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Posts For: July 5, 2013

Does Turkey Know What Backward Is?

It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

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It is no surprise that the Turkish ruling party—itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—castigated Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster as a sign of backwardness in Egypt, and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik urged the Muslim Brotherhood supporters to reverse the coup through violence, if necessary. “I curse the dirty coup in Egypt. I hope the broad masses who brought Morsi to power will defend their votes, which mean democratic honor,” he tweeted.

Certainly what occurred was a coup, but it’s pretty farfetched to call Mohamed Morsi democratic. As Eric Trager explains in the Wall Street Journal:

The turning point in Mr. Morsi’s presidency came on Nov. 22, when he asserted unchecked executive authority through a constitutional declaration and, weeks later, rammed an Islamist constitution through to ratification. When mass protests erupted in response, Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues dispatched Brotherhood cadres to attack the protesters, and seven people were killed in the fighting.

It seems strange to have Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Hüseyin Çelik, or Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lecture on backwardness. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for the Turkish triumvirate to consider what backward really means:

What happened in Egypt was unfortunate, but sometimes such actions are a last resort when leaders dispense with the rule of law, forget their own accountability to the public, and believe they can undertake authoritarianism without consequence. When Egypt holds new elections, let us hope the process of democratization can continue. In the meantime, let us hope that the Turkish government recognizes that it is Turkey that has moved backward, away from the 21st century and headlong into the past.

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Grasp Iraq’s Outstretched Hand

Finally, some good news from Iraq. Citigroup has announced that it will open an office in Baghdad, the first major U.S. bank to enter Iraq. Citi bets that Iraq could be a $2 trillion economy by 2050. That may be a bit optimistic, but Iraq has far more potential than conventional wisdom among the American foreign policy community would allow.

There is already significant investment in Iraq—oil companies, of course, but also car dealerships, hotels, and various goods and services—and there will surely be more now that the United Nations Security Council has voted formally to lift sanctions on the war-weary country. The successful visit to Iraq last month of Kuwait’s prime minister has also infused the Iraqi business community with optimism, especially in Basra, quickly becoming the financial capital of Iraq, which is desperate to have investors to balance out Iran, which often charges exorbitant prices for inferior work.

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Finally, some good news from Iraq. Citigroup has announced that it will open an office in Baghdad, the first major U.S. bank to enter Iraq. Citi bets that Iraq could be a $2 trillion economy by 2050. That may be a bit optimistic, but Iraq has far more potential than conventional wisdom among the American foreign policy community would allow.

There is already significant investment in Iraq—oil companies, of course, but also car dealerships, hotels, and various goods and services—and there will surely be more now that the United Nations Security Council has voted formally to lift sanctions on the war-weary country. The successful visit to Iraq last month of Kuwait’s prime minister has also infused the Iraqi business community with optimism, especially in Basra, quickly becoming the financial capital of Iraq, which is desperate to have investors to balance out Iran, which often charges exorbitant prices for inferior work.

While terrorism remains a threat in Iraq—and, alas, it may get worse as sectarian winds continue to blow through the region—the biggest obstacle to the country remains corruption. The victims of terrorism may number in the thousands, but corruption affects millions. Modern banking is essential to the fight against corruption. Ministries in Iraq operate with perhaps ten times the number of employees they need. Most employees do not do anything, and many do not even show up to work except to collect salaries, which are paid in cash. Sometimes, officials hire employees on the condition that they get a cut of their salaries on payday. When deposits are made electronically directly into Iraqis’ bank accounts, it’s not as easy for senior officials to skim money from those below them. I explained the scam here, in the context of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq may be finally turning a corner. Lukman Faily, Iraq’s talented new ambassador to the United States who arrived just last month, was right earlier this week to suggest there could be a new, more positive era in U.S.-Iraq relations. Indeed, the ball is in America’s court. As Faily writes (and as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stressed when we met last month):

