Saturday, August 24, 2013

Egypt: Yes, There Was a Coup, Just Not THAT One

A Shocking Corporate Media Failure

MeanMesa finds all the network media's embarrassingly frenzied, psuedo-academic hair splitting with respect to events in Egypt to be about as informative as listening to a speed freak juggling a marble in a mayonnaise jar.  Our corporate media has clearly reduced the story to a comfortable hand full of its favorite, fear provoking, over simplified equivalent of day old oat meal.

"Oh dear, was it a military take over?"

"My, my, after such a promising start, it's become another dictatorship."

"It's absolutely nothing more than deposing a democratically elected President."

Well, hitch up your knickers, take a deep breath and try to relax for a moment.  This story represents one of the most egregious "news" re-bundling episodes of recent history, and, as such, it more than deserves a bit of MeanMesa's "feet on the ground" analysis.

There aren't any shockingly revelatory secrets to unleash, either. We'll try to just take it from what we've seen.

The REAL Coup in Egypt

Although Americans expected Egypt to become something roughly akin to Duluth the morning after the election, the current situation unfolding in  Egypt should hardly be very surprising.  While there are not a thousand dead leading up to a typical local election in Duluth, the other structural, political and ideological similarities between the process in Minnesota and Alexandria are chillingly sinister.

This post's intention is to illuminate these troubling "similarities."

When Mohammed Morsi was campaigning in the country's first modern, actual democratic election, there was an understandable hesitation among Egyptian voters seeking to continue the country's more or less secular course set by the "retiring" dictator, Hosni Mubarak. This nervousness was based primarily on questions concerning the extent of the influence of Morsi's position in the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood might exert on his decisions as President of the country.

Candidate Morsi was fully aware of this "electoral reluctance," and he reassuringly addressed these concerns frequently in his campaign speeches.  However, it turns out that the dilemma arose not from something present, but rather, from something absent.

In a departure from conditions in Duluth [MeanMesa's apologies to Duluth.  This constant reference is nothing personal.  Please be assured that these references to "Duluth" are actually no more than an entirely coincidental "redirect" to establish a more or less "standard domestic base" to which Egypt's story may be compared for reference.] the voters in Egypt were understandably inexperienced at the task of democratically selecting their political leader.

This "inexperience" certainly included inexperience with the vagaries of campaigning and voting, but it extended beyond just the visible mechanisms of the process.  Voters everywhere who are more familiar with the process clearly understand the corrupting influence of political power, thus comfortably  embracing a healthy skepticism about candidates and campaign promises.

Remember, this was an absolutely new undertaking for most Egyptians.  Most of the citizens of the country were eager to fulfil their civic duties and do a good job even though they were brand new at it.

To a limited degree Morsi himself may well have also been somewhat uncertain about his future Presidential role as well -- especially with respect to ideas we Americans would casually consider "separation of powers" or  "limits to executive authority" and so forth.  Go ahead and toss in "separation of church and state."

It is this last element which has been at the heart of what's happening now.

Further, after decades of the suffocating Mubarak regime, Egyptian voters were also inexperienced with the unavoidable pall which shades every ballot cast by voters in any election anywhere, that is, the very present danger of hosting unrealistic expectations.  These would be wide ranging.  They would include such expectations about conditions in the country following the election, the behavior of those elected once they were in office and even the prospects for social and economic change afterwards.

A Few Thoughts About a Conversation
 with a Religionist Fundamentalist

Most MeanMesa visitors have had such a conversation here in the United States where "conditions" are still slightly different than those in Egypt.  Further, these domestic examples of such conversations would, most likely, have been with our own local brands of such religionists.

Still, the similarities easily over whelm the differences between what is found in a coffee shop in Duluth and one in Cairo.

When we converse with fundamentalists, it seems as if there is a "third party" at the table, a silent listener with great presumed authority and way too many absolutist maxims from centuries ago.  Further, it doesn't take long until we realize that these ancient maxims comprise the entire value set of this man across the table.

