Posts Tagged ‘muslim brother’

Opinions Divided on PM-Designate Qandil

July 25th, 2012 Comments off

As I noted earlier today after the announcement was made, the new Egyptian Prime Minister-designate, Hisham Qandil, is something of an unknown quantity; Water and Irrigation Minister in the Sharaf and Ganzuri governments and a governnent technocrat up until then, he’s not the superstar symbolic uniter some hoped for; rather, most people had never heard of him. Opinions are divided; many see his youth as a positive factor after years of elderly technocrats in the job; but a faceless technocrat?  And some say he’s an Islamist, though not a member of an organized party; President Morsi may have kept his word not to appoint a Muslim Brother to the Prime Ministry, but did he appoint a fellow traveler?

Since many of those expressing an opinion know little about the man (and I know less), it may take some time to judge the choice, It was not, however, a dramatic stroke that unites the country in a difficult time. The headline at Egypt Independent’s live blog, “Hesham Qandil Who?,” seems best to capture the mood.

And note this, in Ahram Online’s report:

On 15 July Kandil travelled with President Morsi to the African Union summit in Ethiopia. The trip sought to rekindle Cairo’s relationship with its African neighbours after years of neglect under former president Hosni Mubarak.

Improving Egypt’s relationship with the Nile Basin countries is one of President Morsi’s priorities, according to his presidential programme.

Egypt’s relations with the other Nile Basin countries is certainly an issue, but did Morsi’s traveling to Ethiopia with him win him the Prime Ministry?

Morsi became President 25 days ago, talking about what a US politician would call an intention to “hit the ground running.” It took nearly a month to choose a Prime Minister, and the primary response so far has been, “Who?” Perhaps he has not yet gotten his sea legs or, more likely, he finds himself caught between the generals of SCAF and the Guidance Council of he Muslim Brotherhood (his “resignation” from the Brotherhood on ascending to the Presidency is not, so far as I know, taken seriously by anyone at all).

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Who is Muhammad Morsi’s Spin Doctor?

June 29th, 2012 Comments off

Since virtually no one — even within the Muslim Brotherhood, for whom Muhammad Morsi was their second choice for candidate — had previously detected any traces of charisma or eloquence in Dr. Morsi, it’s natural for someone like me who lives and works in Washington to assume the man has acquired both an image coach and a spin doctor to make him seem inspiring. Maybe I’m too cynical; maybe we just never noticed he was a charismatic figure before but it was there all the time.

Morsi in Tahrir Today

The bits of his speech in Tahrir that I’ve seen (haven’t seen it all yet) seem to show a populist side that seeks to identify his victory with the goals of the revolution, while proclaiming his independence of SCAF and demanding the full powers of the Presidency. He is also getting the tone right according to the occasion: for his first speech on TV after victory and his visit to the Presidential palace he was clad in a conservative business suit and tie; for his talk in Tahrir Square today he had an open collar. (He also unbuttoned his jacket to show he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.) I wonder if the man even owns the white galabiyya that is the marker of the Muslim Brother.

But what really makes me wonder if he has a spin doctor from the US or Europe or somewhere else that’s been doing democratic politics longer than Egypt is the way he finessed a really sticky quandary today.

As I think I have mentioned, the President takes the oath in front of Parliament. But the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament and then, to complicate things, SCAF said the oath would take place in front of the Court itself. But that would recognize the Court’s dissolution of Parliament, which Morsi says he rejects. But if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be legitimately President. Yesterday it was announced that he would indeed take the oath tomorrow, in front of the Court. So it looked as if he had caved to SCAF and the Court.

But then, as part of his Tahrir appearance today (to call for, among other things, and end to military rule), he mingled with the crowds and then swore the Presidential oath “among the people.” It’s all window-dressing, of course, as he will take the oath in front of the Court tomorrow and that’s the one that counts, but as a piece of PR spin it strikes me as brilliant. He takes the oath “among his people” in the Revolution’s iconic spot, Tahrir Square; then tomorrow he takes the “real” oath as required.

Ever since Jimmy Carter walked in his inaugural parade 35 years ago, most US Presidents have gotten out of their car to walk a block or two. Of course they get back in the limo, and Morsi is still getting sworn in tomorrow by a body he claimed recently lacked authority to do so, so he’s still dancing to SCAF’s tune, but symbolically he’s finessed things rather well. The empty but potent symbolism is so reminiscent of American politics I have to wonder who his spin doctor is. 

