypt.

In spite of the complex political and social forces the revolution unleashed, the Egyptian on the street now faces an unpalatable binary choice: a Thermidorian turn to the old elite or increased authority for the deeply controversial Islamist party.

Commentary: Egypt’s Democratic Hopes Imperiled | The National Interest.


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It Hits the Fan in Egypt

Friday’s chaos in the Sinai and protests in Cairo showed a current of the Egyptian revolution that many had feared would emerge at some point. In Cairo, liberal and Islamist activists had negotiated a joint protest against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ continued use of military tribunals against civilians. However, when the liberals arrived, they found their signs being torn down and replaced with signs bearing Islamist slogans and a generally Islamist atmosphere prevailing. They announced their withdrawal, leaving the Salafists and Muslim Brothers free run in Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, in the Sinai, “hundreds” of armed men on motorcycles, bearing black-and-white “No God But God” banners, drove into the city of El Arish, engaged in a shootout with police, and vandalized a statue of Sadat. They also blew up the natural gas pipeline to Israel for the fifth time since the events of January 25. This story has been drowned out in major media by the US debt crisis, but assuming America doesn’t default on its loans, this could actually have a much greater long-term impact.

An Islamist protester in Tahrir Square on Friday. The number of people with beards is quite obviously greater than in any of the prior protests there of which I've seen footage. (Image via WSJ)

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Danger in the Sinai

The National Strategy Forum Review just published an article I coauthored on the troubles of Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The article speaks for itself, so I won’t belabor it, but note that the section on insecurity is already out of date. The major natural gas pipeline that runs through the region, supplying both Jordan and Israel, has been blown up four times since the Egyptian revolution–we had to update the publishers once in April, and it’s been blown up twice in July. There’s really no telling who was behind it–the region is home to dissatisfied Bedouins, radical Islamist groups (foreign and domestic), and a range of organized crime groups. There are also human traffickers, drug runners, and rumors of Iranian-backed weapons smuggling. If I had to guess who’s blowing up the pipelines, I’d say it’s the Bedouin, as they’ve got a long history with the Egyptian central government. After years of displacement, corruption, sedentarization, and delegitimization, it’s no shock that they’re unhappy.

The pipeline burns near el Arish, Egypt. (Image via the Daily Mail)

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Egypt Opening Gaza Border: Minimal Change for Security, Big Change for Palestinians

On Saturday, the famous Rafah border crossing between Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate and the Gaza Strip will be opened, with most Palestinians not needing visas to cross. The action represents a substantial shift in Egypt’s foreign policy, one that will be quite popular on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. The Egyptians had been tacit supporters of Israel’s extremely controversial blockade of Gaza, which (coupled with the Sadat-era peace treaty) drew accusations that Egypt had subverted its foreign policy to the needs of Israel. Despite hysterics from many commentators, the new military regime in Egypt would be insane to abrogate the peace treaty and attack Israel, for Egypt’s military has always been a political institution and not a thoroughly professional fighting force.

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Outburst of Sectarian Violence in Egypt

Within the past twenty-four hours, a shocking string of sectarian incidents has broken out in Cairo, with fighting between Muslims and Coptic Christians killing at least ten and wounding about two hundred. This is an extremely unsettling incident. There has always been an element of tension between the mainstream Egyptian population and the Coptic minority, but the recent uprisings had seen poignant displays of unity. Several months prior to the revolts, a terrorist attack on a church killed 23 Copts, prompting large numbers of Muslims to assemble at churches around Egypt to serve as human shields against terror. During the revolts, the Copts returned the favor, linking arms around groups of praying Muslim demonstrators. Since the uprisings, however, there have been several incidents between the two groups that have threatened to erase the kumbaya spirit of the revolts.

A crowd gathers around a burning church in Cairo. (Al Jazeera/AFP)

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Hamas and Fatah reunite

News emerged this week of a peace deal, brokered by Egyptian intelligence, between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. The two had split violently in 2007, with Fatah losing control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas fighters. This week’s news is something of a surprise–the two factions have a deep distaste for one another, and the physical gulf between them, coupled with the siege of Gaza, meant that they had no way to confront each other directly. Their division had posed a major obstacle to the coming Palestinian statehood, and to the peace process generally. How, after all, could Fatah settle the many claims of the Palestinians when a large portion of them live on land it does not control? How could Fatah sign any peace with Israel on behalf of Palestine generally if Hamas could interfere at any moment?

Palestinian negotiators celebrate their deal in Egypt. (Image via Al Jazeera)

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Mr. Ghonim Goes to Washington

Google executive and Egyptian revolutionary superstar Wael Ghonim spent the other day in Washington, DC, on a panel at the IMF meetings with the likes of IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Professor Rashid Khalidi. What ensued was a very interesting discussion on the role of the IMF in propping up the Arab world’s dictators. The days before the revolution, Ghonim pointed out, saw an economic order in Egypt in which Mubarak and his family stole enormous amounts of money (probably billions, though not the $700 billion that one Egyptian source ludicrously proposed) while others made their living by picking through the trash. Shouldn’t the IMF and other international lenders have attempted to compensate for the deep corruption of the region’s regimes, and their striking inequalities, when designing their financial interventions? Continue reading

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