Thinking about Egypt, and how it affects Palestinians

Events have been moving very fast in Egypt– and they continue to do so. Right about now, longtime ‘liberal’ icon Mohamed ElBaradei is being sworn in as PM of the new, coup-birthed order in Cairo. (Update: Or not… )

My instincts from the beginning were to be very wary of the ‘popular’ movement that started gathering in large numbers on Cairo’s streets last weekend. Yes, I knew that the youthful-idealist movement Tamarrod had gathered large numbers of signatures on their ‘Recall the president’ petition (though the real number of genuine, unique signatories will never be known.) Yes, I knew that the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, and his government had made many, very serious mis-steps throughout their 12 months in office. Several of my friends have expressed great public enthusiasm about the popular, anti-Morsi movement.

But still.

Still, there were always many indications that this ‘popular movement’ was not all it was pretending to be. There was evidence of it being connected to a deliberate, lengthy, and well-funded campaign of defamation against Morsi, as Issandr Amrani has well documented. There was evidence of significant funding for the ‘popular’ movement, whose bilingual laser lightshows, fireworks displays, etc.,took a page right out of the theatrics  of the (also Saudi- and U.S.-backed) March 14 movement in Lebanon… And when, after the coup, the supply of gasoline and fuel oil suddenly resumed, it seemed very clear that the military-industrial complex in Egypt had previously been hoarding supplies to sow nationwide eco-social mayhem, in a page right out of the anti-Mossadegh coup of 1953.

I recall the discussion that Bill the spouse and I had with longtime MB spokesman Dr. Esam El-Erian in Cairo in June 2011, when he warned: “Without a change in the policies of Saudi Arabia, these current revolutions won’t succeed… In Egypt, Saudi Arabia is the main force of counter-revolution.”

Now, Borzou Daragahi and Heba Saleh have done a great job reconstructing some of the lead-up to the coup, in this article in the Financial Times.

Continue reading “Thinking about Egypt, and how it affects Palestinians”

‘New’ Egypt and the Camp David accords

Despite many setbacks and roadblocks along the way in Egypt, the political situation there is still one of the most hopeful– and certainly, the most momentous– phenomena in the region. Egypt, remember, really does carry the strategic ballast of the whole Arab world. How things turn out there is central to the politics of the whole Middle East.
The formation of the new government in Cairo still awaits, apparently, the conclusion of the current intense round of negotiations between the Freedom and Justice Party (with its strong current basis of electoral legitimacy, as well as its strong nationwide grassroots organizing capacity) and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (with its weapons, its backing from Washington, and its strong nationwide military/security organizing capacity.)
Meantime, there has been some speculation about whether the new government will respect the 1978 Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that flowed from them in 1979. Most of the rationally based evaluations (e.g. here) of the FJP’s behavior conclude that an FJP-led government will not seek to exit the peace treaty (or at least, not any time soon.) However, I think much of this analysis does not go far enough in exploring two other aspects of the subject:

    1. Even though an FJP-led government may continue to abide strictly by the terms of the treaty and the accords, are there some other kinds of pro-Israeli activity that the previous Egyptian government engaged in that an FJP-led government would not, thereby constraining the freedom of action that Israel has felt that it enjoyed for most of the past 34 years?
    2. Are there steps that an FJP-led government might take, fully within the existing context of the Camp David Accords and based on them, that could actually improve the position of Egypt and other parties vis-a-vis Israel?

