By Javier Zúñiga, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Javier Zúñiga is a special adviser to Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
It was starting to get dark as I was staring into the crowd from an avenue overlooking the square.
“The army! The army!” people began to shout from the nearby buildings. Then we saw small armored vehicles and soldiers with rifles moving into the square. I took my little daughter and my wife out of there and we found shelter in a nearby building. As we were leaving, a helicopter flew overhead and shot a flare. Then the gunfire started.
Early the next morning, we returned to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco area, and saw the piles of belts and shoes. Pools of blood remained on the ground and there were bullet holes at eye level on concrete pillars around the square.
A university professor at the time, I had gone there to see my students who were on strike, riding the wave of the protests of ’68. But the aftermath of the protest and the brutal crackdown was to become an education in impunity for all of us.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.
Barely a week after having been released from prison, prominent Saudi rights activist Mohammed Al-Bajadi was reportedly detained again on Wednesday. Sadly, Al-Bajadi had already served more than two years in jail for something that should not have been a crime in the first place: establishing a human rights NGO that urged Saudi officials to live up to their own stated legal code.
Ironically, Al-Bajadi first ran afoul of Saudi authorities by calling attention to the plight of other individuals detained without charges, often for years at a time. In 2007, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for four months for highlighting this issue.
In 2009, he was hauled in for questioning about his continued peaceful activism for democratic reform and for the rights of prisoners. Although he was released without further punishment, his passport was confiscated to prevent him from traveling abroad. The organization he helped found that year, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, has consistently been denied requests for a license. Earlier this year, the group’s assets were confiscated, and two of its other founders were each sentenced to at least a decade in prison.
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.
By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, it was widely hailed as a harbinger of a democratic transformation of the Middle East. The overthrow of repressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had many hoping that the Arab Middle East might in turn overcome the “petro curse” of vast oil reserves and finally embrace a democratic future, joining the dozens of new democracies that have emerged across the globe since the end of the Cold War.
Two years later, it is easy to see why many in the West have started to reassess that rosy outlook. The excitement over events in Egypt has been replaced with disillusionment and confusion following the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s government just a year after he was elected. In Syria, meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to cling to power as the death toll in the brutal civil war that has engulfed the country passes the one hundred thousand mark.
By Matias Spektor and Ryan Berger, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Matias Spektor is an assistant professor at the Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. Ryan Berger is a visiting researcher at the Fundação Getulio Vargas. The views expressed are the authors' own.
Brazil’s easygoing and upbeat international image has been upended in recent weeks. Popular demonstrations burst into the mainstream last month, when resentment over a nine-cent increase in bus fares intensified into an outpouring of anger on the nation’s streets at insufficient public services and rampant political corruption.
The protests continued last week in Rio de Janeiro to coincide with the first international trip of Pope Francis’s papacy. And they seem to have broad support among the public – a recent survey by Ibope indicated that 89 percent of Brazilians support the demonstrations.
What is happening in Brazil has undertones of discontent seen in Chile, where students have staged ongoing rallies for education reform, and Turkey, where mostly young protestors initially occupied a park over urban redevelopment plans and then railed against heavy-handed governance.
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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By Global Public Square staff
Many of the countries we were so hopeful about only a couple of years ago are in turmoil. Egypt's stability is precarious. Turkey has been rocked by protests. The BRIC nations are sagging economically. On the other hand, there is one place, once described as the world's most dangerous country, that’s offering up a pleasant surprise: Pakistan. Yes, it's full of Islamic radicals, nuclear weapons, ambitious generals, and corrupt politicians. But things are changing.
Pakistan has just accomplished a first in its history: an elected government completed its five-year term, giving way to a new set of democratically elected leaders. This was never allowed to happen before. Every prior civilian government in Pakistan had been deposed by a military coup. You see, Pakistan's military is the world's seventh largest, and has ruled the country for almost half its existence.
The elections are even more exceptional when you consider the conditions. The Pakistani Taliban had declared war against democracy, targeting three major political parties for elimination. As a result, the campaign period turned out to be the bloodiest in Pakistan's history. At least 80 people were killed and 400 injured in dozens of attacks. Would you go to the polling booth in these conditions? And yet, voter turnout topped 55 percent – nearly the same as the last U.S. presidential election! In part, this is because Pakistan's demographics are vibrant. A third of the electorate is under the age of 30. These are voters who are not burdened by the memories and missteps of the past. Instead they're optimistic and forward-looking about their country.
