Tag Archives: constitutional referendum

Re-Mubarakization watch: Mubarak released

mubarakPhoto credit to AFP.

It should come as a surprise to no one that Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president between 1981 and 2011, has been released from prison and cleared of all criminal charges stemming from his 30-year reign, including the violence deployed against the protesters who eventually forced Mubarak from power in February 2011 in  what would become the high-water mark of the Arab Spring.egypt_flag_new

There’s no more potent symbol that Egypt’s current government is simply a more military-strong version of Mubarak-era authoritarianism. Egypt’s re-Mubarakization could hardly be more complete:

“This is a political verdict. The judiciary has been procrastinating for four years so they could clear him after hope had been lost,” the father of Ahmed Khaleefa, 19, who was killed in 2011, told Reuters outside the court. “The verdict hit us like bullets. I consider that my son Ahmed died today.”

In the Mubarak era (until the very end), Egypt was governed by a secular autocrat backed by the full force of the Egyptian military.

Today, under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt is governed by a secular autocrat backed by the full force of the Egyptian military.

Looking back today, the central power struggle during the Arab Spring wasn’t between the Mubarak regime and the youthful protestors gathered in Tahrir Square. It wasn’t even between Islamists and secularists.

It was an internal struggle between the Mubarak regime and the Egyptian army over succession. It was a fight between the entrenched conservative interests of the military and the more liberal elements of the Mubarak regime, including Mubarak’s son Gamal, a one-time potential successor, who had launched plans for a vigorous liberalization and economic reform program to address Egypt’s state-heavy, bloated economy. (Gamal, himself on trial for corruption, was released quietly in December 2013.) That, in part, explains why the military set itself as neutral between Mubarak and the protestors in 2012 — and why some protestors initially proclaimed the military as the guarantors of Egypt’s new revolution.

El-Sisi’s government may yet be forced to reform Egypt’s economy, especially if it wants to mollify the millions of unemployed workers among Egypt’s especially young labor force. He’s already started slashing fuel subsidies that suck around one-third of the Egyptian budget. He’ll have to do far more in the months and years ahead if he wants to consolidate his own power, and he’ll have to do it without upsetting the lucrative personal financial interests of the Egyptian ‘deep state.’

Now completely dominant in its power, the el-Sisi regime can afford to take a softer hand with former Mubarak era officials, who might prove useful in the difficult tasks ahead. Cynics will note that the decision to release  Mubarak, with the inevitable street protests it has generated, can also be a helpful exercise in identifying, detaining or imprisoning the government’s remaining liberal and Islamist opponents.

Liberals and revolutionaries who now decry Mubarak’s release largely have themselves to blame for welcoming el-Sisi’s initial move against Egypt’s first (and, for now, only) democratically elected government.

Liberals throughout Egypt, including the globally respected Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, applauded el-Sisi’s July 2013 push to depose Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who narrowly won Egypt’s July 2012 president runoff. Morsi often exhibited insular thinking in surrounding himself with members of Egypt’s now-banned Muslim Brotherhood (الإخوان المسلمون) instead of the broad-based unity government he promised to build. Morsi also demonstrated hubris and considerable disrespect for the rule of law, notably when he tried to assume temporary dictatorial powers to push through an Islamist constitution for Egypt. But it was clear that, despite the awkward position of the United States, the military’s move amounted to a coup that ended Egypt’s experiment in democratic politics.

El-Sisi brutally dealt with the protesters (and journalists) not already cowed by years of protest, revolution and counterrevolution. Even as allies like ElBaradei withdrew their support, his military government moved with lethal determination to consolidate its control, killing hundreds and jailing many more throughout the rest of 2013 with a level of brutality previously unassociated with the military.

The government pushed through a new constitution, less Islamist than the Morsi-era document and, at face value, a much more liberal constitution, in January 2014 in a referendum that commanded the support of over 98% of voters.

In the aftermath of the referendum, the interim government essentially paved the way for el-Sisi to easily take the reins of permanent government in a carefully orchestrated transition, all presented under the aegis of Egypt’s newly democratic process.

At the end of May, Egypt held a presidential election that was so titled in favor of el-Sisi, who had resigned from the military for the purpose of running for president, won over 96% of the vote, massively defeating the more liberal nationalist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who placed a strong third place in Egypt’s contested May 2012 presidential election. El-Sisi’s margin of victory was so strong that it actually surpassed the margin claimed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in his own presidential ‘election’ and the margins won by Mubarak in his 1999 and 2005 ‘elections.’

By the time el-Sisi came to power, the remnants (‘felool‘) of the old Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood had both been exhausted as potential political competitors, given military forces a wider berth for abrasive oppression.

For his part, Morsi is still in prison awaiting a trial on charges of inciting deadly violence and murder. Many other leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including one-time presidential candidate Khairat el-Shater, are also imprisoned pending trial. No one expects charges against Morsi and other leading Islamists to be dropped.