In both cases, I think the answer is a clear yes. In other words, the real question is not whether the new Egyptian government will keep or break the treaty, but rather what other steps might it take, without breaking the treaty, to improve the ability of Egypt and other Arabs (primarily, the Palestinians) to protect themselves from Israel’s continued encroachments on Arab lands, dignity, and freedom of decision?
Regarding #1 above, let us consider first the whole complex of active connivance with Israel and the United States that the Mubarak government engaged in, with regard to the Palestinians. The list of activities is far too long to present fully. But just in recent years we have seen active Egyptian connivance with the plot to overthrow the PA ‘government’ that was duly elected in 2006; active Egyptian connivance in the campaign to maintain an illegal blockade on Gaza and starve the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza into submission; active Egyptian connivance in the internationally waged campaign to allow Israel “all the time it needed” to physically batter and kill the Palestinians of Gaza into submission in 2008-2009; active connivance in all the campaigns to protect Israel from being held to account for its actions against the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, Lebanon, or Golan… etc, etc.
None of those actions were “required” under the terms of either the Camp David Accords or the peace treaty. They were actions that Mubarak and his henchman Omar Sulaiman took of their own volition, solely at the behest of the Israelis and Americans, and that the SCAF has kind of kept in place through inertia… The new government of Egypt is very likely to reconsider some of these policies.
Plus, if there were to be another sizeable Israeli assault against Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, would the government of the new Egypt collude with that plan in the way Mubarak/Sulaiman did in 2008? No. The freedom of action that the Israeli militarists enjoyed under Mubarak/Sulaiman has already been considerably reduced. Appropriate, in a way, to note that Sulaiman died recently: that marked the end of an era for him and for all his long-time friends.
It is when we get on to question #2 above, though, that things become even more interesting. For example, did you know that in one of the documents concluded at Camp David in 1978, Israel and Egypt agreed on:

    the construction of a highway between the Sinai and Jordan near Eilat with guaranteed free and peaceful passage by Egypt and Jordan…

(You can find the exact citation if you go that link.)
Interesting! Such a highway should be even more feasible today, now that Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan, which it did not have in 1978. This highway would allow for a stream of commercial and other non-military ground traffic (“guaranteed free and peaceful passage”) to pass between Egypt and Jordan; and therefore, potentially between North Africa and the whole of the Arab East– without Israel being to impede it or to charge duties or taxes!
Palestinians could use this highway to transit freely between Gaza and the West Bank… Oh yes, you might say, but the Palestinians were supposed to gain a large degree of freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank in the Agreement on Movement and Access, that was agreed among Israel, PA President Abbas, and Egypt back in 2005; and that never happened either…
Well, with a new government in Egypt, Cairo could now actively pursue both these important movement/access agreements…
There are several provisions of the main Camp David accord that also bound the government of Israel to take positive actions towards a “just, comprehensive, and durable, comprehensive, and durable settlement of the Middle East conflict through the conclusion of peace treaties based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 in all their parts…”
On the Palestinian front, the government of Israel and the other parties at Camp David agreed that a “self-governing authority” would be constituted in the West Bank and Gaza, and that,

    3. When the self-governing authority (administrative council) in the West Bank and Gaza is established and inaugurated, the transitional period of five years will begin. As soon as possible, but not later than the third year after the beginning of the transitional period, negotiations will take place to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza and its relationship with its neighbors and to conclude a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan by the end of the transitional period. These negotiations will be conducted among Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza… The negotiations shall be based on all the provisions and principles of UN Security Council Resolution 242. The negotiations will resolve, among other matters, the location of the boundaries and the nature of the security arrangements. The solution from the negotiations must also recognize the legitimate right of the Palestinian peoples and their just requirements.

Again, it is much easier to envision this final-status negotiation happening– and succeeding–now than back in 1978. Today, we actually have:

    1. Egypt actually talking to both the Palestinian leadership and the government of Jordan, which it wasn’t in 1978;
    2. Jordan in a peace agreement with Israel already; and
    3. An “interim” self-governing authority, like the one envisaged at Camp David, already in place in the West Bank and Gaza and with a track record of 18 years behind it. (Some interim, huh?)

So the new government in Egypt might quite justifiably say something like, “Enough already with the delay! Lets get straight into that final-status peace agreement with a goal of achieving it within the 2- to 3-year period agreed to at Camp David. No more futzing around! Israel has already wasted 38 years since Camp David. And by the way none of the settlements built in the areas occupied in 1967 have any basis for legality in any international law.”
Basing its actions on international law and existing international agreements could be a formula that would be both internally and globally very astute for the new Egypt… And a game-changer for that whole “peace process” that became ossified, dysfunctional, and deeply harmful to human rights and international law sometime shortly after the Madrid peace conference of 1991, if not before.

