The Green-Khaki Alliance: Morsi Deploys the Military for Referendum

Faced with the prospect of substantial public resistance to his scheduling of a referendum on a Muslim Brotherhood-tinged constitution on December 15, Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has turned to the military. (The green in the title is a reference to political Islam, not the environment).

Morsi has ordered that the Egyptian army guard government buildings (and presumably the offices of his own party, Freedom and Justice, which have been being attacked by protesters). They spent Sunday putting up a blast wall around the presidential palace in Heliopolis, Cairo, which protesters invaded last Tuesday.

He also gave the military what he said were temporary powers to arrest civilians.

I spent some of summer, 2011, hanging out in Tahrir Square at a time when thousands of protesters regularly gathered there. A consistent demand, visible in dozens of placards, posters and graffiti, was that the power of the military to arrest civilians and remand them for trial in military courts be rescinded.

Morsi is attempting to ally with the military against the revolutionary youth, and so is giving back to the officers this prerogative. Nothing could succeed better in alienating the protesters from Morsi than this decree.

The other problem Morsi had was that most of the judges, including in pro-Muslim Brotherhood cities such as Asyut, are refusing to oversee next Saturday’s referendum on the constitution, as they must by law.

Morsi is deploying the army and other security forces to oversee the elections and to keep the voting stations safe.

The revolutionary youth have long been afraid of an alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian army, combining the worst elements of both into a new, fundamentalist praetorian authoritarianism. Morsi did nothing on Sunday to allay those fears.

Morsi also announced on Sunday tax increases or price rises for many key commodities, as part of his quest for a $4.5 billion loan from the International Monetary fund. He slapped big taxes on liquor and cigarettes, as part of the Brotherhood’s campaign gradually to make Egypt a moral society. (They also want to send the night-owl Cairenes to bed at 10 pm, so as to cut down on carousing).

At 2 am Cairo time on Monday morning, Morsi abruptly cancelled the new taxes. Presumably his advisors became alarmed that the taxes might anger even Brotherhood supporters, and they are hoping to postpone them until after the referendum, when less is at stake.

The Egyptian Salvation Front, a coalition of liberal, leftist and centrist parties, has rejected Morsi’s referendum. The Irish Times suggests that their apparent determination to boycott the referendum derives from a conviction that they cannot defeat it at the polls. But it seems to me equally likely that the young revolutionaries just don’t think in terms of grassroots political campaigns. Moreover, they used to boycott Hosni Mubarak’s referendums. They are still acting like revolutionaries rather than transitioning into democratic politics.

Big rallies are called by leftists and liberals before the presidential palace on Tuesday and Friday, and the Muslim Brotherhood is planning counter-demonstrations.

The thing I fear is that if Morsi rams his constitution through, it will undermine the current government with the New Left and lead to long-term political faction-fighting, sometimes of a violent sort.

17 Responses

  1. WHAT A MESS AND LOST OPPORTUNITY

    The young revolutionaries are also alienated from the Salvation Front that they say is too riddled with felloul. The April group and others are just doing their own thing. THEY certainly have no grassroots efforts, but one would assume that the Sha’abi Front of Hamdeen Sabbahi does, considering how well he did in the elections. He is the only real politician among all the Salvation guys and one with a partially non-elite following.

    Which raises the question: In the ‘ashwaiyyat and labor strongholds, what is the struggle like between the presumably equally familiar Salafis and MB on the one hand and the labor organizers on the other? With the 10 pm curview endangering the livelihoods of thousands, and the potential subsidy cuts, new crusade against street vendors, not to mention that proposed taxes, the Morsi government can’t be very popular. So what is going on there? Like the US, citizens going against their economic interests or a time gap before it all sinks in?

    It seems that like US progressives, Egypt’s leftists don’t want to use the very powerful jargon of reliigon to unmask their Brothers and Salafis. Social Justice, Freedom and Bread are certainly more Islamic values than neo-liberalism, and are closer to the models laid out by the Prophet and Sahaba. MB/Salafi violence and killing, calling those you disagree with Kuffar, etc are all against ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES. Beards don’t make you pious.

