EGYPT: SISI’S NEW CONSTITUTION ENSHRINES BROTHERS’ DEFEAT– YET U.S. INCOMPETENCE, RUSSIAN MANEUVERS THREATEN EGYPT, & M.E.

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 Contents:         

 

Sisi Determined to Stamp out all Opposition: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19, 2013 — Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeks to put a nail in the coffin of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Security: Zachary Laub, Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 12, 2013 — Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, envisioned by the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli treaty as a buffer zone to build trust and ensure peace, has become a haven for transnational crime and Islamist militancy.

Egypt's New Constitution: Bleak Prospects: Eric Trager, Washington Institute, Dec. 16, 2013 — Egypt's new draft constitution reflects the coalition of leftist political parties and entrenched state actors that helped oust President Muhammad Morsi from power in July.

How Obama Is Losing Egypt to Russia: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Dec.17, 2013 — President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks.

 

On Topic Links

 

Brotherhood Supporters Advising Obama Administration?: Erick Stakelbeck, CBN News, Dec. 11, 2013

Egyptian Security Forces Outgunned by Islamic Terrorists in Sinai: Amos Harel, Ha’aretz, Dec. 18,

Al-Qaeda Emerges Amid Egypt’s Turmoil: Mohannad Sabry, Al Monitor, Dec. 4, 2013

Egypt and Political Violence: Bahieddin Hassan, Al-Ahram Weekly, Dec. 17, 2013

                                      

                        

                                   SISI DETERMINED TO STAMP OUT ALL OPPOSITION

                                           Ariel Ben Solomon          

                                    Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19, 2013

                                                           

Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeks to put a nail in the coffin of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Sisi has been taking advantage of, and consolidating his powerful position, using the military-backed government to carry out a relentless crackdown on ousted former president Mohamed Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is the country’s main opposition movement. Sisi has been throwing the group’s leadership and members in jail and violently breaking up any protests, while continuing to pursue a military campaign against terrorism in Sinai, the upsurge which is believed to be linked to the Brotherhood’s fall from power.

 

But despite the crackdown, the Brotherhood and its allies have still been able to muster protesters in the streets and universities. This may signal to the country’s leadership that the local organization is still functioning, thus justifying more severe measures. On Wednesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor charged Morsi and 35 other top Islamists with conspiring with foreign groups to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, in a case that could result in their execution. Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institutes’s Center for Religious Freedom, told The Jerusalem Post: “These are certainly wild charges.” He said there were many contradictions in the allegations, and little that made sense. “It seems like various bits and pieces were lumped together to create a picture with no attention given to its contradictory details,” he said. “Whether this is part of the new regime’s pressure on the Brotherhood to force concessions, or part of the ongoing propaganda campaign against the Brotherhood, or if they will actually bring such a case to court remains to be seen.”

 

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and today is a fellow at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to this newspaper, told the Post that there was no doubt that the new regime sought to neutralize the Brotherhood with its legal action. “On the other hand, there is a basis of truth to the allegations,” he said. There is evidence that the Brotherhood had connections with Hamas and Hezbollah, Mazel said, adding that there were possibly ties to jihadists in Sinai as well. Asked if Egypt would execute Morsi or other leaders, Mazel responded that he did not think this would occur, but that it would provide the legal case for their incarceration.

 

While Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders remain behind bars or on the run, it is not enough for Sisi, who seeks a complete victory over the main opposition movement. Sisi is not allowing any dissension or leaving anything to chance, going so far as to take one of the country’s most popular comedians off the air for criticizing the government. Sisi has enjoyed positive media coverage and public support since the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi from power. In a possible sign that Sisi may make a presidential bid, former presidential candidate Amr Moussa said on Tuesday that he strongly backs him for president. “If Abdel Fattah al-Sisi refuses to run [for the presidency], we will urge him to do so,” Moussa said, according to a report by Ahram Online.       

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              EGYPT'S SINAI PENINSULA AND SECURITY                                                                

Zachary Laub                                            

Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 18, 2013

 

Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, envisioned by the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli treaty as a buffer zone to build trust and ensure peace, has become a haven for transnational crime and Islamist militancy. Poverty and political alienation among the region's native Bedouins, combined with political dislocations since former president Hosni Mubarak's government was toppled in 2011, have allowed nonstate armed groups to thrive, posing new threats to global trade and the peace on the Egypt-Israel border. After the Egyptian military reasserted its authority in July 2013 and cracked down on Islamists nationwide, militant groups escalated their attacks on peninsular security forces and expanded their reach to cities along the Suez Canal and even Cairo.