MBs show their impressive communications skills

Well, it’s two for two for the Muslim brotherhood in the NYT and WaPo today. On the op-ed page of the WaPo, we have Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, arguing why Democracy supporters should not fear the Muslim Brotherhood, and on the op-ed page of the NYT we have Essam al-Errian explaining What the Muslim Brothers Want.
Their messages are very similar to that of the Errian (Erian) articles on the MB website that I referred to here, yesterday.
Aboul-Futouh today:

    We are mindful, however, as a nonviolent Islamic movement subjected to six decades of repression, that patent falsehoods, fear mongering and propaganda have been concocted against us in Mubarak’s palaces the past 30 years and by some of his patrons in Washington. Lest partisan interests in the United States succeed in aborting Egypt’s popular revolution, we are compelled to unequivocally deny any attempt to usurp the will of the people. Nor do we plan to surreptitiously dominate a post-Mubarak government. The Brotherhood has already decided not to field a candidate for president in any forthcoming elections. We want to set the record straight so that any Middle East policy decisions made in Washington are based on facts and not the shameful – and racist – agendas of Islamophobes.
    Contrary to fear-mongering reports, the West and the Muslim Brotherhood are not enemies. It is a false dichotomy to posit, as some alarmists are suggesting, that Egypt’s choices are either the status quo of the Mubarak regime or a takeover by “Islamic extremists.” First, one must make a distinction between the ideological and political differences that the Brotherhood may have with the United States. For Muslims, ideological differences with others are taught not to be the root cause of violence and bloodshed because a human being’s freedom to decide how to lead his or her personal life is an inviolable right found in basic Islamic tenets, as well as Western tradition. Political differences, however, can be a matter of existential threats and interests, and we have seen this play out, for example, in the way the Mubarak regime has violently responded to peaceful demonstrators.
    We fully understand that the United States has political interests in Egypt. But does the United States understand that the sovereign state of Egypt, with its 80 million people, has its own interests? Whatever the U.S. interests are in Egypt, they cannot trump Egyptian needs or subvert the will of the people without consequences. Such egotism is a recipe for disaster. With a little altruism, the United States should not hesitate to reassess its interests in the region, especially if it genuinely champions democracy and is sincere about achieving peace in the Middle East…
    The people of Egypt will decide their representatives, their form of democratic government and the role of Islam in their lives. For now, as we verge on national liberation from tyranny, Egyptians in Tahrir “Freedom” Square and all over the country are hoping Americans will stand by them in this crucial hour.

Errian today:

    In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage. Moving forward, we envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.
    The tyranny of autocratic rule must give way to immediate reform: the demonstration of a serious commitment to change, the granting of freedoms to all and the transition toward democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood stands firmly behind the demands of the Egyptian people as a whole.
    Steady, gradual reform must begin now, and it must begin on the terms that have been called for by millions of Egyptians over the past weeks. Change does not happen overnight, but the call for change did — and it will lead us to a new beginning rooted in justice and progress.

These guys have an impressive degree of organization, an impressive degree of clarity (especially if you consider how chaotic and risky the situation is, in which they’re operating), an impressive understanding of the need for clear, dignified, and consistent communication to a wide variety of audiences, and an impressive ability to stay on message.
Maybe the Obama administration folks could go to them for some lessons in these matters?

Egypt: Regime’s slow crumble continues; MB leaders spell out their position

The demonstrations and anti-government protests continued and multiplied throughout many parts of Egypt today. No sign the opposition is backing down. Indeed, it is settling in for the long haul, and reports from around the country indicate that in several places the regime may be starting a slow crumble.
On January 27, I blogged that the decision the Muslim Brotherhood announced that day, that they would formally be joining the protest announced for January 28, “could very well mean the end of the Mubarak regime.”
It hasn’t happened yet, as we know. But the MB did bring to the protest movement a degree of discipline, organization, and nationwide reach that it had not had until that point.
As of today, I believe the two main scenarios are (1) a slower or faster victory for the pro-democracy movement, as the bastions of the old regime continue their present crumbling; or (2) a counter-stroke by the regime and its allies inside and outside the country that would most likely be very brutal and would leave Egypt in a mess for a very long time to come.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the actions and pronouncements of the MB. I just read this short account on the MB’s English website of the press conference they held earlier today.
They were positioning themselves as cautious (but generally negative) regarding the discussion with VP Suleiman that they– along with most of the other opposition groups– entered into last Sunday:

