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Egypt’s Morsi grants himself new powers – So much for Arab Spring

It’s a bit of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” but with an Islamist slant:

Egypt’s president on Thursday issued constitutional amendments that placed him above judicial oversight and ordered the retrial of Hosni Mubarak for the killing of protesters in last year’s uprising.

Mohammed Morsi also decreed immunity for the Islamist-dominated panel drafting a new constitution from any possible court decisions to dissolve it, a threat that had been hanging over the controversial assembly.

Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies, who they saw are trying to push through a document that will have an Islamist slant marginalizing women and minority Christians and infringing on personal liberties. Several courts have been looking into cases demanding the dissolution of the panel.

The Egyptian leader also decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected — which is not expected before next spring — are not subject to appeal in court or by any other authority. He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

In essence he has declared himself (by issuing his own handy “constitutional amendments”) supreme and above the law.

I’m not sure why anyone is particularly surprised.  He promised no one from the Muslim Brotherhood would run for president and then ran for president.  He claimed that they’d do the will of the people and now he’s actively making women and religious minorities into 2nd class citizens.  And his government will have a pronounced Islamic theocratic slant all written into law.

He also supports the terrorists in Gaza.

Yup, that “Arab Spring” thing is just working out about as well as one could hope, huh?

Forward.

~McQ

Egypt, predictably, begins to go the way of radical Islam

Damien McElroy in Cairo, reporting for the UK Telegraph, has the following observations:

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic movement and the founder of Hamas, has set up a network of political parties around the country that eclipse the following of the middle class activists that overthrew the regime. On the extreme fringe of the Brotherhood, Islamic groups linked to al-Qeada are organising from the mosques to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the dictatorship.

The military-led government already faces accusations that it is bowing to the surge in support for the Muslim movements, something that David Cameron warned of in February when he said Egyptian democracy would be strongly Islamic.

{feigned surprise} Oh, my, who’d have thought that could happen?  Only the terminally naïve or those with no understanding of the area or human nature would have figured otherwise. 

Power vacuums produce opportunities for others to fill them.  The US helped create that vacuum by insisting Hosni Mubarak must step down. 

Usually, as we’ve mentioned here any number of times, the most organized and ruthless succeed in filling such power vacuums.  And that’s precisely the case in Egypt where Islam in general is as pervasive as the air breathed there and the Muslim Brotherhood, while never allowed to be in power previously, was the most organized of the groups with the potential to fill the power vacuum.

And that is coming to fruition.  Not just in an Islamic sense, but in an Islamist sense as well.  The Muslim factions are poised to take over and control any government voted in by the public and do it in a big way:

Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, last week predicted the group’s candidates would win 75 per cent of the seats it contested.

Fundamentalist factions have also emerged as parties. Gamaa al-Islamiya, an al-Qaeda linked group that promotes Salafist traditions has used its mosques as a political base for the first time since the 1970s.

Egypt attempted in the past – however oppressive that effort was – to keep a largely secular government, at least by Middle Eastern standards.  And that was to our benefit and certainly to the benefit of the region.  It produced the peace treaty with Israel and ushered in a few decades of relatively peaceful times in the Middle East.  That’s pretty much likely to go by the wayside soon.  This next government will be steeped in Islam if not a good measure of Islamism.  That has been ordained by the first “democratic” vote in Egypt:

A scare campaign that a No vote in last months referendum would eliminate Islamic law from the Egyptian constitution ensured a 77 per cent Yes result.

As for those who participated in the April 6th movement and want a more secular and democratic Egypt?  Well, again, the best organized is the most likely to succeed, right?  And they have little or no organization:

But the April 6th movement that spearheaded protests has no clear plan for party politics. Diplomats have warned the demonstrators are not well prepared for elections.

"The leadership of the protests was so focused on the street-by-street detail of the revolution, they have no clue what to do in a national election," said a US official involved in the demonstrations. "Now at dinner the protesters can tell me every Cairo street that was important in the revolution but not how they will take power in Egypt."

Entirely predictable and clearly not in the best interest of the US – which calls into question the administration’s decision not to back Mubarak but call for his ouster.  The result is an unintended consequence one assumes – we backed a faction that we knew little about, which has had little impact since and now we’re going to see results that we don’t want and are not in the best interests of the US or peace in the region.  The same could be said about Libya.

Finally, don’t be fooled by the “independent” status of Egyptian political candidates for the Presidency there.  Their independence is in name only as they must court the factions that are likely to hold power in any legislature that forms.

Although the leading contenders for Egypt’s presidency are independents, many have begun wooing the Muslim blocs. Front-runner Amr Moussa, the Arab League president, has conceded that its inevitable that Islamic factions will be the bedrock of the political system.

