The long Saudization of Egypt

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Saudi Arabia: On the Inside Track in EgyptHow extremism migrated from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. By Patrycja Sasnal for The Globalist:

In the 1950s, Egypt was a secular, revolutionary, modernist republic, where moderate Hanafi and Shafi’i religious jurisprudence prevailed. In contrast, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was an Islamic, anti-revolutionary, conservative kingdom with the domination of the socially most oppressive of all established Islamic currents: Hanbali-Wahhabi school.
[…]
When Nasser started persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953, the Saudis gave thousands of these Brothers safe haven in their country.

These young Islamists lived a powerful dream as they literally built Saudi Arabia’s educational and media systems from scratch. They arrived initially with a moderate brand of Islamism, but on “fertile” Saudi soil they gradually radicalized and expanded their visions and goals.

The second and truly mass flow of Egyptian migrants to Saudi Arabia started in 1974, right after the oil crisis and subsequent rise of oil prices. […] Based on available data it is safe to estimate that at least 10-20 million Egyptians have worked and lived in Saudi Arabia in the past 40 years, possibly accounting for a quarter of the Egyptian population.

Even if these millions were initially welcome in the Kingdom thanks to their linguistic, cultural and religious compatibility with the locals, they were soon exposed to diametrically different working conditions than in Egypt.

There was complete separation of male and female workplaces, formal and factual subjugation to a Saudi patron and an extremely conservative social space. There also was obligatory prayer and Friday sermons delivered by Wahhabi imams. There was no mixing of the sexes in the streets, when visiting friends or at schools – as well as obligatory full body cover for women.
[…]
Instead of rejecting Saudi Arabia’s cultural model, the majority of returning Egyptians, after years working there, adopted it. There were three main reasons for that:
1. The obvious economic strength of the Saudi model (attributed to its religiosity)
2. An aspirational view among labor migrants toward their Saudi patrons)
3. The formative social role of mass migrant returnees, who become motors of development once back in their homeland.

The conservative returnees literally “made” the Egyptian economy of today – both its good parts and all its deep-seated problems.
[…]
Nor has this process of supplanting the rich cultural traditions of Egypt with the imported, narrow ideologies of Saudi Arabia ended. A million or more migrant workers have yet to return.

Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis have officially supported hardline Egyptian Salafism – which generally opposes all non-theocratic absolutist forms of government – for at least a century. Personal and financial ties between Egypt’s Salafists leaders, thinkers and organizations and Saudi Arabia are plentiful and longstanding.

This relationship expanded after the 2011 revolution, as the Salafists vied against Islamic democrats for influence over young minds.

Read the full article.


Previously from AFD on these topics:

“Women in Egypt want their basic human rights back”
“Further adventures in Egyptian pseudo-secularism”
“4 reasons the US doesn’t need Saudi Arabia anymore”

June 10, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 130

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), 2015 Turkey elections. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: June 8th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and why isn’t it getting more coverage?
– Do the recent elections in Turkey signal another turning point for the country’s democracy?

Episode 130 (52 min):
AFD 130

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Office of Elizabeth Warren trade history report (on past enforcement failures)
Peterson Institute report (on projected TPP growth)
The Globalist: Getting Past No on Trade Deals
The Globalist: What’s Next for the WTO? (on trade tribunals)
South Africa Business Report: Renegotiating Bilateral Treaties Should Not Scare Off Investors (on trade tribunals)
The Globalist: Trade Deals Must Allow for Regulating Finance
NY Times: Obama’s Covert Trade Deal
The Globalist: Barack Obama a “Progressive”? Teddy Roosevelt Wouldn’t Agree.
Huffington Post / Ralph Nader: 10 Reasons the TPP Is Not a ‘Progressive’ Trade Agreement
Our Turkey elections coverage
Hurriyet Daily News: Water cannon producer’s stock dips after Turkey’s ruling AKP loses majority

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New Turkey elections might be AKP’s worst option

I suspect the AKP will regret it sorely if they call another election immediately, which is an option that has already been floated by some of the AK membership’s sorer losers (or sore 18-seats-short plurality-winners).

