Egypt’s Upheaval Makes Waves Across Region

Thanks to Golden Age of Gaia.

A protest against the new constitution in Tunisia. Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPAA protest against the new constitution in Tunisia. Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

Stephen Cook: I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: some weeks back Archangel Michael suggested we look to Egypt as the catalyst for global change. This article examines the effect the recent chaos in Egypt is having on the surrounding region and gives us the state of play in Tunisia, Libya, Gaza, Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Morocco after the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. Remember the long-held domino theory: once one falls the others tumble, too.

By Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and Eileen Byrne in Tunis, The Guardian – July 12, 2013


The country whose uprising sparked the Arab spring has largely resisted shockwaves from the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. The Islamist Ennahda party, which leads a coalition government that includes two non-religious parties, described the ousting of Morsi as “a flagrant coup against democratic legitimacy”, and its tone hardened after more than 50 protesters were killed on Monday.

The government survived a tougher test in February when Tunisia was tilted towards instability following the assassination of the leftist politician Chokri Belaid. Ennahda was persuaded to open up the government to include 12 independent technocrats in senior posts, fending off accusations that Islamists cannot share power.

Events in Egypt appear to have reinforced the arguments of those who support a government of both secularists and Islamists. Tunisia’s political parties are still learning how to operate in a democracy and many issues remain unresolved since the revolution, including the timing for presidential and parliamentary elections, the treatment of old-regime figures, and two articles in the new constitution (still under debate by the constituent assembly) that refer to religion.

Some Tunisians welcomed Morsi’s removal, and there have been modest attempts to replicate Egypt’s Tamarod, the grassroots movement that helped launch the anti-Morsi protests. But few appear ready to heed calls from former regime figures for the dissolution of Tunisia’s own Islamist-led administration and the formation of a government of “national salvation”.

The powerful UGTT trade union federation congratulated the Egyptian army for intervening but was careful to steer clear of advocating any similar act in Tunisia. Its secretary-general, Hocine Abassi, said: “Tunisia has no other option than dialogue between political parties in which everyone makes concessions so that the interest of the country may prevail.”

The social affairs minister, Khalil Zaouia, of the centre-left Ettakatol party, said the Egyptian coup proved the value of Tunisia’s more consensual approach. “In Tunisia, no party can say ‘I have all the power’, as happened in Egypt where Morsi took all the powers. Here we already enlarged the political consensus, and that has reassured the public,” he said.

Tunisian secularists who have been campaigning on a number of court cases involving freedom of expression believe that more hardline Islamists in Tunisia will be on the defensive. “It will help us that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t have a good image right now,” said Kauther Zweri, who is campaigning in support of two Tunisian bloggers sentenced to seven years in jail on blasphemy charges. “Now is a window of opportunity, the time to move,” she said.

Most Tunisians have more immediate concerns: unemployment, inflation, patchy services and a slow pickup in the tourist industry. After decades of authoritarian rule, the country is rediscovering its national identity. Ennahda may trace its ideological origins back to Egypt’s Brotherhood, but it is also eager to claim distinctly Tunisian roots. As Egyptian Islamists face further repression, Ennahda is likely to make strong expressions of solidarity. But as election time approaches, for Ennahda as for other parties the focus will be on Tunisian issues for Tunisian voters.


Events in Egypt have thrown Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood into confusion, casting doubt on the conservative agenda it had hoped to enact. The toppling of the Morsi administration came just as the Libyan Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party had been celebrating success after its ally, Nuri Sahmain, was elected president of the national congress.

Justice and Construction candidates secured only 10% of the vote in elections last year, but since then the party has attracted large numbers of independent members to become the most powerful bloc in parliament. This has left it with a disproportionate influence on Libya’s government, enjoying more support in congress than in the country at large.

Fears of an Egypt-style backlash have thrown into doubt the centrepiece of its legislative programme, the so-called isolation law, which is set to purge the administration of Gaddafi-era officials. The law was passed amid violent scenes this year, with pro-isolation militias storming parliament and blockading key government ministries demanding that “revolutionaries” be given key jobs. A month after the law came into force, however, the administration is dragging its feet over enacting a purge, and Brotherhood officials are in no mood to force the issue, fearing a popular backlash.

