50 Tweets from Syria: Triad of Beginnings

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I’ve started a Storify project, of uncertain breadth and intention, to document fifty tweets from among Twitter users in Syria, with a loosely geographically stratified sample based on pre-war population estimates (and at that encompassing only up to 43% of Syria’s population).

The first three days can be found here:

http://storify.com/shefaddin/50-tweets-from-syria-august-28-2013

http://storify.com/shefaddin/50-tweets-from-syria-august-29-2013

http://storify.com/shefaddin/50-tweets-from-syria-august-30-2013

My translations range from appalling to acceptable.  In part I do this pretty late when I’m exhausted.  And in larger part my Arabic isn’t brilliant, nor do I have any specific knowledge of or connection to Syrian Arabic.  So at worst the English aspect will improve over time.

In many cases, however, a full translation is not necessary to gauge sentiment.  This brief post is an examination of some extracted data from the first three days:

Sentiment : August 28, 2013

Aug 28 - SentAnalysis

Sentiment : August 29, 2013

Aug 29 - SentAnalysis

This project is too nascent and uncorrelated to draw sweeping conclusions.  However, as discussion of an American strike got underway, it is possible that social media criticism of Bashar became more muted in favor of, generally, less talk about his merit specifically.  However, positive sentiment may also have risen.

Wordcloud from August 28th (probably slightly off, and excluding the keyword ‘Bashar’ and ‘al-Assad’)

Aug28-NoBashar

Wordclouds from August 29:

Wordcloud excluding ‘Bashar’ and ‘al-Assad’

Aug29-NoBashar

Full chart

Aug29

Wordcloud only excluding keyword ‘Bashar’

Aug29-NoBasharJust

Day 3

Aug 30 - SentAnalysis

This trend may have continued into August 30th, in which negative sentiment fell somewhat and positive sentiment remained constant, whereas neutral sentiment rose slightly.

August 30th Wordclouds:

Full Wordcloud

Aug30

Wordcloud excluding keyword ‘Bashar’

Aug30-NoBasharJust

Wordcloud excluding ‘Bashar’ and ‘al-Assad’

Aug30-NoBashar

It is unclear yet to what extent a stable social media signature for these identities exists.  Thus it is unclear to what extent sentiment is connected with external developments.  However, if there is no escalation over the next day or two, it seems likely that negative sentiment will level off along with positive sentiment, which could decline slightly.  Neutral sentiment is likely to continue to rise slightly before itself leveling off.  Galvanization is likely to occur with further action on either side.

3daychange

However, it is not clear to what degree these users are representative of Syrian society more broadly.  I attempted to capture as random a sample as possible, but these are still internet users – all tweeting in Arabic.  It cannot yet reach most of the rural population, presumably; and representativeness is also dependent on infrastructure conditions, just as content may be dependent on political control.

I was personally surprised by the degree of free, open, and unabashed criticism of President al-Assad.

What I will say is that governmental announcements of serious considerations of a military strike against Syria, in particular actions by the American Presidency, have had a dual-pronged effect in social media terms.  On the one hand, there is some evidence that the threat of an attack has produced defections, although of unclear significance and among rank-and-file soldiers.  On the other hand, it may be muting criticism of President al-Assad in favor of the broader anti-neocolonial or anti-interventionist discourse.

I suspect the Administration is aware of this and has taken note, alongside the intelligence community.  It would make any significant ground action more difficult, although none is being considered.  However, it is also certain that any strike will affect the balance of power, although this may suggest that it could actually strengthen Assad’s position, rather than give an inherent boon to rebels as they exploit the situation – as some have suggested.

 

Update: Sept 1:

Sentiment

The Triumph of Elitist Illiteracy over Egyptian Sarcasm: Egypt’s War on Terror

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Over the last few weeks, discourse in Egypt has changed from one of anti-authoritarianism to one of antiterrorism.  Whereas the previous administration was accused of a tendency toward developing autocracy, its ‘remnants’ are now accused of being outright terrorists.  An analyst, on twitter, asked a former Shafiq spokesman when he had come to this conclusion.  The latter had no real answer, citing himself saying they were bad in 2011.  The former pushed, explaining that obviously to move from believing the Muslim Brotherhood was ‘bad’ to that they were ‘terrorists,’ would obviously require decisive evidence.  The responses from most like-minded people have been equally absent.

My previous long, rambling piece originated in an even longer, more rambling piece.  The impetus was my realization, today, that Adly Mansour is both head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and President of the Republic.  The claims of autocracy, which were largely touted by political elites, came from two primary sources.  The first was President Morsi’s constitutional declaration, suspending the SCC ability to review Presidential decisions until a new constitution passed, authorized retrials of former regime members  allegedly involved in killings, and expanded Presidential powers.  The second was the apparent solidification of appointments around Brotherhood members.

Meet the New Boss…

From a factual standpoint, both things have a valid basis in reality.  The Constitutional Declaration was issued, in November 2012.  But was it a drive to autocracy?  I’m pretty sure that the US Supreme Court has rarely ruled against an acting executive.  I pointed out to my dad that I felt that President Obama deserved some degree of blame for being ineffective; and that Lyndon Johnson (domestically) deserved praise for his ability to push legislation through – like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.  He pointed out that the Democrats controlled Congress.  That’s sort of the rub – on the one hand, cooperative legislatures and executives tend to be more effective at implementing agendas; on the other hand the power of the latter tends to be less checked.

No doubt, this along with the appointment of loyalists scared those who’d defected from their ideologies to support Morsi in the second round of elections.  They clearly believed that political reality, setting in, would cause him to appoint a broader coalition.  Conversely, there was a lot of distrust at working with the Brotherhood from the get-go.  On the one hand, there was an early mandate for strong Presidential action toward reform.  On the other hand, many became nervous when reform entailed actually changing things.