The next clear step is for the U.S. and Iraq to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed prior to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces, which defines the overall political, economic, cultural and security ties between our two countries. Americans should see this agreement not as a ticket out of Iraq, but as the foundation for a long-term partnership with the people and government of Iraq… With Iraq taking its place as a partner, not a protectorate, Americans can help by providing political, diplomatic and security assistance, in addition to technical know-how and investment capital. Now that Iraq is moving toward a market economy friendly to foreign investment, Americans can provide what our nation needs: expertise on energy technologies, engineering, design, construction and financial services. Iraq offers tremendous investment opportunities for developing and servicing telecommunications, health care, education, water treatment, and bridges and highways, to name a few.

Citi is making the right move, and the Iraqis are asking for other American firms to follow. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Alas, it seems that too many in the administration would sacrifice the mutual development and increased commerce that could result from more sustained American investment, on the belief that Iraq either represents original sin, or that it remains the metaphorical four-letter word. Alas, from the point of view of America’s interests, there is no attitude as short-sighted and counterproductive as the Obama administration’s unwillingness to grasp Iraq’s outstretched hand.

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America’s Egypt Policy After Morsi

One of the oddities that confront makers of American foreign policy is that it is easier to deal with avowed enemies rather than wayward friends. Policy toward Iran or Syria or North Korea is more straightforward than policy toward Pakistan, Bahrain, or Egypt–all avowed American allies whose actions (suppressing dissent in the case of Egypt and Bahrain, supporting jihadist groups in the case of Pakistan) cause consternation in Washington. How far do we go to signal American displeasure and risk the strategic benefits we derive from our relationships with these states?

That question has been in sharp relief during the course of the Egyptian revolution/coup (revolucoup?) this week. The U.S. has a stake in promoting democracy in Egypt which, over the long run, is likely to make the country more stable and prosperous–but also a major stake in keeping Egypt committed to the Western camp and out of the clutches of Islamists. Those goals collided when the Egyptian armed forces–and millions of ordinary Egyptians–decided that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi was heading in an authoritarian–and, just as important, incompetent–direction. So now the army has deposed Morsi. He and hundreds of other Brotherhood leaders appear to be under arrest and Egypt’s future is more uncertain than ever.

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One of the oddities that confront makers of American foreign policy is that it is easier to deal with avowed enemies rather than wayward friends. Policy toward Iran or Syria or North Korea is more straightforward than policy toward Pakistan, Bahrain, or Egypt–all avowed American allies whose actions (suppressing dissent in the case of Egypt and Bahrain, supporting jihadist groups in the case of Pakistan) cause consternation in Washington. How far do we go to signal American displeasure and risk the strategic benefits we derive from our relationships with these states?

That question has been in sharp relief during the course of the Egyptian revolution/coup (revolucoup?) this week. The U.S. has a stake in promoting democracy in Egypt which, over the long run, is likely to make the country more stable and prosperous–but also a major stake in keeping Egypt committed to the Western camp and out of the clutches of Islamists. Those goals collided when the Egyptian armed forces–and millions of ordinary Egyptians–decided that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi was heading in an authoritarian–and, just as important, incompetent–direction. So now the army has deposed Morsi. He and hundreds of other Brotherhood leaders appear to be under arrest and Egypt’s future is more uncertain than ever.

The new interim government has promised to hold elections–but what if the Brotherhood wins the next round of balloting? That is not inconceivable, given the Brotherhood’s organizational strength and popularity in rural areas, notwithstanding the disastrous consequences of its recent period in power. Is the Brotherhood to be disqualified from the electoral process? If so, that would be a powerful inducement to Islamists, not only in Egypt but throughout the Muslim world, to give up any commitment to seeking power through peaceful means; it could cause many to embrace the more violent path urged by al-Qaeda and its ilk. That is a definite danger of the military stepping in. On the other hand, if the military didn’t step in, there would have been a danger that the Brotherhood would never be dislodged from power.

