"Egypt's public prosecutor's office says it is investigating complaints against ousted President Mohammed Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
They include spying, inciting killing protesters, attacking military barracks and damaging the economy. It did not say who had filed the complaints.
Mr Morsi was deposed by the army on 3 July. The US has called for his release from detention at an unknown location." BBC
At the time of the anti-Mubarak revolt it was said by skeptics (including me) that Mubarak's corrupt but relatively liberal government would be quickly replaced in one way or another by an equally corrupt and probably less liberal successor government. This opinion was based on knowledge of Egyptian society and its underlying political ideas and beliefs. It is often said by the "communicators" of the Western media that the Mursi government was the first elected government that Egypt has ever experienced. In fact, between 1924 and 1936 Egypt "enjoyed" parliamentary democracy under the constitution of 1923. The principal political party at that time was the Wafd, but there were others as well that held seats in parliament and numerous cabinet posts. This was a constitutional monarchy. It fell apart because of; Egyptian inability to compromise among parties, inability to accept the idea of a "loyal oposition," and unending struggle among the Wafd, the MB and other groups to the disadvantage of the country's interests. It is true that the British occupiers interfered in Egyptian affairs but they usually did this to try to sort out political strife.
In the aftermath of the Officers' Coup against the king in 1952, whatever remained of the liberal political experiment in Egypt disappeared behind a facade of phony elections and military rule. This kind of government eventually created Husni Mubarak.
My judgment and that of other knowledgeable skeptics two years ago was that Egyptians had not changed and that Mubarak's departure would merely unleash the same savage enmity that existed in Egypt under the monarchy. In the present day the rivals are still; the officer corps, the liberal politicans and the salafists, among them most prominently the MB. In recompense for our opinions we skeptics were called racists, etc.
Egypt still lacks any acceptance of the idea of a "loyal opposition," any acceptance of the idea of compromise as a means of governing, and any widespread willingness to share power with political adversaries. At the same time the Army lurks in the background. The Egyptian armed forces are largely unneeded and oversized, but still are a national institution that "balances" all else in the socity and that has no natural enemies except Egyptian politicians. This army has ended the governments of the monarchy, Mubarak and now Mursi. This army lives on foreign subsidies that were given in the old days by the British and now by us Americans. We do this in the hope that this historically combat ineffective armed force will somehow be useful in the balancing game of the ME. Why we and the British before us believed that is a mystery.
The Egyptian Army has acted once again in its traditional role as the arbiter of this vicious "system" of politics, a system conducted by adults who continue to behave as political children. They will continue to act like children because they have not matured as a national polity and show no signs of approaching adolescence, much less maturity.
In such a system, defeated rivals must be eliminated. If they are not eliminated they are likely to return to eliminate the merciful, hence the investigations of Mursi and the MB leaders.
The equally but differently childish elites in Washington and New York do not understand this history and process and probably never will. Like the Egyptians they are trapped within their own assumptions. pl
Princess Fawzia of Egypt. She died last week.
Don’t get me wrong.
I fully agree with the description of the childish (and not overly smart) elites in Washington.
But, it seems that the entire Arab world has a massive dose of immaturity.
The emotionalism (“O Bush, we will drink your blood”…etc.).
Clan and tribal societies,which make attempts at “democracy” almost laughable, and massively impede economic development.
Blood feuds across generations – and centuries, sometimes.
And “inshallah” as a motto for daily living.
I would largely agree with all that but we are speaking of Egypt here and Egypt has been taken far too seriously as a kind of emergent first world country. it is nothing like that. On the other hand the women of the royal family were beautiful and cultured, much too cultured to be acceptable to most Egyptians. pl
Thank you for the summation, Col.
Though I initially had high hopes for the Egyptians, it has not escaped me how accurate your predictions have been.
A few years ago (before the Arab Spring), I wrote a short monograph on “Democracy Promotion & Islam.” It seems pertinent to this discussion, so some excerpts follow. Sorry that there is no URL available.
