The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged morsi
The Farce Behind Morsi’s Death Sentence - The New Yorker

Jon Lee Anderson:

As its leaders present and former grapple with their legacies, Egypt, no longer a regional leader of any sort, is mired in a miasma of self-made miseries, a nation best known for its corruption, poverty, and the absence of the rule of law. The 2011 “revolution” that seemed to have pulled it briefly from its steadfast implosion seems not only to have come and gone but to have been a mirage.

Tragically, Cairo’s Tahrir Square is likely to be remembered as a place where hopes were raised for democratic change, only to have those hopes dashed by the country’s perennial powers-that-be. The decision by Egypt’s judiciary to kill Morsi is not only a crudely cartoonish attempt at the implementation of justice; it defies even the kind of canny political logic that one might expect from a military élite like Egypt’s. If Egypt’s generals thought that brutality would buy them control, they didn’t get it. In the Sinai, ISIS now runs amok, seizing police posts and massacring captives. As for the heroes of the country’s Arab Spring, so vaunted by the West during that fateful spring of 2011, most have left the country, been killed, or are themselves in prison. The farcical show trials, in which Morsi and other former senior officials are exhibited in courtrooms in cages, covered with soundproofed glass so that they cannot be heard shouting, must be seen for what they are, alongside a myriad of arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of journalists.

"Frank discussions"

These State Dept. press briefings on Egypt regularly have some telling exchanges (I bet the journalist here is AP's Matt Lee.) On the sentencing to death of former President Morsi:

QUESTION: I have a question on Egypt --


QUESTION: -- and whether or not you have any reaction to the sentence handed down to Mohamed Morsy and whether the U.S. has shared any of those thoughts or concerns with Egyptian officials.

MR RATHKE: Yes. We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former President Morsy. We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences which are conducted in a manner that’s inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations and which are frequently used against members of the opposition and nonviolent activists. This practice, which in this instance was directed against, among others, a former elected president, is unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.

QUESTION: And did you – I mean, has this message been sent to Egyptian authorities somehow?

MR RATHKE: Well, we continue to have frank discussions with the Government of Egypt about our human rights concerns, including this. I don’t have a detailed readout to share, but this is certainly a topic that we continue to have conversations about.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think similar statement was told on Sunday morning by an unnamed State Department official, and shortly after the readout Egyptian court hanged six people. One of them was high school student, which is described by the Amnesty International as grossly unfair. So it’s clear that U.S. – or Egyptian authorities does not really care about U.S. concern or other countries’ condemnation, and I’m wondering if U.S. is planning any other measures regarding the human right abuses in Egypt.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, I don’t have steps to preview, but we continue to stress the need for – with our Egyptian counterparts, we stress both publicly and privately the need for due process and for individualized judicial processes for all in the interest – in the interest of justice. We think the right to due process is critical to the stability and the prosperity that Egypt seeks. And so we certainly continue to make that point to our Egyptian colleagues.

QUESTION: The court’s final decision will be on June 2nd, I guess. And any U.S. official present or Secretary planning to call any counterpart in Egypt?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have – I don’t have calls to preview, but we do – we do note that this is a preliminary sentence that was handed down over the weekend. And as I said, we continue to have frank conversations with our counterparts.


QUESTION: Since this is a preliminary sentence, which was going to be my next question, what’s the threat to Egypt if they actually go forward, confirm this sentence, and then hang or otherwise kill the former president?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about that. We have made our views and we continue to make our views clear to the Egyptian Government. We believe that all Egyptians, regardless of their political affiliation, are entitled to equal and fair treatment before the law. That includes full respect for their rights to due process, and we remain opposed to politicized arrests and detentions.

QUESTION: So you can’t spell out any possible repercussion to Egypt if they --

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to spell out in advance ---

QUESTION: -- if they flagrantly ignore what you just said and do what you just said was so unjust – in your words?

MR RATHKE: Well, what I also said is we continue to have frank, private discussions with the Government of Egypt. I’m not going to --

QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s --

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to --

QUESTION: -- that’s not a punishment. Frank discussions is sometimes even a reward for countries that have problems as well with you. So I mean, is that it? If you do this, we’ll have frank discussions?

Another ex-president on trial

Mohammed Morsi stood trial today in the same venue where Hosni Mubarak did in 2011. As I note here, there were other similarities between the cases: a heavy police presence; angry supporters outside who let off some steam journalist-beating and rock-throwing; lawyers who nearly came to blows; and journalists who very professionally called for the death penalty for the defendants.   

The defendants themselves reportedly (the trial is not being televised) chanted against the military and told journalists they have been tortured and denied access to family and lawyers. Morsi refused to wear prison whites and insisted he is still president. The judge suspended the session a couple times because of the disorder; the next court date is January 8.  

