Thursday, March 31, 2011

Separation of Religion and Government: Protecting Religion, Defense Against Abuse of Power

Separation of Religion and Government: Protecting Religion, Defense Against Abuse of Power

One of the main arguments used to forward the idea that religion should be separated from government is the protection of the freedom of religion for minority religious populations in Egypt. Among them, Coptic Christians, Shia and Sufis as well as the accommodation of the many schools of jurisprudence of Islam. A diverse civil society must be able to protect the rights of all citizens.

This is only one argument and not even the first argument for the issue of division of religion and government.

Many believe that the call to separate religion from the government is only a call to reduce the role of Islam in Egypt and the Islamic identity of the Egyptian people. This is a fear that is unfounded. The majority of citizens in Egypt are Muslim. The strength of the faith and the long relationship of the majority of the people with their Islamic heritage remains unchanged, regardless of the governments that have existed. It will remain unchanged in a society where freedom of religion is protected and the people may practice their faith as they see fit.

This fear is not surprising when a people have been living under an oppressive regime that used government power and money to control the mosque, the selection of Imams and to influence the message. If someone belonged to a religious group or made public religious sentiments that the government found threatening, the group could be attacked and the people put in prison for a very long time, often times tortured and killed.

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar recently announced that he would give back his salary provided by the government because corruption has spread within the institution. Other leaders staged a protest against the corruption born of government interference, payment of bonuses and other devices used to extort responses and control the Ulema.

By these acts the Mubarek regime wished to control the conscience of the people, preventing them from voicing their concerns about the government and the leaders. Acts that are all too familiar in oppressive nations.

What is surprising is that people who have experienced this repression and point to this corruption are so willing to consider the continuation of this same construction of religion and government. All with the apparent belief that this time it will be different.

Egypt and Democracy: A New Coat of Paint

'Freedom Painters' bring new life to Nasr City walls

Groups of young people, armed with paints and brushes have been running around, painting the "new graffiti" of Freedom.  One gentleman suggests:

“Imagine a mural running the length of the corniche,” he suggested. “Or government facilities bearing artistic logos and murals -- it would be a vast improvement on the depressing buildings we have now,” he said, claiming that these government institutions are not only old-fashioned and “sick-looking,” but remnants of “an age that has been brought to its long-overdue end.”

“It wouldn’t cost much,” he reasoned. “Paints, brushes, art supplies -- those things aren’t that expensive. A single generous businessman could sponsor such an effort independently.”
“It makes sense,” he insists. “A new coat of paint for a new beginning.”

That was after he complained that most of the writing was in English, that Egyptians spoke Arabic and the art should be for Egyptians.  Then he changed his mind.  Freedom is Freedom in any language.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle East Revolutions: Everybody Wins - Al Qaeda Says It's Good News

Al-Qaeda hails "Tsunami of change" in Middle East

Western and Arab officials say the example set by young Arabs seeking peaceful political change is a counterweight to al-Qaeda's push for violent militancy and weakens its argument that democracy and Islam are incompatible.

But Yemeni-U.S. cleric Anwar al-Awlaki argues , in an article published online on Tuesday entitled The "Tsunami of Change", that the revolutions are good news for Islamic extremists and said the removal of anti-Islamist autocrats meant Islamic fighters and scholars were now freer to discuss and organize. 

This comes as no surprise from those in the west who have been saying that the potential for Islamists to emerge as a controlling power or major influence in politics and culture in the Middle East is all but assured.

The issue is whether these populations will succumb or be forced to adhere.  In reality, the Salafi Wahabi strain of Islam is Islam's and, to a greater extent, the Arab's problem to resolve.  Salafis v., for instance, Egyptian Muslims, it is a war between modern Islam and regressive Islam.  The United States and the West, however much they are attacked, are the side show.

From the outset, Al Qaeda's goal, formulated by their Salafi Wahabi ideology, has been to force Muslims to choose between Dar al Islam (the house of peace; within "correct Islam" as they see it) and Dar al Harb (the house of war; outside of Islam).  While the original intent was to establish the geographic boundaries of Islamic controlled states v. other states, Al Qaeda and it's fellow travelers have gone even further to suggest that Dar al Harb includes Muslims who are not "Islamic" enough (do not follow Salafi practices).

This is one of the reasons that Al Qaeda and it's fellow travelers feel that they have a free hand in attacking and killing Muslims.  If they are outside of Dar al Islam (bad Muslims), they are bad Muslims or kufar or takfiri who deserve to be punished.  If they are "good Muslims" that die as collateral damage, then they, as martyrs, are assured an eternal life of pleasure in paradise.

The other issue is that Salafis believe they have a right and an obligation to enforce Islamic law by force or "Hisbah".  That is what appears to be going on some areas of Egypt where Salafis reportedly broke into a home and accused a local woman of being a prostitute as well as harassed women on the street. They have also protested outside of a Christian Church and recently tried to enforce their ideology in a local village outside of Cairo where an armed conflict broke out after the Salafis tried to shut down liquor stores and coffee shops.  Obviously, the locals are not going to follow along quietly.

For Salafis, the reason that Muslim's have fallen from grace is the presence of outside influence, largely western, in the Muslim Arab world.  Obviously, since the Qu'ran is the infallible word of Allah and Mohammed the Rightly Guided Prophet, then Islam itself is blameless and no Muslims can be faulted for this decline except that they are tempted as all men are from the grace of Allah.  It has to be some greater evil.  The west becomes, in essence, the scape goat for all of the ills the Salafis find.

This evil is not just political or military, it is commercial in nature since every western product is imbued somehow with these ideas and is subversive by nature.  Aside from attempting to degrade the United States' economy as the driver for it's military power, the attack's on 9/11 were aimed at the World Trade Center was basically a two for one event.  Not only did it hope to impact the amount of money the US would have to support it's military, but it would also severely hamper the ability to export these bad influences on the Muslim world.

In that moment, of course, their over all goal was to provoke the US into an act of aggression against Muslim's in general that would force Muslim's to decide whether they are Dar al Islam or Dar al Harb.  In essence, Muslims would have to take sides.  In their eyes, Muslims had to choose between being "rightly guided" by Salafi principles or be forcefully converted or die. The struggle, as they see it, to convince Muslims of their "correct path" is on going.

Now Al Awlaki says that the Salafis have been given an "in" by the presence of democracy and the ideas of free speech (ideas that, if they were in charge, would go right out the window).  This is true.  However, as he points out, these things tend to work both ways.  Now, whatever the Salafis say can be countered, in the open, in majority Muslim country.  They get a chance to make their case, but they can also be rejected.

Of course, the Salafis and Al Qaeda types do not take well to being rejected.  The likelihood of Muslims coming under even more violent attacks rises with every step a Muslim state takes away from rejecting democracy and and away from accepting Salafi Islam.  The war then returns full circle from where it was born and Muslims will be, once again, on the front lines in both the ideological and physical war.

Egypt and Democracy: Political Parties to the Left, Political Parties to the Right, Egyptian's Stuck in the Middle Again

The political situation in Egypt is shaping up to be a "Night of a 1000 Parties". 

SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - Egypt) has made several announcements.  The first was the provisions for the creation of political parties.  The amendment to the laws is actually fairly liberal.  First, it takes away the provision that parties can only be formulated if their platforms differ from any existing party.  This one rule alone was used by the Political Activities Committee to disqualify numerous parties from coming to exist.  Other rules are being discussed.  Such as the PAC will now be an independent body made up largely of the judiciary, with three judges at the head as opposed to the previous committee that was completely made up of Mubarek appointees that included the Interior Minister and various others.

There is concerns that the rule requiring 5,000 signatures/members across ten of the twenty nine Egyptian governorates.  Several groups are concerned that this is an impossible burden to meet.  Even the MB has issued a statement suggesting that this is an unnecessary limitation.

There is an obvious calculation here that is not necessarily bad, even as some Egyptians see it as limiting their political activities.  For the MB, having a hundred parties vying for the 70% of the seats they won't control, would be a gift from heaven.  Particularly as any individuals or small parties will be insistent on maintaining their own identities and affiliations.