  2. Juan,
    I agree with your logic here and in your previous blog on Egypt that the reformers are making a mistake in boycotting the referendum. The problem is that given that the vote occurs in less than a week, there is insufficient time for Morsi opponents to understand and form a consensus around any strategy. Given this reality, a boycott is least bad option.

    “They are still acting like revolutionaries rather than transitioning into democratic politics.” Perhaps, but by rushing the process, Morsi is not allowing democratic politics to take shape.

    It is up to Obama and the international community to deny legitimacy to the referendum and Morsi’s machiavellian consolidation of power. I am not optimistic. The world can accept one more Mubarak.

      • the last thing Egypt needs is more US meddling

        Our last “meddling” consisted to working to convince mid-level military officers to disobey orders to shoot at the protesters.

        I guess opinions vary on that.

    • “It is up to Obama and the international community to deny legitimacy to the referendum and Morsi’s machiavellian consolidation of power.”

      Are you saying that United States intervention in Egyptian politics (and by extension, that of other countries)is perfectly OK, as long as it meets your selective criteria? How does that differ from someone who pushed for United States intervention to prop up Mubarak, because that met his selective criteria?

      There would be no difference between the two of you, as neither of you would be against U.S. intervention in the Egyptian political process, as long as it met each of your selective criteria. You would have no more reason to condemn him than he would have to condemn you. And it would be a mistake for you to think that your position is more justified because your motives were more pure. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      • I’m puzzled by these reflexive comments about “meddling”.

        The United States or any other country is entitled to have a foreign policy. I expect, or at least hope, that our government will criticize authoritarian, undemocratic actions, and praise postive developments in other countries.

        Further, there is nothing wrong with using foreign aid to encourage policies that we approve of.

        “Are you saying that United States intervention in Egyptian politics (and by extension, that of other countries)is perfectly OK, as long as it meets your selective criteria? How does that differ from someone who pushed for United States intervention to prop up Mubarak, because that met his selective criteria?”

        Propping up Mubarak was a mistake. By your definition of “meddling”, withdrawing aid to Mubarak would have been interference in Egyptian poltics.

        Are you advocating isolationism? Or on other extreme, do you believe in granting foreign aid without accountability?

        Perhaps you have not thought this through, or maybe this is just a misunderstanding.

        • I detected in your comment that it is up to Obama to “deny legitimacy to the referendum and to Morsi’s Machiavellian consolidation of power,” a predilection for interfering in the process because your selective criteria had not been met (which I take to be the advancement of democracy).

          What if Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood/Islamists put Egypt on a path that was determined by another observer to be against U.S. interests, and that observer wished to interfere because it did not meet his criteria (of, at the very least, not working against U.S. interests)? Would you grant his desire to interfere the same validity you obviously grant yours? It seems to me you both are willing to interfere, the only difference being your reasons for the interference. (Yes, yes, I understand that both of you would think that each holds the moral “high ground” over the other).

        • I’m puzzled by these reflexive comments about “meddling”.

          Are you? Really?

          Anti-Americanism is the anti-imperialism of fools. In a difficult, complicated situation, it takes a certain level of intellectual firepower to find one’s way through a thicket. Some grow frustrated at the effort, and fall back on Old Reliable.

      • ” The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

        And also bad ones, and idiot ones, and the paving stones are greed and self-advancement and tribalism and whatever it is that motivates “our” sneaky-petes to keep exercising their compendious skills at subornation and destabilization. It sure does not look like the “general welfare” or even “protecting (undefined but everybody-knows-what-they-are) US interests.”

