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It was 60 Years Ago Today … What is the Legacy of July 23, 1952?

July 23rd, 2012 Comments off
Nasser, Naguib and Salah Salem

Anwar Sadat went to the movies, not knowing that his co-conspirators had moved up the schedule, and almost missed the revolution. But once he caught up, as the senior Signals Corps officer among the plotters, he read communique number one:

To the People of Egypt:

Egypt has passed through a critical period in her recent history characterized by bribery, mischief, and the absence of governmental stability. All of these were factors that had a large influence on the army. Those who accepted bribes and were thus influenced caused our defeat in the Palestine War. As for the period following the war, the mischief-making elements have been assisting one another, and traitors have been commanding the army. They appointed a commander who is either ignorant or corrupt. Egypt has reached the point, therefore, of having no army to defend it. Accordingly, we have undertaken to clean ourselves up and have appointed to command us men from within the army whom we trust in their ability, their character, and their patriotism. It is certain that all Egypt will meet this news with enthusiasm and will welcome it.

For 59 years, anyone speaking of “the Egyptian Revolution” meant the coup of July 23, 1952. It was the thawra, though there were always a few who said that it was merely a coup (inqilab). If the events of January 25-February 11, 2011 had not occurred, today’s 60th anniversary of 1952 would no doubt be a huge celebration. But another, more popular revolution has occurred. (Whether it has been reversed or cancelled out by SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, a subject for debate.)

This is the fourth July 23 since I started this blog and the second since the fall of Husni Mubarak, but because it is the 60th anniversary it has itself become something of a political football.

This year, the Ahmad Maher Faction of the 6 April Youth Movement (whatever you think of the current bunch of revolutionaries, though know how to name their factions like real revolutionaries) has called on Egyptians to boycott celebrating July 23.  This has already provoked counterstrikes from supporters of the 1952 revolution: SCAF on its Facebook page called such comments “delusional,” defended the military’s role in 1952 and today, and and “asserted the 1952 revolution wasn’t only for Egypt but for the whole African, Arab and Asian world.”  Meanwhile, a group of “Nasserists” in Qena governorate also defended 1952 and “asserted that military rule didn’t begin with Gamal Abdel Nasser but had always been a feature of Egyptian political life since the time of Ramses II.”

Ramses II? But then, remember: the two pillars of Pharaoh’s power were his Army and the high priesthood. Is that so different from SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood? Well, yes, probably.

But no one can argue that the 1952 revolution has had a major impact across the Arab world, though that was not evident immediately. When the Free Officers first took over they forced the King to abdicate but didn’t even proclaim a republic until the following year, so that infant King Ahmad Fuad II, though in exile with his father, was nominally reigning through a regency council. The coup was not the first military coup in the modern Arab world (Bakr Sidqi in Iraq and Husni Zaim in Syria had gotten there previously), and at first it named a civilian Prime Minister. It as later, after Nasser supplanted Naguib and began social and economic reforms and nationalizations, that it began to look a bit more like a revolution. Nasser had enormous flaws, but no other Arab leader has enjoyed the prestige he did across the rest of the Arab world. We’ve talked a lot about Nasser and Naguib in this blog, and I refer you to the archives rather than repeat myself.

For two generations July 23 has been Egypt’s national day.Already January 25 is a contender for the title. Like so much else in this turbulent era, it will take some time for this generation of revolutionaries (Islamist as well as secular) to come to terms with that earlier “revolution” six decades ago today.

Two videos (both in Arabic), one with clips of the first revolutionary era, and the second Muhammad Naguib’s own initial broadcast:


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Arrests, demonstrations in Sudan will coincide with coup anniversary

June 29th, 2012 Comments off

Amnesty International reports that ahead of a new round of protests against the government in Khartoum, activist Magdi Aqasha, the head of Sharara (Youth for Change), was arrested on the pretext of causing a traffic accident. Sudanese security agents, who used the accident as a pretext to take him in before Friday’s demonstrations begun, were reportedly tailing Aqasha.

Additionally, internet users in Sudan reported that Zain Mobile, one of Sudan’s largest cell phone provides, went down for two hours early on Friday morning, though state-owned media and other private outlets were apparently not affected. Though Zain Sudan’s services are now functioning, the blackout – and the censure of the Arabic-language news outlet Hurriyat Sudan plus three independent dailies – unnerved Sudanese activists and reporters, who expect the next few days to see further crackdowns on demonstrators protesting government austerity measures. There are also rumors that classes at the University of Khartoum and other schools will again be suspended, as they were last winter, as a result of the protests.

