Egypt’s Islamist-military standoff ‘a dangerous game’

Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament today “opened a new front” in the country’s intensifying power struggle by assembling (above) in defiance of a court order that dissolved the chamber, pitting President Mohammed Morsi against the military and judiciary.

“Of course this legal wrangling is in reality a struggle over power,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University. “But Morsi has acted to solidify his presidency and he has done it with a sense of confidence and assertiveness. This was the first test of the relationship between the new president and the military.”

Liberal politicians and activists criticized both the Brotherhood and the military for naked power grabs, reports suggest:

Many boycotted Tuesday’s session, saying Mursi’s decree defied the courts. A parliamentary official said attendance was about 70 percent of the 508-seat lower house, roughly equal to the Islamist majority. The liberal Free Egyptians party, which stayed away, called Mursi’s move “a blatant violation of the principle of separation of powers” and an attack on the judiciary.

“By launching his coup against the constitutional court only days after he swore to uphold the constitution and the laws before it, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have shown their true colors,” the Social Democratic Party said.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is now “a state above the state,” said liberal MP and analyst Amr Hamzawy. He also condemned Morsi’s decree to reconvene the parliament as a retrograde step that diminished the office of the presidency.

“The president’s action was the first in an inevitable struggle for power that is likely to consume the Arab world’s most populous country for many months if not years, as elected institutions and the army face off against each other,” writes the FT’s Roula Khalaf.

As a newly-elected president, Morsi may have the advantage of legitimacy over the generals, observers suggest.

“I have the impression that the elected president has the upper hand,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa. “It is a dangerous game. I hope there will be some political solution to that crisis by direct negotiations between the president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”

The parliament met only briefly in what some observers suggest was an unintentionally revealing symbolic gesture.

“Though the Brotherhood has often sought to portray its expanding political power as part of a revolutionary effort to usher in democratic, civilian rule,” reports suggest, “its retreat from the Parliament floor after a five-minute session suggests that the organization may have reached the limits of its popular mandate to confront the military.”

Morsi, “has to be very careful about civilianizing politics in a way that doesn’t look like he’s propelling the Muslim Brotherhood into power,” said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert and professor of political science at Kent State University. “Morsi hasn’t been able to do that yet.”

While couched in largely constitutional terms, few observers or protagonists doubt the fundamentally political nature of the Islamist-military conflict.

“The Constitutional Court’s ruling is political par excellence,” said Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, the head of the Brotherhood’s legal team. “There is now a state of political enmity between the Constitutional Court and [the Brotherhood].”

In issuing the decree, Egypt’s first Islamist leader threw down a gauntlet to the military council, writes Khalaf:

By revoking the council’s decision to dissolve an elected parliament – based on a ruling by the constitutional court, a remnant of the old regime, that found the electoral law flawed – Mr Morsi directly challenged the generals’ authority to interpret laws and dictate the terms of his own job.

The military council had clipped his wings just before he took over, assuming some of the president’s powers and the legislative authority of parliament. It is too early to tell whether the president’s move will succeed in asserting his authority. Mr Morsi may yet be forced into a humiliating retreat.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation also appears careful not to overplay its hand. The president’s aides have made clear that he is not challenging the constitutional court’s decision on the electoral law – or the need for new elections – but wants to find a way of implementing the ruling without leaving the generals in control of legislative powers.

“What’s going on is a naked struggle for power but what is odd is that every step is carefully cloaked in legal terms,” says Nathan Brown, a constitutional expert at George Washington University.


The Project on Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, adds:

Parliament Meets, Court to Review Appeals to Morsi Decree

Egypt’s lower house of parliament met today following a presidential decree over the weekend reinstating the body which was dissolved after a ruling by the country’s High Constitutional Court (HCC). The court issued a statement affirming that its rulings are binding and told Morsi he had 36 hours to withdraw his decision. Meanwhile, the administrative court adjourned until July 17 when it will consider appeals launched against president Morsi’s decision to reinstate parliament. The Constitutional Court’s review of the appeals is underway. Speaker of parliament, Saad al-Katatny ended the session today after defending the President’s right to order parliament to reconvene saying it did not contradict the court’s ruling but rather the decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to disband parliament. He stressed that the parliament understands its rights and responsibilities and will refer the HCC decision to the court of appeals. The lower house will not hold any sessions until the appeal court gives its verdict Katatny said. Meanwhile, SCAF issued a statement calling for the state to respect the rule of law and denied accusations that the military council had struck a deal with the president over the parliament issue. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that Egypt should engage in dialog between all sides to resolve the issue and safeguard the transition to civilian rule. Mohamed ElBaradei called for a meeting between the president, parliament, and the military to reach a political and legal solution. Outside the court, minor clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi’s decision to reinstate parliament broke out and the Muslim Brotherhood called for a million-strong march in support of the president’s decree. A number of liberal and leftist parties boycotted the parliamentary session today.