        Is the argument that if anyone is possessed of the “correct” selective criteria, then US intervention, with all that has come to include over a little more than a century of exceptionalist, pro-corporate-interest, JF Dulles tunnel vision, the careerism of the latest crop of pants-down and doctrinally-bankrupt generals and policy lizards, the antics of Wild Bill Donovan and “our” various shills and contractors and all, is A-OK?

        It’s so hard to follow the logic, which so often is only “we do whatever we feel like at the time, because who is going to stop us, and who cares who gets hurt or killed?”

        “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

    • Up to Obama and international community to deny legitimacy of the referendum?

      I jolly well wish the US would do just that. That is one sure way of ensuring all people go to the polling booths and voting yes, and by all I mean all muslim and christian alike! Egypt has made her intentions perfectly clear, we don’t meddle in your affairs and you don’t meddle in ours.

      Have any of you read the constitutional draft? It is a very good constitutional draft. All and I mean all members of the assembly were present for five long months, why did the liberals and leftists not leave beforehand? Why suffer and work hard for many hours a day on something you don’t believe in and why sign something you don’t believe in? As far as we can see the signatures of liberals, christians and leftists is on over 80% of the articles in the constitution. Surely no one is going to come out and say they were forced to agree but now they changed their minds? Heck Amr Mousa is the one who wrote the very first article. I tell you before you judge a referendum I would suggest reading it.

      As for Morsi being anything like Mubarak, that is ludicrous, Sabbahi, Baradei, Mousa are more like Mubarak than Morsi ever will be, they are the ones with the audacity to talk about a people when they don’t even represent the majority of that people. They are the ones who are affiliated with the previous regime and they are the ones who are forcing their decrees not just on the people but on the democratically elected president and when he put all that aside and told them to come discuss things and reach some sort of dialogue they were the ones refusing, they are the ones protesting outside the presidential palace for him to step down and sabahi to take his place. I mean honestly, if it wasn’t my country, I would laugh at the ridiculous state of affairs.

      • “Have any of you read the constitutional draft? It is a very good constitutional draft.”

        If it is such a wonderful constitution, why is Morsi compelled to ram it through?

        You refer to the “five long months” that the representatives spent on writing the constitution. When it comes to developing a blueprint for a nation, there is nothing long about five months! And if the majority was not willing to compromise with the minority, time does not matter, you simply end up with a Muslim Brotherhood document.

        If it took 5 short months to write that constitution, why will Morsi not give the public 5 short months to discuss, consider, and potentially organize oppostion? What is Morsi afraid of.

        The problem with that constitution is not what it says. The problem is what it omits – explicit and strong guarantees of minority rights.

        The international community should not legitimize the anti-democratic process used to railroad that constitution through. This is not meddling or intervention, it is taking a principled position.

        Of course the U.S. and other nations will deal with the resulting Egyptian government, just like governments deal with other authoritarian states.

        I do hope the U.S. cuts all foreign aid. Morsi is trying to blackmail the U.S. just like Mubarak did for so many years. If Morsi wants to abrogate the treaty with Israel, I say good luck with that.

        • If it is such a wonderful constitution, why is Morsi compelled to ram it through?

          me: He has to. According to the last public voting the people are the highest order of command in the nation. The Public vote early this year decreed that any constitutional assembly must complete its work within six months and all the articles read out in one single day and after the draft is given to the president the voting would be after fifteen days of his receiving the draft. That is the law. They spent more than eleven hours trying to find a loophole to get out of this because no one, and I honestly mean no one wants this but the problem is there is none. The law was given by the people and until a new parliament is formed we have to continue with this law. Egypt is a land of laws, we do not invent new laws just when we please. As for the President’s decree, he was trying to give them a chance to finish, he had no idea they had actually almost concluded their work so that is why he came out with the decree granting them two more months to finish their work. Actually he had no right to do that, this was also discussed in the open dialogue on Saturday, the law stipulates six months only and we have to abide by this in the absence of a parliamentary institution.

