What has been happening in Egypt by Dr. Amatzia Baram


First I shall say clearly
How I see the June 30 and Tamarrud  phenomenon. I believe that it was a populist
impeachment, Egyptian-style, of a hastily elected president who was absolutely
incompetent and who tried to seize absolute power. The military would not have
dared to depose Mursi had it not known that either a majority or at least a
huge minority of the Egyptian people were ahead of it.

The Military: The military officers have been essentially looking after their
economic and power interests. I wrote this in this list in early 2011 when I
predicted a military-Muslim Brothers (MB) coalition against the people of
Egypt. I won a respectable dose of scorn from some participants and had it not
been for the nuclear umbrella placed over my head by Pat, with so much fallout
my name would have been dirt. Maybe it was anyway. But after 30 years of
studying the Middle East, listening to and reading most source material in
Arabic, I was quite certain where things were going. Starry-eyed scornful
Westerners could and would never change my analysis just because I am eager to
please and be popular with this great list (no irony here).


What happened was precisely what I predicted. The MB reached a comfortable arrangement with the military
in which the latter’s ownership of some 30% of the Eg. economy would stay in
the military’s hands. Also, military nominations and promotions would be the
military’s prerogative and in practice national security decisions would be
those of the military. Moreover: in January 2011 the military became
unofficially the national arbiter. They were adamant on staying right there.
The MB believed that the Egyptian military were their allies, and with good
reason, given the cooperation they had for the last two years. But Mursi went
too far. When he came to power in June 2012 he immediately replaced Defense
Minister Muhammad Tantawi under the
pretext that the military failed miserably in Sinai. This was a slap in the
face to the whole officer corps. Tantawi was replaced with the much younger Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. This was seen in
Egypt as a sign that the army was so weak that it could no longer impose its
will. Sisi, chosen because he is more observant than most generals, came under
peer pressure to do something about it but didn’t. Then Mursi Islamize the
bureaucracy. The most alarming nomination was the appointment for the Governor
of Luxor an associate of the Islamist terrorists who massacred 62 tourists in
Luxor in 1997. The turning point in Mr. Mursi's presidency came on Nov. 22,
when he asserted unchecked executive authority through a constitutional
declaration and, weeks later, rammed an Islamist constitution through to
ratification. When mass protests erupted in response, the MB dispatched
Brotherhood cadres to attack the protesters, and seven people were killed in
the fighting. Mursi also replaced judges appointed by the Mubarak regime and
officially declared himself to be temporarily immune to any judicial review,
and then appointed an allied prosecutor-general to go after the private media
and the opposition, while shielding the MB
from legal oversight. The
military watched and prepared.

In foreign relations he invited Turkey’s Erdogan for a state
visit. The Eg. military were well aware of what the latter did to his generals
and shuddered. Then he kicked out the Syrian ambassador and replaced him with a
Syrian Islamist. The Eg. military officers are far from supporting the Asad
atrocities, but replacing a secularist with an Islamist was one more bad omen.
Finally, whether correctly or not, the military suspected the MB and Hamas of
supporting the AQ affiliates’ attacks on the Egyptian army’s positions in

The Tamarrud Movement: The meeting points between the city masses and the military were
two. 1. The imposed Islamization was seen as an approaching Islamist
Iran-or-Sudan-style dictatorship by many of the city middle and lower middle
class. 2. The economic disaster affected practically everyone. Real income per
capita has fallen, and the budget deficit rose sharply to an estimated $28.8
billion or 11.5 percent of GDP in the financial year July 2012 – June 2013. The
exchange rate plunged by 20 percent between January 2011 and July 2013. This is
not hyper-inflation but it is enough to rattle salary earners. Foreign exchange
reserves fell by 50 percent, foreign tourist revenues and foreign investment
collapsed, and unemployment rose sharply. In 2012 unemployment was officially
estimated only at 12.7 percent, but the real rate is much higher, as always
especially among the young. As a result of these developments Egypt's credit
rating has suffered. In March 2013, Moody's cut the country's credit rating by
one notch citing unsettled political conditions and deteriorated public
finances. It stated that it saw an almost 40 percent chance of a default within
five years. This was Moody's sixth downgrade of Egypt since January 2011.
Standard & Poor’s and Fitch too made similar decisions. Most of the city
masses were not aware of those details when they went to Tahrir Square on June
30 last but they felt the results: government spending on financing loans went
through the roof and subsidies had to go down. There was a degree of
coordination between the military and the leaders of the “Tamarrud” movement. Had the masses not gone out to demonstrate the
military would have waited until they did, but the military was ready.