For SCAF, this may be about helping out the NDP by reducing the field they would have to compete with, but it is more likely a calculation to force the multiple competing parties to form two to four major parties.  Two to four major parties are easier to manage than twenty.  On the other hand, forcing the liberals, leftists, socialist workers and national socialists to form a few representative parties actually would help them campaign and obtain enough seats to create a real secular opposition block in parliament.

There are questions coming from several members about the rule requiring the party to publish "the founding members" names in "two widely circulated" papers.  One activists suggests that this requires all 5,000 member's names in two papers would cost over LE 2 million (appx $400k US).  This seems to need clarification as the intent of the law seems to have been to publish the "founders" or heads of the parties.

The new amendment prohibits the creation of "religious parties" and expressly forbids discrimination based on gender, origin (ie, European decent, etc), religion or creed.  This seems to be a direct blow to the Muslim Brotherhood who put in a petition to form the Freedom and Justice Party, stating that no member of the MB can form or join another party along with it's political platform that states it against women or Christian's for president of Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood continues to experience internal fractures.  A former member of the Guidance council has resigned and will form his own party, Nahdat Masr after rumors abounded that Abouel was planning to form a party from within the MB, insisting that the MB's rules that members could only join the MB's Freedom and Justice Party was incorrect.   Apparently, the current guidance council prevailed and Abouel Fotouh resigned in protest.

Among other issues facing the Brotherhood is the disenchantment of the MB Youth with the stagnant MB elderly leadership.  The younger members contend that the old rules should be re-evaluated including allowing women a more prominent role in leadership roles.  There is also considerable discussion about whether the MB should be forming a party at all since the organization has "loftier goals" of educating Muslims internationally on the right practice of Islam which would be compromised by the MB's participation in politics.

This seems to be a polite way of suggesting that the old guard is out of step with the new reality of the young, liberal Islamists who went on to suggest that the new guidance council for the MB should be divided up proportionately with a percentage for the "youth", for women and for those "over 65" since the youth and women make up the majority of the party.  This is also a rather polite suggestion that the old men are, frankly, too old to be leading, at least, alone, in the new reality of democracy.

To which the Muslim Brotherhood responded, "conference, what conference?"  The Muslim Brotherhood did not have a conference on Saturday, March 27.  A clear suggestion that these MB Youth were outside of the MB and had no significant role or impact on the organization.

In a cynical move meant to comply with the recent law against political parties, the leader of the MB "invites Copts to join" the Freedom and Justice Party.  The party's council is apparently still meeting to formulate the final platform, probably in an attempt to eradicate any parts of the platform that do not comply with the law.  Whether any Copts will actually feel welcome in the party is another question.

The Christian Copts had announced the formation of their own "secular" party in early March, Free National Coalition party.   The Coptic church says it will not recognize any religious party claiming to represent only Coptic Christians as this would promote sectarianism.  A spokesman for the FNCP pointed out that their party was open to anyone to join and that the head of their party was a Muslim legal expert.

Meanwhile, the "more Islamist than the Brotherhood" groups are beginning to appear.  One such group is the banned "Islamic-oriented Labor Party" whose leader Magdi Hussein is declaring himself a candidate for president because, in his words, no one else actually meets the criteria set by the new amendments (ie, Egyptian, born of two Egyptians, married to an Egyptian, etc, etc, etc).  The Salafis, Jamaa'a al Islamiya and al Jihad groups are discussing participating in politics, even as the leader of Jamaa'a al Islamiya has indicated he is stepping down.

Jamaa'a al Islamiya (white washed somewhat in this article), is the group that sponsored Sadat's assassination and is the ideological group that Ayman al Zawahiri joined after leaving the Muslim Brotherhood.  The group was smashed by Mubarek's regime, imprisoned and tortured, leading them to change their stance from violent jihad to political while al Jihad's transition has been more cosmetic.  They are still on the "list" as a terrorist sponsoring organizations in the US.

Else where, the Salafis are beginning to make their presence visible.  Salafi groups confronted members of the CYR (Coalition of Youth Revolutionaries) March 25 at a rally to commemorate the martyrs of the revolution in Alexandria.  Sunday, March 28, Salafi activists handed out anti-democracy fliers, urging people to "Be a Salifi" and reject a government of men and man's law over God's law.  On the internet, a young activist claimed via tweet that the Salafis had "taken over Alexandria". 

In response to these party formations, the NAC (National Association for Change) that is El Baradei's support organization, called for a "coalition against 'religionizing' politics".  They are asking all liberal groups to put aside any minor differences and form a larger liberal party.

The Liberal parties are beginning to see the light

In a press conference Tuesday evening, the Egyptian Democratic Party announced its merger with the Liberal Egyptian Party to form a new party called the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
Expressing the need for separate secular parties to unite, Amr Hamzawy, political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called on the country’s secular liberal groups to follow suit.

However, they are trying to reform their argument for a "secular state" as one that does not threaten Egypt's Islamic religious "order".

“The word secular needs to be properly defined and should represent what it really is. It [secularism] does not oppose religious views condoned by Egypt’s current political order.” “Instead of saying this party wants a secular state, it should be said that it has a desire for an Egypt that includes all Egyptians.”

Through out this process, the CYR (Coalition of Youth Revolutionaries) are actively discussing politics, but are resisting forming a party from within as the coalition is made up of youth from every different organization.  They maintain that their coalition has loftier goals and wishes to keep the attention on the aims of the Revolution such as the removal of all hold outs from the Mubarek regime, the creation of a new constitution and the assurance of political rights.

Al Wafd and Al Ghad, the two oldest liberal parties, have announced that they will become partners with the Democratic Front in order to win the most seats possible in the upcoming parliament elections, but then the partnership will be dissolved after the elections.  This is another example of the liberal parties trying to hold on to their own identities even in the face of a potentially solid block from the MB.

It is unclear if they understand exactly how parliament will work and the dangers of presenting multiple fronts that can be exploited by any larger block whether that is the remnants of the NDP, the MB or the socialist labor block.  It is also unclear how they expect to obtain voter loyalty when they have already announced that any cooperation will go out the window once the elections are over.  This may play well to their base, but it will thwart any wider attempts to obtain votes.

They may be counting on a change in the parliamentary election structure.  SCAF will be announcing the new constitutional process sometime today or Thursday.  According to some sources, the elections may change from voting for one candidate to represent one district to proportional seating of candidates.  Proportional seating means that each party will be allotted a number of seats to fill based on the percentage of over all votes it achieves in the elections.  The participating parties would provide a list of candidates, very likely to require distributional candidacies.  For instance, 25% must be women and they must be every fourth candidate on the list.  Candidates listed from one to a hundred would then be seated in the order they appear on the list.

This could be a boon for the liberal parties as most of their constituency resides in the larger urban areas such as Cairo, Alexandria and Egypt.  While the Brotherhood is more represented in the boroughs and conservative rural areas where the population is thinner  However, this would also be a major change to Egypt's current election system and one that, in the past, was rejected as not consistent with the existing constitution.  On the other hand, it is widely believed that SCAF will be making an announcement that basically discards the old 1971 constitution, per the demands of the revolution, and lays down interim laws and regulations for guiding government institutions and elections until the new parliament is seated and the constitution is written.

The left and labor movements are not to be left out.  While groups like Arpil 6 Youth Movement seem to sticking with el Baradei.  A group called the Popular Alliance has emerged from the merger of several leftist, socialist parties.  The aims of the group are to create a party that would be acceptable to both the workers' parties and the "intelligensia".

This may be the move that other labor parties have to make as the new law governing parties also prohibits discrimination based on "class".  One leader argued that this precluded labor parties from participating as all of the members would be "working class".  The issue is not what the make up turns out to be based on those who flock to it on its platform, but whether any party has by laws that prohibit anyone else from joining the party such as non-union members. 

In other news, Taggamu, the Democratic Peaple's Union Party, is seeing a number of defections, even as it seeks to consolidate it's position as the leader of a heavy union presence in Egypt.  Many have resigned from the party due to Refaat al Saeed's association with the old NDP.  Taggamu was widely seen as giving too many concessions to the Mubarek regime to end the last serious strikes.

