The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged #june30
Ahmed Maher speaks out against army's role

April 6 founder Ahmed Maher in the Washington Post :

Our support for the transitional road map to new elections was predicated on the military’s pledge that it would not interfere in Egypt’s political life. The expanding role of the military in the political process that we are nonetheless witnessing is disconcerting.


Despite my support for the June 30 revolutionary wave, and despite the fact that it was a people’s movement before it was a military intervention, I now see much to fear. I fear the insurrection against the principles of the Jan. 25 revolution, the continued trampling of human rights and the expansion of restrictive measures in the name of the war on terror — lest any opponent of the authorities be branded a terrorist.

Unsurprisingly Maher has been vociferously attacked, including by some self-styled "revolutionaries", for his position. 

In Translation: How Egypt's constitution will be amended 2/2

This is the second of two translated articles selected from the Egyptian press on the process of amending Egypt's 2012 constitution, which according to Interim President Adly Mansour's Constitutional Declaration (CD) of July 8 will be amended and put to a referendum before new elections are held. This first article is an interview with Mansour's constitutional advisor, the second article contains possible amendments being considered. Both are translated by our long-standing partner, the most excellent Industry Arabic. Please give them translation jobs, you won't be sorry and you'll help them help us continue to provide this free service.

As explained, a committee of 10 scholars and judicial figures is now tasked with drafting amendments to Egypt's 2012 constitution. The dominant group backing the July 3 coup, composed of secular political forces, is likely to push for the reversal of the Islamization of the country's constitution carried out in 2012 by an alliance of Muslim Brothers and Salafists that dominated the Constituent Assembly then in charge of the process of drafting a new constitution. The lack of agreement between Islamists and secularists on a constitution, indeed, was a major catalyst for the current crisis. The tricky part is that the only major Islamist force that backed the coup, the Nour Party, was even more attached to the Islamist provisions in the constitution than the Brotherhood. Its rejection of the new amendments could undermine its support for Morsi's overthrow, and more generally push Islamists of all stripes into the Brotherhood camp in the name of saving Islam's role in the constitution.

This is why the article below – only a speculation, mind you, into what is being envisaged, published in the rather taboid and anti-Islamist Youm 7 newspaper – is interesting. As might be expected from a judicial source (in Egypt the judiciary, while conservative, has generally defended the modernist idea of judicial review and much leeway for judicial interpretation of Sharia, rather than its strict codification as  the 2012 constitution tended to lean towards, with a major role for theologians to, in effect, veto legislation)  it tends towards the stripping of many of the parts of the 2012 constitution Islamists were most attached to. Most notably those that introduced notions such as formal oversight by theologians, notions that Salafis embrace such as the "enjoining of good and prevention of vice", and stress on the state's role in regulating public morality. If it is representative of the changes to come, one can expect a major Islamist backlash in the weeks ahead.

Full text ahead.


We are publishing the text of controversial articles in the 2012 Constitution: the article on Islamic Sharia, the formation and powers of "senior religious scholars," texts on the state protecting [public] morals and the character of the Egyptian family, "constitutionality," exclusion and practicing religious rites.

The editors, Youm 7, 21 July 2013

A Youm7 exclusive: Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour has issued a presidential decree to form a committee of experts to revise the 2012 constitution, which will commence work starting Sunday [21 July] at the Shura Council headquarters and conclude its task within 30 days from the date the decree was issued [i.e. by 19 August].

Constitutional advisor to the president Counselor Awad Saleh has said that the decree stipulates the formation of a general technical secretariat for the committee to assist the committee's ten members, and that the committee's rapporteur shall be the president's constitutional advisor. This means that the committee does not have a chairman, but rather that all its members are peers working on the basis of consensus and complete cooperation.

