James Taylor At the moment, the Egyptian constitution stipulates that the president has broad powers, including significant power when it comes to the military, national security & foreign policy (basically all the powers Mubarak codified into law). If the constitution remains as is, the winner will have a large impact not only on Egypt but on the broader Middle East as well. However, simultaneous to the prez elections, Egypt is also rewriting its constitution (there is a whole crisis surrounding this process and the power of the Islamist parties), which will redefine the role of the president...in other words, the powers of the presidency are uncertain at the moment, and the final constitution will dictate the winner's impact on the region.
James Taylor The key to all of this is the run-off. BC of the large # of candidates (there are currently 11...2 more qualified today and more will qualify later this week) no one candidate will get the requisite 50% of the vote. The election is May 23/24 - the run-off will take place in June b/t the 2 candidates that receive the highest # of votes. Pure speculation: Amr Moussa gets a large # of the secular vote & either Al-Shater or Abul-Fotouh captures the majority of the Islamist vote. That would mean, in theory, the run-off would be b/t Amr Moussa & either Al-Shater or Abul-Fotouh. Unknowns: who is disqualified...there are a # of rules about who can run (http://bit.ly/HaBFhl) & some of the candidates might be in violation of these rules. Stay tuned!
James Taylor Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies published a poll a few days ago that had Amr Moussa leading with 31.5%, but the poll was conducted before the Muslim Brotherhood announced they would field Al-Shater, so it is clearly antiquated (imagine that, a poll becomes out-dated in a matter of days). The truth is that it is very difficult to tell who is leading - today alone 2 additional candidates entered the race (http://bit.ly/HUVESu), one is potentially disqualified bc his mom is an American (http://bit.ly/Hg51OV) and I imagine a few more will qualify before the nomination period closes...it is really up in the air - all the more reason to keep following! More on the election schedule: http://bit.ly/HgkMVS
James Taylor Douglas, Thanks - you raise a valid point; it's important to be aware of our own biases & preferences in these kinds of discussions. What I'm hoping to do here is mitigate some of the existing biases I see in the western dialogue and facilitate a discussion among observers that centers instead on the issues Egyptians themselves are identifying as critical. I believe that in order to understand the elections - & what they mean for the future of US-Egyptian relations - we need to understand those issues. At no point do I hope or intend to influence the elections in any way...my goal is to better my own understanding of the issues and, with luck, to effect a shift (however slight) in the western conversation surrounding the elections. James
James Taylor Douglas: There is no hypocrisy here. The MB is an organization in Egypt. They don't need to recognize Israel's right to exist any more than Israel needs to recognize the MB's right to exist as an organization. The question is whether or not the Egyptian govt (w/ a parliament that consists of a majority of MB elected officials) recognizes Israel and the peace treaty. In that respect, I refer you to Essam el-Erian's (head of the MB's political party FJP) comments yesterday in which he said that the peace treaty is "a commitment of the state, not a group or a party, and this we respect." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/world/middleeast/muslim-brotherhood-backs-egyptian-militarys-transition-date.html?_r=1&hp
James Taylor I agree with you Ethan in that the coming months will be a test of Egypt's press and potential for free speech. But I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the Egyptian public, or the MB for that matter, will embrace war with Israel. After all, the recent elections were not so much focused on Egypt's foreign policy as they were the economy, the lack of trust in the military and the general distain towards the people and policies associated with the Mubarak regime. Yes, Egypt's "close" relationship with Israel happens to be one of those policies, but I think the newly elected officials realize they were not elected to cancel the treaty and wage war. They were elected to reform the system and create a climate in which Egyptians can succeed.
James Taylor Oh Douglas, you had me at "you don't fully quote the Jerusalem Post article"... I do not fully quote the Jerusalem Post article, because the article does not fully quote Bayoumi. If you would like to see his complete quote, I recommend you check out the same article in the Egyptian press or even in the Israeli press (check out Tuesday's Haaretz). There you will find that Bayoumi did not say that the government of Egypt will not recognize Israel, because that makes zero sense...it already does. He did however say the treaty will be brought for a referendum to the Egyptian people, which is the central focus of my piece.
James Taylor Jeff - The point of my piece was to disagree with the article's negative portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, it makes sense that my point of view is different than the linked story. The thesis of my piece has nothing to do with war between Egypt and Israel (though the title may be misleading...not my doing), but rather the status of the peace treaty - which many (such as the Jerusalem Post) fear is in danger because of the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power - a point with which I contend and argue otherwise. Also, I agree with you, Israel has not helped its image...but that topic deserves a piece in and of itself. I hope you will write it - I'll be the first to comment.
James Taylor I think there is a high likelihood that the Brotherhood and/or allied Islamist movements will win the election. That is a good thing, because it will test whether or not their calls for democracy over the past couple of decades have been genuine. I suspect they are, others would argue this point, but as of now we have no indication otherwise, so it is important that we support the election and the decision of the people of Egypt. Then it will be left to the victors to demonstrate that this support was justified.
James Taylor I don't disagree that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, especially given its instability, poses a pretty significant threat...but we're well past the point of preventing a nuclear Pakistan, and its existence, although regrettable, is something we have to live with. The very real possibility of a nuclear Iran should be considered as a totally separate issue. It isn't a distraction, it's a major geopolitical threat in its own right, and worthy of our attention and focus. The goal is to contain existing threats and prevent new ones - not one of these at the expense of the other.
James Taylor In 1982 Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, killed somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 Syrians (estimates vary) in Hama in order to put down a revolt. Even Mubarak and Ben-Ali (and their supporters) had their limits in terms of what they were willing to do in order to stay in power, which is why hundreds, not thousands, were killed in Tunisia & Egypt combined. Syrians don't have that same reassurance - Bashar seems to be following in his father's footsteps - and are scared...rightfully so. It makes it all the more difficult to step in front of a tank when you know the driver is crazy enough to keep driving...