    During the conference the MB reiterated that they are not seeking power nor do they have any intentions of fielding any of the group’s members for presidency.
    According to the group the preliminary dialogue with the newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman was nothing more than the testing of waters in an attempt to see the regime’s real intentions for reform and constitutional amendments which would guarantee freedom and democracy for the people of Egypt.
    The MB asserts that the group’s major concern is the wellbeing of all Egyptians regardless of religion, political trend and sect. It relayed its disappointment of the talks stressing that the regime sidelined the key demands in order for peaceful transition; that being the immediate stepping down of Mubarak…

Their English website is not great. The Arabic one is much better. I wish I had time to translate more, for example, from this article that key MB intellectual Esam al-Erian (who was arrested on Jan.29 and released a few days later) published on it today. It is a succinct, eloquent, and straightforward presentation of their position.
He wrote:

    The Brotherhood has announced that they will not put forward a candidate for the next presidency and that they will be looking at the programs of the candidates to find the best among them. They will put forward candidates for parliament, on the basis of a desire to participate, not to gain a majority, and they will ally themselves with all the nationalist forces in order to bring about true stability built on a foundation of freedom, justice, human dignity, and social justice.

During the article, Erian repeats a number of times that the Brotherhood– despite withstanding terrible oppression at the hands of the regime, including the detention of more than 30,000 of their members during the Mubarak years– has remained committed to nonviolence and to seeking change through peaceful, constitution, and parliamentary channels.
He writes,

    If America is to restore its credibility in Egypt and the Arab world, it must respect the right of the Arab peoples to choose their rulers on the basis of democracy, and it should not rely on the power of the rulers to repress the peoples.
    If it wanted to guard its interests, particularly its strategic interests, then it must respond to the desire of the people to build a democratic order marked by transparency and accountability…
    America will lose its allies among the Arab rulers one after the other if it doesn’t change its policy and reconsider all its strategic alliances in the region. The wave of democratic change has arrived in the Arab region and the power of the winds of change and the people is endless. The false American attempts to do nation-building in Afghanistan and to build a democratic system in Iraq both failed. But the Egyptians have proved that they are able– without any help from America– to build a better future. And if God wills it they will build a truly democratic system in Egypt that will shine its light on the region.
    America is the richest and most powerful state on earth, and for long decades it has claimed to be the leader of the free world and has raised great slogans [on this matter.] So how should it act if it were to honor the right of the peoples to self-determination and to choose their own leaders, and the fundamentals of democracy; and if it were to preserve world peace and international cooperation in the fields of economy, information, and technology, so that it could become an example to humanity that would earn the friendship of the whole world…

Today’s Muslim Brotherhood is thus far from being the “scary, fundamentalist menace” that so many people in the U.S. fearfully portray it as being. I read Dr. Erian as calling us Americans back to our better selves and our better values.
The Obama administration has huge sway over the Egyptian military, which it has funded, trained, and supplied for 30 years now. Our government therefore bears considerable responsibility for the gross rights violations that the military in addition to the police, have been continuing to commit even this week… Even after Obama “asked them politely to stop doing it.”
Asking politely is not nearly enough. All aid to Egypt’s military and “security” bodies should be cut off until they puts in place clear and clearly enforced orders that their units will not engage in, and will not connive in, any actions that violate the rights of civilians.
The role of Egypt’s military is to be the shield of the people’s rights, not their violator. And its role as the people’s shield should not be subordinated to the agendas of any other nation. That has tragically been the case for far too long now. Let Egypt’s citizens work peaceably together to design the ground-rules of their own democracy. Why would anybody think they are “not yet” capable of doing that?

