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Egyptian president Morsi caught in the crossfire in embassy riots kerfuffle

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi today in Brussels made his most detailed comments yet on the Sept. 11 protests/attacks that took place at the U.S. embassy in Cairo (and the more deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya):

“Muslims and Christians in Egypt are equal citizens and have the same rights… We are cautious about those principles and human values, also respecting visitors and respecting tourists… and respecting and protecting diplomatic delegations and private and public properties, and not attacking them.

“Freedom, and ensuring safety of self, and protecting this freedom and people and preserving property is the responsibility of the Egyptian nation.”

He continued: “The Egyptian nation is capable now of protecting people’s opinions and allowing them breathing room, as well as protecting diplomatic delegations and all foreigners, visitors, tourists, embassies and consulates in Egypt.”

“I see in Egypt and the Arab and Islamic world a severe anger toward the violations made by a very small number of individuals. They have insulted the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. We stand very strongly against this. We don’t agree with or approve this, and we stand against anyone who tries to raise such false slogans and create these disturbances, tension and hatred between populations.”

“Those [people] are not accepted, not by people in Egypt nor other Arab and Islamic countries, nor by their own people. I affirm that the American people reject this and I’ve called on them to declare their rejection of them, at the same time with our rejection of those bad practices that bring harm and not benefit.”

Got all that?  To me, those sound like the words of a president terrified at the thought of losing any side over this week’s crisis — and the sides are too numerous to count.

At home, he certainly can’t be seen as standing weak in defense of Islam, but he also can’t be seen in the United States as condoning violent attacks on the U.S. embassy.

It’s hard to believe that Morsi has been in office for only about 10 weeks — he won (narrowly) Egypt’s presidential runoff on June 24 against former air force commander and Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Remember, too, that it’s been just six months since Morsi has appointed his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, and less than a month since Morsi pulled off his more-or-less successful political coup in retiring the military’s chief, Hussein Tantawi, who had served as Egypt’s defense minister since 1991, thereby making Morsi the indisputable head of state.

It’s clear that the U.S. president Barack Obama is none too pleased with Morsi’s reticence in condemning the attacks, especially given the unqualified condemnation offered up across the board by Libya’s political elite yesterday.  The U.S. administration, with Obama up for reelection within 60 days, might be justifiably short on patience with the Middle East these days, given the dual crises in Libya and Egypt following the embassy riots, and an Israeli prime minister who is publicly attacking the Obama administration at every turn over Iran’s nuclear weapons program (and despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran, the first of an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Iranian revolution, there’s no love lost in Cairo for Iran).

Above all, Morsi was set to meet with Obama in Washington in October — if that meeting still happens, you better believe it’s going to be incredibly tense.  U.S. public opinion has now sharply condemned Morsi, and even the Cairo embassy has taken to snarking at the Muslim Brotherhood via Twitter for talking out of both sides of its mouth (one Arabic, the other English).

Morsi cannot lose the United States and the United States naturally wants to give him the benefit of the doubt — despite the Obama administration’s unease with an Islamist president, Morsi was elected democratically, and the U.S. will want to see the positive outcome of the Arab Spring that it so vociferously trumpeted since the early days of the protests in Tahrir Square back in February 2011.  So it’s still in the best interests of the United States to maintain a constructive relationship with Egypt.  But Morsi needs U.S. support even more — not just in luring tourists, but in encouraging the foreign investment necessary to revitalize a stagnated, bloated and state-heavy economy, including a much-needed loan from the International Monetary Foundation. Continue reading Egyptian president Morsi caught in the crossfire in embassy riots kerfuffle

Who is Mohamed al-Magariaf?

Today’s U.S. — and world — media are likely to be focused on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the resulting deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel there, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens

That’s crazy, given that today has already seen the jarring attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, an attempted assassination on the new Somali president, and amid increasingly public tensions between the United States and Israel over Iran’s nuclear program.  And that’s just in the Middle East — today is also a big day for Europe, with the Dutch elections and the German constitutional court’s decision to uphold the European Stability Mechanism.

In the meanwhile, it’s worth noting a little more about Libya’s new interim sort-of leader, Mohamed al-Magariaf, who in a press conference earlier today strongly condemned the hardline Salafist attacks on the U.S. consulate and apologized for the killing of Stevens and other U.S. personnel (in contrast to Egyptian president’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, who has yet to condemn the Cairo embassy incident):

“On behalf of the presidency of GC, government and the Libyan people we offer deep condolences to the American government, people and the families of the ambassador and other victims,” the statement said.

The statement also said Libya “confirms the strong relations between the Libyan and American peoples which has been further cemented as a result of the US government’s support of the 17 February revolution.”

“While we strongly condemn any attempts of insult the person of the Prophet and our sanctities or tampering with our beliefs,” we reject the use of force and terrorizing innocent civilians, said Magariaf.

Al-Magariaf was elected the president of the General National Congress of Libya on August 12, making him Libya’s interim (for now) head of state.  As among the three Muslim countries that the United States has liberated in the past decade, for better or worse, al-Magariaf contrasts with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai in that he is less corrupt and more dependable.  Among the three countries (and Pakistan, too), he is by and far the friendliest and most helpful leader.

Al-Magariaf is from Benghazi, where the attack took place.  Benghazi is Libya’s second-largest city and the urban center in the eastern Cyrenaica region of Libya (in contrast to the coastal northwestern Tripolitania and southwestern Fezzan).  Benghazi is also, ironically, where the revolt against Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi began in 2010.

The GNC, an interim parliament called for the purpose of running Libya’s government until an elected Constituent Assembly can draft a new constitution for Libya, was appointed following Libya’s first free election in decades on July 7 — among the 200 members, 120 seats were reserved for political independents and 80 for political parties.

Among the 80 seats reserved for political parties, Mahmoud Jabril’s National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية) won 39, and it was seen as a victory for moderates — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والب) won just 17 seats.  Al-Magariaf himself represents the National Front Party (حزب الجبهة الوطنية‎), a successor to the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a group al-Magariaf formed in 1981 in opposition to Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 until just last year.

The National Front Party won just three seats, but al-Magariaf has a long record of opposition to Gaddafi and good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.  Al-Magariaf is a political liberal more interested in rebuilding Libya’s government and economy than promoting Islamic rule, but is viewed with less suspicion than Jibril, who served in Gadaffi’s administration from 2007 to 2011 as the head of Libya’s National Economic Development Board in an effort to revitalize and privatize the Libyan economy.  Although al-Magariaf served as Libya’s ambassador to India until 1980, he defected in Morocco in that year, and remained in exile in the United States as the leader of the National Front until his return to Libya just last year.

Continue reading Who is Mohamed al-Magariaf?