The Middle East Channel

Thousands of Egyptian Islamists protest ouster of Morsi

Allies of deposed leader Mohamed Morsi called on Egyptian Islamists Friday to peacefully protest against his overthrow. Thousands of Morsi supporters have mobilized in Cairo's Nasr City, and numbers are likely to grow after Friday afternoon prayers. This so-called "Friday of Rejection" follows the military's ousting of Morsi on Wednesday, an action that satisfied millions of Egyptians but marginalized Morsi's Islamist allies. In his swearing-in as Egypt's interim president, Adli Mansour -- formerly the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court -- appealed for an inclusive transition: "The Muslim Brotherhood are part of this people and are invited to participate in building the nation as nobody will be excluded, and if they respond to the invitation, they will be welcomed." Calls for national reconciliation have neither healed the country's divisions nor reduced the anger of Morsi's supporters, however, as numerous high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood officials have been arrested since Morsi's removal. Security forces arrested the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, on Wednesday, and have issued an arrest warrant for Khairat al-Shater, an influential Brotherhood leader who also serves as Badie's deputy. Despite the Friday protest organizers' calls for "peaceful demonstrations," the arrests of Brotherhood leaders and outrage of Morsi's supporters raise fears of violent resistance or heightened militant activity. Tension has already flared in the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamist militants attacked military and security installations early Friday morning, killing one soldier and injuring three others. Moreover, clashes have reportedly broken out between security forces and Morsi supporters in Cairo's Giza neighborhood, and the Egyptian military has deployed additional forces to address anticipated unrest in Morsi's hometown of Zagazig.

Syria

Boasting his survival in the wake of Morsi's ouster, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad trumpeted the opposition's failure to dislodge his regime from power. In an interview with the pro-regime newspaper Al Thawra, Assad declared: "The countries that conspire against Syria have used up all their tools and they have nothing left except direct intervention." His remarks coincided with the Syrian National Coalition's (SNC) meeting in Istanbul to elect a new coalition president and determine the composition of an interim government cabinet. Meanwhile, the siege of Homs enters its fifth day as Syrian government forces bomb rebel positions in the city center and launch ground attacks against rebel-held neighborhoods to retake the strategically important city. On Friday, the SNC called on the United Nations and the West to ratchet up support for opposition forces defending the Syrian city of Homs amidst a deteriorating humanitarian situation. Requesting the immediate delivery of food and medicine to besieged rebels in the city, the SNC believes the battle of Homs represents a potentially decisive turning point in the conflict.

Arguments & Analysis

With Morsi's ouster, time for a new U.S. policy towards Egypt' (Michele Dunne, The Washington Post)

"The best option for the United States is to return to core principles. This was a military coup against a democratically elected president. U.S. officials should call it a coup -- triggering the congressionally mandated suspension of assistance to the Egyptian military until there is a return to democratic civilian rule -- while acknowledging that Morsi had himself taken undemocratic steps and provoked widespread opposition among Egyptians.

The United States should then reinvigorate its engagement with key players in Egypt's secular, Islamist and state institutions and encourage the launch of a much more inclusive, consensus-based transition process than the country has had since 2011. If Egyptian generals and civilian officials want to prove that they are not steering Egypt off a path to democracy, there is much they can do differently to support freedom of expression and human rights. The legal case in which 43 Americans, Egyptians and others were convicted of felonies for carrying out democracy-promotion activities -- a case initiated under military rule -- should be resolved, and Egyptian and foreign civil society organizations should be allowed to work in peace. The rights of the Brotherhood and other Islamists should be respected, and they should be invited into the political process going forward (though getting their cooperation is likely to be difficult). The military and police should respect human rights amid their efforts to restore calm.

U.S. policy in Egypt based on fear rather than principles has alienated all sides. Instead of focusing on how to avoid calling this week's events a coup so they can maintain financial aid to the military, U.S. officials ought to be asking how they can use the Egyptian military's desire to regain international legitimacy after this coup as leverage to press for a rapid return to democratic rule."

A popular impeachment in Egypt' (Michael O'Hanlon and Tamara Wittes, USA Today)

"Among other things, we need to help create a larger international package of aid and trade benefits for Egypt to demonstrate the benefits of moving toward democracy and open markets. Egypt's size and geostrategic location mean that its stability or failure will have huge impact on American interests -- and our investment in Egypt should reflect what's at stake. It need not involve massive American sums like those that went to Iraq or Afghanistan, but the recent levels of $1.3 billion a year in U.S. aid may need to double given the magnitude of the challenge -- that is, if we can get others to offer similar help themselves.

But we should not give all the aid right away. Providing this assistance in full measure must be conditional. We need to watch the actions of the future Egyptian state and calibrate our generosity as a result. The idea is not to take away Egypt's sovereign rights to govern itself as it chooses. The goal, rather, is to respect the sovereign will of the great masses of Egyptian people who have loudly told their fellow Egyptians, and the world, what sort of country they want and demand for themselves."

Where does the Muslim Brotherhood go from here?' (Nathan Brown, The New Republic)

"The final, desperate hours of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president ousted by the military on Wednesday, were in one sense merciful, but also pathetic. After a brief feint that called to mind the image of Salvadore Allende picking up a gun to defend his presidency, Morsi resorted instead to a series of increasingly desperate verbal signals, including ineffectual crises about his own legitimacy and attempts to grasp expired offers of compromise. The result made him seem less like a martyr than a property owner waving his deed at a wrecking-ball operator who has already destroyed his home.

