Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why be president when you can be pharaoh?

A regular reader asks why Walt hasn't said anything about the unrest in Egypt. "It looks as if the Egyptians are still revolting," is the way he put it. Dear reader, does this come as a surprise to you? Did you think the "Arab Spring" would bring democracy, peace and stability to Egypt? [Or Libya, Tunisia or Yemen? Ed.] Don't let's be silly!

And please pay attention to Walt's predictions! On December 1st -- of 2011, that is -- Walt predicted Islamist parties would win big in Egypt's first-ever "free and fair" elections, which were about to be held. And so they did. (Lifetime pct .981.)

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won the largest number of seats. The hardline Salafist Nour party came second. Liberal parties including New Wafd and the secular Egyptian Bloc coalition weren't even close. So Egypt was left with a democractically elected hardline Islamist president. And that should satisfy the Egyptian people and be good for relations between Egypt and the West. Right?

At least, that was the thinking of the US State Department. As Walt explained in "'Be my guest', says Obama to Egyptian Islamist leader" Barack Hussein Obama hastened to invite the new president, Mohammed Morsi, to visit the United States in September. Why then? It seemed a bit strange, considering that the folks at Foggy Bottom had until then been wary of Islamists. And of course the USA was a strong supporter of former dictator ["president", surely! Ed.] Hosni Mubarak.

But in September 2012 the Prez would be campaigning hard for re-election, and of course he had this grand plan to improve relations with the terrorists ["Islamists", surely! Ed.], who would thus become America's new friends.

Ah yes, the fruits of democracy would be tasted by all the liberal and progressive Egyptian people, and all would be well in that corner of the world. Bears would stop shitting in the woods and probably the Pope would convert to Islam as well.

A concise [not really. Ed.] history of Egypt
What Obama forgot or misunderstood or ignored -- like the nature of the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi -- was that democracy does not come naturally to the Arabs, particularly the militant Islamists. Egyptians were ruled by the pharaohs for nearly three millenia until the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BC.

After that came several emperors (Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Turkish), and then the decadent and dissolute native Egyptian dynasty of Muhammad Ali [Seriously. You can look it up. Ed.] propped up by the British, French and Americans in the interests of keeping open the Suez Canal.

By 1952, monarchy had become unfashionable, and Egyptians voted -- freely and democratically of course -- to set up a people's democractic republic under Gamal Abdul Nasser. To the surprise of no-one except Western diplomats, Nasser turned out to be a Communist dictator.

After Nasser's death in 1970, Anwar Sadat became president ["dictator", surely! Ed.]. He was welcomed warmly by the Western powers because it seemed as if he could hardly be worse than Nasser. Does any of this sound familiar?

Fast forward through the autocratic regimes of Sadat and Hosni Mubarak to the "Arab Spring" of 2012, which is where we came in.

A slap in the fez for Morsi
Now we are witnessing the entirely predictable spectacle of President Morsi peeling off the thin gauze of democracy with which he clothed himself, to reveal the army-supported strongman underneath. Call it the Dance of the Seven Islamic Veils.

The transition from president to pharaoh began a couple of weeks ago, when Morsi issued presidential decrees giving himself near-absolute power, beyond review or censure even by Egypt's highest court. This is all a "temporary measure" of course, to ensure that the Egyptian people -- or the Muslim Egyptians at least -- could continue to enjoy the benefits of peace and the rule of Sharia law.

And just in case anyone might think Morsi's arrogating all this power unto himself a tad, errr, undemocractic, he rushed through Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament the draft of a new constitution, which, on December 15th, will be put to the people for approval in a referendum -- a fair and democractic referendum, to be sure.

That's what this week's demonstrations in Tahrir Square and other parts of Cairo are about. The Egyptians -- or some of them, at least -- have realized they've been had. (The Coptic Christians knew it all along. That's why they've all come to the USA and Canada to run your local pharmacy.) They are in the streets to demand that Morsi reverse the decrees and cancel the referendum.

Now we are witnessing running street battles between protesters opposing and supporting President Morsi. Yesterday another decree was issued, this one banning protests outside any of the nation's presidential palaces. (Note the plural there. How can the USA get along with only one presidential palace?!)

This morning, the Republican Guard deployed tanks outside the main palace. General Mohammed Zaki said the tanks were deployed to separate warring protesters, and pledged that the military would not be an instrument of oppression against protesters -- at least not the pro-Morsi protesters. A few hundred of them remained outside the palace after the opposition left.

The opposition has said it would organise further marches to the palace as a top presidential aide accused them of co-ordinating with loyalists of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak. The senior fart-catcher told Agence France Press that Mr. Morsi was expected to make a speech later in the day to "reach out to the opposition". No time was announced for the address, nor was it clear whether whips or chains would be part of the reaching out.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hellery Clinton has called for... wait for it... "an open and democratic dialogue". In a statement echoed by the UK and the EU, she said, "The upheaval we are seeing ... indicates that dialogue is urgently needed. It needs to be two-way." As opposed, Walt imagines, to a "one-way dialogue", more correctly called a "monologue".

Despite the protests, Vice-President Mohammed Mekki said the referendum on the draft constitution "will go ahead on time". The opposition would be allowed to put any objections to articles in the draft constitution in writing, to be discussed by a parliament, once a new one is elected -- fairly and democractically.

Prominent opposition leader Mohammed Al Baradei said President Morsi bore "full responsibility" for the violence. He said the opposition was ready for dialogue but would use "any means necessary" to scupper the charter, stressing, however, that they would be peaceful -- and fair and democractic.

Will there be a dialogue between the new pharaoh and those who oppose him? Will fairness and democracy triumph in Egypt? Stay tuned. Or not...

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