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Sources “Admin. court adjourns appeals on parliament, constitutional declaration and constituent assembly,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “Egypt People’s Assemby refers own fate back to the Judiciary,” Ahram Online (English) 7/10/2012. “People’s Assembly refers dissolution verdict to committee,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/10/2012. “SCAF: The state will respect the Constitutional Declaration,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012. “Egypt court says rulings binding after president decree,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/10/2012. “Brotherhood calls for million-man march to back Morsi’s decree,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012. “Egypt’s leftist, liberal MPs to boycott Tuesday’s parliament session,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012. “Judiciary gives Mursi 36 hours to withdraw decision reinstating parliament,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012. “Clashes between supporters and opponents of the return of lower house,” ElYom7 (Arabic) 7/10/2012. “Clinton urges dialogue in Egypt to safeguard transition,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “ElBaradei asks president, army and parliament to convene,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “Supreme Constitutional Court to rule on today’s reconvening of parliament,” Al Dostour Al Asly (Arabic) 7/10/2012.

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From Recipients to Donors: The New Role of East Europeans in Democracy Promotion

Since the 1980s, supporting the spread of democracy around the world has become a priority for many governmental and nongovernmental actors in the West. Following the third wave of democratization, some of the new democracies in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia have also begun providing democracy assistance to other countries. Yet the efforts of these new democracy promoters have not been carefully studied or assessed, an oversight that represents a missed opportunity for encouraging better cooperation between established and emerging donors.

Analyst  Tsveta Petrova has researched the efforts, motivations, approaches, and impact of some of the most active emerging democracy promoters—the Eastern European members of the EU. At a Washington meeting later this week, she will detail the important lessons that their activities hold for the regional diffusion of democracy in the non-Western world, and will suggest steps that can be taken to shore up the liberal foreign policy commitments of the emerging regional powers in the developing world.  

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy 

cordially invites you to a luncheon presentation entitled 

From Recipients to Donors:

The New Role of East Europeans in Democracy Promotion 


Tsveta Petrova Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow 

with comments by Ted Piccone Brookings Institution 

and moderated by  

Marc F. Plattner

International Forum for Democratic Studies 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 12 noon–2:00 p.m. (Lunch served 12:00–12:30 p.m.) 1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Monday, July 16 to 

Tsveta Petrova was, until recently, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University in 2011 and then completed a fellowship at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. She is the recipient of several research and teaching awards as well as many fellowships and grants. Her articles have appeared in Comparative Political Studies, Europe-Asia Studies, and most recently, in the Journal of Democracy. During her fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, Dr. Petrova is working on a book-length manuscript that examines the successful transitions of several new democracies from recipients to donors of democracy assistance. Ted Piccone is senior fellow and deputy director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

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Proposed curbs the ‘most ruthless attack’ on NGOs since Soviet Union

The Kremlin’s plan to curb foreign-funded civil society groups is “the most ruthless attack the authorities have waged against NGOs in the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says a leading opposition figure.

“Politicians are hurrying to put the last finishing touches on President Vladimir Putin‘s policy of tightening the screws on the opposition and nongovernmental organizations,” writes Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, and a co-founder of the opposition Party of People’s Freedom:

Last week, for example, United Russia members Alexander Khinshtein and Pavel Krasheninnikov introduced an amendment that would make defamation a criminal offense punishable by a maximum fine of 500,000 rubles ($15,200) or up to five years in prison. Less than a year ago, then-­President Dmitry Medvedev had removed this very article from the Criminal Code, making defamation punishable by a fine of only 3,000 rubles ($90). This removal was part of Medvedev’s efforts to liberalize and “humanize” some of the more outrageous leftovers from the Soviet period that remained in the code. But now, the authorities will have a virtual carte blanche to use libel and slander charges to intimidate and prosecute human rights activists, opposition figures and journalists.

The proposed NGO rules are “yet another front on its war against dissenters,” Ryzhkov writes in the Moscow Times:

Since Russian businesses do not support NGOs because they fear government reprisals, and since legislation does not encourage this form of charitable giving, nearly all funding for Russian NGOs comes from abroad. Under such conditions, foreign funding is the only way that thousands of NGOs in Russia can fulfill their function of charity, protecting and defending fundamental human rights and building a civil society. They are the only organizations in the country that, among other things, monitor elections, protect the environment, defend innocent political prisoners and reveal cases of corruption and other abuses by government officials.

