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Author Topic: The General Strikes Back: Revisiting the "Days After" the Arab Spring, and Morsi  (Read 397 times)

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Offline kylieTopic starter

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     So lately, the current Egyptian regime has decided to execute Morsi, and there is some consternation regarding this and the Western response.

     Of course, the simple retort to all this would be, "Of course it's all okay if they are one step closer to being 'our sort of devils' in charge over there."  Whatever that means in the local context of the moment is probably somewhat less of a public concern to American leadership, particularly when it comes to strategically located countries of some strength like Egypt and Turkey.  I suppose that is one sort of simple summation of the official Western response (or lack thereof perhaps).  But the whole situation after the Arab Spring evokes some difficult questions:

     1.  What is a proper response when a government installed according to standing procedure (ahem, e.g. George W. Bush) or even a government accepted as the product of a sweeping popular vote (Morsi, if I recall the reports was described that way) begins to adopt policies that threaten the very fundamentals of political philosophy that drive the current arrangement of the state? 

     I see this as a Constitutional crisis.  Yes, the Executive branch has certain powers and there are perhaps "procedures in place" for punishing the Executive such as impeachment in the US.  However, it worries me that in many Constitutional crises, the stakes for the population and the shape of the country can be extremely high.  Whole realities change for whole groups of people -- or worse, peoples are made to disappear in some way! -- while "process" is being dutifully waited out, and in that meantime you could even have another sort of effective coup.  In the case of Egypt, the US at least recognized that somewhat among all the upset murmurings about how rightists and terrorists might benefit from the overall rise to prominence of a popular Islamist party.  (Not saying that the same response was balanced or unselfish from a US government perspective -- I don't think it was either of those.  But there was a fair touch of this logic in there, too.)   

    When the military removed Morsi, many worried that it sent a signal that the voters' "mandate" had been simply denied and that would itself have some irrevocable, chilling impact on the expectations of Egyptian citizens when it comes to democracy in local practice.  I don't precisely agree with all of that reaction, because I think Morsi was in the process of elbowing out a large bloc of voters by reshaping basic rules in such sharp ways that they might never again put forward the sort of opposition candidates that would oppose his party line.

    There are US parallels too:  I have always been shocked and dismayed to recall Andrew Jackson's line in shrugging off the Supreme Court and sending the Cherokee away to the Trail of Tears.  He said something to the tune of, the Supreme Court doesn't have an army, let's see them enforce their decision.  And an entire nation was displaced halfway across the country with little preparation to boot, leading immediately to mass deaths as well as permanent dispossession. 

    George W. Bush, who was not even backed by a majority of the popular vote in his election and then had to slip through the "hanging chad" controversy, later proceeded to wage an unpopular, extremely expensive war in Iraq after a rather shady overnight campaign for surveillance and expedited arrest powers under the little-understood Patriot Act.  While the beginnings of actions -- at least the  received at least a majority of official legislative support (under those sometimes rushed and politically harried conditions), popular support for Bush W's foreign policy later plummeted to the 40% and I seem to recall (?) even somewhat lower marks.  His government, with the very apparent backing of Cabinet-level officials and probably the Vice President if not Bush himself, proceeded to sanction and build historically striking public excuses for rendition (including I believe, even "disappearance" of a few US citizens) and torture.  When mass protests finally erupted against such policies, police forces engaged in actions that were later found illegal by the courts, such as arbitrary arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, and incidentally some cases of harassment and assault against detainees.  Prominent neoconservatives, some of them I believe in public office, carried on attempting to hint or argue that any voiced public opposition to his signature wartime polices should be spoken of as treason, and must in principle merit at least a close police or counter-intel eye.     