The crackdowns have been going on since June 16th, when students from the University of Khartoum took to the streets, supported by opposition parliamentarians in the Sudanese legislature. Protests have now spread across the country. Any demonstrations held on June 30th are expected to draw a large security presence because it is the anniversary of the coup that overthrew the government of PM Sadiq al-Mahdi. Sudan’s leader, then-Brigadier General Omar al-Bashir, led the coup and then appointed himself President in 1993. He has threatened the protestors with draconian measures if they do not disperse, and the students who have led the protests have reportedly been attacked by pro-regime gangs as well. Human Rights Watch estimates that around 100 demonstrators are still being held without charge after hundreds were arrested over the course of the week and released. Student leaders and journalists[1] have been particularly suspect by the security forces. Sudanese journalist Moez Ali tweets that Ahmed Ibrahim Mohammed, Secretary-General of the UMST (University Of Medical Sciences and Technology) Graduates Union was recently arrested, as was “citizen journalist” Usamah Mohammed, who had been covering the demonstrations up until last Friday and compiling “a collection of tips and technical information about the best ways to demonstrate in Sudan and deal with the suppression of the police.”

Though a nationwide telecommunications shutdown has not occurred, the regime is still thought to be manipulated the Internet to quash protests. [Lisa Goldman]http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/22452/sudan-anti-government-uprising-tweeted-hashtag-sudanrevolts) notes that activists have been using Facebook and other websites to organize protests, and Evgeny Morozov has written that in the past, the Sudanese government has “cleverly mixed provocation and intimidation, by publicizing fake protests online and then arresting those who show up.” Some activists fear that police informants are trying to incite people on Twitter.

But despite al-Bashir’s curt, dismissive remarks – he has called those chanting the Arab Spring slogan “the people want to overthrow the regime” pie-in-the-sky “elbow lickers” – his actions evidence a deep sense of unease over the protests (for their part, organizers have taken his words and are calling the planned marches “Elbow-Licking Friday”). The loss of three-quarters of the country’s oilfields to South Sudan in 2011 – and a stalemate in negotiations between Khartoum and Juba over affecting (among other issues) a possible pipeline agreement that could ameliorate the loss of oil revenue – has undercut government spending significantly as inflation, fuel prices and food costs have all risen dramatically. Around 40% of Khartoum’s revenue comes from its oil fields, and the recent clash between Sudan and South Sudan over disputed territory is thought to have cost Khartoum some US$741 million this year.

On top of this, an arm of the southern liberation movement now governing in Juba continues to fight in the Juma Mountains and Blue Nile Province of Sudan, as do other armed groups in Darfur and the southwestern border areas. Khartoum is on the verge of bankruptcy; militarily, economically and politically, opines Eric Reeves at Muftah.org:

“… although the regime has vaguely promised to cushion the blow of inflation for food purchases, there are simply no means available to halt the effects of inflation, even for food. A typical food basket that today costs what is deemed an exorbitant 30 Sudanese pounds could very soon cost 60 pounds; and any stabilizing (i.e., subsidizing) of this price at previous price levels (in non-inflated pounds) will then be twice as expensive and will create an even greater budget gap—and more inflation.”

“The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) are likely to remain loyal to the end, but the army is potentially another story, especially given the evident rift between the most senior generals now exercising greatest political power in the regime, and the mid-level officer corps The NIF/NCP ruthlessly purged the army on coming to power in 1989, and effectively destroyed it as an institution in the Egyptian mold. The army has never regained a true esprit de corps, and disaffected officers up to the rank of colonel may soon refuse to obey orders to use violence against protesting civilians.”

Sudan is not on the verge of state collapse, Reeves believes. But the economy shows little sign of improving absent an end to fuel subsidies (the governing party’s MPs already struck down attempts to do so) or a pipeline deal with South Sudan: Sudanese economist Yousif Elmahdi even goes to far as to call the country a failed state.

None of this month’s events this bodes well for the government, especially if violence escalates and it finds itself confronting major demonstrations all over the country.


  1. Foreign reporters are also being made to feel unwelcome: Egyptian Bloomberg correspondent Salma El-Wardany was interrogated and then deported from the country this week as a result of her coverage of the demonstrations.  ?



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Who’s unhappy about the coup against parliament?

June 16th, 2012 Comments off

The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday has been described by many, including myself, as a coup by proxy. The only democratically elected institution in Egypt is now gone, the SCAF has regained full legislative powers  — i.e. the power to rule by decree — and it’s not clear whether the president who will be elected in the next two days will be able to assume his position in any case. Furthermore, we know that SCAF intends to ammend the constitutional declaration now in place or perhaps issue a new one altogether. If it looks like a coup and smells like a coup and is based on absurd legal reasoning, it probably is a soft coup.