It doesn't matter if our conversation partner is Islamic or Christian.  Because of the maxims, our friend is not at all interested in negotiating.  Instead, his interest lies only with every possible means of enforcing his maxims.  Minor violent peccadilloes encountered along the way are merely insignificant details in the abundant "good" which will be the inevitable result of everyone being led, forced, coerced or tricked into "getting on board."

Of course, we are referring to Mr. Morsi in Egypt with such comments, but -- as for similarities -- we can quite effortlessly add  our own domestic political players to the list.  Consider for a moment these other names:

Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell
North Carolina's Governor Pat McCrory
Texas Governor Rick Perry
Florida Governor Rick Scott
North Dakota's  Governor Jack Dalrymple
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

We know that this list could be extended to include many more, but the point here is that in each of these cases, the campaigns in each case "neglected" to inform the voters of the central underlying policy which would emerge once the candidate was in power or give any hint of the degree of egregious law breaking and arm twisting which would be expended to make that policy into law.

Voters in these states might have been led to think that they were casting ballots for a fairly stable, fairly reasonable Republican candidate, but a month after the election they found their state governments "in an all out war with the imaginary Edamites," and abandoning all other possible priorities for a convenient burial elsewhere in the pages of the Old Testament.

Predictably, with the eyes of the man [or men] behind the wheel closing abortion clinics, ignoring the Supreme Court's rulings, de-funding public education, obliterating pre-school, looting the health care money and subjugating women at the expense of the pressing state needs in each case, the already precarious state economies plunged further into the pockets of the "job creators" at everyone else's expense.

Texas, for example, is ripping the pavement off state roads and replacing it with gravel to save money -- tax money not collected from the heavy oil industry trucks that are wrecking them.  Tax cuts and zero regulation mean everything; state services mean nothing.  They're not ripping up roads in Egypt to save money.

If you are trying to live through the "new poverty" under one of these state level tea bag autocracies, you may have more in common with the Egyptians than you thought at first.  The greatest difference is that the Egyptians voted, while, as an average American, you probably didn't bother.

Morsi's Path to the Presidency

What we would consider the "primary" election was a race between roughly a dozen political parties in which Mr. Morsi drew roughly a quarter of the votes.  This is a more or less typical "learning curve" in newly democratic nations where no one is particularly sure that they know what polling numbers would be if they had credible pre-election polling.

Deposed  President Muhammed Morsi (image source)
After the chaos had settled, a run-off election was held.  It was specifically during this second campaign that Mr. Morsi was so reassuring about not governing as a single issue Muslim Brotherhood President.  We must also remember that the Egyptian military was exerting a "very strong hand" to keep things progressing, and that powerful remnants of the Mubarak regime were still in every corner and shadow hoping that things would get so bad that the old dictator might "rise again" to "restore order."

There were set backs and questions about the election of Parliament, too.  It's worth the effort to read the Wiki account of Parliamentary elections.  It's well written, and as far as MeanMesa can decipher, reasonably accurate and objective.  (Read the whole article here.)

The Muslim Brotherhood announced on 15 February it would form the Freedom and Justice Party to run in the election. Together with 27 other parties representing diverse political families, the Freedom and Justice Party formed the Democratic Alliance for Egypt. After several defections and entries, the Freedom and Justice Party-dominated coalition settled on 11 parties. The FJP fielded the overwhelming majority of the candidates, and all the Democratic Alliance for Egypt joint candidates ran under the FJP label.
As a reaction to this centre-right alliance, the different liberal democratic and centrist parties intensified cooperation. Five parties drafted a joint statement criticising the current electoral law and proposing a new one. On 16 August 15 political and social movements, some of which defected from the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, announced the Egyptian Bloc electoral alliance. It consisted of liberal, secularist, and centre-left political parties, as well as social organizations and labour unions, and also the traditional Islamic Sufi Liberation Party. Its main objective was to prevent an imminent electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Freedom and Justice Party. After suffering many defections, the remaining Egyptian Bloc parties were: the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu).
Five socialist parties and movements formed the Coalition of Socialist Forces party alliance to contest the elections jointly. After defecting from the Egyptian Bloc, they formed the core of The Revolution Continues Alliance.