Here’s my back-of-the-envelope assessment on why new elections would return an even worse result for the AK Party than most other longer-term options, including a weak minority government or an unpleasant coalition arrangement. First, I bet there aren’t a lot of people who cast a vote for a non-AK option on Sunday and then wished they hadn’t. The only exception would perhaps be some small share of the 942,000 cranky voters for the Felicity Party — the minor Islamist party that shares roots with AKP…but it is generally antagonistic because of the shared background. The trendline is very much against the AKP, and buyer’s remorse from the first round is more likely to hurt them than to hurt the other major parties. The AKP in 2015 lost 2.3 million votes since the 2014 presidential election less than a year ago, despite 6 million higher turnout. To be honest, I wonder how the AKP didn’t see this month’s result coming after the lower-turnout presidential election saw the HDP get 9.76%, just shy of the 10% cutoff that applies in a parliamentary race. That meant they were credibly within reach and needed to be taken more seriously (especially to be a potential partner), rather than marginalized, literally attacked, and otherwise mishandled.

Second, there was a fairly large number of people who cast votes either for AKP or for a minor party (they collectively got about ~2.5 million votes I think) that I believe would vote for a different Big 3 opposition party now, knowing how everyone else ended up voting in the first round. In particular, I bet HDP would get an even bigger result in a fresh election now that it’s clear they can pass the 10% threshold so it’s not a “waste” to vote for them. Kurds, other minority voters, and Turkish allies in the electorate are likely to be even more enthusiastic about the party’s message and viability alike in an immediate second election, riding the successful momentum of the first one. The party specifically picked up a huge chunk of Kurdish ex-AKP supporters — and that’s likely to go up, if it goes any direction.

Third, even if AK holds fairly steadily onto its own voters but some 2 million minor-party voters shifted across to the Big 3 opposition parties in a second election, a CHP/MHP/HDP tripartite arrangement would emerge with the support of 27 million votes, not just 25 million. A narrower CHP/HDP liberal coalition would reach perhaps 18 million votes…which is just shy of what AKP got this time. That’s not enough for a liberal majority either, but it probably would land only 18-20 seats away. Between possible confidence-vote options from MHP (in theory anyway) and the more realistic scenario of HDP shaving off a fair number of additional MPs from AKP in Kurdish constituencies in a second round, I’d bet they could make it work some way or another. Which is not to say that such a coalition would be stable.

But it is to suggest (along with the other factors above) that AKP is probably looking at a far rosier scenario under their current performance than after a 2nd election.

Now to make lemonade out of lemons and demonstrate the rosier world than new elections, let’s acknowledge that there are some pretty acceptable coalition/cooperation scenarios if the AKP wants to seize the opportunity under the hand it was just dealt. Preliminary AKP/CHP talks have begun. One particularly exciting scenario for Turkey and the AK Party alike would be if Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu reached a deal that stripped significance powers away and platform out from under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sidelining him (and silencing him to the extent humanly possible) — rather than elevating him further — and finally allowing Davutoğlu to fly on his own. He’s been really squashed trying to escape Erdoğan’s shadow, but he always seemed pretty decent and very competent, with far less personal baggage than his benefactor. He could break the link between the party and its increasingly authoritarian / rogue party founder, Mr. Erdoğan. The party could move past him (and get on with the good work it had been doing under his leadership before he began to go around the bend in 2013), voters would be less alarmed by returning an AK majority to power in the near future, and Turkey’s democracy would be stronger.

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Further adventures in Egyptian pseudo-secularism

flag-of-egyptEgypt’s military-supported “secularist” government under former General Sisi picked a new Justice Minister after the most recent one put his foot very deep in his mouth. This one promises to be somehow more controversial. Here are just a few quotations from incoming Justice Minister Ahmed el-Zend, out of a veritable cornucopia of outrageousness:

On a visit to Mecca, he previously gave an interview calling for the full imposition of Sharia law in Egypt – rather than it being acknowledged constitutionally as the “principal source for legislation” as at present.

He specifically called for that to include penalties of “hudud” – corporal penalties for moral crimes such as beheading for apostasy, lashing for fornication, and amputations of limbs for theft.

“We have in our penal code some articles that contradict Islamic Sharia,” he said. “I would like the penal code to become Islamic from A to Z.

“I would like a single article to be added to the penal code – that Islamic Sharia to be applied with hudud.” As critics noted, even the Brotherhood never calling for immediate application of hudud – a practice followed only in the most authoritarian Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and abandoned elsewhere.

 
I still can’t believe all the Western suckers and Islamophobes who fervently believed the military coup in July 2013 would end religiously-influenced government in Egypt. In reality, as I’ve said many times, the military just wanted military-led ultraconservative Islam, not liberal secularism.