Had Mursi moved very slowly and retained strong ties to the
military officers, had he given them reason to trust him and had he avoided an
image of a power-hungry politician in the service of a dictatorial Islamist
movement, it is very likely that despite the economic collapse the military
would have stayed on the sideline. The lucrative original deal represented a
powerful incentive. But Mursi, a political novice, blew it. So what happened
was maybe a revolutionary popular coup
. The more-or-less equal popular support for Mursi demonstrates that
Egyptian society is split down-the-middle, a source for deep concern regarding
future stability.

What now? The American-European pressure to go to new
elections very soon is a tragic mistake. I am suggesting here that new
elections soon will likely repeat the MB success even if only by a majority of
51%. The village will vote MB and Salafis. 
None of the others will be ready for elections. When the MB comes to
power again they will take a terrible revenge. 
With Western support they will establish indeed a Sunni Khomeinist-style
regime guarded by their own version of Revolutionary Guards and Besij. Mass-demonstrations will receive
the same treatment that they received in Tehran in 2009. Hissing hate for
America will follow. The Egyptian military will be dismantled and re-assembled as
indeed happened in Iran. 

Next will come massive arms deals with Russia and China paid for
by Qatar, maybe paradoxically even by Iran, who knows. The Sunni-Shi’i divide
may be placed on the back burner when the confrontation with the US takes
priority. Instead of immediate elections, therefore, I
believe that the present coalition between the military and Tamarrud (a very loose coalition in
itself) should be allowed a provisional rule for at least one year, then
elections for parliament and a president. I have no solution to the possibility
that, even in a year, the more secular circles will lose both elections. In
such a case should the Egyptian military play the long-term the role that the
Turkish military had played before the era of Erdogan? This is not perfect
democracy, but maybe an imperfect democracy is better than a dictatorial
theocracy? It is important to remember that dictatorship through the ballot is
a well-known phenomenon: Hitler, Erdogan, Hugo Chavez,
Daniel Ortega were elected. Mugabe was elected.
Hamas was elected in Gaza after Sharon failed to convince Bush to allow them to
run only after they agreed to the Quartet’s conditions. … The best man does
not always win.
A mechanical, simplistic, albeit well-meaning
approach to democracy is the surest way to disaster.

What to do about the vast property of the military, from lands to
industry to trade to services? How can Egypt be saved from its long-term
structural economic problems that cause its economic hemorrhaging? Egypt has
been offered aid of $15 billion by the Gulf Arabs. This can cover its expenses
on food and energy subsidies for one year, but not its debt service and
certainly not to solve the structural problems. With 1.5 million new job
seekers every year but the state’s ability to somehow provide (mostly
low-paying) jobs only for some 750,000 young men and women the task is
enormous. In the Arab world as a whole the figure is 5mn new young people
entering the job market annually but only 50% can find jobs. So what is to be
done? The only thing I can suggest now to the West is “Do no harm”.

Amatzia Baram



Dr. Amatzia Baram is emeritus professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa.  pl

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30 Responses to What has been happening in Egypt by Dr. Amatzia Baram

  1. Matthew says:

    The purpose of the coup was to prevent any structural transformations of Egypt’s uncompetitive and oligarchic economy. The falool are back. And these parasites are ready to fail for another 30 years! And if the Egyptian people vote the “wrong way” again, the military/oligarchs will engineer another temporary gas shortage.
    Mr. Baram gets irony, doesn’t he? Money quote: “The best man does not always win. A mechanical, simplistic, albeit well-meaning approach to democracy is the surest way to disaster.”
    And he includes Turkish PM Erdogan on the list of democractic “mistakes”… My, oh, my, delusion and arrogance are the two truly inexhaustable Zionist resources.

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Amatzai Baram:
    Your wrote:
    “..a Sunni Khomeinist-style regime guarded by their own version of Revolutionary Guards and Besij..”
    So, this is all about Iran?
    Rest assured that an Iranian style Islamic Republic is as out of reach Egypt as a French style Republic is from Romania.
    So Egypt and Turkey and Pakistan and others are to be ruled – forver and ever – by a military Junta?
    I agree with you, you have no answers.
    Nor are you willing to accept that the people of Egypt have a right to be wrong.