Of course they will and that means, inevitably, that Egypt will eventually revoke its treaty with Israel thereby setting the peace process back to square one.

Yes, this has been beautifully played by the President and the State Department.  If naiveté in foreign affairs was ever more  evident than now, I’m having difficulty remembering it (Jimmy Carter is as close as it comes, and they’re making even him look competent).

~McQ

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Welcome to reality–Obama admin prepares for possibility of new Islamist Regimes in Middle East

Apparently the moon pony contingent is slowly fading from prominence in Washington DC and the administration is preparing for what now seems most probable  outcome in the Middle East – the new “post-revolt” regimes may be distinctly “Islamist”.   Note the word – not “Islamic”.  Most of them are that already.  The term used in the Scott Wilson Washington Post column is “Islamist”.  And Williams says:

The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region’s politics.

However, apparently they want to diminish any concern by pretending that such an outcome isn’t really that significant:

The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.

"We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal policy deliberations. "It’s the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam."

That speaks to a basic misunderstanding of the role of Islam “in the politics of these countries”.   Unlike Western countries, there is no “separation of church and state” in an Islamic country.   Islam is about politics, governing, the law, you name it.  It is as much a political system as it is a religion.  And that’s why assurances such as those the White House is putting forth here are just not accurate.   The “behavior of political parties and governments” are going to be fundamentally grounded in … Islam.

That takes us to the term “Islamist” which most have used to distinguish the broader religion of Islam to those who have hijacked it and made their version an aggressive theocratic and expansionist version of the religion.  Islamist included the Taliban and Al Qaeda as well as other murderous and anti-Western groups throughout the Middle East.

However, WaPo wants to assure you that it’s just not as bad as you think:

Islamist governments span a range of ideologies and ambitions, from the primitive brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, a movement with Islamist roots that heads a largely secular political system.

Unmentioned, of course, is Turkey’s new belligerence and aggressiveness toward Israel and its seeming turning away from the West and apparent desire to be a, if not the, power broker in the Middle East.  The “largely secular political system” in Turkey is much less so than it was a decade ago when that party took power and it is likely to be even less so as it retains it.

But, you say, what’s made the administration suddenly take off its rose colored glasses and begin assessing anew the probable outcome of these revolts? 

None of the revolutions over the past several weeks has been overtly Islamist, but there are signs that the uprisings could give way to more religious forces. An influential Yemeni cleric called this week for the U.S.-backed administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be replaced with Islamist rule, and in Egypt, an Islamist theoretician has a leading role in drafting constitutional changes after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power last month.

A number of other Islamist parties are deciding now how big a role to play in protests or post-revolution reforms.

David Warren made the point that no “Walesas or Havels” have emerged in these countries to steer the revolutions down the path of democracy.  And that’s true.  But the Islamist equivalents are emerging – and attempting to subvert the revolutions to their own ends.  And, as Warren points out, they have an advantage:

As we should surely have observed by now, whether or not the Islamists command Arab "hearts and minds," they are not only the best organized force, but the most ruthless. They are also in possession of the simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated "vision."

They don’t have to do much selling of their vision, they have the institutions and traditions of Islam to turn too and it just isn’t a very big leap from “Islamic” to “Islamist”.  Democracy and freedom, on the other hand, have no such institutions, traditions or leaders to turn too.  So when figuring probability, it is clear which scenario enjoys the most probable outcome.

Having been forced to accept the obvious, don’t expect the administration to give up all its moon ponies.  There will still be plenty of rationalization which ignores the fundamental differences between what “secular” in the West means, and what it means to Islam.   You can expect to see “Islamism” and “Islamist” defined down:

Paul Pillar, a longtime CIA analyst who now teaches at Georgetown University, said, "Most of the people in the intelligence community would see things on this topic very similarly to the president – that is, political Islam as a very diverse series of ideologies, all of which use a similar vocabulary, but all quite different."

Yeah, “Death to Israel” doesn’t mean the same thing in Egypt that is does in Gaza.  And Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban don’t necessarily represent what an “Islamist” regime would look like, do they?   And don’t forget, as they continue to try to throw Turkey around as an example of “not so bad” – Turkey has been slowly changing from a true secular democracy to an Islamist state.  And the change has not been a good one for the interests of the US.

The White House has an internal study that it is studying and is still believing that there are good Islamists and bad Islamists:

The report draws sharp distinctions between the ambitions of the two groups, suggesting that the Brotherhood’s mix of Islam and nationalism make it a far different organization than al-Qaeda, which sees national boundaries as obstacles to restoring the Islamic caliphate.  