A source in the judiciary said that one of the committee's most important priorities is amending controversial articles, particularly:

Article 4: "Al-Azhar's Council of Senior Scholars shall be consulted on issues related to Islamic Sharia." This was one of the most controversial articles, since according to critics, the text of the draft constitution with regards to consulting Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars on issues related to Islamic Sharia is reminiscent of Vilayet-e Faqih in Iran. It also takes away some of the parliament's legislative powers and the judiciary's power to apply the law. This view is backed by constitutional jurist Yahya al-Gamal, who believes that this article "creates a clerical authority."

Article 10: "Family is the basis of society and is founded on religion, ethics and patriotism. The state and society shall maintain the authentic character of the Egyptian family, and to work on its cohesion, stability and protection of its traditions and moral values, as regulated by law." The main cause for opposition is that the article opens the doors for religious currents and organizations for the promotion virtue and prevention of vice to interfere at the heart of society.

Article 11: " The State shall safeguard ethics, public morality and public order, and foster a high level of education and of religious and patriotic values, scientific thinking, Arab culture, and the historical and cultural heritage of the people, as shall be regulated by law." Critics maintain that this article's stipulation that the state safeguard ethics will most likely cause personal freedoms to be violated and it provides the constitutional basis for a law that deprives citizens of certain rights on the pretext of public morality. They also criticize this article because it takes an ambiguous doctrinal ruling and turns it into a requirement or basis for legislation.

Article 43: "Freedom of belief is an inviolable right. The State shall guarantee the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions, as regulated by law." The controversy over this article arises from its exclusionary character that is inconsistent with the principle of religious freedom, since it only guarantees freedom for what are known in Egypt as the three divine religious – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and does not allow Egyptian legal precedent and the prevailing interpretation of legislation to categorize other religious groups as "divine." Small minorities such as the Baha'i remain deprived of legal protection.

Article 44: "Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets shall be prohibited." The reason here is that some believe that this new article is ambiguous and may lead to freedoms being curtailed. They say that it is unclear what exactly constitutes "insult" or "abuse," what institution or individuals will be responsible for deciding this matter, and how incidents of abuse will be prevented. 

Articles relating to the President of the Republic: Various articles in the constitution lay out the powers of the president. The president is the head of the executive branch (Article 132), he shall choose the prime minister (139), he shall set the general policy of the state (140), he is the one responsible for defense, national security and foreign policy, he shall preside over the government meetings that he attends (143), he shall conclude international treaties (145), he is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (146), he shall appoint and dismiss civilian and military employees (147), he has the power to declare states of emergency (148), pardon and commute sentences (149), and place a referendum before the people (150), he appoints 10% of the members of the Shura Council (129), appoints the members of the Supreme Constitutional Court (176) and appoints the heads of oversight bodies after approval by the Shura Council, and he presides over the National Security Council (193).

Critics claim that these articles constitute a foundation for authoritarian rule, as the president gets to "keep all the powers of the president in the 1971 Constitution and is furthermore given the power to appoint the heads of the oversight bodies and agencies that are overseeing him." This is the view of constitutional law professor Jaber Nassar, who withdrew from the Constituent Assembly, as he believes that the powers of the president were expanded to an unnatural degree in the draft constitution, swelling to 22 articles with the addition of 10 articles that include new powers not granted in previous constitutions.

Article 219: "The principles of Islamic Sharia include its holistic evidence, fundamental doctrines, Islamic jurisprudence doctrines, and acknowledged sources accepted within the schools of the people of al-Sunna and Jamaa.” This article is meant to interpret Article 2, which stipulated that Islam is the religion of the state. The objection here is that never in the history of constitutions in the world has an article been placed in a constitution to interpret another article.

One of the most prominent opponents of this article, Dr. Jaber Nassar, explained that this article would lead to severe crises, since the Egyptian legal system borrows from different legal systems, and it opens up the door for many Islamic sects.