It highlights how much of a perceptual matter history in the making is.  The problem is pure liberals are in the extreme minority, and all truly differentiable currents are arguably pluralities at best.  The return of ‘tacit-Liberal’ Nationalists to their support for the military has seriously damaged the credibility of a specifically Liberal movement, possibly irreparably.  The New York Times recently pointed out the legacy of military involvement in Pan-Arabism as one possible reason some Liberal-Nationalists have embraced the military.

Nevertheless, the other real problem is that we (those on the ground) who gave in to early optimism largely saw the progression as clear – it was a fight between a broad reformist coalition and the old regime.  Whatever the transient interests of each group, the clarity was undeniable.  As a result, everyone lost perhaps the first real opportunity in Egypt’s history to spread support for a broad-based democratic coalition supporting reform.  Because it was assumed to exist, it died before it was ever birthed.

That clarity was really a farce.  With Mubarak gone, there was no longer a unifying central symbol to oppose.  While the FJP and Morsi were the legitimately elected majority party and head of state with a mandate to serve out their time, their victory was essentially indicative of the first breach of trust of that clarity.  Revolutionaries assumed they would sweep everything, in part perhaps because most Revolutionaries are themselves members of various class, political, and ideological elites.  But there was probably some degree of entitlement – they had started the Revolution.  One could see it a bit in ElBaradei, who before Mubarak’s ouster offered to lead an interim government.

I understand the admirable nature of his call, and at the time was arguing with my friends about the need for a shadow government coalition in Tahrir Square.  But it was also presumptuous to assume that he would enter and totally supplant previous networks of opposition.  Likewise, the entitlement felt by Revolutionaries, with which I sympathize, does not entitle them – nor should anything entitle anyone – to circumnavigate the inherent reality of full enfranchisement for all citizens in a liberal democratic system.  Someone told me of the former regime in Tahrir, on February 4, 2011, that “the real shame is we’ll have to share our freedom with them.”  I wonder if he still feels that way.

Underlying the drive to actual power was a drive to actual principle.  In that respect, nobody who’s so far ruled since the Revolution has been successful in keeping to the broadest principles of Bread, Freedom and Social Justice.  What has happened is, essentially, a realignment of those Liberals who supported Morsi in the second round of Presidential Elections – at the time, essentially ideological defectors.  The coup saw a decisive realignment of some or most of them with Nationalist camps against the Islamists.  However, my own calculations (probably not worth seeing: http://inimsharra.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/egypt-should-not-backslide-from-democracy/) suggest this would comprise just under 3,000,000 voters.  Along with them, the coup would not have succeeded without the approval of key Salafi organizations.  Some have since backtracked.

Taking a Page from the Post-Cold War

The real problem, which my ranting previous post was exploring, is that the anti-Morsi movement had no constructive platform.  This is, essentially, a sad recognition I originally had during the Revolution and consistently thereafter.  I joked about it first under Mubarak, then under SCAF, and finally under Morsi.  Basically, with Mubarak gone, Egyptians were just as likely to agree on anything as they were before Ben Ali’s ouster.  Likewise, the putchists, possibly outside the military, had no real idea of where they wanted to take the government other than ‘elsewhere.’  Worse, the broadly-sought mechanism for such ambiguous, poorly thought out change was the military.

The military, just like under SCAF, now under somewhat younger leadership, seemed to have no idea what to do either.  But like the young child of a dying king, the remainder of the officials from the previous administration had to be snuffed out, before they could claim their rightful place – even if only to abdicate it.  No chance of kerfuffling the fait accompli could be allowed.  What would have been the best ideological backing against an elected regime?  Probably the same thing that would have best shielded that regime from undemocratic ouster – Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.

The military, essentially unopposed for several weeks, could easily have forced through a reform agenda that, while alienating many, would have galvanized most into support.  Obviously, this would require interests aligned with those goals.  Instead, the military has taken over a discourse of antiterrorism.  A structural comparison with the US War on Terror is not necessary, nor is it relevant.  What is relevant is what had been widespread Egyptian skepticism of the American-led War on Terror.  Walking through ghettos, I would see pictures of the ‘martyrs’ Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  Whatever their owners’ actual thoughts, they were indicators of skepticism over the strategic motives of coalition antiterrorism efforts.

And yet when the same discourse is applied in a far less believable manner to many of their longtime neighbors, Egyptians seem unwilling to offer a similar skeptical attitude.  Quite the opposite, many well-educated Liberals have wholesale bought into the idea that the Brotherhood is systemically committing violence – for which there is no evidence.  On the contrary, a Vicar in Minya recently contradicted the claim that the Brotherhood was behind a church destruction there, and rather singled out security forces for failing to respond to calls for help, and noted local imams’ calls for their congregations to protect churches.

The issue isn’t whether violence has occurred.  I don’t doubt that a small number of weapons were privately possessed in protests; and I do not doubt that Islamists are behind some violence.  These are extraordinarily different claims that the Muslim Brotherhood being behind all church attacks.  Yet no conclusive evidence can be produced to support this claim.  Moreover, the organization itself would have no specific motive to sanction such violence.  Quite the contrary, there has been little reason given for the detention of many figures – other than that they are, ultimately, Islamists.