          This wording about Muslim Brotherhood document is quite unfair to the majority of people who actually helped form this document. Do you know how much work was put into it.Those people who come now, and say they had nothing to do with it are lying blatantly because every article on its conclusion has to be signed by all members, how come they signed on more than eighty percent of the articles? How do they back out of that?
          Morsi has still his hands outstretched for open dialogue, in fact many people opposing him have availed themsleves of this invitation since Saturday, and continue to do so, thinkers, political analysts, opposing party members and leaders, and it continues especially when the Baradei Sabbahi Mousa party have been shown up for what they really want which is continuous chaos for the benefit of removing the president and perhaps avoiding the cases filed against many many of the previous regime.

          Actually it omits nothing of the sort, I told you read it. The constitution assembly spent many nights and days without sleep and they took advantage of many many specalists the aim was to help our poor, and the minorities, according to the new constitution there every single Egyptian has equal rights. According to the ew constitution the Christians and the Jews have more rights now than before, for one thing Christians during the Mubarak era had no right to build new chuches and it took them a lot of paperwork to actually renovate old churches and synagogues, according to the new terminology their right is equal not to the Muslim majority and they have the same rights as the Muslims. As for women, well women are Egyptian so their rights according to the new constitution is equal to any other Egyptian.
          According to the new constitution every single human on Egyptian land is to be respected and treated with dignity and his rights respected. According to the new constitution education is free throughout all age groups. There are rights for the farmers and there are rights for other members, I tell you no one really has a problem with the constitution, the real problem is that the minute everyone says yes is the minute those who have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars worth(yes that much) of land are going to be taken to trial to acount for it.

          As for Morsi’s decree it was aimed at two things because there was a plot against him, which is very obvious now when we find the presidents car attacked, his driver injured and the national guard doing nothing about it. What did you expect the military to do? They said they would ensure safety and no more violence and only until the elections are over and only in the sites that the elections would be present.
          =========================

          The international community should not legitimize the anti-democratic process used to railroad that constitution through. This is not meddling or intervention, it is taking a principled position.

          Me: You have no right to interfere with Egypt in any way.Baradei and co are not our legitimate spokespersons, the president is. Baradei and co has lost that great respect most liberals had for him for his latest actions. Forget the media, there are thousands outside the media city-sorry I don’t know what it is called in English but it is the place where TV shows and the channels broadcast their programs-anyway, these media channels are distorting the news right now because the ones who are paying their paychecks are going to be held to account for lands taken during the Mubarak era, we all know that. You can get your news from AlJazeera, or Misr 25 or the national channels if you wannt the truth without bias.
          =====================

          Of course the U.S. and other nations will deal with the resulting Egyptian government, just like governments deal with other authoritarian states.

          me: Authoritarian? Give me a break. During the military rule last year someone tried to enter the presidential palace and he was shot dead. During the Mubarak rule someone tried to climb over the presidential palace wall and he was shot dead.
          Now check them out at the presidential palace, right now they have broken the wall erected by the national guard, and are marching towards the palace, they are keeping their distance but before that they tried to attack the palace, the president has ordered that no one touch them, why do you think that? Because he loves his people and he is anything but a dictator, those words are the words of our distorted media, who have never enjoyed free speech as they are enjoying it now. The truth is that he is trying to steer Egypt towards democracy much to the chagrin of the infamous trio the collaboration of destruction, baradei and co, because they wanted to remove the second articel and they wanted the presidency themselves and other reasons like that. Like I said, they’ve just lost their popularity with the people.
          ============

          I do hope the U.S. cuts all foreign aid. Morsi is trying to blackmail the U.S. just like Mubarak did for so many years. If Morsi wants to abrogate the treaty with Israel, I say good luck with that.

          Me: Egyptians respect all peoples, and we want democracy with the rule in the people’s hands, I believe after open dialogue on Saturday many peoples have realised this. Morsi is a respectable man, even his opponents admit this, I don’t know what they say in English channels but that is what everyone who meets him says. He has never tried to blackmail anyone. He wants his people to rise from the edge of poverty, whether Us aids or not, we will still rise, we are determined and we will become a great nation with a decent life for everyone.

