Revolutionaries for Shafiq (Seven Reasons)

Egyptian revolutionaries have taken to Twitter to lament the run-off between Mursi and Shafiq in 140 characters or less.  It is a misguided sentiment. It certainly would have been grand if someone like El-Baradei had become President, or even a campus darling such as Sabahi. Either were unrealistic expectations, given the personalities and the country. Yet the outcome is not all bad, if (and it is a big if) the brave men and women who made the revolution can seize this opportunity.

In a runoff between Mursi and Shafiq sitting out the election is tantamount to voting to the more organized of the two candidates. Boycotting is in fact a passive vote. The question is who to vote for. Shafiq, on the face of it, is the revolutionaries’ worse choice. After all, he is Mubarak’s “third son”. Moving from revolution to effective governance requires the revolutionaries to eschew the self-indulgence of idealism for the burden of responsibility. Some pills are bitter, but they are better than the alternatives. There are 7 reason why Shafiq is a better choice than Mursi

1- Shafiq will be the last president of the first republic, while Mursi will be the first president of the tedious Islamic state.  If Shafiq is forced to adopt measures to make the presidency accessible to civilians in 4 years then much will have been accomplished.

2- Shafiq will be hemmed in by both the Islamists and the Army. He is unlikely to go far off the rails. Mursi will be the MB puppet and will be itching to control the Army, resulting in a one-party state, and a party that believes it has a divine mandate at that. Failing that, a coup is possible and highly undesirable. Egypt does not need that now.

3- Egyptians’ needs must be addressed in proper sequence. The most critical need is to reform the security services and shore up the foreign reserves. A deal to support Shafiq in exchange for an ironclad agreement to reform the police is far more likely to work (and more likely to be supported by the Army), than an adventure with Mursi & El-Shater to rebuild the police. Tourism is the most immediate means of shoring up the reserves, and is likely to suffer under the heavy hand of the MB, which will always seek to play to the cultural issues due to its inherent minority status.

4- The ugly attack on the Copts as having elected Shafiq  has no factual basis (most of Shafiq’s support is from the Delta which has low Coptic population), but is  indicative of the MB mindset. This bodes badly for social peace. It is likely that Mursi will bumble into a sectarian conflict that might draw in outsiders. This is not a happy scenario.

5- There are implications to a Mursi foreign policy. Egypt will ally with Qatar  and will be opposed by the UAE (read their police chief blast about MB subversion). Consider that the sovereign fund of Qatar is around $50B, Saudi Arabia  and UAE around $600B, and that the UAE has a higher educational and social standard. Which of these countries will make a better partner for the development of Egypt ?

6- The NDP is a spent force, while the MB still commands the blind and unquestioning loyalty of its members. Of these two parties which are less likely to resist the rise of new political forces.

7- Mursi has never unequivocally announced that he will pledge allegiance to Egypt over the MB Murshid.

Whatever the Egyptian revolution has accomplished , all Egyptians (including sympathizers) have much to be proud of. But the revolution is passing through its dangerous stage where the better can become the enemy of the good and the idealism and emotional forces it unleashed have to be harnessed to the service of  slow and steady gains for the common man, possible only with co-operation and co-opting of non-revolutionary or even counter-revolutionary forces. Having rescued Egypt from the dull hand of police authoritarianism, the revolutionaries can ill-afford handing Egypt to the intolerant and dissembling authoritarianism of the MB. These forces, armed with the certainty that God is their agent, will tolerate  no dissent, brook no political opposition and crack down with ruthlessness born of the certainty of faith and self-righteousness.

But perhaps most importantly, the majority of Egyptians chose non-Islamists in the first round and it is incumbent on the revolutionaries to do all they can to make sure that the rules of the game do not contradict this clear choice.


Optimism is foolish when not backed by reason. It is difficult to feel optimistic about the Egyptian Presidential election. Elections are good, but only if they provide legitimacy and stability.

In spite of all the media hype, the most likely final round candidates were always going to be Mursi and another man, most likely one linked to the old regime and military. It is looking increasingly like Shafiq.

Whether one of these two wins outright or whether there is a run-off is irrelevant. The primary issue is that the MB has always been determined to take over the state and control all its levers. They have systematically and ruthlessly taken over many sectors, including syndicates and universities. They are still under-represented in business, but that is an easy issue to deal with once in power. They will coerce and marginalize businessmen who do not agree with them. The extent of their penetration of the police force is not known, but that force is in free fall and the MB has already indicated they want a “percent” of all incoming candidates to the police academy as it is being rebuilt. The last remaining, and most important, institution is the military. The MB has tried before, in 1952, to recruit army coup plotters. That turned out badly for them when Nasser proved less than malleable. It is not clear what they will do now.