Much Egyptian judgment and discussion of the US War on Terror was euphemistic.  There was a sordid sarcasm to descriptions of arrests and killings.  It underlay a broader suspicion over the conspiratorial strategic underpinnings of American policy.  Yet that skeptical sarcasm has not, apparently, been extended to the illegal detentions seemingly cheered by the street.  In extreme though not isolate cases, people have cheered the massacres and killings.  If foreigners dare to point out the obvious parallel to Egyptian criticisms of American policy, they are hushed by references to Guantanamo.  Somehow the jingoist stalwarts don’t seem to see the irony in the comparison.

Liberals: Apologize, Islamists: Broaden and Drop Demands for Morsi’s Reinstatement; Press for Referendum on Salvation State

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Reform: Within You, Without You

Many reasons have been given for the widespread discontent that led to Morsi’s ouster.  Political elites will say it is his autocratic-drive, and particularly the constitutional declaration that ‘put the President above the law.’  Several issues:  The Egyptian President has always been above the law.  If this were really so big a stumbling block for the people, Egypt would never have exited its First Intermediate Period, let alone have gotten to this –  its Fourth Intermediate Period.  Others may tell you that Morsi stacked the decks with Brotherhood loyalists, at the expense of creating a broader coalition.  And then there’s probably a large majority, similar to those that hate President Obama for indiscernible reasons, that simply fear the Brotherhood.

I don’t blame the last camp for suspicions: the Brotherhood and the then the FJP have not proved themselves either specifically competent or truthful given campaign or political promises on which they reneged.  But a flat-out rejection either of Islamism or the FJP, after a whopping electoral victory, would be totally anathema to liberal democracy.  This is not a valid actionable opinion if the end goal is liberal democracy.  Paste Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson’s head on Badie, and that would sort of be the analogy.  While that might make a lot of American extreme secularists happy, one cannot be a liberal and support arbitrary and warrantless detention.

Some have forsaken the coup after the obvious violence and crackdown to which it led.  Some will perhaps claim that this extreme violence and crackdown was not foreseeable.  It was, for many reasons.  Namely, after the Republican Guard deserted the President of the Republic, allowing the latter’s illegal detention by the military, his entire presidential team (dozens of civilians) was also detained without charges or warrants.  Most (all?) have been in illegal detention without prosecutorial investigation since July 3rd.  It would seem that no rights organizations or journalists have desired to discuss this.  But it was my first indication, when a former boss – a former school principle – was disappeared and has yet to be charged, that the gains in rule of law (however slight) were rendered irrelevant.

And when the rights to freedom of these low-level civilian government appointees were sacrificed on that day (the day of the coup), it became clear that those without the potential protection of connections were going to fare much worse.  In other words, the military had shown its regard for the value of Egyptian life.  This, in turn, probably isn’t shocking as they had done similarly when they ruled Egypt from February 2011 to June 2012.  But whatever, let’s take these people at face value and say that the violence was not foreseeable – or that they didn’t foresee it, or know about it, or whatever.  I say it is admirable for one to admit one’s mistakes.

False Trichotomy Should Give Way to Metaphysical Dichotomy

It has become quite popular, in the desperation of the last few days, to reject what many see as a dichotomy.  On the one hand, there are the pro-Morsi campers and the Brotherhood; on the other hand are the supporters of military government and the military itself, along with Nationalist-Liberals.  People rightly see this as a false ideological dichotomy.  However, a very real metaphysical dichotomy exists over action in general.

What is most troubling about the coup is not the removal of President Morsi.  I apologize to pro-Morsi supporters, but he ultimately was not the right person for the job – even though he ultimately got screwed (a better person for the job wouldn’t have gotten screwed, basically).  What is most troubling is the means of removing the President.  I, personally (though as an American), would have advocated a referendum – and I might even have sympathized with the military enforcing one.  But the perceived popular will for the direct use of the military in politics has set a precedent that has created this brinksmanship.  It is not the same as during January 2011 for two reasons.  Firstly, Morsi was actually elected; secondly, the point of the election was the permanent withdrawal of the military.  If those suspicious that the military took over in February 2011 to salvage their regime configuration had known they were right, there might have been a greater drive to push them out.  That confirmation came just before July 3rd.

But, again, whatever – it has happened.  The position of many if not most Liberals is that because they didn’t support Morsi, we can just move on and work forward from here.  Just like during the revolution, the coup was a rejection of Morsi and the Brotherhood’s rule.  It didn’t posit anything in response, other than severe repression of that current.  (/Liberal-)Nationalists, as the only popular faction currently represented in military governance, are not likely to change their minds.  They couldn’t care less about elections, and are ultimately interested in using the military to isolate the government from what they see as religious-reactionary democratic forces.

They were not likely to have been allies in a democratic struggle in any case, as it was clear from the beginning that Islamists would win at least a plurality in Parliament.  They will again; although I think it is somewhat clear that the Presidency will not go in that direction in the near-term (from polling and electoral data).  However, the same overriding interests of reform have not disappeared in the midst of either the FJP’s betrayal of security sector reform, or many previously-democratic-oriented revolutionaries’ support of a military coup and junta.  This is occurring in tandem with a deliberate political and institutional effort, clearly controlled by the military and buttressed by the media, to build an anti-Liberal, anti-democratic populist Nationalist coalition.

Directed Incitement, Politicized Criticism

But let’s actually take one step further back.  Critics claimed Morsi was an autocrat, and yet his ouster has yielded the worst period of autocracy and unchecked violence probably in Egypt’s history (in brute numerical terms).  Secondly, critics claimed that Morsi’s constitutional declaration put him above the law.  What it actually did was immunize Presidential decisions from judicial review, along bestowing some expanded powers given the lack of a Parliament.