Articles on freedom of the press: Several objections were made to articles pertaining to the press, especially Article 48, which stipulates that "Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. The media shall be free and independent to serve the community and to express the different trends in public opinion, and contribute to shaping and directing it in accordance with the basic principles of the state and society, and to maintain rights, freedoms and public duties, respecting the sanctity of the private lives of citizens and the requirements of national security. The closure or confiscation of media outlets is prohibited except through a court order. Censorship of the media is prohibited, with the exception of specific censorship that may be imposed in times of war or public mobilization."

One of the main reasons for objections to articles on the freedom of the press is that there is no text that bans imprisonment for crimes of publication, and because "requirements of national security" is undefined.

Article 35: "Except in cases of flagrante delicto, no person may be arrested, searched, detained, prevented from free movement or suffer any other restriction of freedom except by a court order necessitated by investigation. Any person arrested or detained must be informed of the reasons in writing within 12 hours, be presented to the investigating authority within 24 hours from the time of arrest, be interrogated only in the presence of a lawyer, and be provided with a lawyer when needed. The person arrested or detained, and others, have the right to appeal before the judiciary against the measure. If a decision is not provided within a week, the person must be released. The law regulates the rules, duration and grounds for preventive detention, and cases of entitlement to compensation, whether for preventive detention or for execution of sentence that a court's final ruling has overturned." [The Arabic original contains no description of arguments regarding this article.]

Articles pertaining to the Armed Forces: Articles pertaining to the Armed Forces have faced several objections, in particular Article 198, which stipulated that "Civilians shall not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that harm the Armed Forces. The law shall define such crimes and determine the other competencies of the Military Judiciary." The objection here is that this contradicts Article 75, which stipulates that "No person shall be tried except before their natural judge." Many parties and movements are opposed to these articles, including the Strong Egypt Party.

Articles pertaining to the Constitutional Court: The Democratic Front Party believes that constitution articles 176, 177 and 178 reduce the powers of the Constitutional Court, especially Article 176, which stipulates that "The Supreme Constitutional Court is made up of a president and ten members. The law shall indicate the judicial or other bodies that shall nominate them and regulates the manner of their appointment and the requirements to be met. Appointments shall take place by a decree from the President of the Republic." The number of members of the Supreme Constitutional Court is thereby reduced from 18 to 11, and they are appointed by the president. According to critics of the articles, this constitutes an assault on the general assembly of the court and eliminates the independence of the highest level of the judicial branch.

Article 70: "Child labor is prohibited before the age of compulsory education is passed, in jobs that are not fit for a child’s age, or that prevent the child from continuing education." It is claimed that this article violates the International Conventions of the Rights of the Child. Among the most prominent opponents of this article are the Egyptian Association for the Assistance of Juveniles and Human Rights and the Democratic Front Party, as the party calls for child labor to be banned outright.


In Translation: How Egypt's constitution will be amended 1/2

This is the first of two translated articles selected from the Egyptian press on the process of amending Egypt's 2012 constitution, which according to Interim President Adly Mansour's Constitutional Declaration (CD) of July 8 will be amended and put to a referendum before new elections are held. This first article is an interview with Mansour's constitutional advisor, the second article contains possible amendments being considered. Both are translated by our long-standing partner, the most excellent Industry Arabic. Please give them translation jobs, you won't be sorry and you'll help them help us continue to provide this free service.

The July 8 CD calls for the formation of a committee of 10 constitutional scholars and judges tasked with preparing the amendments to the controversial 2012 text, which has approved hastily last December by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. These proposals will be then put to a second committee of 50 figures drawn from public life. While the committee of 10 (let's call it C10 for short) is appointed by the interim president, the committee of 50 (C50) is supposed to represent major corporate interests in Egypt, as per Article 29 of the CD which stipulates it represent:

...  all segments, sects and demographic diversities of society, especially parties, intelligentsia, labourers, peasants, members of trade unions, specialized federations, national councils, al-Azhar, the Egyptian Churches, Armed Forces, the police and public figures, provided that ten members at least be young people and women. Each institution shall nominate their representatives, and the Cabinet shall nominate the public figures.