Political Experience’ & Democratic Modalities
One broadly pertinent factor to be taken into account in the assaying of democratic futures is a society’s political maturity. I use the term “maturity” advisedly in the sense of acquired knowledge through experience. This is unconventional. On reflection, though, I believe it appears quite natural for a society’s experience with the conduct of its public affairs should have a bearing on its capability for sustaining a political system as singular as liberal democracy. In regard to the Arab Middle East, the salient fact is that for 400 years these societies did not govern themselves. Ruling power was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire for most of the period, followed by European colonialism. The brevity of self governance has implications for democracy.
There are features of a democratic polity are particularly difficult for a politically “immature” or “inexperienced” society to adopt.
First, liberal democracy (representative, constitutionally grounded democracy) is the only political system that has the individual as its cornerstone. The legitimized holders of power positions are chosen by individual voters, who are the only legally recognized sources of popular sovereignty. In addition, the securing of individual liberties is a primary objective of formal provisions limiting what government authorities can do. An individual focused polity corresponds to the prominence of the individual as a social construct, i.e. society is constituted around the individual. This may not be exclusively so, but at the very least the individual is not entirely subsumed within social groupings. The correspondence between society and polity in this respect is a necessary condition for a liberal democracy to take root. This is not the state of affairs in nearly all of the Middle East.
The strength of kinship structures is one reason. Political history is another. The Ottomans, and their European successors, found it convenient to organize their rule around sets of relations between the imperial state and sectarian groupings, especially tribes but also: religious cults, fraternal organizations, foundations, Perpetuation, indeed at times the bolstering of those groupings, conformed to the principle of indirect rule that the ruling outsiders observed. In the case of the former, moreover, individualism hardly figured in the practices of the Sultanate itself. In the case of the latter, the British and French assiduously avoided any attempt to build political institutions in emulation of their own in their Middle Eastern mandates and protectorates.
Extended, endogamous kinship structures to which individuals have a strong mutual attachment to each other and to the group is a pronounced feature of Arab societies. The full meaning is summed up in the term Asabiyya as elaborated by the great social historian and analyst Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century. The essence of the concept is solidarity – with connotations of collective consciousness as well as social cohesion. Emerging from Khaldun’s interpretation of the central place held by tribe and clan in the organization and conduct of public life in the Arab world, it was postulated as “the fundamental bond of human society and the motor force of social life.” Asabiyya as idea had the dual effect of confirming the naturalness of existing kinship solidarities and affirming their positive value. Community not only takes precedence over the individual, it is seen as providing two things crucial to individual well-being: order and a sense of collective place cum identity. Without community, disorder (fitna) arises.
Fitna risks not only social strife but individual safety understood as a secure psychological location in the world.
Egalitarianism is companion to individualism. Liberal democracies are egalitarian in the granting of political rights, and in the legal standing accorded individuals. This notion holds regardless of the degree of economic equality or social status. On that score, wealth distribution and social stratification vary markedly among established liberal democracies. Western societies do not have a monopoly on the idea of egalitarianism. It lies at the core of Islam as well. The concept of all being equal in the eyes of Allah is as pronounced in Muslim scripture as it is in the Judea-Christian tradition. Arguably, it has been more of a living precept in the Islamic tradition than in the former. It remains a reference mark in the collective discourse despite egregious deviations from the abstract ideal in practice.
Subordination to imperial rulers has stifled any possible move toward reifying the egalitarian principle in governance. For obvious reasons. Political egalitarianism cannot be reconciled with governing arrangements predicated on a basic inequality between the dominant ruling power and all members of the subordinate society. Furthermore, the emphasis on ascriptive groups as the building blocks of the public order assumes a differentiation both horizontal and hierarchical. Therefore, egalitarianism per se – like individualism – is a secondary consideration in the prevailing political discourse of the Middle East.
Democracy means limited government. That is true in the fundamental sense that the crucial role of legal stipulations in setting the powers enjoyed by office holders, along with prohibited actions, restricts the latitude of rulers. A polity so constituted is radical in the way that it places limits on what they can do. It is conservative insofar as it explicitly excludes some modes of political action by both ruler and ruled. Their formal legitimizes political institutions and practices, thereby transforming power into authority and obedience into citizen duty. In sharp contrast, imperial systems and the autocracies that succeeded them retain for the rulers significant discretionary powers as may be employed to maintain their position of dominance. Recognition of certain customary norms does represent the acceptance of some loose limits, as well as obligations. Yet such a polity leaves rulers with far wider prerogatives than they have in a formal, rule bound constitutional system – and it leaves subjects with few formal rights of citizenship.