The Communists has come out of the dark.  How big their party is, is questionable.  

Finally, as to be expected, there are numerous reports that former NDP are stepping forward claiming that they supported the aims of the Jan 25 Revolution.  These claims are being viewed with a jaundice eye as several of those stepping forward held rather high positions.  Ignoring the possibility that he will be indicted with the rest of his family or former presiding ministers of the regime, Gamaal Mubarek supporters come out of the wood work to announce their own party,"al-Sahwa al-Arabiya (The Arab Renaissance)".  The party is not only nationalist, but is unabashedly Pan Arabist, even in the face of Egypt's current desire to focus on its own problems.

Egypt's next election cycle is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and, possibly the most important, any country has seen in recent decades.  While Tunisia is going the slow route, writing it's constitution before going for elections, Egypt is rushing forward to pave the way. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Why the Muslim Brotherhood Is Supporting El Baradei for President

While there is yet to be an official report on the matter, according to the rumor mill on twitter, it is believed that the Muslim Brotherhood will throw it's support behind El Baradei in the upcoming presidential elections.  

Viewers in the west won't be surprised.  From the outset, El Baradei has appeared to be the Muslim Brotherhood's front man.  The smiling, nonthreatening face of liberality and psuedo-western attitude and political knowledge that the Brotherhood wanted to use to belay the idea that the revolution and the MB were a threat to the west.   

In Egypt, El Baradei had two more roles.  For the "revolutionary youth" he served as a rally point.  Someone who said all the right things about democracy, freedom and Egypt's future as a free state.  El Baradei is intelligent and capable, a "deep thinker" that appeals to Egypt's middle class, educated youth.  Others have viewed him as a "Johnny Come Lately", an opportunist who had spent the last ten years in and out of Egypt, like a tourist, while they were the ones who suffered under Mubarek's regime.

It is difficult to assess El Baradei's true position.  He continues to speak "above the noise" talking about democracy in Egypt, even as some supporters express concerns that he is still to detached from the Egyptians on the street.  In an odd split from the MB's support of El Baradei, the MB went on the record as supporting the amendments to the Constitution in the March 19 referendum even as El Baradei rejected the amendments and the rush to elections.  

He stated that the political parties in Egypt needed time to organize and present candidates.  Many of the "revolutionary youth" supported this approach, fearful that the only parties organized and funded well enough to contest the upcoming elections successfully were the remains of the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Regardless of their objections, the referendum was passed by an overwhelming 77% 'yes'.  

Now the Muslim Brotherhood is apparently considering El Baradei as their candidate of choice for President.  Some of El Baradei's liberal secular supporters wonder if the MB is trying to sabotage El Baradei's chances by peeling off liberal secular supporters.  That is probably not the MB's calculation.  

The Muslim Brotherhood has been playing very smart politics throughout the revolution and post Mubarek regime, even as it has seen some internal struggles to define and move the party forward.  It remained in the background as a whole organization even as the MB Youth went into the streets with the revolutionaries.  To some this appeared that the MB was hedging it's bets against the possibility that the revolution would fail.  The loss of some of it's young members would have been hailed as the participation of martyrs in the eternal struggle even as the MB attempted to negotiate with the ailing Mubarek regime.  

In the end, the revolution prevailed and the MB was able to denounce these conferences as individuals taking their own initiative.  The MB as a whole did not even appear in the streets until the revolution had been assured ascendency.  

It is this ability to play to more than one side while finding their own path to power that puts them behind El Baradei.  The only other viable candidate at this time is Amr Moussa, previously Egypt's ambassador to the Arab League.  When he re-appeared in Egypt, there were many reports that his posting to the League had been a move by Mubarek to distance a potential trouble maker and reformist from the NDP and presidency.  Others disagree, insisting that Amr Moussa is still a stalwart NDP man and connected to the Mubarek Regime.  The MB would be hung out to dry by it's opposition in the revolution if they showed any real attachment to Moussa.  

Moussa's support seems to come from the part of Egypt that is wary of the radical shift in politics and the instability caused by the revolution.  They seem to be looking for a familiar face who has some idea what it means to work with other countries in the region and garner support.

Aym Nour is far too liberal and has the taint of a conviction against him, even as he wears it as a badge of honor, insisting that he was a victim of political jury rigging.  Batawasy, a judge and a known reformist who was mildly persecuted by the previous regime, seems to be the choice of the intelligentsia.  He is a high minded individual who speaks in very broad terms.  His focus in general has been the reformation of the judiciary as an independent body.  A noble and necessary step on a subject that has concerned many Egyptians that saw the judiciary as nothing but a puppet of the regime. 

However, this is not the stuff a presidential bid.  In fact, his focus and position as a judge who has made a career of the law may make him a danger to the MB as much as or more so than Moussa.  It would be likely that Batawasy would attempt to insure the presidency remained within the letter of any law of the constitution proscribing the president's powers and those of the Assembly when signing any law into being or using the presidential powers to enforce any law.  

El Baradei is much less dangerous to the MB.  First, the main coalition supporting him is disorganized and politically weak.  Their ability to capture any significant numbers of seats in the parliament is questionable by the MB's standards as well as analysts in the west.  For any presidency to be strong enough to resist potentially popular, but detrimental laws, he would need a good base of support in the Assembly and Shura counsel.  Enough support that they would be able to soften or modify any laws presented by the MB before they came to his desk and forced him to either make an unpopular decision to veto it or forced him to fall in line with the populists to the detriment of Egypt.  

The MB's assessment of El Baradei's political weakness is not only a matter of his disorganized support, but the outcome of the referendum.  El Baradei called not only for a 'no' vote, but was asking for an entirely different procedure to be in place for the interim government and writing of the constitution.  A process that would have given the liberal/secular groups at least an equal power to formulate the document and the future law of the land.  El Baradei's voice was practically drowned out in the cacophony of joyous rush to the polls.  To the Brotherhood, this would be a sign that El Baradei does not enjoy popular support.  At least, not without them behind him.  Without support in the assembly nor popular support in the greater body politic of Egypt, El Baradei's term as president would be incredibly weak.

Second, without strong, liberal allies in the assembly, El Baradei would be much more open to persuasion.  Due to the nature of the previous regime and the power of the presidency, a power that remains intact until the constitution is written, El Baradei would be much more likely to limit his use of presidential powers.  There would be no decrees that would thwart the MB's plans.  The presidency under El Baradei in the interim period would be considerably weaker than the power of the Assembly.  Especially, if El Baradei was reluctant to use even the balancing power of the veto.

Worse, El Baradei has no real connections to the military.  The military, for better or worse, are playing the role of the broker in Egypt's nascent democracy.  For now, possibly for the future, the military represents the real power structure in Egypt.  Without allies in the military, El Baradei would find himself caught between a rock and a hard place.   A position that would likely find him leaning towards the Brotherhood for support, strengthening their position.  

Third, the interim period of governing and creating a workable constitution will be messy and dangerous.  The person that sets on top of this process is not likely to be viewed as a savior by anybody at the end.  The process is going to require compromise and caution, neither of which any part of the Egyptian polity is very willing to accept if the 'yes' vote on the referendum is any measure to go by.  That will make even the most adroit politician practically unelectable for the next presidential election.  

El Baradei may be the candidate most likely to help push the constitution along and achieve "unity" for the Egyptian people.  The issue here is that, in the end, he will likely be seen as an obstructionist by the Islamist/MB camp and a sell out by those who supported him because he compromised on an issue near and dear to their hearts.

The Muslim Brotherhood is playing politics like the very old hands that they are.  They know that the election to win today is the upcoming vote for assembly representatives.  The next assembly will write the constitution.  All of Egypt's future laws will flow from this document.  It will set the tone for Egypt's political future for decades to come.  It will also be the document that lays out the powers of the various branches and offices of government. 

In the future, the role of the president may be greatly inhibited by this document.  That reduction in power would be likely supported by the people who are justifiably leery of a single person having too much power.  If Iraq and other parliamentary governments emerging from dictatorship are anything to go by, most of the power granted by the constitution is likely to fall into the hands of the assembly and the Prime Minister. 