There is a lot of confusion as to how this process might work as it was suggested the C10 would be the only body that can draft the text of amendments, which would mean the C50 is a talking shop with little power. The interview below, if reliable (because everything can change very quickly in Egypt), provides some clarification and at least an indication of the intentions behind this process, which has been criticized by many.

The amendment of the constitution is a key battleground for Egypt's transition, with differences not only between Islamists and non-Islamists but also within the secular camp that broadly backed the July 3 coup. There is of course whether the Islamists of the Nour Party will get to keep the conservative language of the original (the balance of power in the current pro-coup coalition makes that unlikely, unless they decide they need Nour too much in order to break Islamist unity, since the Muslim Brotherhood and some others reject the validity of this entire post-coup process). But then there are questions of the military's privileges, personal liberties and reining in the interior ministry, and much more. 

This interview provides some clarity, notably the surprise that the procedure laid out in the July 8 CD is not necessarily final. Some backers of the coup were disappointed that the CD called for presidential elections after parliamentary ones, and here it is indicated the order could still be reversed. It goes to show how so much is still at play, even beyond the immediate political crisis and assuming the coup and CD holds. 


Mansour's Constitutional Advisor: committee to amend constitution will operate free from any constraints

Interview by Samar al-Gamal, al-Shorouk, 22 July 2013

Constitutional and legal advisor to the president, Ali Awad Saleh, stated that the "Committee of Experts" tasked with amending the country’s constitution, which was formed yesterday by a decree from President Adly Mansour, will operate free from all constraints, and that the constitutional declaration recently put out by the president does not immunize any of the articles that appeared therein from amendment.

In an interview with al-Shorouk conducted by Samar al-Gamal, Saleh – who was recently appointed rapporteur of the Committee of Experts – added that the Committee of Fifty will have the power to add additional amendments to the constitution after the Committee of Experts. The Committee of Fifty will also be allowed to rearrange Egypt’s transitional stage if it feels it is necessary to hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections. Such a scenario will be proposed within the draft constitution and will be carried out if approved in a popular referendum.

In his first press interview, Saleh stated that the president will only exercise legislative authority within narrow limits and with the participation of the cabinet. He emphasized the fact that those currently administering the country are determined not to let the transitional period drag on.

He added that the parliamentary elections law and the dividing up of electoral districts have been put on hold until the constitution is done being amended. According to him, so far no amendments have been made to the constitutional declaration, adding also that no supplementary declaration has been released. He stated that for now it would be best to work and focus on amending the constitution, and that any objections to the constitutional declaration should be put before the Committee of Experts. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

Q: A decree has been issued to form a Committee of Experts for the purpose of amending the constitution. However, some details of its work have been left out. For example, who is its chairman? What is its work method? How does it receive proposals?

A: The Committee, as formed by the constitutional declaration, was not required to appoint a chairman. However, according to a decree recently issued by the president, a technical secretariat was formed comprising an administrative, clerical and technical official, along with a supporting team, for the purpose of aiding the Committee in its work. This will include receiving suggestions for proposed amendments to the constitution. The Committee itself will determine the mechanisms through which it conducts its work.

Q: And who is to determine the scope of the amendments and the articles of the constitution which are to be changed?

A: The Committee's mission will be to review the text of the 2012 constitution, while at the same time receiving suggestions and ideas put forth by various actors, political forces and popular movements. The Committee will be open to all those who seek to contribute to the process of amending the constitution. At the end of the day, it will give shape to these proposals in the form of a draft amendment that will then be presented to the Committee of Fifty.

Q: If disagreements arise, how will they be solved?

A: The Committee is supposed to be a collegial entity, and as is our custom in the judiciary, will make decisions based on the majority rule of its members. However, it will be members of the Committee themselves who will determine the means by which they will conduct their work, as opposed to it being imposed on them from outside the Committee.

