Thursday, October 13, 2011

Egypt, Palestinian Rights and the Camp David Accords – Part 1

September 2011 Attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo

Many non-Egyptians fear that the revolution will lead to war with Israel in support of a Palestinian state. Some say that a stronger role for the Muslim Brotherhood in Parliament will lead to abrogation of the 1978 Camp David accords and the 1979 treaty with Israel.  From my understanding of Egyptian history and culture and multiple visits since February 2011, I am convinced that war is not imminent and that the accords and treaty will be respected. However, Egypt will become a more active player in the efforts to establish a Palestine state.  Such a role will grow out of the efforts of Egyptians to establish a separation of powers among democratic institutions, civilian control of the military and transitional justice.

Until recently, analysts have considered the decisions of Egyptian leaders to be the most important factor in the country’s relations with Israel, Palestine and other Arab countries.  Today, Egypt’s engagement on Middle East political issues is more dependent on the establishment of its own responsive democratic institutions, modern political parties and effective advocacy groups.  Voices suppressed for decades are now in a position to influence government policy.  At the same time, the power of the military to influence foreign policy has become more overt.  Revolutionary groups have become important players in both domestic and foreign policy.

The interplay of these forces will lead to changes in Egypt’s role in the Middle East.  It is impossible to predict exactly what positions or actions the Egyptian Government will take.  We can be sure, however, that its actions vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine will correspond more closely to the desires of the Egyptian population.

To appreciate the factors that will influence Egypt’s Middle East policy, it is important to understand modern Egyptian history and the relationship between its leaders and people. I will present an overview of the events that have shaped Egyptians' feelings on Israel and Palestinian rights in three blog posts. This post traces Egypt’s history from the Ottoman Empire until Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel.
The Ottoman Empire
Egypt and Palestine were part of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years. In 1882, the British occupied Egypt.  While many Egyptians objected to Ottoman control of Egypt, they were pleased that the Ottomans, a Muslim but non-Arab people, controlled Jerusalem.  British colonialism was strongly opposed by Egyptians, especially after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following World War I and the creation of the British mandate for Palestine in 1922.
British Control, Liberal Democracy and the Monarchy
Saad Zaghlul, Founder of the Wafd Party and First Prime Minister of Independent Egypt

Three of the ideologies that influence post-revolutionary Egypt and its role in the Middle East were forged during the British occupation – liberal nationalist, communist and Islamist.  Opposition to British control in Palestine led Palestinians to revolt in 1920, 1929 and 1936. In Egypt, the British allowed the development of a liberal democracy based on a modern constitution, with an effective Parliament and active political parties. Nationalists in Egypt led uprisings in 1919 and 1921, which forced the British to formally recognize the independence of Egypt under King Fuad, with nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul as Prime Minister.  However, the British continued to occupy Egypt and interfere with its governance. Communists and the Muslim Brotherhood competed with liberal nationalists in opposing the British.  Some of them joined with Arab nationalists in Palestine to support the 1941-42 drive across North Africa led by Nazi General Rommel, which was eventually stopped by the British General Montgomery in November 1942.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Creation of Israel and Palestinian Displacement
May 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence and Beginning of Arab-Israeli War

Both Egyptian leaders and citizens showed solidarity with the Arabs of Palestine during the 1947 Partition, the1948 Arab-Israeli war, the creation of the state of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians from their lands. The Egyptians, under King Farouk, Fuad’s successor, and the nationalist-dominated Parliament rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine and sent 20,000 troops to join other Arab League members fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Farouk saw this war as a means to build Egypt’s leadership of the Arab world and a way of extending Egypt’s authority to southern Palestine. The 1949 armistice gave the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
The creation of the State of Israel and the annexation of the West Bank and Jerusalem by Jordan were bitter blows to Egyptian leaders, who spent the next eight years in a cold peace with Israel. Egyptian citizens were disappointed in the performance of their military.  In solidarity with other Arabs, Egyptian leaders voiced the sympathy of their citizens for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees displaced during the war.  
Free Officers Movement, Creation of a Republic Government and the 1956 Suez Crisis
Free Officers Movement, including Nasser and Sadat

