Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 7/9/13: Do You Remember The Muslim Brotherhood's Coup Back in November?

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

1. The Brotherhood's Coup

While violence in Egypt has been increasing, it's important to remember that there was a coup in Egypt prior to the June 30th protests. That coup occurred November 22, 2012. That's when President Morsi attempted to seize power for himself by fiat.

Here's how Eric Trager later characterized the events:
The Brotherhood's most blatantly undemocratic act, however, was Morsy's Nov. 22 "constitutional declaration," through which he placed his presidential edicts above judicial scrutiny and asserted the far-reaching power to "take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution." When this power grab catalyzed mass protests, Morsy responded by ramming a new constitution through the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, and the Brotherhood later mobilized its cadres to attack the anti-Morsy protesters, and subsequently extract confessions from their captured fellow citizens. So much for promises of "consultation."

Emblem of the Muslim Brotherhood
Emblem of the Muslim Brotherhood -- just your typical, moderate,
secularist, Democratic organization. Credit: Wiki Commons

At the time Matt Bradley and Charles Levinson of the Wall Street Journal reported Egypt Sees Largest Clash Since Revolution:
Egypt's opposition was galvanized last month when Mr. Morsi issued a decree granting him nearly unrestricted powers and placing him above the judiciary. The decree paved the way for hurried approval of a constitution that was drafted by an Islamist-dominated body that the opposition says was working illegitimately and produced a charter weighted with Islamic law. The government has set a referendum on the draft for Dec. 15.

Anti-Morsi Egyptians took to the streets. On Tuesday, they marched on the presidential palace to denounce Mr. Morsi, the first time in recent memory that protesters made it to the palace walls. On Wednesday, Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam El-Eryan, speaking on al-Jazeera, called on millions of Egyptians to go to the presidential palace to "defend the state and its legitimacy."

Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the opposition, countered on Wednesday that Mr. Morsi had lost all legitimacy. The president, he said, bears full responsibility for the current violence and is in danger of drawing Egypt into "something worse."
Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times reported Islamists clash with rivals in Egypt:
Pro-Morsi factions overran about 200 protesters camped outside the presidential palace in north Cairo. The clashes came after the Muslim Brotherhood-allied Freedom and Justice Party called thousands of its members into the streets in a counter-demonstration to drive opposition movements from the presidential palace. ...

More than 200 people were injured across a cityscape that had the charged air of a fluorescent-lighted battlefield with competing banners, bandaged men and dinner trays used as shields to block barrages of rocks.

Egyptian news reports said clashes spread to other cities, including attacks on several Muslim Brotherhood offices. There were unconfirmed reports of at least three deaths.
And as protests continued, a few days later, Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post reported In Egypt, a show of force from Morsi supporters:
As opponents of President Mohamed Morsi again marched to the presidential palace Tuesday night, his Islamist supporters packed a square about two miles away - near enough, several said, to take action to protect the building and their president if necessary.

"Of course, we will protect the palace," said Mohamed Abdelsalam, 59, a government worker who was at Rabaa al-Addaweya Square with thousands of other Morsi supporters waving the green flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's dominant political Islamist organization. "We will not allow anyone to go inside there.'' ...

In recent days, opposition protesters have described having their wrists bound, being brutally beaten and interrogated by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters during 15 hours of violent street clashes outside the presidential palace last week, during which both sides hurled rocks and wielded clubs. Protesters said their Islamist captors called them "infidels" and forced them to "confess" to being paid to stoke violence, an interpretation of events that a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political party denied.
David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reported further Morsi's Allies Beat Protesters Outside Palace:
Khaled el-Qazzaz, a spokesman for Mr. Morsi, said Monday that he had ordered an investigation into the reported abuses and asked the prosecutor to bring charges against any involved. He said that Mr. Morsi was referring only to confessions obtained by the police, not by his supporters.

But human rights lawyers involved in the cases of the roughly 130 people who ended up in police custody Wednesday night, all or most of them delivered by the Islamists, say the police obtained no confessions. "His statement was completely bogus," said Karim Medhat Ennarah, a researcher on policing at Egyptian Initiative on Personal Rights, whose lawyers were on hand about an hour after the speech when prosecutors released all the detainees without charges. "There were no confessions; they were all just simply beaten up," he said. "There was no case at all, and they were released the next day."

Officials of the Muslim Brotherhood said the group opposed such vigilante justice and did not organize the detentions. And in at least one case one victim said a senior figure of the group rescued her from captivity. But the officials also acknowledged that some of their senior leadership was on the scene at the time. They said some of their members took part in the detentions, along with more hard-line Islamists.
Reading these articles makes clear that the dissatisfaction with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is not new. In fact it makes the events of the past week even less surprising, if not predictable.