Q: What if the Committee receives a suggestion from outside its ranks which does not make it into the final amendments draft?

A: When the Committee of Experts presents its work to the Committee of Fifty, it will record either in its minutes or in an explanatory brief all of the proposals it has received and its reasons for rejecting any of them.

Q: So what is the role of the Committee of Fifty if the draft amendments will be referred to it ready-made?

A: The Committee of Fifty, in so far as it represents all sectors of society according to the constitutional declaration, will determine whether or not the draft amendments it receives are complete and satisfy the will of the people, or if the constitution needs additional amendments. Then in the end it will put them forward for national dialogue.

Q: So you’re saying that the Committee of Fifty could ask for additional amendments? If so, would the text of the draft amendment then be sent back to the Committee of Experts?

A: Yes, the Committee of Fifty has the right to insert additional amendments. Most likely the Committee of Experts and the Committee of Fifty will work together in order to better achieve integration and avoid wasting time.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better then to just start with the Committee of Fifty?

A: This is one point of view. However, we feel that the Committee of Fifty already has its work cut out for it due to the time constraints. Otherwise, the Committee of Fifty would need to form various committees, similar to what happened with the country’s previous Constituent Assembly, such as the system of government committee, the executive branch committee, the drafting committee, etc. All this would require more than the two months allotted.

Q: Simply adding amendments to the Muslim Brotherhood’s constitution does not satisfy people's aspirations. Is it possible to devise a brand new constitution all together?

A: The Committee of Experts is bound by the constitutional declaration and the decree issued regarding the committee’s formation to insert amendments into the suspended constitution. It is true that on the street and in the media it appears that there is a genuine desire for a new constitution. However, this matter is up to the Committee of Fifty, in so far as it represents society.

Q: What about those articles included in the constitutional declaration? Does their inclusion in the declaration protect them from being amended?

A: No, it does not protect them at all. The Committee of Experts has complete freedom to consider all the articles in the constitution. The constitutional declaration only governs Egypt’s transitional period, and the articles in it do not place any restrictions on the Committee of Experts or the Committee of Fifty.

Q: There exist fears related to freedoms, particularly with regards to the status of the military establishment and oversight of it, in addition to the articles dealing with religion. Do you envision that the Committee of Experts will amend these controversial articles?

A: The Committee will operate free from any restrictions.

Q: Will the Office of the Presidency offer up any ideas regarding specific amendments?

A: The Office of the Presidency is keen on leaving such issues to specialists, and does not seek to play any role or offer any guidance in this process.

Q: What about guidance from the military establishment regarding amendments?

A: We so far haven’t received anything from them. If the military establishment has any ideas regarding amendments they can forward those ideas to the Committee of Experts.

Q: We know that there exists an interplay of forces which may perhaps cast its shadow over the process of amending the constitution. So what guarantees do we have?

A: The guarantee is that the people want a constitution that can bring about a national consensus and help the country achieve progress. We do not want to take a step backwards. Therefore, the Committee of Experts was created to include those with a great deal of experience, who do not have any partisan affiliation, and who are united by a single goal: to put out a good product. For this reason as well we do not want to restrict their work.

Q: At the end of the day these are appointed committees. If the Committee of Experts understands things so well, does this not also apply to the Committee of Fifty?

A: The Committee of Fifty will be appointed, but according to nominations, criteria and specific rules to be determined during the work of the Committee of Experts.

Q: Why was it not decided that the Committee of Fifty should be elected?

A: We do not want to repeat the previous experiences and drag out the transitional period – which we've laid out very precisely. What we want at the end of the transitional period is for state institutions to be restored. Elections may not necessarily produce the ideal body, to say nothing of the high cost of running elections and other details involved. For example, will such elections be direct elections, or will they take place in two stages, with the people choosing a group of representatives who then select the Committee? Doing it this way would require more time, while those who are currently overseeing the country’s transitional period do not want to drag it out. Rather, what they want is a satisfactory constitution, in addition to functioning executive and legislative branches.