The Prime Minister is not elected separately, but is chosen by whatever party or coalition of parties is able to constitute a governing majority out of the elected assembly members.  If the MB is calculating right, they likely believe that they will either have this majority in hand or will have enough of a presence to form a coalition with several weaker parties, even Salafists or leftists, who will be in no position to field a candidate for approval from the assembly nor be able to thwart the MB's selection. 

Once the writing for the constitution is achieved, the presidency will likely be a non-issue.  A position that the MB might not even attempt to obtain as it will get much of the country's umbrage and very few perks.  They will then be secure in their positions in the Assembly, always forming at least part of the governing coalition, close to the seat of prime minister and filling numerous cabinets with the power to control the apparatus of government along with making the laws.  

In the end, if the Muslim Brotherhood announces their full support of El Baradei for the presidency, it won't be because they see him as an "honest broker", but because he is the least dangerous to their aspirations. 

In the end, the liberal/secular focus on the presidency instead of the assembly elections will be their down fall.  The presidency will mean nothing without adequate support in the assembly and definition by the new constitution.  This will not be an all powerful presidency ruling over the assembly, but a presidency that is either subservient to the will of the assembly or, if the position has a stroke of luck, an equal partner, depending on how the constitution is written. 

Any hopes of a truly free and equitable Egypt with a limited Islamic bent will depend not on the presidency, but on the first parliamentary elections for the People's Assembly.  The first parliament writes the constitution.  After that, it will be a matter of Egyptians trying to live under those rules for a very long time.

American Foreign Policy: Kaplan Right and Wrong on Morality in Foreign Policy

Robert Kaplan wrote a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that hit some right notes on Foreign Policy, but also broke loose a few stinkers.  The Middle East Crisis Just Begun.

The good:

Our most important national-security resource is the time that our top policy makers can devote to a problem, so it is crucial to avoid distractions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fragility of Pakistan, Iran's rush to nuclear power, a possible Israeli military response—these are all major challenges that have not gone away. This is to say nothing of rising Chinese naval power and Beijing's ongoing attempt to Finlandize much of East Asia.
To his he adds:

We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power.

This is reasonably true.  He goes on to list out or recent interventions in the Balkans, etc and why Libya intervention doesn't hurt the US and giving up leadership in that role leaves us free to concentrate on our other problems.  He does not list out any activities prior to the 90's as if Fukuyama was correct and it was, indeed, the end of history when the USSR fell.  However, it is part of our foreign policy history that, during this time, the US made most of it's decisions on who to support under the aegis of "bad and worse".  Worse, during the Cold War, was always Communism.  Therefore, the US made it it's business to support anyone who was not Communist, despite the fact that many regimes were definitely oppressive and autocratic. 

What the US understood at the time was "help yourself, before you can help others".  The US had to survive as the strongest free nation, however it could, or it would be unable to support or defend any other free nations, much less the United States.  It did support freedom and democracy where it could, but, when it came down to a choice between populations where Soviet influence was strong or attempting to enter and a ruling dictator that could be influenced by the West, the US would choose the dictator. 

The 90's, as Kaplan points out, was about maintaining the "status quo".  That the US does better where the world is stable, even if half of it is controlled by tin pot dictators.  Investment capital, imports and exports flow, keeping the US economy and GDP rising at a steady pace.  This was important, per Kaplan, because the USSR did not represent the last enemy of the United States.  Hence his discourse on Iran, China and the ever growling Bear of Russia. 

However, this is where Kaplan begins to advocate for the "status quo" as the best hope for the United States to remain on top and not dragged down into every event that represents some form of democracy.  He points out that democracy (democrateyya) in Pakistan would be a crazy idea, as if anyone was advocating that the land of the Taliban and their various fellow travelers, replete with nuclear weapons, was a candidate for real freedom and democracy. 

No one has been calling for democracy, inside or out of Pakistan for Pakistan.  Not even the revolutionaries in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or the burgeoning event in Syria.  Even these democracy minded people don't believe that democracy is what Pakistan would get should military rule disintegrate.  That is a red herring and Mr. Kaplan is wise enough to know that.  Yemen is the great unknown.  The US knows that Saleh was basically a career criminal keeping all the other career criminals and jihadists down on the farm.  That does not mean that there are not some forces inside of Yemen who are not criminals and jihadists. 

There has been a long standing low key civil war with inter-tribal conflict as a highlight.  Democracy, whatever its form, is likely to be short lived.  That is if it can remain a single state at all.  The likelihood of Yemen becoming "Balkanized", breaking up into small states with hostiles in the north and south going into internecine civil war, is all but inevitable.  Interesting that Kaplan suggests that the US "stay the course" and not intervene on anyone's behalf.  As if the US was interested in doing so. 

His point worth repeating here is: 

We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power.

If Yemen goes awry, it would become a hostile neighbor to the Saudi's south and a point of serious problems for trade routes as well as oil distribution in the region.  The problem here is that the US actually has few options.  It can't really support Saleh in the degree that he would require to stay in power and there are no powerful  alternatives that we would like to see in place such as any liberal force in the body politic. 

This isn't a question of morality v. power or morality v. status quo.  This is an issue of reality that the US is going to have to come to grips with, regardless of the outcome.  The same must be said of Saudi Arabia.  This is an example of Mr. Kaplan's argument, but hardly states the case for an over all US foreign policy.

The problem is Mr. Kaplan's main point.  That the US should, in fact, maintain whatever status quo exists in the Middle East in the face of the Iranian problem and the growing Chinese and Russian problems.   He misses several key factors.

Starting with the revolutions, with or without the US, these initiatives were going forward.  The US did not start them nor have a hand in them directly.  Indirectly, constant interaction with the US and other western nations is bound to have an effect on how people see their own situations and, to paraphrase the president, formulate their own aspirations.  Directly, the deposition of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the struggling, though still existent democracy there, put the idea into the people of the region's minds that dictators were not really the all powerful, indestructible, all controlling entities over any people unless the people allowed them to be.

Not to drift off into any ideological meanderings, but the founders of the United States were correct when they pointed out that government comes from the people, even despotic forms, and that people will suffer them as the only form of government they know so long as those "evils" are sufferable.  It isn't a new strain of thought.  It is that vision writ large when we see any popular revolt, much less ones that are calling for real government by the people in the form of a democracy.

It means that the vaunted "status quo" is only the "status quo" so long as the people in any form of majority go along with it.   That means clearly that the US trying to hold on to the status quo does not make itself stronger, but puts itself in a weak position, unwilling and unable to contend with a rapidly changing world.  An idea that is woefully ironic considering that the idea of a free people with a free market and free ideas are better suited to responding rapidly to any changes within and without. 

Worse, it may be framing the US in the same position we framed the USSR all those decades ago.  A power set on maintaining tyrannies all over the world for the sole benefit of maintaining the United State's position at the top of the world.  A position that would not be so threatened if the United State's internal policies were not possibly more detrimental to the great "engine of democracy" than it's foreign policy.

Second, for some reason, beyond a brief mention of Al Qaida, Mr. Kaplan skips completely over the events of September 11, 2001.  As if to say that event was not a policy changing event or that we should not recognize that it is the Salafist Wahabi teachings of the Saudi Kingdom's pet religious projects internally and abroad that brought about that event.  Nor are we to imagine that as a real threat.  As if to brush off that event and the problem of our on going association with the Saudis as inconsequential to the greater problem's facing the US today.  The worst is that Mr. Kaplan does not even begin to imagine that these terrorist organizations are, in fact, proxies in many degrees of all of those other "larger" threats the US faces.

The rise of this theocratic ideology and it's spread through out the Middle East in conjunction with the Iranian version and the ongoing attempts to take down the control of the Pakistani military government to obtain access to it's arsenal makes it a threat equal to or more imperative than the other three threats.  That means that it is imperative for the United States to have a foreign policy that directly counters that ideology.  It cannot be war alone.  Neither does the support of authoritarian states crush the ideology.  It formed full and well beneath the umbrellas of these regimes, regardless of their attempts to crush it.