But something else needs to be said. When the New York Times argues that the recent coup, was a "rejection of democracy," it proceeds from an assumption that democracy equates with a free election. But a free election a necessary but insufficient condition for democracy. The winner of a free election needs to understand that he is limited by the will of the people who elected him for an election to be sufficient. Morsi (and the Muslim Brotherhood) never accepted any such limit. They saw an election as a license to rule according to their ideology and seize more power.

After Morsi's power grab in November a New York Times editorial exhorted the administration "... to speak out when [Morsi] tramples on democratic principles at home." But the premise of the editorial was that Morsi's power grab was an aberration, not his expected behavior.

With the Muslim Brotherhood, an attempt to seize power once it achieves political power is a feature of its ideology, not a bug.

What Morsi did in November was, effectively, a coup. That he backed down when enough pressure was brought to bear, didn't mean that he thought he was wrong. Subsequently, he and the Muslim Brotherhood intimidated opponents, attempted to impose their standards on the Egyptian artistic community and appointed allies to political positions. Maybe last week's news was a coup, but it wasn't the first. Maybe it wasn't democratic, but it was no less democratic than the power it replaced.

2. The Misadventures of Morsi

Commenting on Reuel Marc Gerecht's thesis that having Islamists take power was probably a necessary step for political liberalization in the Arab world, Ross Douthat writes:
As I said two years ago, I have serious doubts about whether Gerecht’s thesis — which sees Islamist rule in Middle Eastern countries as a necessary-if-fraught step on the way to any kind of liberal democracy in the region — can serve as a guide for responsible U.S. policymaking. But it has always offered the most plausible script for how the Islamic world might eventually escape from its current cycle of repression feeding extremism feeding repression and so on.

The question is whether this week’s events in Egypt are following the Gerecht script or not. Is the failure of the Morsi government an example of how “time moves quickly now,” with the Egyptian public swiftly seeing Islamist rule for what it is and rejecting it decisively, opening the door for more liberal alternatives? Or is this a case where the process Gerecht hopes for hasn’t even had time to get off the ground, and the military’s intervention will just return us to the same old cycle of secular dictatorships pre-empting democracy in order to keep the lid on fundamentalists, whose popular appeal endures and eventually prompts another upheaval down the road? The Morsi government was in power long enough to produce a mass protest movement against the Muslim Brotherhood, but was it in power long enough to actually discredit the Brotherhood (at least in its current form) as the most plausible alternative to military rule? If the military actually holds new elections now, will they produce anything like a viable third way between Islamism and dictatorship, Morsi and Mubarak, the minaret and the tank?
If Douthat's first possibility is correct, the swift failure of the Muslim Brotherhood was largely Morsi's.

Jeffrey Goldberg recalls:
A few months ago, King Abdullah II of Jordan told me about his meetings with Mohamed Mursi, the now-deposed president of Egypt. The king wasn’t fond of Mursi, both because the Egyptian was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and because Abdullah found Mursi exceedingly stupid.

“I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey,” the king said. He despises the movement, partly because it is revanchist, fundamentalist and totalitarian, and partly because in Jordan it seeks his overthrow. “The Arab Spring highlighted a new crescent in the process of development.”

The saving grace in Egypt, he said, was that Mursi seemed too unsophisticated to successfully pull off his vision. “There’s no depth to the guy,” he said of Mursi. The king compared him unfavorably to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist prime minister of Turkey. Like Mursi, the king asserted, Erdogan was also a false democrat, but one with patience. “Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride,” Abdullah said. “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.”
(Goldberg notes that Erdogan's style has now lost some of its luster.)

Eric Trager describes how Morsi became president. He had no charisma and didn't win based on his charm but on the effective organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus:
Morsi thus won the presidency without having to be liked - thereby making it easy for people to start hating him as soon as his many flaws became apparent.

Morsi’s total reliance on the Brotherhood for his political success had another damaging effect: it made pleasing his Brotherhood colleagues a top priority, even though he campaigned promising to govern inclusively.

Morsi thus continually expanded the number of Brotherhood ministers and governors with each round of appointments, further alienating non-Islamists.
Trager then goes on to recount how Morsi sought to seize power for himself last November. Though this is slightly off topic, it's important for another reason.

David Kirkpatrick is the Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times, an thus one of the more influential reporters in the region. He sees no threat from the Muslim Brotherhood as a political party. The other day he tweeted:

Morsi's power grab last year was an attempt to bring the judiciary under his control but the reporter for the New York Times didn't bring it up. (The context of the tweet is important too. Someone had argued that there was no justification for arresting Morsi.) Instead he tweeted that Morsi had been arrested unjustly before.

It's important to remember that the New York Times' lead reporter from Egypt is an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood generally, and Morsi, in particular.

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