Q: Wouldn't it be possible to lodge an appeal against the constitutionality of such a formation? Similar to what took place with the previous Constituent Assemblies?

A: This grounds of this formation were made clear in the constitutional declaration, and there does not currently exist any appeal against the constitutionality of any text in the declaration. Rather, the challenge comes from the un-constitutional nature of legislative texts, and so it is not possible to appeal against the Committee's formation.

Q: What if the Committee of Experts disagrees with the Committee of Fifty regarding an article, who will decide the issue?

A: In my personal opinion the final say would lie with the Committee of Fifty. Such criteria and the mode of coordination between the two committees will soon be drawn up. Right now our focus is on the Committee of Experts and granting it the opportunity to begin its work.

Q: The constitutional declaration talks about societal dialogue – how do you envision that this will be conducted?

A: This dialogue will serve to gauge the people's orientation, in so far as they are the ultimate source of power. What I mean of course is not a dialogue with all 90 million Egyptian citizens, but rather surveying the views of various actors,and an exchange of perspectives between them and the Committee. This will take place during the Committee's work. Then, after the the constitution has been drafted, a whole month will be given to the people to read the draft constitution.

Q: In response to objections by a number of Egyptians – particularly the country’s youth – to the constitutional declaration, the Office of the Presidency promised to release a supplementary declaration or a series of decrees with legal force to amend the original declaration. Will such an amendment process actually take place?

A: As of now there has not been any amendment or supplemental declaration. I think what is best now is to move past the issue of the constitutional declaration, and begin the process of working on and thinking about the amendments to the constitution itself, and to submit such suggestions to the Committee of Experts.

Q: Of course you have heard the objections being made about the country’s road map and the powers of the president – what is your opinion regarding these issues?

A: I think the primary concern regarding the powers of the president has to do with the legislative powers he possesses. The constitutional declaration states that the president can only exercise legislative power after consulting the cabinet. As a close confidant of the president, I am saying that he will only exercise legislative authority within a narrow scope.
Usually legislation is made through a draft law prepared by one of the country’s various ministries and proposed to the cabinet. From there it will make its way to the parliament and then on to the president. Another way for legislation to be made is for parliament to propose a law.
However, at the moment there currently is no parliament, which leaves us with just the first option. If the president receives a proposal, he will then forward it to the government. In any case, the cabinet will also participate in this process.

Q: Is there a vision for the upcoming legislative agenda?

A: A law was passed having to do with Military Medical Academies which the Shura Council had approved before it was dissolved. Now we are trying to grant cabinet the power to take up legislation before it is presented to the president.

Q: The most prominent point brought up among the various objections made to the constitutional declaration has to do with the order of the road map, as the main call made within the declaration was to conduct presidential elections first.

A: Early presidential elections was one of the demands when the previous president was around, so that he would have to run for election again against other candidates. However after the events of June 30, we feel that it is more appropriate to start with the constitution and then for a parliament to speedily take over legislative authority. Presidential elections would then be conducted based on an elections law passed by parliament.

Q: However, the constitutional declaration states that presidential elections should be called just one week after parliament convenes.

A: I know that it is a short period of time. However, if the constitutional amendment committee believes that that arrangement is inappropriate for the country's current conditions and that the best thing to do is to hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections, it could propose this scenario and a referendum would then be held based on provisional regulations, and a date for presidential elections would be set for after the referendum held on the constitution. Either way, the matter will be left up to the committees.

Q: Does this not violate the constitutional declaration?

A: The declaration governs the transitional period. However, when the people – who are the source of power – take part in the referendum on the draft, the constitutional declaration will expire and the country will begin to be governed by the new constitution that the people will have approved.