If Mursi is not elected President the MB will face a decision: accept the new President, and in all likelihood curtail its influence for a generation or perhaps forever, or revolt claiming fraud. They have already prepared the ground for that through various proclamations. And they do have weapons and a proto-militia. A revolt will likely trigger a split within the MB ranks, with the majority supporting El-Shater and a revolt. How the Army will respond, and whether this might cause a collapse of the Army discipline is not known.

The MB, for all its “nice talk” and attempt to appeal to international actors, is forcing Egypt into a fateful decision. Everything is in motion and there is no stopping it at all. Such is the logic and risks of revolutions, inevitable and necessary as they sometimes are.

The Oppressive Brothers

The recent bout of election rhetoric from the Muslim Brotherhood should remind us again that political Islam is first and foremost a political, not a religious or moral movement. The Brothers have pressed God into their service as a precinct captain. God, normally revealed in small mercies and large compassion, is transformed by the Brothers into a hectoring bully whipping the faithful to vote the “right way”.

Whatever happened to not taking God’s name in vain? I guess that is less important than winning a political seat. This is all part and parcel of why the MB is such a dangerous organization. For all the facade of normalcy it  now likes to project, it remains an oppressive, narrow-minded, and singularly dishonest organization. We can accept at our peril the claim that the MB electoral power stems from their presence on the ground and their social outreach. But the reality is that the MB sole trick is to exasperate religious differences and then use them for acquisition of political power.

Moussa’s Riposte

The debate between Moussa and Aboul Fotouh was a good day for Egypt on many levels. On one critical issue Mr. Moussa reached deep into the Egyptian collective psyche and asked the difficult question about political Islamism (as opposed to Islam).  Is loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood synonymous or even compatible with loyalty to Egypt?  It is the proverbial gorilla in the room. It is especially relevant to the MB, which has often acted as a state within a state. It levies its own taxes, runs its own foreign policy, demands oaths of loyalty to its leader and expends a disproportionate amount of energy hiding its structure and finances. It has lately replaced Mubarak’s party as the “go to” address for all foreign and commercial interests seeking stakes in Egypt.

But the MB, and political Islam in general, needs to answer that question. Are they first and foremost Egyptians with a different religious orientation, and in that case there is definitely room for them in the  political sphere along other Muslims and Copts.  Or are they a trans-national organization dedicated to a pan-Islamic vision with Egypt as simply one tool or component of the strategy. In that case it will be up to the Egyptian public to decide if they are ready for another version of Nasser’s pan-Arab adventurism.

Political Islam is often evaluated based on its effects on Copts, but  its effects can be even more profoundly damaging to Muslims who wish to live as citizens with a broad vision, rather than as pawns in a historical struggle.

Moussa has done everyone a favor by raising the question. Time will tell what the answer will be.

Underestimating Shafiq

Watching opinion on Twitter can be a very warping experience (or Al Ahram for that matter).  For an antidote note this. A very unscientific survey of potential voters who are not Twitter or Facebook literate (warning: sample is only 2 dozen) reveals a very different picture. Here it is:

1- Shafiq. 46% He is reliable, not embarrassing and he can build modern things. The military will back him and we will end all these confrontations. He will serve 4 years while betters are getting ready. Bas Khalas.

2- Moussa. 33% He wears nice suits and has European connections and a scion of an old known and liked family. But why does he always attack Israel and sound like Nasser sometimes. He can’t possibly want a war, but then we don’t know where he really stands. Better than Shafiq who kissed Mubarak’s ass. And he is old enough not to last too long. Mafish 7aga.

3- Aboul Fotouh. 8% My son insists and swears he is a great man. I am not really sure. I do not trust him or any Ikhwani, they are all liars and worse. But I might not live long and I owe my son my vote. Rabbina Yustur ‘alina.

4- Not voting. 12%. This is a farce. Why couldn’t Egypt put up people who don’t embarrass us. Do you want the world to think we are barbarians after all this revolution. Khalas Ra7it Masr.

Polls (if conducted) will show how accurate this is.

Interfering in Egypt (5)

Naguib Sawiris was in Washington in a reflective and pessimistic mood.  He is a remarkable man in being both a genuine Egyptian patriot and in lacking the haze of self-pity and defensiveness that often goes with patriotism. His reply to the facile statement often made by both Egyptian and foreign politicians that Egypt must find an “Egyptian solution” for its problems was “I hope not, have you seen our traffic?” In a short sentence he cut through the core of the paranoia and defensiveness that has infected Egypt in the last 60 years and caused much of the subsequent decline. His response to the question by the moderator of “How can the US help Egyptian liberals?” was “Do not do anything, we get in trouble every time you try to do something”. He was, or course, partially right. But only partially.