The single largest threat that the Salafist Wahabi strain of ideology identified to its existence was the spread of freedom and democracy.  It is the most powerful threat against any oppressive or authoritarian regime.  Every enemy of the United States and free nations around the world identifies it and knows it.  It is difficult to comprehend how Mr. Kaplan fails to do the same.

Third, Mr. Kaplan seems to have donned a pair of blinders to the truth of history.  Democracy and freedom have been on the rise for decades.  The number of states that have risen to throw off dictatorships and tyrannical states to become, in fact, functioning democracies, has increased, not decreased.  It is difficult to accept, under that premise alone, that the US should do anything (or nothing as he would have it) to maintain the status quo.  Particularly as it is the rise of these states that has provided markets for US products and allies along the way.  The challenge here would be for Mr. Kaplan to explain how that has been detrimental to the United States.

Fourth, in that same vein, it was the stated US policy during the Cold War that defense of democracy and freedom abroad meant the extended defensive line for the United States instead of a United States alone and under siege within it's own borders.  When it comes to the issue of Iran, Mr. Kaplan seems to insist that all of these impending democracies, such as Egypt, and any changes in countries bordering Saudi Arabia, makes all of those states weaker against Iranian influence and outright hegemony. 

The problem with that analysis is the assumption that a democratic Egypt, or instance, would not have it's own national interests to protect.  Interests that align more directly with the US and the West in general than with Iran's plan for the Middle East.  It also ignores the possibility of Egypt rising as it's own center of influence on the region, against Iranian attempts at influence.  Even as a democracy. 

No one in Egypt, in act, is calling on the Iranians to help them establish their democracy or invest in their country.  Not the MB, the socialists or the liberals.  They are not calling for the Chinese to come and help them.  Even if, as Mr. Kaplan supposes, these events play into China's hand by the US acting in these events  and giving the Chinese direct access, it is incorrect to believe that supporting freedom and democracy as opposed to maintaining dictatorships and authoritarian regimes makes the US weak. 

The point here is that, if these democracy movements are tethered to the natural inclination of people to be free and have a voice in their government instead of bought and sold dictatorships, it pushes the boundaries of freedom out.  Those types of democracies are by nature western leaning.  By fiat, it reduces the boundaries that the Chinese, Russian's and Iranians can ever hope to become a direct or controlling influence because in real democracies, the people are not interested in living in or supporting the types of authoritarian, theological or oligarchic regimes these nations represent.

Mr. Kaplan's main point, that foreign policy is about power and not morality is only partially true.  When morality supports the position of power, ie the spread of freedom and democracy makes free nations stronger, then it seems entirely immoral and detrimental, even to a utilitarian foreign policy supported by Mr. Kaplan, to accept the stats quo as the United States' best interest in foreign policy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Old Men Tired of Playing Democracy

Apparently, the "old men" in the "new" Egyptian Cabinet appointed by the military are tired of playing "democracy".  In a move that stunned many of the revolutionaries, the Cabinet issued a law, under the still existing "emergency law", banning protests, threatening up to seven years in prison and 500kLE (Egyptian Pounds) equal to approximately $100k US.  

The ban is apparently a response to all of the on going protests, a new feature in Egypt's daily life, along with the threat of another massive protest on Friday.  The many protests around the country include students at GUC (German University of Cairo) demanding an independent student union as well as at Mansour University and Cairo University.  Most are demanding the deans and administrative staff step down because they were appointed by Mubarek and students believe they are complicit in corruption.  Also, students believed that the administration had been complicit in fixing student elections.

Further, it appears that the Cairo University had shut down the female dormitories 'for their own safety".  The male and female students were demanding that they be re-opened.  This may have been an attempt to begin segregating education (a rumor that has been going around for several weeks).  Classes at the university had been suspended and the students demanded that they resume.  The Minister of Education appeared at Cairo University on March 8 and insisted the students demands would be met.  It is unclear whether these demands were actually met.  Students continued to protest, but were "detained" and "dispersed" late Wednesday, March 23 by the military after the ban was in place.  

Earlier in the day, police protested for better wages and health care in front of the Interior Ministry Building.  Early Wednesday morning the Interior Ministry caught fire.  Early reports suggested that the protesting police were throwing molotov cocktails, but other media reports and eyewitnesses refuted the report.  The fire had broken out on the fifth floor of the building and spread to the eighth.  New reports suggest that there may have been a wiring problem in the air conditioning unit, while other reports suggest that employees set the fire.  A prosecutor is investigating.

There are multiple rumors that this fire was set deliberately to destroy information.  The floors that were burned contained the ministries' department for personnel records.

At the same time, the Egyptian exchange opened and dropped 10% in 10 minutes.  The exchange was closed for half an hour then re-opened to stabilize though the Egyptian pound continued to drop against the dollar (now at 5.67LE to $1) and Egypt Air posted a whopping 700 million LE (appx $1.2mil) due to "continuing unrest and earthquake in Japan".  

The cabinet may believe that the new law on protesting anywhere that "disrupts business and public life" will help "stabilize" the country to improve the economy and re-assure investors.  The cabinet may also feel that it has received some form of approval or mandate from the overwhelming approval of the referendum on Saturday, March 19.  

The Jan25 Youth Coalition is calling for a new protest on Friday:

In a statement on Thursday, the coalition said protesters will demonstrate their solidarity with the "assaulted university students and to support workers against intimidation attempts through the use of repressive laws, which should have been used to bring those truly corrupt to justice."

The coalition said the new law is "a serious indicator of a political direction that will act as a barrier against any real democracy, which the people have the right to practice.”

 The development of the law banning protests is interesting.  It does seem to state some form of western ideas on protesting that suggests that protesters cannot block roads or business right aways, at least, not without a permit.  The Egyptian law does not seem to provide a method to obtain a legal permit to protest though law under the previous regime did provide for a permit process.  Most of those permits were denied so most Egyptians wanting to protest ignored the process.

While the law seems to suggest that the ruling council or the cabinet (old men) are growing impatient with the continuing turmoil, it also appears that they are somewhat (or very) out of step with the idea of democracy.  In this case, protesting as a form of "free speech" is a feature, not a bug.  Lucky for Egypt, the protests have almost all been relatively non-violent. The Egyptian people have, for the most part, taken to it like a duck on water. 

While the protests might be annoying to some, most of them are causing very little interruption of the larger on going life of the cities and nation.  Frankly, based on the foreign coverage of the situation, there is less concern with the protests and more concern with the political process.  A type of "wait and see if it is really democracy" with big dollops of hope overlaid with a giant portion of skepticism.

With the stock exchange coming back on line yesterday after seven weeks shut down, the losses seem to be less about perceived instability and more about market adjustment after weeks of being closed.  A clue that the cabinet in charge has no real concept about how an economy works and has misinterpreted it's potential future improvement or crash.  In fact, several reports indicate that investment in Egypt is going forward.  At least on the tech side where a major company has purchased an Egypt based tech on the grounds that obviously the very large youth population is getting into tech in a big way.

In this case, the "old men" have apparently over played their  hands, potentially causing more protests and "instability" instead of calming the situation.  That seems to indicate that they aren't all that far removed from Mubarek's regime who tried to quail the protests by cutting off the internet and, instead, issued a form of challenge.  Now that the revolutionaries have issued their own challenge, everyone will be in a "wait and see" position for their response.

It doesn't appear to be long in coming.  Today they issued a statement accepting the amendment to the election laws regarding establishing a political party that seems to actually be very liberal.  It still denies political parties established on religion, but it insists that these parties cannot discriminate based on gender, "origin, language, religion or creed".  This has been another demand of the revolution.

The religious context seems to be a slap at the Muslim Brotherhood who are attempting to establish the "Freedom and Justice Party", but says that the members must be part of the MB.  Obviously, the MB only accepts Muslims.  That is an interesting conundrum. 