     It seems to me that there are situations where it is actually better for the good of the country for there to be some intervention.  I begin to think I can understand, at this level of concern for imbalances and extreme seizures of power, how perhaps so many militias come to speak of a need to have their own weapons "in case of the worst."  I'm doubtful how many American militias would pick the same issues I would to intervene on, knowing how politically bent to the far right some of the overlapping communities seem to be.  And I also doubt very few of them could do more than cause what would be simply brushed off as a "terrorist incident" even if I thought they did for once manage to fight about something that could actually rescue something good from imminent disaster.  But, point remains, there IS this room in our system for tyranny to slip in regardless of what exactly people thought they were voting for.  If they thought at all when they elected whoever out of the few choices they're generally given, that is.  (I don't suppose Morsi was everyone's first choice in the world either; he may have just been better or "different" than ugh, that other guy...)

     I am also beginning to think I have a thing about death.  A certain revulsion, if you will?   ::)
At least (being brutally honest here?) death of people I can identify with and who I think are letting people live with some breathing room.

     I do think everyone matters somehow, but I also have a hard time when I try to figure out what else to do about say, Boko Haram or Isis in the immediate to short term, and in direct response to those specific areas where it's spreading like mad and committing atrocities and its own very literal cultural imperialism as a militant organization -- except, umm probably yes bomb/go tactical if doing so seems to matter any.

     Anyway, I'm not entirely comfortable trying to figure out just what I make of some of these situations and wondering how much is a lack of good information and being stuck in a global economy and silly American propaganda/more messed up parts of cultural psychology, too!  What might make me wonder more how unequally I'm measuring certain Others like even these somewhat unfairly, if I knew it but I don't?  I have to wonder a little, because the propaganda/walls of silence on some parts are so thick and I do sense long-term things the West needs to change to deal with some of where Isis is getting support.  But there it is.

     Death is final.  When what's his ugly face put up a formal proposal for killing all the gays in California  (I don't care to even bother with reviving the name now!), it got me struggling to say hmm...  What else could you propose that would be so awful and so obviously against the spirit of hate crimes legislation?  And perhaps there are several things we could think up.  But the idea that 'everything has to be considered and attempted' swings both ways.  So, what happens if a popular vote on mass murder is going to be allowed? 

     American comparison, a bit of adjusting the lens for the sake of argument perhaps but still:  Wait, getting comparative, wasn't the Congressional vote on attacking Iraq a kind of vote on mass murder?  It only ended up killing somewhere between 100,000 (conservatively I believe, by now!) to 300,000 Iraqis, yes?  But those are those people, their people.  Not the same, right?  Although I think there is a point where we should probably worry about how it became different standards for all of them -- particularly once we realize our bombers are so good at harming civilians and our intel/ rules of engagement setup combined seems so clutsy about avoiding civilian casualties.  If in fact they know which are noncombatants, which I often doubt -- how is the enemy getting identified at all, vexes me a bit when it comes to this region where there is very little reporting on backgrounds of the groups and history involved in American mass media.     

     ...  A step back closer to Egypt:  And what happens if a popular vote is to be allowed on say, never voting again?  Is it enough for 51% of the population to approve that?  90%?  Or what?  Or should anyone who can find the guts and means, intervene and put a stop to this because it would fundamentally remove that society that the Constitution was created to maintain as a functional entity?  To put it another way:  Does being "democratic" require that should the people ever change their mind once, they might never be able to get it back because hey, they voted for this other system and that one isn't going to let you change it.  People have said that well obviously, if they voted in these numbers for an Islamist party, then not enough Egyptians were "ready" for real democracy and they'll just have to suffer whatever else they get with a more authoritarian sort of leadership rewriting their whole government (and by now we could say maybe even a bit of US bombing, I have to wonder? down the road?).  At least until the next popular revolution, I suppose that story would go. 

      However, I'm not really satisfied with that argument.  It ignores the likelihood that many people may not have anticipated the sorts of actions Morsi actually took (how many really expected everything that Bush Jr. did?!).  It brushes aside concern that he may have been the only "other" candidate seeming viable and the recipient of a protest vote rather than a positive vote on his own platform.  And people are probably going to hate this one...  But it also ignores claims that some Egyptians consider the army a reasonable political "guardian" of the state, and what if there could be a certain merit to that sort of view?  I doubt the army is always completely benevolent, but I find it interesting that the army would both dismiss Mubarak after so long and topple Morsi just when he was about to revamp the whole edifice of government with a huge dose of Party self-interest and in the face of new mass protests.   