By contrast, the supposedly dictatorial administration led by Muslim Brotherhood officials wanted plural, moderate Islamic democracy. In many ways, the Brotherhood’s version of political Islam was demonstrably far less hardline than that of the military’s — and it was perhaps even less conservative than Egyptian society as a whole. This is just another piece of evidence on the mountain already plainly visible: The secularists got duped in their own haste to eject the Muslim Brotherhood.

The radical opposition to Islamic democracy

With Islamic democracy often positioned between pseudo-liberal militarist parties on the economic right and revolutionary, radical Salafism on the economic far-left — and all on the social right to varying degrees — it is important to understand the motivations, activities and ideological details of the competing political options. This site has devoted extensive analysis to the militarists of Egypt and Libya, as well as to the Islamic democrats of Turkey and Tunisia.

But the Islamic democrats across the Middle East North Africa are often confused in the West with the dramatically different radical factions in the Salafist corner. A historical analogy would be the difference between radical communists who opposed liberal elective democracy in principle (and generally boycotted elections or ran but refused to take their seats or govern) and the democratic socialists who accepted liberal democracy as the vehicle to achieve their (milder) policy end-goals.

Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia provides a good lens for seeing the distinctions very clearly between radical Islamic factions and Islamic democratic parties. The eastern Libyan terrorist group was unofficially involved in the impromptu attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi in 2012, but it is also a very complicated group that doesn’t fit into easy boxes, as a new research paper from the conservative Hudson Institute explores. Nonetheless, despite its complexities, the faction contrasts very sharply with Islamic democratic parties such as western Libya’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP).

Ansar al-Sharia are undeniably violent global jihadists and extremely opposed to democracy in principle, unlike the JCP, and they wouldn’t disagree with those characterizations. But beyond their anti-democratic terrorism, they also devoted perhaps more effort than any other such group anywhere in the world toward (mostly illegal) humanitarian activities and sophisticated state-building activities until they began losing support to rival ISIS. Their humanitarian (and bribery) reach extended into Syria, Gaza, and Sudan, as well as their home turf in Libya, until the start of General Hifter’s war against them in early 2014, at which point it rapidly dried up and all energy was re-applied to domestic militancy.

Unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, groups like Ansar al-Sharia are so firmly opposed to democracy — and all its principles and forms — that they reject all party politics and refuse to exist as an organized party. Interestingly, they also sound a lot like fringe American “sovereign citizens,” who reject virtually all governing authority except very select and archaic or common-law authorities (such as sheriffs!); debating the fundamental legitimacy of a police stop with the officer, for example, was an encouraged Ansar al-Sharia activity. Also similar is a penchant for assassinating government officials solely by virtue of their position as government officials, regardless of individual performance or politics.

The group’s anti-American ideology is well-developed, citing not only unilateral US military operations across the Muslim world, but also its history of slavery and Native genocide.

They do not believe in any government not directly ruled at all levels by religious officials answering to textual literalism. Even the Islamic Republic of Iran would be unaccepted (beyond its sectarian religious affiliations with Shia Islam) because it allows extensive roles for non-clerics.

This worldview, not Islamic democracy, is a political threat to the region and to the United States. It refuses to engage with the real, 21st century world in any sense. That is not the case for parties interested in seeking to govern via ballot elections on behalf of the people they represent.

Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi addresses social issues

Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist democratic party Ennahda and one of the leading practical theorists of Islamic democracy outside Turkey, continues to make the rounds with European interviewers (see previous link for more). This time he gave interviews to French journalist Olivier Ravanello for a book called “On the Subject of Islam.”

While past interviews have often focused on political or economic theory questions, the book’s pull quotes on social issues have made more waves this time (at least in the relevant, Francophone circles).

Unfortunately, because the interviews were published in French and Ghannouchi’s not an extremely high-profile person if you don’t follow this topic regularly like I do, I’m guessing it’s not getting much play yet in English-language media. The quotes are collected in the French-language Tunisian edition of Huffington Post.

He states perhaps a problematic view on some issues like blasphemy laws or inheritance rights, but made interestingly pragmatic comments on abortion & homosexuality for a relatively conservative region (though Tunisia is more liberal than the region in general). I did the translations below myself and converted idiomatic phrasing where appropriate, so these are not 1:1 translations.

Quotes on homosexuality, in principle and from a legal perspective:

“We don’t approve of it. But Islam doesn’t spy on people. It preserves privacy. Everyone lives his life as he wants to, and everyone is responsible before his creator… The law does not follow people into their private lives. … What happens in your house concerns nobody. It is your choice, and nobody has the right to enter and ban you from doing this or that.”

