Tag Archives: sabahi

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.

Egypt election results: Egypt has a new pharaoh

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As the results come in from Egypt’s presidential election, here’s one thing to keep in mind about the extent of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s staggering margin of victoryegypt_flag_new

If his margin holds up in the final official results, el-Sisi will have won the election with a larger share of the vote than Egypt’s longtime strongman, Hosni Mubarak in both 1999 (93.79%) and 2005 (88.6%).

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That’s all you really need to know about whether this was really a fair election — after months of pre-campaigning designed to paint el-Sisi as Egypt’s national savior and the military-led crackdown on journalists and dissent of all stripes, not just among the Muslim Brotherhood (الإخوان المسلمون) and supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi, who was deposed in July 2013 by el-Sisi, then in his capacity as army chief of staff and defense minister.

But if the margin is impressive, the turnout was not. Amid reports that just 7.5% of the electorate bothered to turn out in the two days in which polls were open, Egypt’s presidential election commission decided to allow voting for a third day, and the military government’s threats to fine non-voters helped boost turnout to around 47.3%, according to government reports (that may or may not be entirely accurate).  Continue reading Egypt election results: Egypt has a new pharaoh

The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter

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I can’t remember a time when there have been so many crucial world elections taking place at such a frenetic pace.

The spring voting blitz began with a five-day period in early April that saw Afghanistan’s presidential election, Indonesia’s legislative elections, the beginning of India’s nine-phase, five-week parliamentary elections, Costa Rica’s presidential runoff and Québec’s provincial elections.

Since then, India’s finished its voting and elected a new government led by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Macedonia, Algeria, Iraq, Panama, South Africa, and Malawi have held elections, too, over the past seven weeks.

It all comes to a climax with five elections today — and another election that will take place over two days of voting on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s a short look at each election — and why it matters to global policy. Continue reading The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter

How Egypt’s el-Sisi out-Nassered (and out-Sabahi’ed) Sabahi

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There’s not a lot of doubt about the outcome of Egypt’s May 26-27 presidential elections.egypt_flag_new

Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief and defense minister who orchestrated the coup that toppled Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, is the wide frontrunner in what will be the eighth national election — including constitution referenda and presidential and parliamentary elections — since the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

While there’s plenty of time to speculate about how el-Sisi will govern Egypt as its ‘civilian’ president, he still faces nominal opposition in the form of his only challenger, Hamdeen Sabahi.

Back in May 2012, Sabahi quite nearly made his way into the presidential runoff, and he actually won the greatest share of the vote in Cairo, the Egyptian capital. Though no one expected him to emerge as a major candidate, he slowly became a leading player in the campaign.

Unlike Morsi, he was a secular candidate, so there would be no risk that Sabahi would have turned Egypt over to the Muslim Brotherhood (الإخوان المسلمون), which largely happened once Morsi eventually won the president and took office.

Unlike Ahmed Shafiq, who unsuccessfully faced off against Morsi in the June 2012 runoff, Sabahi never served in the Mubarak administration, and so couldn’t be counted among the felool — or remnants — of the old regime. Rather, Sabahi was as a liberal activist and Mubarak critic in the 1990s and 2000s. During the Tahrir protests, he was on the front lines, urging Mubarak’s fall. 

But more fundamentally, Sabahi seemed to capture the kind of nationalist spirit most often associated with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s internationally renowned president in the 1950s. Like Nasser, Sabahi is a nationalist and a leftist and Sabahi campaigned on a ‘neo-Nasserite’ platform that included a fiercely independent Egyptian foreign policy and programs to alleviate poverty and unemployment. Though Egypt remains the world’s largest Arab country, it’s no longer the cultural, financial and political engine of the Arab world that it was during the Nasser era, but Sabahi’s 2012 campaign tapped into the same sense of Egyptian pride in the same way as the 2011 revolution centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which culminated with the fall of Mubarak’s 30-year regime.

There’s almost no doubt that in a runoff against either Morsi or Shafiq, Sabahi would have easily won the presidency. Ultimately, Morsi won 24.8%, Shafiq won 23.7%, and Sabahi won just 20.7%, leaving Egyptians with a gruesome choice between a Muslim Brotherhood lackey and a Mubarak-era air force general.

Sabahi, like many liberals, reluctantly endorsed Morsi. Also like many liberals, he initially supported military intervention against the Morsi administration in June 2013, with Morsi and his Brotherhood allies pushing the boundaries of Egyptian democracy and constitutionalism.