 

The Sinai Peninsula is a strategically significant triangle bounded by Gaza, Israel, and the Gulf of Aqaba to its east, the Mediterranean to its north, and the Suez Canal to its west. Some 8 percent of global trade transits through the canal, including 3 percent of global oil supplies. The Gulf of Aqaba gives Israel its only outlet to the Red Sea. The area contains five of Egypt's twenty-seven governorates. The sparsely populated North and South Sinai are home to 550,000 people, or 0.7 percent of Egypt's population, on a landmass comprising 6 percent of Egyptian territory. Much of the North's population is concentrated along the coast, while many inhabitants of the mountainous interior are nomadic. Three smaller, more densely populated governorates straddle the Suez Canal.

 

Though the peninsula is a land bridge connecting Africa and Asia, historically it has separated as much as joined them. The region's majority Bedouin population shares closer historical and cultural ties to the Levant and Arabian Peninsula than the Egyptian mainland. The Bedouins were stigmatized as collaborators of Israel's fifteen-year occupation of the peninsula after the 1967 war, and some complain that Cairo continues to view them as a "potential fifth column," writes Economist reporter Nicolas Pelham. Palestinians and Egyptians from the Nile Valley make up smaller portions of the peninsula's population.

 

Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai under the 1979 peace treaty codified its status as a buffer, leaving Cairo with only partial sovereignty over the territory. The treaty's military annex restricts the personnel and matériel deployed there. The peninsula's native Bedouins bear longstanding grievances stemming from economic deprivation and political alienation. Since 1979, tribal chiefs have been appointed by the region's governors, military officers chosen by the central government. But the capital's drive to centralize control was never fully realized.

 

Bedouins were excluded from tourism and energy development projects championed by Hosni Mubarak, experts say. The North was starved of investment while Mubarak sought to establish a Red Sea Riviera in the more sparsely populated South, particularly Sharm el-Sheikh, where he had his summer villa. Cairo encouraged labor migration to the Sinai from the Nile Valley, Pelham writes, offering these internal migrants preferential access to land, irrigation, and jobs, while denying native Bedouins such basic services and rights as running water and property registration. They were blocked from jobs with the police, army, and the peninsular peacekeeping force, the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO), which is one of the region's largest employers. In North Sinai, schools and hospitals were left unstaffed.

 

"The U.S. and Israel were telling Mubarak for years that neglect of the Sinai was going to come back to haunt them," says CFR Senior Fellow Steven Cook. High-profile bombings of resorts between 2004 and 2006, which had a combined death toll of about 130, as well as a spate of clashes between Bedouins and police, tourist kidnappings, and other smaller attacks occurred after two decades of what were seen as malign policies.

 

Under the three-decade–long emergency law that was in place until 2012, security forces under the Ministry of the Interior responded to the emerging terrorist threat with dragnet arrests, detaining and torturing thousands, human rights observers say. The indiscriminate state response fed a cycle of political violence and further alienated Sinai's Bedouins from Cairo.

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link– ed.]

 

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EGYPT'S NEW CONSTITUTION: BLEAK PROSPECTS

                                               Eric Trager                                                                                                                      Washington Institute, Dec. 16, 2013

 

Egypt's new draft constitution reflects the coalition of leftist political parties and entrenched state actors that helped oust President Muhammad Morsi from power in July. In the short run, the strength of this coalition — and its ability to achieve a convincing mandate in the January constitutional referendum — will determine whether the political transition can move forward. In the longer run, however, Egypt's outlook remains bleak: either the massive state spending that the new constitution mandates will be enforced and thereby wreak economic havoc, or the charter will not be enforced, in which case the country will continue to be governed by an unreliable legal system.

 

In December 2012, following mass outcry over a constitutional declaration that placed his own edicts above judicial scrutiny, Morsi ordered the Islamist-dominated parliament to complete a new draft constitution within forty-eight hours and then put it to a referendum two weeks later. Although that constitution passed with 64 percent of the vote, the low 33 percent turnout undermined its popular legitimacy, and the noninclusive nature of the drafting process catalyzed a mass opposition movement that eventually culminated in Morsi's July 3 ouster. As a result, the military-backed government that replaced Morsi made amending the charter a first-order priority. A July 8 declaration suspended the constitution and outlined a new process under which a ten-member committee of legal experts would amend it. Afterward, a fifty-member committee "representing all categories of society and demographic diversities" reviewed, amended, and approved the draft. While the latter committee drew from across the social spectrum, it was ideologically consistent with the coalition that ousted Morsi: it contained only two Islamists, neither of which were Muslim Brothers, and a plurality hailed from non-Islamist parties that have historically won very few votes in elections.