In confronting these difficult dilemmas, American policymakers would be well-advised not to outsmart themselves. There is always a temptation in Washington to try subtle stratagems that backfire in practice. That, in fact, is what has happened in Egypt where the Obama administration has managed to alienate both the Brotherhood and its adversaries. The anti-Islamist faction is mad at Washington because of seeming U.S. support for Morsi while in power–an impression furthered by U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson’s ill-advised remarks which seemed to be critical of coup plotters (understandable) while uncritical of the Morsi regime’s undemocratic excesses (inexcusable). Now the Brotherhood is mad at Washington too because of the impression that the U.S. winked at its overthrow.

Obama and his aides would be well advised to return to first principles–where they should have been to begin with. They need to make clear their support for liberal democracy, stressing the importance not just of elections but of checks and balances of the kind that Morsi disregarded while in power. The American ability to affect the outcome is admittedly limited–the only major leverage we have is the military aid we provide to the Egyptian army and that is unlikely to be cut off because it is tied to the continuation of the Camp David Accords. But even if Washington can’t guide events, it should at least make clear its commitment to the principles on which the United States itself is founded–and which we celebrated just yesterday.

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What Will Happen to the Suez Canal?

The major U.S. interest and, indeed, the main international interest in Egypt is the fate of the Suez Canal—built by the French and completed in 1869, and then overseen by the British in the wake of the 1879-1882 ‘Urabi revolt until finally nationalized by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956. Not only does commercial shipping pass through the Suez Canal, but so too do U.S. warships heading toward the Persian Gulf.

Oil has already spiked on fears that the uprising in Egypt could interrupt shipping in the Suez. Any unrest is always troubling, but if past precedent means anything, then much of the worry is unfounded. Certainly, the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring brought instability to the Sinai. Bedouins upset at the Egyptian central government and extremists upset at the idea of supplying gas to Israel (and Jordan), no matter how much the Egyptian government needs the cash, have bombed the Arab Gas Pipeline a number of times since 2011. But throughout all the chaos, the Egyptian army and police have secured the Suez Canal. No tourist let alone an Egyptian can get close to the canal without getting stopped by the police and questioned. In a country where factories sit idle and the tourist industry has dried up, the Egyptians recognize just how important the hard currency generated by the Suez can be.

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The major U.S. interest and, indeed, the main international interest in Egypt is the fate of the Suez Canal—built by the French and completed in 1869, and then overseen by the British in the wake of the 1879-1882 ‘Urabi revolt until finally nationalized by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956. Not only does commercial shipping pass through the Suez Canal, but so too do U.S. warships heading toward the Persian Gulf.

Oil has already spiked on fears that the uprising in Egypt could interrupt shipping in the Suez. Any unrest is always troubling, but if past precedent means anything, then much of the worry is unfounded. Certainly, the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring brought instability to the Sinai. Bedouins upset at the Egyptian central government and extremists upset at the idea of supplying gas to Israel (and Jordan), no matter how much the Egyptian government needs the cash, have bombed the Arab Gas Pipeline a number of times since 2011. But throughout all the chaos, the Egyptian army and police have secured the Suez Canal. No tourist let alone an Egyptian can get close to the canal without getting stopped by the police and questioned. In a country where factories sit idle and the tourist industry has dried up, the Egyptians recognize just how important the hard currency generated by the Suez can be.

When ships pass through the canal—from small craft up to U.S. aircraft carriers—they take onto their bridge Egyptian pilots to navigate through the passage. No one in their right mind would call the Egyptian pilots professional in demeanor: They smoke, personify ornery, and solicit bribes of cigarettes, baseball caps, and other goods. But they did that before the Arab Spring and did not change their behavior under the Muslim Brotherhood regime. The future is uncertain. Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl is right to sound the warning about how none of the instances in which mobs have cheered coups have actually resulted in liberal democracy. While governance in Egypt is uncertain for now, at least, worst-case fears regarding security in the Suez Canal appear unfounded.

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