The strange thing is that I don’t see much outrage about it outside of Twitter.

The Muslim Brotherhood has chosen to accept the decision and focus on the presidential race. This may be simply a tactical choice to boost its premise that Mohammed Morsi is the revolutionary candidate at a time when the MB has lot its main claim to legitimacy, its parliamentary majority. Others whisper that this indicates a deal in the making, where Morsi will take the presidency. Many MB members grumble but for now their focus is the presidential race, even though SCAF now has the leeway to redefine presidential powers depending on which candidate wins. It may be that the MB is keeping its outrage bottled in case its candidate loses, but the decision not to push on the court’s verdict as illegitimate is certainly puzzling.

The Salafists have largely been quiet, as far as I can tell. Perhaps they’re wondering whether this politics stuff is worth it.

Establishment secularists of all stripes appear to be delighted with the dissolution of parliament, even those who were MPs! Some of them expected this from the outset of the elections  — they knew the 2011 electoral law was problematic and that this parliament would not last long. (Personally, I don’t understand the constitutional logic of the verdict  —it might have applied under the 1971 constitution but the constitutional declaration contains nothing top prevent a mixed electoral system). But then why did they play along with it? Others are simply happy to see an Islamist-dominated parliament go under. It’s quite sickening that they have so little respect for the institution they were elected to and believe a parliamentary majority they dislike is best replaced by a council of 20 or so generals.

Radical revolutionary types are in a good mood too. It proves everything they’ve been saying, and in any case many of them believe the parliamentary elections were fraudulent or otherwise flawed. They can credibly say that the emperor is naked, and if Ahmed Shafiq wins the presidential election, their entire theories will have been proven. Some hope that the real, violent and bloody, revolution will come then. 

To me, it seemed like this dissolution of parliament was worth making a real fuss about. Accepting the verdict as so many have done not only sets a precedent but essentially is an acceptance of the rules of the games set by SCAF. The revolutionaries who decried this transition from the beginning — and they range from radical leftists to radical libertarians to very establishment personalities like Mohamed ElBaradei  —are at least safe in the knowledge that they refused to participate in this charade from the very beginning. But the others…

A few days ago I began writing a post endorsement Mohammed Morsi for president. I wanted to wait to see whether Shafiq was still in the race before I posted it. But the decision to dissolve parliament sounds the death knell to the credibility of the political process in Egypt, and while I still prefer a Morsi victory (with many, many, caveats) to a Shafiq one, I think it’s hardly worth giving credence to an entire political system that has no credibility. The only thing I see in Egypt’s future is military rule, civil disobedience, and violence. The SCAF is mostly responsible for this, but those who accept this verdict and SCAF taking over legislative powers have their role too. History will remember them.



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Egyptian Supreme Court Dissolves Parliament but Keeps Shafiq in Race: Double Blow to MB on Eve of Elections

June 14th, 2012 Comments off

 On a day when Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court handed down two decisions which each could have thrown the country into chaos, it chose to deliver one shocking blow to the transitional process but to avoid the second: it effectively dissolved Parliament, but it left Ahmad Shafiq in the Presidential race,so that the runoff election will take place this weekend. Had it alsl disqualified Shafiq, the whole transition would likely have collapsed. As it is, the decision not only dissolves :Parliament but also presumably the just-named Constituent Assembly named by Parliament,

Though the Court ruling only invalidated the Parliamentary election law for the 1/3 of the seats elected on an individual basis, a Court official said that it requires the dissolution of both houses of Parliament, the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council.

For a backgrounder on the two cases decided today, see here. Also for background see Mara Revkin on “Egypt’s Injudicious Judges.”

There is no question who the big loser is. By dissolving the Islamist-dominated Parliament but leaving old regime secularist Shafiq in the race for President, the decisions will likely be taken by the Muslim Brotherhood as a double blow. Had Shafiq been disqualified Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi would either have won by default or new elections would be required; and by losing :Parliament the Brotherhood risks losing most of what it has gained, One Brotherhood spokesman has already called the decision a “military coup,” and Morsi is to speak soon, Former Presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abu’l-Futuh has echoed the “military coup” judgment and linked these two decisions to yesterday’s announcement that military police could arrest civilians in support of that interpretation.

And if, as some are saying, SCAF now assumes both the powers of Parliament and of the Constituent Assembly, the “military coup” judgment doesn’t seem far fetched.