     2.  After retracting support for Mubarak and basically supporting the momentum of the Arab Spring, when it comes to Morsi's trial and sentencing:
Should the US government be making pleas or perhaps, applying pressure (or at least threatening to keep support away under certain scenarios)?  And why or why not.

      I've gone on long enough and I don't have comparisons leaping to mind for this one yet.  (Bet there could be some, but still.)  I gather there are renewed murmurings about the "optics" of executing an elected leader, no matter how awful.  I have to admit, I do feel like it seems a bit much?  And it feels like it's being done more to produce a chilling effect.  Or did Morsi order executions of opposition and such?  It's been a while, so someone do remind me if the man seems to have enough blood on his own hands. 

     Oh here's a wild comparison: What about the optics of prosecuting, or not prosecuting Bush/Cheney for a preemptive war, waste of national treasure/honor and probable fabrication of stories about WMD?
« Last Edit: June 19, 2015, 10:31:29 AM by kylie »

Offline consortium11

The much quoted Jefferson line about the tree of liberty being watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots come to mind somewhat.

Looking at Egypt in particular Morsi was in some way the victim of circumstances and the sort of unholy alliances that form against unpopular dictators. His predecessor Mubarak was the prototypical regional strongman and, in the great scheme of things, actually one of the better ones (although that's obviously very relative). Especially early in his reign he actually did a lot of weed out corruption and improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians while on the international level he offered stability and a strong position against the more hurtful strains of fundamental Islam. The price of that was a near total loss of political liberty. And as time went on corruption once again became endemic, the treatment of political activists became worse and worse, police brutality was wide spread and his opposition to the violent strains of fundamentalist Islam morphed into the repression of anything hint of political Islam. So in a deeply cynical real-politique sense Mubarak was great for those outside the country but fairly horrible for those within it.

What brought Mubarak down was the previously mentioned unholy alliance; a primarily middle-class, educated group who's primary concerns focused on liberty, a working class group with a focus on economics and the day to day corruption and bureaucracy that blighted their lives (it's often forgotten that a major catalyst for the Arab Spring as a whole was Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, burning himself to death after police prevented him from selling his produce) and an Islamic group headed by the Muslim Brotherhood who wanted a bigger role for Islam in public and political life. Combine that with an apathetic army that didn't particularly want to get involved on either side and Mubarak found himself without support. His attempts at appeasement failed, his attempts at repression were even less successful, his health was apparently failing and he was eventually swept from power.

But it will always be extremely difficult for anyone who is brought into power by an unholy alliance because the multitude of competing interests are extremely difficult to balance. That is even more apparent with someone like Morsi who was never really a consensus candidate, instead simply being the highest profile Muslim Brotherhood leader at a time when the Brotherhood were the only semi organized political force. And thus he found himself competing against three competing demands; the middle class group who wanted political liberty, the working class who wanted immediate economic improvements and the Brotherhood who wanted a more Islamic state (although not the Islamic State) and featured a lot of hardliners. Beyond that, watching over it all, was the army which, much like in Turkey, has always seen itself as the nation's guardian against fundamentalism. Morsi went with what he knew; he supported the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to bring in powers that would have made him an out and out dictator. But the people had lived with a dictatorship for decades... they wanted freedom and they wanted economic prosperity that Morsi struggled to bring about. And the army were not willing to sit out this time.

Tragic as it was I think the sexual assaults on Lara Logan (when Mubarek stepped down) and Natasha Smith (when Morsi was elected) are sadly symbolic. Those from outside of Egypt looked on and saw a bright, happy future and a great moment in history akin to the Berlin Wall coming down. They didn't see the gritty, grimy frankly somewhat terrifying mess that was actually going on.

Is it right or justifiable that Morsi has been sentenced to death? Well, I oppose the death penalty so my answer is of course going to be no but, even if I did support capital punishment in general I'd be very hesitant about this case. In Morsi's example the death penalty strikes me as being a way to settle scores and to make a political point rather than anything based on more noble virtues. The claim is that he "incited" the killings that occured during the protests against him, but that strikes me as somewhat spurious (and it should be noted more of his supporters were killed than vice-versa) and the actual death penalty comes not from that but from his conviction for escaping prison... something I suspect even the most hardcore supporter of capital punishment would struggle with.

