We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
Egypt

Tag Archives | Egypt

Copts Represent the Struggle and Power of Minorities in Egypt

|
Coptic Christians have long been discriminated against in Egypt. Mohamed Omar/EPA

There was hope for minorities in Egypt during the recent overthrow of the Mubarak regime.

Coptic Christians have long been discriminated against in Egypt. Mohamed Omar/EPA

Dramatic images of revolution streamed into the West including women handing soldiers flowers, Christians making protective body barriers around Muslims praying in the streets during protests, and food handouts in Tahrir Square.  However, the days of rebel-momentum are over. Minority groups in Egypt have faced uncertainty with the ousting of the previous 30-year leadership, all trying to determine their new place in a rapidly changing political and social landscape. Religious groups, women, and Egyptians at large appear to be in a type of existential crisis. ‘Where is the government headed?,’ and ‘Will my rights be secured?’ are the two questions looming in the collective Egyptian mind.

This bewilderment faced by many came to the forefront with Morsi’s recent election and Islamist political parties taking center stage. Naturally, those concerned about human rights have been keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt affecting minorities. But one story throughout Egypt’s history and until now has been the story of many minority groups in the Middle East, and their story is important for understanding what the future may hold for minorities in Egypt: The Coptic Christians.

Continue Reading →

Egypt’s Democracy on Hold

|
Protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

By the time President Mohammed Morsi issued his Constitutional Decree on November 22, the political battle lines in Egypt had been clearly drawn.

Protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

One side, mostly comprised the forces of political Islam led by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). But it also included the conservative Salafi groups such as Al-Noor (Light) and Building and Development Parties, as well as other moderate ones such as Al-Wasat (Center), Al-Hadara (Civilization) and Al-Asalah (Authenticity).

The other side encompassed an array of groups and parties from the far left to the far right: those who represented traditional liberal, socialist, and nationalist forces as well as the Coptic Christian church. Ironically, they also included some of the most active revolutionary youth groups such as the April 6 Movement, as well as powerful remnants of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, whom the revolutionaries had vowed to bring down and put on trial for corruption and repression.

Continue Reading →

Egypt’s Political Showdown

|
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Source: European Union

Ever since the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian society and its political factions have been sharply divided.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Source: European Union

On one side is the Islamic parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but also includes the more conservative Salafi groups as well as other smaller moderate ones such as Al-Wasat Party. On the other is a myriad of secular groups that includes many liberal, leftist, as well as youth revolutionary groups such as the April 6 movement. There is no doubt that the unity displayed during the eighteen revolutionary days that ousted Mubarak had soon after dissipated when Egyptians went to the polls five weeks later and voted to hold parliamentary elections before writing a new constitution. The Islamic parties, which supported this referendum, won it with over seventy-seven percent of the electorate as Egyptians voted in unprecedented numbers.

The Islamic political parties reasoned that a new constitution must be written by an elected body that represents the will of the Egyptian people while the secular parties, realizing that they would be overwhelmingly outnumbered at the ballot box, argued that a new constitution must be written by representatives of all political stripes outside any claim of a popular mandate even if legitimized through elections.

Continue Reading →

Will Islamists Trump Democracy?

|
Salafi Islamists rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The Arab Spring led to the overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, which unleashed the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamists in their quest to take control of the country.

Salafi Islamists rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

President Mohammed Morsi assumed office on June 30, 2012, supported by Islamists. His goal is to establish an Islamic state ruled under Sharia, the Islamic law. The ultraconservative Salafists also want to participate in the governing process. More bloodshed in Egypt can be expected, since democracy in a Muslim society will be difficult to attain. The protesters have said they wanted ‘change’, which the U.S. interpreted as our form of democracy. In reality the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists both observe narrow tenets of early orthodox conservatives, which are not compatible with the tenets of democracy. The State Department has defended the regime change noting, “It was the process that matters, not the ideologies of those taking part,” and that, “[We] trained and gave guidance to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist candidates in the electioneering process.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has since dominated daily life, expanding its grip on a society that had just rid itself of an autocratic ruler. What they got back instead was an Islamist who wants to institute Sharia, and create a Pan-Islamic caliphate among the Arab states. This could be a prescription for on-going destabilization in Egypt, and across the Maghreb and Sahel region. Democracy will not take hold in such an ultraconservative Islamic culture. Libya’s President Mohammed Magerief is under pressure from Islamists, as he attempts to institute democratic governance, as is President Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

Continue Reading →

Long-term Peace in Gaza Depends on Egypt

|
Egypt-Gaza border

The newly elected President of Egypt, Muhammad Morsi, confronted his greatest challenge to date in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Gaza last week – and by almost all accounts, he passed with flying colors.