The liberal New Wafd Party announced on 13 June 2011 that it would contest the election in an alliance with the Freedom and Justice Party. The New Wafd later decided to abandon its alliance with the Islamists over discrepancies concerning the prospective constitution, and considered joining the new Egyptian Bloc liberal coalition instead. The New Wafd ended up running its own independent lists.

The Salafi Al-Nour Party withdrew from the Democratic Alliance for Egypt coalition due to disagreements with the Freedom and Justice Party over its share in the coalition’s joint candidate lists. On 12 August, three Islamic Salafi parties (Nour, and two unregistered groups that later became the Al-Asala Party and the Building and Development Party) announced that they would run a united candidate list. Their common list is officially called the "Alliance for Egypt", and is unofficially referred to as the "Islamist Bloc". The Al-Nour Party fielded the overwhelming majority of the candidates, and all the Alliance for Egypt joint candidates are running under the Al-Nour Party label.

The Al-Wasat Party, a moderate Islamic faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, was officially approved as a party on 19 February, fifteen years after its foundation. After withdrawing from the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, it formed an electoral coalition with the Renaissance Party and the Pioneer Party, both of which were founded by former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Al-Wasat Party fielded the overwhelming majority of the coalition candidates, all of which ran under the Al-Wasat Party label.

Some analysts voiced concerns that former members of the ruling NDP might gain a lot of influence in the newly elected parliament. Among the parties identified to have had a strong base in former NDP members were:

the Egyptian Citizen Party, led by former NDP secretary-general Mohamed Ragab (other former NDP members include Hamdi El-Sayed, Abdel Ahad Gamal El Din and Nabil Louka Bibawi);
Egypt Revival Party (Misr El-Nahda)/Union Party (Egypt) (Al-Etihad), led by former NDP secretary-general Hossam Badrawi; the party was officially registered under the second name on 20 September 2011;
the Freedom Party (Horreya), led by Mamdouh Ali Hassan, son of Mohamed Mahmoud (a large number of former NDP MPs joined this party);
the Nationalist Egypt Party, led by Anwar Sadat's nephew, the late Talaat Sadat; last chairman of the NDP

Further, the electoral process for establishing the government was complex, but not inordinately so.   (From the same article.)

The election to the People's Assembly took place on the following dates:

first stage: 28–29 November, run-off on 5–6 December;
second stage: 14–15 December, run-off on 21–22 December;
third stage: 3–4 January, run-off on 10–11 January.
There are a total 508 seats in the Lower house: 498 seats are elected, and 10 seats appointed, in this case, by the Military Council, and usually by the President.

Under the parallel voting system used, out of 498 total seats, two-thirds, meaning 332, were elected by means of party list proportional representation. For these seats the public voted for parties or coalition-lists and the result was determined by the largest remainder method with a 0.5 percent threshold, in 46 districts.

The remaining 166 seats were elected by bloc voting in two-seat constituencies, with the possibility of a run off In the election voters each cast two votes, which could not be for the same individual. These seats were open to candidates running as individuals, who might not be affiliated to political parties, numbering two per each of the 83 districts. Out of these, the new parliament must have at least half "laborers" or "farmers", while the "professionals" should constitute at most half of the parliament. If the winner of one of the two seats that are allocated to a certain district, is a "professional", the second seat in the district shall be handed to a "laborer" or a "farmer". Run-offs are assigned to the individual candidates who did not receive over 50% of the votes in the first round.

Additional requirements for parties include listing at least one woman and adopting a specific visual symbol, as an alternative detection to help the illiterate voters. The same voting procedures shall apply to the upper house's election, too.

The election for the upper house, the Shura Council ("the Consultative Council") are to follow on 29 January 2012, and will take place in 3 stages as well between 29 January and 22 February. (process was sped due to ongoing protests). Out of a total 270 seats in the Upper House: 180 seats are up for grabs and 90 seats shall be appointed after the presidential election, by the president-elect. Following these elections, the parliament shall select a committee that will draft a new constitution for Egypt. The new constitution shall than be submitted to a referendum. Only then will presidential election be held, "no later than 30 June 2012" according to Hussein Tantawi's statement.