However, the MB has other problems indicating some smaller groups are splintering off as predicted even as the MB begins to field it's parliamentary candidates.  It is unclear how they will field these candidates if their party does not meet the new/old guidelines regarding membership.  On the other hand, the revolutionaries are talking about protesting while the MB is already preparing for the elections.  Strangely though, the cabinet's ban on protesting may have given the revolutionaries a second chance at re-engaging the public about civil rights, reasons for the revolution and the ability to re-confirm some alliances to begin their political process for the up coming elections. 

Elections that have become vitally important to the writing of a new constitution.  A new constitution that is now assured by the Supreme Council's guarantee that the old constitution will be thrown out and a completely new one written, disregarding the laws that are in place now to insure the political process going forward.

What is extremely bizarre is to watch this back and forth, one minute rushing towards democracy, the next going totally in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Winning the Revolution, Losing the Political Battle - Organization

Now that they've won the revolution (so to speak), what do the revolutionaries need to do?  Many realize that they must coalesce into some form of political party to contest the elections, but there is a difference between organizing a revolution and organizing a political movement.  There is a big difference between being the revolutionary and governing a state.  In a democracy, the popular leader of a revolt may get the first votes in a free election, but it doesn't mean they will survive (politically or physically) to the next election.  

What if you have a revolution and no one can claim to be the leader?  What if you have a revolution whose main, universal objectives are to over throw the current government and allow open elections?  

Basically, they end up where they are now.  The most organized political forces own he political battle field and the liberals are wondering what to do next.  

Part of the problem is that a main body of the revolution is still acting like revolutionaries.  Probably because they do not see the revolution as "won" since the military is still in control and the people appointed to the cabinet are either nominal members of the previous regime or distantly connected to its old apparatus.  Further, they see the existence of the old party of the old regime has not been dismantled and the constitution that they believed was the tool of that old system effectively remains in place. Note their demands:

1. The trial of all of the former regime’s corrupt officials and those responsible for deaths during the revolution.
2. Dissolving the former ruling National Democratic Party and confiscating its assets.
3. Dissolving local councils and removing their governors.

That is only their top three. All of them could be achieved once these groups gain political power in the assembly, but they are not the reasons why people will elect representatives to the new parliament.

From the perspective of the current situation, they are going down the wrong path.  The Egyptian people have voted overwhelmingly to accept new constitutional amendments.  Largely on the basis of hoping to get to the new democratic process sooner rather than later.  In doing so, they have set the wheel in motion for the next parliamentary elections.  Those elected to parliament will then select/elect 100 members to either write a new constitution or reform the old.

The revolutionaries believe that the process should have been different.  Select representatives to write a new constitution then elect parliamentary representatives based on the new laws.  It is a procedural issue, but one they believe will allow the many parts of Egypt's newly minted democrats the opportunity to participate in building this constitution where as they fear that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will have an overwhelming power to shape the constitution. 

That is the potential as the MB is set to win a number of seats in parliament.  They have recently upgraded their potential for gaining seats from 30% to 35% or more.  In fact, they are already acting like the party in power by pronouncing that they will not "maintain an exclusive role".  Some believe that this is the Muslim Brotherhood still trying to allay the fears of the more secular organizations and citizens.  Never the less, the fact that they issued this statement indicates that they recognize their power in the face of a disorganized opposition.

There are an untold number of organizations, loose groups and individuals who represent the more liberal or secular part of the new opposition.  That is the recognition that the liberals must come to realize.  The political field is shifted.  This is no longer a unified Revolution with all parties supporting a short list of demands to get to a new form of government.  In fact, the fissures were present during the revolution when the MB attempted to hedge their bets by sending or allowing some of their members to attempt to negotiate with the old regime. 

It is moving even further apart as the Muslim Brotherhood has already had a political platform and is beginning to spread those ideas.  More so, they have considerable practice is presenting their ideas in a politically acceptable way.  For instance, in their announcement concerning their involvement in the formation of the constitution:

Helmy al-Gazzar, a member of the group's Shoura (consultancy) Council, said the Brotherhood will not create the new constitution alone.
"Excluding the other is a violation of the social pact," al-Gazzar said.
"It is certain that within less than a year, we will have a new constitution that achieves the aspirations of those who backed, or rejected, the amendments," said Saad al-Husseiny, another member.

"Social pact".  "Achieves the aspirations of" all Egyptians.  The MB already speaks the language of politics while the opposition is still speaking the language of revolutionaries with their list of "demands". 

That is water under the bridge.  The amendments have passed and, to date, while their have been many demonstrations for this, that and the other thing, the likelihood of the revolutionaries to be able to carry out a two to ten million strong protest to achieve their demands is about zero.  They are stuck with the political process the referendum allowed and now they must organize to confront the opposition. 

That is the first step towards organization for the liberals on the right, center and the far left.  They must recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood is the opposition.  The "loyal" opposition as they are Egyptians and were part of the revolution, but they are the opposition none the less.  Not simply because they are "Islamists" and the liberals are secular, but because the revolution was meant to obtain the civil rights of ALL Egyptians.  By their platform and their organization, the Muslim Brotherhood are exclusionary and do not support civil rights for everyone. 

The Muslim Brotherhood have already announced that they do not support either women or Christians (anyone who is not Muslim) for president and hope to have this as a "test" instituted by law within the constitution.  Further, they helped to institute a test of birth and marriage for the presidency in order to exclude potential rivals and consolidate their power.  Not unlike the previous regime.  That does not even touch the difficult path they supported for a candidate to reach for that election through parliament approval in the first place. 

Of course, any organization that begins their "official" political life abrogating any individual or groups' rights, however minimal they phrase it, will not be adverse to stepping on anyone else's rights.  They will phrase these denial of rights as minimal and reasonable, but they will be a denial of rights.  That is the issue that the liberal opposition must take as their position.  The liberals must be the party that will protect all of the rights of all the people.  The MB and their fellow travelers only want to protect the rights of some of the people.  That is not why the people went to the street.

First, the liberals must BE a party.  Or even two or three, but they cannot be twenty or thirty parties.  Too many parties trying to support too many candidates, spreading too many votes makes for a weak campaign.  Those candidates can be beaten by a single candidate with a more organized campaign and support base by winning less than 30% of the votes in a district.  In short, it could be an MB candidate with a minority in a district and still get the parliamentary seat. 

This is the reason that most "mature" democracies have two or three major parties.  In the United States it is two major parties with one or two smaller parties that rarely win even a congressional seat, much less presidency.  There are some who believe that this is the worst part about US politics, but politics and elections are about money, votes and organization as much as they are about ideas.  A split party or several parties vying for the same set of voters in a similar subset will not get enough votes for any candidate to win against the larger, more organized and centralized party.

For instance, in 1992, Ross Perot ran as an "independent" against George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  Ross Perot was not a democrat.  His main supporters were either Republicans or independents that leaned Republican.  George H. W. Bush was a Republican.  Bill Clinton was a Democrat.  At the time of elections, Ross Perot peeled off a number of Bush supporters (19%), but not enough to win the presidency.  He did take the votes away from Mr. Bush.  That made Mr. Bush's numbers lower (38%) and Bill Clinton won the presidency with less than half of the over all votes (43%).  Had Ross Perot not run and split the Republican or Republican leaning vote, George H.W. Bush would have had a second term as president without even getting all of Ross Perot's 19% (surely some of those were Democrat leaning voters who just liked his business approach).

The same issue confronted the Labour, Conservatives and Greens parties in England with the Greens peeling of a number of parliament seats from Labour and it is the same problem, even worse, in Iraq where they have a multitude of parties with all of their various agendas.  None of them are popular enough to actually to form a majority "governing" block in parliament by themselves.  They are forced to cooperate and this makes their ability to govern weak, allowing fractures that the one party out of governance majority with less than 30% of the parliament can exploit.  In short, the one party with the least number of seats can control whether a law gets passed or not over multiple parties with conflicting agendas with a majority of the seats.

Worse, if the multiple parties with the majority cannot cooperate and form a government, the single minority party can take power and rule, choosing the prime minister and cabinet posts.  This is called "minority rule". 

With the MB, the Salafists and the remnants of the NDP, the advent of three or more liberal parties will split the votes and the parliament into multiple weak blocks who will be at the mercy of any party who has at least 30% control (the MB).  Worse, that means that the parliament will be weaker than any president elected instead of creating a check or balance. 

