Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Morsi's Confessions

I could only think of Captain Louis Renault, of the French Vichy controlled Morocco, saying "Round up the usual suspects" as to what, could have possibly, inspired President Morsi ideas of what "the rule of law" as a concept, stood for. Usually, I find myself a consumer of news and analysis during eventful periods, holding back on much writing until news reports slow down. Only then, do I feel, that I can look back at events, with a level of objectivity and clarity. This has become a tall order, with Egypt revolution and post revolution phases, as events never seem to cease. Egypt, where nothing much happened for decades, has gone to the extreme in news generation and endless ensuing commentaries, professional and voluntary journalism alike, the ultimate happening place!

A fascinating aspect of the post Jan25, or the January 25, 2011 Egyptian Revolution, is that, the huge amount of news reports, live news feeds often render radically differing versions of reality. A particular event that occurred on December 5, 2012, commonly referred to as the "Events of Ittahadiya Palace"' where massive clashes between pro and anti President Morsi protesters erupted leaving some 8 people dead and hundreds injured. What is clear is that peaceful anti Morsi protesters were violently attacked by Muslim Brothers, destroying their tents and other belongings. Few have argued that the events started with violence from Muslim Brotherhood supporters against the peaceful encamped protesters. What transpired afterwords, with scenes of urban civil war including use of tear gas, Molotov cocktails and live ammunition is subject to two radically different accounts; how many people were shot dead? Whose side they belonged to? Which side was armed with guns? These questions have conflicting answers. There also appear to be little doubt that the Brotherhood supporters operated some sort of detention center with clear evidence of torture, of their prisoners. I have not seen reports of a similar detention or torture by the anti Morsi protesters. So much has been written on the events of Ittahadiya Palace and staggering amounts of evidence has been assembled

Perhaps, for me, most shocking and troubling were the words of President Morsi commenting on Ittahadiya Palace events. The president stated that "hired thugs" were part of the protests, some "80 people have been arrested" and "we have their confessions". President Morsi was speaking of events that occurred merely 24 hours earlier, when he referenced incriminating confessions and conspiracies.

The word "confession" or admission of one's guilt is remarkable coming from a man, who himself, has been on the receiving end of injustice and suppression of freedom of thought and association.  There is little doubt that President Morsi came across numerous stories of the use of coerced confessions as a tool of the totalitarian police state, which Egypt actually revolted against. The fact that he referred to incriminating confessions, of people arrested only few hours earlier, to say the least, was outrageous. 

Totalitarian regimes are highly effective in extracting confessions. They rarely have unsolved crimes, or long running investigations, a criminal is easily found, a confession is forthcoming and thus, the machinery of injustice operate speedily and efficiently. In the case of President Morsi's alleged confessions, the machine did not cooperate. Indeed all 49 people arrested by the Egyptian Police, were in actual fact victims of the Muslim Brotherhood torture, who were released by the prosecutors within two days following President Morsi's remarks.  

Confessions have a relatively weak standing in most democracies and indeed, in some countries, are hardly admitted as evidence except in narrowly defined circumstances. President Morsi's words were, in fact, an indictment, not only to the president himself, but also to his capacity to reform Egypt justice and police systems, one of the clear undertakings of his campaign and post election speeches. Regardless of what President Morsi was told and what information he may not have had access to, how could Egypt first elected post revolution president utter such words. Morsi's words, even if if prosecutors would have cooperated in indicting the victims, betray a total ignorance of the rule of law and the most basic understanding of justice be it civil or Islamic. 

Sadly, the Muslim Brothers and their Freedom and Justice Party played up the Captain Renault understanding of the "rule of law", in practically every single statement or position they have taken, since the Ittahadiya Palace events and upped President Morsi's comments. The Brotherhood never repudiated the original act of destruction of the tents of the anti Morsi protesters, never admitted to the illegal torture and detention by their supporters of the opposition and never accepted the culpability of the Islamists in the death of opposition protesters.

Jan25 revolution, was specifically held on Egypt's Police Day. The 25th of January was chosen Egypt's Police Day in honor of the bravery of an Egyptian police station battling a unit of the the British Army during the struggle for independence. A trigger for Jan25 was the brutal torture and death of a young activist, Khaled Said, at the hands of Egypt's police. The police fabricated drug charges against Khaled Said, with the complicity of the prosecutor and the coroner. Later reexamination of the case proved the guilt and complicity of Egypt's Ministry of Interior. So for President Morsi and the Muslim Brothers to fail to address reform of the police is serious enough, but to engage in the language of "hired thugs" and talk of confessions of conspiracy is simply treacherous to the basic principles of Jan25.  

The following extracts of statement published by  Human Rights Watch and by UNHCR summarizes what many, the world over, are waiting on President Morsi to explain his "confessions":

"A speech by Morsy on December 6 in which he referred to “confessions” of detained protesters as evidence that they were “hired thugs” raises concerns for their due process rights and suggests that the authorities were aware of the illegal detentions outside the presidential palace. The secretary of the president on foreign affairs, Eng. Khaled Al Qazzaz, told Human Rights Watch that the president was not aware of the detention of the 49 individuals at the time and that this was currently being investigated along with reported deaths and injuries.

“Instead of condemning illegal detentions and abuse right outside the presidential palace, President Morsy spoke out against the victims,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecutor’s response in this high-profile case, namely his willingness to investigate violence by both sides and the role of state officials, is crucial for upholding the rule of law during this tense time."