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1954 and All That: SCAF Now Has More Power Than the Army Has Had Since the 1950s

June 15th, 2012 Comments off

You might have thought that Al-Tahrir newspaper would have thought to put the Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the cover, given the bombshell rulings today. But then, there are reports that Field Marshal Tantawi has already replaced him. So they chose well.

It is possible that Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will go back to the barracks at the end f the month, as frequently promised, but since SCAF seems to have been given the powers of both Parliament and the Constitutional Assembly, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In fact, right now, SCAF seems to have more power than the Egyptian military has held at any time since the 1950s. Nasser, and after him Sadat and Mubarak, always kept a balanee between the Army and the Interior Ministry with its police, State Security, Central Security, and other forces, so each counterbalanced the other. Now Mubarak’s Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, is in prison, and Mubarak’s Defense Minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, is in charge. In fact, with SCAF appointing the judges and controlling the Interior Ministry by naming the Minister, and with Parliament dissolved, SCAF seems to be in charge of virtually all the instruments of the state, at least for the moment. And yesterday’s ruling allowing Military Police to arrest civilians — by an astonishing coincidence introduced the day before today’s court rulings — seems to have re-introduced the recently ended State of Emergency through the back door.

The last time the Egyptian Army wielded this much power was probably in 1954, when Nasser pushed Muhammad Naguib out of the Prime Ministry and then the Presidency, crushed the Communist Party and then, when a Muslim Brother fired shots at him, crushed the Brotherhood for a generation. I saw someone tweet that a military coup against a revolution was unheard of. Even if you quibble about 1954 (1952 was also a coup though it called itself a revolution), the words “Napoleon Bonaparte” are sufficient answer, though many Latin American instances can also be cited.

That doesn’t mean 1954 is about to repeat itself — watch a video of Nasser giving a speech, and then one of Tantawi doing so, and you’ll see little in common except the uniform, which Nasser soon after abandoned. But right now SCAF seems to be calling all the shots.

On the other hand, SCAF has often flinched and reversed position when violently challenged. But the Muslim  Brotherhood has now indicated that it will go through with this weekend’s election, so the confrontation may not erupt right away. But a Shafiq win (which now seems likely) could produce an explosion.

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Egypt’s Hobson’s Choice: Rock or Hard Place?

June 1st, 2012 Comments off
from April 6 Movement

It’s been a week now since Egypt’s election results became clear and it became rather obvious that the two candidates left standing were about the most polarized choice possible: the Muslim Brother and the fallul, the Old Regime remnant. Mubarak always said the only choice was him or the Brotherhood, and his prophecy seems fulfilled: Shafiq is a former Air Force commander, facing charges of corruption already.

I have held off on long analysis, posting mostly on specific developments, but as this runoff gathers speed I want to finally take a shot at it. I assume my readers have been following the commentary on the subject, but especially want to note the pieces by Marc Lynch, The Arabist (of several posts, especially “Why Accept These Elections?“),  Magdy SamaanMirette Mabrouk, Barbara Slavin on the reaction here in Washington, VJ Um Amel at JAdaliyya on Twitter, Hani Shukrullah in Ahram Online, and many more. There is a huge body of commentary already out there; perhaps I’m not going to add much here, but I’ll try.

You also need to study these maps from Ahram Online, showing how the vote broke down by candidate and governorate. Let me start with this pie chart from that source:

Ahram Online

The electorate did not split between Morsi and Shafiq: they each took about a quarter; the other three candidates split just over half among them. A slight increase would have pushed Sabahi (Sabbahi here) past Shafiq. What is in fact striking is the degree to which this was a five-man race, though only two could be in the runoff. Only about half of eligible voters voted, and the results split five ways to all intents and purposes (the remaining candidates being marginal). Here:

Ahram Online

The results weren’t polarized but spread across a spectrum, but the two survivors happen to represent the most extreme poles. Complaints that “5 million shouldn’t decide for 50 million [eligible voters]” aren’t really valid; the vote was genuinely diverse. As Marc Lynch put it:

It’s important to keep the results in perspective.   The results look less surprising once it’s recognized that the two most powerful forces in Egypt won the first round.  Neither did especially well.  The Muslim Brotherhood won 25%, which is just about exactly where most experts have pegged their popular support for years and is significantly lower than in the Parliamentary elections.  Another quarter of the vote went to the SCAF’s candidate, Shafik, likely reflecting the widespread reality of popular exhaustion with the revolution.  Neither of those results should be a surprise.  The real tragedy is that the center, just as many had warned, destroyed itself by failing to unite around a single candidate and dividing the remaining 50% of the vote among three candidates.  This too, alas, should not be a surprise.