Moreover, the powerful lesson of the imperial experience is that a dominant/subordinate relationship is the essence of political life. It is natural and normal that an elite commands and the people obey. The derivative postulates are: (1) power differentials dictate who commands; (2) control itself legitimates rule over time; and (3) political virtue resides in the beneficent use of paternalist state power. Of Lincoln’s formulation of the democratic creed – government Of the people, By the people, For the people – only the last has been pertinent in the political history of the region.
Finally, liberal democracy is unique in producing a discontinuity of leadership. The selection of office-holders through periodic election means that there will be a turnover among those who exercise power. Under some constitutions, term limits are specified. Leaders will always be contested. Perforce, they necessarily will be attentive to how their policies and actions affect their political fortunes. As a result, some measure of policy discontinuity accompanies discontinuity of leadership – independent of shifting judgments among rulers as to what courses of action best serve the society’s needs. Here again, we detect a mismatch between the standard modus operandi of an imperial polity and a core feature of a democracy. The logic and outlook of the former has impressed itself on political leaders. So it has on the populace at large, too.
Heirs to an imperial frame of reference, rulers feel instinctively that there is a congruence between democratic practice, on the one hand, and the uncertainties they seek to avoid as to who is in charge and what the populace can expect from their governors, on the other. These sentiments are integral to an Islamist tradition places emphasis on the unity of the community of believers while ever on guard against anything, anyone or any idea that can lead to disorder (fitna).
Unfortunately few in Washington’s policy circles have any grasp of history, to include the history of the United States. Sitting in Baghdad when the so called Arab Spring began one could not help but guffaw at the burst of unreality coming out of Washington and other Western capitals. My Iraqi associates only shook their heads in amazement at how little America had learned. Zero sum politics has been the tradition across the region, and to break that cycle / political culture demands a leadership that I don’t yet see emerging. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and a would be Sultan in Turkey – the rough ride will continue.
Concise and apolemic.
thank you for that summary.
You raise a point that interests me greatly, and that goes well beyond Egypt, when you mentioned question of the ‘loyal opposition’, or rather the inability or unwillingness of political players to accept that role. The result is a zero-sum view on politics and in combination with elections the result is majority rule, not democracy.
Why is that?
When I look at Rumsfeld’s marvelled New Europe, we see the same thing in some places, and that is an unwillingness of a party defeated in the electoral process to concede, and winner take all politics and the “let’s prosecute the predecessor” game as soon as they come to power.
The most striking example would IMO be Orban’s long march from opposition to power in Hungary (and inevitably my following narrative will be incomplete and somewhat selective, but alas …): In opposition, Orban did not accept the loyal opposition role, but became intensely partisan and polarising, for instance staging daily protests against the government elected in their stead, in the end even creating some ‘martyrs’ to the cause (iirc people got beaten up when police was overwhelmed with some protests gone sour).
Speaking with Orbanistas, what stuck out was a peculiar notion that they were all on the side of the angels, they they were on a divine quest to save Hungary from Socialism and that the opponents, in or out of power, were evil incarnate, that there was no middle ground – and if freedom of the press needed to be limited as a result that was a fair price to pay for saving Hungary (and sticking it to the lefties – same thing probably) and that anyway – that only Hungarians could understand.
When the EU voiced concerns about freedom of the press and the ability of the appointed censor to fine news organisations into bankruptcy, my Orbanistas told me the EU was not wrong, but lying, and so was I for uttering such vile slander, and that the ability of the censor to fine news organisations into bankruptcy so was necessary in light of the great evil of the opponents – Grand Histrionics – and childish and juvenile indeed.
I really wonder what the underlying causes of that sort of behaviour are. Most striking is the distrust in public institutions that one does not control oneself. What is it that has people revert to primary loyalties? Is the concept of democracy something so unique, and if Hungary is any indication, not even ‘Western’, that it does not represent man’s ‘state of nature’?
