The Middle East Channel

Millions of Egyptians demand ouster of President Morsi

Millions took to the streets throughout Egypt on Sunday, and many remained outdoors during the night, to demand the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Opposing the demands for Morsi's resignation, thousands of Morsi supporters rallied to defend the president's legitimacy. Protests quieted on Monday, but in the morning anti-Morsi demonstrators stormed the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters, setting the building ablaze with Molotov cocktails and fireworks. Although instances of violence were reported nationwide, the rival protests remained mostly peaceful. However, the Tamarod (Rebel) movement, responsible for setting the June 30 protest date, threatened to launch a campaign of civil disobediance if Morsi refuses to step down by Tuesday. According to a Tamarod statement Sunday, "There is no alternative other than the peaceful end of power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its representative, Mohammed Morsi." But Morsi remained defiant, vowing the continuation of his presidency and calling for "the adoption and application of the constitution." Coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Morsi's election as Egypt's first democratically elected president, the protests highlight the country's intense polarization and widespread popular disenchantment with the lack of economic and political progress.   

Syria

Syrian government forces backed by Hezbollah fighters assaulted rebel positions in Homs with artillery and aerial attacks, deploying tanks and ground forces to take the old city. Under siege for the second consecutive day, Syrian opposition forces defending Homs claim to have repelled the latest wave of attacks. The country's third largest city, Homs has been a rebel stronghold since the beginning of the uprising two years ago. The regime's offensive on Homs follows a series of military gains for Bashar al-Assad's forces, including the capture of the strategically important town of Qusair, near Lebanon, in early June. Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the foreign ministers of the six GCC states met in Bahrain to coordinate efforts at ending the violence, pledging to "spare no effort in helping to create the appropriate conditions for a successful convening of the peace conference on Syria."

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departed the Middle East after a four-day trip without securing a public commitment from Israeli and Palestinian officials to resume negotiations.
  • Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani announced his commitment on Saturday to international "dialogue and interaction with others from an equal position, based on mutual respect and interests."
  • A Saudi Arabia court sentenced seven online activists to 10 years in prison for inciting protests through Facebook. 

Arguments & Analysis

Who Will Save Egypt?' (Marina Ottaway, Foreign Affairs)

"Egyptians have a lot to be upset about these days, and they are showing it. The one-year anniversary of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's inauguration has brought with it major protests and counter protests, raising fears of renewed political violence. Underneath all the anger lies a basic fact: The Egyptian economy is in deep trouble.

Since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, the state's revenue has decreased sharply. The business sector is in the doldrums, and investments have dried up as both domestic and foreign investors bide their time waiting for the political fog to lift. At the same time, the government's expenditures are mounting. The climb is partly a result of salary increases that were granted to government workers since the uprising in an attempt to quell the unrest. More fundamentally, though, the costs of subsidies on food prices and, above all, energy continue to mount as oil prices increase on the world market but Egyptian consumers are charged the same prices as before. Energy subsidies now amount to more than $16 billion a year, with an additional $4 billion devoted to food."

The Obama Administration Should Prepare for More Change in Egypt' (Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress)

"In the two-and-a-half years since the collapse of the Mubarak regime, Egypt has been embroiled in a complicated series of political, economic, and security transitions. Yet the basic framework and overall policy tools that the United States has used to shape and influence events in Egypt has largely remained the same, with a few minor adjustments. In the past two years, the United States has not made major shifts in its security and economic assistance to Egypt and its methods for engaging Egypt, despite immense changes Egypt has undergone internally.

The United States must prepare for the possibility that it will need to implement a massive overhaul in its bilateral relations with Egypt based on events in that country in the coming days and weeks. A major shift in relations would have spillover implications for longstanding U.S. security strategy for the region on several fronts. Egypt continues to play an important role in advancing U.S. security interests in the region, including continued efforts to deal with security threats in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. But Egypt's political legitimacy crisis has grown, and the performance of the Morsi government during the past year has left Egypt more polarized and weaker economically, and less reliable as a partner.