  3. turcopolier says:

    Babak and Matthew
    Dr. Baram shared his views with you at my request. IMO, the nastiness in your comments is uncalled for. I am not a Zionist and I share his opinions. As for the return of the Egyptian economic upper classes, do you think thatr the MB government would have produced a great economic flowering in Egypt? If you do, I think you do not know the country well and do not understand the demograpgic/economic disaster that is Egypt. pl

  4. I have always understood that the nation-states of MENA regarded Egypt with some respect and even awe! Is it Egypt’s long history or some other factor that even now gives some kind of de facto significance to Egyptian events throughout MENA? Given its human resources why does Egypt not have even more of a leadership role in MENA?
    In short what holds Egypt back today?
    And thanks for the length post!

  5. Matthew says:

    Col: You have written often about the contradictions and immaturity of political Egypt. Too poor. Too many children. I do not contest those points at all.
    How much better to have defeated Morsi and political Islam at the ballot box? Had Morsi tried to prevent another vote, then the Army would have been justified in overthrowing him.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I admit that I am exasperated that Iran is being used by Dr. Baram’s invocation of the fear of Iran. As though that is a reality.
    While I am disappointed by the performance of Mursi and Ikhwan, I believe that representative government and respect for the choices of the population is the only positive way forward.
    From the time of Mukluks, to that of Muhammad Ali to the present the people of Egypt have not been able to exercise any sort of self-government.
    Well, you have to start from somewhere – in spite of all the faults, challenges, warts etc. The MB government was that “somewhere”.
    It would have been a good idea for the Government of Israel – and assorted other commentators – to have come out and condemned the recent Military Coup in Egypt.
    And to answer your question, no, I do not think that the MB government, indeed any government, could address the economic situation in Egypt.
    In India, setting the poverty line at $ 1.00 a day, we have 700 million people below poverty line. Yet there is a representative government there – corruption and lawlessness included – that is preferable to the State of Emergency that Indira Gandhi imposed.
    I am not saying anything profound, just that one has to start from somewhere on the long long march to representative system of government – even in Egypt.
    Yes, maybe it will come to one-man-one-vote-one time but one cannot, in my opinion, let one’s fears determine one’s positions. And even if it does come to that, it would be yet another incident in that long march – hopefully.

  7. Peter C says:

    I appreciate the views that are put forward, it would be difficult to find the voices that Col Lang finds. I do not have a dog directly in this fight, but if things get out of hand and the Suez Canal gets shut down or a hot war breaks out that spills over borders, then the effects will be felt by everyone.
    It’s the economy in the long run, as Dr. Amatzia Baram points out. How will Egypt stabilize and make available basics like fuel and grain, not to mention employment to buy the basics? Who and what can deliver these items would truly be able to govern. Right now it looks as if the Military and it’s economic engine is the only organization with enough power to keep the economic bilge pumps barely able to keep up with the leaks. Too many mouths to feed, to little economic energy, and parts of the population that thinks some kind of strict dogma will be the cure-all for the illness.
    Col Lange hit the nail on the head when this current round stated more that two years ago. Meet the new boss same as the old boss.

  8. turcopolier says:

    “a Sunni Khomeinist-style regime” You are being too literal. what is meant, I am sure, is an authoritarian Islamist government without specific reference to Iran. pl

  9. turcopolier says:

    It may well be that Egypt is as yet incapable of democratic government. pl

  10. jonst says:

    Col, or Professor, if he is responding to comments,
    I had a fairly sophisticated Egyptian tell me–broadly speaking, it was a long conversation–that when Egypt introduced ‘market based solutions’ to its economy, in the 90s, the reforms served two purposes. One, they helped end or, severely diminish, anyway, many of the Nasser Era subsidies. Two, the reforms that were supposed to ‘open up markets’, really allowed an elite to grab even more private business than normal. So, his point was, basically, the Egyptians got the worse of both worlds as a result of the “reforms”. As limited as they were.
    Do you think there was any truth to this assertion?

  11. turcopolier says:

    i was doing business in Egypt when all that was happening and I found that there was a lot of verbal expression of pious desire for good government and business probity but that at all levels of society and government everyone was out to make a quick buck and to hell with rhe whole society. the salafists like the MB were just like the rest. pl

  12. r whitman says:

    Any commenters here want to go out on a limb and predict what the situation in Egypt will be a year from now??

  13. turcopolier says:

    r whitman
    A government acceptable to the military and secular society in Egypt will rule. The MB will return to their proper role as a persecuted anti-modern conspiracy. pl

  14. FB Ali says:

    A much more balanced view of events in Egypt is provided by the Arab-American scholar, Dr Talal Asad at:
    Though a rather long read, in my opinion it is well worth it for anyone wanting to understand what has been going on in Egypt.