But perhaps more importantly, was it right to overthrow Morsi in the first place? After all, Morsi had been democratically elected only slightly more than a year earlier; can we really say that revolution is the answer to an elected leader we disagree with? In Morsi's case I'm tempted to say yes; the November 2012 declaration he put forward was in essence a revocation of democracy itself. In such circumstances the inherently undemocratic act of overthrowing an elected leader strikes me as less egregious act than allowing it to go through.

However not all cases are that clear cut. This may be opening up a can of worms that we've only recently closed but consider the relatively recent Ukrainian revolution. Yanukovych was a democratically elected president. The major force behind his removal was him deciding on cancel a treaty with the EU and instead look towards one with Russia... hardly the end of democracy. In the end Yanukovych agreed to a compromise deal... and he was still over thrown. A case like that is far harder to judge.

What also makes such cases difficult is trying to judge how popular a "popular uprising" really is. Looking at both the Arab Spring and other such events (again, such as Ukraine) the protests and media attention are heavily focused on major population centres, notably the capital. But how reflective of general opinion across the country are they? Look at the protests in Turkey over recent years; a middle-class, educated, generally liberal urban based group has staged many mass protests against the government. But even if the highest estimates of just over seven million people taking part are correct, that's only around 10% of the population. Yet when the general election came round this year the voters overwhelming supported the traditional parties. Ukraine is again a good example of this; Yanukovych's support primarily came from the east of the country and rural areas. The protests centred on urban areas and the west. One of the reasons behind the issues Ukraine currently faces is the fact that those in the rural and eastern areas felt that they had not just been ignored but that they'd actually be cut off from democracy; the leader they had elected had been overthrown and they could do nothing about it.

The sad but stark truth is that freedom is only ever protected by strength of arms. One can have every natural, constitutional and legal right in the world... but if someone who's bigger, stronger, more powerful, more ruthless, has a bigger gun and more friends comes along and decides to infringe upon those freedoms then there's very, very little one can do. Political freedom didn't disappear under Mubarek because he passed emergency legislation that he let continue on year after year... it disappeared because he had men with guns willing to kidnap, torture and execute those who tried to exercise it. Morsi's attempt to become a dictator didn't fail because the courts disagreed (although they did), it failed because millions of people rose up against him and the army with the biggest guns of all stepped in. There's a quote I'm paraphrasing because I can't recall or quickly find the exact version (I believe it came from one of the relatively recent Iranian uprisings but I could well be wrong); thoughts of liberty do not defeat machine guns. That's the inherent contradiction at the heart of the police and even a libertarian's dream state... for they are a necessary evil. While the police have many other duties and roles I think one we can all agree on is to protect liberty (how they do this and whether they do it at all in the real world is a more difficult conversation) but they have to do so by being a restraint on liberty. It may be a minor restraint and it may be one you agree with, but it is a restraint all the same.

(I should note this works the other way as well; the examples above are primarily about "negative" freedom... the freedom from interference... but the same issue applies to positive freedom... the freedom to do something. The law may say that a shop cannot refuse to serve women on the basis of their gender, but if no-one enforces the law then that doesn't matter.)

I think I've largely given my view on the first question you pose. There are a number of responses and I think in extreme circumstances (such as with Morsi) a violent revolution is an acceptable one. But I think that's only acceptable in the most extreme of circumstances. One such as Ukraine is far more difficult and one I have a much harder time justifying.

The second point about how the rest of the world should react to Morsi being sentenced to death is also somewhat difficult. As above, I oppose it both because of the specific circumstances and my general opposition to the death penalty. But is it the place for a state to step into another's domestic affairs? Is it right for the US or the EU or any of the other major world powers to bring their considerable weight down on a less powerful state because they made a decision we disagreed with? Should aid and support come with strings attached? What if those strings are things we'd see as positives such as a demand for equal rights?