 

The current draft constitution reflects the anti-Morsi coalition in three respects. First, it is far less Islamist than its predecessor. While it maintains that "the principles of the Islamic sharia are the principal source of legislation" (Article 2), it erases Article 219, which delineated the specific sharia sources on which to base legislation. It also removes Article 44, which prohibited "Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets," and modifies the article regarding al-Azhar, the country's preeminent Islamic institution of learning, which no longer must be consulted "in matters pertaining to Islamic law." Most notably, the new constitution bans religious parties (Article 74).

 

Second, the new draft grants broad autonomy to the security services, military, and other state institutions that participated in Morsi's ouster. For example, it establishes a Supreme Police Council, which must be consulted on all laws pertaining to the police (Article 207). And in addition to granting each judicial body "an independent budget" and the autonomy to "administer its own affairs" (Article 185), it empowers the Supreme Constitutional Court's General Assembly to select the court's leadership (Article 193). It also empowers the Supreme Judicial Council to appoint the government's prosecutor-general (Article 189), an authority granted to the president under the previous constitution.

 

The new draft is particularly generous toward the military. The preamble emphasizes that the military has been the state's "pillar" since nineteenth-century ruler Muhammad Ali, and hails "our patriotic army" that "delivered victory to the sweeping popular will in the January 25-June 30 Revolution." Like the previous constitution, the latest draft mandates that the defense minister be a military officer (Article 201), protects the military's autonomy over its budgets by empowering a security-dominated National Defense Council to review them (Article 203), and allows civilians to be tried before military courts (Article 204). But the new charter goes even further, requiring less legislative oversight for military trials, mandating that the defense minister can only be appointed with the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during the next two presidential terms (Article 234), and empowering the state to fight "all types and forms of terrorism" (Article 237) — a virtual carte blanche for the military in its ongoing crackdown against pro-Brotherhood forces.

 

Third, the new draft reflects leftist parties' insistence on a more expansive government role in providing social services. In addition to the many state responsibilities envisioned in the previous constitution, the charter now commits the government to "achieving social justice" (Article 8), providing "food resources to all citizens" (Article 79), and guaranteeing the elderly "appropriate pensions to ensure them a decent standard of living" (Article 83). It also mandates an exorbitant level of specific state spending: at least 3 percent of gross domestic product must be spent on healthcare (Article 18), 4 percent on education (Article 19), 2 percent on higher education (Article 21), and 1 percent on scientific research (Article 23) — all of which must be put into effect by fiscal year 2016/2017 (Article 238).

 

The fact that the new draft reflects Egypt's current governing coalition is neither surprising nor novel. The previous constitution similarly embodied the coalition that governed only a year ago, giving Morsi and the ruling Islamists a substantial foothold for instituting their theocratic agenda while securing the military's buy-in by granting it unprecedented autonomy (see PolicyWatch 2001). Still, the immediate future of Egypt's transition hinges on whether the current coalition is more durable than the previous one, which collapsed barely six months after the constitution was approved via referendum.

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link– ed.]

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HOW OBAMA IS LOSING EGYPT TO RUSSIA

                                        Jonathan S. Tobin                                                                                 Commentary, Dec. 17, 2013

 

President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks. Those results represent the general disgust about an administration that broke its word on ObamaCare and was too incompetent to build a website that works to sell health insurance. But the consensus among most pundits is that although his domestic policies are viewed negatively, most Americans don’t have much of a problem with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Given the lack of interest in foreign issues it’s difficult to judge whether the president’s weak nuclear deal with Iran is really seen as a positive development or whether they like the way he punted on the crisis in Syria. The only thing we know for sure is that a war-weary public is glad when the use of force is avoided even if they might be leery about handing a victory to Vladimir Putin in Syria or trusting the hate-spewing ayatollahs of Iran to keep their word about their nuclear weapons program.

 

But as much as the president’s efforts to pull back from the Middle East may resonate with those Americans who are sick of conflict, a policy of retreat is not one that stands up to much scrutiny. Thus, although the public understandably cares a lot less about the administration’s policy on Egypt than it does about ObamaCare, the news yesterday about the conclusion of an arms deal between that country and Russia ought to dismay even the most casual observer of foreign policy. The issue isn’t so much whether the Egyptian military will be buying planes and other equipment from Moscow so much as what the accord represents: a staggering reversal for U.S. influence in the Middle East and a signal victory for a Russian dictator who is trying to resurrect the old Soviet and tsarist empires while making mischief for America.