  15. Ingolf says:

    Wholly agree, Furrukh.
    Whatever one’s views on the MB, Matthew’s (and Babak’s) take on this seems to make sense. As Matthew put it:
    “How much better to have defeated Morsi and political Islam at the ballot box? Had Morsi tried to prevent another vote, then the Army would have been justified in overthrowing him.”
    After all, if the MB were as divorced from real power (and as incompetent) as appears to be the case, where was the risk?

  16. elev8 says:

    I have to offer a criticism regarding the phrase “Dictatorship through the ballot” and the examples given: Erdogan and Chavez do not qualify as dictators. And while Hitler was the worst of all dictators, he did not come to power via achieving a majority at the ballot box. However, the term typically used in German for Hitler’s ascent to power – “Machtergreifung”, i.e., power grab – is not quite right, either, since it insinuates a kind of putsch (which Hitler had attempted many years earlier, of course). Power fell into Hitler’s hands because a) the other parties were deeply divided, b) rich industrialists threw lots of money at him and oiled his party’s political machine when it suffered a temporary setback in elections, c) ultimately Germany’s president Hindenburg and the cabal surrounding him picked Hitler as chancellor in the belief that they could control him like a puppet.
    It is, in fact, not clear whether there is any historical example of a dictatorship that was established purely via genuine democratic elections. Notwithstanding the degree of popularity of a future dictator, there always seems to have been an additional element of manipulation. In the German case, democracy had already been eliminated when the legitimate Social-Democrat state government of Prussia had been dismantled. (There are, of course, also dictatorships with transitory popular support that arise from successful military confrontations with either foreign occupiers or preceding dictatorial regimes. Winning a referendum or being popular enough to be perceived as the likely winner of a referendum is also not the same thing as being a legitimate democratic government.)
    From this, I think, it can be inferred what my questions are. It looks like the Egyptian military spilled more blood than the Islamists. (Is this perception correct?) Apparently it also did not contribute to solving Egypt’s economic problems in the past. On the other hand, the example of Iran shows that Islamism is not monolithic. Do we have to assume that the MB can only create more Mursis? Could they not produce a Khatami, Rouhani or Rafsanjani? Or is it more accurate to compare the role of the Egyptian military to that of the Turkish military about half a century ago (instead of looking at the Shah regime in Iran)?
    I don’t feel any urge to appease Islamism, but I doubt whether we should really say that Egypt is not ripe for democracy yet. It would not be sensible to claim that in the 1920s Germany was not mature enough to be a republic. The Germans lost that republic, but no credible version of an alternate version of history ever showed how this would have been avoided in a scenario involving even more of the same oligarchic brand of government that succumbed to the Nazis because it did not really identify them as the most dangerous threat.
    I guess I am simply asking which alternative would likely provide the less violent, less kleptocratic form of government to Egypt.

  17. turcopolier says:

    i would caution you that i do not like comments that are this long. “it also did not contribute to solving Egypt’s economic problems in the past” In the context of Egyptisn culture with its desire for many children in poor families I do not think that Egypt’s economic dilemma is soluble. i presume that you are a scholar. i am merelt someone who has dealt with Egypt for thirty years in government and business. pl

  18. turcopolier says:

    You folks don’t live in the real world. The process of consolidation of power by the MB and Mursi would have eliminated the military leadership that you think could eventually acted against him. pl

  19. elkern says:

    Yeah, I thought Ortega was even more out-of-place on that list of “dictators”. Ortega & the Sandinistas left office peacefully when they lost an election, and only returned to power later via the ballot box. All this despite Reagan’s dirty war against them, where Israel became an important “helper”, and many of the neo-cons who went on to foment the invasion of Iraq first made their bones.
    Col Lang, you’ve mentioned that you were stationed in Central America at some point. Was that during the 1980’s? I’d love to hear your perspective on the whole Contra thing someday. Given your disdain for grandstanding, I can’t picture you as an Ollie North fan, but neither do you have much patience with fuzzy liberalism.

  20. turcopolier says:

    Ollie and I had numerous confrontations when he was roosting in the NSC. I was in the Latin American Special Action Force in the mid ’60s. This was basically the 8th SF Group with a lot of attached little units; medical, engineer, MPs, MI, etc. We were at Ft. Gulick in the CZ. Our job was to give training substance to the Alliance for Progress. Nicaragua was then firmly in the hands of Tachito Somoza. pl

  21. Charles I says:

    Could that have succeeded, would the mass of the Army go along with a MB purge & new MB leadership, even if the previous lot could be ousted?