James Taylor Did/Will NGOs and Think-Tanks Bring Democracy to the Arab World? No And I don't mean to diminish in any way the work of NGOs or Think-Tanks, but reports, lectures, seminars etc. dont propel people to take to the streets - and they certainly dont shield them from gas canisters and bullets when they do. That having been said, Think-Tanks can definitely play a role in identifying areas of civil society that need to be improved in order for democracy to flourish, and NGOs can play a role in supporting and strengthening these intuitions through $ and training, but at its core democracy is a product of the will and determination of the people, and no Think-Tank or NGO can manufacture that.
James Taylor Tony - My reference to the "Jewish State" in my article was simply because that is how Israel self-identifies. Personally, I think that is a fairly accurate identification, but I understand your objection - still, I'll leave the debate over modern nationalism for another time. To your second point re: casting a shadow over Israeli affairs. I asked Sal the same question above, but do you think this shadow may negatively impact future decisions that Israel may make because it is always viewing its actions through the prism of the Holocaust? For example, Netanyahu is constantly comparing Iran to 1930s Nazi Germany...how much does that factor into how his government will act vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear program? Interested in your thoughts...
James Taylor Thanks Sal. I think the Israeli mentality of survival through strength supports the quote you mention above. Do you think though that this may negatively impact future decisions that Israel may make because they are always viewing their actions through the prism of the Holocaust? For example, Netanyahu is constantly comparing Iran to 1930s Nazi Germany...how much does that factor into how his government will act vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear program? I think the shadow of the Holocaust extends much further than the peace process, and it is important to understand Israel's relationship to the Holocaust, as it has in the past and will certainly in the future impact regional events.
James Taylor You raise a very good point Idon. The themes of "victim" & "strength" play a very large role in the Israeli psyche, and it seems as though Israeli society struggles with defining the relationship between these two notions. I'm not sure they'll ever reconcile the two.
James Taylor And I'm not sure at which point that cycle can be broken given that leaders on both sides, be it Netanyahu, Lieberman, Maashal or Abbas, continue to throw gasoline on the fire. From the beginning of time blame has been an effective way to draw attention away from a ruler's policies and the negative impact they have on his/her population. Middle East leaders have perfected this art to the detriment of peace and coexistence, and I think the dueling Israeli/Palestinian narratives contribute to this.
James Taylor Ali - I think we need to be careful when referring to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict as genocide, and similarly in making comparisons between the plight of the Palestinians and the Holocaust: bc in truth the two aren't comparable and attempting to compare the two ultimately does a disservice to the discourse and the respective narratives of the two sides. Palestinians can make a compelling case for their rights & independence without having to invoke such wild comparisons, which ultimately inflame Israelis and does little to further their cause. - James
James Taylor John - Thank you for your comment. I stand by my statement in saying that Jews did indeed immigrate to Palestine in the 1880s: The name "Palestine" dates back long before WWII or the 1880s, & has been a common way to refer to the area that now comprises Israel, the West Bank & Gaza for nearly 2000 yrs [much in the same way that the name "Israel" predates the modern day country by thousands of yrs]. The significance of WWII in all of this is rather minimal. You may have meant WWI, when the British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Empire and, following the war, set up the Palestine Mandate. Still, this didn't change much re:Palestine "existing" bc the territory remained under British control & no independent entity was created. - James
James Taylor In the Middle East, facts never get in the way of a convincing narrative...and Paul is right that Egyptians views the '73 war as an "accomplishment". Sure, it ended with Israeli troops circling Egypt's largest infantry division and coming within a stone's throw of Cairo, but the early gains that the Egyptian military inflicted on the Israelis lives in Egyptian lore. Mubarak's military credentials were in no small part a by-product of that campaign, as was Sadat's ability to strike a peace deal with the Israelis. The military results after '67 and '73 were arguably the same (if not worse for Egypt the second time around), but the Egyptian psyche after each engagement was significantly different (as was the Israeli psyche as well).
James Taylor Paul, I think it is also worth pointing out that the systems of government in the US and Israel, as well as the "unity" nature of the Palestinian government, contribute to the phenomenon you outline above. Because of primaries, 2 yr terms, and redistricting, our representatives are inherently ideologically rigid (Senators too, but to less of a degree). In Israel, the large number of parties forces prime ministers to ally with fringe groups in order to form coalitions. A deal with the devil, if Netanyahu's actions displease the fringe he risks losing his coalition. Similarly, the unification of the Palestinian government means that any actions that Abbas takes, at some level, has to have the blessing of Hamas. In all three cases, government is captured by "fanatics who have completely silenced the voices of pragmatism" as you put it.
James Taylor There are definitely a number of flaws with the approaches of the parties to these conflicts/crises, specifically their inability to prioritize these issues according to their interests. You would think avoiding default would be priority #1 for Dems and Reps alike, and similarly, given the benefits of peace, you'd think both Israeli and Palestinian leaders would prioritize it as a national interest. Neither seems to be the case.
James Taylor The peace process and peace progress are two different things. There can be a peace process without a peace agreement, sad as that may be (on the Israeli-Palestinian track that is, Israel already has 2 peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan). In that sense I think the comparison is fair because in each case there is a process but very little progress. In the event that Congress and the President reach a deal, then the comparison will no longer be valid, because they will have done something the Israelis and Palestinians can't seem to muster the courage to do: compromise. Until something tangible happens though the debt talks are still very much about "rhetoric alone" as you put it, which is no different than the status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.