A fourth major ideology affecting Egypt’s role in the Middle East today was born in the 1950’s – Nasserism. A coup d’état by the “Free Officers Movement” in 1952 led to the fall of the monarchy, the creation of a republican government in 1953 and the assumption of power by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954.  In 1956, as the British pulled out of the Suez Canal, their last remaining foothold in Egypt, Nasser nationalized the Canal, and barred Israeli shipping through the Canal as well as through the Straits of Tiran leading to Israel’s port of Eilat.  Israel then invaded and occupied the Sinai.  Britain and France undertook a bombing campaign and sent troops to secure the Suez Canal. Pressure from the US eventually led to withdrawal of these forces and the establishment of UN Peacekeepers in the Sinai, but the Egyptian population was left with a stronger view of Israel as the enemy and greater pride in the Egyptian military.   
 Gamal Abdel Nasser – Arab Nationalism and Repression
Gamal Abdel Nasser

The vast majority of Arabs throughout the Middle East viewed Nasser as a hero.  Most Egyptians were proud of Nasser’s strong Arab nationalistic rhetoric, anti-imperialism, support for revolutionary movements in Algeria and Yemen and vehement opposition to Israel.
Nasser transformed Egypt by investing heavily in infrastructure, building the government bureaucracy and pursuing a significant program of land reform.  His goal was the establishment of a secular, militarized State. However, over the next decade, Nasser created a totalitarian state that gave primacy to the military. He established tight control of the military and intelligence services; abolished all but the ruling political party; led campaigns of severe repression against Islamists, communists, minorities and foreigners; and took total control of the media and national Muslim institutions.  In 1965, he imprisoned and eventually executed Sayyad Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading theoretician.  Egyptians showed their support for Nasser in electing him as President in referenda where he was the only candidate.
Consequently, any opposition to Nasser’s intervention in Israel was repressed.  Those voices who opposed or supported another approach to his Israel and Palestine policies, whether communist, Islamist or liberal, were not part of the public discourse.
Creation of the PLO
Nasser Addressing the PLO

To demonstrate his leadership of the Arab world and ability to use Palestinians to pressure Israel, Nasser helped organize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by passing a resolution at an Arab League summit meeting in Cairo in January 1964.  The founding conference of the PLO took place in Jerusalem in May 1964, resulting in the creation of the Palestinian National Council, serving as the Palestinian parliament-in-exile. It also issued the Palestinian National Charter.  The Charter sought the establishment of a Palestinian state in the place of Israel, affirmed the Palestinians’ right to return and called for armed struggle to liberate Palestine.  It also aimed for the elimination of Zionism, which it called racist, fanatic, aggressive, expansionist, colonialist and fascist. 
Many Egyptians hailed this initiative in support of their Arab brethren and the recuperation of what Nasser called “Arab land.”  As tension mounted with Israel from 1965-1967, the vast majority of Egyptians supported the efforts of Nasser to use the PLO to prepare for the Six-Day War that broke out in June 1967.
The Six-Day War and its Aftermath
Egyptian Soldiers Surrendering to Israelis

Persuaded by a massive domestic public relations campaign of the strength of the Egyptian army, most Egyptians were proud that Nasser had decided to use the military forces again after 11 years for his purpose of recovering “Arab land” from Israel and “restoring the rights of the Palestinian people.”  His first step was to demand the removal of UN troops from the Sinai.  Then, as in 1956, he ordered the military to blockade the Straits of Tiran to prevent shipping to the Israeli port of Eilat. After Nasser massed Egyptian troops in the Sinai, Israel started hostilities on June 5 by bombarding and destroying the Egyptian air force.  Its troops then encircled and bombed the Egyptian army, which performed poorly and was confused by a retreat order. The Israelis took Gaza on June 7 and arrived at the Suez Canal by June 8. The Egyptian army had been defeated, even though most of its units had little chance to fight. Unlike in 1956, Israel remained in control of the Sinai and Gaza after the war, a bitter loss to Egypt.
Nasser was deeply shamed by the poor performance of the Egyptian military and the loss of the Sinai and its oil fields.  Almost all Egyptians were in a state of shock, finding it difficult to believe that Nasser could have led their country into such a cataclysm.  Some of them could no longer view him as a hero and began to think of his Arab nationalist project as a bad dream. Nasser never recovered psychologically and died in 1970.  His Arab nationalist movement died with him, as Egypt increasingly became a militarized police state with an ever-growing bureaucracy.
Nasser did leave a legacy of frustrated and repressed idealists, whether Arab nationalists, liberals, communists, Islamists or those who supported the supremacy of the military.  Each of these groups remained committed to the rights of the Palestinian people, coming from their own ideological perspectives.  The interaction of these groups and their attempts to support the Palestinians provided some of the seeds of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Rick Gold

Cross-Posted in Secular Perspectives

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Perspective on Progress in Egypt Since the Jan. 25 Revolution

Here is a temperature check on the progress of the Egyptian revolution, as published by Ahram Online on August 29, 2011:
Egypt's Supreme Military Council: promises kept, broken, deferred

Wael Eskandar, Monday 29 Aug 2011

Over six months ago the Supreme Military Council issued Communiqué #1, pledging support for the revolution; its most recent communiqué numbered 72. Below Ahram Online provides a SCAF balance sheet

The following are the main pledges made by the ruling military council in communiqués on their official Facebook page and in widely repeated statements on television and via other media outlets.