The new bill “will deliver a crushing blow to NGOs,” he suggests:

First, they will all be stigmatized as “foreign agents,” a term that is unquestionably synonymous with “foreign spy” in Russian. The legislation burdens NGOs that receive foreign funding with onerous reporting requirements and inspections. This burden will prove unmanageable for many NGOs, forcing them to shut down operations in Russia. Third, key personnel in NGOs charged with failure to comply with these rules could face severe fines of up to 3 million rubles ($91,000) or three years in prison.


Vladimir Ryzhkov is an executive member of the World Movement for Democracy.

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Libya poll setback for Muslim Brotherhood

Libya’s National Forces Alliance is projected to score a landslide victory, according to preliminary vote counts following the weekend’s election for a new National Assembly. Sources close to the country’s electoral commission say the coalition is leading in 8 out of 13 electoral districts after a partial tally of votes.

If confirmed, the result “contradicts widespread doom saying about the inevitability of Islamist victories in contemporary Arab elections or the inability of non-Islamist forces to wage effective election campaigns,” says a leading analyst.

The election “contradicts widespread doom saying about the inevitability of Islamist victories in contemporary Arab elections or the inability of non-Islamist forces to wage effective election campaigns,” writes Hussein Ibish.

Led by Mahmoud Jibril, the American-educated former head of the Transitional National Council, the alliance is a broad coalition of some 58 political parties, civil society groups and independent political figures, which campaigned as a “more liberal, progressive option,”  according to the Project on Middle East Democracy. The NFA’s electoral performance has been heralded as breaking the wave of recent victories by Islamist parties in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, but analysts say the reality is more complicated.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party performed poorly, a senior official concedes.

“We had an expectation before the election, we have not reached that expectation,” said the party’s campaign manager Alamin Belhaj.

Belhaj, a businessman who lived with his wife and children in Manchester until returning for last year’s revolution, accused NDA leader Mahmoud Jibril of using unfair campaign practices for his victory, saying Jibril’s picture should not have appeared on campaign material as he was not himself running for office.

“Jibril is not a candidate, while his pictures are up all over the country, it’s a way of tricking people.”

The result surprised many analysts who expected the Islamists to reproduce the success of their counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

“We all predicted, we were wrong. I thought they [the Brotherhood] would do better, particularly here in Tripoli, because if you look back they were relatively organized,” said Dirk Vandewalle, author of A History of Modern Libya.

The NFA’s performance may have been due to the absence of the stark differences that separate Islamists and secularists in other Arab states.

“The division between secularists and Islamists so beloved by outsiders looking into Libya is a false one. Jibril’s [coalition] is a case in point,” says Tripoli-based analyst George Grant.

The NFA ran on a conservative campaign platform, promising a technocratic approach to government, which “probably suits a substantial portion of the population,” said Crispin Hawes, director of the Mideast and North Africa program at the Eurasia Group. “Libyan government departments and state companies are full of well-educated and technically-adept staff who are also genuinely conservative and observant Muslims. Jibril fits that very well.”

But the NFA, which says sharia law should provide the basis for legislation, “is not ‘liberal’ in the way we understand the word,” writes Shashank Joshi. “Islam is a major social force in Libya….No mainstream political party would say it was ‘secular.’”

Demographically, Libya is a small country,” but the election result is “highly significant for understanding emerging trends in post-dictatorship Arab societies,” writes Ibish:

It means, first, that the three post-uprising Arab states that have held elections have produced three divergent results. Islamists scored an overwhelming victory in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, and a narrower but clear one in the recent presidential vote. In Tunisia Islamists earned a plurality. ……This is all the more significant in that the three different results have taken place over the same 12-month period in three contiguous North African countries. Sociopolitical conditions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are very different, which helps explain the differing results. But the Libyan election contradicts predictions of an unstoppable Islamist trend, or the idea that Arabs in general will elect Islamist majorities in any free elections held under the current circumstances. 