  22. Harper says:

    I find Dr. Baram’s comments to be balanced, insightful and accurate as to the process leading to the demise of the Morsi government. Cairo is not Beverly Hills and Egypt’s current constitution was the product of a serious error that gave the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists an overwhelming hand in its drafting. The idea that elections are sacrosanct in the midst of a messy revolutionary process is naïve and ahistoric. I agree that the SCAF only acted with the blessing of an estimated 10-20 million Egyptians who turned out on the street over frustration that the Morsi government was exclusive and more interested in consolidating Ikhwanization than in meeting the needs of the people.
    I was surprised that Dr. Baram expects that the Muslim Brotherhood can win any upcoming elections. There are now apparent deep splits in the MB between a faction that wishes to take part in the upcoming elections, a faction that wants to continue the protests and a faction that wants to resort to terrorist violence. With both Morsi and Khayrat al-Shatter in custody, the negotiations between the generals and the MBs have been continuous prior to, during and after the events of June 30-July 3. It appears the MB do not yet have a unified position on how to move forward. That may mitigate against their participating in the upcoming elections and certainly raises doubts in my mind about their ability to win them, even by the slim margin suggested.
    A number of Washington analysts, including Michelle Dunne of the Atlantic Council, who knows somethings about Egypt, suggest that there has been a re-emergence of the Mubarak era “Deep State” and that this apparatus could be a factor moving forward. The fact that General al-Sissi twice called on the population to take to the streets to give the SCAF a mandate to act on behalf of the general welfare of Egypt is an offset against the power of the “Deep State” to re-emerge again as the power in Egypt.
    I would be interested in both Dr. Baram and Col. Lang’s comments on these puzzling questions, as well as the views of the others participating in this important dialogue.

  23. Matthew says:

    Harper: The “10-20 million” figure is, to be diplomatic, disputed. See http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2013/07/2013731172227211968.html?utm_content=automate&utm_campaign=Trial6&utm_source=NewSocialFlow&utm_term=plustweets&utm_medium=MasterAccount
    Considering that people like El Baradei got 2% of the vote last time, color me skeptical. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_presidential_election,_2012
    But then again, Mr. Fayyad also got 2% of the vote and our government considered him the legitimate PM of the Palestinian Authority.

  24. FB Ali says:

    In Dr Talal Asad’s view the Establishment and its supporters that upheld (and benefitted from) Mubarak’s rule remained intact even after his ouster. It was their opposition, combined with the MB’s ineptness, that ensured the failure of the latter’s rule.
    As for the elections I am certain that the Establishment (which includes the military) will never let the MB win them. I agree with Dr Asad’s view that the Establishment “may well be able to entrench themselves more strongly against the possibility of a decisive shift toward a more just and open society”.

  25. turcopolier says:

    FB Ali
    “…a more just and open society.” You believe that an Islamist government whether MB or otherwise would lead to that? What this MB government demonstrated was that it was more than willing to subvert the rights of all who did not adhere to its version of Islamic life. Furthermore, the idea that the supporters of the Mubarak government were useless parasites is a gross distortion of the truth. in fact Egypt experienced great economic growth over the last twenty years. Many of Mubarak’s supporters were the leaders of that growth. As I have said often, the problem with Egypt is that economic growth never catches up to population growth in that country and the MB would have done nothing to stop that. pl

  26. FB Ali says:

    Col Lang,
    No, I do not. Nor would that happen under a government run by the Establishment.
    Dr Asad obviously hopes for a society where there is more justice and democracy, and a better sharing of wealth.
    The people who supported Mubarak were not “useless parasites”, but they did gain a lot by backing a repressive regime.
    Population growth is only one of the factors that are taking Muslim countries backwards. There are many others, including the increasing hold of religious fundamentalism.

  27. turcopolier says:

    fb Ali
    I was speaking specifically of Egypt where IMO both repressive governments and overpopulation are inevitable and disastrous. pl

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Is the number of children determined by the desire for having a son?
    That is, the couples keep on having children until they get their son?
    Or is it that they desire large families?

  29. turcopolier says:

    My impression is that they retain the inclination to large families that survives from peasant status. pl

  30. Al Arabist says:

    Here’s an MB policy that would never last if they were really in charge, especially since they are on the front line of actually feeding the poor. Of all the “human rights” to choose for Egypt they picked the one least consonant with Muslim societies. Contraception has never been a big deal. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/world/middleeast/as-egypt-birthrate-rises-population-policy-vanishes.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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