It’s too soon to judge just how things will play out but my initial reaction is that just as this was already the worst possible choice of two candidates, this is the worst possible set of decisions: by dissolving Parliament and keeping Shafiq in the race it gives the impression of rolling back the revolution and disenfranchising the Brotherhood, through a court decision not the ballot box, while yesterday’s arrest announcement seems to restore the State of Emergency.

The dangers of a renewed revolution, but this time with the Brotherhood fully supportive from the start, or a bloody, repressive crackdown seem more real than at any time since the fall of Mubarak. I think there is real danger here.

There will surely be much more to say here.


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Le Canard Enchaine: "Plotting against Assad!"

March 6th, 2012 Comments off

“…C’était un titre du Canard Enchainé il y a quatres jours « La semaine der nière à Tunis, les responsables de plusieurs services secrets ont examiné les possibilités d’un coup d’état. » Deux réunions auraient eu lieu à Tunis, selon un tres haut fonctionnaire du Quai d’Orsay. La première, la confé­rence dite « des amis de la Syrie »,… La seconde beaucoup plus discrète et réunissait les hommes des services secrets. « On leur souhaite bon vent pour dégom mer Bachar…» Réaction sur le même ton d’un officier d’état-major : « C’est la meilleure solu­tion. On ne peut pas refaire le même coup qu’avec la Libye et bombarder une armée syrienne autre ment plus solide que celle de Kadhafi…. Et puis, cette fois, l’ONU ne donnera pas son feu vert…..»



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Almost Full Circle: September 1, 1969 and Today

September 1st, 2011 Comments off

Forty-two years ago today, King Idris of Libya was in Turkey for medical treatment, when a group of young military officers, calling themselves the Free Officers in emulation of Nasser’s 1952 coup in Egypt, took power. King Idris, from Turkey, reportedly dismissed the coup as “unimportant.” He was wrong.

Qadhafi on September 27, 1969, just weeks after the coup

According to many accounts, Libya was already awash in coup plots; the question was who would strike first. Oddly, for the first few days after the coup it was unclear who, in fact, the new “Revolutionary Command Council” members were: they chose initial anonymity. At first they installed a civilian Cabinet, but eventually threw off the pretenses and ruled directly. It soon became apparent that the dominant figure in the RCC was a captain (quickly promoted to major and colonel,until he simply became al-‘aqid, “the” Colonel.) He was, of course, Mu‘ammar al-Qadhafi. He was only a few years out of the Military Academy, sprung from Bedouin stock. He was not well-traveled, but he had trained for a while at Beaconsfield in the UK. He is said to have hated it.

Initially, a great many observers welcomed the coup. Nasser famously said that Qadhafi reminded him of himself, while both the US and the UK initially saw the young officers as idealists they could work with. (At the time the US had the big Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli and the British the Al-Adham Air Base near Tobruk; both would soon be expelled and renamed as Libyan Air Bases.) Qadhafi appeared as a young idealist, an avid Arab nationalist, and a man who saw Nasser as a role model.

x

It is hard to reconcile the Qadhafi of 1969 with the Qadhafi of 2011. His long and at times bizarre odyssey is well known if at times hard to fathom. The almost comic-opera uniforms and African and Arab robes; the bedouin tent he traveled with; the Green Book he promoted as profound political philosophy but which strikes most readers as juvenile theorizing; the long, rambling, sometimes incoherent speeches that were often lectures; the bizarre speeches at Arab and African summits and even at the UN: the man became a self-parody. Yet however unhinged he may have appeared, he was lucid enough to rule with an iron hand, and when Saddam Hussein fell, he quickly made his deals with the West, giving up his weapons of mass destruction, and even reaching this point of rapprochement:

Not, I suspect, a picture the Administration wants to circulate right now. Though Obama looks none too comfortable.

Lord Acton’s famous dictum that all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely is no less true for having become a (usually misquoted) cliché. A man who claimed to be merely a “guide of the Revolution” yet ruled a security state as centralized as any, who claimed to prefer living in a tent yet whose children had lavish and extravagant palaces, who in the end made war on the very people who supposedly ruled his “Jamahiriyya” (a word of his own coining, related to the word for republic but based on a plural and meaning something like “state of the masses”): how to understand this man?

Qadhafi famously said earlier this year that he would hunt down his enemies “inch by inch, room by room, home by home, alleyway by alleyway.” The last phrase, zanqa zanqa, soon was turned into a viral video as Zenga Zenga (by an Israeli musician no less). But on the 42nd anniversary of the “Great Green First of September Revolution,” it is the “Guide of the Revolution” who appears to be the one being hunted down, alleyway by alleyway.