Egypt-Gaza border

The agreement ended nearly two weeks of intense violence on both sides, which resulted in more than one hundred and fifty deaths and thousands of wounded. Conducted under the auspices of the Egyptian government, the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel will provide welcome relief to both sides of the conflict. However, it still remains only a temporary measure.

The issues at the heart of the conflict – the Israeli imposed siege of Gaza and the rampant smuggling operations caused thereby – have not yet been addressed. In discovering a long term solution, President Morsi finds himself caught between two equally untenable and distasteful positions: embracing his country’s long-standing (though often cold and bitter) détente with Israel and supporting a besieged Hamas with historical and ideological ties to his own Muslim Brotherhood party. He must also attempt to chart a path between the rocky shores of his two biggest sources of support: the American government and the Egyptian public.

Continue Reading →

The Talented Mr. Morsi

|
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, must be feeling rather pleased with himself. Having been instrumental in bringing Hamas and Israel to the bargaining table, he has now issued several decrees that he believes will determine the shape of Egypt’s constitution. Intended to safeguard the country’s ‘revolutionary’ future, two of the decrees provide a good indication of what may be expected from Mr. Morsi and his allies going forward – the Islamist Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) cannot be dissolved by any authority, and none of the decisions he has made since being elected, or until a new constitution and parliament are in place, may be reversed.

Egypt’s new ‘democracy’ is looking increasingly like the dictatorship it was supposed to have replaced, with Mr. Morsi holding unrivaled executive and legislative power. Opposition leader Mohammed El Baradei has rightly accused Mr. Morsi of behaving like a ‘new pharaoh’. The millions of Egyptians who not so long ago held out hope for a genuinely new beginning are undoubtedly wondering how the democracy movement they waited so long for and fought so hard for could have been so easily hijacked.

In spite of the role Mr. Morsi appears to have had in getting Hamas to agree to a cease fire (however temporary it may prove to be), it is important to remember that his government continues to promote the flow of arms along Egypt’s border into Gaza, and has warmly received the embrace of Iran’s Ahmadi-Nejad. It is easier to envision him as a trouble maker than a peacemaker.

Continue Reading →

Gaza Ceasefire Leaves Unclear Picture of the Prospect for Peace

|
The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is far from over. Ali Ali/EPA

Israeli air-raids on Gaza have stopped. Palestinian rockets are not being fired at Israel. The cease-fire seems to be holding.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is far from over. Ali Ali/EPA

After seven days of war, and 157 Palestinian deaths (the great majority of whom were hapless civilians), international leaders are congratulating each other for achieving an end to hostilities. But the obvious question is, how long will it last? The war and the ceasefire negotiations highlighted a number of factors that are less than reassuring for the prospects of peace.

The United States and Australia made it clear during the war that they stood firmly with Israel. No objections to Israel’s disproportionate use of force. No condemnation of civilian death during Israel’s air raids. No questioning of the Israeli interpretation of self-defence. The Obama administration found the perfect opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the special bi-lateral relationship which had become somewhat of a hot topic during the electoral campaign. But this was not a campaign trick. This reaffirmation came after Obama’s electoral victory and pointed to an established pattern of pro-Israeli policies which has been the subject of heated debate in the United States.

Continue Reading →

The Arab Spring Didn’t Buy the West Many Friends

|
Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The Arab Spring brought about regime change as well as created instability. At the same time it emboldened a new generation of Salafi Islamists– spurred on by ultraconservative imams who had been muzzled for years.

Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The Salafi Islamist movement wants to control the governing process. Tunisia was the first to see regime change, followed by Egypt and Libya. Quick action by Algeria’s leader in reducing food prices, and modifying oppressive government actions saved him from the same fate. Morocco also fared better, with the monarchy allowing new parliamentary elections, addressing human rights issues, and giving up some sovereign rights. An Islamist recently won the election in Morocco, and became the prime minister. Salafi Islamists will continue to gain influence in the North African countries. These rulers have temporarily survived, but there is still underlying discontentment that won’t go away. Drought related issues, rising food prices, and high unemployment continue to be major concerns across the Maghreb.

In the Arabian Peninsula al-Qaeda and affiliated Islamic extremists are chipping away at the governments in Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Syria will eventually fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. The instability caused by these Islamists could spill over into Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the Emirates. In Saudi Arabia, al-Saud in 1744 embraced Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s narrow version of Islam, which included armed jihad. Osama bin Laden was a disciple. His al-Qaeda network has been angered by the House of Saud, which could put the Saudi leadership at risk. Islamic extremists will continue to destabilize countries, in their quest to establish Islamic states.