Fulfilled promises

“Rebuild the church in Atfeeh, Helwan before Easter”

In early March, the church in Sol, Atfeeh in the governorate of Helwan was set ablaze and demolished as a result of sectarian tensions. After mass protests, the armed forces pledged to rebuild the church before Easter. The task was completed on time and the new church is said to be finer than what preceded it.

Status: Fulfilled; Source: Media release

“Rebuild the churches in Imbaba and compensate for damages”

Early May marked another case of sectarian violence when a church in Imbaba was attacked and set ablaze. The clashes resulted in several deaths and numerous injuries. The army once again promised to rebuild the church and pay damages. The church on Wehda Street in Imbaba was rebuilt and some compensation was paid to owners whose shops were damaged.

Status: Fulfilled; Source: Communiqué 48

“Release of some civilians subjected to military trials”

Civilians mentioned by name in official SCAF communiqués have all been released. Those the SCAF promised to release or retry are Mohamed Adel Mohamed Fawzy, Amr Eissa, Waleed Samy Saad, Ahmed Abdel Meguid as well as 120 others arrested on 9 March.

Status: Fulfilled; Source: Communiqués 29, 30, 36, 40, 55

“Investigate Hosni Mubarak and his family”

It has taken a lot of public pressure to see Mubarak and his sons caged in a court room. This is one of the promises by the ruling military council that has been fulfilled.

Status: Fulfilled; Source Communiqué 35

Unfulfilled promises

“Hold parliamentary elections in September”

According to many sources, the parliamentary elections have been pushed back to November.

Status: Broken; Source: Media releases

“Leave power within six months”

Despite their promise to hand over power within six months, the ruling military council has chosen to remain in power, with no other date for departure announced.

Status: Broken; Source: Media releases

“To protect protests and protesters”

The very first promise to protect protesters was broken several times. Today, the promise seems permanently broken with SCAF and Central Security Forces (CSF) taking over Tahrir Square without explanation.

Status: Broken; Source: Communiqué 1, 68, others

“Answer all queries within 24 hours”

In its message to the Egyptian people communicating via Facebook, the military council promised to answer all queries within 24 hours starting from 17 February 2011. The silence of the SCAF regarding many issues is in direct violation of the promise it pledged without coercion.

Status: Broken; Source: Communiqué 2

“Execute necessary reforms that meet the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Egyptian people”

This promise followed Mubarak’s overthrow, amidst apprehension from Egyptians as to how the military will respond to the demands of the people. This promise seems unfulfilled in many ways. There has been no adequate reform in the ministry of interior, the police or state media. On the contrary, many actions taken seem in opposition of people’s demands such as resorting to military trials and passing a law that criminalises strikes and sit-ins. Furthermore there has been no real reform in the legislative system which remains inadequate at fulfilling justice demanded by the Egyptian people. The SCAF may have misunderstood people’s demands or has not been competent enough to execute the reforms necessary as was promised.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source: Communiqué 6

“Take all necessary precautions to ensure the military police does not deal violently with protesters”

Communiqué 22 was issued on 26 February after the violent dispersion of protesters on the night of 25 February when calling for the resignation of then-Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. The message was for the most part a confession and an apology for breaking the promise in Communiqué 1. It also contained a promise to take all necessary precautions so that such events were not repeated. What were these measures? How could these measures have been taken if the military police are present at every protest? Indeed, the measures have proven inadequate judging by events like 9 March, 8 April and 1 August where violence and torture were reported.

Status: Broken; Source Communiqué 22

“Release all those arrested on 25 February”

Despite the promise, there is the well known case of Amr El-Behairy who was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Amr El-Behairy was arrested on the night of 25 February despite numerous witnesses attesting he was unarmed and innocent of charges brought against him. Others were released, but because not all were released to date; this promise can be marked as broken.