December 25, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Obama Middle East Experiment

US President Mr. Barak Obama made a speech in Cairo University on June 4th 2009 . In his, almost hour long speech, Mr. Obama outlined the United States future Middle East policy. As Mr. Obama starts his second term in office it becomes critical to examine, how did the actions of the Obama administration match the content of the Cairo speech; and possibly predict what lies ahead, specifically for my beloved birthplace and homeland, Egypt.  

Following extracts from Obama speech about democracy are particularly relevant:

“I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

The Obama administration followed the premise of the Cairo speech above and, largely, stood by the side of the peaceful demonstrators against the longtime dictator and US ally Hosni Mubarak, which led to his fall and a transition period run by his top Generals. The transition period was marred by human rights violations that rivaled the Mubarak thirty-year era. As the transition period ended with the presidential elections between two undesirable candidates; the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mr. Mohammed Morsi vs. Mr. Ahmad Shafiq who was a Mubarak loyalist and his last prime minster. On June 24, 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won the elections by 51.7% of the vote, following agreeing but not guaranteeing a number of  concessions to the revolutionary opposition, who agreed to back Morsi. The revolutionary camp could not contemplate the idea of an ex-army general, with strong ties to the Mubarak regime, as president. Alleged back-room deals between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army generals paved the way for declaring Morsi winner.

 On November 22, 2012 Egypt entered another phase of political instability when Mr. Morsi issued a declaration designed to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution from judicial interference. This declaration, in effect,  immuned Mr. Morsi's actions from any legal challenge. The sweeping declaration had other articles designed to appease the masses such as retrials of those accused of killings peaceful protestors during the Mubarak era. Such articles added no real legal value, as they required new evidence to be presented to justify these retrials. Peaceful protests erupted immediately in Egypt demanding withdrawal of the declaration and formation of a new Constituent Assembly that is balanced and representative of all Egyptians instead of the current assembly that is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi and other Islamist supporters. The Muslim Brotherhood armed militias dealt with these protests utilizing brutal force killing 6 protestors and wounding hundreds. Two Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed in the ensuing clashes.

The Obama administration, at this critical moment, faces a critical test regarding its true intentions for Egypt's fledgling democracy. It is becoming apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood and their president advocated democracy when they were out of power; once in power they became ruthless in suppressing the very same democracy that got them into power, not unlike what Mr. Obama predicted in his Cairo speech. So far the Egyptian people are getting mixed signals from Washington, on the one hand, the Obama administration stood by Morsi as a pay back to the ceasefire he helped broker between Israel and Hamas, on the other hand the Obama administration started slowly to pull away from the Egyptian regime hoping to nudge the Muslim Brotherhood into negotiating with their opposition.  

There are few questions upon us at this point. Could the Obama administration have predicted the outcome in Egypt as it is today?  Yes! The US administration knew well the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood as a supremacist organization which has been aiming to gain control over Egypt for over eighty years and would use all possible legal and illegal means to achieve its goal.  It is also apparent to a student of history such as Mr. Obama, that the Muslim Brotherhood will stop at nothing to spread its reach over the Arab and Muslim worlds to re-establish the lost Islamic Caliphate.

Could the Obama administration have changed the outcome in Egypt? No! The Obama administration did not have much choice in the outcome thus far.  The Muslim Brotherhood was the only organized group when the Mubarak regime fell in February 2011 and was the only force willing to provide concessions and guarantees to both the US government and the Egyptian military.  Also the Obama administration stayed away from changing the outcome because it did not wish to repeat the past mistakes as in Iran when the US supported the brutal Shah regime to the bitter end and gained an unrelenting enemy, and in Algeria when the US government supported an army overthrow over elected Islamists resulting in a bloody, decade long, civil war with an estimated 200,000 casualties.

Does the Obama administration know if the Muslim Brotherhood is bound to fail in running Egypt as a country? Yes! I need to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt in this and assume that the administration is fully aware of the limitations of the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization who operated underground for eighty years and recruited members, not based on talent or merit, but rather based on obedience to the internal hierarchy of the Brotherhood structure all the way to its supreme Guide Mr. Mohammed Badie and his more influential deputy Mr. Khairat El-Shater.  The Muslim Brotherhood organization has demonstrated thus far, its lack of vision, management and communication skills to solve Egypt's problems and will, likely, fail politically and economically. Currently, the Obama administration is attempting to change the outcome of  events by influencing the flow of aid and loans from the US, The European Union, the IMF and also from the rich Arab Gulf States and tying this flow of aid to ensure a more democratic transition. 

Even Qatar, a traditional supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, contributed two Billion Dollars to the regime in the form of a certificate of deposit which can be withdrawn upon demand. The path to the Muslim Brotherhood demise is clear, however the price that the Egyptian people will pay will be very dear both in human and economic terms. The Brotherhood is  fighting a war of survival, they know well that if they lose this round, there would virtually be, no chance they will be able to recover because the Egyptian people will defeat their ideology. As for the Obama administration the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood will come at almost no cost and without US army involvement in the conflict. Obama also predicted the following in his speech when describing the path to democracy “There is no straight line to realize this promise”. Was he telling the Egyptian people your path from dictatorship to democracy is not straight and will unfortunately have a Muslim Brotherhood stop along the way? Only time and the Egyptian people will tell how this Obama experiment will end.

Michael Wahba
December 15, 2012