The worst might be that the presidential candidate who wins only has support from one of the smaller blocks in parliament.  The president will then be weaker than parliament instead of on equal footing.  In a country that has just suffered under one strong "president" for 30 years, that might not be so unappealing for limiting powers.  However, it would lead to weak leadership that cannot get anything done because he/she does not have the support and any (or all) actions can be vetoed by the minority party in parliament.  Then the people will suffer from that weakness and the state itself will be considered weak by any outside nations or leaders.

The second issue confronting a multitude of parties is exhaustion of funding and organization.  Campaigns take money and people to run.  Too many parties with too many candidates means that the funds and people are spread too thin.  They will be unable to compete effectively against an organized and even slightly better funded though minority party in a district. 

What that means is that the liberals are going to have to decide how many parties and candidates they are going to field.  They are going to have to decide this quickly.  More than one or two candidates in a district will divide their funds, efforts and votes, thus, losing the district to any conservative opposition.

It is the parliamentary seats by district that they will have to contest first.  It is these seats that, for the moment, are important because it is the people sitting in parliament who will form the constitution.  The constitution will be the LAW OF THE LAND from which all other laws flow.  It will either guarantee individual rights of the ALL the CITIZENS or it can be formulated to deny some rights to some or many. 

The constitution will be the document that organizes all future government and elections.  To put it bluntly, those in power tend to try to stay in power.  It will be in their interests to create some form of road blocks for various groups to participate.  Even if it is only some minority, such as Coptic Christians or women or anyone who is not sufficiently Islamic enough from obtaining the presidency, they will have limited multiple small parts of society from participating. 

As with the lessons on minority rule in multiple party parliaments, even denial of only small groups from participating makes their minority position more powerful than it should be against any remaining parties or groups of citizens.  Aside from degrading all people's rights when they degrade anyone's rights, this maneuver to improve their power should make the liberals stand up and take notice. 

The liberals are being out maneuvered.  They may have won the revolution, but they are losing the political battle.  They're only answer is to become organized, now and stop playing the revolutionaries.  They need to concentrate on how to win seats in parliament otherwise they are going to be relegated to doing nothing but marching in the streets and chanting slogans while everyone else decides the future of Egypt. 

They have momentum now, but it is quickly fading.  Fortunately, some are already discussing how they may use insurgent tactics of the rebel to make it happen:  A Parliamentary Plan 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Catastrophic Success and Unity - Where Are the Egyptian Liberals?

Reading around the net and the news in Egypt, the Liberals are quite upset over the outcome of the referendum.  As the Weekly Standard suggested, the Liberals who marched in the streets did see the outcome of the referendum as not just a "yes" or "no" vote on amending the constitution, but approval or disapproval of their "revolution".  

However, this would be a mistaken interpretation.  The facts are that most Egyptians just want to get on with the business of living and get the process, any process, that would move Egypt's political process, hopefully free, forward.  They have been patient for thirty years, they were patient with the revolution and now they are impatiently pushing forward without possibly truly considering the dangers of trying to throw together the law of the land in the form of the constitution.  Laws that, as they should have already seen under the last constitution and government, can and will exist for a long time.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 

No truer words were ever written.  It is exactly what is at play in Egypt, despite the revolution:   "all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." 

The people of Egypt do not all share the same experiences under the last constitution or the Mubarek regime.  At least, not in their minds.  Obviously, not everyone was thrown into prison, tortured by police or beaten to death in the streets.  They have grown accustomed to the rough treatment by police as "necessary" to secure the population.  A form of mass Stockholm syndrome.  They have become accustomed to corruption and bribery.

Most importantly, they have become accustomed to eking out an existence for their families and waiting for someone else, anybody else, to come along and solve their problems.  Their problems have boiled down to shelter, food and security.  They have little comprehension or care at this moment how the lack of freedom and the security of individual rights prevents them from securing those basic necessities or stifles any ambition to improve their lives and do more than "eke out an existence".

From their experience, their problems  may be due to the government, but they have no idea exactly why it is the government's fault.  Therefore, the simplest answer is to change government.  It isn't an idea that one system or idea is better suited to help them, but that any change has got to be better so they will accept what comes and give it all of 30 seconds to prove itself before they shake their heads and wave it away as irrelevant to their every day struggles.

The revolutionaries wanted Mubarek gone.  They wanted the constitution changed.  The revolutionaries got what they wanted and, to paraphrase a commenter at Mahmoud's blog, "shut up already".

As those who have read history know, no revolution is the revolution of ALL the people.  In the United States, it is supposed that one third of the population supported the revolt, one third were loyal to the British King and one third wanted to be left alone.  Fortunately for them and for later generations, the revolutionaries did not "sit down and shut up". 

Unfortunately, the revolutionaries in Egypt may have put the horse before the cart.  Or, in more modern terms, suffered a "catastrophic success".

They achieved a victory before they were ready to consolidate their power.  They overthrew the government, but did not have a long enough period of time to promulgate their ideas and reasons for resisting to the population.  Most revolutions have had a long period of build up, for ideas to be sifted through, reviewed and spread throughout a major part of the population.  Further, most revolutions do not end up with the military of the previous oppressive regime running the political program instead of the revolutionaries with their revolutionary ideas as a "victory". In this case, it has left those who were already more organized, who had already been doing as revolutionaries do, the long build up of ideas and promulgation among the population, with the most power, even as the revolutionary youth paid the price.

Now they are in a race against time.  Time they do not have to do the things that they should have been doing over the long haul.  Time that was reduced from years into weeks via the internet.  They know how to revolt, but they do not know how to "play politics"

The Liberals still have a chance for some success, but first they are going to have to adjust their goals and accept that, while they may be small and disorganized, they will still  have the power to shape the future.  They are going to have to work with the opportunities given them, but they will also have to "keep their eyes on the prize".  They must dream the big dream, but take the small steps to get there.

Right now, they are disorganized, they do not have a central message nor have they organized to effect that message.  Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood who has a consolidated base, a strong organization and various methods for promulgating their message.  Equally as important, the Liberals are an amalgamation of many groups with various ideas on how to achieve those desires.  Further, while some have appeared in the media, the strategy of having no leader to thwart the government forces has returned to bite them.  They have no spokesman.  Or, at least, not one that they can agree on.  Not even three or four or twelve.

Of course, before they can choose leaders, they must consolidate their core or cores.  Movements like the April 6th Youth and the Revolutionary Youths have nominal leaders, but they are "revolutionary" leaders, not political leaders.  There focus is narrowly defined in terms of their socialist agendas for labor as evidenced by the top priorities of their previous demands though some of those demands have been met.

4 - the launch of the right to form associations and trade unions and the issuance of the establishment of newspapers and other media with no restrictions other than the notification to a competent judicial authority
5 - the holding of trade unions and student unions, according to the law of each of them
Others they are not likely to achieve such as restraining those who participate in the current interim position of forming a constitution would not be able to participate in the next elections.  A hope of limiting people's and organizations desires to doing the "right thing" for Egypt as opposed to seeking their own path to power.  A noble, if naive hope when what they should have been concentrating on was consolidating their base of support and spreading their political ideas on freedom.

The other Liberals are in even worse condition.  They do not even have these nominal leaders nor do they have any manifesto, declaration or platform that translates ideas of freedom into the ideas by which men can govern, live and achieve their ambitions.  They are barely a cohesive group, much less a group that can write a declaration or translate it into the terms of governing a state.  They have their version of pamphleteers on the internet along with their Liberty Tree of Twitter, but it is at best described as a fast moving train of noise whose strain of liberty has as yet to be simplified into statements that can be accepted, translated and disseminated. 

They need their Thomas Pain and Thomas Jefferson to step forward quickly.  These ideas, once they are imbibed by the masses have a chance of moving out of the "virtual town square" into the public square.  The advantages of the tools at their disposal means that they could, very likely create the materials, the Pamphlets, that they can disperse among the people on the street.  They can use these tools to infiltrate the media.  A media that, even in a free nation, has limited time and space.  They can even circumvent the main stream media to get the word out and unify their base.