The problems here are threefold.  Firstly, there’s never been a serious discussion about the power of the presidency or the nature of Egypt’s political structure.  Given strong calls for decisive reform, one would expect a somewhat decisive president.  Secondly, Adly Mansour – Egypt’s interim President – is also the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.  This negates the relevancy of judicial review, as he would be chief reviewer.  This, along with Sisi’s various official positions, clearly and seriously undermines separation of powers.  Moreover, the willingness of anti-coup protesters, headed by the Brotherhood, to confront the military directly does sort of speak to some short-term reasons Morsi’s government may have praised the latter – it may have been a tactical attempt to solidify power.  We won’t know.

Finally, given no real questioning of Egypt’s strong-President makeup, and consistent public opinion polling showing support for a strong President, alongside fierce and competing calls for reform, everyone should have expected strong Presidential action.  But strong action by Morsi elicited, mostly from the elites, cries of autocracy.  There were both widespread demands to curb corruption without requisite definitions on what the corruption entailed.  The independent current within the judiciary overshadowed what should have been the public view – a broadly corrupt judiciary would have to be shaken up.  Many of the same people who decried Morsi’s lack of reform of the security services now support the latter in their quest to murderously eliminate the previous administration’s backers.

The lack of opponents responding to worse examples of the same concerns speaks volumes to the real fears underlying popular support for the Brothers’ removal.  I will not support the stilted and sometimes hate-mongering rhetoric that did occur, but replacing pronouns has not been helpful.  The only way for reconciliation to occur is basically twofold, and it does not seem very likely.  True Liberals must apologize for the coup, renounce its validity, and join a supra-organizational structure – essentially a Democratic Alliance – calling for bureaucratic, judicial, and military reform.  The NSF might be an appropriate venue, but toying with the military’s presence in politics – or trying to oust it while it looms – is not likely to work in the future, having failed until now.

This is not some sort of moral strong-arming.  Rather, unless there is general recognition that there was a coup and that it was not in any support of democracy, it is not likely that any reconciliation would be in furtherance of democracy anyway.  The next mandate will have to one fully in support of civil government, and hence is likely to be trying.  But the AntiCoup Alliance must also drop its demand for the reinstatement of President Morsi.  He is a useful symbol, one who may even be an historic player, particularly if he acquiesces to a referendum that legally ends his presidency.  In the end, he is also a polarizing figure, and an inappropriate symbol for a broad-based coalition that can help pull the Brotherhood out of its social isolation, unenviable if not somewhat admirable, in resistance to unabashed military rule.

The only real path forward is extremely broad consensus, most likely devoid of Nationalists.  In part, the fundamental prerequisite must be an acceptance of the ballot box over any other means.  This is the primary loss of the last few months.  Despite criticisms of Brotherhood autocracy, the rejection of legal or electoral means of challenging it has proven the most potent threat to democratic reform.  Despite the travails of struggling against an elitist leadership as that of the Brotherhood, marginalized minorities stood a far better chance, overall, of having their voices heard with transient autocrats than permanent ones.  Now the minority coalition will be tightly controlled, allowing the expression of one minority viewpoint at the expense of all overs.

Ultimately, while ‘third path’ people and masmou3 ideas are admirable, they negate the necessity for a basic shared reality.  The mechanism used to remove the legitimate government was not legitimate.  As a result, to restore that legitimacy, Egypt requires a referendum instead of false and conflated numbers estimating the viability of which mob should rule.  At present the bitterness of the Islamists who supported the displaced government is understandable.  They should probably understand the bitterness of Liberals and Liberal-Nationalists who supported them in the second round, and were marginalized first.  However, minorities within a democratic context still have the power of popular influence.  Under a junta, influence is arbitrary.

Key Events in Egypt’s Transitions

Key Events in Egypt’s Transitions (an outline subject to change, feel free to comment)

1.  Military Response to Large-scale Protests

a.  Military’s intransigence convinces Mubarak to ‘cede his powers’ (+ 18 days)

b.  Military forces Morsi to resign (+ 3 days)

2. Banning of Demonstrations (Strikes and Protests)

- Depending on the current course and the veracity of the MOI’s supposed statement disallowing future protests, the authority may have institutionally devolved this time.

a.  Cabinet criminalizes strikes and protests
March 23, 2011 (+40 days)

http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/new-egyptian-law-criminalizes-protests

SCAF backs draft law to ban demonstrations
April 21, 2011 (+69 days)

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/04/21/Egypt-bans-public-protests/UPI-98291303398670/

b.  August 15, 2013 (+ 43 days)

Mohammed Ibrahim is widely quoted as saying no more sit-ins of any kind will be tolerated anywhere (though there may be questions as to the original statement’s veracity)

3. Dissolution of Previously-Governing Party

- The previous decision was a legal ruling, involving misuse of state assets. The current proposal stems from executive authority, based on alleged security issues.  The argument over freedom of association appears to have been totally lost, muting some impact of the repeal of emergency laws.

a.  Supreme Administrative Court dissolves NDP, seizes assets
April 16, 2011 (+64 days)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13105044

b.  Beblawy proposes banning Muslim Brotherhood
August 17, 2013 (+45 days)

http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/egypt-mulls-brotherhood-ban-gunfire-exchanged

Borai (Social Solidarity Minister) has started the ‘legal process’
August 18, 2013 (+46 days)
http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/ministry-social-solidarity-start-disbanding-muslim-brotherhood

Pre-Tweeting the News in Egypt

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The situation in Egypt is exceedingly difficult to follow.  It may not have been easier in late January and early February 2011.  I didn’t use Twitter then.  I had my fix of rumor on the ground.  And, failing all else, took it upon myself to go out in some cases to visually confirm or debunk the worst.  I acknowledge, knowing what I do now, that my presence as a foreigner may have actually played a small and inadvertent role in stoking the flames kindled by such obvious fabrications.

