Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 14, 2013

Why Does the Muslim Brotherhood Attack Churches?

The world is focusing much of its sympathy today on the members of the Muslim Brotherhood that were gunned down in the streets of Cairo by armed police and soldiers seeking to end the Islamist attempt to put Mohamed Morsi back into power. The violence is regrettable and the casualties are widely interpreted as evidence of the brutality of the military regime that toppled Morsi and his Brotherhood regime last month. But the notion that the Brotherhood is the innocent victim of a nasty junta seeking to bring back Mubarak-era authoritarianism is only half right. Though the military government is an unsavory partner for the United States, no one should be under any illusions about the Brotherhood or why the majority of Egyptians (who went to the streets in their millions to support a coup) probably approve of the military’s actions.

Proof of the true nature of the Brotherhood was available for those who read accounts in the last weeks of life at their Cairo encampments that were policed by Islamist thugs with clubs and other weapons. Brotherhood gunmen fought the police in pitched battles. Non-violent civil disobedience isn’t in the Brotherhood playbook. Even more damning was the Brotherhood response elsewhere in Egypt. As the International Business Times reports:

Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have attacked churches in Dilga, Menya and Sohag after government security forces backed by armored cars and bulldozers stormed protest camps outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

The Churches of Abraham and the Virgin Mary in Menya were burning after Morsi supporters set fire to the outside of the building exteriors and smashed through doors. … Muslim Brotherhood members also threw firebombs at Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city with a large community of Coptic Christians who represents up to 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people, causing it to burn down, the official MENA news agency said. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the Bon Pasteur Catholic Church and Monastery in Suez, setting it ablaze and breaking windows.

Why is the Brotherhood attacking churches as part of its argument with the military government?

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The world is focusing much of its sympathy today on the members of the Muslim Brotherhood that were gunned down in the streets of Cairo by armed police and soldiers seeking to end the Islamist attempt to put Mohamed Morsi back into power. The violence is regrettable and the casualties are widely interpreted as evidence of the brutality of the military regime that toppled Morsi and his Brotherhood regime last month. But the notion that the Brotherhood is the innocent victim of a nasty junta seeking to bring back Mubarak-era authoritarianism is only half right. Though the military government is an unsavory partner for the United States, no one should be under any illusions about the Brotherhood or why the majority of Egyptians (who went to the streets in their millions to support a coup) probably approve of the military’s actions.

Proof of the true nature of the Brotherhood was available for those who read accounts in the last weeks of life at their Cairo encampments that were policed by Islamist thugs with clubs and other weapons. Brotherhood gunmen fought the police in pitched battles. Non-violent civil disobedience isn’t in the Brotherhood playbook. Even more damning was the Brotherhood response elsewhere in Egypt. As the International Business Times reports:

Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have attacked churches in Dilga, Menya and Sohag after government security forces backed by armored cars and bulldozers stormed protest camps outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

The Churches of Abraham and the Virgin Mary in Menya were burning after Morsi supporters set fire to the outside of the building exteriors and smashed through doors. … Muslim Brotherhood members also threw firebombs at Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city with a large community of Coptic Christians who represents up to 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people, causing it to burn down, the official MENA news agency said. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the Bon Pasteur Catholic Church and Monastery in Suez, setting it ablaze and breaking windows.

Why is the Brotherhood attacking churches as part of its argument with the military government?

The first reason is because the Christian minority, unlike the military, is vulnerable. Throughout the long year when Egypt suffered under Morsi’s Islamist rule, Christians and their churches were increasingly subject to attacks as the Muslim movement sought to make the position of the religious minority untenable. As the Brotherhood seeks to demonstrate that it is still a viable force in the country’s streets even after its Cairo strongholds are uprooted, expect more attacks on Christians to remind Egyptians that the Islamists are still a force to be reckoned with.

Second, the attacks on churches are not just a regrettable sideshow in what may be soon seen as a civil war as the Islamists seek to regain power after losing in the wake of the massive street protests that encouraged the army to launch the coup that ended Morsi’s rule. Rather, such attacks are an inextricable part of their worldview as they seek to transform Egypt in their own Islamist image. In the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, there is no room for Christians or even secular Muslims. That is why so many in Egypt applauded the coup as perhaps the last chance to save the country from permanent Islamist rule.