Can Omar Suleiman be Egypt’s De Klerk?

… As a Quaker, I have to believe in the possibility that any person on God’s earth is capable of becoming a better person and acting in a more generous and wise manner than hitherto.
In his speech on Tuesday, Hosni Mubarak announced that his role model in life was Ceausescu, not De Klerk.
Since then, his hastily-appointed vice-president, Omar Suleiman, has been diplomatically nudging the old(er) guy aside and seizing the reins of effective power. Many of which now lie in the need to negotiate a completely new social/political compact with the many pro-democracy forces in Egypt.
He made a start today. This could be a new chapter in the “divide and rule” strategy he has pursued toward Egypt’s oppositionists throughout his many years of the country’s extremely rights-abusing General Intelligence Service.
Or, it could be the start of a process that will lead Egypt much closer to the rights-respecting order that its 85 million people so desperately need.
(When De Klerk started out talking to Nelson Mandela in 1990, he didn’t know which way that was leading, either, I think. Took them four more years to reach the pivotal, free and fair, elections that changed South Africa forever.)
At this point, I’m not analytically “calling” the way that Suleiman’s outreach is heading. Firstly, it’s far too early to tell. Secondly, I’m just off to Quaker meeting. So holding my Egyptian friends– and all of Egypt’s people– quietly in God’s light for an hour seems like a really good thing to do.

Many details about Mubarak/NDP’s counter-revolution plan

… are in this well-researched article by Esam al-Amin. H/t to Jonathan Wright.
Amin gives a lot of details of the plan to launch the counter-revolution, starting with a key meeting by a “small clique of officials”, held in Cairo on the afternoon of Monday, Jan.31:

    According to several sources including former intelligence officer Col. Omar Afifi, one of these officials was the new Interior minister, Police Gen. Mahmoud Wagdy, who as the former head of the prison system, is also a torture expert. He asked Hosni Mubarak, the embattled president to give him a week to take care of the demonstrators who have been occupying major squares around the country for about a week…
    The meeting included many security officials including Brig. Gen. Ismail Al-Shaer, Cairo’s security chief, as well as other security officers. In addition, leaders of the National Democratic Party (NDP)- the ruling party- including its Secretary General and head of the Consultative Assembly (upper house of Parliament), Safwat El-Sherif, as well as Parliament Speaker, Fathi Sorour, were briefed and given their assignments. Similarly, the retained Minister of Information, Anas Al-Feky, was fully apprised of the plan.

Amin starts his piece with the inevitable comparison to “Operation Ajax”, the CIA op in Iran back in 1953 that, by using hired thugs, the spreading of fears about “instability”, and the distribution of large gobs of money to corrupt individuals and organizations, laid the ground for an army/shah coup against the elected government of Mohamed Mosadegh.
He also starts with this great quote from Lenin:

    There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.

Indeed. We are living through a series of such weeks right now.
There is a lot of great interest in Amin’s piece– including his reporting that the spirits of the thugocrats have been mightily fortified by the support that various Israeli and Saudi leaders have expressed for their efforts.
He also wrote this:

    The battle plan was for the baltagies [= regime-mobilized thugs] to block seven entrances of the Tahrir Square, leaving only the American Embassy entrance open for the thugs to push back the demonstrators in order for them to come so close to the Embassy that its guards surrounding it would have to shoot at them and thus instigate a confrontation with the Americans.

Instigating a clash between Egyptian nationalists and the Americans… Whose playbook does that come out of? Aha! The Lavon Affair of 1954.
This whole attempt to use brute force, disinformation, and slimy political tactics to push back Egypt’s current democratic revolution really does seem like a ham-handed– but extremely dangerous– return to the 1950s.

Egypt, the world food-price crisis– and JWB’s next book!

