Egypt Invites the Army In, Turkey Blames the Jews, plus many links

Egypt looks increasingly like a clusterfuck and to hordes of internet commentators it is no surprise, though many seem to be big fans of the word "foreboding." As it stands today, the clock is ticking on a 48-hour ultimatum from the Egyptian Army to address "the will of the people." President Mohammed Morsi has "rebuffed" the army, arguing that the ultimatum sets the stage for an unconstitutional coup.

Of course, that constitution he's citing was the one he rushed through with Islamist support, largely ignoring the will of the opposition parties that constitute the bulk of those protesting.

After the 48 hours is up, which conveniently coincides with a deadline imposed by the protesters, the army will impose a "road map" to conciliation, though they've stressed they want no political role beyond possibly installing a technocratic government to rewrite the constitution and supervise presidential elections.

This itself is an interesting move given the Egyptian Army's historical role as a political player since the coup that brought former President Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. It's more than possible the army is taking this stance because of the threat that cutting the Islamist parties and the Brotherhood out of the conciliatory process would pose to Egypt's security, the self-declared interest of the army.

Brotherhood supporters, which include a large number of Salafi extremists, are likely to view any move to oust Morsi as "a coup against not just the president but against Islam as they perceive it," says Khalil al-Anani, an academic at Durham University, in the Guardian.

The implication here is that if you piss off a secular opposition, it's street protests and urban chaos -- but if you piss off an Islamists, especially by deriving them of power, there's the possibility of this being rephrased in jihadi terms. The risk there is that the Salafis who provided so much support to Morsi, and who have received inordinate sway over Egyptian politics in return, may simply forgo democratic processes altogether, viewing them as corrupted by the opposition.

Attacks against the opposition by Salafi preachers already reached fever-pitch and suggested jihadi street politics before the opposition began calling explicitly for a coup. Any attempt to cut them out of the political process would not only be undemocratic, given their widespread support within Egypt, but also dangerous for the integrity of the Egyptian state. As one blogger put it, it would no longer be citizen against state, "it will be citizen against citizen."

Of course, the question remains whether the Egyptian state has any integrity left at all. Vigilante justice, like that suggested by supporters of Morsi donning homemade helmets and riot shields to "defend" Brotherhood headquarters, is no new feature, nor is it unique to Morsi's loyalists.

The near-complete unraveling of the security state, so strong under former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime, has created an entire generation of revolutionaries conditioned to street violence and able to purchase any manner of weapons on Egypt's expanding black market. The police are powerless to stop this, both because of inadequacy in administration and their own unwillingness, many of them the same people who broke skulls and tortured prisoners under Mubarak.

There is also no guarantee any successor would be able to deal with the problems that have faced Egypt since well before the revolution, of food shortages, economic unsteadiness, sectarian violence, and unraveling security.

Nonetheless, as Nathan Brown in the Financial Post points out, protesters are prematurely jubilant as they were on the eve of the revolution that ousted Mubarak in favour of Morsi and the Brotherhood. This revolution has become a personal one, Brown writes, more to do with the deposition of Morsi and the perceived empowerment of secular opposition than it is about any systemic change.

One skeptical protester blogging Revolution 2.0 is right to point out that many who took to the streets to end the army's repressive rule are now the ones clamouring for a coup. "It is either we have become the counter-revolutionaries or the revolution has become the counter-revolution," she writes.

It is certainly becoming harder to imagine Morsi's Brotherhood as the torchbearers of the revolution. If it is a counter-revolution, one can only hope that the whiff of power a coup will give to the military will not encourage them to seize the reigns and end Egypt's "experiment with democracy."

Meanwhile, in Turkey...

I can't help looking at Morsi and seeing some interesting parallels to Erdogan during the Gezi Protests. Though they were in no way on the same scale as the June 30 protests, Erdogan's approach during Gezi, and Morsi's approach during these protests, seem to me to identify a type.

It's the self-appointed democrat/authoritarian, the man in power who panders to his base, which may indeed constitute a thin majority, while taking an authoritarian stance to opposition.

A few comparisons. Both have employed pretty much identical rhetoric in the face of mass opposition. They began by delegitimizing protests as the work of foreigners, terrorists, and traitors, though this is nothing new.

They also both reigned in national media, instructing them to focus on their base, which they simultaneously galvanized to action with counter-protests and mass rallies. The both rose to power with the aid of "clan-based practices," with electoral platforms promising wide-reaching reforms but, when in power, appealing to specific religious or ethnic bases.

Both have also been told off by President Obama using pretty much the same language -- "Democracy is about more than elections."

Perhaps where Morsi failed, and Erdogan succeeded, is in neutering the army. In both states, the army stood as the "powers that be", the hand of the state that acts out of the reach of squabbling politicians but is given the power to remove them from office, at the whim of "the people".

Even though Morsi used Erdogan's exact words, saying "the age of military coups is over," and even though the Egyptian Army argues they want no political role after the exhaustion of their post-Mubarak junta, the widespread support of the opposition in Egypt for a military coup, something abhorred by Turkey's fledgling opposition, indicates that the age of military coups is anything but over.

In other news, one deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said marriages at "early ages" is a "very rewarding thing", while the other, Besir Atalay, said the "Jewish Diaspora" was behind the Gezi protests. Where else but Turkey?

