Monday, August 13, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/13/2012: Morsi Wins Out Over Egyptian Military

From DG:
1) More coverage of Morsi's power grab 

The New York Times reports In Upheaval for Egypt, Morsi Forces Out Military Chiefs:
As analysts struggled to tell whether the shake-up represented a break between Mr. Morsi and the military, or a carefully brokered deal, many looked for clues in the replacements named for the retired generals.

For two major posts, Mr. Morsi chose officers from the supreme military council, suggesting that he had possibly struck a deal with younger officers. Some saw the way that the retirements were announced — not as voluntary actions by the officers, but as referrals by the president — as evidence that they were a surprise. But that was far from clear.

For his new defense minister, Mr. Morsi chose the head of military intelligence, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who was seen as close to Field Marshal Tantawi. General Sisi’s name surfaced last year when he acknowledged to Amnesty International that the military had subjected female protesters to “virginity tests.” The general defended the policy by saying it was imposed to “protect” soldiers from allegations of rape but said the tests would be stopped.  
The Washington Post reports in  Egypt’s Morsi replaces military chiefs in bid to consolidate power:
Tantawi’s removal sidelines a longtime U.S. interlocutor in a country that has received tens of billions of dollars in military aid in exchange for maintaining peace with Israel. The move appeared to catch U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the Pentagon off guard. Panetta visited Egypt about two weeks ago and seemed to come away with the view that Tantawi and Morsi were cooperating.

“It is my view, based on what I have seen, that President Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi have a very good relationship and are working together towards the same ends,” Panetta said.
David Ignatius who appears to have sources inside the American government writes in U.S. officials warily endorse new Egyptian defense minister:
What’s indisputable is that the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a longtime member, has now tightened its grip on Egypt, controlling the military as well as the presidency and the parliament. That’s either an example of democracy in action and civilian control of the military, or a Muslim Brotherhood putsch, depending on your viewpoint. It probably has elements of both.

The U.S. view is that the replacement of aging top military leaders, in itself, isn’t worrying. But they would be concerned if Morsi moved to make changes in Egypt’s judiciary, which has been an important independent center of power since the Tahrir Square revolution that deposed Mubarak in February 2011. Worries about the judiciary were prompted by another Morsi move Sunday — to appoint senior judge Mahmoud Mekki as vice president. The fear is that Mekki, as a former jurist, might reject rulings by the courts.
...
U.S. officials don’t appear to have evidence that the purge was planned or debated by top leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, Morsi used the terrorist attack in Sinai last week that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers as an excuse for installing new leadership in the military. The first key change was Thursday’s firing of the intelligence chief, Gen. Murad Muwafi, who had won praise from U.S., Israeli and European officials — in part because he had been pressing for months for a crackdown against terrorist groups taking root in the Sinai.
Ignatius had more about Muwafi last week.

Barry Rubin writes that official American timidity likely emboldened Morsi:
So can you write “Arab Spring,” “free elections,” “democracy in Egypt,” and such things 100 times? This just might be somewhat in contradiction to the fact that:
Muslim Brotherhood President al-Mursi has just removed the two commanding generals of the Egyptian military. Does he have a right to do this? Who knows. There’s no constitution. That means all we were told about not having to worry because the generals would restrain the Brotherhood was false. Moreover, the idea that the army, and hence the government, may fear to act lest they lose U.S. aid will also be false. There is no parliament at present He is now the democratically elected dictator of Egypt. True, he picked another career officer but he has now put forward the principle: he decides who runs the army. The generals can still advise Mursi. He can choose to listen to them or not. But there is no more dual power in Egypt but only one leader. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has run Egypt since February 2011 is gone. Only Mursi remains and Egypt is now at his mercy.

