Commentary Magazine


Topic: Egypt’s government

Is Egypt the New Algeria?

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

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Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament elected just six months ago turns Egypt’s already rough-and-tumble political situation on its head. While all eyes have been on the presidential elections later this week, the parliament was in many ways more important: Charged with writing the new constitution, the parliament was about 80 percent Islamist. As the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi an-Nour Party were forced by their new positions to dispense with the opportunistic populism of opposition and get down to the hard business of governance, they found their support waning; the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate was unable to pass the 30 percent threshold in the first round of presidential elections.

It is this wakeup call upon which the Egyptian military hopes to capitalize. They believe that if they can have a “do-over” they can reverse the populist wave which the Islamists rode during their first electoral test and prevent a situation in which the Islamists, whose popularity has been on the same trajectory as Facebook stock, were able to lock in influence no longer matched by popular support.

Still, the Egyptian military is playing a very dangerous game. It has shown few new ideas during the campaign. Egyptians will not allow their mantra of restoring law-and-order replace genuine desire for reform. Indeed, Egyptians are right to be cynical about their military. While Americans celebrate generals for wartime success, Egyptians have never won a war, unless one counts their intervention in the Yemeni civil war, where Egypt’s greatest legacy now is the spread of giardia from Egyptian soldiers relieving themselves in wells nearly a half century ago. Rather, most Egyptians know their generals as businessmen. It is simply the Egyptian military elites’ desire to preserve the status quo and their bank accounts which guide their positions.

The danger, however, is popular outrage. Islamist clerics have already made clear they would take to the streets to fight any election which did not go their way. It has been more than two decades since the Algerian government, stunned by an Islamist victory in their 1991 elections and the victors’ promise to revise the constitution, decided to cancel the elections, unleashing a brutal civil war that killed perhaps 200,000. The major reason why Algerians did not get caught up in the Arab Spring protests was that the scars of violence during the 1990s remain too fresh. That an Arab socialist rather than an Islamist regime now holds sway may convince the Egyptian military that the risks and costs were worth it.

In Algeria, however, the population is largely spread along its 600-mile coastline. In Egypt, most of the 80 million are crammed into the narrow Nile River Valley. Egypt’s court and its generals are taking a large risk, indeed. If history repeats, the cost could be much higher.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

AP reports: “Egypt’s government on Tuesday extended the country’s controversial emergency law for another two years, saying it would limit its use, a promise dismissed by human rights activists who warned the law would continue to be used to suppress dissent.” Will Obama be “deeply concerned” or zoom all the way to “profoundly troubled”?

Alan Dershowitz on Richard Goldstone’s “I was just following the law” defense of his record as a “hanging” apartheid judge: “It is interesting that Goldstone made a similar argument to friends as to why he accepted the chairmanship of the investigative commission offered to him by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He acknowledged that the Council was biased against Israel. Indeed, it treats Israel much the way Apartheid courts used to treat Black Africans: Just as there was special justice (really injustice) for blacks, so too there is special justice (really injustice) for Israel. Goldstone claims he took the job ‘to help Israel,’ just as he took his previous job to help blacks. In both cases he cynically hurt those he said he wanted to help while helping only himself. In both cases he was selected to legitimate bigotry. In both cases, better people than him refused to lend their credibility to an illegitimate enterprise. But Goldstone accepted, because it was good for his career.” Read the whole thing.

Dan Gerstein on the Kagan sales pitch: “This week, with their over-hyped and off-key ‘real world’ sales pitch for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the president’s team is doing a bang-up job of outing their blinds spots themselves. In doing so, they are providing a big open window into why Obama continues to struggle in connecting with working-class voters.”

Megan McArdle on Kagan’s “pitch-perfect blandness”: “What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.”

Steve Kornacki asks, “Should Specter have run as an independent?” He still can!

Charles Krauthammer on Specter’s dilemma having voted against Kagan for solicitor general: “You almost feel sorry for Arlen Specter. I mean: Almost. This is a guy of so many twists and turns and retreats and swerves and reverses. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel where he speaks of his protagonist who says: ‘I prefer to tell the truth. It’s easier to memorize.’ Specter‘s got a lot of memorizing to do.”

Oops: “Congressional budget referees say President Barack Obama’s new health care law could potentially add another $115 billion over 10 years to government health care spending. If Congress approves all the additional spending, that would push the 10-year cost of the overhaul above $1 trillion — an unofficial limit the Obama administration set early on. The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the added spending includes $10 billion to $20 billion in administrative costs to federal agencies carrying out the law, as well as $34 billion for community health centers and $39 billion for American Indian health care.”

But most voters have already figured that out: “The number of U.S. voters who expect the recently passed health care bill to increase the federal deficit is at its highest level yet, and most voters continue to favor its repeal. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 63% now believe the health care reform legislation signed into law is likely to increase the federal deficit. That’s up four points from last week.”

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