Monday, December 10, 2012

Egypt, America, and 'Preserving Freedom'

I wasn't entirely satisfied with last month's election here in America.

Still, it could be worse.

I could be living in Egypt.1

Morsi? Morsy?

Egypt's President is محمد مرسى عيسى العياط‎, or Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat. I've seen his name spelled Morsi and Morsy. For now, I'm using "Morsi."

My native language, English, uses the Latin alphabet, and I've discussed transliteration before. (October 22, 2011)

Moving on.

Playing the Class Card

One of the nice things about allowing folks with ability to earn more than average is that, when things get rough, you can blame them.

Someone working for Egypt's president said that "blamed a small but powerful minority for the political upheaval." (CNN)

In my 'good old days,' it was the fault of 'pinko intellectuals' or 'bloated capitalists;' now it's the 'radical religious right,' or the 'liberal elite.' Tomayto, tomahto.

Expedient, Yes: Prudent, No

I acknowledge that when a leader starts facing the consequences of some unusually clueless move, it's easy to blame 'those people over there.' Sometimes passing the buck works: but I don't think it's the best idea. Not in the long run.

I don't doubt that folks in Egypt who are professionals, entrepreneurs, or simply have access to more information than average, are the ones trying to keep their president from taking personal control of their country.

Unlike President Morsi, though: I think they're probably right.

Freedom and Stability

Maybe Egypt's president is right, and the only way to preserve freedom in Egypt is have troops arrest citizens who don't agree with the government. Maybe not.

I'm guessing "not," but I could be wrong.

"Freedom" and "stability" sound good: and can describe worthy ideals.

But "freedom" doesn't mean "free to agree with me," or shouldn't; and "stability" shouldn't mean "keeping things just the way they are," or shouldn't.

Egypt and America

Minutiae of culture and language aside: I don't think folks in Egypt and America, or anywhere else, are all that unlike. Human nature, for good or ill, is - reliable:
"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared to the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good."
(Abraham Lincoln, Response to a serenade (November 10, 1864))
That said, all countries are not alike.

Wait a few decades, and one country often won't be 'alike.'

The America I grew up in was a place where someone could still believe that an "American" was someone with a nice English name, who either had English ancestors or who was desperately trying to pass for Anglo.

That changed in the last half-century. I like the new America, for the most part, but it's driving some folks nuts.

While writing this post, I looked up Egypt and America. The countries are similar in one or two ways. Both call the head honcho a "president," and both are republics. On the other hand, nobody's likely to get Egypt and the the United States confused:
  • Egypt
    • Ethnic groups (2006 census)
      • Egyptian 99.6%
      • Other 0.4%
    • Language
      • Arabic (official)
      • English and French widely understood by educated classes
    • Religion
      • Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%
      • Coptic 9%
      • Other Christian 1%
    • Government
      • Republic
    ("Egypt," World Factbook, CIA (page last updated November 14, 2012))
  • United States
    • Ethnic groups
      • White 79.96%
      • Black 12.85%
      • Asian 4.43%
      • Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%
      • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%
      • Two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
      • Hispanic
        • Note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean persons of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin including those of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Spanish, and Central or South American origin living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.)
    • Language (2000 census)
      • English 82.1%
      • Spanish 10.7%
      • Other Indo-European 3.8%
      • Asian and Pacific island 2.7%
      • Other 0.7%
      • note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii
    • Religion (2007 est.)
      • Protestant 51.3%
      • Roman Catholic 23.9%
      • Mormon 1.7%
      • Other Christian 1.6%
      • Jewish 1.7%
      • Buddhist 0.7%
      • Muslim 0.6%
      • Other or unspecified 2.5%
      • Unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4%
    • Government
      • Constitution-based federal republic
        • Strong democratic tradition
    ("United States," World Factbook, CIA (page last updated November 28, 2012))
With so many flavors of "American," I think it's getting increasingly difficult to appeal to knee-jerk paranoia in the 'average American." That doesn't keep my country's alleged best and brightest from trying, though: and that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news

1 From the news:
"Egypt crisis: Morsi gives army arrest powers before vote"
(December ,10 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions in the run-up to a controversial referendum on a new constitution.

"The army has also been given the power to arrest civilians.

"Mr Morsi has tried to calm public anger by annulling a decree giving him huge powers, but rejected a call to scrap the 15 December constitutional vote.

"Opposition leaders called for protests on Tuesday against the referendum.

"The opposition was "not aiming at toppling the president" but wanted a better constitution, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told the BBC.

"Islamist groups have said they will hold counter demonstrations, raising fears of further bloody clashes on the streets of the Egyptian capital.

"In another apparent concession, the president suspended a big tax increase on the sale of a variety of goods including soft drinks, cigarettes and beer...."

"Top Morsy aide: Small, powerful minority behind Egypt's political upheaval"
Reza Sayah and Amir Ahmed, CNN (December 10, 2012)

"A top aide to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy blamed a small but powerful minority for the political upheaval that has plagued the country ahead of a planned constitutional referendum.

"The statements are the latest in a volley of accusations between Morsy's supporters and opponents, and they highlight a political crisis that at times has spilled into the streets, prompting the president to deploy troops and tanks to protect government buildings.

" 'You have the majority of the poor people, the simple, definitely for the president and for the constitution,' Muhammad Rifaa al-Tahtawi, Morsy's chief of staff, told CNN on Sunday.

