ECFR: The Military Republic Wants You

During the First World War the British government used a highly effective and innovative series of propaganda posters in which Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener pointed at the viewer declaring “Your country needs you” or variations on that phrase. Almost a year after declaring that there was no personal ambition in his decision to oust the elected Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, General Abdelfattah al-Sisi has finally declared he will run for the presidency in a propaganda declaration that heavily played on the theme that “Egypt needs you”. Continue reading ECFR: The Military Republic Wants You

POLITICO: The Revolutionary Police State

(Originally published in Politico)

Time was, American presidents had Egyptian leaders at their beck and call. Hosni Mubarak was once obliged to get up at the crack of dawn for a photo op with President Bill Clinton, scheduled with U.S. prime-time TV in mind. But if there’s one thing the “Arab Spring”—if we can still use that term with a straight face—has proved, it’s that those days are gone. Ever since Feb. 2, 2011, when President Obama pulled the plug on Mubarak in a hasty speech calling on the longtime Egyptian strongman to leave “now,” the United States has gone from bankrolling a friendly dictator to bankrolling an unfriendly dictatorship—while fast estranging itself from all sides of the political spectrum. Continue reading POLITICO: The Revolutionary Police State

After Egypt’s Referendum: What Lies Ahead?

(This was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on its website)

The Egyptian authorities hoped that the constitutional referendum would draw a line under the question of the legitimacy of the July 3 regime and they are showing all the signs of believing that the 98 percent ‘Yes’ vote means they have achieved that. Less than 40 percent of eligible voters took the opportunity to use their vote, but only around 41 percent voted in the first constitutional amendment vote in March 2011, and even less voted for the constitution put together under the watch of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. Continue reading After Egypt’s Referendum: What Lies Ahead?

If Sisi runs, and if he does not

If Sisi gives in to temptation and runs for president, the July 3 regime may not last. If he does not, he gives it a chance. If he runs, the July 3 regime continues to define itself as a new beginning, undermining the transformative power of January 25, and in the process dooms itself to failure, but if he does not run it will have a chance to become another chapter in the long process of reconstituting Egyptian politics and society begun on Jan 25. Continue reading If Sisi runs, and if he does not

Egypt’s Revolution That Was

(This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations)

The semantic battle over Egypt’s upheavals of the past three years have been as fierce as the conflict on the ground: was it a revolution or an uprising, was it “stolen” by the Islamists or did they claim their rightful place at its helm, was June 30/July 3 a revolution or a coup? This week’s referendum on the post-Islamist constitution is not only intended by the military regime to consecrate their removal of elected president Mohammed Morsi but bring to an end the entire period of uprising, to begin to draw a line under the revolution itself – a process that will be completed in stages via subsequent presidential and parliamentary elections. Three key institutions of the Mubarak era have reasserted themselves with a vengeance, the military, the security apparatus and the judiciary. Through forms of mass media manipulation born in the early Nasserist years of the military republic and perfected under Mubarak’s police state, the regime has been able to impose a sort of moratorium on revolutionary activity – demands for social, economic and political justice, often made via protests and strikes.   Continue reading Egypt’s Revolution That Was

Stakes high in Egypt as constitution referendum approaches

(This article was written for the European Council on Foreign Relations and appeared on its website)
Egypt’s government is ratcheting up pressure to the maximum to persuade Egyptians to take part in the referendum on the post-coup constitution and to vote yes. The stakes for the regime are high as the referendum has come to be seen as a test of the viability of the order established by the armed forces after they removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi last July. As commentator Wahid Abdel-Meguid said at an Egyptian Organization of Human Rights conference on the constitution this week, “a 70 percent ‘yes’ vote among a 60 percent turnout is better than 90 percent approval from a 30 percent turnout”.  Continue reading Stakes high in Egypt as constitution referendum approaches

Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

(Part of a European Council on Foreign Relations report, ‘The Gulf and Sectarianism’, published November 2013)

Sectarianism has long underpinned Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policy, and it has proved to be a particularly effective tool in the government’s management of the Arab Awakening, the movement of protest and revolt that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Saudi Arabia deployed a sectarian narrative to describe the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, calling it an Iranian-backed movement of Shia empowerment that aimed to disenfranchise Sunnis, the “rightful” Islamic centre of which Riyadh sees itself as champion. Saudi Arabia readily applied this framework to the conflict in Syria as it developed later that same year: the government characterised it as a battle in which a majority Sunni population has had to defend itself from an alignment of deviant Islamic schools and ideologies that aim to subjugate Sunnis – an easy sell considering that Shia powers and actors, specifically Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria’s own Alawi community, have been the most prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad. Continue reading Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

On Hazem Kandil’s View of The Brotherhood As Cult

Hazem Kandil, a political sociologist at the University of Cambridge, outlined in a lecture in Oxford last week his view of the movement as a politically naïve cult acting on an innovative understanding (discordant within the Islamic tradition) of religious determinism – the idea that God will confirm them in the rightness of their path and that faith is ultimately all that matters. In this he refocused attention on an important aspect of the Egyptian Brotherhood that is often overlooked by political analysts who are more interested in examining its success, its failures, its alliances and its intentions. The conclusion is generally avoided in media discourse that they don’t have much of an idea about what they want to do at all. Continue reading On Hazem Kandil’s View of The Brotherhood As Cult

A very Gulf coup

(From the latest issue of Turkish Review, Volume 3 Issue 5: http://www.turkishreview.org/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=223386)

When Hosni Mubarak handed over power to his military peers in Egypt two years ago in the face of over two weeks of determined protests, the shock and fear in the Gulf was profound. As much as the US and Israel, if not more so, Saudi Arabia in particular had long bet on the strong arm of Mubarak’s police state, with the military in the background, to maintain the ‘stability’ that kept dangerous democratic forces in check Continue reading A very Gulf coup