Continue Reading →

World Braces for Syrian Trainwreck

|
Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo's most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012.  Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, a grim milestone was achieved in Syria: several peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo were massacred.

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

The twist is that the demonstrators were calling for protection by the Syrian army to end the destruction of the city; they were shot by insurgents. A single, thinly sourced news item is not needed to demonstrate the profound moral and strategic disarray afflicting the Syrian insurrection as the country totters toward collapse. A handier and more reliable reference point is the abrupt and forcible reorganization of the overseas Syrian opposition at the behest of the United States. The Syrian National Council (SNC) is now just a junior partner in a broader opposition grouping, the “Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces” (SNCORF). Reportedly, this new group was formed at the insistence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is retiring in a few weeks and apparently wished to pull the plug on the ineffectual SNC and replace it with something less overtly Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood-esque. The SNC’s major sponsor, Qatar, and the great minds at the Doha branch of the Brookings Institute responded with the marvel that is SNCORF.

SNCORF is striving for rainbow-coalition inclusiveness. The big tent includes secularists, Christians, Alawites, and women - and also 22 SNC/Muslim Brotherhood holdovers - but, for the time being, no Kurds. Also, none of the Western reporting indicated that representatives of the most inclusive and legitimate in-country opposition, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, led by Hassan Abdul Azim, attended the meeting. In an attempt to have its communal cake and eat it too, SNCORF announced that this inclusive grouping would be headed by a Sunni cleric, an ex-imam of the Umayyad Mosque, one Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who appeared in a suit and tie to advertise, if not his secularism, his secular-friendly taste in attire.

Continue Reading →

Is Israel Prepared to Go Too Far to Prevent Palestinian Non-Member Status at the UN?

|
President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as they walk from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, following their meetings, May 20, 2011. White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as they walk from the Oval Office to the South Lawn Drive of the White House, following their meetings, May 20, 2011. White House/Pete Souza

The latest news coming out of Israel has revealed that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has proposed “toppling” President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority should Palestine’s bid for UN non-member observer status be approved when it is put to the General Assembly on November 29th. Palestine is seeking non-member status with the United Nations as a step towards creating an independent Palestinian state, adhering to the pre-1967 Six Day War boundaries. This proposed area would include the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem—which would also serve as its capital.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority began to seek recognition as a full member state last fall. However, this failed, due to a lack of support in the Security Council, mainly at the behest of the United States, as it threatened to block any admission of Palestine with their permanent member veto power. This has pushed Abbas to seek a downgraded status as a non-member observer.  Last October, Palestine managed to obtain the necessary votes to join UNESCO—the cultural arm of the United Nations. This move led to an immediate punishment by the Israeli government in the form of accelerated illegal settlement construction and withholding tax revenues. The U.S. also withheld funding from UNESCO as part of a legal requirement regarding recognition of the state of Palestine.

Recently, President Barack Obama phoned President Abbas upon winning reelection and urged him to defer the application to the UN. This request was rebuffed by the PA citing that it had been offered zero incentives or concessions to encourage the move. This is just the next level of drama in the seemingly endless and fruitless negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Since the 1993 Oslo Accord promised a resolution to this matter, next to nothing has been accomplished over the last two decades that showcase the promise of a settlement any time soon.

Continue Reading →

U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East: The Next Four Years

|
Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. Let’s start with the Middle East.

Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

The most immediate problem in the region is the on-going civil war in Syria, a conflict with local and international ramifications. The war—which the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited by its crushing of pro-democracy protests— has drawn in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The U.S., France and Great Britain are also heavily involved in the effort to overthrow the Assad government.

The war has killed more than 30,000 people and generated several hundred thousand refugees, who have flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. It has also badly damaged relations between Turkey and Iran. The former supports the insurrection, the latter supports the Assad regime. Pitting Shite Iran (and to a certain extent, Shite Iraq and the Shite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon) against the largely Sunni Muslim opposition has sharpened sectarian tensions throughout the region.

Continue Reading →

China’s Investments in Africa

|
Chinese and Chadian oil workers worked side by side at the exploration site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

There is agreement among those who follow China-Africa relations that state-owned and private Chinese companies have become major investors in Africa over the past 10 years.