Unfortunately for Sabahi, he isn’t the Nasser of the 2014 presidential election.

Sabahi isn’t even the ‘Sabahi’ of the race anymore.

That’s el-Sisi.  Continue reading How Egypt’s el-Sisi out-Nassered (and out-Sabahi’ed) Sabahi

The official unofficial El Sisi presidential candidacy continues in Egypt

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It’s nearly April, which means that under the framework discussed at the time of Egypt’s constitutional referendum in January, we should be approaching the final stretch of a new presidential election, the second election in three years in Egypt’s troubled post-Mubarak era.egypt_flag_new

Instead, there’s still no date settled for the presidential election — or for the parliamentary elections that were supposed to be held by the end of July. Rather, Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour now promises only that the presidential election will be completed sometime before mid-July.

In the meanwhile, Egypt’s defense minister and army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi still hasn’t officially declared whether he will be a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, although the Egyptian military vigorously denied a Kuwaiti media report in early February that El-Sisi was certain to run. But El-Sisi’s candidacy — and his ultimate triumph — seem an increasingly foregone conclusion.

El-Sisi’s face is everywhere, he’s featured on every conceivable kind of merchandise on the streets of Cairo, and despite the military’s suppression of opposition voices within Egypt these days, there’s a genuine groundswell of support for El-Sisi on the basis that he’s the only figure in Egypt strong enough to get the country back on the right track. Continue reading The official unofficial El Sisi presidential candidacy continues in Egypt

Mubarakization watch: Egypt referendum results

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For the record, the results of last week’s constitutional referendum are in — voters approved Egypt’s new constitution by a margin of 98.13% to 1.87%, though on a turnout of just 38.6%. egypt_flag_new

With the opponents of the new constitution boycotting the vote, including the supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the lopsided margin makes some sense.  The turnout was higher than the 32.9% recorded for the December 2012 constitutional referendum hastily organized to approve the Islamist-friendly constitution promulgated by former president Mohammed Morsi, and it’s only a little lower than the 41.9% turnout in the March 2011 constitutional referendum when optimism ran highest after the collapse of the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.

But it’s not a great sign for Egyptian democracy that such wide majorities endorsed two very contradictory visions for Egypt’s constitution within the same 13-month period.  It’s also not a great sign that the ‘July 3’ regime, the military government that ousted Morsi last summer and headed by interim president Adly Mansour and defense minister and armed forces chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, dispersed and harassed opponents of the new constitution in the days leading up to the vote.  By most accounts, the current government hasn’t been as heavy-handed as the Mubarak regime in the 2005 and 2010 votes, which amounted to show elections, but that’s setting the standard for Mansour and El-Sisi fairly low.

Amnesty International on Wednesday harshly condemned the military regime’s use of force and the infringement of human rights since taking power seven months ago.  The interim government has repeatedly used lethal force to break up protests, largely in support of the Morsi regime.  In a world where the government continues to refuse to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to compete freely and fairly, though, a cloud of doubt will hang over not only the constitutional referendum, but the next two sets of elections.

It’s worth noting that the new constitution marks an improvement in some areas over the 2012 constitution that Morsi pushed through (after initially trying to take dictatorial powers in November 2012) — it theoretically holds Egypt to the standard of international treaties on human rights, takes a zero-tolerance approach to torture, reduces the role of Islam in governance, and improves women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities.

So what comes next?   Continue reading Mubarakization watch: Egypt referendum results

Egypt’s constitutional referendum enshrines re-Mubarakization

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10.69 million.egypt_flag_new

That’s the number of the Egyptians who voted to ratify Egypt’s new constitution in December 2012 — at 68.8% of the electorate, it constituted more than enough votes to enact it, thereby promulgating the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist vision of constitution reform in the world’s largest Arab country a new constitution.

The turnout in the March 2011 constitutional referendum was even higher.  In that vote, 14.2 million Egyptians (77.3% of the electorate) approved changes to the previous constitution that were designed to launch a more democratic and representative government by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that effectively took control after the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

So as Egyptians vote today (and tomorrow), it will be the third such post-Mubarak constitutional referendum.