Will the US respect Yemeni parliament’s vote on drone attacks?

yemen graffiti drones

In a speech just four years ago, US admiral Mike Mullen, then chair of the joint chiefs of staff, outlined the US government’s approach to Yemen in an address to the US Naval War College.  By 2010, Yemen, which lies on the southwestern edge of the Arabian peninsula, had become an increasingly worrying front in US global efforts to confront Islamic terrorism:USflagyemen flag

Mullen said people ask him often if the United States is going to send troops to the nation. “The answer is we have no plans to do that, and we shouldn’t forget this is a sovereign country,” he said. “Sovereign countries get to vote on who comes in their country and who doesn’t.”

In what is the first vote of its kind, Yemen’s parliament voted on Sunday for a halt to US-initiated drone strikes that locals say killed more than a dozen civilians in a wedding party on December 11 — the attack, which took place in the central Yemeni province of al-Baydaa, is just one of many strikes in 2013, and it’s not the first one to have resulted in civilians deaths.  But the attack attracted widespread condemnation from both inside Yemen and internationally, leading to Sunday’s unanimous parliamentary vote.

In light of the ‘Mullen doctrine,’ you might expect the United States to pause its drone strikes on the country, right?

Wrong. The parliamentary vote wasn’t binding on the Yemeni government, and Yemen’s parliamentary powers pale in comparison to those of the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, vice president between 1994 and 2012 and the hand-picked successor to Yemen’s longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni ruling party, the General People’s Congress (المؤتمر الشعبي العام‎, Al-Mo’tamar Ash-Sha’abiy Al-‘Aam), which itself controls 238 of the 301 seats in Yemen’s Majlis al-Nuwaab (House of Representatives).

Yemen, alongside Tunisia and Egypt, was among the vanguard of countries where the so-called Arab Spring peaked — though Saleh held on through mass protests in January and February 2011 against corruption and economic mismanagement, an assassination attempt in July 2011 left him severely injured and burned.  But the stage-managed transition from Saleh to Hadi has barely addressed the long-standing complaints of the Arab Spring protestors, let alone the more fundamental regional divides that have long plagued Yemen, which emerged as two quasi-independent states in 1918 out of the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

Meanwhile, the US government denies that the December 11 drone strike killed anyone but ‘militants,’ despite evidence to the contrary and a deluge of protest across the Arab world.  Even the United Nations is now calling on the United States to provide answers about the error. 

As Adam Baron, a reporter based in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a wrote last week in Foreign Policy,

The exact nature of the error is still a matter of speculation. It was hard not to wonder if the wedding convoy was mistaken for something more sinister — that someone in the bowels of the U.S. intelligence community concluded that vehicles carrying heavily armed wedding guests were actually an al Qaeda convoy. Some tribal contacts said that there were high-ranking militants near the site of the strike, and a Yemeni official briefed on security matters told me a vehicle hit in the attack had been linked to a prominent local al Qaeda leader. Either way, any “suspected militants” present were surrounded by civilian bystanders.

Nonetheless, the United States seems unlikely to swerve from its low-grade war against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The drones will continue — and they will, in all likelihood, continue to kill innocent civilians, each of which has the potential to drive everyday Yemenis closer to AQAP and away from the United States.  Just last week, when AQAP attacked Yemen’s defense ministry, it also accidentally struck people in a hospital inside the ministry — and its leaders were fast to apologize for the error in targeting the hospital and agreed to pay ‘blood money’ to the relatives of those killed in the attack.

How did we get to the point where al-Qaeda seems more accountable than the Obama administration for civilian deaths in Yemen?


Jeremy Scahill’s tour de force about the covert and clandestine operations of both the Obama administration and the administration of George W. Bush, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, calls into question the legality of much of the basis for the notion that the executive branch can claim the entire world is essentially the ‘battlefield’ for the global war on terror.  In particular, the Obama administration’s record in Yemen alone remains troubling.

Abdulrazaq Al-Jamal, an expert specializing in Al-Qaeda affairs, summarized the Yemeni argument against the US strikes in an interview earlier this week with the Yemen Times, arguing that the US drone strikes are illegal, that they encourage  AQAP and they expose Yemen’s own government as a failure:

I think there is no difference between the raid that targeted the wedding convoy in Ra’ada and the previous raids that targeted Al-Qaeda and any Yemeni [citizens]. American [spying] and shelling, in principle, is wrong because it kills illegally and without trial. I cannot differentiate between strikes that target Al-Qaeda members and strikes that [might] target citizens because these strikes are [made outside of the legal system]. I disagree with those who differentiate between them because it is a violation of Yemeni sovereignty to kill [any Yemeni citizens, be they Al-Qaeda members or not]….

