From our 1 July LDESP Middle East News Update on the Gulf and the Levant.
Observers of the Middle East will rarely find the region lacking in news. And for those who thought the beginning of Ramadan on 8 July would at least usher in a temporary and slight respite from the regular upheavals, already it seems the opposite may in fact come into fruition. The following will review major events taking place in the Gulf and the Levant, starting with specifically Qatar and Egypt (below).
30 June Tamarod Campaign: In late June Egypt saw its largest round of protests since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, possibly the largest ever, but this time against the first democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi. The protests on 30 June were the culmination of months of planning for what was referred to as the Tamarod, or rebel, campaign, which gathered more that 20 million signatures preceding the protests. In their grievances over Morsi’s failed promises to bring about security, economic improvements, and democratic developments, protesters are now demanding that the President and the reigning party the Muslim Brotherhood, step down for early elections. While the upheaval results in vast changes occurring in quick succession, this review provides necessary background for observers of the” 30 June” mass protests and the subsequent developments.
Though there were disparate spouts of violence, the initial mass protests remained mostly peaceful. Just as reports of deadly clashes and vandalism started to pour in, the Egyptian military issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Morsi. The New York Times reported:
“Egypt’s top generals on Monday gave President Mohamed Morsi 48 hours to respond to a wave of mass protests demanding his ouster, declaring that if he did not, then the military leaders themselves would impose their own “road map” to resolve the political crisis.
Their statement, in the form of a communiqué read over state television, plunged the military back into the center of political life just 10 months after it handed full power to Mr. Morsi as Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.
The communiqué was issued following an increasingly violent weekend of protests by millions of Egyptians angry with Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers. It came hours after protesters destroyed the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo.
In tone and delivery, the communiqué echoed the announcement the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued 28 months ago to oust President Hosni Mubarak and seize full control of the state. But the scope and duration of the military’s latest threat of political intervention — and its consequences for Egypt’s halting transition to democracy — were not immediately clear, in part because the generals took pains to emphasize their reluctance to take over and the inclusion of civilians in any next steps.
For Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, however, a military intervention would be an epic defeat. It would deny them the chance to govern Egypt that the Brotherhood had struggled 80 years to finally win, in democratic elections, only to see their prize snatched away after less than a year.
“We understand it as a military coup,” one adviser to Mr. Morsi said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential deliberations. “What form that will take remains to be seen.”
The military’s ultimatum seemed to leave Mr. Morsi few choices: cut short his term as president with a resignation or early elections; share significant power with a political opponent in a role such as prime minister; or attempt to rally his Islamist supporters to fight back for power in the streets.
Mr. Morsi’s adviser said the military should not assume that the Brotherhood would accept its ouster without an all-out battle to defend his democratic victories. The Brotherhood may not “take this lying down,” the adviser said.
Citing “the historic circumstance,” the military council said in its statement that “if the demands of the people have not been met” within 48 hours then the armed forces would be forced by patriotic duty “to announce a road map of measures enforced under the military’s supervision” for the political factions to settle the crisis.” (New York Times)
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, a nonresident fellow at the Project on U.S.-Islamic World Relations at the Brookings Institution and a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, quickly responded the military’s statement in Foreign Policy, “Not Quite a Coup, but Pretty Much”:
“Jokingly, some are referring to Egypt as the only country where a coup is announced in advance. The real joke, however, rests with anyone thought that the armed forces had ever been neutralized by the Muslim Brotherhood last August. Within Western capitals, and among a great portion of Egypt’s intelligentsia, it was thought that the newly elected President Mohamed Morsi had managed to push Field Marshal Tantawi out of the driver’s seat, and appointed a “loyal” General Sissi as defense minister. Suspicion of Sissi’s affiliations ran so deep that many thought that he was a “secret Muslim Brother,” interpreting reports of his religious conservatism as a sign of his Islamism. Many within Morsi’s own camp were deeply impressed with the president’s ability to “sweep aside” the military.