The church attacks should remind the West that the stakes in the conflict in Egypt are high. If the U.S. seeks to cripple the military, they won’t be helping the cause of democracy. The Brotherhood may have used a seemingly democratic process to take power in 2012, but they would never have peacefully relinquished it or allowed their opponents to stop them from imposing their will on every aspect of Egyptian society. As difficult as it may be for some high-minded Americans to understand, in this case it is the military and not the protesters in Cairo who are seeking to stop tyranny. Though the military is an unattractive ally, anyone seeking to cut off vital U.S. aid to Egypt should remember that the only alternative to it is the party that is currently burning churches.

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Same Old Clintons Back at Work

The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

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The process of preparing Hillary Clinton’s likely 2016 presidential candidacy is bringing some new scrutiny to an institution that has largely flown below the radar of the mainstream press in the last decade: the Clinton Foundation. Though it has garnered a lot of good publicity and huge corporate donations due to the visibility of the former president at its head, little is generally known about the philanthropy that has given a useful platform to Bill Clinton and his family since he exited the White House in January 2001. The governance of the foundation as well as questions about its practices and its incestuous ties with various corporations can’t be ignored any longer since Hillary Clinton is set to use it as a convenient landing spot while she prepares to run for president. It is in that context that a lengthy front-page feature in the New York Times today on the foundation should be read. While the article raises far more questions than it answers, it should remind Americans that the once and possibly future first couple of the land are the same characters that presided over a corrupt Little Rock governor’s mansion and a White House where ethical considerations were checked at the door.

The causes—health, AIDS, obesity and poverty—that the Foundation has funded are unexceptionable. But the team of old Clinton loyalists and faithful family retainers that has operated the global initiative has played fast and loose with its finances and management. More to the point, it’s hard to see where the foundation ends and the influence peddling begins. The story of its operations is also rife with conflicts of interest that have a familiar ring from those who remember the Clinton White House’s shameless fundraising record that had such trouble staying on the right side of the law. A major housecleaning now going on in order to try to sanitize the foundation for Hillary’s arrival and its renaming to include the former first lady and first daughter makes it clear that the foundation is going to have to be on its best behavior lest its hijinks sabotage their political ambitions.

Calling it the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation gives the operation a homier feel that suits both its philanthropic image as well as their desire to associate the likely 2016 presidential candidate and the family’s crown princess, who has political hopes of her own, with its good works. But suspicions about the way the foundation mixes charity with old-fashioned influence peddling won’t go away when Hillary and her staff (including their unofficial “adopted daughter” Huma Abedin) move into the operation’s New York headquarters.

The problem is not just that, as the Times details, Clintonistas like Ira Magaziner and Doug Band run a philanthropic endeavor with the kind of predilection for red ink that would do the federal government proud. It’s that the line between the good works and lucrative private capital ventures headed by many of the same people has been so blurred as to be largely indistinct. Teneo, a consulting and banking firm founded by Band (described by the Times as the president’s “surrogate son”) is also mixed up in the foundation’s business and largely profits from Clinton’s donors.

That may be par for the course in the world of high finance and do-gooding that the Clintons move in these days. But while it may have been considered a non-issue while the Foundation gave Bill something to do in his post-presidency, it will be a bigger deal as his wife uses it as a platform for her candidacy before she formally declares sometime in the next two years. That makes it imperative that the foundation not be a liability but also raises concerns about its use as political platform with tax-exempt status.

The foundation has been the perfect vehicle for the Clinton family as they cleaned up the former president’s image and kept their ties to former political donors and big business partners for future use. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion after reading about it in depth that it is just as much the function of the Clintons’ absent moral compass as their past political operations often were. As with the Clinton presidency, we are expected to let their stated good intentions wash away any doubts about their behavior or inattention to ethics. Let’s hope the press as well as responsible legal authorities keep a sharp eye on the foundation rather than let it play the same game as Hillary transitions to the next stage in her long slog to the top of the political heap.

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The Dinkins Democrats

The competition for the Democratic nomination in New York’s mayoral race bears a surprising resemblance to the Republican presidential contest in 2012. There is the experienced but uninspiring frontrunner struggling to establish their ideological bona fides. There is the geographically underserved but critical base of voters putting up candidates who quickly falter. There is the somewhat lackluster group of candidates, with more high-profile personalities being implored to join the race to no avail.