Things still seemed clearer cut.  Then, there was a leader ruling in an unquestionable void of constitutional legitimacy, almost exclusively through the apparatuses of an unabashed police state.  This had gone on for decades.  Somehow President Morsi’s single year of feebleness has attracted more animosity.  I’ll give them some freedom, but where’s the justice?  A onetime former boss, the director of school where I briefly taught, disappeared over a month ago.  He has been illegally detained – kidnapped, his family says – without cause, on account of having become Morsi’s Foreign Policy adviser.

Despite outcries over more palatable, publicly consumable matters, virtually nobody outside of his immediate acquaintances seem willing to inquire on or even acknowledge the troubling precedent lower-level illegal detentions set for the new government.  One might argue that they call into serious question the ability of the government to operate independently of the military.

The cognitive dissonance with which one must view any current cohesion of the Egyptian state is interesting on a number of levels.  On the one hand, those now in power – and their loose (likely) plurality of supporters – largely seem unwilling to acknowledge the quandary they have created.  I empathize with their desire to simply return to normalcy (I recall this partly destroying the January 25th Revolutionaries’ protests too).  But most seem vapidly incognizant of the severe procedural kerfuffle they have employed.  By enlisting the military, rather than forcing concessions through sustained and massive popular pressure (remember how January 25th wasn’t the day of President Mubarak’s resignation).  In so doing, they have largely abandoned their own principles stemming from the January 25th Revolution.

I will no doubt take flak on all sides for saying this, but January 30th was a fascistic, deceitful counterrevolution, born of numerical fallacies and – I have no doubt – lies, lies, and more lies.  I am not questioning the intentions of a core minority of protesters – namely those few (couple?) who were perturbed by the military’s intervention and who didn’t support it before or during.  Similarly, few questioned the motives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s when its members joined January 25th protests.  Broad participation served the prevailing interests in both cases.  And no doubt, one might argue that military intervention in February 2011 was itself a counter-revolutionary coup.  I argued that passively at the time, but the key was the following momentum in light of a unique phenomenon.  The phenomenon, now replicated in kind (at least), is no longer unique.

Who knows how many people came out in either case, or whether Tamarrod is a counter-revolutionary disinformation campaign partly associated with the security services – or simply an ignorant immature manifestation of discontent?

Still, I am deeply amused by a few cases in which news appears to have been ‘accidentally leaked,’ denied, and then subsequently confirmed.  A tweet suggested this: “When MOI and the MB both denied Shater meeting with foreign diplomats, it became obvious that the meeting in fact happened.”  His son, a former student of mine, suggested his father was ordered to the meeting by the Tora prison warden on initially unclear pretenses.  On July 27th, al-Arabiya tweeted “#Egypt police chief denies forces used live rounds in deadly Cairo clash,” whereas it is a bit difficult to believe such a massacre could have occurred without live fire.  These aren’t remarkably new processes in Egypt or politics, but they illustrate the continuity of the lack of transparency not confined to military-backed, Islamist-led, or undemocratically appointed liberal governments.

There is a remarkable, fascistic, and elitist sense of entitlement among many of the key political actors.  They believe their principles are right and righteous; only they are the only valid arbiters of state legitimacy.  In this respect, the Muslim Brotherhood has a lot of informal ideological brothers.  And some mutual distaste might be more rightly attributed to behavioral similarity rather than any indelible ideological divide.  I didn’t need Twitter in 2011; I actually made and promptly deleted an account.  But now, disconnected, I find at least passive monitoring useful – with the caveat that these are internet users (somewhat disconnected from the street).  But it is not a useless source of information.

So what about the government?  Can one take at face value that these people are not the Shafiqs, Sharafs or Ganzouris of the moment?  I actually feel bad for Sharaf: I suspect he may have been the Naguib, or Morsi, or Baradei of his moment.  Criticize the juxtaposition, but the overriding issues are not political, they are structural: What place does the military have in government?  What powers should the President of the Republic have?  What can be done about an incompetent, corrupt police force?  How can one reform the Balkanized government (also) – including the not-immune judiciary?  Is strong Presidential power initially necessary, or is it ultimately harmful?  Is anybody out there

Prescient Criminality
I find a few things interesting.  The first involves the editor of al-Ahram, Abdel Nasser Salama, publishing an article on July 21st claiming that the public prosecution had detained Morsi for 15 days pending investigation into espionage and other charges.  Salama was subsequently detained over this ‘inflammatory’ publication.  Less than a week later, investigations began into Morsi’s criminality and espionage – more or less along the lines stated by Salama.  There are many questions; I choose to forward how the editor of state mouthpiece al-Ahram received the news six or seven days before it occurred?  Let’s not get into issues of why he was arrested for his farsighted truthfulness.

Perhaps similarly, state-owned al-Akhbar printed a scathing criticism of Vice President, Nobel laureate, and former IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei on August 6th.  In response, ElBaradei tweeted a statement translating to: “It seems that my work to spare the country slipping into a cycle of violence is not reaching the governmental newspapers other than articles on ‘my dangerousness to the people and state.’  The road ahead is long and bumpy.”  His road maybe somewhat shorter: by his own standards, he entered office a failure, having previously promised that: “My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a real democratic system.”  In technical deference, he didn’t run.

He was appointed Vice President a year and a half after making this statement, following the suspension of the constitution and depositions of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader following the suspension of government.  Despite having either a change or loss of conscience, it is also (perhaps…) possible he has developed a genuine fear over the potential failure of the Egyptian state – seeing himself increasingly irrelevant or backed against a wall.  In electoral terms he is irrelevant and (at least was a year ago) widely unpopular; and this is deeply problematic given his stated goal of fostering democracy, and his political success exclusively on the backs of tanks and doctored crowd numbers.