By Fareed Zakaria
There is jubilation in many quarters of Egypt and beyond over the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is true that President Mohamed Morsi's government was a disaster in many dimensions. The Brotherhood ruled in a manner that excluded large segments of the society, used and abused the law and overreached. Perhaps as important, it was utterly incompetent, steering Egypt's already dysfunctional economy into the gutter. It had become wildly unpopular, with millions who had supported it now actively opposed. The Brotherhood was almost certain to be roundly defeated in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Had it failed politically, electorally and democratically, that would have been a huge boost for the forces of liberalism and reform in the Arab world. It would have sent the signal that political Islam may be a heartwarming, romantic idea but is utterly unsuited to governing–that mullahs can preach, but they cannot manage an economy.
Instead, the great danger of what has happened in Egypt is that followers of the Muslim Brotherhood will once again become victims, gaining in stature as they are jailed, persecuted and excluded. And some of them will decide that democracy is a dead end.
By Islam Al Tayeb and Elly Jupp, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Islam Al Tayeb is a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Middle East, and Elly Jupp is a research associate at IISS-Middle East. The views expressed are their own.
When people took to Egypt’s streets in 2011, they demanded not just freedom and social justice, but also bread. Indeed, frustration with high levels of poverty, unemployment and meager economic opportunities were a major trigger for the initial protests. A little more than a year into his presidency and it was clear Mohamed Morsy had done little to improve Egypt’s perilous economic situation. He has been duly swept from office, but whatever government comes next is left with the same challenge of balancing the competing demands of the Egyptian economy and the country’s people.
On one side, the Egyptian people are demanding that key commodities, principally fuel and food, continue to be subsidized. On the other, international financial institutions insist the subsidies should be cut. In the meantime, terms have still not been agreed for a desperately needed $4.8 billion IMF loan, with the International Monetary Fund insisting upon reductions in subsidies as part of an economic reform plan, even though Morsy’s government appears to have been correct in predicting that cutting them would prompt outrage among cash-strapped or unemployed Egyptians.
By Fareed Zakaria
The events in Egypt over the last week have been fascinating but also bewildering. Most of us don’t quite know what to make of them. Is what has happened a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s start with some basic facts.
The government that was deposed in Egypt was an elected government. Mohamed Morsy’s Freedom and Justice Party, won the presidential election, the parliamentary elections, and a referendum to approve a new Egyptian constitution. So there’s no getting around it – this was the party that represented the wishes of the Egyptian people as expressed through the ballot box.
On the other hand, the government ruled in an arbitrary and highhanded manner and in many, many cases, violated human rights and outlawed its political opponents. President Morsy announced that his decrees were above judicial scrutiny. He banned all members of the previous ruling party from participating in politics for life. He did little about attacks on Egyptian’s Christian minority. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsy was a lifelong member, had promised not to seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority and it reneged on both pledges, creating this new Freedom and Justice Party as a façade.
By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is associate professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and a member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association (www.earla.org). She can be followed on twitter @saharazizlaw. The views expressed are her own.
Egyptians have made more history in the last two years than in many decades past. They welcomed military rule only to waste 15 months pushing them back to their barracks. They turned out in record numbers to vote for a new parliament that was later dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court. The first democratically elected president took office on June 30, 2012 only to be deposed by the military after barely completing his first year in office. Dozens of new political parties have been formed, most of which are inept at campaigning for popular support outside of Cairo and Alexandria. And a new constitution was passed through procedurally questionable means that ultimately led to its current suspension.
All the while, the sacrifices of young people and women were rewarded by excluding them from official political processes, party leadership, and government institutions by the military, the political opposition, and Morsy’s regime.
With every step toward democracy, mistakes were made that provide important lessons as Egyptians develop the political maturity and experience needed to effectively self-govern, and the current political crisis highlights six particularly important lessons at this critical juncture in Egypt’s history.
Military rule is anathema to democracy. Military governance is the death knell of democracy irrespective of the military’s purportedly good intentions. Not only are initial promises of short-term rule quickly broken, but the military is simply unqualified to govern a nation of more than 80 million people of whom about 25 percent live below the poverty line. Nor is the military a democratically elected institution that represents the will and needs of the diverse Egyptian electorate.
After wasting 15 months of precious post-revolutionary time pressuring the military out of civilian governance, Egyptians simply cannot afford another protracted political battle with a military that starts out as a protector but quickly becomes authoritarian.
Get elections right the first time. Passage of a parliamentary election law riddled with unconstitutional provisions is fatal to all parties. After decades of fraudulent elections based on election laws that guaranteed the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) a political monopoly, a new election law was rammed through by the military with nominal civilian input. Despite warnings from legal experts, parliamentary elections were held prematurely, with political parties taking more than their fair share by running members for seats preserved for independent candidates. When a legal challenge was presented to the Supreme Constitutional Court, it had no other option than to strike down those provisions that denied constitutionally mandated equal opportunity and access to political office for all Egyptians.