And now there is the anybody-but-the-frontrunner theme that results in transitory poll boosts for underestimated candidates. After disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner jumped into the race, he quickly eliminated most of Christine Quinn’s putative lead in the polls, even becoming the technical “frontrunner” himself on occasion. But it turned out his sordid personal history wasn’t exactly history, and he has since faded in the polls. This has always helped not just Quinn but also Bill Thompson, since the race may very well go to a run-off where Thompson, a former comptroller and recent mayoral candidate, has a distinct advantage.

The polls showed Thompson winning in a run-off even with Weiner in the race. But Weiner’s drop in the polls has created room for another candidate bubble, and Quinnipiac says the new leader is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio:

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The competition for the Democratic nomination in New York’s mayoral race bears a surprising resemblance to the Republican presidential contest in 2012. There is the experienced but uninspiring frontrunner struggling to establish their ideological bona fides. There is the geographically underserved but critical base of voters putting up candidates who quickly falter. There is the somewhat lackluster group of candidates, with more high-profile personalities being implored to join the race to no avail.

And now there is the anybody-but-the-frontrunner theme that results in transitory poll boosts for underestimated candidates. After disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner jumped into the race, he quickly eliminated most of Christine Quinn’s putative lead in the polls, even becoming the technical “frontrunner” himself on occasion. But it turned out his sordid personal history wasn’t exactly history, and he has since faded in the polls. This has always helped not just Quinn but also Bill Thompson, since the race may very well go to a run-off where Thompson, a former comptroller and recent mayoral candidate, has a distinct advantage.

The polls showed Thompson winning in a run-off even with Weiner in the race. But Weiner’s drop in the polls has created room for another candidate bubble, and Quinnipiac says the new leader is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio:

With strong support from white Democratic likely primary voters and voters critical of the so-called stop-and-frisk police tactic, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio leads the Democratic race for New York City mayor with 30 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

With four weeks to go, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has 24 percent, with 22 percent for former Comptroller William Thompson, 10 percent for former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, 6 percent for Comptroller John Liu, 1 percent for former Council member Sal Albanese and 7 percent undecided, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

The mayoral race is devoid of candidates with high name recognition (except of course for Weiner, whose high name ID isn’t doing him any favors), so the fluctuating polls may be registering the voting public’s discovery and consideration, rather than approval, of the individual candidates. Additionally, though de Blasio will be understandably cheered to see his name in lights, the votes could not have come from a worse place, strategically, for him.

The poll essentially reapportioned Weiner’s support after he reminded voters why he is not currently serving in elected office. That reapportionment happened just as de Blasio was introducing himself to the voters. But if Weiner is truly washing out of contention, de Blasio’s first-place ranking may be just as temporary as the leads of those he displaced. That’s because of the reason for his sudden support as speculated by Quinnipiac:

Stop-and-frisk is excessive and harasses innocent people, 60 percent of likely Democratic primary voters say, while 31 percent say it is an acceptable way to make the city safer. Among those critical of stop-and-frisk, 34 percent back de Blasio, with 24 percent for Thompson and 22 percent for Quinn.

Democratic likely voters support 66 – 25 percent the creation of an inspector general to independently monitor the New York Police Department.

De Blasio does best among those who want to get rid of the police tactic that has been so effective against crime. Most Democratic candidates have shifted to the left on this issue, but Weiner has not shifted as far. That has thus far anchored the rest of the Democratic candidates in place, since they would have to try to compete for pro-NYPD votes in the primary. If Weiner is not going to be competitive, and Democratic opinion is moving away from support for the police, there is nothing to stop Quinn or Thompson from moving further to their left if that’s what it takes to outflank de Blasio. If de Blasio loses this issue, he probably loses his lead.

The real lesson, then, of the Democratic primary contest is that no one is running as the responsible, law and order candidate. De Blasio’s lead is tenuous because there is nothing substantive to differentiate him from the others, and both Thompson and Quinn have either reliable voting bases or more money than de Blasio. There is an opening for a Democratic candidate to run as somewhat tough on crime, but none of the candidates has any desire to do so.

That means there’s an opening for such a candidate on the GOP side, and both Joseph Lhota and John Catsimatidis will try to run as the “Giuliani” candidate with warnings about the Democrats taking the city back to its Dinkins-era dystopia. But neither Lhota nor Catsimatidis has Giuliani’s credibility on crime issues. And it’s important to remember that Giuliani lost to Dinkins his first time running, and only (narrowly) defeated Dinkins after what was a truly disastrous, riot-plagued term in office.