The article itself is unnecessarily denigrating.  One key issue is its attack on his support for the inclusion of religious groups in politics.  This is a really important issue because – before Parliamentary elections – religious parties were technically unconstitutional.  Regardless, both the FJP and Nour – which through electoral victory became Egypt’s top two Parliamentary parties – are now almost entirely excluded from the transitional process, the latter somewhat less so.  In addition to almost half the electorate not voting in the first place, this casts serious doubts on the ability of the current transition to, in fact, engender a subsequent and continuous democratic system through an undemocratic process.

But my question here is one of, what did that awful movie call it?, pre-crime.  How was this article was allowed publication?  It recalls two events: the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick wrote that the day before the coup, “Egypt’s generals took control of the state’s flagship newspaper, Al Ahram, and used it to describe on Wednesday’s [July 3rd] front page their plans to enforce a military ultimatum issued a day earlier: remove Mr. Morsi from office if he failed to satisfy protesters’ demands”.

I offered a comparison to the Akhbar editorial, an analyst (has so far) tweet-replied only “No, that’s not really how the press works. It’s not totalitarian in its function.”  There is truth to this; but it ignores the apparent developing relationship between the press and generals during the coup.  I also recall reading of Sisi’s assurances to Morsi that bad press – in the months ahead of the coup – alongside leaked anonymous military ‘concerns,’ were simply venting and attempts to appease his men.

So the question becomes whether this is the beginning of the obvious end for ElBaradei.  His position as Vice President has left him, quite specifically, with the portfolio of international affairs.  He is the face of the coup to the West – as well as perhaps to some domestic liberals.  But his actual power within the system is suspect if extant.  Moreover, his statements regarding restraint from use of force and the need for pluralism place him somewhat out of the governmental mainstream.  Even if there is no dissonance between the government and military (who knows…), ElBaradei may be feeling the pressure on what he could have thought was the purity of his own, however disaffected, intentions.  This would make him merely a lonely third pole, rapidly melting in the face of the increasingly inevitable thaw of a societal cold war.

The Arab Republic of Egypt: Rinse and Repeat

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[from August 1; edited for grammar August 16; except where ‘[]’ used]

 

What has been lost in the oft-puerile debate over whether the Egyptian military staged a coup is not the elephant in the room.  Rather it’s the pony, which is the meaning, believe it or not, of Sisi, a word dating back some 4,500 years to the ancient Sumerian zi-zi. Whether Morsi did or did not have legitimacy, or whether the several million people that protested against his rule conferred it on the military, the military had never really actually left power.

Subsequent to the 1952 Revolution against British colonialism, and the 1954 ousting of President Naguib that arguably thwarted one man’s plans for democracy (cycling the twittersphere every now and again), the Egyptian military has played the primary role in defining and governing the Egyptian state and economy. So with the election of Morsi, generally recognized as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, an outsider had finally punctured the carefully shielded throne of the Republic – always occupied by a military-man – and immediately was portrayed as intent on diluting the ranks of the bureaucratic patronage apparatuses carefully groomed by the former regime.

The purpose of the January 25th Revolution is, increasingly in my mind, murky.  The unifying symbol was undoubtedly President Mubarak and his ‘regime.’  Whether this entailed a systemic shift or simply administrative shift is increasingly be unclear to me.  Even before Mubarak resigned, this longstanding fear of the Brotherhood began to surface.  After Morsi’s election, a wave of antipathy toward the ‘New Pharaoh’ had already begun – justified or not.  The games between political elites are one thing, but as for the impact among common citizens, it is possible Leila Murad songs would have been equally inflammatory given the visible decline in the economic situation.  It did not help that in possibly combating the entrenched structures and corrupt institutions, Morsi primarily drew from a cadre of loyalists rather than a broader coalition.

His November 2012 constitutional declaration, which expanded presidential powers and immunized his decisions from judicial review, proved a miscalculation in provoking bureaucratic friction and bringing a fight with the judiciary to a head.  The judiciary has had one of the less corrupt reputations in Egypt, and currents within the judiciary had a tense relationship with the Mubarak regime.  Still, the dispute over the dismissal of the Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud is not clear-cut.  The latter had previously prosecuted Muslim Brotherhood members, making for a strained operational relationship; but one could also highlight his failures over the prosecution of police and officials.  The timing of his July 2nd reinstatement and near-immediate resignation sent a powerful signal by the post-coup forces, and to the previous-coup establishment – namely the Freedom & Justice Party and its allies (the FJP is the political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood).

But the problem now is that many see the military’s tactics as indicative of a desire for a quick or near-immediate withdrawal from politics. No doubt the face of this argument is valid. But it is removable; what’s the word? It’s a mask, a facade – at least according to the long-standing interests of the army, and the subsequent interests those realities produce. The military has vast investments in Egyptian manufacturing and the economy more broadly, along with more or less directorial privileges earned outside the military based on rank within – seemingly.  Without perennial control of politics, that fiefdom is at risk.

Thus there is a keen interest in keeping Egyptian politics either divided or rigged to prevent a broadly popular reform-front.  Rigging was the former preference, but with international attention on the issue, that may not be as possible moving forward.  In that the regime had previously dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood when the latter entered into the 2005 Parliamentary Elections, the military may have tried to make a deal with the FJP on the eve of Morsi’s victory – with Morsi hypothetically agreeing to maintain military privileges in exchange for the formal success of the Brotherhood in its game of throney elitist politicking.