Taksim 2.0, Egypt plans a sequel, & Syria has a religious awakening

TURKEY Taksim Square was looking properly familiar last night as clouds of tear gas once again engulfed protesters fleeing on neighbouring side streets and battalions of riot cops marched in line with water cannons, firing rubber bullets.

A demonstration yesterday involved the laying of carnations on the steps of Gezi Park in commemoration of the four protesters killed in clashes with police over the past few weeks. As the crowd swelled, a minority of young protesters, some just children, began hurling rocks and bottles at police and TOMA crowd control tanks, and police fired several cans of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

As per usual, the square emptied out pretty fast, and police then began a relentless hunt in side streets, spraying bystanders with water cannons and injuring several with rubber bullets.

These clashes follow several days of peaceful civil disobedience in the form of "standing man" protests, which have occupied Taksim Square. It's still not clear whether Istanbul is due for another few weeks of civil unrest. Protesters in Taksim, with the exception of a small minority, by and large complied with police requests to clear the square, but were nonetheless subject to police repression on Istiklal Avenue and adjacent streets.

Protesters continue to be disappointed by the government response to instances of police brutality during the Gezi Park protests, which included gassing hospitals and hotels, arresting medical officials and members of the media, and injuring thousands with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. Gezi Park remains closed to the public following a brutal police clearance on June 15.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to spat with the European Union, which seems increasingly unlikely to continue negotiations for membership. In particular, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, which has a large Turkish expat population, are critics of Erdogan's uncompromising response to public criticism.

Sweden argues EU membership will prevent a greater slide towards authoritarianism within Erdogan's government. The majority of protesters in Istanbul are of the more progressive, pro-European type that would benefit from membership, they say.

Erdogan has continued, in a series of speeches to his constituents, to blame the protests on foreign influences and an "interest rate lobby" (the meaning of which no one seems capable of deciphering) and has even argued that protests currently engulfing Brazil are related to the same international plot to undermine emerging economies.

His government is now investigating possible "foreign links" and has suggested the protests could be aimed at undermining a peace process with Kurdish militants in Turkey's east initiated by his government. The peace process looks increasingly in danger of devolving into violence, with news emerging of clashes on Turkey's eastern border.

For photos of yesterday's clashes, see here.


Tensions in Egypt are undeniably on the rise as the opposition to the government of President Mohammed Morsi, now united under the "Tamarrod" or Rebel Movement, prepares for mass protests on June 30.

The Tamarrod Movement will submit a series of petitions of non-confidence in Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-led government to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and march on government ministries and the office of the presidency in a recreation of the peaceful uprising that led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Rumour has it they've tallied more than 15 million signatures, exceeding by millions the votes received by Morsi in presidential elections.

On the other side of the equation is a increasingly violent base of Salafi Islamists, who have been pulling Morsi's strings to the ire of Egypt's liberals. Counter-protests began recently and are due to end on June 27, but the potential for clashes on June 30 is high.

Morsi recently angered many Egyptians by taking a firm stance against the government of Syria's embattled Shia President Bashar al-Assad and appointing Islamists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood (which controls Egypt's upper house, the Shura Council) to important ministries. In the eyes of the opposition, these sorts of actions lend credence to the notion that he is increasingly controlled by hardcore Sunni extremists.

The Egyptian Army, which maintains an arms-length distance from the government of Morsi and has repeatedly indicated a wish for a more political role, has announced their intentions to stay out of June 30, protecting protesters and vital state institutions but not necessarily the government of Morsi.

Police and army both have said they will not protect the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, frequently the targets of protester violence, and reports have it that thousands of police officers will be joining in.

It's possible we could see another regime change a la Tahrir Square with both the army and police backing away so clearly from Morsi's government. Hamdi Hassan nicely lays out the possible outcomes in a piece for Your Middle East.


Meanwhile, Egyptian Salafi clerics are increasingly convincing their middle class congregants to buy "a plane ticket and a gun" and join the Syrian revolution.

Even though fewer than 10 per cent of Syria's rebel forces are foreign, according to the Washington Post, the influx of religiously motivated foreign fighters, including Gulf-backed Salafis and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, is making the conflict increasingly sectarian.

This threatens to complicate matters for big imperial powers like France, Britain, and the US, which, under the pretext of preventing chemical attacks, have started arming rebel groups. Exactly who are the "good", "secular" rebels and who are the "bad", "jihadi" types is the sort of question that has been complicated by the influx of al-Qaeda linked fighters, financial backing from Gulf theocracies like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Qatar, and videos of a Syrian rebel commander eating a human heart.

In Lebanon, the increasingly vital role of Hezbollah to the Syrian Army has drawn the ire of Sunni populations in Lebanon's divided and sectarian society. Violence has routinely spilled over on Lebanon's eastern border with Syria. Hezbollah accuses Israel and the US of financing the rebels (probably not far off from the truth in this crazy place), and Sunnis accuse Hezbollah of playing puppet to Iran in a crusade against fellow Muslims.

The religious dimension risks exacerbating violence against civilians, with reports of ethnic cleansing already emerging in Alawite (Assad's sect of Shi'ite Islam) and Sunni strongholds. Syria is already one of the worst refugee crises in history, with millions displaced, heightening tensions with locals in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.