Tag Archives: Egypt

Western Academics vs Democratic Idealists: Egypt’s Process

After the military’s intervention on July 3rd that removed elected the Islamic Government from power clashes between pro-Morsi forces and military units have shown no signs of abating.  This appears to be caused in part by the  misguided rush to elections without accounting for the institutions that are necessary for a transition of power.  In short, a democracy is defined more by the peaceful transition of power and not elections.  Robert Gates writes:

A major reason for the relatively democratic outcomes in Southern Africa is that the new regimes left the former oppressors in possession of a political hostage; the private economy… Should the retreating tyrant and his followers own industries or banks, should they control capital, physical or financial, should they, in short, possess economic power, then those seeking their political surrender should respect their rights. 

By focusing on Namibia and South Africa’s successful democratization Bates crafts the argument that a meaningful transition cannot simply replace one ruling group or individual with another.  With this in mind, Bates goes on to say that democracies are never born out of true revolutions as a nation must incorporate some elements of the old regime into the new system of governance.  Take the American Revolution for example, while the states did remove their former colonial masters one of the first things the founding fathers did was to establish British Common law as a legal framework.  Furthermore, they kept the British as a valuable trading partner so  it cannot be called a pure revolution there was  an underlying alliance of old regime and new.

Adam Przeworski writes in his book Democratization and Markets  that succesful democratic transitions are born out of agreements between reformers, the old regime and moderates within the opposition.  This does require that the moderates can neutralize or control  the radicals and hardliners within their own group.

In Egypt this didn’t happen.  Underpinning the old regime were the commercial interests and military, an alliance that was broken on July 3rd when the military overthrew the commercial elite and sided with the opposition.  Przeworski would argue that this left Egypt with little to build on and the transition would fall apart. Not sure I agree with the former but he’s dead on with the latter.

The writings of Bates and Przeworski segue nicely to Sam Huntington and Robert Dahl both of whom argue that institutions of government must precede elections and the expanse of participation.  By gradually expanding participation, newcomers to the system cannot destabilize the system due to their small number and thus democracy begins its modernizing affect.

The rush to electoral politics has been felt in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia as well.  Egypt’s military is better suited to handle the transition to power due to its identity and respect of the people but in order for those to be maintained it must stop the attacks on pro-Morsi demonstrators.  Furthermore the ban on religions that is currently being considered will most likely fail although a mandated separation of religion and politics a la Turkey may be a better alternative.

While Bates, Huntington, Dahl and Przeworski all make solid arguments they seem to ignore that the countries of the Arab Spring face a unique challenge in the age of Youtube and internet news.  When the whole world is watching how can a society slow the race of democracy and individual rights?

Why Egypt won’t be another Syria

imagesThe removal of the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi supporters took a violent turn as security forces killed at least 525 people and injured almost 4,000 people nearly all of whom are Morsi supporters.  People who saw the assault have reported  bulldozers smashing camps and security forces opening fire on unarmed citizens.  One protestor is on record stating:

“Some onlookers were standing at the surrounding buildings, terrified by the unfolding deaths. Others smiled at the thought that the sit-in, which paralyzed their everyday lives for over a month, was coming to the end.”

Despite these last few tumultuous weeks and the “Day of Anger” scheduled today Egypt will mostly likely avoid spiraling into a civil war. First off, Egypt is held hostage to foreign influence such as aid from the U.S. and other Gulf States all of whom funnel billions of dollars into Egypt.  It’s unlikely that those external forces would allow one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East to fall into civil war.  Without that outside support its unclear if the military could sustain a civil war like the Assad government, which is propped up by military aid from Iran and Russia.  It’s true that arms have been smuggled into Egypt from Libya using Bedoin underground channels but these are mostly rifles and small arms, not the heavy artillery one would need to combat the Egyptian military for a prolonged length of time.

Second, up to now all signs point indicate that General Abdul Fatah el-Sisi has no interest in actually governing. Instead he is more concerned with the material perks of power, not the day-to-day running of a country such as the dispersal of public goods and managing a hard hit economy.

Lastly, Syria is run by a minority sect while Egypt is mostly Sunni and doesn’t have the deep Sunni/Shite tensions that plague other Middle East states such as Iraq and Syria.  Even the killings of Coptic Christians doesn’t seem to be stirring the embers that would ignite a full-blown civil war.

The conflict now is less of a civil war and more of a propaganda war where the Muslim Brotherhood has gained the world’s sympathy and the military might be pushed by public opinion to allow for more liberal forces to enter the political debate.  If the Muslim Brotherhood can maintain its non-violent stance then Abdul Fatah may back down thus ending one of the most violent crackdowns in history.  However the military must find a way to save face and realize that they cannot eradicate the Brotherhood with violence.

Political Power and Sexual Violence: Not Just Egypt’s Problem

Cairo Tense As Preparations Continue For Elections    The world is fixated on the political turmoil in Egypt, but one aspect continues to simmer with little attention.  These protests have also seen a sharp rise in sexual attacks on women in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests.  Since November 2011 the police have avoided Tahrir Square especially during the bigger protests to avoid clashes with protesters which has left women unprotected and the gangs of men secure that they will not be arrested for their attacks or rapes. Women’s rights groups report 19 cases of sexual gang violence in January including 6 women who required urgent medical care one of whom was raped with a bladed weapon that cut her genitals.

Sexual harassment and violence is an epidemic in Egypt with over 80 reports of mob violence in June and 99.3% of women claiming to have suffered some form of it. However Egypt by no means has a monopoly on sexual violence.  We tend to view other societies gender violence as the problem of the “other.”

When a 23-year-old woman is brutally gang raped and beaten in Delphi, the headlines speak of India’s women problem but when a 16-year-old girl is raped and filmed by peers–who share the images on the internet–we treat it like an unfortunate but isolated event.

Need more evidence of a prevalent rape culture? Look at the recent pop songs from artists Robin Thicke and Kayne West.  In his latest single  “Give it 2 U” Thicke soulfully croons about giving women what they really want…his big dick. Kayne goes further by describing today’s leaders by saying, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

When we brush our own inequality under the rug and view sexual violence as the problem of the “other” we dismiss the need for protests or investigations in the nation where 26,000 military service members reported sexual assault in 2012.  There are no cultural inquires into the nation that ranks 13th for rape and our Vice Presidential candidates discuss “legitimate rape.” Not to mention the coaches and priests that go on for decades hiding their own sexual abuses and eventually become their own victims.

The sexual violence in Egypt is as abysmal as it is unique, but like the acts of rape in the U.S. it did not emerge overnight.  It is the product of years of our leaders, both political and social, ignoring the real causes of sexual abuse…power.  In the act of violating someone’s person there is a search for power and control.