Sissi's choice

Lt Gen al-Sissi's call to Egyptians to take to the streets to support unspecified measures against "terrorism" is a potentially risky move for him. To be sure, outright criticism is mostly limited to those groups who have long been skeptical of the army's involvement in politics from the beginning. But this direct foray into mass politics is a signal to the army's civilian politician partners that they are dispensable, and a few are grousing about such a circumvention of the way things are normally done in a civilian-led state. Investors, who were delighted to see Morsi pushed from power, are nervous.

Unless he genuinely miscalculated the impact of what he said  -- as we learned with SCAF, this is always a possibility when career military men enter politics -- al-Sissi has diverged considerably from his July 3 strategy of having a civilian interim government out in front. That strategy presumably stemmed from al-Sissi's experience in SCAF, whose tenure as the direct rulers of Egypt from 2011-2012 began to tarnish the military's treasured reputation as the apolitical guardians of the country.

Al-Sissi didn't really need to break with this strategy. Al-Sisi is vastly popular, there are no indications of any serious breaches between the army and Adly Mansour's government, and the Muslim Brothers, though defiant, are really far too isolated to pose much of a threat to the transition. Why might al-Sissi have chosen to change his strategy? 

I see several possibilities, each of which has a different implication on the way things might unfold in the future

Pressure from the ranks:

When an institution takes a stance that does not necessarily fit with its long-term strategy, the cause is often due to internal dynamics. Al-Sissi may well have been trying to bolster his leadership over Egypt's far-ranging military, intelligence and security establishment, many of whom are clearly frustrated with letting the Brotherhood sit-ins continue in place.

The military has signaled that it wants to move against the Brotherhood's sit-ins because of their alleged connections to militants in the Sinai, just as they previously signaled that the decision to overthrow Morsi was due to a sense in the military that their hands were tied fighting the insurgency there. It may seem odd that events in underpopulated, peripheral Sinai could dictate al-Sissi's strategy, but tails are known to wag dogs from time to time and the peninsula takes outsized proportion to the Egyptian military: it's the only part of Egypt where soldiers are regularly killed in action, and military intelligence in particular is obsessed with the idea that foreign militants, particularly Palestinians from Gaza, are active there and have ties with the Brothers. Al-Sissi's statement came hours after a bomb blast hit a security headquarters in Mansoura, the first sign that Sinai militancy might be spreading to the rest of Egypt. The military may have decided that they need Emergency Law measures, like mass arrests, to stomp out Sinai militancy, or they may simply detest the thought that Islamists can thumb their nose at the state from Rabaa and Nahda while their comrades are out fighting in the desert.

Another related possibility -- people turned to the army in part because they see it as capable of addressing the last two years of insecurity, and al-Sissi may be under pressure to deliver on that promise. The Ministry of Interior appears to be bringing back officers from the Mubarak era, and they may be insisting that they need their old tools -- again including long-term detention of suspects -- to do their job. 

If pressure from the military or the Interior Ministry to be allowed to take the gloves off is behind al-Sissi's declaration, than his long-term strategy to let civilians take the lead in Egypt's government may stand. But, it also suggests that the military will brook no interference in its handling of internal security, and will demand a restoration of Emergency Law or other exceptional measures whenever it feels it needs them.

Frustration with losing control of the narrative:

Another possibility is that al-Sissi himself has lost patience with Brothers sitting in their encampments defying the authority of the state. The Brothers are not making themselves popular doing this, particularly as they appear to be getting into shoot-outs with local residents, but it does feed the impression of a dysfunctional state and a security vacuum. As the Brothers themselves learn, whoever is charge ultimately loses credibility when disorder is prolonged, even if the state swears up and down that it's the fault of opposition protesters or do-nothing police.

Also, even the most popular and powerful institutions in the country can start to feel beleaguered if the other side is monopolizing screen time. Al-Sissi may be worrying that the Brothers' day-in day-out repetition of their narrative, that "the people" oppose the coup, may eventually gain traction. He may simply want the Rabaa and Nahda situations to be erased, without a longer-term plan of clamping down on the opposition.