The Dinkins era was twenty years ago. It’s a blessing that New Yorkers could forget what it was like. It is alarming that a new crop of Democrats threatens to remind them.

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Stopping Voter ID Is Not Civil Rights

The upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is a fortuitous coincidence for groups determined to stop Voter ID laws such as the one just signed into law in North Carolina. To listen to Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, the memory of that seminal moment in history when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Americans to judge each other by “the content of their character” rather than by the “color of their skin” is an opportunity to relive the civil-rights struggle in which voter integrity laws will stand in for Jim Crow and segregation. But like the fake outrage expressed by Democrats and liberals over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Voting Rights Act while mandating that the Justice Department acknowledge that it is 2013 rather than 1965, Americans should not be fooled by this scam.

The North Carolina legislation goes further than other voter ID laws in that it rolls back both efforts to make it easier to vote early as well as early registration for those under 18. But whatever one may think of those measures, the idea that any of this has anything to do with racial discrimination or efforts to re-impose the racism that once characterized America’s political system is absurd. No one is attempting to repeal the right to vote or to restrict the franchise. Those who are making this argument in an era when African Americans are voting in numbers similar to those of whites and when we have just reelected the first African American president of the United States are making a mockery of the legacy of the civil-rights struggle.

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The upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is a fortuitous coincidence for groups determined to stop Voter ID laws such as the one just signed into law in North Carolina. To listen to Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, the memory of that seminal moment in history when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Americans to judge each other by “the content of their character” rather than by the “color of their skin” is an opportunity to relive the civil-rights struggle in which voter integrity laws will stand in for Jim Crow and segregation. But like the fake outrage expressed by Democrats and liberals over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Voting Rights Act while mandating that the Justice Department acknowledge that it is 2013 rather than 1965, Americans should not be fooled by this scam.

The North Carolina legislation goes further than other voter ID laws in that it rolls back both efforts to make it easier to vote early as well as early registration for those under 18. But whatever one may think of those measures, the idea that any of this has anything to do with racial discrimination or efforts to re-impose the racism that once characterized America’s political system is absurd. No one is attempting to repeal the right to vote or to restrict the franchise. Those who are making this argument in an era when African Americans are voting in numbers similar to those of whites and when we have just reelected the first African American president of the United States are making a mockery of the legacy of the civil-rights struggle.

The gap between the purple rhetoric of opponents of voter ID laws and reality remains great. It should be remembered that the overwhelming majority of Americans, including African Americans, support commonsense laws that require citizens to identify themselves when voting with a picture ID just as they must when they travel by air or train, conduct even the most minor bank transaction, or buy alcohol or even cold medicine. They also know that the claims that there is no such as thing as voter fraud in the United States require us to forget everything we know about American political history and human nature.

But somehow all that is forgotten when Democrats and their racial huckster allies begin sounding off about voter ID laws. While claiming that they are defending the right to vote, what they are really doing is trying to create a false issue with which they can attempt to claim that nothing has changed since 1963.

The point of the recent Supreme Court decision is that the pre-clearance feature of the Civil Rights Act which requires states and localities that were guilty of discrimination in 1965 to be under federal supervision as far as voting laws was rooted in a past that had nothing to do with current conditions. In doing so, it did not take back the right to vote but merely said the Department of Justice must prove that discrimination exists before intervening. But there is a clear distinction between alleging discrimination and actually enforcing laws that prevent blacks or any other group from voting. Blacks are no less capable of obtaining a photo ID—which can be gotten from the state free of charge—than any other group.

To minimize the enormous and positive changes that have occurred since 1963 is to diminish the evil that Jim Crow represented. The racism that the March on Washington helped to reverse was not a metaphor or false argument. Nor was that protest merely a political tactic aimed at inflaming part of the electorate as the current furor over voter ID has been. Any comparison of Jim Crow to voter ID undermines the hard-fought progress that this country has made.