In fact, the elections also reveal the profound differences between the two metropolises and the rest of Egypt, a problem often commented upon but rarely fully appreciated during and since the revolution. Hamdeen Sabahi led strongly in Cairo and Alexandria. Morsi and the Brotherhood swept Upper Egypt, though Shafiq ran strong there as well. Shafiq carried the Delta strongly, except for Alexandria.

Ahram Online

Let’s leave aside the question of whether there was any rigging. Some have raised the fact that a large number of new voters were registered since the Parliamentary vote last year and that this somehow favored Shafiq. Maybe it did, but increasing voter registration in itself is a standard tactic of candidates anywhere, unless they weren’t actually eligible. Despite lots of rumors, the observers of the elections didn’t detect huge systematic fraud. The five-way split looks like no Egyptian election in history, even in the pre-1952 period. The election was a success, but the polarized second round raises tensions all around. One side is for God and the other side is for Law and Order, and the voters are left with a choice which, based on the pie chart above, fully half of them rejected in round one: they are left voting for the lesser of what they already determined are two evils.

Many say, of course, that you can get it right four years from now. But many suspect the Muslim Brotherhood, and more probably suspect Shafiq the Mini-Mubarak, might not in fact yield power to new elections in four years, or five, or whatever (remember, the Constitution is still to be written). Morsi says he will govern with all elements of society and respect women’s right to dress as they please, and might (“might”)  even have a Copt for Vice President. But he, his FJP Party and the Brotherhood itself all promised they wouldn’t run a candidate for President right up to the moment they did so, so some reason exists to doubt their promises. As for Shafiq, he has reportedly told businessmen he would use executions if needed to restore order within a month, which is hardly reassuring. Egyptians just had their first competitive Presidential election and now must choose between two men neither of whom seems to reassure them they will have another in just a few years.

There is much more to say. I’ll be returning to the subject. Meanwhile, another commentary from the great middle ground who found themselves with a Hobson’s choice: the banner says “The difference between Morsi and Shafiq is like the difference between a disaster and a black [worse] disaster.”

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The Brothers’ Numbers

April 20th, 2012 Comments off

The Egyptian electoral commission’s decision to ban the country’s top three presidential candidates has made it very difficult to predict anything about the upcoming vote. However, once the initial shock from the surprise disqualification of Muslim Brother Khairat al-Shater, Mubarak right-hand man Omar Suleiman, and Salafi Hazem Abu Ismail dies down, we’re still dealing with the same electorate that in the November-January parliamentary elections gave nearly 40 percent of its vote to the Brothers and another 25 percent to the Salafis.  Does this mean that the Brothers merely have to put up their backup candidate, Mohammed Mursi, and let him catch the Islamist wave in al-Shater’s stead? Probably not, actually – some recent poll numbers suggest that the Brother’s popularity was already in rapid decline, and that although their support may have been broad, it wasn’t very deep.

Islamist parties typically perform best in the first competitive elections after a long period of authoritarian rule. Religious parties may have a hardcore ideological base but that’s not where most of their votes originate. Instead, many voters see in the religious groups their best hope for a dramatic change from politics-as-usual. But inevitably, the Islamists must confront the same challenges as any other political force must, encountering resistance, searching for unlikely bedfellows, handing out plum posts to supporters, and making compromises. Because of this, they are bound to disappoint. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers were likely to lose support from the moment that Saad al-Katatni took the chair of the People’s Assembly and banged his gavel on national television, while outside, nothing was changed.

Even so, the evaporation of support for the Brothers – assuming the latest poll numbers are even close to accurate – is remarkable. Reports of a recent survey by the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Center suggest that some 45 percent of those who backed the Brothers in parliament won’t vote for it in the next elections. Al-Shater was the first choice of only 5 percent of voters.

