Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Egypt Should Learn From Iraq

by Zaid Al-Ali, originally published at, April 21, 2011.
The Iraqi experience of creating a new constitution from political and social ruin offers lessons for Egypt.

After the extraordinary initial success of Egypt’s popular revolution in removing Hosni Mubarak from power, the supreme council for the armed forces published an interim constitution on 30 March 2011 that is to guide the country through the coming period. Although the text opens up exciting new possibilities and opportunities for change, it is also deeply problematic, particularly insofar as the mechanism for drafting the permanent constitution is concerned.  In that regard, Egypt has much to learn from Iraq, which is the only country in the Arab region to have engaged in a constitutional drafting process in recent memory.

Every country in the middle east has its own share of challenges and attributes, and there is no question that Egypt’s constitutional drafting process will be a far different experience to what took place in Iraq in 2005 (not least because Egypt does not have to suffer the consequences of a foreign military occupation).

However, there are enough similarities between the two countries (aside from obvious linguistic, cultural, religious and historical ties) that allow for one to learn from the other in relation to specific issues.  Egypt and Iraq have many of the same basic needs, some of which can at least be partly addressed through a successful constitutional drafting process. In that sense, the Iraqi experience has failed miserably and Egypt should take stock and learn from that experience, with a view to avoid repeating the same fatal mistakes. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mubarak : "Hello, I Must Be Going"

Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.  I'm glad I came, but just the same I must be going.... I'll stay a week or two, I'll stay the summer thru, but I am telling you, I must be going.
 There was great anticipation and hope today that President Mubarak was finally prepared to resign his post. With hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered to celebrate his departure, Mubarak gave a televised speech in which, contrary to reports and all reason, he refused to step down.  The New Yorker's David Remnick put it well:  "The delusions of dictators are never more poignant—or more dangerous—than when they are in their death throes. To watch Hosni Mubarak today in his late-night speech in Cairo, as he used every means of rhetorical deflection to delay his inevitable end, was to watch a man so deluded, so deaf to the demands of history, that he was incapable of hearing an entire people screaming in his ear."

The push-pull of the inevitable end of Mubarak's reign reminds me of a song from the the 1930 Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers.  So, for some comic relief from the heart-rending events in Egypt, here is Groucho Marx with "Hello, I Must Be Going": 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Meet The New Boss

Omar Suleiman
The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration is backing a "gradual transition," led by the Gen. Omar Suleiman, a long-time confidante of Hosni Mubarak, who was named Vice President when the protests began.  One thing you can say about Suleiman is that he will work well with the United States; he has before.

Jane Mayer, who wrote The Dark Side, a fabulous and deeply disturbing book on the Bush Administration's torture policies, explains that "since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service," and in that capacity "was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances."

The opposition to the current regime is not thrilled with this plan.  As the Times put it, they want a "faster and more sweeping changes to the military-dominated government."  Opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, said that Suleiman leading a transitional government with U.S. backing would be a "major setback."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Death Rattle?

The Mubarak regime has lashed back, as Professor Juan Cole put it, "mounting a massive and violent repressive attack on the peaceful crowds in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo."   Described by The New York Times, as "waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones, rocks and knives," there were "abundant signs" that this was an organized and coordinated effort directed by the government, including attempts to halt reporting by journalists and the fact that the protests came in well-timed waves.

The Atlantic's Graeme Wood provides a gripping first hand account of  The Battle in Cairo's Tahrir Square.  And here's another from The New Yorker's Wendell Steavenson.

As Democracy Now's Sharif Kouddous states, we are now seeing the "true face of the US-backed Mubarak regime," but this time "the whole world is watching."  Kouddous reports that while many protestors have left the Tahrir Square, many remain and vow not to leave until Mubarak steps down.  "It remains to be seen how the protesters will respond, but Friday, when another mass demonstration is scheduled, will undoubtedly be a decisive day."

An Egyptian Policy, Not a Mubarak Policy

Senator John Kerry wrote an op-ed in the The New York Times on Monday entitled Allying Ourselves With The Next Egypt.  It is particularly thoughtful given that it is coming from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kerry contends that the stability of Egypt hinges on President Mubarak's "willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure."  He urges Mubarak to take this "opportunity to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history."

Kerry also forthrightly discusses our country's role in supporting Mubarak by financing the Egyptian military, which ultimately has not served our interests, and the need to take a different approach in the future:
Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.  To that end, the United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt’s military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked “Made in America” fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. . .  The awakening across the Arab world must bring new light to Washington, too. Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism. Instead, the best way for our stable allies to survive is to respond to the genuine political, legal and economic needs of their people. . . . How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical. It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace.  For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Money Talks

The United States gives $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government, $1.3 billion comes in the form of  military aid.  That means we are subsidizing the brutality and repression that is being meted out by Egypt's security forces. 

The Working Group on Egypt, which Politico describes is a "bipartisan group of former U.S. officials and foreign policy scholars," urged the Obama administration to suspend all economic and military aid to Egypt until the government agrees to hold elections and end its assault on civil liberties and civil rights. 

The Working Group issued the following statement today:

Amidst the turmoil in Egypt, it is important for the United States to remain focused on the interests of the Egyptian people as well as the legitimacy and stability of the Egyptian government.

Only free and fair elections provide the prospect for a peaceful transfer of power to a government recognized as legitimate by the Egyptian people. We urge the Obama administration to pursue these fundamental objectives in the coming days and press the Egyptian government to:
  • call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible;
  • amend the Egyptian Constitution to allow opposition candidates to register to run for the presidency;
  • immediately lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners, and allow for freedom of media and assembly;
  • allow domestic election monitors to operate throughout the country, without fear of arrest or violence;
  • immediately invite international monitors to enter the country and monitor the process leading to elections, reporting on the government's compliance with these measures to the international community; and
  • publicly declare that Hosni Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.
We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.

[Related posts:  Note to US:  Invest in Populations, Not Dictators]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Note to US: Invest In Populations, Not Dictators

Steve Coll has a typically insightful piece in The New Yorker, Democratic Movements, on the implications of the revolution in Tunisia and the growing unrest in other countries in the region.  Coll points out that while each country has their own unique concerns, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Saudia Arabia have in common with Tunisia several political and demographic factors that are potentially combustible:  "youthful population, high unemployment, grotesque inequality, abusive police, reviled leaders, and authoritarian systems that stifle free expression."

In Tunisia, according to Coll, "investments in civil society -- programs launched by the United States, European governments, and independent foundation, which were peaceful, gradual, and unrelated to war or invasion -- bore fruit."  It was "Tunisian women (empowered by constitutional rights), labor unions, human rights campaigners, journalists, and artists" who survived the police state and triggered the overthrow of President Ben Ali "because outside supporters had promoted their legitimacy and built their capacity."  This is in stark contrast, Coll notes, to the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, which "set back the cause of promoting democracy by tying its ideas to violence and occupation."

Coll is familiar with the many "objections to pushing democratic reform in the Arab world," which include the possibility of creating instability, empowering Islamists parties, and depriving us of reliable partners in combating terrorism.  And, "there are significant risks, particularly if Egypt's government were to fall to leaders who would abandon any alliance to Washington."  In addition, "the practical rewards for promoting democracy in Arab societies may be uncertain and slow, if they come at all."   Nevertheless, as Coll argues, "it is the right strategy -- in principal and in pursuit of America's national interests."  The "corrosive effects of political and economic exclusion in the region cannot be sustained."  As the situation in Tunisa shows us, "Arab politics is not stable" and "common sense is ample guidance in foreign policy:  the United States must invest in populations, not dictators."