Morsi and 14 others are on trial for inciting violence that led to the death of 7 people last December, during protests against him. Incitement is a hard charge to prove. They couldn't manage to hold Hosny Mubarak responsible for anything more than failing to prevent the killing of over 800 demonstrators (who did the killing was never addressed). But I better not get started on transitional justice in Egypt or rather the scandalous lack thereof. 

Karl reMarks answers commonly asked questions about the trial: 

What charges does Morsi face?
‘Being in office while elected’, which is a severe offense against Egyptian laws and conventions. As this is not actually a criminal offence, the prosecution team has helpfully come with a professionally-typed list of trumped-up charges. 
What is the maximum penalty Morsi faces? 
This depends on the imagination of the judges. The Egyptian judicial system likes to encourage creativity and innovation. The military junta will also have a say, although this will be relayed to the judges in secret because the military are shy and withdrawing. 



Under Morsi, Red Lines Gone Gray

Jonathan Guyer, in Jadaliyya, looks at political cartooning under Mubarak, Morsi and the military. His very interesting article (based on a year's worth of Fulbright research) confirms my sense that there was more freedom of expression under Morsi than before or after -- not because the Brother's weren't authoritarian, but because they weren't able to impose their control. All those cases brought against journalists and others for insulting the presidency were also the result of the fact that the presidency was getting mocked and criticized as never before. 

The most significant change in Egyptian caricature since 2011 is the implicit permissibility of satirizing the president. Nevertheless, during President Mohamed Morsi’s year in office, the same penal code article maintained that “whoever insults the president… shall be imprisoned.” Yet, according to Judge Yussef Auf, it does not clearly stipulate what insulting the president means or what the precise penalty should be.[3] Additionally, nearly seventy other articles limit freedom of expression. These range from prohibitions against “insults” to the parliament, army, courts, and other public authorities, to injunctions against the reporting of false news. Nonetheless, mocking these institutions became a core part of cartooning even in government-run newspapers, in spite of—or because of—these regulations.  


A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

A controversial magazine cover criticizing Morsi and the political/religious establishment that was never distributed on news stands, but went viral online. 

The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

Even taking into account lackluster performance, one of the features of political life in the past year has been a relentless media machine demonizing and delegitimizing the Morsi administration far beyond its self-inflicted damage. Anyone watching CBC, ONTV, al-Qahira wal-Nas and other satellite stations, or reading hysterical newspapers like al-Destour, al-Watan or al-Tahrir (and increasingly al-Masri al-Youm) has been fed a steady diet of anti-Morsi propaganda and agitprop. Some attacks he deserved, but follow even a respected journalist like Ibrahim Eissa (once a leading opponent of Hosni Mubarak) and the discourse about Morsi was out of control. In the video below, Eissa not only attacks Morsi, but the entire transition process of the last two years.


تعليق ناري وخطير من ابراهيم عيسي علي تصريحات السيسي

And indeed, the attacks on Morsi have led — perhaps necessitated — an attack on the the events that led to his becoming president. The presidential election once accepted by many as fair — or fair enough — is now routinely in doubt. This has been the work of not only rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq's claims (now being considered by the courts) that mass fraud took place with a Brotherhood cell at the National Printing House printing pre-filled ballots, but also increased media speculation about Morsi's victory being the result of a negotiation between the MB and SCAF head Tantawy. There has been no need to prove any of this, just repeat ad nauseum a narrative that has some plausibility (after all there were MB-army deals) and its into the emergent sentiment of buyers' remorse many reluctant Morsi voters feel. There is now routine doubt expressed about that election — which was objectively flawed enough and so badly prepared that there it is easy sow doubt. (As readers of the blog will know, I have considered the entire transition process and its elections in particular a disgrace for how badly they were planned for and advocated their postponement.)

Or, as another example, look at the recent anti-MB campaign that has sought to paint them as aided by Hamas during the anti-Mubarak uprising and that accuses them of having used hired hands (Hamas or otherwise) to break out MB leaders, including Morsi, out of prison? Despite the fact that they were imprisoned unfairly, without charges? Such narratives flooded much of the independent media, with the presidency and the MB being able to little about it. And much of it came from TV talk show hosts such as Lamiss al-Hadidi and Amr El-Dib who were close Mubarak media collaborators (the former was his 2005 campaign spokesperson, for instance). When Morsi mentioned in his speech the hands of the former regime in the media, in other words, he was quite right. But he proved unable to do much about it — particularly as he alienated all of his possible defenders outside of Islamist circles. 

This campaign of delegitimization is one reason June 30 is able to happen. And I suspect this abuse of media (with all of the questions it raises about the limits of media freedom) will leave the Egyptian media scene with problems (starting with credibility and professionalism) for years to come.  

Update: I should add that according to press reports, the owners of several private satellite stations have just been excluded from Media Production City (the state production facility that regulates satellite media and provides the linkup to Egypt's NileSat satellites) and that media mogul Mohamed al-Amin (owner of CBC and al-Watan newspaper) is being investigated for tax fraud, while the entire family of Dream owner and media mogul Ahmed Bahgat is reported to have fled the country.