Waving that deed -- or, less metaphorically, attempting to fall back on constitutional text and electoral legitimacy -- would have much to persuade a neutral observer if any such creature still exists. Yes, it is true that the Brotherhood did well in elections; that it was not able to govern fully but still saddled with responsibility for Egypt's insurmountable problems; that important state actors never accepted its authority; that its opposition was unified only by a desire to make the Brotherhood fail; and that Egypt's rumor mill transformed preposterous rumor into established fact with breathtaking speed."

-- Joshua Haber

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Morsi defiant as deadline approaches

Facing mounting pressure and the end of the military's 48 hour deadline, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi delivered a defiant speech Tuesday evening firmly rejecting calls for his resignation and declaring himself the country's "guardian of legitimacy." Hours before the deadline, Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has convened a crisis meeting with top military commanders to discuss the country's developments and prepare for a path forward. Opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei, the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, and the Coptic pope are also reportedly meeting with top military commanders today. Egyptian military sources report that the generals have already devised a plan to enforce their 48 hour deadline. Elaborating on their "roadmap" to "fulfill the people's demands," the generals announced on Tuesday their intention to suspend the existing constitution, appoint a "committee of experts" to draft a new charter,  form a three-member interim presidential council led by the chief of the constitutional court, and insert a military figure as interim prime minister. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters took to the streets for the third consecutive day to demand the president's "removal or resignation," while Morsi's Islamist supporters held massive rallies throughout the country. Morsi's defiant stand, combined with unrelenting public pressure and the military's alleged plan to enforce the deadline, portends a looming confrontation with the potential to unseat Egypt's president by the day's end.

Syria

Syrian government forces dropped leaflets over the northern province of Idlib on Wednesday urging rebels to surrender in the face of an impending regime offensive. Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad continue to launch military offensives to retake rebel-controlled areas. On Tuesday, armed clashes in Aleppo, Homs, and elsewhere killed at least 40 civilians and 70 combatants (both regime and opposition fighters), according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  In Brunei, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss plans to hold an international peace conference on Syria - but major differences persist between Russia and the United States. A weakened Syrian opposition, continued regime offensives against key rebel strongholds, and the heightened involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria have dimmed prospects for negotiations.

Headlines

  • A series of insurgent attacks in mostly Shiite areas killed at least 49 Iraqis on Tuesday, heightening fears of renewed sectarian violence.
  • Iranian President-Elect Hassan Rouhani urged the government and clergy to cease interference in the private lives of individuals, reduce internet restrictions, and increase the openness of state media. 

Arguments & Analysis

The Egyptian Military's Playbook' (Jeff Martini, RAND Corporation)

"An intervention absent Islamist support would risk an Algeria-like scenario, in which the military's overturning of an Islamist electoral victory led to a civil war that embroiled the country throughout the 1990s. To mitigate against the possibility of a violent response, the military could try to coax the Muslim Brotherhood to the bargaining table with the opposition. Failing that, it could try reach out to Islamists from outside the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Salafists, or breakaway groups, such as the Strong Egypt and Center parties.

Second, if the officer corps learned anything from leading the political transition in 2011 and 2012, it is that a go-it-alone approach pushes the public to lay all its grievances on the military's doorstop. This time, the generals could not rule by fiat with only the window dressing of a civilian government. Instead, they would need to form an actual caretaker government -- with explicitly defined authorities and representation from across Egypt's ideological spectrum -- that could oversee affairs before new elections.

Building a real caretaker government is easier said than done. There are few consensus figures in Egyptian politics today. Abdel Moneim Abu al-Futuh, who was a Muslim Brotherhood stalwart and presidential candidate last year, has revolutionary credentials and boasts some cross-ideological appeal. But he is also one of the more vocal critics of military rule. Another option would be the al-Nour party. Although it sits to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood in its politics, it has tried to play an intermediary role between the Muslim Brotherhood and the NSF. But al-Nour would be anathema to many secular Egyptians. As for the antagonists, the Muslim Brotherhood has no interest in sharing power with the opposition, which it continues to see as a small minority trying to overthrow an elected leader. At any rate, any division of the cake is likely to lead to squabbling within the non-Islamist bloc that is, for the moment, united only by its contempt for the Islamists."

Can Morsi, Brotherhood Survive?' (Bassem Sabry, Al-Monitor)

"It is quite an image to fathom or comprehend. One year ago, Morsi stood in the center of Tahrir Square with relatively minimal protection, opening his jacket to cheering crowds in the ultra-packed square to show them that he wore no bulletproof vest, as he knew he was safe among them. The crowd was visibly a diverse one, even if the Islamist presence was somewhat expectedly predominant. Still, it represented the wide multi-ideological revolutionary coalition that allowed Morsi his slim margin of victory of just 51.7% against his opponent. And despite how many in Tahrir Square and elsewhere were apprehensive of the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood president, there was still a general willingness to give him a chance, and to be proven wrong in suspicions or preconceived notions. The media was also ostensibly willing to be positively surprised. By early November, it seemed as if Morsi was turning out to be at least more capable than expected, and he could end up succeeding in making a mark as a local and international statesman.

Today, no one even knows for sure where Morsi is right now. In fact, there are even claims that Morsi, presidency staffers and Muslim Brotherhood leaders are banned from travel by the military. The country has seen what were certainly the largest protests ever in its history -- and in the region -- on June 30, and it is set for massive protests again on July 2, with Egyptians demanding Morsi resigns in favor of early presidential elections. The military has issued a statement giving 48 hours for the ‘people's demands' to be met before it comes out with a ‘road map' of its own, while somehow stressing that it also will not go back into ‘the circle of governance.' Military choppers sporting Egyptian flags continued to circle Tahrir in what seemed to be a direct message of support to roaring crowds. And throughout the day on July 1, following the military's statement, people walked with flags in hand in the streets or hang them from their apartment buildings and honked at cars and passersby, even more so than on June 30."

-- Joshua Haber

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images