The coming weeks could prove to be a pivotal period for Egypt. Ideally, the United States would continue to adapt its policy and attempt to manage the change in Egypt, but if the recent negative trends continue, the United States should be prepared to question the basic framework of its bilateral relationship with Egypt and conduct an overhaul of its current full assistance package."

-- Joshua Haber

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Marc Lynch

Predictions are Hard: MEC Week in Review, June 28

If a group of Middle East analysts had been asked two years ago to rank which Arab heads of state were most likely to still be in power by the end of June 2013, the Emir of Qatar would almost certainly have been ranked #1.  And for good reason: relatively young and exceedingly energetic diplomatically, unfathomably wealthy, facing no real domestic challenges or grave international threats.  My column this week, which despite my best efforts was not entitled "Game of Qatari Thrones", explores some of the mysteries surrounding his stunning decision to hand over power to his son Tamim.

The Emir's surprising move recalls many of the fascinating discussions and debates about the possibility of prediction in political science in the wake of the Arab uprisings.  You'll recall that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, and all which followed, spawned a tidal wave of indictments of political science and of area studies for failing to predict the mass mobilization. This never seemed exactly right. The predictive failure wasn't one of information: many, if not most, scholars of Arab politics over the 2000s catalogued the political, economic, and institutional failures of Arab regimes and the rising wave of popular protest. The analytical failure, such as it was, came from the (not unreasonable) assumption that the survival strategies which had kept those authoritarian regimes in power for decades despite their many failures would continue to work. That assumption was widely shared. As Charlie Kurzman and others have often pointed out, even the participants in protest movements are often surprised by their success. It is only in retrospect that the unthinkable comes to seem inevitable.

The Emir's decision to hand over power was arguably even more unpredictable than the Arab uprisings.  As Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who has worked for a long time on forecasting and prediction (including with the Political Instability Task Force), points out, the eruption of mass mobilization and its political outcomes can be modeled within a broad comparative universe. All sorts of data might go into the predictive analysis. But what would allow you to predict an intra-family decision behind closed doors for inscrutable reasons, other than actually being in that room? Even hearing the many rumors about the closed doors meeting doesn't really help, since rumors flow freely in a place like Doha and 99 out of 100 turn out to be bunk.  At any rate, I'd love to hear more from Jay and others on the relative challenges of predicting leadership changes in the Gulf against, say, what might happen in Egypt on June 30. 

This Week on the  Middle East Channel

Speaking of Egypt's June 30 protests, the Middle East Channel posted several outstanding articles previewing the runup to those potentially fateful -- and potentially an overhyped fizzle -- protests. Nathan Brown returned from a week in Cairo extremely worried about the polarization and expectations in the days leading up to June 30.  Tarek Radwan recounted the political road to June 30 and the thinking behind how it might unfold.  Hisham Hellyer warned of the atmosphere which produced the horrifying lynching of four Shi'ite Egyptians. And over on the FP main page, Mohammed el-Baradei warned that Egypt is already a failed state and "you can't eat sharia."

Elsewhere on the Channel, Paola Rivetti and Farideh Farhi and Daniel Brumberg interpreted the politics of Iran's Presidential election; Aaron Zelin and Charles Lister presented one of the most detailed analyses to date on the emergence of the Syrian Islamic Front; Curtis Ryan examined Jordan's ongoing struggles with political reform and the controversy over its blocking of websites; Jake Hess went into Iraq to interview a leader of Turkey's PKK about the very tenuous prospects for a real peace agreement; and I talked to Mark Tessler about the evolution of Arab public opinion research.

Finally: POMEPS is hiring!  If you want to work with us here at the Middle East Channel, along with a wide range of academic programming, check out this opportunity. Since it was originally posted last week the position has been upgraded to a full time positionIf you're interested be sure to apply