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Don’t Back the Wrong Side in Egypt

The resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president of Egypt’s interim government and the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the violence in the streets of Cairo today will, no doubt, add to the pressure on President Obama to cut off aid to the Egyptian military. With hundreds dead and the pretense that the post-coup regime is anything but a rerun of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship debunked, the impulse in Washington will be to express outrage and to say or do something to disassociate the United States from what has happened. After Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham went to Cairo last week and asked the military to avoid a conflict and to negotiate some sort of agreement that would bring the ousted Muslim Brotherhood back into the government, the decision of General al-Sisi to ignore their advice and unleash his troops will be regarded as reason enough to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt.

That is, to some extent, understandable. But it would be a terrible mistake for the administration to do anything that would worsen the burgeoning conflict in Egypt. The coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi as well as the police action in Cairo contradicts American principles as well as specific warnings issued by Washington. But it needs to be reiterated that democracy is not one of the choices available in Egypt. An Obama condemnation of the Egyptian military might make some Americans feel good. But far better would be a presidential acknowledgment that the Arab Spring is over and that the priority is not the resurrection of a fake democracy there but to prevent Islamists from ever getting another chance of imposing their extreme ideology on Egypt or the entire region.

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The resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president of Egypt’s interim government and the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the violence in the streets of Cairo today will, no doubt, add to the pressure on President Obama to cut off aid to the Egyptian military. With hundreds dead and the pretense that the post-coup regime is anything but a rerun of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship debunked, the impulse in Washington will be to express outrage and to say or do something to disassociate the United States from what has happened. After Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham went to Cairo last week and asked the military to avoid a conflict and to negotiate some sort of agreement that would bring the ousted Muslim Brotherhood back into the government, the decision of General al-Sisi to ignore their advice and unleash his troops will be regarded as reason enough to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt.

That is, to some extent, understandable. But it would be a terrible mistake for the administration to do anything that would worsen the burgeoning conflict in Egypt. The coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi as well as the police action in Cairo contradicts American principles as well as specific warnings issued by Washington. But it needs to be reiterated that democracy is not one of the choices available in Egypt. An Obama condemnation of the Egyptian military might make some Americans feel good. But far better would be a presidential acknowledgment that the Arab Spring is over and that the priority is not the resurrection of a fake democracy there but to prevent Islamists from ever getting another chance of imposing their extreme ideology on Egypt or the entire region.

As disturbing as the video coming out of Cairo today may be, it should be remembered that the victims of the military crackdown are not the peaceful democratic protesters that they are sometimes depicted as being. The Brotherhood is a totalitarian Islamist movement that would never have peacefully relinquished power if it had not been overthrown by the military. Though it embraced democracy as a tactic to attain power, it did not and does not believe in it. Its protest sites in Cairo were armed camps, befitting an organization that was always more of an Islamist militia than a political party.

That means that the calls issued by Americans for a peaceful resolution to the standoff were largely meaningless. Nothing short of a full-fledged military operation would have ever persuaded the Brotherhood to go home. Brutal though the attack on these encampments was, the notion that it could have been accomplished by more pacific methods is probably absurd.

The United States should always advocate for democracy and respect for human rights. But it needs to be understood that releasing Morsi or bringing the Brotherhood into a new government would not have advanced those goals. Egypt’s current leaders understand something that President Obama and his foreign policy advisors never have: the struggle in Egypt has always been a zero-sum game in which the choices are reduced to the military or the Brotherhood.

Now is the time for Washington to stay the course and to refuse to give in to the impulse to cut off Egypt. After more than a year of embracing the Brotherhood government of Morsi, it has been hard for Obama to realize that he made a mistake. But if he seeks to punish the Egyptian military for doing exactly what the majority of the Egyptian people want them to do, he will be compounding that error. 

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Egypt’s Return to Military Rule

Governments, understandably, have a history of not tolerating large sit-ins occupying a substantial area in the middle of their capital. But attempts to end such sit-ins have a way of turning out badly. It was not just the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing in 1989 that ended in a bloodbath. On a lesser level there was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s heavy-handed dispersal of the Bonus Army, made up of World War I veterans, in Washington in 1932, which forever sullied his image.

Now comes the Egyptian army’s dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo, an attack which has left at least 95 dead (a toll that is certain to grow) and led Mohamed ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s vice presidents, to resign in protest. ElBaradei’s departure from the government, to which he was providing a fig leaf of civil legitimacy, may prove especially significant because it is making the regime in Cairo look increasingly not like a transitional military regime but a permanent military regime.