Chinese and Chadian oil workers worked side by side at the exploration site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

Even Chinese individuals are investing small amounts in enterprises ranging from restaurants to acupuncture clinics. It is possible that in the past several years, China was the single largest bilateral source of annual foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa’s 54 countries. There is, however, considerable confusion as to what constitutes Chinese investment in Africa. Many analyses, especially journalistic accounts, conflate investment with multi-billion dollar loans from China to African governments that often use the loans to build infrastructure by Chinese construction companies. These loans tend to go to resource rich countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana and are usually repaid by shipping natural resources to China. These loans are not FDI; they are commercial deals, albeit often with a concessionary loan component. It is important to keep them separate from investment.

So how much have Chinese companies and individuals invested in Africa? I have concluded that no one, including no one in China, knows the answer to this question. For that matter, it is not even clear how China defines FDI. China’s Minister of Commerce, Chen Deming, stated in mid-2012 that as of the end of 2011 China’s cumulative FDI in Africa “exceeded $14.7 billion, up 60 percent from 2009.” Also in mid-2012, China’s ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, in a wide ranging speech on China-Africa relations, said: “China’s investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds $40 billion, among which $14.7 billion is direct investment.” He did not explain the difference between investment of “various kinds” and “direct investment.”

Continue Reading →

America’s Moment to Improve Relations with Libya

|
President Barack Obama, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivers a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sept. 12, 2012, regarding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Lawrence Jackson/White House

President Barack Obama, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivers a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sept. 12, 2012, regarding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Lawrence Jackson/White House

The attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 and protests across the Islamic world against the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” have many officials in Washington questioning America’s role in the ‘Arab Spring’. Because of the U.S. presidential election, political debate is focused on the future of U.S.-Libya relations.  In taking a quick glance at the development of American foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Central Asia one can be overwhelmed at the dismal progress that has made in advancing democracy in those regions. There is an urgent need for a successful event to demonstrate to the domestic public and international community that America is capable of bringing stability to these regions.

Libya presents the perfect opportunity for this to happen. Libyans by and large respect the United States for helping to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi. The situation is ripe for achieving a much-needed victory for American foreign policy in the Islamic world that could potentially serve as a watershed moment in MENA.

The important question is what makes the situation in Libya different than America’s position in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen, and Pakistan? Before the uprising against Qaddafi began back in February of 2011, Washington had little interest in Libyan affairs. The Global War on Terror never permeated far into Libya because Qaddafi’s government placed distance between itself and terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda in order to fly under the radar of American security interests.

Continue Reading →

Turkey Haunted by its own Hubris

|
A rebel fighter fires a gun toward a building where Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar Assad are hiding while they attempt to gain terrain against the rebels during heavy clashes in the Jedida district of Aleppo, Syria on Nov. 4.  Narciso Contreras/AP

Two years ago Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a force in international politics. It had stepped in to avoid a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea, made peace with its regional rivals, and, along with Brazil, made a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.

A rebel fighter fires a gun toward a building where Syrian troops loyal to President Bashar Assad are hiding while they attempt to gain terrain against the rebels during heavy clashes in the Jedida district of Aleppo, Syria on Nov. 4. Narciso Contreras/AP

Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply. What happened? The wages of religious solidarity? Ottoman de’je vu?

There is some truth in each of those suggestions, but Turkey’s diplomatic sea change has less to do with the Koran and memories of empire than with illusions and hubris. It is a combination that is hardly rare in the Middle East, and one that now promises to upend years of careful diplomacy, accelerate unrest in the region, and drive Turkey into an alliance with countries whose internal fragility should give the Turks pause. If there is a ghost from the past in all this, it is a growing alliance between Turkey and Egypt.

Continue Reading →

American Foreign Policy in MENA: Bridging the Gap

|
President Barack Obama greets State Department employees after speaking at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

There have been significant changes in the political and social structures in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since the beginning of the Arab Spring. These popular uprisings continue to alter American foreign policy.

President Barack Obama greets State Department employees after speaking at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

The dissolution of several totalitarian regimes in the area after forty years of rule heralds a new era of uncertainty not only for the local populations but also the international community. The establishment of new political institutions is leading to unforeseen areas of unrest. The September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi and widespread protests against the YouTube film, “Innocence of Muslims,” are the manifestations of these developments. The ability of American foreign policy to work effectively towards regional political and economic stability is hindered by these occurrences. However, there remains the opportunity for a watershed moment in American relations in the MENA region.

The correct remedy resides in bridging the gap between the way foreign policy objectives are pursued in the area and the way the American public perceives these policies. The sustainability of any policy rests on continued domestic support for it here in the United States. Therefore, for policymakers, the fundamental goal is to establish a direct link between foreign and domestic policy objectives.

Continue Reading →