Some Libyan rebels are urging that September 1 this year be the day to remove every trace of Qadhafi’s 42 years: the pictures, the slogans, the names on streets and squares.

The circle seems to be closing.


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Opinion piece on Gaza

July 27th, 2011 Comments off

C. Jacob, MEMRI, Hamas’s Gaza – Four Years Later Chapter 5: Islamization in Gaza "One of the outcomes of the 2007 Hamas coup has been increased Islamization in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has turned a blind eye to the activity of extremist Islamist groups, and in many cases has taken steps of its own to impose an Islamic lifestyle upon the populace. Hamas’s actions and statements reflect its desire to
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July 23 Plus 59 Years

July 23rd, 2011 Comments off

It is already past midnight in Egypt and the country’s traditional National Day, July 23. This year the bank holiday will be the 24th, but the Army and other institutions will mark the 59th anniversary of the 1952 coup.

A lot of the younger revolutionaries have already expressed their intent to switch the National Day to January 25, when the uprising began, seeing it as more of a Revolution than the military coup 59 years ago, before they were born. It is probably worth remembering, though, that the coup looked revolutionary enough at first, before the enthusiasm of the first moment became calcified into the authoritarian dictatorship that endured so long. And obviously, the January 25 revolution is at best incomplete, and at worst could produce another long period of undemocratic rule.

On earlier July 23rds since I began this blog, I have reflected on the legacy of the Free Officers (in 2009), and of Muhammad Naguib (last year); and on the 40th anniversary of Nasser’s death I reflected on the very mixed legacies of the man.

This year, though, I think Egyptians should be looking forward, recognizing how easily the initial enthusiasms of that “revolution” were twisted into a dictatorship, and hoping for better results this time.

Perhaps next year, National Day will be on January 25. Or, perhaps it won’t. The story is still unfinished.


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Canada lobbies G8 on behalf of Israel

May 28th, 2011 Comments off

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pulled off a major diplomatic coup for Israel.
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"Ce n’était pas une tentative de coup d’État, mais il y a eu un petit quelque chose.."

April 16th, 2011 Comments off

“…. Mais le Qatar ne se singularise plus seulement par l’activisme de sa diplomatie conciliatrice ou par cette richesse quasi insolente. Il est aussi le seul État de la région à avoir été épargné, jusqu’à maintenant, par la vague de contestation qui secoue le reste du monde arabe.  Le 16 mars, un début de manifestation annoncée sur Facebook n’a pas rassemblé la moindre âme rebelle dans les rues de Doha. «Ici la manne est bien répartie entre seulement 200 000 Qatariens qui n’ont pas vraiment de raisons de se plaindre», observe un diplomate occidental.  «Pourtant, le Qatar sera tôt ou tard visé par la vague de réformes que nous constatons chez nos voisins au Yémen ou à Bahreïn», prévient l’universitaire Mohammed al-Misser. Mais dans ce pays ouvert sur le désert, la quête de changement est très particulière: elle est exprimée par quelques tribus écartées du partage de la rente ou instrumentalisées par le frère ennemi saoudien, qui réclament davantage de conservatisme et une pause dans la course effrénée au modernisme.  ……. «Pourquoi dépenser 55 milliards de dollars pour des installations qui seront démontées au bout d’un mois?», renchérit un autre officiel. De nombreux Qatariens s’interrogent également sur la frénésie d’investissements à l’étranger. «Pourquoi la Fondation du Qatar doit-elle dépenser 100 millions d’euros pour faire sa publicité sur les maillots du FC Barcelone?», se demande Mohsen Marzouk, à la tête d’un centre de recherches.  

Créée par la très dynamique épouse de l’émir, cheikha Moza, la Fondation du Qatar est la cible de critiques des franges conservatrices de la société, …. Abreuvés d’informations sur les révoltes arabes par al-Jezira, ses habitants, en revanche, n’ont rien à se mettre sous la dent quand ils regardent la chaîne qatarienne, muette sur l’actualité locale. …..  un dimanche matin, des officiers de l’armée auraient tenté de se diriger vers le Palais de l’émir. «Ce n’était pas une tentative de coup d’État, mais il y a eu un petit quelque chose», nous confirme un homme d’affaires qui a ses entrées au Palais. «Il faut qu’ils se méfient, ajoute-t-il. Quand on a trop d’argent, cela suscite des appétits.» Et de rappeler que l’actuel émir a démis son père en 1996, un an avant que ce dernier ne cherche, en vain, à reconquérir le trône.”



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