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Governments, understandably, have a history of not tolerating large sit-ins occupying a substantial area in the middle of their capital. But attempts to end such sit-ins have a way of turning out badly. It was not just the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing in 1989 that ended in a bloodbath. On a lesser level there was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s heavy-handed dispersal of the Bonus Army, made up of World War I veterans, in Washington in 1932, which forever sullied his image.

Now comes the Egyptian army’s dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo, an attack which has left at least 95 dead (a toll that is certain to grow) and led Mohamed ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s vice presidents, to resign in protest. ElBaradei’s departure from the government, to which he was providing a fig leaf of civil legitimacy, may prove especially significant because it is making the regime in Cairo look increasingly not like a transitional military regime but a permanent military regime.

This impression is heightened by the fact that 19 out of 25 of the provincial governors just named to office yesterday are generals. Moreover, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who led the military coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi (now being held at a secret site and likely to be tried on treason charges), has not ruled out running for president himself.

It is looking increasingly as if very little has changed since Hosni Mubarak was toppled–except the name of the general in charge. Egypt appears to be returning to military rule, in ways both good (increased cooperation with Israel in rooting out security threats) and bad (increased repression and the heightened risk of a civil war). If this is the way Egypt’s military goes about restoring “democracy,” I would hate to see how it imposes dictatorship.

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The Tea Party and Town Halls

Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

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Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

Though Occupy could support many sympathetic candidates in Democratic primaries, some pundits haven’t pushed the idea because they worry about a tea party effect on the left, with liberal Democrats losing to Republicans in the general election. Yet other than a third-party bid, with its potential for another Nader debacle, this may be the only way to command Washington’s attention.

There were always concerns within Occupy of being co-opted by the national Democratic Party, or of being suppressed by it in elections. Those same concerns were present for the Tea Party–some Tea Party candidates lost otherwise-winnable seats, others rocketed to conservative stardom after dispatching “establishment” candidates in primary contests and winning Senate and House seats.

But what Harkinson seemed to understand was that grassroots political movements don’t hang around and tread water; they sink or swim. The Tea Party and Occupy would not be permanent fixtures on the American political landscape if they never evolved beyond protest crowds. Occupy may not have wanted to “go legitimate,” so to speak (though they might say “go corporate”), but the only other option was to fade. And fade they did. Meanwhile, the Tea Party went to Washington.

Neither movement has nearly the grassroots excitement or momentum it once had, but for very different reasons. Occupy never evolved into anything concrete. The Tea Party became a major force in American politics. So when the Times reports on the relative lack of bustling town halls, the fact that Tea Partiers are no longer only on the outside of Congress looking in, and thus in need of ways to get Congress’s attention, has much to do with it.

There are other reasons as well. Conservative activists wondering where their representatives are have a point when they say some elected Republicans don’t want to face the crowds. It is a testament to the Tea Party’s effectiveness and the grassroots influence within the party that some Republicans fear any confrontation with energized and organized factions no longer consigned to the sidelines. It is also the case that on some key issues, the conservative base has already won the battle over public opinion. They and their representatives are generally on the same side when it comes to ObamaCare, which was the subject of many a town hall in the lead-up to its enactment. It’s true that there is an intramural disagreement over shutting down the government without an agreement to defund ObamaCare, but that is not the same as debating the passage of the bill itself.

The other major issue subject to town halls in recent years has been immigration. The Times story makes note of this, but with one understated twist:

Immigration groups, like Alliance for Citizenship, which supports a plan like the Senate’s that would grant citizenship to the 11 million people here illegally, are almost exclusively targeting House Republicans, who now hold the key to passing any immigration overhaul legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate has already approved one. One of the alliance’s targets this month has been Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has not announced any town halls but did participate in them in 2009.

Those pining for town halls on immigration are pro-immigration interest groups. They want to pressure Republicans to adopt, not oppose, immigration reform with a path to citizenship. It is only natural that the groups in support of legislation will usually be less impressive or vocal than those against. And in this instance, that’s better for Republicans than when it was the other way around in 2006.

Leading up to that year’s midterm elections Republicans held anti-immigration meetings, and the results–a dramatic drop in the GOP share of the Hispanic vote–may be nudging Republicans away from holding public meetings on immigration at all if they can help it. They could very well be reticent to open the floodgates by calling any town hall to discuss immigration, especially in deep-red districts.