While the court’s far reaching remedy of dissolving the entire lower house of parliament called into question their political neutrality, the blame for a poorly drafted election law falls squarely on the military regime and those supporting its rule after the revolution.
A properly drafted election law based on the input of non-partisan legal experts would have saved Egypt months of political and judicial crises and could have avoided the military coup currently underway.
Do not make the constitution the handmaiden of politics. When then President Mohamed Morsy issued a presidential decree in November 2012 that placed himself above the law in order to prompt a public referendum on the new constitution, he permanently tainted his credibility. His politically shortsighted, not to mention illegal, move sealed the fate of what could have been a legitimate roadmap for centuries to come. Even if Morsy’s intent was to shorten the period of a legal vacuum arising from the absence of a constitution, his regime should have had the foresight to see the forest from the trees.
A constitution viewed as illegitimately passed, notwithstanding its substantive strengths, is of little value. The few months invested in engaging with a fractured political opposition and informing the public about key issues under debate would have been a small sacrifice in light of the grave consequences of yesterday’s military coup.
Do not assume all appointed officials are diehard loyalists. While few government institutions were left untouched by the NDP’s pervasive corruption, not every former government official was a Mubarak loyalist. Each public entity had its die hard supporters, many of whom were in leadership positions, but many government officials were pragmatists who kept their mouths shut in order to keep their jobs and provide for their families. Though morally weak and beneficiaries of financial corruption, they can be converted into following a transparent and democratic system imposed by the demands of the people.
Hence, calling for mass termination of public officials and judges, especially when they possess much needed skills, is a recipe for chaos. Despite the oppositions’ valiant efforts for systemic reform, many simply do not have the knowledge or skills to implement their lofty ideals. It is well worth the time to establish transparent procedures to weed out the irreparably corrupt and rehabilitate those willing to follow new rules developed to serve the people.
Do not underestimate the former regime’s ability to sabotage the revolution
Egyptians are fully cognizant of the Mubarak regime’s mass theft of the public treasury. For more than three decades, a class of business and political elite stole billions of dollars from a nation that desperately needed the funds to fulfill its potential to become a regional leader in various industries. But instead of invest in the people; illegitimate leaders took massive kickbacks, granted public contracts to their cronies, sold themselves public lands at rock bottom prices, and persecuted anyone that challenged their authority.
This corrupt class of folool, or Mubarak loyalists, is still deeply entrenched in every aspect of the economy, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage any new system that not only repossesses their stolen wealth but holds them criminally accountable for their financial and political fraud.
Egyptians are no Longer willing to sacrifice democracy for stability
The most important lesson for all current and future politicians is that Egyptians have been forever changed by the 2011 revolution. No longer will they be used as pawns by political leaders, even if democratically elected, who engage in illegal governance tactics. Their strong commitment to self-governance, as demonstrated in the latest round of mass demonstrations, has become a permanent fixture in the Egyptian political landscape. Elected politicians, opposition parties, and military leaders alike should take heed that any future attempts to exploit mass protests to their political advantage will ultimately fail.
With every mistake made, Egyptians are becoming more politically mature. They are no longer satisfied with lofty rhetoric unsubstantiated by action plans that incorporate their interests. They are willing to return to the streets when the public interest is disregarded in political processes and national dialogues.
But the cost of mass protests is high for the nation’s economy and further delays rebuilding a nation crumbling after a series of brutal dictators. To make protests a permanent substitute for fair and free elections, national dialogue, and professional advocacy is to place Egypt in a perpetual state of uncertainty instead of a sustainable democracy.
In the end, it is Egyptians that have the most to gain from lessons learned and the most to lose for mistakes made. For their sake, let’s hope the learning curve is steep.
Frustrated with President Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptians have taken to the streets in massive, largely peaceful, demonstrations against their government. But how should the U.S. respond to the protests? CNN speaks with Fareed about what role, if any, the United States should play.
A really amazing situation is unfolding in Egypt. What do you think the U.S. role should be?
This is a very tough spot. At some level, no matter what the United States does it gets blamed. For decades it was blamed for supporting the military, it was blamed for that even a year or two ago. Now the claim is that they’re too pro-President Morsy. So they’ve been trying to thread this needle and support the democratic process, the democratization of Egypt, and therefore support the outcome of that process, which was President Morsy.
The American ambassador probably went too far when she ruled out military intervention. She said that would be a terrible idea. So the president is now trying to backpedal a little bit and say well maybe the president should hold fresh elections.
But I think this is very treacherous water. In my view, the best thing for the United States would be to do is sort of stay out, say we support the Egyptian people, we support whatever choices they make. This is a fragile democracy. It's going to have some twists and turns, but this is a great country and they will end up all right.