Authoritarians return to run Egypt
September 19th, 2013
10:16 AM ET

Authoritarians return to run Egypt

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.

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Topics: Egypt
August 28th, 2013
09:04 AM ET

'The first bullet came whizzing past my ear'

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.

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Topics: Egypt • Media
Have crimes against humanity been committed in Egypt?
August 26th, 2013
08:49 AM ET

Have crimes against humanity been committed in Egypt?

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.”

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Topics: Egypt
August 17th, 2013
12:36 AM ET

Beinart: Egypt may be biggest Obama administration foreign policy failure

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?

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Topics: Egypt • Foreign Policy • GPS Show • United States
August 16th, 2013
03:49 PM ET

Barak: World should back new Egypt government

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.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Israel • Middle East
Egypt looking depressingly like Iraq
August 15th, 2013
09:25 AM ET

Egypt looking depressingly like Iraq

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.

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Topics: Egypt • Iraq • Middle East • Protests
Muslim Brotherhood ripe for re-radicalization
August 15th, 2013
09:09 AM ET

Muslim Brotherhood ripe for re-radicalization

By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is author of the upcoming bookWill the Middle East Implode?' The views expressed are his own.

Wednesday’s massacre by the security forces in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt has left hundreds dead and perhaps thousands more injured. The old order is lashing out with ferocity against those who dared challenge it. What is worse, a substantial segment of the Egyptian public – mesmerized by the rhetoric of the military brass and its civilian henchmen – consider this a “restoration of democracy” to use John Kerry’s Orwellian term to describe the July 3 military coup.

It is becoming increasingly clear that history is repeating itself as tragedy in Egypt, although with its own peculiar twist. This year reminds me of 1954, when Colonel Nasser, who had led the Egyptian military coup against the then corrupt monarchy in 1952 with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, turned against his Islamist allies, banned the party, threw its leaders in jail and ultimately executed several of them. The Brotherhood, which had emerged into the open after years of clandestine activity against the monarchy, was forced underground once again.

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No, don't cut military aid to Egypt
August 12th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

No, don't cut military aid to Egypt

By Khairi Abaza, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are his own.

The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last month left the United States with a dilemma – should it continue to offer aid to Egypt as normal, or should it cut off the about $1.2 billion a year that goes to the military in protest at what is widely seen outside Egypt as a coup?

Certainly, there are have been loud calls from many within the policy community to do the latter, most notably Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who reportedly said last month: “We have to suspend aid to Egyptian military because the military has overturned the vote of the people.”

McCain appears to have softened his position, suggesting instead last week that the U.S. should consider cutting off aid if “they go ahead and crack down in a violent way.” Regardless, the idea is clear: halting assistance would pressure the Egyptian military into handing control of the government back to a civilian administration as quickly as possible.

But such a policy would not be without consequences for the United States. After all, this episode has pushed Egypt to find new allies – and to diversify its sources of armaments and military training.

The reality is that the Egyptian military has not only been a source of stability for the United States in an otherwise turbulent Middle East, but it has also been a cash cow. Currently, the Egyptian military relies on U.S. military equipment, training and services. This reliance means that Egypt is essentially a client of the U.S. military complex, and aid money is in fact re-injected back into the U.S. economy. Cutting off these armaments and services means that these funds will be diverted to Russian, Chinese, or French coffers.

More from CNN: Morsi holds key to Egypt's future

An end to the current relationship would also clearly mean less leverage for the United States, and the diversity that Egypt’s army is currently seeking would mean that no single country could have the type of leverage the United States has over Egypt. The country’s military would be even harder to influence, and given its current power over the country, this is clearly a dangerous prospect.

But an end to the current relationship would also have a direct and deleterious impact on American interests more broadly. An end to aid would threaten the durability of Egypt’s critical peace treaty with Israel, not to mention the current agreement that guarantees the safe and reliable passage of U.S. military ships and equipment through the Suez Canal.

An end to U.S. assistance would also throw into doubt Egypt’s dependability in times of crisis. The U.S. has engaged in countless military exercises with Egypt to prepare for multiple scenarios, and it would be a tremendous (and costly) shame if the U.S. walks away from such an investment.

And U.S. assistance to Egypt also serves as an important nonproliferation tool. It has enabled Washington to maintain a modicum of control over the arm race in the region, a point that is even more important as Iran continues a path that could ultimately see it acquire a nuclear weapon. Should Tehran cross this threshold, Egypt will almost certainly wish to go nuclear as well since it views Iran as a regional threat. With diminished leverage, the U.S. would be effectively powerless to prevent this “nuclear cascade.”

To be sure, the end of U.S. assistance would be inconvenient for Egypt. But it would not be fatal for its military or political system. The army’s commander, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, knows that Egypt would survive without it.  That’s why he continues to highlight Egypt’s two centuries-old struggle for national sovereignty and free will – a theme that Egyptians appreciate.