Whatever the underlying reasons, then symptoms are relatively easy to spot: In Egypt it apparently expresses itself in nepotism to kin, sect, party and then nation, whereas in Hungary it expresses itself in nepotism to party and nation (only to the extent that REAL Hungarians are concerned – as my Orbanistas told me, lefties aren’t REAL Hungarians).
Puzzling. The root cause is really one of the keys to the great riddle about what the actual preconditions of democracy are.
All that said, with respect to Egypt and a lack of a loyal opposition, Goscinny’s glorious cartoon character ‘Iznogoud’ comes to mind, with his catchphrase ‘I want to become Caliph instead of the Caliph” (“je veux devenir calife à la place du calife”).
Chillingly accurate. Egypt is the ideal subject for your method of hard- hearted empathy.
Try the Chinese model. Invade them with business. Give them something to lose–consumables. Then let the government mature around the new capitalism.
“Egypt still lacks any acceptance of the idea of a “loyal opposition,” any acceptance of the idea of compromise as a means of governing, and any widespread willingness to share power with political adversaries.”
Washington is looking increasingly similar, and seems not too far off, at the moment.
I knew someone would make the comparison. there is a good deal of truth in what you say. we are degenerating as a political culture. pl
Some kind of actual supra-tribal semi-coherent temporal power to balance the existing unipower order – over-taxed landed gentry in need of rule of law to protect property & business, or street mobs to hungry or resolute to put down, or an army too irresolute to do so, perhaps.
I recall Yusuf al-Misry earlier wrote to the effect – forgive me any error – that some of this would be inevitable but the hope was that a greater mass of less absolute Salafists would see the merit of inclusive compromise and participation over absolutism if the arrests could be seen as a response to actual crimes and terrorism as opposed to inept politics.
Western commentary typified by the Economist much op-ed falls on the more pessimistic and anti-democratic side of predicted responses – the death knell of Egyptian democracy. It seems diametrically opposite from what a number of Egyptian sources seem to believe – that some MB supporters can be moved to civil society and the rest dealt with without entrenching a violent resentment on a scale to be reckoned with.
The Egyptians I have read seem positively giddy with success.
I’m so ignorant I just don’t know, but it sounds like they don’t have the economy to support any broad participatory accommodation that could entice the recalcitrant MB to abandon resentful claims of legitimacy to pursue better constitutional reform.
“… what a number of Egyptian sources seem to believe – that some MB supporters can be moved to civil society.” Egyptians are masters of self deception and always have been. pl
She [the Princess] was of [distant] Caucasian descent…
Not exactly Egyptian.
From wikipedia: “One of her great-great-grandfathers was Suleiman Pasha, a French army officer who served under Napoleon.”
In the spirit of the Zimmerman case prosecutors i am going to assume that you are a heathen and perhaps have always been. I suggest that you are ill equipped to judge the actual motivations of religious fanatics who are SURE that they and only they know the truth and who believe they have a duty to establish that truth as the basis of society. Having been schooled at an early age by various kinds of nuns, i saw the phenomenon in action in the bed old pre Vatican 2 days. pl
Rubbish. The Egyptian population is made up of many strands. The queen of England’s ancestors were German. Her husband’s family was supposedly Greek. are they not English? pl
Vous avez raison.
Mon raisonnement illogique.
Her reputation is mud in Iran – has been for decades; thought to have been a British intelligence agent.
Did that hurt her feelings? pl
Excellent roundup. Here we have a similar disconnect between western perceptions of democracy and ‘what is on-ground’. Democracy needs a functioning opposition. African politics does not recognize such a thing. Politics is ‘do-or-die’. Literally. All instruments of state are used against the opposition. Combine that with a weak judiciary, a stalking military and you get backsliding to some form of a military backed autocracy. Seems to be the way of the world outside the Western Hemisphere. Can’t we just accept that ?
It is my belief that We the People may actually have a chance to find comity in our polarized views -at least on economic issues , which it can be argued affects many other social / political divides. One example is Debbie Dolley and the Green Patriot Tea Party of Georgia – she had been in the news lately talking about Georgia Power and how its monopoly keeps the price of electricity high , and also keeps alternative energy from the market – ie Solar Power .