      • By definition, “a very good constitutional draft” does not put so many people in the streets that its sponsor has to run for his life from angry mobs while the military tries to restore order.

        • Of course the eventual adoption of our own hallowed, now lip-serviced-mostly, Constitution did have its share of teething problems, Federalist versus Anti-Federalist and such-like, including maybe less violent mobs in the street but maybe more advance notice and participation, and of course a very different society and tradition. And of course *also* in the wings was the “War of Northern Aggression,” not too far off-stage.

          It’s all a matter of time, timing and degree. Good thing us little people have our agencies and instrumentalities keeping close track of US Interests in that part of the world, and doing the necessary…

        • “ why is Morsi compelled to ram it through? He has to. … The Public vote early this year decreed that any constitutional assembly must complete its work within six months … Egypt is a land of laws”

          Please. Dr. Morsi has not been shy about issuing dubious, heavy-handed decrees. In the name of national reconciliation, he could easily issue another decree postponing the referendum by 3 months. His decision would be mostly accepted by Egyptians on all sides, and Morsi’s credentials as a conciliator and democrat would be lauded internationally.

          Reality check: Egypt is not yet a country of stable laws; all branches of government are in turmoil and uncertainty.

          “This wording about Muslim Brotherhood document is quite unfair to the majority of people who actually helped form this document. “
          Yes, I concede that I greatly exaggerate. I heard the opinion of Jane Harman, a U.S. former politician and foreign policy think-tanker who I generally respect. She has studied the document. She believes that the constitution is actually rather decent on balance.

          You don’t need to sell the document to me or Jane Harman. YOU NEED TO MOLLIFY MILLIONS OF YOUR UNPURSUADED COUTRYMEN. Obviously they see the seeds of intolerance in that document.

          “Morsi has still his hands outstretched for open dialogue, in fact many people opposing him have availed themsleves of this invitation since Saturday, and continue to do so”

          Good. Keep up the conversations for a few months, then have a meaningful referendum.

          “The constitution assembly spent many nights and days without sleep and they took advantage of many many specalists the aim was to help our poor, and the minorities, according to the new constitution there every single Egyptian has equal rights.”

          Excellent. Now spend some time persuading the public before a vote is taken. Be prepared to make some modifications.

          “You have no right to interfere with Egypt in any way…..”

          Please drop this line of attack. I hear echos of the old Soviet Union, and Kim Jong-IL, and Bashar Assad, and every other xenophobic dictatorship that defines any international criticism as “internal interference.”

          “ Because he loves his people and he is anything but a dictator, those words are the words of our distorted media… I don’t know what they say in English channels…”
          I consume a range of media, including respectfully considering your opinions. I am capable of spotting an authoritarian streak.

          “He has never tried to blackmail anyone. “
          The timing of his decrees after the Gaza negotiations was not coincidental. Perhaps “blackmail” is too strong, but he appears to be playing the old Mubarak game. We’ll see.

          “we will become a great nation with a decent life for everyone.”
          I hope so. You are so close, yet so far.

  3. Islamic fundamentalism and the Egyptian army have had a poor history. In 1981, a young officer, a Lt.Islambouli, led the assassination conspiracy against Anwar Sadat that led to eleven dignitaries being killed at a military parade celebrating the Yom Kippur War, including Sadat. He was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which is today largely considered to have been merged with Al-Qaeda with Ayman Zawahiri as its leader. The Sadat killing resulted in 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Islambouli was tried and convicted by a military tribunal and executed.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, however, is Sunni in orientation and cannot be characterized as unstable or violent as Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the concept of a “fundamentalist praetorian authoritarianism” that may be friendly to a Hamas regime in Gaza may not bode well for Israel, especially since Morsi has already shown an affinity and wilingness to aid Hamas in its conflicts with Israel.

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