Second, Jibril’s apparent victory may well point the way forward for other non-Islamist forces in future Arab elections. In contrast to analogous groups in Tunisia and Egypt, Jibril’s alliance campaigned on its own merits, emphasizing Libyan nationalism and promising order and stability. It didn’t waste time terrifying voters about the threats posed by Islamists. And it included a certain degree of Muslim religious rhetoric in its campaign, while insisting on a non-Islamist stance.   Jibril was politically astute and speaking to his own people when lecturing Western media not to keep referring to him and his alliance as “liberal” or “secular.” In truth, they are neither, at least in the conventional Western understandings of the terms. ….Crucially, Jibril did not make the mistake of ceding Islamic legitimacy to Islamist groups. Instead, he insisted on a share of it for his own alliance—no doubt crucial to his apparent success. His rhetoric on religion and politics reflects an understanding of the need for Arab non-Islamists to deny Islamists the ability to create the impression of an exclusive claim on religious sentiment and civilizational heritage…..   This is precisely the kind of intelligent balancing act that moderate, nationalist and non-Islamist Arab political forces can successfully deploy against Islamist rivals in positive campaigns that emphasize what they have to offer their electorates.  

And third, the vote can and should be seen as a repudiation of foreign, and especially Qatari, influence in Libya. Qatar spent a great deal of money backing the Libyan uprising, and conventional wisdom at the time of the fall of Moammar Qaddafi held that it was positioned to be a kingmaker in the country. Libyan resentment over this presumptuousness is reflected in the election results. Since Libya has its own growing petroleum income, it enjoys relative economic independence and cannot be held hostage to foreign aid.

“Jibril’s coalition was pitted against Islamist groups, including the party affiliated with Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood,” writes Isobel Coleman, director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations:

However, as I wrote last week, identity issues largely define Libyan politics–and in an election involving a dizzying array of parties and well over 3,000 candidates, Jibril is a well-known leader with solid revolutionary credentials. Tribal affiliations are important in Libya, and Jibril belongs to Libya’s most populous tribe. Some speculate that women in particular supported his coalition. Jibril, a U.S.-educated Qaddafi-era official who taught at the University of Pittsburgh, has also downplayed his own and his coalition’s perceived secularism and liberalism, so Libyans’ support for Jibril does not necessarily signal their rejection of political Islam. Moreover, since the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood could not operate openly under the former Qaddafi government, it does not have the same presence and reach as it does in Egypt.

“The election is providing one thing only: legitimacy,” said Fadel Lamen, president of the American-Libyan Council. “Everything else, all the problems, all the challenges, will still be there the morning after.”

Those challenges include growing fissures that, in the words of one observer, “threaten to tear the country apart across lines of tribal, clan and criminal affiliation,” and have contributed to Libya experiencing the worst annual decline in the history of the newly-published Failed States Index.

The election will create new political leadership, but won’t change the balance of power between the central government and local militia, says analyst Jason Pack:

Regional bickering and wrangling will, no doubt, continue, but will those dramas play out with the most powerful armed groups – those of Zintan and Misrata – again using coercive means to secure important posts in the new government and potentially ruin it? Will enough of the framers of Libya’s new constitution favor federalism to derail the forging of national unity? Will they choose a presidential or parliamentary system? Neither the most informed outside pundits nor the Libyans themselves can state with any degree of confidence what the future may hold.

The absence of state institutions “and above all, a national identity, is perhaps the most lasting and pernicious legacy of the Gaddafi Jamahiriya,” analyst Sean Kane notes in Foreign Policy magazine:

In fact, Gaddafi’s spasmodic state of perpetual change was a deliberate construction. His populace was kept perpetually off kilter by the near constant reshuffling of cabinets, provincial boundaries and systems of administration. Street names, place names, universities, and even the names of the months were always in flux, creating an almost physical feeling of disorientation. This pious Muslim country even started fasting for the holy month of Ramadan on a different day from the rest of the Middle East.

Yet there are many signs that Libya is starting to turn the corner, says Dartmouth University professor Vandewalle.

“Schools and businesses are reopening. Ministries are being reorganized and are starting to make and implement policy,” he said. “Most importantly, the power of the militias is very slowly but inexorably being eroded.”

“It would be utterly impossible to construct in only a few months all the institutions of a modern, properly functioning state Gadhafi destroyed in his pursuit of statelessness for 42 years,” said Vandewalle.

“Building a state and a nation takes time, ideas, compromise and leadership — particularly difficult if, as in Libya, the social and political landscape after the civil war was essentially a tabula rasa, and none of those qualities now needed to construct a modern state were in demand during the Gadhafi period.”

Libya’s election results “are another indicator of how the very wide variety of conditions around the Arab world will result in political outcomes that vary significantly,” writes Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut:

Libya is noteworthy in the context of the Arab uprisings in that its people’s first order of business is not only to develop a credible and legitimate system of political governance, but also to revalidate the concept and identity of a single Libyan state that is recognized by all its citizens. The tragedy of most of the Arab world is that since its birth almost a century ago its citizens had little or no say in how their countries were formed, or how they were subsequently governed. Suddenly, today, tens of millions of people in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya (and other countries to follow) find themselves able to decide on these fundamental elements of statehood and citizenship.