In reality, they were all wrong. The Egyptian military is not, and never has been, an ideological institution. Its main concerns have been to maintain its independence vis-à-vis the rest of the state, and to ensure the stability of Egypt — without which it would be forced to involve itself in the mess of governing tens of millions of Egyptians. That is what was behind its move to depose Hosni Mubarak in 2011, whose continued presence was perceived as a liability in maintaining stability. It is also what was behind its self-reconstitution in 2012, retiring Tantawi and taking itself out of governing Egypt. Today, it continues in the same pattern. The military was fervently hoping that President Morsi would prove up to the challenge of governing Egypt, precisely so that it would not have to deal with any mess arising from his failure. The statement today can be summed up, perhaps a bit unkindly, as: “We’ve chosen no-one’s side but our own in this mess, and we’re rather annoyed that you (the political elite) could not sort out things on your own.”
That much is clear. What remains unclear, however, is legion. Why, for example, is the coup “on hold”? How will the Muslim Brotherhood react? What can Morsi do now? What steps will the opposition take next?
The military is very reluctant to take any action where it is likely to simply experience a replay of the last two and a half years. Hence, the military’s statement ought not to be taken as a representation of its power — that power should never have been in doubt — but as a sign that its original road-map failed abysmally. When Tantawi took over from Mubarak, his task was to set in motion a transition that kept the military’s status, position, and beneficial arrangement intact. July 1st marks the end of that transition — and the beginning of another, because that transition failed.
Almost three years on, the military has to re-involve itself in Egyptian politics. In all likelihood, the delay is designed to allow the military to explore a range of options with the Muslim Brotherhood and different political forces. An outright coup is not a successful outcome for the military. On the contrary, it is a risky scenario, and the military wants to minimize any risks going forward.
Those risks have everything to do with the Muslim Brotherhood’s reaction. Predictably, the major Salafi political party (Hizb al-Nour) stayed out of the political fray, and has now come out in support of the military’s call for the “demands of the people” to be reckoned with. However, that leaves a sizeable proportion of the population — probably around 15-20 percent — who still back Morsi. Today, Morsi’s support base largely consists of uncompromising members of the Muslim Brotherhood viewing any military intervention as an attempt to restore the Mubarak-era repression of the Brotherhood — or worse. A repeat of Algeria is not likely, however, as the country is not nearly as split. But violence from members of a group who feel under pressure, and support from their small but steadfast allies, is not beyond the realm of possibility.
The military’s best case scenario is where Morsi remains President Morsi, thereby placating any violent Islamist backlash, but is forced to make a series of concessions that defuses the situation on the street.
(…) There is one last element that most have overlooked — the original revolutionaries of 2011. The revolutionary camp that struggled against Mubarak in 2011, the military in 2012, and Morsi in 2013, still exist within Egypt’s nascent civil society. Despite participating in the anti-Morsi protests, political activists, civil society organizers, human rights campaigners, and journalists have found themselves disenchanted with the ultimatum, fearing a return to military rule. These revolutionaries appear determined that their revolution of the January 25, 2011, continues, regardless of who sits in the presidency.” (Foreign Policy)
For those closely following events in Egypt, it was a hectic few days. One such quip of an Egyptian political observer on Twitter can be seen to the left.At the time of writing on the evening of 1 July, Egypt’s immediate future is very unclear. The Guardian put together a helpful, concise list of key events and factors:
• Army gives politicians two days to settle crisis
• Morsi aide calls move ‘a military coup’
• Military denies coup, declares interest in ‘consensus’
• Opposition says army respects ‘principles of democracy’
• Giant crowds across Egypt celebrate army announcement
• Military helicopters tow national flags across Cairo skies
• Up to five ministers resign from Morsi government
There have also been several excellent articles that provide useful background to Egypt’s current events.