The Justice and Construction party leader, Mohammed Sowan, has been muted in his criticism of Morsi’s ousting. “Sowan has taken a very, very back seat,” said Sami Zaptia, editor of the English-language Libya Herald: “They clearly feel the heat.”

Egypt’s upheaval has spurred anti-Brotherhood forces in eastern Libya, which have set up checkpoints near the border to arrest fleeing Egyptian Brotherhood officials. Libya’s technocratic government, meanwhile, has been at pains not to take sides over the events in Egypt, its priority being to maintain good relations with whoever triumphs in Cairo. The prime minister, Ali Zaidan, failed to condemn Egypt’s army, saying only that Libya would “support any political choice by the Egyptian people”.

It is unclear what level of support Libya will continue to offer Egypt. It has already given Cairo a $2bn loan and had been due to approve the sale of 1m barrels a month of cut-price oil to shore up Egypt’s finances. Above all, the failure of the Brotherhood in Egypt has thrown into doubt whether its sister party in Libya has a future. “Libyans who did not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood have grown increasingly suspicious of their long-term interests,” said Anthony Skinner, of the British risk analyst Maplecroft.


Hamas has said little publicly since Egypt’s army deposed Morsi, but alarm is reverberating through the organisation after the downfall of its ideological patron. Officials of the Islamist party, which has ruled Gaza for the past six years, say they do not want to involve themselves in Egypt’s internal affairs. However, they fear a new wave of isolation, in stark contrast to their euphoria at the Egyptian Brotherhood’s electoral success a year ago.

At the time, Hamas believed that political Islam was on the rise and it would be simply a matter of time before it was brought in from the cold. Now, having cut their ties with Iran and Syria over the latter’s civil war, and with concerns that the new Qatari government might be less Hamas-friendly, Gaza’s rulers suddenly seem in a lonely spot.

Gaza’s pro-Hamas media has carried commentary and articles supporting the Brotherhood in the past few days, but public statements from Hamas have been largely confined to calling on the Egyptian authorities to reopen the Rafah border crossing, the only entry/exit point in Gaza not controlled by Israel. About 1,000 Palestinian pilgrims who visited Mecca were stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing, and more Palestinians were unable to leave Gaza for work, study, family visits or medical treatment, until the Egyptian authorities reopened the crossing for two days on Thursday.

The Egyptian army has destroyed several smuggling tunnels under the border in the past few days, exacerbating a shortage of fuel in Gaza. According to the health ministry, hospitals’ reserve supplies were down to 20%. The destruction of tunnels comes amid speculation that the Egyptian army is preparing a military operation in the lawless Sinai, a crucial weapons supply route for Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza.

Hamas faces an internal struggle between its politically pragmatic, reformist tendency, led by the politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, and a hardline military-oriented wing inside Gaza. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could bolster the latter. In an indication of the breach between the main Palestinian factions of Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated the Egyptian army on its removal of Morsi, saying it had prevented Egypt’s “slide towards an unknown fate”.

Yasser Abed-Rabbo, a top official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Hamas should learn the lessons of Morsi’s removal. “The victory of the revolution in Egypt and the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime requires that Hamas reconsiders its policies,” he said. “We hope that Hamas will draw the conclusions and agree to real democratic elections for the sake of the Palestinians.”


Israel is saying little in public about the turmoil in next-door Egypt, but there is a sense of relief at the blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, and expectation that the Egyptian army will restore stability and order to the country.

Israel had no formal relations with Morsi’s government, but maintained strong security co-operation with the Egyptian army throughout the post-Mubarak period, particularly over the Sinai, the vast desert that abuts Israel. This haven for smugglers and militants is Israel’s most immediate concern. Amid fears that a string of recent attacks indicate that hardline Islamists in the area are gearing up for a confrontation with the Egyptian military, Israel is closely monitoring the situation and co-ordinating with Cairo.

Under the 1979 peace treaty, Israel must authorise any Egyptian military presence in the Sinai, and such approval has been given in recent days. A statement from the Israeli army this week said: “The Egyptian military activity in the Sinai is co-ordinated with Israeli security elements and authorised at its most senior levels in Israel, in order to contend with security threats in the Sinai that pose a threat to both Israel and Egypt.”