During and after the elections, I heard from a number of voters that they cast their ballot for the Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party as an “experiment” (a phrase I heard so often, I’m guessing that the Brothers themselves may have pushed this line in their campaigning). So far, that experiment has yielded little but entertaining television. This isn’t the Brothers’ fault, necessarily – it’s only been three months, the military has not allowed them to appoint their own ministers, and due to the very loose guidelines of the transitional period they have no legal recourse – but public impressions are often formed very quickly and subjectively, and the Brothers end up looking like the all-talk no-action parliament of Mubarak’s day.The Brothers also are probably better able to field strong candidates for the legislature than for the presidency. They had a lot of locally known and respected grassroots activists, but no one with charisma and national stature. The most frequently heard complaint I’ve heard from Egyptian voters about the candidates is, “I don’t know any of these guys” – except for Amr Moussa and Omar Suleiman, who according to the Ahram numbers dwarf all the competition. The Brothers under Mubarak never really had the chance to groom a telegenic frontman for a future president, but even if they had, he might not have been what voters wanted. Suleiman’s surge of support suggests that much of the electorate is looking for a protective patriarch who projects power and control as their president, and won’t risk the job going to an amateur. For the legislature, they look more kindly on populists who they imagine can serve as the conscience of the nation, like the Brothers or the Salafis.

A final factor affecting the Brothers’s political trajectory is that their whole institutional culture is structured around their relationship with the Mubarak regime. Most of the time they were given a pretty big space to work in, so long as they were well-behaved, but they suffered occasional bouts of persecution and jail sentences to keep them in line. This inculcated a set of survival instincts that aren’t necessarily compatible with successful competitive politics.

The Brothers are frequently characterized as a “big tent” movement – with 80 years’ worth of name recognition they attracted a wide variety of pious dissidents who all accept the label “Islamist” but who disagree on pretty much everything else: conservative versus liberal interpretations of Sharia, independence versus group loyalty and discipline, laissez-faire versus statism, confronting the regime versus rolling with the punches. But they also needed to impose a fairly ruthless level of discipline to keep members on message and avoided antagonizing Mubarak to a greater degree than the leadership thought was safe.

For the Brotherhood’s leadership, trying to manage their membership’s expectations in an open political system has been a major challenge. It accounts for many of their dramatic shifts in policy. After Mubarak fell, the first instinct of the Brothers’ leadership’s was to cooperate with SCAF. But they lost some of their youth activists when they tried to avoid threatening the ruling generals by staying out of street protests. They lost another set when they expelled Abd al-Moneim Aboul Futuh for running for president independently. On their right, their bid for mainstream respectability left a vacuum, which the Salafis hastily filled. In order not to be overly threatening, the Brothers declared they would not nominate anyone for president – but then went back on that pledge, presumably because they did not like seeing their members inspired by Aboul Futuh and Abu Ismail candidacies. This abrupt and dramatic reversal of a high-profile pledge has done much to erode the perception that the Brothers in any way represent a higher, more principled form of politics.

This is not to say that the Brothers are doomed to fizzle. Some Islamists have proved to have staying power, like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who Egypt’s Brothers cite as a model. But Erdogan has delivered, not just vague promises or ideological purity but hard economic growth. The Brothers can’t simply ride an “Islamic wave” into a position of dominance. There is a pool of support to be gained by claiming the mantle of religiosity – but it’s a pool that is a mile wide and an inch deep. A 50 percent share of the legislature is a strong hand to have been dealt, but it can still be overplayed – especially if, as poll numbers suggest, they will be up against an army-backed establishment president like Amr Moussa, and especially in a transitional period where a deus ex machine court decision or a coup can see parliament dissolved in a heartbeat. If the Brothers are thinking long-term, I see them trying to establish themselves as an institutionalized center-right: socially conservative without positing real radical change, offering competence rather than piety and purity.

Another option is to make common cause with the Salafis, and try to use the two groups’ parliamentary supermajority – 75 percent – to draft a constitution giving the parliament ascendancy over the president. But the Brothers have fallen out with the army, the constitution drafting process is in limbo, and the Salafis are a disorganized fractious bunch. The poll numbers suggest their vote base is almost as fickle as the Brothers’. Even with Salafi back-up, going into a confrontation with an army-backed president is a path fraught with risk – and the Brothers have a long tradition of being risk-averse.

Ultimately, the role in which the Brothers are most likely to find themselves in the next few years is of a parliamentary majority clamoring against an military-backed president, the voice of the majority with moral authority but no real authority, criticizing policy without being held accountable for policies of their own. This is the same role they have played for much of the last two decades and, if given a chance, I suspect they will settle into it comfortably.

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Confessions of a Would be Muslim Reformer (sort of)

April 4th, 2012 Comments off

by Omid Safi, Religious News Service, April 1, 2012

I have been doing a lot of soul-searching, and I have reached a few important conclusions. Speaking as a moderate Muslim, I realize that my community is primitive, backwards, mired in tradition, and in need of massive help from KONY 2012 people to reform this tradition to catch up with the luminosity of secular West.

