By Avi Asher-Schapiro
This month marks three years since Hosni Mubarak resigned as Egypt’s president. But what does the future hold? GPS intern Avi Asher-Schapiro speaks with Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center and author of the forthcoming book Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, for his take on what to look out for.
What do you make of the current political climate in Egypt? Are we in the midst of a democratic transition or witnessing the return of authoritarianism?
You have to be patient with democratic transitions in general. The problem in Egypt is that there is no democratic transition at all. So there’s really nothing to be patient for. If you believe that autocracies like the current military backed government in Egypt are by their very nature not permanent, then yes Egypt will eventually get better. But there’s no real reason for optimism at this moment; I don’t think patience is much in order.
So we have to start asking: how bad can things really get in the short term? How long can a military regime in Egypt last? And how ugly will its removal or fall be?
By Gerry Simpson, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Gerry Simpson is Human Rights Watch's senior refugee researcher and advocate and author of a new report, 'I Wanted to Lie Down and Die: Trafficking and Torture of Eritreans in Sudan and Egypt.' The views expressed are his own.
Mesfin fled his country in early 2012 in the dead of night. Eritrea's repressive regime had forced him, like tens of thousands of other men and women there, to become a soldier at 16, with the prospect of life-long involuntary military service. He fled his barracks but was caught.
After eight years in prison, he had escaped. Dodging border guards with shoot-to-kill orders, he headed for neighboring eastern Sudan, seeking a safe haven.
He was not the only one. Since 2004, at least 130,000 Eritreans – an average of 35 every day – have crossed to Sudan, fleeing indefinite conscription, torture, enforced disappearances and religious persecution. Tens of thousands more have fled to Ethiopia. So appalling is Eritrea's rights record and its repression of its own people that in 2012, 90 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers who did manage to reach a safe place worldwide were recognized as refugees or given other protected status.
By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law where she teaches national security, civil rights, and Middle East law. She serves as president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are her own.
Egyptian society, once teeming with calls for freedom, justice and dignity, has been replaced with an atmosphere of vengeance. Instead of calls to preserve fundamental human rights, Egyptians now praise their internal security forces for killing and arresting en mass those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood – the newly declared enemy of the state.
That these are the same people who won Egypt’s first freely contested parliamentary and presidential elections is apparently of no consequence. What is consequential, however, is the transformation of a grassroots revolution into an indefinite War on Terror. Rather than challenge police abuses, Egyptians compete to be the most patriotic in supporting the army and security forces’ violent crackdown of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the crackdown's expansion to secular youth groups is met with equal support.
When criticized by the international community for violating international norms, the Egyptian state points to the language of the U.S. government as its exemplar. And, sadly, it is true that the United States’ War on Terror effectively legitimized practices that were once only associated with pariah states.
By Steven A. Cook, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. The views expressed are the writers’ own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.
Egypt hasn’t made international headlines for a while, but Egyptians themselves have still been making news. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that began after a coup toppled embattled President Mohammed Morsy in July has extended through the end of 2013, and will likely continue. At the same time, a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula has occasionally reached into major cities like Ismailiyya and Cairo. The government’s approach to the violence seems to be based solely around bringing as much firepower to bear on the perpetrators as possible. But while there might be some success in killing some terrorists and criminals, the complexity of the situation on the ground means this strategy will likely do little to change an environment where extremist elements thrive.
Beyond the security situation, Egyptian politics are likely to remain fraught. After the coup, the military-backed interim government issued a roadmap for the restoration of democracy. Never mind the fact that there was no democracy to restore – Egyptian officials have been faithful to the transition they set up after the military’s July intervention. Since interim President Adly Mansour accepted constitutional revisions that first a committee of ten legal experts, and then a broader group of fifty, debated and further refined, the constitution will be put to a referendum on January 14 and 15. The roadmap calls for parliamentary elections within 15 days of the draft document’s passage, and then finally presidential elections within one week of the parliament’s first session. Mansour is currently studying the idea of flipping presidential and parliamentary elections. Regardless of what he decides, Egyptians will carry out the remaining aspects of the roadmap relatively problem free, but this does little to resolve three core issues that will destabilize Egyptian politics in 2014.
By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.
The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.
The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.
By David Barnett, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. You can follow him @dbarn225. The views expressed are his own.
Late last month, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), a Sinai-based Salafi jihadist group, released a video detailing its September assassination attempt on Egypt's interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, in Nasr City. While the suicide bombing attack failed to kill the interior minister, it marked the first time ABM had conducted an attack in Egypt’s “mainland.”
The video’s release comes amidst a somewhat surprising downturn in the frequency of attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, where violence has been raging and the Egyptian military has responded by deploying a significant amount of force. While army operations in the Sinai may well be succeeding on some level, ABM and its cohorts may be entering a new phase in which they carry out less frequent but till bolder and bloodier attacks.
Violence carried out by ABM is nothing new, of course. Although the group has only claimed responsibility for a few of the reported 197 attacks (the actual number is likely much higher) in the Sinai since the toppling of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy on July 3, it has hinted at involvement in many others. These ongoing attacks have targeted everything from property to Egyptian security personnel, former politicians, and tribal leaders.
By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law. She is a member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are her own.
Last week’s announcement by Egypt’s military that it is extending a state of emergency for another two months was but the latest reminder that Egypt has regressed back to pre-revolution authoritarian practices.
Since Mohamed Morsi was ousted as president in July, Egypt’s military and security forces have tightened their grip on the country. And while the vast majority of Egyptians supported Morsi’s overthrow, a growing number of the well-intentioned millions who took to the streets against him are starting to realize that they may simply have been pawns in a much bigger political struggle between Egypt’s oldest political opposition party and the country’s strongest political stakeholder.