Perhaps this could be a place to start for We the People to find common ground-
With the intermarried royal families of early twentieth century Europe, it is unclear how much ethnic origin really means. For what it is worth however, the fugitive Greek princeling with whom Princess Elizabeth fell in love was of predominantly Danish and German ancestry.
It is, perhaps, a romantic story. When in 1939 her father – hardly a natural warrior, but he had manned a gun turret at Jutland – visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, her distant cousin and fellow descendant of Victoria and Albert showed the 13-year-old princess around. He had ended up there after his Jewish-German mentor, Kurt Hahn, fled Germany following Hitler’s consolidation of power.
The following year, Philip Battenberg – as he was then – graduated from Dartmouth with the King’s Dirk – a bit like being First Captain at VMI, if VMI had been West Point (I stress no disrespect is intended to a position once held by George Marshall.) This was not an award made on the basis of snobbery, and in any case minor Greek royalty were hardly people of consequence in British society.
For some congenital civilians like myself, a legendary moment is that when, on the evening of 29 March 1941, another Dartmouth graduate, the then Director of Naval Intelligence, John Godfrey, ‘phoned Bletchley Park, leaving a short message: ‘Tell Dilly we have won a great victory in the Mediterranean, and it is entirely due to Dilly (Dilwyn Knox) and his girls.’
Of course, Godfrey – one of the great intelligence organisers in British history – was, in his concern to give due credit, doing an injustice. It was certainly true that, had Knox and his ‘girls’ not broken the Italian naval Enigma, the decisive victory off Cape Matapan would have been unthinkable.
By the same token, it would have been impossible had not Admiral Cunningham – who has been described as ‘the greatest admiral since Nelson’ – not effectively commanded an extremely efficiently trained night-fighting force. In charge of the searchlight on the battleship HMS Valiant which lit up the Italian cruisers was Middleshipman Battenberg.
His – rather self-deprecating – account of this episode, which also gives a brief overview of Philip’s naval career, is at:
Many years later, someone I knew well, and whose judgement I trust, sat on a committee with Philip, and said that he was quite patently a very able man. Had his father-in-law not died prematurely, he would probably have risen high in the Navy. I suspect that he might have been happier as an Admiral, and Elizabeth as an Admiral’s wife.
Absolutely yes to all that. Perhaps the Egyptians might bring back the old green flag 0f 1922-1958 as a sign of wishing to return to more civilized behavior. pl
In that case, one would hope that the old flag with 3 stars in front of the moon be replaced with an astronomically sound one instead.
That flag is an impossibility.
I was unaware that flags were supposed to represent astronomy. I supposed that the three stars must have represented something like upper and lower Egypt and the Sudan. pl
I think that is what happened to the Turkish flag, they moved the star further to the right.
Pakistan’s flag, however, remains unchanged – indicating the relative modernity of each country – I think.
Off topic – but how are ‘things “in Nigeria. I watch on al Jezeera -President Goodluck greeting the Chinese , and how the great majority of your infrastructure is being built by Bejing. How will this help or hurt your economic progress ? And how is the ECOWAS/UN mandate for peacekeeping in Mali coming along ?
The flag of singapore has 1 crescent & 5 stars.
At least the place ATTRACTS foreign investment…
The no. of distant heavenly bodies on flags indicates Progress?
The États-Unis d’Amérique [still] stand a Chance…
It is physically impossible to have a star field with a lunar background.
Turks understood that, changed their flag.
Pakistanis have not and did not.
Yes, the flag of Singapore is also an impossibility, just like that of Algeria.
Let me ask you this:
What percentage of the population of Singapore, in your estimation, consult an astrologer at the birth of a child, at the start of a business venture, or prior to marrying and so on?
But you might be right and I am reading too much into this.
The general population in singapore consists [or USED TO consist] of a great many ethnic Indian & Chinese.
& are they a most superstitious folk…
I invite you, Monsieur, to come visit this anomalous isle.
At least 90 [& above].