I was one of those who believed Morsi’s appointment of Sisi was a genuine first step toward placing the military under civilian control.  I was also initially skeptical after the coup, but also to a lesser degree before it, that Sisi was actually in charge over Tantawi and Anan. It is possible, as some others have also suggested, that some political posturing has more to do with Sisi’s solidification of his own position in the armed forces and control over his officers. His unquestionable popularity in the streets has certainly accomplished that.

I have previously suggest four relevant voting trends – Islamist Establishment, Islamist Independents, Secular Independents (or Revolutionaries), and Secular Establishment.  Ending January 12, 2012, a parliament was elected that arguably consisted of 36.5% Islamist Establishment party members, 30.5% Islamist Independents, 13% Secular Independents and 20.12% Secular Establishment. Then in May 2012, the First Round of the Presidential Elections arguably yielded 25.7% Islamist Establishment, 19.6% Islamist Independents, 20.3% Secular Independents and 34.4% Secular Establishment. Using that latter data (by district), I predicted probable alignment in the second round – based on the hypothesis that the ‘revolutionary’ vote was split, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate.  Overall, one might estimate that similar turnouts could produce a breakdown such as Establishment Islamists (31%) and Independent Islamists (25%), and Establishment Secularists (27%) and Independent Secular (17%).

But turnout, overall, is only about 50%, suggesting a large disenfranchised or suspicious segment of the population.  This is very important, particularly when noting possible disconnects between protests and electoral outcomes.  Some, though who knows how many, may simply not trust the state, and they may never trust the state. Their experience is one of oppression. And such oppression has multifaceted effects, shocking the system in some way. Maybe some shutdown and simply ignore or abandon politics entirely.  Some may come away with greater sensitivity to such action, embarking on a lifelong pursuit in support of rectifying such injustice.

Sometimes this can become an ultra-sensitivity – seeing injustice anywhere – and taking vigilante action in pursuit of justice of principle in the moment, though perhaps against long-term interests or broader principles. Watching institutions of the state function against the people is a constant psychological barrage, and it can break down perceptual barriers and blur our understanding of justifications and actions. Seeing what only happens ‘somewhere else,’ in pursuit of retaining sanity, forces (either a) denial or a more comparative approach to disturbing similarities in institutional thinking, speech, and behavior.

For some, the pattern is encapsulated in individuals or events and not underlying interests and structures.  Some forsake waxing philosophic or ‘holding down the couch’ in favor of a sort of “protysteria.”  No doubt there is a well-intentioned though perpetual belief in righteousness of purpose and earnestness of cause – one could see it during January 25th, in the two years following, and no doubt also on June 30th. No doubt there was also a more insidious recidivism in response to decades of state violence. Morsi’s administration, in frequently siding with the police and military, has indirectly affected a muting of some Egyptians’ empathy to victims of the violence following the coup.

Violence has also seen sporadic occurrence in protests [as well as systematic sexual abuse], or systematic occurrence in the torture of various people in Rabaa and al-Nahda and in at least the year preceding that. And violence has also sprung up in Sinai, in part due to decades of violence and specific, repressive, ineffectual policies whose broader strategic underpinnings have reverted along with the security flare-up and crackdown – a consistent pattern under military rule. Oddly, the military’s response despite their professed urgency, seems to have yet to occur in full.  Whether Morsi’s administration sided with security services temporarily toward long-term reform will never be known, but it typifies a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

Somehow, despite all this, there has been no materialization of the empathy requisite to overpowering the very real political differences between civilian groups with some otherwise long-term shared interests.  Miscalculations and official support contributed to divisive dialogues early on.  Despite fear of Muslim Brotherhood fascism in media intervention, the majority of the crackdown seems to have come after the coup. Egyptian media primarily seems to propagate a discourse of protester-terrorism and military neutrality and infallibility. This should be familiar to anyone who was alive and awake at least sometimes between 2011 and 2013.

The discourse also proffers the dangerously misleading opinion that these events mark the failures of either the MB or Islamism.  Morsi’s failures were real, for sure.  But the current directions of exclusion and disunity are likely to reveal him not unique.  And whatever ongoing conspiracies in his year as President, the military coup signaled the true intentions of the military command.  Rather than supporting or even forcing (a soft coup) a referendum, the calculated timeline, immediate crackdowns and quick and individual glorification of Sisi are very telling.  The new politics – with the security services backed by the military – detaining or even better legally arresting FJP and MB leaders, and also Wasat party officials and some other prominent Islamists occur simultaneously with civilian government calls for dialogue.  I have no doubt the current government would not win an election.

The strategy behind these tactics is almost entirely publicly fleshed out.  Sisi may run as president and would likely win.  If Sisi detests the limelight (but then why wear the shades?), then someone like Shafiq’s doppelganger-son [probably Shafiq himself] will run. As for the international spotlight, it is possible the era of an outright theft of elections is over.  But if division retains among popular forces over the structures of state, an independent reformist will have muted effect for similar reasons to Morsi. Reform is not always the pillar of economic growth, but is a catalyst of political and bureaucratic friction.  Once the next swathe of popular political forces are discredited, there will be few institutions left in good standing. Without foresight, as the washer desperately quakes, removing stains of sweat and blood, so the cycle may repeat.

Scenes of Political Absurdity in Our Country

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Scenes of Political Absurdity in Our Country
Amr Hamzawi

http://shorouknews.com/columns/view.aspx?cdate=29072013&id=a4048fe1-a812-474a-a103-401f53bc97e2#.UfatDb5K2pk.facebook

First Scene: Intellectuals, rights activists, and partisans are insufficient in dealing with human rights violations by double standards when it affects those whose views and opinions differ with their own. Rather, they rush to replace the roles of the military, security experts, and strategists. So they are proposing operational plans ‘to break up sit-ins and liquidate them,’ rather than demanding compliance with the law, condemning exceeding it, thinking about political solutions, and moving away from reliance on a single security tool.