The study also concludes that the Brotherhood criticizes the United States largely for what it perceives as America’s hypocritical stance toward democracy – promoting it rhetorically but supporting leaders such as Mubarak.

"If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change," the senior administration official said. "We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear."

Really?  Have you been watching the timidity with which this President has faced the change in the Middle East and N. Africa?  This sudden equivocation about “Islamists” is a statement of fear.  A firm stand against the Islamist movement taking over any of these countries vs. standing up for secular democratic movements in those lands is evidence of fear.  The equivocation about the word and the accommodation the administration seems ready to make with some “Islamists” says all that needs to be said. 

There’s a reason “Islam” and “Islamist” are defined in a particular way.  What the administration is trying to do is blur those lines substantially in order to make what was and has been unacceptable to the US suddenly acceptable (at least to the degree to which “Islamists” appear “secular” to these rocket-scientists). 

We have been at war with “Islamists” for a couple of decades.   Is this redefinition of “Islamist” the first sign of our capitulation?

~McQ

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Secular democracy in Egypt? The devil is in the details

The committee empaneled to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution and given 10 days to do so has named it’s head

Egypt’s new ruling military council has appointed an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up a new constitution, angering some of those who argued last week’s revolution would deliver the country to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course there are some who continue to argue this is all a secular movement (how does one conclude a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow a “secular” group as the West would define “secular?) and that the end result will be a strong democracy as demanded by the people.

Uh, probably not.  Careful monitoring says that most likely the next government will be anything but “secular” as defined by the West:

But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.

There is something very concrete for you to watch for and monitor – the status of “Article 2” in any new constitution.  The double-talk isn’t just confined to the word “secular”.  “Moderate” gets a going over too.   What anyone in the West would consider a “moderate” here would most likely be called a “secular liberal” there.   The West might consider Egypt’s “moderates” as fairly radical here.   As an example of having to read carefully, look at this:

"Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians," said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. "He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.

Sounds great right?    But what is “Al-Wasat”?  It’s an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And you have to love the fact that he feels qualified to speak for “all Egyptians”.

Another claim made by those appointing the committee is it includes a “Coptic Christian” (The NYT names him as Maher Samy Youssef, a judge and Coptic Christian).  Or maybe not:

But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.

He said: "We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians."

And Islamists in general (using “Islamist” in the generally accepted sense of “religious radical”)?

In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.

Nice – radical terror groups go main stream and hold public meetings. 

Back to the head of the committee …. a person who knows Egypt pretty well has weighed in:

Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a "worrying" choice.

"There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," he said. "We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions."

Take that one sentence to heart – “there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist”.  We’ve come to understand that over the years, yet many of us seem to want to ignore that when it comes to Egypt.  Note that Abbas wants a real secular state as you and I might define it, not one as the Muslim Brotherhood would.

This move by the military council is one, I think, that is calculated to further calm fears that the military plans to continue to hold on to control.  The NYT says:

Though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s exit, has repeatedly pledged to uphold the goals of the Egyptian revolution, many in the opposition have questioned the army’s willingness to submit for the first time to a civilian democracy after six decades of military-backed strongmen.

So appointing the committee helps calm those fears:

“The move to appoint the panel is the first concrete thing the army has done since taking over,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent civil rights lawyer and Mubarak critic. “We have only had communiqués. We have been analyzing the rhetoric. But now is the first concrete move, and there is nothing about it that concerns us.”

That last sentence is very telling, especially the claim “there is nothing about it that concerns us”.  The fact that Bahgat isn’t concerned doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be concerned.   An Islamist judge heads the committee and:

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sobhi Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of Parliament who is a prominent figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak government repeatedly portrayed Mr. Saleh as extremist. Mr. Saleh has espoused some views many here might consider excessive, like advocating a ban on public kissing in most places, and he was released from an Egyptian intelligence prison recently.

Is that a “moderate” position?  Would such bans be “secular” in scope?  My guess is the answer would be  “yes” from someone like Saleh if passed by a Parliament (using the democratic process to pass authoritarian laws).   Anyway, you then have to love this analysis of the committee by Saleh:

“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me because I was a member of Parliament.”

Well yeah, so who is it that will lend “political color” to this work?  A radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood on a committee headed by an Islamist judge.

There’s no question there’s a lot of “hope” going on in Egypt right now – but as when “hope” was a prominent word here in the US during the last election cycle, everyone is being left to write their own interpretation on the large blank page “hope” has provided.   The problem there, as it was here, is what the people of Egypt “hope” will come about and what they will actually get out of this process – as it appears to be lining up – are probably not the same thing at all.

~McQ

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