The analogy of Egypt today is to a man with a broken leg. Without assistance he will surely get worse. Yet any assistance will involve depending on others and an appearance of weakness and perhaps a blow to his self-esteem. The liberal forces have been weakened by their principled stand against the Nasser military regime to the point where only less tolerant forces have flourished in that fetid atmosphere of repression. People offered two forms of repression have often opted for the one not currently in power, as hope often overcomes reason.

Egypt needs help. Egyptian liberals are the best hope for a genuinely Egyptian and vibrant reclamation of the oldest civilization, and one that respects the many strains and diversity of Egyptian life. Egyptians are religious, as Herodotus noted 2500 years ago, and extreme secularism scares them. But a clear scenario of religious intolerance has yet to be presented with its full effects on both Egypt and the region. This is where help is needed.

Egyptian liberals have no voice in Washington DC, in spite of the visceral appeal they make to both the American public and the American political class. Egyptian Americans have been hesitant to do so, precisely because of warnings such those issued by Sawiris.  But the situation has deteriorated and action is necessary. What is needed is a genuinely Egyptian lobbying effort in the US, and perhaps other Western countries, for effective aid to Egypt. The alternative is a poor country indebted to the IMF, and passing the tin cup to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  This is a nightmare for Egypt and the West.

Any effective lobbying effort must be supported by Egyptians and Egyptian Americans of both religious persuasions. An effective, non-denominational effort is the one most likely to succeed, as it will appeal to all sectors of the American public. The appeal must have achievable goals. Simply dumping money into the coffers of Egypt will not work. It will be grabbed by whatever political forces, good or bad, and wasted away, as it has been under Mubarak. A more effective form of support would be direct assistance to educational institutions and cross-cultural exchanges. These would have long term positive effects and short term benefits, as they promote tourism to bolster the sagging reserves. Additionally, these can be largely non-governmental, thus escaping the iron boot of politicization and vagaries of politics. These would also build on foundations currently in place and therefor likely to succeed.

This is the political season in both the US and Egypt. The warm glow of affection people felt for Egypt in those two weeks in the winter of 2011 is fading. But that can be recaptured if we have the courage not to waste the moment.

Trickle into a Flood ?

Mona Makram Ebeid was in Washington DC today. She indicated that she is switching her support from Aboul Fotouh to Amr Moussa, due mostly to the Salafi endorsement of Aboul Fotouh.  She is a formidable person in her own right, but also the scion of a prominent Coptic political family. She has always championed citizenship rights over sectarian thinking. Her public endorsement of Aboul Fotouh was an indication that he might pick up a significant fraction of secular Copts.  It is fair to say that is no more.  It seems more desertions maybe in the offing.

Future Thirst

Climate change will affect Africa disproportionately. The Nile basin is 10% of the African landmass but contains 40% of its population, including some of the oldest African civilizations and states. Egypt, “The Gift of the Nile”, could experience serious water shortage by 2025, due to population growth, economic growth and climate change. This risk is aggravated by four distinct ongoing factors

1- The decline of the Sudan into a failed state. The Sudan has been Egypt’s “buffer” for use of the Nile.

2- The large scale purchases of land in the Nile basin by external powers. China, Gulf countries and Multi-nationals are all buying land in the African heartland south of the Sudan. No doubt the water use will increase.

3- The mismanagement of agricultural and water policy by inept governments. Ethiopia, with the encouragement of China, has been particularly inept in a combination of neglect, land sale and attempts to dam up the Nile.

4- The failure of the Nile basin governments to agree on common policies. Egypt, the largest country, has ignored this problem for decades.

The focus of Egyptian foreign policy since the 1940’s, when the Muslim Brothers stockpiled arms for expeditions into Palestine, has been the Arab world and Israel. This is a perversion of Egyptian interests. Israel is an emotional issue, but not an existential threat to Egypt. Egypt has little leverage over any of the Arab countries, nor Israel. The Arab-Israeli wars have drained Egypt, while most Arab countries sat on the sidelines and cheered.

While everyone is arguing about the exact nature of the Islamist society, no one is paying attention to the fact that Egypt’s future, indeed survival, is linked closely with Africa. Egyptians have always attempted to suppress their African links. Perhaps it is a desire to be accepted by the West, or the effect of Islamist thinking which emphasizes Arabian links. Whatever the reason, it is an unhealthy state.

Almost any attempt to engage with Africa will mean that Egypt needs to reassure African countries about the Islamist trends. The disasters of the Sudan(and now Nigeria) have made most African countries wary of Islamists. Egypt will need to both stabilize the Sudan (most likely by ditching its current pseudo-Islamists rulers) and create a sensible policy with Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya to manage the Nile. Egypt also needs to displace some of the external actors, such as China, and can do so only with trust and a fair share of economic strength. This is a major administrative and executive shift, and will require innovative economic thinking and use of global capital and technology.  Are the Islamists the best candidates for this shift?