 
This would be an improvement over existing laws in Tunisia, which the Huffington Post article says criminalized homosexuality and can result in a three-year prison sentence. Unfortunately, Mr. Ghannouchi’s own party refused to change the law when it controlled the Human Rights and Justice Ministry during the national transition.

On the former, he endorses contraception as legitimate for women to prevent pregnancy; abortion in the first 4 (maybe 5) months, i.e. “before the development of the fetus” is possibly morally permissible. After that he opposes it on principle as an “aggression against life.” According to the Huffington Post article, this is consistent with the Tunisian law allowing abortion in the first 3 months for any reason — and for physical or mental health reasons thereafter.

Essentially, Ghannouchi’s view on abortion is approximately in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s view in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, wherein viability was estimated to be as early as 22 weeks and states could potentially ban or severely restrict it after that… But his contraception view is a lot more pragmatic than that of many U.S. Republicans.

4-party grand coalition deal reached in Tunisia

Four parties and some independents have formed a grand coalition government in Tunisia after months of struggling to assemble a coalition that had a majority but did not include the second-place Ennahda (the main Islamic democrats party), which led much of the transition after the Arab Spring.

Eventually, first place Nidaa Tounes (the secular Bourguibist party), which leads the new cabinet and holds the presidency, recognized that the math wasn’t there to leave out Ennahda and invited them to join, along with two other secular parties, Free Patriotic Union and Afek Tounes. After the October 2014 elections, Nidaa Tounes controls about 40% of the seats in the unicameral Assembly of the Representatives of the People, while Ennahda controls about 32%. Between them, they hold over 70% of the seats and about 85% of the seats with the addition of the 3rd and 5th largest parties.

This has left the new coalition on the receiving end of charges that it has restored One-Party Rule (like what the country experienced for much of its post-independence period), but that ignores the reality that other parties captured very little of the vote but won enough seats to make a smaller coalition very difficult. 12 parties won more than 1% of the vote, and 14 parties plus independents hold seats. The bulk of votes and seats went to Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda. The margin between 2nd (Ennahda) and 3rd place (Free Patriotic Union) is a whopping 53 seats.

Last month, Nidaa Tounes had proposed a coalition with the 3rd largest party (probably its closest ideological match) but that fell 5 seats short of a majority, and neither 2nd place Ennahda nor the 4th place marxist-leninist-secularists of the Popular Front supported a minority government arrangement. (The Popular Front were not invited to participate in this government either and have announced their displeasure with the new coalition too. 5th place Afek Tounes joined instead.)

Bringing four of the five biggest parties on board (including Ennahda), while presenting a rather overwhelming unity force, guarantees that the coalition could survive even if one of them drops out later. Moreover, it at least gives a say in governance to a collective 70%+ of voters, without giving disproportionate power to parties that won just 1-2% of the vote each last October. After all, even a 3-party coalition of Nidaa Tounes, Free Patriotic Union, and Popular Front (or Afek Tounes) — but without Ennahda — would have only had the support of only about 45% of all voters, even if it held a majority of seats in the assembly. That’s a good way to delegitimize democracy at the start. In contrast, this four-party coalition will be providing majority rule as well as representing various political factions and minorities.

On balance, this grand coalition is excellent news, in my opinion. This is the path forward for the next few years in the first term of elective democracy under the new, post-Arab Spring Constitution. Everyone is on the hook for failures and bad decisions as part of the coalition, so it removes some incentives to be obstructionist or to root for failure. It also encourages party supporters not to fight each other outside a political context.

Major, controversial ministries like Interior, Defense, and Justice have been given to independents, which might also help defuse tensions and reduce the risk of those offices being turned into political weapons. Less controversial key ministries have been divided between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, with the winning secularists representing the high-profile public face of Tunisia (via the Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry for example), while the lower-profile but important work at the Employment Ministry goes to the Islamists, along with various junior ministries. Giving the Islamists the Employment Ministry seems an ideal choice, as that’s a major focus/concern of the party and has been a big factor in their popularity. The coalition’s other big challenge will be combating the appeal of terrorist recruiters in Tunisia.

Prime Minister Habib Essid spoke to members of the Assembly after the coalition proposal was overwhelmingly adopted and said “The motto of this government will be work, then work… and nothing other than work.”

Time to get to it, then.

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