Whether voters support or oppose a specific piece of immigration legislation, surely many of them understand how off-putting anti-immigration rallies can be. It’s one thing to angrily protest a bill like ObamaCare or tax cuts; but to fulminate in large public gatherings denouncing immigrants is much more personally offensive to those on the receiving end because of basic issues of identity. Republicans are wise to avoid such a spectacle. More generally, conservatives should understand that their success is a major factor in the decline of the town halls.

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NSA and Snowden Battle for Legitimacy

Tom Friedman gets at the core of the problem with President Obama’s proposal to appoint a “privacy advocate” to, in effect, argue against federal surveillance requests in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when he writes: “Considering the breadth of reforms that President Obama is now proposing to prevent privacy abuses in intelligence gathering, in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden deserves a chance to make a second impression — that he truly is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.”

It does indeed seem that Obama is granting legitimacy to Snowden by proposing reforms which implicitly concede that the NSA turncoat has a point–that there is something wrong with the surveillance programs currently carried out by the NSA under its existing authorities even though there is no evidence of abuses carried out by the agency. In this way Obama may be undermining the legitimacy of the programs in question instead of buttressing them.

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Tom Friedman gets at the core of the problem with President Obama’s proposal to appoint a “privacy advocate” to, in effect, argue against federal surveillance requests in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when he writes: “Considering the breadth of reforms that President Obama is now proposing to prevent privacy abuses in intelligence gathering, in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden deserves a chance to make a second impression — that he truly is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.”

It does indeed seem that Obama is granting legitimacy to Snowden by proposing reforms which implicitly concede that the NSA turncoat has a point–that there is something wrong with the surveillance programs currently carried out by the NSA under its existing authorities even though there is no evidence of abuses carried out by the agency. In this way Obama may be undermining the legitimacy of the programs in question instead of buttressing them.

On the other hand, one can make the case that Obama is only proposing cosmetic reforms that won’t change the underlying programs while shielding them from growing congressional criticism, which threatens to terminate them altogether.

I am willing to grant Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is trying to achieve the latter, but I fear his proposals for reform, however well-intentioned, will result in the former–the delegitimization of programs that in the past have enjoyed solid bipartisan support and that remain necessary to safeguard us against an al-Qaeda threat that, administration claims to the contrary, is not going away.

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Rubio’s Return Won’t Move the House

Senator Marco Rubio has taken a lot of hits from the right for his decision to support immigration reform. But the torrent of abuse isn’t likely to abate as he seeks to persuade House Republicans to realistically address the problem posed by the presence of 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. As Politico reports, after a few months of taking a lower profile on the issue after the Senate passed the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan compromise, Rubio is back on the offensive arguing that if the House doesn’t act, President Obama will use executive orders to impose his own solution on the problem.

While Obama has given no indication that he will use the same tactic that effectively legalized the so-called DREAM Act kids, it is possible the administration would use the House’s failure to pass any bill to issue new executive orders that would do the same for all illegals. Yet if Rubio thinks this prospect will persuade the anti-immigrant caucus to play ball, he’s the one who’s dreaming. There are powerful arguments to be made in favor of the approach adopted by the Gang of Eight or even one that might separate the border security measures from those that give illegals a path to citizenship that the House might consider. However, there is very little reason to believe House members who seem ready to oppose any solution and are hostile to legal as well as illegal immigrants will be moved by the threat of an Obama executive order. If anything, that prospect may only caused them to dig in even deeper.

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Senator Marco Rubio has taken a lot of hits from the right for his decision to support immigration reform. But the torrent of abuse isn’t likely to abate as he seeks to persuade House Republicans to realistically address the problem posed by the presence of 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. As Politico reports, after a few months of taking a lower profile on the issue after the Senate passed the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan compromise, Rubio is back on the offensive arguing that if the House doesn’t act, President Obama will use executive orders to impose his own solution on the problem.

While Obama has given no indication that he will use the same tactic that effectively legalized the so-called DREAM Act kids, it is possible the administration would use the House’s failure to pass any bill to issue new executive orders that would do the same for all illegals. Yet if Rubio thinks this prospect will persuade the anti-immigrant caucus to play ball, he’s the one who’s dreaming. There are powerful arguments to be made in favor of the approach adopted by the Gang of Eight or even one that might separate the border security measures from those that give illegals a path to citizenship that the House might consider. However, there is very little reason to believe House members who seem ready to oppose any solution and are hostile to legal as well as illegal immigrants will be moved by the threat of an Obama executive order. If anything, that prospect may only caused them to dig in even deeper.