In an interview on Israel Radio on Monday, Major-General Doron Almog, a former senior Israeli military commander, called on the US to consider intervening in Egypt. “The fighting now taking place is an ideological battle between two sides,” he said. “One is the army, which is more secular, and [the other is] the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist ideology. If we stand by and watch, and the Muslim Brotherhood wins the battle and again rises to power, I think we will see a completely different Egypt than Morsi’s Egypt … [The US] should not sit idly by on the sidelines. It must become involved in order to bring about stability.”


The Islamist government has been outspoken both about the removal of the Egyptian president and the killing of pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo. The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said “We are very clear about this: a military coup happened in Egypt. Nobody should try to fool anyone here. Military coups are always bad, always detrimental, they kill democracy and the future, no matter against whom they are directed.”

The developments in Cairo are expected to have a palpable impact on Turkey, which had become an increasingly important ally of Egypt under Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Trade has surged in recent years, and Turkey has enjoyed resurgent clout in the region in the post-Arab spring era partly on account of its links with like-minded Islamists in regional capitals.

But another reason for the sharp response to the coup is Turkey’s own history of military interventions. The Turkish military overthrew governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980 and again in 1997, when Turkey’s first Islamist government, led by Erdogan’s mentor Necmettin Erbakan, was overthrown by the military in what was then called a “post-modern coup”. The AK party, founded by members of Erbakan’s Refah (Welfare) party after it was outlawed in 1997, has successfully curbed the military’s power. Last month, the government amended an article of the armed forces charter cited by generals in the past to justify coups.

Erdogan has also lashed out at western governments for their muted response and for failing to call Morsi’s ousting a military coup. “I am surprised by the west. They can’t say this was a coup. What happened to their democratic ideals? This is a test of sincerity. The [Egyptian] revolution is being killed,” he said on Thursday.

Several Turkish leaders have joined Erdogan in strongly condemning the coup. “What happened [in Egypt] is wrong, bad and ugly,” tweeted the deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinc. “This is a coup, it stands against the will of the people. We condemn it.”


Islamists in Jordan had been emboldened by the rise of the Brotherhood in Egypt, so Morsi’s demise has been a blow. Conversely, the news was quickly welcomed by King Abdullah. The deputy leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, Zaki Bani Rsheid, criticised the king’s comments and said they showed that Amman “backs military coups and work against the will of the people”.

The Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s political wing, looks likely to continue to boycott elections. It is already divided between hawkish and dovish wings that differ over identity issues, tactics, and strategy. Hawks feel empowered because they think Morsi’s ousting reinforces their position of not participating in what they see as a fake reformist system. Dovish elements feel the events confirm their fears that pushing too hard only hurts the Brotherhood itself in the end.

“Conservative nationalists, who don’t like Islamists of any stripe or the various democratic elements of the Arab spring either, feel quite triumphal now,” said the US expert Curtis Ryan. “They feel that Morsi and friends have unwittingly undermined the Muslim Brotherhood everywhere.”

The Jordanian commentator Nassem Tarawneh said: “Whenever the state feels emboldened by regional events it usually yields negative results.”


Morocco is the other conservative monarchy outside the Gulf that has seen tensions but no uprising during the Arab spring. The Islamist party of Justice and Development (PJD), which recognises the legitimacy of the monarchy, has led a coalition government since winning elections in late 2011. Its leaders have distanced themselves from the Egyptian Brotherhood.

“It is not that democratic governance is flawed, but rather it is how Morsi himself practised politics that is problematic,” the US academic Avi Speigel reported in Foreign Policy. “Moroccan Islamists go to great lengths to try to differentiate themselves from the [Egyptian] Brotherhood’s experience. Members of Morocco’s other main Islamist movement, al-Adl Wal Ihsan … also seem to be using the Morsi case to solidify their own arguments about local politics – and to take digs against their competitor, the PJD.”

King Mohammed VI was the first leader in north Africa to congratulate Egypt’s interim president, Adli Mansour, after Morsi’s overthrow.

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