Second Scene: Officials with temporary executive power, and the party and youth forces supporting them, were together before June 30 at the forefront of demanding sovereignty of laws, protection of human rights, citizens’ freedoms, and the prompt administration of justice in holding those involved in violence and violations accountable, and the adoption of total transparency. Today, they are silent and don’t think of the fact that democratic values which they defended before June 30th, continue to require defense and assistance thereafter – after they become those in ‘power.’

Third Scene: Writers and reporters get involved in the militarization of the collective imagination of Egyptians in the production of an image of the ‘Savior-Hero’ for the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, with cheers for a ‘popular mandate’ that undermines state powers and institutions. They do this in lieu of putting forward visions and ideas on how to return Egypt to a democratic Egypt and put in place sufficient guarantees to establish a democratic civilian state in contrast to a religious or military state, whose affairs are governed by elected civilian authorities within the framework of the rule of law and equal citizenship rights.

Fourth Scene: Leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in the religious right condemn human rights violations against them and demand local and international public opinion condemn them. Then, they abstain from apologizing and from condemning incitement to violence and its use, the carrying of weapons and contraband against citizens and cutting off roads when it comes from their ranks.

Fifth Scene: Citizens have been in the presence of freedom in all squares since January 2011, and they have not ceased in dreaming of a civil, democratic Egypt. Except their concerns over the nation today have reached great levels, and the landslide rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies after their catastrophic mistakes has overpowered them. These two factors are settling despite a continuing search for any ability to survive (?), even the palatable fascism of exclusion, compromise over the principles of the rule of law, or human rights.

Commencement of Violence in Cairo

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In a recent tweet exchange, I was asked to justify my claim that “That’s a low standard of quality control.  RG aside, mult videos I’ve seen of massacre show SF attacking ppl first.”  I felt that a short-form medium was not the most appropriate way to express what is undoubtedly a complex issue.  My claim is neither that security forces exclusively started violence (although that is my suspicion), or that no protesters had weapons (I’m sure some did… but why did they…?).  Rather, my claim is that video footage of the clashes seem to justify initial police use of force against protesters, without evidence of prerequisite protester violence against police – i.e. justifying a response.

http://www.juancole.com/2013/07/egyptian-authorities-brotherhood.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+juancole%2Fymbn+%28Informed+Comment%29

I first saw this on Juan Cole’s site; and I cannot corroborate seeing molotov cocktails that caused fires – the only fire I see specifically is around protesters (when they’re waving that big flag).  The second part (in color) seems to be later on in the violence, after it started.  Its youtube source (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9mX1o9DlWQ) seems to indicate its release by the Ministry of Interior.

I am by no means an expert, but what I see until maybe 25 seconds in is a police cordon and deployment.  Around this time, protesters seem to approach cordon to a certain distance and then throw rocks.  Until about 58 seconds in, I see no specific evidence of weapons fire.  At 1:03, one can see police or thugs throwing rocks back, and that is when the first evidence of weapons fire occurs – a police shotgun (does not appear to be teargas; either fired by police, or civilians standing next to police).  What is most striking is the calm nature of this group, standing their ground with no obvious risk to their safety.  I cannot be at all certain of the integrity of the chronology of the video clips, but as released by security services, this really shocked me quite a bit.

Unfortunately, video from a balcony, which started before the shooting did also, seems to have been subsequently deleted from youtube for unknown reasons.  That removal more or less tanks my purpose for writing this… And it appears either I cannot remember the wording of the twitter post I thought I’d retweeted, or that too has been deleted.  Obviously I have no credibility, but my memory of the video was of protesters approaching a police van/cordon.  Police fired teargas, people ran, and then weapons fire may have commenced [see below next paragraph].

This video (https://www.youtube.com/embed/yDDJBl9h-nA) seems to have circulated since.  While it shows some pretty clear asymmetries and at least one death, the perpetrators are unclear.  Other videos seem to confirm the asymmetry at different times, though not the ultimate origin of violence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPVAzsoe6iQ, possibly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxHqgTqS44I).  What continues to strike me is the commonality of carefully-aiming, calmly-standing police nonchalantly firing seemingly at random.  This is not dissimilar to the situation during the January 25 Revolution – and that discourse claimed the protesters were Tramadoll-infused terrorists too – though obviously one removes the Tramadoll in application to the Brotherhood.

Ah!  Success, that video that I thought was removed was either reposted or can otherwise be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hZtEI_6qdU.  Teargas is fired from the police vans, after which a plainclothes and a uniformed police officer both remove a roadblock to allow a van (carrier, really) to advance.  Thereafter there is either more teargas fired or weapons fire – it is not clearly captured on the video.  However, the glowing objects on the night-vision Security Forces footage are probably teargas canisters from that volley (my initial suspicion was that that was what they were).  What seems to be absolutely clear is that there was no weapons fire until well after police began firing teargas (at least), and advancing on protesters.  Taken in the context of the SF-released video, that very visible shotgun fire must have occurred before the bulk of violence.

The difficulty I had in finding videos for the above reconstruction (which is merely the way the information came to me – and an invitation to dialogue – not an assertion of totally reductionist objectivity – which would require a belief in objectivity, also), has led me to abandon my attempt to similarly find my videos for the Republican Guard attacks.  I’ll leave it here for now, and invite criticism – if possible.

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