The problem for Rubio and other advocates of reform goes a lot deeper than the skepticism voiced about an omnibus Senate bill that is in some respects a typical example of what happens when congressional compromises are forged. The devil here is not so much in the complicated details as it is in the absolute refusal of a critical mass of the House GOP caucus to pass anything that would deal with the reality of the 11 million illegals already in the country. The prejudice against immigrants that has been exposed by Rep. Steve King’s much publicized rants about drug smugglers has helped fuel a backlash against the Senate bill and Rubio.

Rather than being persuaded that it is obviously in the interest of Republicans to write their own bill rather than have Obama issue an executive fiat, it is likely that conservatives will only use that threat as extra motivation to double down on their opposition. Indeed, by saying that Obama will do it himself if they don’t pass a bill, the Florida senator will likely only increase the opprobrium being rained down on his head from some on the right who claim that he is doing the Democrats’ dirty work.

Rubio deserves great credit for speaking sense to Republicans on an issue that is not only good policy but also good politics. But like most good deeds, this one hasn’t gone unpunished. Rather than understanding that the Senate bill or some House version of it provides the best opportunity to deal with border security—the issue they’ve highlighted for years—most conservatives have stuck to a position that any attempt to provide a path to legalization for illegals is “amnesty” and beyond the pale. Since everyone knows 11 million illegals won’t be deported, they seem to prefer an unacceptable status quo to reform of a system badly in need of it.

Having taken a stand on principle and gone this far on behalf of a good cause, Rubio shouldn’t back down. Whether or not Obama uses his ability to select which laws will be enforced and which will be ignored to alter the landscape on the issue, immigration opponents aren’t likely to be convinced to compromise. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reports today, some moderate Democrats are bolstering the GOP opposition to reform, further lowering the chances of getting a bill passed. That will further encourage anti-immigration Republicans that they have no reason to bend.

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Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Head Fake

You can’t accuse Pakistan’s leaders of not having a sense of humor. It is downright laughable to see the government in Islamabad unveiling a new counter-terrorism strategy, even though, as the Wall Street Journal notes, “There was no indication… that Pakistan would end its sponsorship or tolerance of jihadist groups that are based in Pakistan but focus their attacks on other countries, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was named by the U.S. and India as the perpetrator of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.”

Indeed, Pakistan’s relationship with LeT and its ilk continues to be as close as ever. India has just accused Pakistan of complicity in a cross-border attack in Kashmir that killed five Indian soldiers. In Afghanistan attackers who tried to level the Indian consulate in Jalalabad were undoubtedly linked to Pakistan as well–perhaps to the Haqqani Network, which is one of Islamabad’s most reliable proxies in Afghanistan. The attack failed to achieve its objective but wound up killing nine civilians, mostly children.

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You can’t accuse Pakistan’s leaders of not having a sense of humor. It is downright laughable to see the government in Islamabad unveiling a new counter-terrorism strategy, even though, as the Wall Street Journal notes, “There was no indication… that Pakistan would end its sponsorship or tolerance of jihadist groups that are based in Pakistan but focus their attacks on other countries, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was named by the U.S. and India as the perpetrator of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.”

Indeed, Pakistan’s relationship with LeT and its ilk continues to be as close as ever. India has just accused Pakistan of complicity in a cross-border attack in Kashmir that killed five Indian soldiers. In Afghanistan attackers who tried to level the Indian consulate in Jalalabad were undoubtedly linked to Pakistan as well–perhaps to the Haqqani Network, which is one of Islamabad’s most reliable proxies in Afghanistan. The attack failed to achieve its objective but wound up killing nine civilians, mostly children.

Meanwhile Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the LeT leader who was the reputed mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks and has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, appeared openly in Lahore to lead Eid prayers.

It is not as if the Pakistani security establishment does not know where Saeed is living and working; it simply chooses not to do anything about it. Until the Pakistanis show that they are serious about cracking down on the extremists, any counter-terrorism strategy they announce must be treated as a joke. Except that the joke is on us–the U.S. has provided Pakistan with more than $11 billion in aid since 9/11 and this is what we get in return.

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