I just want to pick up on the food-price dimension of what’s happening in the Middle East (and other parts of the world) today.
Since the beginning of the current wave of uprisings in the Arab world, I have been of the opinion that this crisis is about two things: livelihoods, and basic human dignity. In both these areas, the recent and ongoing steep rise in world food prices is key; and it is set to continue, or become even steeper over the months ahead.
Simon Nixon had an interesting article in the WSJ on this.
He writes:

Continue reading “Egypt, the world food-price crisis– and JWB’s next book!”

Asmaa Mahfouz: The girl who kicked Egypt’s hornet’s nest!

A friend sent me this vlog, which was recorded on January 18 by Asmaa Mahfouz, a young Egyptian woman who describes on it how earlier in the month she had responded to the self-immolations then taking place in Egypt by deciding to go down to Tahrir Square and undertake a regular public vigil there “For dignity! Against hunger!”
… And she invited her friends to join her. And the first time “We were only three people– along with three armored cars full of police, and the baltagiyeh thugs were also there… ”
But they carried on doing their vigils regularly, and in this video, she’s asking people to join her there on January 25, and…. the rest is history.

My piece in The Hill yesterday

… was here.
This was the piece I wrote Tuesday morning, that I mentioned in this JWN post later that morning. So really, you could read the two together… First, the “Hill” piece, then the blog post.
Bottom line: There is tremendous amount a successor regime in Egypt could do to support Palestinian rights and the Palestinian cause– hopefully, on the basis of a strong commitment to human rights and international law– that would not necessarily involve abrogating the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
For 63 years now, successive governments of Israel have succeeded in keeping consideration of the political future of the Palestinians in a compartment completely separate from that of international law. (And international law itself has progressed a lot since 1948, too.) All versions of the so-called “peace process” pursued over the past 15 years have been pursued quite separately from the requirements of international law. As a result, it has been entirely devoid of any real, sustainable peacemaking. On the contrary. It has led to the caging up of the Palestinians in tens of completely separate open-air cages while the bulk of their land and heritage has continued to be stolen from them.
So quite simply, let’s return to international law. Unless the democracy movement in Egypt (and Jordan) gets completely crushed, I’m thinking this will be the central demand of the post-Mubarak government regarding the always-crucial Palestine Question. The “rule of law”, both domestically and internationally.
Of course, the prospect of any return to a rights-based, international-law-based resolution of the longrunning Palestine-Israel conflict has the vast majority of “status-quo” Israeli political figures running very scared indeed. They almost can’t imagine what life might be like if they can no longer, lazily and very comfortably reclining behind their Apartheid wall, rely on Egypt to be their shield and spear.

Mubarak and the Egyptian army: the Pinochet option?

In last night’s post, I said that prior to his speech, Muabarak had the option to be like Frederik De Klerk but instead had come out swinging with his dead-end rear-guard action like Ceausescu.
Today, the veteran Middle East expert Bill Quandt* has a good piece on Politico in which–identifying the key role the Egyptian military needs to play right now in “persuading” the ageing dictator to step down now, not in September, for God’s sake!– he argues that they need to make an offer to Mubarak like the one the Chilean military made to Augusto Pinochet in the late 1980s: basically, that he should leave the presidency but would be immune from prosecution for past misdeeds.
At that time, that was an excellent compromise that prevented considerable further bloodshed and allowed/helped the Chilean people to proceed toward much fuller democracy. Today, the anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo and the rest of Egypt desperately need a deal that can similarly halt the bloodshed that Mubarak’s dreadful thugs (the baltagiyeh) are raining down on them.
As Quandt notes, the Egyptian military– which has a very long and close relationship with the U.S. military– has a key role to play if this deal is to happen. Sill not clear whether they will play it or not.
If they don’t, everyone around the world knows of their ties to the U.S. military and will be asking why these ties were not actively used to try to save lives on Tahrir Square.

* Full disclosure: Bill Quandt has made many previous appearances on this blog under the guise of “Bill the spouse”. We have been happily married for nearly 27 years. When I started the blog I wanted to keep it as my space for self-expression and not get identified simply as someone else’s spouse. We are still separate people, and discuss all these issues frequently and fruitfully, though not always with 100% agreement. But hey, I’m also proud of his work and think it’s good to start featuring it here, too.