One of the things that the Liberals need to accept is that, in politics, in the heat of a revolution, there is no such thing as a non-partisan.  There are those who are participating and those who are not.  The idea of "unity" in the Egyptian revolution has taken on some strange idea that the groups with less power should not disagree with the groups that do have power because it will rock the boat.  This is, in fact, still some bizarre hold over from those days when "evils" were "sufferable".  That some group, any group, has a more definitive claim on shaping the outcome of Egypt because they have "suffered more" when it is clear that all of Egypt has suffered under the tyranny and corruption of the last regime.

The demand for "unity" is exactly the demand that the old regime used to keep the masses silent in the face of even the most horrific acts.  Let "unity" fly out the window with the rest of the heresies that defame Freedom.

If there is any "unity" to be had, it can only be found when the leadership and core of all parties understands that the freedom of all can only come when they stand ready to defend the rights of the least among them.  Because, one day they may be the party out of power and the tools they set in place by law to oppress any other will become the tools used to oppress those who fall out of power.  It is the vicious circle of oppression that the people of Egypt have already endured and that must come to an end.

That is the message the Liberals, the Future of Egypt, must begin to send immediately.  Not some weak idea of "unity" that has been used to oppress them for over fifty years.  It is Freedom, only Freedom and always Freedom.

Yet, the Liberals are curiously silent in the public square except to be scratching their heads, lamenting their perceived "failure" and wondering what they should do next now that their first plan has gone array. 

What they should do first, from this perspective, is to decide who they are.  Are they the eternal revolutionaries marching in the street for every demand?  Or, are they the guardians of freedom for all?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A New Arab Generation: Democracy, Revolution and Dreams

Egypt and Democracy: Referendum on Constitutional Amendments By the Numbers

The news is out, Egyptian voted overwhelmingly, nearly 77%, to accept the constitutional amendments.  

More than 18 million valid ballots were counted, with 77.2 percent of voters approving the changes, Mohammed Attia, the head of the judicial commission overseeing the referendum, said today at a press conference in Cairo.

“This is the first referendum after the people regained Egypt,” said Attia. “The citizen felt after the January 25 revolution that his vote counts.” Turnout was about 41 percent, he said.

Many believe that the referendum will put the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the NDP back into power.  The Muslim Brotherhood was campaigning hard to get the vote to "yes".  They say it is to return the government to civilian rule as soon as possible, but most who did not support the referendum believe that it would give the MB and NDP an advantage over the now disorganized "liberals".

Those voting "yes" likely had more reasons than just supporting the MB.  Many related that they just wanted to "move forward" or return Egypt to stability.  An interesting dichotomy as it may be difficult to do both.

The "youth" are, understandably, disconcerted by the "yes" vote when they were campaigning for a "no".  There is a realization that most of the "revolt" took place in the urban areas and that "Cairo is not Egypt".

Cairo is not Egypt. This may seem obvious to others, but let me repeat that point again: CAIRO IS NOT EGYPT. Stop your  Cairo-is-the-center-of-the-universe chauvinism. 25 million live in Cairo, 60 million live elsewhere.

As previously mentioned here, urban populations and rural populations have different agendas, political persuasions:

in times of turmoil and crisis, people tend to do two things: fall back on their conservative roots as a bulwark against the insanity and bet on the people/things that they know. Also, urban groups tend to forget about their rural counterparts out in "fly over country" (as we call it). Those groups almost always trend more conservatively. Particularly because they are often older since the young tend to flee towards the urban centers for jobs and education.
 It is also the reason that the MB has an opportunity to take 30% or more of parliament seats. These are political realities that any liberal youth must keep in mind when discussing how they will organize and create a power base. 

The numbers clearly outline the issue and where the liberals will have to concentrate their funds and efforts to gain any seats in parliament.  The Arabist has a "red v. blue" map, red voted "yes" and blue (actually, purple since more red + blue =) "no".  His basic conclusions actually support the "urban v. rural", "liberal v. conservative" matrix.

What does this tell us? Basically, that governorates with a large urban population (Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Assiut) had a higher proportions of "no" votes, as did those sparsely populated governorates that have a large proportion of tourism workers (Red Sea, South Sinai, Luxor). Areas where tribes count more tended to have a high "yes" vote (Wadi Gedid, Marsa Matruh, North Sinai).

Even in Cairo that voted 60% "yes" and the other governorates, the numbers indicate the diversity of the population and it's concerns.  The extremely poor neighborhoods where the MB has a strong presence as well as the very affluent neighborhoods with a strong NDP presence probably leaned towards "yes", but the middle class neighborhoods would have had to be split over the issue, more likely along the lines of security, stability and the need to get back to earning money to support their families.

There is likely a strong feeling that the revolution has gotten what it wanted.  Mubarek, et al is gone, the elections will now be "free" and "fair", what more do the revolutionaries want?  Now it is time for the regular people to get what they need.  Sandmonkey thinks the revolutionaries need to accept that and get on with the political process:

You no longer represent the people. You really don’t, at least when it comes to their concerns. Your concerns and their concerns are not the same anymore. You care about the revolution, & the arrest of NDP figures & getting the country on the right track. They care about economic security, the return of stability and normalcy the fastest way possible. (...)

So, now what? Well, now is the hard part. This is the part where we stop playing revolution, and start playing politics for the sake of the country. This means caring more about perception and public support over righteous and legitimate demands.

The numbers and the map show where the "liberals" have a chance to win seats in the up coming elections.   They also have an opportunity to win more support since only 40% of the eligible population, 18.5 million, voted.  It is difficult to say how many votes or constituents they would gain without a more detailed breakdown of number of registered voters and their specific governorates down to the voting districts. 

The liberals will have to discern what districts might represent the most support for their ideas and concentrate their efforts there.  They have an opportunity to at least be represented.  There are over 222 districts with two seats each in parliament equaling 444.  There are also 64 seats assigned for women separately (2 from each governorate as opposed to the smaller voting districts plus six additional from the urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria that are allowed four women).  That does not mean that these districts and seats will remain after the next election, but it leaves room for the liberals to make room at the table.  Particularly the designated women's seats.

To get that opportunity, liberals will have to act quickly to consolidate their base and get the message out.

Mahmoud Salem has a few ideas on what they need to do.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Story of Our Life Time: Freedom Rising

In this moment of history, it is appropriate for us to look back at the place and moment when freedom was attacked.  The moment that would become Al Qaeda's waking of the sleeping giant.  

On 9/11, the forces of tyranny and oppression attacked the United States.  Our response was not simply to attack and kill those who were immediately responsible, but the very ideas that propelled their murderous violence.  They believe that freedom is evil, a highway to sin against the dictates of God.  We believe that freedom is a gift of the All Mighty and the power that lifts man kind towards the greatest good.  

Our ideas cannot be any further apart and they have been tested over and over again.  From Iraq to Afghanistan to Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and on and on and on, the Arab Muslim populations are rejecting their ideology, rejecting oppression and tyranny.  Every vote is a repudiation of their theocratic aspirations.  Even the participation of ideological travelers insists that it is freedom, not oppression that fuels the dreams of men.  

With every finger painted purple, pink, green, whatever color, it might as well be painted red, white and blue.  

Their ideas will go with the rest of the oppressive, dysfunctional ideologies: into the ash heap of history.  From the ashes of our once stricken city to the ashes of their ideology, we see the future:

For years, the future has been slow to appear at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But with six months remaining until the national 9/11 memorial opens, the work to turn a mountain of rubble into some of the inspiring moments envisioned nearly a decade ago is thundering forward.

This March 15, 2011 photo shows the Freedom Tower, right, rising above the World Trade Center site in New York. Rebirth has been slow in coming to ground zero, but with six months remaining until the first portions of the national 9/11 memorial are scheduled to open to the public, the work to turn a mountain of rubble into one of the world"s great urban centers is thundering forward and beginning to produce some of the inspiring monuments designers envisioned nearly a decade ago.

Freedom is "thundering forward".  They destroy, we build.