Behind the scenes note: Would Mursi dared have done this if he thought Obama would come down on him like a ton of bricks? Would the army give up if they thought America was behind it? No on both counts.
The media's portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood since January, 2011 has changed. Originally the Brotherhood was peripheral to the pro-democracy demonstrators. (Don't worry it's the Facebook generation.) As the jockeying for the post-Mubarak future continued, the approach was more along the lines of, the Muslim Brotherhood is looking to participate in government not dominate it. When it became clear that the Brotherhood was looking for political power we were assured that they would be constrained by electoral concerns and that they weren't seeking to impose their religious vision on Egypt.

Now, apparently, all constraints are gone, what does that portend for the future? 

2) Answering Thomas Friedman's question, part II

Shortly after I wrote that Egypt seemed to be answering Thomas Friedman's question:
So Morsi is going to be under enormous pressure to follow the path of Turkey, not the Taliban. Will he?
in the affirmative, due to attacking a free press, Jewtastic tweeted:
The Muslim Brotherhood has just seized total power in Egypt. http://is.gd/wpUuHv
  The article to which he linked was, Morsi fires Tantawi; expands presidential powers:
A government spokesman said Sunday that Egypt's president has ordered the defense minister and chief of staff to retire and has canceled the military-declared constitutional amendments that gave top generals wide powers.
President Mohammed Morsi also issued a new constitutional declaration that grants him many presidential powers that were restricted by the army in June, al-Ahram news site reported.
This extends the comparison to Turkey. The New York Times reported this past January, Ex-Chief of Turkish Army Is Arrested in Widening Case Alleging Coup Plot:
In an unprecedented move, a civilian court ordered the arrest of Turkey’s former head of the army, the highest-ranking officer so far to be charged with leadership of an illegal network accused of seeking to overthrow the government, news outlets reported late Thursday.In an unprecedented move, a civilian court ordered the arrest of Turkey’s former head of the army, the highest-ranking officer so far to be charged with leadership of an illegal network accused of seeking to overthrow the government, news outlets reported late Thursday.

Gen. Ilker Basbug, who was the chief of the army’s general staff from 2008 until his retirement in 2010, denied the charges, calling it a tragicomedy that the former commander of one of the world’s strongest armies would be accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, according to NTV, a private television station. 
Morsi, like Erdogan, has moved against two institutions that could have been counterweights to his gaining unchallenged power. Friedman, of course, saw the Turkish path as a good thing.



3) Rechov Yafo

Joel Greenberg writes about "performance artist," Yossi Atia in On Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road, an artist evokes mood at time of suicide attacks. The first paragraph is the most important:
It was a tour that could happen only here: a stroll to the sites of Palestinian suicide bombings up and down Jaffa Road, Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, which has the dubious distinction of being the street hit by the most such attacks anywhere in the world.
Though it shouldn't be surprising, I was struck by the "dubious distinction." While so much of the discussion in policy circles and the media of the Middle East peace process centers around "settlements," terrorism seems to be a secondary concern. Does it occur to anyone that the fact that Israel continued seeking peace despite these once common attacks on one of the busiest streets in its capital city is defies expectations?

While most of the article is non-committal at the end Atia's agenda is revealed.
The aim of the tour, which was recorded for a film Atia is making, seemed to be a form of catharsis. Atia ended the walk at Ben-Yehuda Street, a bustling pedestrian mall targeted in the years of the bombings. There he pointed out a tree that had been planted by New York’s former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, who visited Jerusalem after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to show support.

The tree, Atia said, was a sign of growth and hope for a better future, the only commemorative marker that symbolized “the option of healing and forgiveness, a change of consciousness from mourning and revenge.”

“We are afraid of what has already happened,” he added. “My fantasy is to live without waiting for the next disaster.”
The utter lack of context here is disturbing. The bombings started after Israel recognized the PLO and  allowed the Palestinian Authority to operate in the major Palestinian population centers. The Oslo era was supposed to usher in a new time of peace. To say now that only a tree shows hope for the future is a cruel dismissal of the betrayal of the peace process. The terror destroyed the "option of healing and forgiveness" that the peace process was supposed to bring about. To fault Israel at this point is beyond callous.
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