Al-Sisi also knows that this would not be the first time Egypt has switched military alliances. After the 1952 military coup, President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a Western ally until the West refused to fund his High Dam project. He subsequently turned to Moscow for help and became a Soviet ally. Washington was not able to bring Egypt back into the Western fold until 1978, leaving a period during which Nasser’s populism was a source of instability for the region, underscored by the wars of 1956, 1967, 1973 and Egypt’s war of attrition with Israel.

The toppling of Morsi will remain a source of controversy for years to come.  But whether it was a coup, a revolution, or a coup-volution matters little now.  What is important is that the United States maintains its crucial relationship with Egypt to safeguard the safety and security of the Middle East for years to come. U.S. threats to cut aid only encourage Egypt’s military leaders to seek new allies – allies that will almost certainly prove to be American adversaries in the future. And quite likely not friends of Egyptian democracy, either.

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Topics: Egypt • Military • United States
Egypt’s identity crisis
August 7th, 2013
09:37 AM ET

Egypt’s identity crisis

By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.  She is also a member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. The views expressed are her own.

What started as a political battle for power between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s liberal parties has become an identity crisis for the country. For many Egyptians, particularly the intelligentsia, the current conflict represents a struggle for the soul of Egypt that goes far beyond the issue of electoral democracy.  Will the nation remain secular in nature, or will it evolve into an Islamist state, even if governed by a democratically elected regime?

For the millions of Egyptians that swarmed into Tahrir Square on June 30, their point was not merely to show their displeasure with the Morsi regime’s abysmal performance and its adoption of Mubarak-style authoritarian tactics. Rather, it was a resounding rejection of what they perceived as a grave transformation in the identity of the state.

While Egyptians are approximately 90 percent Muslim and ten percent Coptic Christians, of whom a vast majority are devout, most are still content with the secular nature of their government.  They take seriously the Islamic proverb that there is no compulsion in religion, and object to the coercive Saudi Arabian model.  Thus, many Muslims and Copts alike have been alarmed by developments in recent months that they saw as altering Egypt’s very identity.

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Analyst: Egypt should have waited for elections
July 19th, 2013
11:49 AM ET

Analyst: Egypt should have waited for elections

By Inesha Premaratne

Inesha Premaratne, an intern with the GPS show, speaks with Gregory Gause III, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, about recent developments in Egypt.

What’s your take on what’s happening in Egypt right now?

Well, I’m pessimistic about what’s happening right now. It seems to me that you have a precedent of the military coming in and ousting an elected government. No matter how bad the government was, that’s a bad precedent for democracy. Secondly, if through this action what you get is a Muslim Brotherhood that is pressured by the state and is either not allowed or not willing to participate itself in the political process, you just can’t have an inclusive democracy.

So would you say that it would have been preferable for the Egyptians to wait for the elections rather than have the military stage a coup?

Yes, I would say that. They should have waited for the parliamentary elections; that would have been better for democracy. You’ll find many Egyptians that will say I’m an idiot, that I don’t understand that the Brotherhood was entrenching itself to such an extent that the elections would have been useless. But in my reading of the Egyptian situation I hadn’t seen the Brotherhood crossing that line yet where they were so monopolizing power, that the elections would have been a sham.

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How Morsy's fall empowers Islamists
July 18th, 2013
09:58 AM ET

How Morsy's fall empowers Islamists

By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is a fellow at the Stimson Center and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the author of "The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of Shi’a-Sunni Divide." The views expressed are her own.

In overthrowing Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s military, the judiciary, and the secular-minded revolutionaries in central Cairo just extended the political life spans of Islamists across the Middle East.

The Muslim Brotherhood, once at the vanguard of worldwide Islamist political and social movements, failed miserably in their year in power. Most likely, President Morsy’s term in office would have met a natural death during the next presidential election.

Instead, the coup has placed the Brotherhood in the uncomfortable but longtime position it had been in for decades — as the victims of a repressive, dictatorial state.

The coup has also empowered other, more socially conservative Islamist groups, whether or not they might be aligned with the Brotherhood.

The Salafists, in particular, stand to gain from the growing intensity of the broad-based Islamist movement as their vast social networks inspire popular support, and some Salafists are able to take the high ground as the true leaders of the faithful. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, could find itself more reliant upon the Salafists — adherents to a strict interpretation of the Islamic texts — if it wants to win future elections.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Protests
July 11th, 2013
11:15 AM ET

What Morsy’s fall means for Hamas

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are his own.

When Egypt’s army toppled the Muslim Brotherhood from power last week, it also delivered a punishing blow to Hamas in Gaza.

Fallen President Mohamed Morsy was one of the last remaining friends of Hamas after the group broke from the Iranian “Axis of Resistance” last year. Unable to stand by while the Iran-backed Syrian regime mowed down tens of thousands of fellow Muslims in Syria, Hamas left its Damascus headquarters. As punishment for this defection, Iran cut the purse strings.

Predictably, Hamas turned to Morsy’s Egypt, along with Qatar and Turkey, for patronage. This Muslim Brotherhood triumvirate, for the last year, provided financial assistance to the terrorist organization that conquered the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, while also working assiduously to bring it out of political isolation. These three countries represented a tripod upon which Hamas, a group that is heavily dependent upon foreign assistance to survive, was tenuously balanced.

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