- Rana Allam, managing editor for Daily News Egypt, writes about the interesting Kanaba, or couch people, the once-silent majority of Egyptians who were too preoccupied with their daily struggle for survival to fight for political grievances, and instead viewed the political upheaval from their couches: “The Kanaba bloc is apolitical, with very simple interests, and its members have sorted out conclusions that are based solely on their own perception. This is the case in every country, and they are the bloc that changes any election’s results. In Egypt, a man with a beard is more likely to win elections. But, as it is everywhere in the world, this bloc changes its moves according to the general state of affairs of their lives. It is that simple: if their lives are unbearable, they will not give you the time of day! These groups constituted the real power of the country; they stood against Mubarak, toppled the regime that made them suffer, and then stayed home. (…) For two years, we have seen thousands of disparate and small protests with different demands, never able to attract the kanaba public. (…) What we are witnessing these days is different; not one political or religious group in the country could mobilise these numbers by itself: not the Islamists, not the feloul (ex-regime supporters), not even the Jan 25 revolutionaries (post the 2011 uprising).” (Daily News Egypt)
- Egyptian writer, Wael Nawara, offers a first-hand perspective of Choosing Between Evils: Egyptians Realize Gravity of What is Coming and Yet March Ahead: “Egyptians are bracing themselves for the worst. Ahmed, my driver, had signed a petition calling for early presidential elections. (…) Queues of cars trying to get what seems to be the last drops of fuel from Gas Stations stretched for several kilometers, partially jamming all major roads. People queued before ATM machines to get emergency cash. It was clear that everyone was getting prepared for all sorts of shortages and the eventuality of a collapse in security, similar to what happened during the January 25 Revolution of 2011. (…) Beyond pressing economic problems and failures of Morsi, it is apparent that Egyptians started to feel a sense of losing Egypt itself. (…) I asked my taxi driver. He replied: “I am afraid. I am very afraid. I am only a poor man and I need to work every single day to feed my family. I am afraid that Egypt will suffer in the coming days. But I am afraid more that there would be no Egypt left if the Brothers stay in power.” (Huffington Post)
- Sophia Jones, a freelance journalist based in Cairo, explains why Some Egyptians Want the Military Back, Despite Memories of Oppression: “Following an Armed Forces ultimatum giving Morsi 48 hours to “fulfill the people’s demands” or face a military-enforced political roadmap for the country, Apache helicopters carrying Egyptian flags hovered high above Cairo. Protesters at the presidential palace and in Tahrir Square erupted in jubilation, chanting: “the army and the people are one hand.” (…) While many in the opposition see military intervention, and even a possible coup, as a better alternative to Morsi staying in power, memories of SCAF brutally raping and assaulting women, detaining thousands of civilians, and massacring protesters, have been burned into the memories of many Egyptians who risked their jobs, their security, and their lives fighting for freedom. (The Atlantic)
- Renowned Egypt expert at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council Michele Dunne contextualizes “Two-Against-One Politics Threaten to Drive Egypt over the Edge”: “But what makes the current political situation in Egypt devilishly difficult to understand (…) is that there are at least three principal political forces at work: Islamists, secularists, and the old state (some of whom are secularists, some of whom are observant Muslims, but none of whom are liberals). And to make it worse there are also divisions within each of the three forces (Brotherhood versus Salafis, liberals versus leftists, military versus judiciary, etc). These are the very same forces that have struggled for control of Egypt for decades. What changed with the 2011 revolution was that the old state was damaged, though by no means removed, and the allegiance of various state elements became uncertain. And with the election of Morsi, the Islamists are on top for the first time.” The political game in Egypt since the 2011 revolution has been for each of the principal forces to try to band with one of the others against the third. (The Atlantic Counsil)
- Finally, Politico reports On Egypt, Painfully Familiar Ground for Obama: “President Barack Obama insisted on 1 July that he isn’t taking sides in the standoff between Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and millions of protesters who’ve taken to the streets to protest his policies. But that’s not likely to be enough for many in those angry crowds, who seem firmly convinced that the White House has bolstered the Muslim Brotherhood leader, even as ordinary Egyptians — and some in his own cabinet — have grown increasingly dissatisfied with his rule. (…) “Our commitment to Egypt has never been around any particular individual or party,” Obama said on 1 July in Tanzania, the final leg of his week-long Africa trip. “Our commitment has been to a process.” (Politico)