It’s the first vote since the July 2013 military coup that pushed Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president, from power.  Its passage is all but assured, in light of the arrest or dispersion of many opponents of the new constitution:

“I am telling them, they will be faced with force, decisiveness and strength never seen before,” interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim said on state TV on Monday. “Everyone rest assured, we are watching your back”… State television showed Ibrahim on Monday inspecting some of the 350,000 police and army personnel, including special forces and paratroopers backed by armored vehicles and helicopters, currently being deployed to streets across the country to secure the polls and encourage a high turnout.

That’s not the most reassuring statement that the referendum will be an incredibly free and fair election.  Nonetheless, the referendum is seen as the first step in a series of elections that will mark Egypt’s ‘transition’ from military rule to a more lasting democracy.  The current atmosphere augurs poorly for future elections set to take place later this year.  Under the constitutional reforms, Egypt’s interim government will have three months from the date of the new constitution’s enactment to call either parliamentary or presidential elections, with the other elections to follow within six months from the date of enactment.  That means by the summer, Egypt should have both an elected president and an elected legislature.

Despite a genuinely robust marketplace of political actors in Egypt today, the constitutional process seems less like a real transition than a stitch-up for Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to become Egypt’s next president.  El-Sisi (pictured above), who’s currently the minister defense and head of the armed forces, last week indicated he is edging ever closer to a formal run for the Egyptian presidency later this year.  While El-Sisi is a charismatic figure with genuine popularity throughout Egypt, it’s hard to believe that he represents much more than Mubarak 2.0 — a strongman willing to sustain a crackdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

More troubling is that hardly anyone in the past three regimes — the initial post-Mubarak SCAF government, the Islamist Morsi government, or the current military government — have prioritized Egypt’s crumbling economy.  Poor employment options for a young populace and stagnant economic growth were factors in the initial 2011 protests, but the economic situation has worsened over the past three years as Egypt’s political crisis has deepened.

El-Sisi’s closest competition — and perhaps the greatest hope for a civilian Egyptian government in 2014 — is Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist, nationalist, neo-Nasserite figure who rose to prominence in the 2012 presidential election.  Though Sabahi actually won the highest number of votes in Cairo, he very narrowly trailed the two frontrunners, Morsi and former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq, thereby missing the subsequent runoff.  Sabahi, who formed the Egyptian Popular Current (التيار الشعبي المصري) in 2012, has allied with the wider umbrella group of secular liberals, the National Salvation Front (جبهة الإنقاذ الوطني‎) that’s headed by Mohamed ElBaradei.  Sabahi firmly opposed Morsi and initially supported Morsi’s removal, but he’s also indicated that he believes El-Sisi should remain within the military.  Given El-Sisi’s rising popularity and control of the current government, it’s difficult to know if Sabahi (or anyone for that matter) has the political power to defeat the general if he progresses with a presidential bid.

Most immediately, the constitutional reforms expected to be promulgated in this week’s plebiscite are wide-ranging (here’s a piece by Bassem Sabry outlining 29 key provisions), and they’re not necessarily all for the worst: Continue reading Egypt’s constitutional referendum enshrines re-Mubarakization

14 in 2014: Egypt referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections

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2. Egypt parliamentary and presidential elections, spring and summer 2014.egypt_flag_new

Egypt will attempt to hit the reset button once again in 2014, beginning with a constitutional referendum on January 14 and 15.  If the referendum passes, the new constitutional reforms provide that acting president Adly Mansour must hold either a presidential or parliamentary elections within three months, with the other election to follow within another three months.

But after the July 2013 coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president, there’s no assurance that the elections will be a fair reflection of the will of the Egyptian electorate.  After a brutal crackdown on pro-Morsi protestors reminiscent of the worst abuses of the authoritarian regime of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the military interim government branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, Morsi (pictured above) remains jailed pending charges for murder and other crimes, and other top Muslim Brotherhood officials are also imprisoned.

There’s no real assurance that the pro-Morsi Freedom and Justice Party (حزب الحرية والعدالة‎), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, will even be permitted to participate in the elections.  It could also mean that Islamist voters of all shades turn to the more conservative, Salafist Al-Nour Party (حزب النور‎, Arabic for ‘Party of the Light’) or to other more radical Islamist groups that have, since July 2013, worked in tandem with the current military regime.  Other secular groups, like the National Salvation Front (جبهة الإنقاذ الوطني‎) of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who briefly served as the interim vice president of the military government, could win seats, but secular liberals failed in the two previous parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012 to make a breakthrough.  The Tamarod (تـمـرد‎ ) movement, which powered significant protests against Morsi in June 2013 and which supports the current regime, could also emerge as a more permanent player.