The truth is that Morsi entered the Egyptian presidency with the odds already stacked against him. Not only was he wading through uncharted waters as the first democratically elected president, but he inherited a plethora of economic, social, and political problems that required years, if not decades, to fix. Moreover, the absence of a parliament to legislate necessary reforms, and his razor thin victory at the polls as the “less bad” candidate next to Mubarak loyalist Ahmed Shafik, limited his political capital from the start.
Further weakening him, the Muslim Brotherhood had few, if any, allies among the most powerful stakeholders – the judiciary, the internal security forces, the media and the state bureaucracy – as a result of decades of exclusion from key government institutions.
By Howard Cohen
Last month, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy was ousted in a military coup just a year after taking office. Almost 1,000 people have been killed in the ensuing violence as pro-Morsy protesters have taken to the streets to demand his reinstatement. GPS intern Howard Cohen spoke with CNN Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon, who came under fire while reporting on events in Cairo.
A former CNN cameraman, Mick Deane, was shot and killed in Egypt. You were reporting on the outbreak of violence in the country when gunshots sent you ducking to the ground for cover. Are journalists being deliberately targeted?
That’s a very heavy accusation to make. Mick Deane was shot through the chest, it would seem by a sniper. At the time that we came under fire, we could hear a gun battle in the distance. That was, however, on the other side of a fairly crowded square. A few blocks away from that, people in the square were calm, they were chatting, they were walking around. And all of a sudden, the first bullet came whizzing past my ear. So we moved a bit further away from the square, thinking that perhaps it was a stray bullet that had come by. And then, in the middle of the live shot, there was an intense barrage of gunfire. What you don’t see is that after the camera signal goes down as we were trying to move out of that location, there was gunfire that seemed to be directed towards us also coming from elsewhere. Egypt has never been a friendly environment for journalists. They came under attack numerous times during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak back in 2011 and since then, there have been repeated assaults on journalists.
By Charles R. Kennedy Jr, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Charles R. Kennedy Jr., is an associate professor of management at the Wake Forest School of Business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The views expressed are his own.
As the debate continues over whether the United States should (or indeed has) cut-off aid to Egypt in light of the ongoing brutal crackdown, Washington should perhaps be asking itself another question: have crimes against humanity been committed?
This suggestion might at first glance seem outlandish to some. And yet with about a thousand dead so far (many of whom were most likely killed with U.S.-supplied arms), it is worth noting that the numerous attacks on unarmed, civilian protesters do indeed fit the official definition of such crimes.
According to the International Criminal Court: “any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: murder…persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds…and other inhuman acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.”
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Peter Beinart, a senior political writer with the Daily Beast, and Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, about the developments in Egypt.
So, Bret, when you look at what's going on in Egypt, you now have a military coup that it's very difficult to make the case it was a soft coup. And I understand the niceties of the American government not calling it that, but you had the military take over a democratically elected government. You now have the military appointing 17 out of 19 generals as governors. How should we think about this?
Stephens: Look, first of all, it's a problem with no good solutions. You have in Egyptian politics a kind of a zero-sum game. I mean, efforts by Senators McCain and Graham, by the administration itself to try to finesse a power sharing agreement between the military and the Brotherhood, have clearly failed. The Brotherhood aims to topple the military; the military understands that it's in a kind of death match with the Brotherhood and is going to exert itself forcefully, and as we've seen this week, violently on the Brotherhood to stop them.
The question is, can we help? Can we show the military that it’s in their own interests to have a political process that if it doesn’t quite include the Brotherhood, doesn’t suppress them as violently. Because the government, especially General Sisi, will not be doing themselves favors with the rest of the Arab world – certainly not with Europe and the United States – if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets. So how do you soften those blows?
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, just days before the latest outbreak of violence, about Egypt’s government and the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi.
Would it be fair to say that Israel is quietly happy with the change of government, which of course many people regard as a coup, in Egypt? The new government has been much tougher on the border in terms of supplying Hamas.
Yes, you know, I don't think that we are really a major player in this. It’s a dramatic development for the Egyptian people and for the whole Middle East, the Arab peoples. Israel is not the center focal point of this.
You have the border with Gaza and this government has been...better than Morsi’s government?
Yes. But I think that the whole world should support Sisi. I believe that...
…the new Egyptian government?
I think that you have to support him. If we support him, it probably will embarrass him and it probably won't help him. But Sisi and the liberals, ElBaradei and others, they deserve the support of the free world. To whom else can they turn?
Morsi was elected relatively fairly, but he immediately turned to use the very tools...of [being] slightly and quite democratically elected into turning into a totally totalitarian, Sharia-like extreme Islamist system. And his own people rejected it.
By Erin Evers, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Erin Evers is a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
I awoke at 7 a.m. on Wednesday to a frantic telephone call. A contact inside of Raba’a al-Adaweya, one of the two six-week-old Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins that took over two Cairo neighborhoods, was on the line. “It’s starting,” he told me. “We’re surrounded. They’re firing on us from three sides.”
I spent the rest of the day alternately seeking out the injured and trying to avoid becoming one of them. Dozens, if not hundreds, have been killed at Raba’a, at the Cairo University sit-in, and at flashpoints throughout Cairo and the rest of the country.
Society here seems to hang by a thread. Fighting continues and it is unclear who’s on what side. I spoke to a man injured at the Cairo University sit-in who said he and 25 others had come to fight the Brotherhood alongside police.
Checkpoints litter the city, some manned by the army or police, others by groups of men in civilian clothes reminiscent of the “neighborhood watches” who took matters into their own hands during Egypt’s January 2011 revolution. The country is polarized in a way I never imagined.