The individual Libyan who goes to the polls can be motivated by different elements of his or her identity, such as tribal, ideological, religious or geographic sentiments, combined with their immediate interests or needs, such as security, jobs, income, or basic social services. The Islamic element of Libyans’ identity is strong, as it is across the region, though in some instances religious sentiments will be dominated by tribal allegiances that have a better chance of mobilizing political power and providing the community with those priorities of rights and needs that it articulates at any given moment. My guess is that because Libya is still addressing the most basic elements of state formation, for now tribe trumps religion in the aggregation of political power in the public sphere.

This complex matrix of individual identities and needs means that individuals will constantly evolve in their political behavior, especially in voting, and especially in volatile situations such as we are experiencing across the Arab world in transitioning societies. This has been most evident in Egypt, where tribal identity is weak or non-existent, but secular values, religion, and Egyptian and Arab nationalism are stronger. So the current battle in Egypt revolves around the military and the Islamists vying for constitutional legitimacy and political power.

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Paraguay’s impeached democracy

Paraguayan democracy has taken a giant step backward since its Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo in June, plunging the country into political turmoil and diplomatic isolation, write Lucas Arce  and Gustavo Setrini. Coming only nine months before the next scheduled presidential election, this crisis erupted from political party elites’ short-sighted and brutish competition for public resources, not to mention their disdain for democracy.

Two factors – in addition to Lugo’s strategic missteps and the shifting alliances within the government coalition – explain why Paraguay’s leaders have driven their country off this cliff. First, Paraguay’s deeply clientelistic political system has been unable to accommodate new entrants. Its two major political forces, the Colorados and the Liberals, operate as rival political machines, mobilizing electoral support by distributing public employment, contracts, and cash.

Competition between the two parties is simply a contest for access to public resources, devoid of ideological debate about the best use of those resources, or about the state’s role in the economy and society. The Colorados dominated this winner-take-all game during six decades of one-party rule, but lost their political monopoly in 2008, when the Liberals, in exchange for the vice-presidential nomination, backed a leftist coalition supporting Lugo.

The Colorado Party’s defeat reintroduced political competition and brought about Paraguay’s first-ever democratic change of government. But, in addition to bringing the Liberals to power, democratization granted the left its first foothold within the Paraguayan state and its first opportunity to build its own political machine – a deeply threatening prospect for both traditional parties.

Second, Paraguay’s political elite, regardless of party affiliation, are committed to preserving the country’s unequal land distribution and frustrating the development of politically autonomous peasant organizations. It is no coincidence that a land conflict provided the fodder for the trumped-up impeachment charges against Lugo.

Lugo’s government pursued moderate economic and social policies, but did not propose any meaningful land reform. Nonetheless, Liberals and Colorados in Congress used the violence in Curuguaty to justify Lugo’s impeachment, arguing that he had failed to maintain social order and portraying him as a dangerous radical intent on fomenting a rural insurgency.

Thus, two concerns have driven the actions of the Liberal and Colorado elite since Lugo’s inauguration, ultimately leading them to collaborate in the impeachment plot. First, each party wishes to reassert monopolistic control over the state rather than accept that democratic competition and alternation of power now constitute permanent elements of Paraguay’s political regime. Second, they have sought to prevent the left from using its new access to public resources to build an electoral base that would appeal to groups that fall outside traditional clientelist networks.

Among the largest of these politically excluded groups are landless peasants, who demand land reform and rural development policies. But urban youth and educated professionals, too, are larger in number and more politically active than ever before – a change reflected in the sudden rise and surprising success of “occupy” protest movements demanding an end to patronage politics. If the left could build an electoral base by directing public resources to these groups, competition would become a permanent feature of Paraguayan politics, and public-sector modernization and land reform would be on the table, cutting to the heart of elite political power.

Rather than accept a more pluralistic political regime, both the Colorados and Liberals flagrantly disregarded their responsibilities as democratically elected representatives, and are gambling with Paraguay’s economic and political stability at the expense of its citizens. The Liberals’ behavior seems especially myopic: in ousting Lugo, they ruptured the only political coalition capable of defeating the Colorados.

Lucas Arce and Gustavo Setrini are researchers at the Centro de Análisis y Difusión de la Economía Paraguaya (CADEP). This is an extract from a longer article published by Project Syndicate and reproduced with permission.

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