If this is why al-Sissi has called for the millioniya, then his political style may become very similar to that of SCAF -- a volatile alternation between wanting to assert his authority, and the sense that it may be better after all to take the back seat.

Clearing the way for an army president

A final possibility is that the army's popularity has prompted it to recalculate its strategy of keeping civilians out front. It may have become used to the adulation of a grateful public. Al-Sissi himself may be deciding to run for president. Some are invoking the precedent of Abdel Nasser or Musharraf, but not all popular-generals-turned-presidents become autocrats: Charles de Gaulle, as authoritarian as he may have been, ultimately left French democracy stronger than he found it. But if this is the path al-Sissi chooses to take, then Egypt's future rests on his skills and temperament as a civilian politician, which are an unknown.

Whatever the reasons behind al-Sissi's declaration, they do show that declarations by coup leaders that they will from this point forth take a back seat don't often mean much. However sincere they may be, they will always face short-term crises that will tempt them to wield their power. Egypt's military is unlikely to be a quiet force standing behind civilian politicians, keeping watch over the nation; rather, it will be both an active participant -- indeed, the most powerful actor on the scene -- steering the country according to its own particular institutional temperament and interests.


Egypt rips off Syria rips off Israel

From left to right: the (original) Israeli, Syrian and Egyptian version of the cartoon.

Sarah Carr notes this cartoon is making the social media rounds from an pro-Interior Ministry Facebook page in Egypt, depicting the Egyptian Army as the defender of the public against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Tom Gara pointed out on Twitter that another version exists on pro-Assad Arabic language venues - as the FSA vs. the Syrian Army: and in fact, that shows how the entire image is a repurposed commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That's pretty impressive traction for a political cartoon. The same cannot be said of the photoshopping, though. There are still Hebrew letters in the lower right hand corner of the Egyptian version. In the anti-FSA take, the soldier's helmet is discolored because the image has been edited over to make a comment on multiple armed conflicts. And ironically, because only factional/national symbols are changed, the this means that the Egyptian and Syrian soldiers are both using an Israeli-manufactured assault rifle. In fact, this Egyptian version didn't even bother removing the flag of Palestinian armband from the jihadist, which, funny enough, would match up with the growing Israeli-Egyptian consensus on the Sinai: that all of the agitation and lawlessness there is Hamas' fault. In all likelihood, though, this image is probably more of a comment on the demonstrators who were shot outside of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo than an attempt to conflate Hamas with the ousted Brothers.

[Ed note: if the cartoon showed up only a few days ago, it is probably a commentary on Friday's Mansoura protest, in which thugs attacked women and children in a MB rally and killed three. Anti-MB commentators in the press have been accusing the group of using human shields.]

But since the original image depicts a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has little popular appeal within the Middle East outside of Israel itself, one imagines that some of the photoshoppers are not quite aware of the implications of the original. Other photoshops of this image show just how much mileage this image can get internationally, including the (preposterous) suggestion that only Muslims fight behind human shields, while Westerners always protect noncombatants. One could also have a field day with respect to the way the women and children are portrayed on the two sides, but that would be another post entirely.

Nonetheless, officials in all three countries depicted here as the defending soldier might actually agree on the general presentation of the common denominator: Islamist (née anti-government) political violence.

Such a force has always been seen as a great threat by governments in the region since at least the early 1980s, if not earlier, with such actions as the outlawing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades, the 1976-1982 Syria internal conflict, Israel's arrests of the clerics who would go on to found Hamas, etc. Everything that has happened since the beginning of armed resistance in Syria (the ethnic cleansing, the Lebanese spillover) and the Muslim Brotherhood's election in Egypt (the constitutional changes, the Maspero massacre) have revived these fears with a vengeance. It is, perhaps, one of the few transnational issues almost all of the governments in the region - aside from pro-Brotherhood Tunisia, Qatar, and Turkey - can agree on as a significant threat to their current state of rule.