I know that there is a trouble with Islam today, and everyday. I also want to have gay-friendly mosques where people can just go have a beer after the optional prayer services, ‘cause that is what it means to be a progressive Muslim.

Because all the secret jihadists (and the FBI people who have infiltrated them) just want to impose this Shari’a thing on us, and for some reason all that beer drinking and hooking up seems to be frowned upon in that Shari’a thing.

With that, and in the name of She who is the source of All-Mercy, here are the fruits of my search. If anyone wants to put me in touch with Fox News or MEMRI, please do so, I’ll recite all these on camera—just contact my agent, and he can tell you my appearance fee. I know that we are in need of a Muslim Reformation, and I am working on my “Martin Luther of Islam” speech. I can’t quite make it up to ML’s 95 theses, but I have got a good head start below. With that, “I give you permission to think freely”:

First, speaking as a Muslim, I am so disappointed in my Muslim brother Barack Hussein Obama. He eats pork, drinks alcohol, regularly attends church service, had his daughters baptized, has yet to set foot in a mosque since becoming president, kisses AIPAC’s behind, authorizes indefinite detentions, and has seen many Muslims killed by his drone attacks and ongoing wars. Really, a pathetic Muslim if ever there was one. I mean, if I wanted a Muslim ruler that would do all the above, I would move back to the Muslim countries where most of the rulers do that kind of stuff anyway, and the food is a little better than here.

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Podcast: The Manchurian Candidate

June 26th, 2011 Comments off

In this week’s podcast, we discuss the “Constitution First” vs. “Elections First” debate in Egypt and Sheikh al-Azhar’s proposal, the silence surrounding Syria and Bahrain, the ADC’s attempt to prevent Syrian artist Malek Jandani from playing a pro-uprising song and review the autobiography of Egyptian ex-Muslim Brother and presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and wonder if he’s really been kicked out of the group.

We’re still working on getting iTunes to update the podcast, but remember you can always subscribe with iTunes (and other podcatcher software) by using this link. In iTunes just go to “Advanced / Subscribe to a podcast” and paste in the link.

Thanks for the feedback we’ve gotten (podcast[at], and please keep it coming! This is still a work in progress and we learn a lot from your input.

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Why the Muslim Brothers will brook no dissent

June 20th, 2011 Comments off

The news that the leading Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is being expelled from the movement should come as no surprise. It’s true that in doing so, the MB is losing a widely respected figure that many see as the more moderate, acceptable face of the Brotherhood. Aboul Fotouh frequently appears on television, and has influence as the head of the Arab Medical Union, a professional syndicate. He is also a leadership figure for the vocal minority of young Muslim Brothers and their sympathizers who want to see the group change with the times. But is he becoming a major thorn in the Brotherhood’s side for his desire to run for the presidency.

This is not primarily because the MB feels it is too early to field a presidential candidate, even if that’s part of the picture. It is first and foremost about electoral strategy and a long-term plan to increase its political influence.

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And Now, a Word from the Last of the Free Officers

December 20th, 2010 Comments off

A blast from the past for Egypt hands. As far as I am aware, every single one of the original Free Officers who overthrew the Egyptian monarchy on July 23, 1952, installing Naguib and then Nasser, has died, since the deaths of Hussein al-Shafi‘i in 2005 and Zakariyya Mohieddin in 2009, save one alone who survives to tell us: Khaled Mohieddin, the “Red Major” to his colleagues because he was to the left of most of them, founder and longtime head of the Tagammu‘ Party (the Progressive Socialist Rally), now retired and 88 years old. (More on his Arabic Wikipedia page for those who can read it.) This video for Al-Masry al-Youm, with subtitles in English, is of a pre-election interview (November 4) with Mohieddin. It may be one of our last looks at the old guard of the Revolution, and at one of them who really wanted a real revolution.

There’s nothing revolutionary here in what the old revolutionary has to say (except implied praise of Israel as a democracy), but not long ago I found myself wondering if he was in fact, still alive. When he goes the last of the Free Officers are gone. He stayed in Parliament until 2005, when he was defeated by a Muslim Brother (the symbolism is obvious: old lefty replaced by Islamist, except that after the latest election the Tagammu‘ is the biggest opposition in Parliament). He did not write his memoirs until 1992 (in Arabic; translated 1995 into English but not now listed at AUC Press as far as I can tell). Even then the memoirs basically go through the Revolution and stop. I’ve seen the Arabic but haven’t read it all, and don’t have the English version.

Last man standing. A nostalgic way to start the week.

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