Status: Broken; Source: Communiqué 23

“Presidential elections will not be postponed to 2012”

On 27 March, the SCAF denied the postponement of presidential elections to 2012. While technically this denial cannot be proven false until the end of the year, it seems so far that presidential elections have in fact been postponed to 2012.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source: Communiqué 28

“Investigation into the torture of female protesters and taking corrective actions”

This was pledged by the ruling military council on 28 March in reference to the events of 9 March when the sit-in at Tahrir Square was dispersed violently with reports of mass arrests and torture in the vicinity of the Egyptian Museum. The "torture" also refers to the virginity tests done on females as reported and documented by El-Nadeem Centre for Victims of Torture, Amnesty International, The Washington Post and CNN. To date, none of the officers involved have been held accountable, which adds this to the list of promises broken by the ruling military council.

Status: Broken; Source Communiqué 29

“Military trials only used for acts of thuggery”

This promise, while implicit in many of the media releases, was explicitly stated on 28 March in Communiqué 30 while ordering the release of artist Amr Eissa. Yet many have been arrested and referred to military courts without any adequate evidence and have been proven not to be thugs. The fact that activists have been referred to military trials before and after the communiqué is strong proof that this promise has been broken.

Status: Broken; Source Communiqués 30, 68

“Bring those involved in corruption and killers of protesters quickly to justice, return stolen wealth, and equality of citizens before the law”

On 2 April, the armed forces pledged to treat citizens on the basis of equality and promised quick justice. Yet protesters alleged to be "thugs" were tried swiftly in military courts while members of the old regime and killers of protesters were given slow civilian trials. Justice was postponed indefinitely for most of the cases, including the murder of prisoners during the 10 days from 28 January. No serious steps have been taken to retrieve any Egyptian money abroad.

Status: Broken; Source: Communiqué 31

“Investigate Zamalek vs African Club match events”

On a side note, the military council issued vowed to investigate the events of the match between Egypt’s Zamalek club and Tunisia’s African Club where riots took place after Zamalek’s defeat. We have yet to hear the results of these investigations.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source: Communiqué 32

“Egyptian media has the complete freedom to discuss any topic; the military never interferes”

On 27 April, the military council claimed that the Egyptian media has complete freedom to discuss whatever topic it chooses. This came at a time after a note had been circulated to all media outlets by General Ismail Etman of SCAF dated 22 March asking them not to publish anything related to the army without approval. This also comes at a time when an on-air programme with presidential candidate Bothaina Kamel was ordered to end prematurely only a few days after the communiqué had been issued. Combined with the summoning of media personnel for questioning, such as activist Hossam El-Hamalawy, TV presenter Reem Maged and journalist Rasha Azab for statements made on television and in the press, this statement becomes one of the most prominent promises broken by the ruling military council.

Status: Broken; Source: Communiqué 42

“Egyptians abroad to vote in next elections”

This is unfulfilled rather than broken, not because we can determine whether it will happen or not, but because no steps have been publicised revealing that the mechanism will be put in place, especially in absence of an electronic voting system. Until we learn more about plans to implement such a promise, this remains an unfulfilled promise.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source Communiqué 49

“Retry all youth subjected to military trials”

On 13 May the military council promised to retry all revolutionary youth, especially those arrested during the months of March and April. A part of this promise has been fulfilled as a direct result of other communiqués. Although a great part of the prisoners arrested on 9 March were released on 18 May, the promise leaves much to be desired. There are over 12,000 civilians tried in military courts. The court conditions have not guaranteed any fairness and despite the promise of this communiqué, many remain in military prisons until today.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source: Communiqué 50

“Investigate the death of Ramy Fakhry”

Ramy Fakhry was a 27-year-old Coptic electrical engineer who was allegedly killed by the army on his way to work on 13 May 2011. Despite the promise to investigate his death, we have yet to hear the results of the investigation.

Status: Unfulfilled; Source Communiqué 53

“Take the side of the revolutionary youth”

The army has stated that it has taken the side of the revolution and revolutionary youth. Communiqué 69, however, accuses the 6 April Movement of creating a rift between the army and the people. The accusations are devoid of substance, while allegations of foreign funding were used as means to defame the group. Meanwhile, it is known that SCAF accepts foreign funds from numerous sources, including the US. If the 6 April Movement was acting against the best interests of the country, the military should have come forward with evidence. If not, do these accusations not cast doubt on claims that the military has indeed taken the side of the revolutionary youth?

Status: Unknown; Source: Media releases and numerous communiqués