" 'You have a majority among the elite who are not for this constitution. Businessmen, media people. They are definitely a small minority, but powerful minority.'..."

"Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum"
Reuters (December 9, 2012)

"Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into 'violent confrontation'.

"Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

" 'We are against this process from start to finish,' Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

"The Front's main leaders - Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy - did not attend the event...."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Business (not) as Usual in Egypt

Egypt hasn't been "stable" since around February of 2011, when quit a few folks in the Middle East decided that they were fed up with stability. I can't say that I blame them:
The new(ish) Egyptian president seems to be trying to return the sort of stability Mubarak enjoyed. Some folks in Egypt may have thought it was a good idea. Quite a few didn't. (November 23, 2012)

So far, several Egyptians have been killed, President Morsi either left his office in a hurry, or he didn't, and Egypt is missing a political party headquarters.

One more thing, President Morsi changed his mind about stability. Sort of. Maybe.

"Safeguarding the Revolution"

"Egypt crisis: President Morsi annuls decree"
BBC News (December 9, 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month that hugely expanded his powers and sparked angry protests, officials say.

"However, a news conference in Cairo was told that a controversial referendum on a draft constitution would still go ahead as planned on 15 December.

"Mr Morsi's critics have accused him of acting like a dictator, but he says he is safeguarding the revolution...."
I take what I read in the news with a grain of salt: or two; or an entire salt lick. When someone's political opponents or "critics" say that an official is acting like a dictator, all I can be sure of is that they don't like what the official is doing.

In Mr. Morsi's case, though, there seemed to be more than 'politics as usual' going on. His new rules:
  • Keep judges from
    • Reviewing Mr. Morsi's decisions
    • Interfering with a committee that Mr. Morsi's party is running
  • Say that only Mr. Morsi can change the rules
Maybe President Morsi really is "safeguarding the revolution." I think it's reasonable, though, to wonder whose revolution is being safeguarded.

"Not Legally Possible?" Maybe

"...'The constitutional decree is annulled from this moment,' said Selim al-Awa, an Islamist politician acting as a spokesman for a meeting Mr Morsi held with political and public figures on Saturday.

"But he said the referendum on a new constitution would go ahead because it was not legally possible for the president to postpone it.

"The meeting had been boycotted by the main opposition leaders who had earlier called for their supporters to step up their protests.

"They want both the decree and the referendum cancelled...."
(BBC News)
My hat's off to the current Egyptian administration, if they're really going ahead with a dubious referendum because Egyptian law says they have to. I think some laws are stupid: but I also think that stupid laws should be changed, not ignored.

In some ways, I'm more concerned about folks who think it's okay for leaders to break the law, than I am about other folks who think it's okay to fly airliners into office buildings. It's not much of a choice: but at least the suicide pilots are generally an external threat.

"Reactionary Figures," Protests, and an Incendiary Statement

"...The president's supporters say the judiciary is made up of reactionary figures from the old regime of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

"But his opponents have mounted almost continuous protests since the decree was passed.

"They are also furious over the drafting of the new constitution because they see the process as being dominated by Mr Morsi's Islamist allies.

"Several people have been killed in the recent spate of anti-government protests, and the presidential palace has come under attack.

"The Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement to which Mr Morsi belongs, were set on fire."
(BBC News)
I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood are 'good guys.' I don't think they're 'bad guys,' either.

I'm dubious about folks who act as if they think God follows their policies and preferences: and folks like that aren't always 'those people over there.'

When I was growing up, some radio preachers seemed to think that Jesus was an American, and that's not quite another topic.

I do think that Egyptians are no more uniform in their views and beliefs, than Americans. Dead Egyptians, arson with a political target, and continued protests seem to back up that view.

As for those "reactionary figures?" Maybe Mubarak's old pals really are behind at least some of the trouble in Egypt. Or maybe not.

Blaming a hated, and comfortably distant, foe is an old trick. America's old establishment had the communist threat, today's lot have vast right-wing conspiracies, and that's yet another topic.

Related posts:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Egypt, Morsi, and Dealing With Change

It looks like at least 100,000 folks in Egypt don't like their new president's recent actions. That's how many showed up at a demonstration in Cairo today.1

One official says that President Morsi left when the crowds outside "grew bigger;" another official, speaking for Mr. Morsi, said that the President's departure was routine.

Whatever Morsi's motives, I'd say that Egypt isn't the 'stable' country it was under Mubarak.

As I've said before, "stability" isn't necessarily a good thing: not when it means that a small group makes decisions for a nation; tells the general public what the leaders think is 'proper;' and criticizing the leaders is punished.

Folks whose position or influence make them part of that small group don't, understandably, like criticism; sometimes don't distinguish between reasonable complaints and treason; and aren't necessarily 'those people over there.'

Related posts, about dealing with:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Egyptian President Morsi leaves presidential palace as protests turn violent" (December 4, 2012)

"Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi left the presidential palace Tuesday as violence erupted between police and at least 100,000 protesters gathered in Cairo.

"In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the palace in the capital's Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home through a back door when the crowds 'grew bigger,' according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the palace and to head off 'possible dangers' and to calm protesters. Morsi's spokesman, however, said the president left the palace at the end of his work schedule through the door he routinely uses...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.