 

It was a little more than 40 years ago that Anwar Sadat kicked Soviet advisers out of Egypt. After decades of depending on Moscow for arms in order to pursue Egypt’s conflict with Israel, Sadat decide that he would be better off throwing in his lot with the United States. After the Nixon administration and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ensured that the Yom Kippur War ended with Egypt not suffering a humiliating defeat, what followed was a gradual shift away from war that led to Sadat’s historic trip to Israel and ultimately the peace treaty with Israel. In exchange for peace, Egypt not only got every inch of the Sinai that had been lost as a result of the aggression it committed in 1967 but also a guarantee of U.S. aid that has stood for more than 30 years. The alliance with Egypt was not only a building block for Middle East peace upon which further attempts to resolve the Arab and Muslim war on Israel were based. It was also the rock upon which American efforts to stabilize the region rested.

 

Though there were always good reasons to worry about the future of the repressive regime of Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, the alternatives to him were always far worse, both for the U.S. and the Egyptian people. That basic truth was reaffirmed in the last three years after President Obama, who had downgraded efforts to democratize Egypt first undertaken by President George W. Bush, helped push Mubarak out of power in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. While the Egyptian military was an unattractive option, the possibility of the country falling into the hands of the Islamist opposition was appalling. Yet that is precisely the outcome the administration seemed to push Egypt toward during this period as it threatened the military with an aid cutoff if they interfered with the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to consolidate power in the wake of their election victory.

 

Once the Brotherhood assumed control in Egypt, the U.S. did not seek to exert its leverage to force the Islamists to pull back on their attempt to transform Egypt in their own image. When, after a year of misrule and tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for the Brotherhood’s ouster this past summer, the U.S. again sought to stop the military from acting–but this time the generals ignored the president’s warnings and put an end to the Islamist government. Since then the U.S. has done little to mend fences with the military and demonstrated little understanding of the fact that Egypt had become a zero-sum game in which the only choices were the Brotherhood or the military. With the administration announcing a partial aid cutoff to the new government, what followed next was entirely predictable. Cairo turned to Moscow for help and for the first time since 1973 Russia has a foothold in the Arab world’s most populous nation as well as the one that, with the Suez Canal, holds its most strategic position.

 

It is true that Putin’s Russia doesn’t pose the same kind of threat to the West as the Soviet Union. But Putin’s efforts to regain influence in the Middle East, first via the preservation of the bloody Assad regime in Syria and now by elbowing the U.S. out of Egypt, is deeply troubling. Some Americans, including libertarians who are intent on withdrawing from the war on Islamist terrorism, may see nothing wrong with abandoning the Middle East to Russia. But a Middle East where Russia has at least an equal say with the United States is one in which moderate Arab regimes as well as Israel will feel far less secure. Since Putin’s only goal is to discomfit the United States and to expand Russia’s influence, the result will give Iran, which is also celebrating the victory of Assad, confidence to continue its own brand of mischief making in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, and with the Palestinians, especially if it resumes its alliance with Hamas. As I wrote back in October, an Obama administration policy that effectively discards Egypt is a victory for Russia as well as a blow to stability and peace.

 

But what is most infuriating about these developments is that none of it had to happen if the Obama administration had not mishandled relations with Egypt so badly. Though the hand it was dealt was by no means a good one, it is in the process of losing an asset that the U.S. had been able to count on for decades. The price of this incompetence will be felt by U.S. policymakers as well as the people of the region for years to come.

                                       

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On Topic

 

Egyptian security forces outgunned by Islamic terrorists in Sinai: Amos Harel, Ha’aretz, Dec. 18, 2013 — The Egyptian security forces’ battle against Islamic terrorist organizations in Sinai has resulted in twice as many casualties among the former than among the latter.

Brotherhood Supporters Advising Obama Administration?: Erick Stakelbeck, CBN News, Dec. 11, 2013 — Egypt acknowledged the danger of the Muslim Brotherhood by recently labeling it a terrorist organization and banning its activities.

Al-Qaeda Emerges Amid Egypt’s Turmoil: Mohannad Sabry, Al Monitor, Dec. 4, 2013 — During the last week of August, I spent a few nights in the villages of the northern Sinai Peninsula where Islamist militants have been hiding and operating since the January 25 Revolution.

Egypt and Political Violence: Bahieddin Hassan, Al-Ahram Weekly, Dec. 17, 2013 — June 1967 witnessed two historical developments: the military defeat of Egypt and its still operating political regime, and the end of the state’s monopoly on violence.

 

 

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