But the most likely result could be the coronation of Egypt’s powerful army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as the country’s new president, who ironically came to power when Morsi himself appointed him to the role in August 2012.  Hamdeen Sabahi, a nationalist liberal who placed third in the May 2012 presidential election, is expected to wage a strong campaign as well.  Since the February 2011 Arab Spring revolts that brought down Mubarak’s regime, political tumult has complicated the economic outlook for Egypt, where a youthful population continues to grapple with too few employment opportunities.

NEXT: South Africa

Egypt 2013 is not Algeria 1991 (whew!), but that’s bad news for Egyptian democracy

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Among the groups that wield real power in Egypt, democracy turns out to be not so incredibly popular.Algeria_Flag_Iconegypt_flag_new

No matter what U.S. secretary of state John Kerry says and no matter what Egypt’s army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi (pictured above) believes, the military effort to push Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, from office was hardly a lesson in preserving democracy.  Militaries in healthy democracies, Middle Eastern or otherwise, do not respond to public protests by ousting elected governments.

But Morsi, by pushing through a new constitution without ample debate last December and attempting to assume near-dictatorial powers in order to do so, and more recently trying to stack the ranks of Egypt’s regional governments with rank-and-file Muslim Brotherhood members, showed that he also lacked enthusiasm for civic participation.

What’s happening in Egypt today is starting to resemble a revolutionary moment less and less.  Instead, it looks more like the same cat-and-mouse game that the powerful Egyptian military (and the ever-lurking, so-called ‘deep state’), with ties to the United States and a knack for secular realpolitik, has been playing with the today-confrontational, tomorrow-conciliatory Muslim Brotherhood for decades.

In short, Egypt 2013 looks a lot like Egypt 2003. Or 1993. Or even 1973.  The Muslim Brotherhood and the countervailing political-military structure have been repeating the same game year after year, decade after decade.

That’s good news for those who are worrying that Egypt looks a lot like Algeria 1991 instead.

The Egypt-Algeria analogy looms ominously today, so it’s worth considering the similarities in some detail.  After nearly three decades of rule by the National Liberation Front (FLN, جبهة التحرير الوطني), the guerrilla-group-turned-ruling-party that once liberated Algeria from the French during the bloody war of independence in the 1950s and the early 1960s, Algerians had grown unruly over their country’s progress.  On the back of popular protests against Algeria’s government in 1989 over poor economic conditions, officials instituted local elections in 1990.  The surprise winner of those elections was the Islamic Salvation Front, a hastily constructed coalition of disparate Islamic elements.

When the Algerian government held national elections in December 1991 to elect a new parliament, the Islamic Salvation Front performed even better, winning 188 out of 231 seats in the first round of the election.  The Algerian military promptly canceled the second round of the elections and retroactively canceled the first round, to the relief of the ruling elite that comprised the Algerian pouvoir.  The decision also relieved diplomats in Paris and, especially, Washington, where policymakers on the cusp of winning the Cold War did not envision that the new pax Americana should involve landslide victories throughout the Muslim world for Islamic fundamentalists who had no real passion for democracy.  As Edward Djerejian scoffed at the time, a victory for the Islamists might amount to ‘one man, one vote, one time.’

The military quickly ousted Algeria’s 13-year ruler Chadli Bendjedid for good measure, then banned the Islamic Salvation Front and instituted military rule.

Sound familiar?

The comparison is particularly worrisome because Algeria’s Islamists fought back with full force and the country descended into a bloody civil war.  Although the military subdued what had become an Islamist guerrilla force by the end of the 1990s, strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika took power in 1999, he remains in power (if not in great health) today, and Algeria has been a semi-authoritarian state ever since.  So much for Algeria’s short-lived foray into democracy.

But if there is reason to believe that Egypt is merely falling back into long-established familiar patterns between the military and the Islamists, which have tussled for years without escalating their differences into a full-fledged civil war, and that bodes well for Egypt’s short-term and medium-term stability.

Sure, the faces and the names have changed.  Hosni Mubarak’s sclerotic three-decade reign is firmly in the past, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi was forced into retirement, Omar Suleiman died, and Ahmed Shafiq lost the June 2012 presidential runoff to Morsi.  But a new coterie of secular and military power-brokers, like El-Sisi and newly enthroned vice president Mohamed ElBaradei have risen in their stead and maybe one day, nationalist neo-Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi and Ambien-variety Muslim democrats like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.  Egypt’s priority now is to keep either side from any radical lurches.  But as long as El-Sisi doesn’t launch a wholesale slaughter of Muslim Brotherhood protesters, it seems unlikely that Egypt could unravel into the kind of civil war that plagued Algeria for a decade.