I don’t think that American drones are [stopping tribes from] protecting Al-Qaeda members as [drones] may cause several tribes to [actually] join Al-Qaeda. I think that if American drones continue to violate Yemen’s sovereignty and kill civilians, the tribes will not only protect Al-Qaeda affiliates but will join Al-Qaeda themselves.  Seeking help from American drones [instead of handling Al-Qaeda itself] proves that the Yemeni government is a failed one.

Saleh, and now Hadi, have played a wily game of rope-a-dope with the United States in the post-9/11 era, seeking ever more funding and training for forces to fight ‘terrorism,’ while routinely deploying those forces in furtherance of pushing back against internal regionalists.  Most recently, that means the Shiite Houthi rebellion that began in the mid-2000s in northeastern Yemen, but it also includes forces to maintain tentative control over south Yemen, a wide swatch of country that includes not only the southern shore and the key port of Aden, but also the eastern half of Yemen that borders Oman.  Saleh, who came to power in north Yemen in 1978, only managed to unify the two parts of Yemen in 1990, and even then, fought a civil war in 1994 and continual unrest thereafter.  As AQAP grew in Yemen, south Yemen has become a territorial stronghold in a country where local power still runs on largely tribal lines, and the line between tribal leader and militant leader is often dazzlingly blurred.  While Yemen is also split on religious lines (around 45% to 50% of the country belongs to the Zaydi Shi’a sect and around 50% to 55% of the country is Sunni) Yemen’s Shiites are clustered in the northwestern corner of the country.

US meddling comes at a delicate time for Yemen, whose leaders are working on a new agreement to grant self-rule powers to the autonomous south in a move toward a more federal Yemen.  The powerful Yemeni Socialist Party (الحزب الاشتراكي اليمني, Al-Hizb Al-Ishtiraki Al-Yamani), which controlled south Yemen during its period of independence through 1990, opposes the latest effort, and it continues to support a two-region state, not the six-region state that Hadi and the current Yemen government supports.  If an agreement can be reached, Yemenis will vote in a constitutional referendum in February 2014.   Continue reading Will the US respect Yemeni parliament’s vote on drone attacks?

Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?


It hasn’t been an incredibly distinguished first six months for the European Union’s 28th member.croatia

Croatia, which entered the European Union on July 1, is only the second state to do so from the former Yugoslav union, but it’s already proving to be somewhat of a problem child — as some Europeans feared openly before its accession.

Most of those fears relate to economics and, given the eurozone’s economic crisis over the past four years, you might have thought that Croatia’s growing pains would be economic in nature, but that’s not the case.

Instead, Croatia’s difficulties have more to do with social issues and historical legacies — in its first six months of EU membership, Croatia caused a showdown almost immediately with EU leaders over the potential extradition of Josip Perković, the former Yugoslav-era director of Croatia’s secret police, and it signaled to the world its relative intolerance for LGBT freedom by conducting a referendum that resulted in a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage at a time when much of Europe is embracing equal marriage rights for LGBT individuals.

Those experiences could shape future EU appetite for further expansion in the Balkans, at a time when the European Union has deftly dangled the carrot of EU membership in exchange for a more permanent peace between Serbia and Kosovo, and at a time when EU membership might be the only thing that can save the triple-fractured union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also integrating smaller countries like Macedonia and Montenegro into the global economy.

The most serious rupture began three days before Croatia even joined the European Union when it passed the ‘Perković law,’ which purported to prevent the extradition of anyone for crimes committed before August 2002.  That caused an almost immediate backlash against Croatia from EU leaders and the other 27 EU member-states, and by September — less than 90 days after Croatia had joined the European Union — EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, was threatening economic sanctions.  Germany, in particular, is interesting in extraditing Perković in relation to his role in the assassination of Croatian defector Stjepan Đureković, who was killed in 1983 in what was then West Germany.

Ironically, it’s the center-left government of Zoran Milanović, who leads the four-party Kukuriku coalition and its largest member, the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske), that dug in its heels over the Perković law, not the more conservative, nationalist opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), which governed Croatia through much of the EU harmonization period, from 2003 through the December 2011 election.  The HDZ, as well as several top government officials opposed the law from the beginning, including Croatia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister Vesna Pusić, the leader of the second-largest party in the Kukuriku coalition, the Croatian People’s Party/Liberal Democrats (HNS, Hrvatska narodna stranka/liberalni demokrati).

Milanović and the Croatian government eventually backed down in late September by amending the law in a way that complied with EU requirements, but only after Reding instituted formal EU proceedings, needlessly undermining Croatian credibility almost immediately after its EU accession.

Yet almost as soon as the extradition crisis ended, Croatia found itself embroiled in another difficult debate in holding the December 1 constitutional referendum on same-sex marriage.   Continue reading Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?