Although this complexity might have intimidated American voters, accustomed to an established form of government, Egyptians very boldly embraced it, paid attention and participated even though at times in cross purpose. 

That first, all important referendum election was designed to invite all the political interests of Egypt as evenly as possible.  Given the wide plurality of campaigning parties, it is not reasonable to attribute too much mischief to the fact that the winner, Muhammed Morsi drew only roughly a quarter of the votes cast.

He went ahead to procure a fairly slim majority in the following run-off against opposing candidate Shafik -- 52% to 48%.  However, the voter turn out for this run off reflected -- justified or not -- what could be termed a stoic acceptance of very low expectations of the process by those who had voted for losing candidates in the first election.  Around 43% of Egyptians voted in the run-off.

In the first election, 23 million Egyptians voted, but 12 million of those voted for a candidate other than either of the run-off contenders.  Based on the low voter turn out and the lack of a country wide majority among either candidate's base, neither of the possible victors of the run-off could have claimed a groundswell victory in the election or a corresponding mandate for policies once in power.

Americans have elected Presidents in the past where the victor could honestly report that "more Americans voted for someone else than voted for me," but these cases were all ballot counts much closer than what occurred in the Egyptian election.

Now, to the Coup

The actual coup occurred essentially in the days immediately after the election, and the Egyptian military had very little to do with it.

Once Muhammed Morsi took office most of the already shaky ministerial seats were quickly and consistently reassigned to Muslim Brotherhood bureaucrats.  Predictably, the general course of the government followed.  Although these moves were made as subtly as possible in hope that they might be either missed entirely or that their gravity -- as threats to the representative nature of the still forming democracy -- might be under estimated by Egyptian voters unaccustomed to such processes anyway, the power avarice of this minority party gradually made the take over more and more brazen.

The coup in Egypt was by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it was designed and implemented by then candidate Morsi and those around him.

In no time anyone not associated with the Brotherhood faced more and more -- often endless -- difficulties at the hand of the minority government.

The Muslim Brotherhood had already accumulated a long history with the old dictator.  Hosni Mubarak, having neither misconceptions about the lengths necessary to maintain autocratic control over the country nor any particular reluctance to simply and harshly outlaw any competitors, had violently suppressed the Brotherhood for decades.

The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate was so successful in this election exactly because the Brotherhood was essentially the only functional political party participating.  Unlike the amateurish parties opposing it, the Brotherhood had long ago been hammered into a political weapon by Mubarak's abuses.

It is MeanMesa's suspicion that the ballot popularity for the Brotherhood which emerged in the election had much more to do with its image of organization and stability.  The Morsi voters were not zealous religious ideologues supporting the Brotherhood's rather meat handed tactics of the Mubarak era.  There were not enough official, full blooded Brotherhood voters alone to explain the Morsi victory.

Further, the Muslim Brotherhood had been re-imaged as a matured, reasonable alternative to the Mubarak excesses, a long suffering, violently suppressed troop of freedom fighters.  They weren't.  Also, there can be little doubt now -- in hindsight -- that the Brotherhood's leadership issued a very clear order for the whole party to be on its best behavior -- at least until the election was won.

This image lasted for a while, but within a year the country was plummeting -- unwillingly -- into becoming another Iranian style theocracy. The fragile Egyptian economy was in the predictable shambles nepotism always brings.  The police excesses were beginning to once again enter the daily lives of average Egyptians.

Now comes a testimonial from an unnamed Egyptian official via the Israeli politician Yossi Beilin in Israel Hayom:
Ahmed Shafik, the former air force commander and former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, actually won the race by a narrow margin. But the army generals—wanting to ensure that law and order would be upheld following the elections—feared that if Morsi was defeated, the Muslim Brotherhood would refuse to recognize the results and would end up conducting themselves just as they are now.
 The fully committed Brotherhood Egyptians began to show their true color as violent, fundamentalist theocrats even before Morsi was removed, and afterwards they transformed from a fairly stable looking political party into the violent urban equivalent of a insurrectionist jihad.

Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi (image source)
The lesson is simple.  Mubarak had good reason to outlaw them, that is, a good reason if a dictator actually ever needed a good reason.  The Egyptian military also made a good judgement with its decision to suppress them after the violence had grown to a country-threatening severity.  The military decision appears quite pragmatic considering the possible courses otherwise, and, as is always the case with any military, that pragmatism reliably appears as conditions deteriorate. 


Egypt, a few decades ago, became a fickle client of the old Soviet Union, receiving both military aid and a more or less "normal" dose of Soviet expansionism's "nation building" largess with projects such as Aswan dam.  The Egyptians predictably created a massive military capacity, an understandable appetite for a nation with ambitions of leading the Middle Eastern coalition in the conflict with Israel and an economically savvy move intended to "pacify" the country's image as a safe tourist destination.

The Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty induced the country to move from the Soviet sphere of influence to a warmer relation with the West.  One element of the treaty was the promise of US financial support for the Egyptian military.  This is currently around $1 Bn per year.

Presently, however, the Egyptian military is receiving significantly greater military economic assistance from Arab states in the region [notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia] anxious to avoid the emergence of another Iran across the Persian Gulf.  Estimates of these military assistance amounts run around $17 Bn.

This is necessary for Egypt at this time because the tourist industry -- a major contributor to Egypt's economy -- has suffered an almost complete decimation due to the unrest and violence.  The only player remaining with a sufficient force to clear the streets and extinguish the fires is the Egyptian military.

Finally, just one more thing.

The Western Media Presents Egypt: The Comic Book

This post began with a derisive review of the domestic media's picture of all this.  Let's finish with MeanMesa's speculation concerning how in the world this story was converted into something so alien, so removed from the facts.  We will also have to consider the motivation for such a bizarre decision to be taken by the corporate oligarchs who control the domestic "news" networks.

For those watching the daily reporting on the crisis in Egypt there were the predictable scenes of grief stricken Egyptians, bullet ridden corpses and panoramas of "things burning in the distance" from the country's major cities.  The credible or objective aspects of the "news" pretty much ended there.

No fewer than a dozen hand wringing "news casters" were emitting deep sighs to promote the now quite familiar desolate hopelessness in their viewers.  They were all "very concerned" that what we saw could not possibly be absolutely anything else but a military take-over, a coup.  For a little extra spice an occasional aside was added "informing" us that an old Mubarak administration official had been placed in this or that critical position.

"Wha-a-a-a -- he was the elected President."
"Wha-a-a-a -- he was the elected President."  
"Wha-a-a-a -- he was the elected President.  Worry!  Worry!"

A total unilateral military power grab by the Egyptian military "junta" was presented as an inevitable outcome, and it was, of course, placed "just around the corner."  As it was implied by the corporate domestic news, our job as "informed Americans" was to immediately hurl ourselves into a pit of hopeless despair from which we might emerge later with a greater appetite for -- wait for it -- our own military intervention --  always a good money maker for the oligarch class.

The Republican "war experts," in this case Senators McCain and Graham, returned from their Egypt trip ready to, once again, politically attack the President [this is what the owners of the Republican Party pay them to do...] for not unleashing the US military on Egypt at once.  And, while we were in the neighborhood, according to war monger McCain, we should also just slip into Syria, painlessly and quickly "cleaning up that mess, too."

Further, the voices of those directing the media bias seemed to be confused when the Brotherhood started to rampage through the cities shooting at the police and torching government buildings.  Only a few days earlier the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood had been the very promising "future of Egypt," thankfully and finally liberated from under the jack boot of the despot [that would be Mubarak who had filled the role as our best choice as the "future of Egypt" before].

It may require a very resolved effort at carefully analysing the chaotic wreckage of the "news" story, but that is exactly what will be required to parse out what motivates our oligarchs to be so flippantly hostile in their apparent hatred of Muslims.  MeanMesa can only conclude that just as these oligarchs really don't care a whit about issues such as abortion or gun control, they aren't really willing to commit the energy to actually hate Islam, but instead, find themselves narcotically drawn to to possibility of continuing to create a US population-wide despondency and stoic hopelessness.

They know this makes us far more frightened and manageable.  Forget about doing anything to help Egypt.  They have.

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