The bad news is that doesn’t bode well for Egypt’s experiment in democracy over the past two years.   Continue reading Egypt 2013 is not Algeria 1991 (whew!), but that’s bad news for Egyptian democracy

Why the ultraconservative Salafi movement is now the key constituency in post-Morsi Egypt

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With a level of speed breathtaking even for an Egyptian political crisis, the Egyptian military’s role has soured in record time since removing Mohammed Morsi from office last week.egypt_flag_new

On Monday, the Egyptian army gunned down protestors in favor of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, apparently killing at least 51 people in the process.  That came after top Muslim Brotherhood leaders had been detained or arrested in the wake of Morsi’s ouster.  It also comes after the new military-backed administration, headed by interim president Adly Mansour, all but announced (then all but retracted) the appointment of Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the country’s new prime minister over the weekend.

Both the short-lived ElBaradei appointment and Monday’s brutality have now alienated one of the most surprisingly odd bedfellows out of the coalition that initially supported army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in pushing Morsi from office — the Salafi movement’s Al-Nour Party (حزب النور‎, Arabic for ‘Party of the Light’), an even more conservative group of Islamists that have long competed with the Muslim Brotherhood for influence in Egypt.  Like other groups that have come to oppose Morsi over the past year, the Al-Nour Party has criticized Morsi for increasingly centralizing power within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their backing for Morsi’s removal last week provided El-Sisi and the Egyptian military crucial support from within Islamist ranks.

But in the wake of Monday’s deaths, the Al-Nour Party announced that it was suspending its participation in the ongoing negotiations over Egypt’s political future.  Mansour has now signaled he may appoint Samir Radwan, a technocratic economist and short-lived finance minister in the final days of Hosni Mubarak’s government, as the new interim prime minister, and Mansour yesterday announced an ambitious timetable that would submit the Egyptian constitution to a review committee, submit any revisions to a constitutional referendum within three months, which in turn would be followed in two weeks by the election of a new Egyptian parliament and in three months by the election of a new Egyptian president.

Monday’s bloodshed has increased the pressure on Mansour to bring some semblance of calm to Egypt’s now-chaotic political crisis, with Morsi supporters and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood continuing to demand the restoration of the Morsi administration.

The Al-Nour Party’s leadership is walking a difficult line — on the one hand, it is now well-placed to influence events in post-Morsi Egypt; on the other hand, it’s long been split over how much support to provide Morsi as an Islamist president, some of its supporters opposed Morsi’s removal, and the Muslim Brotherhood will be quick to point out that the Al-Nour Party has turned on its fellow Islamists.  By initially supporting last week’s coup but turning on the new transitional government this week, the Salafists may be trying to maneuver the best of both worlds.  But after a year where the Al-Nour Party has already splintered, its controversial support for the Egyptian military may shatter it further.

But regardless of whether Mansour can somehow bring the Salafists back into the ongoing political process, and regardless of whether the actual Al-Nour Party can manage to form a united front, their Salafist supporters have now become the key constituency in the latest act of Egypt’s existential drama.  After decades of disdain for active politicking, the Salafi movement has shown itself to be a relatively canny political actor in the post-revolution Egypt, and it makes Al-Nour’s leader, Younes Makhioun (pictured above), one of Egypt’s most important politicians.

With the Muslim Brotherhood rejecting Mansour’s timetable and continuing to agitate for Morsi’s return, it’s not clear whether the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party will even participate in any upcoming elections, even if Mansour manages to avoid delays and carry out three sets of free and fair elections in the next six months. It’s likewise equally unclear whether El-Sisi and the Egyptian military will even let the Muslim Brotherhood contest the elections uninhibited.

Having avoided the taint of being part of Morsi’s ill-fated government and all of its failures — from the November 2012 push to force a new constitution into effect to the ongoing failures of economic policy — the Al-Nour Party stands a strong chance of picking up many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s disillusioned voters as an Islamist alternative.

So who are the Salafists and what would their rise mean for Egypt?  Continue reading Why the ultraconservative Salafi movement is now the key constituency in post-Morsi Egypt