Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Egypt on the edge?

I almost hate to use that question for a blog post title, since I suspect there will be many occasions to pose it again.  But the political crisis in Egypt does seem to be coming to a head.  The Egyptian military's ultimatum to Morsi yesterday really left him with only two alternatives—a humiliating back-down or explicit confrontation with the military (as well as with the millions of protesters in the streets).  Now, Morsi's rejection of the military's ultimatum appears to leave the military with only two alternatives—a humiliating back-down or an unvarnished coup.  But we should also continue to expect the unexpected.

Foreign Policy's "Morning Brief" sums up where things stand right now:
Egypt's President Rejects Military Ultimatum

Top news: Egypt's military delivered an ultimatum to Islamist President Mohamed Morsy on Monday, saying he had 48 hours satisfy the public's demands or else it would impose its own "road map." The communiqué, which was interpreted by some members of the Muslim Brotherhood as a military coup, comes on the heels of massive anti-government protests over the weekend that brought the country to a standstill. But with the streets relatively quiet on Tuesday, it seems Egyptians have largely left the fate of the country in the military's hands.

Morsy rejected the military's timeframe in a statement on Monday, saying he had not been consulted and that the ultimatum could "cause confusion in the complex national environment." The statement read further: "The presidency confirms that it is going forward on its previously plotted path to promote comprehensive national reconciliation ... regardless of any statements that deepen divisions between citizens."

The president suffered an additional blow when six members of his cabinet, including his foreign minister, tendered their resignations between Sunday and Tuesday. Egypt's top appellate court also upheld the removal of the country's prosecutor general, Talaat Abdallah, whom Morsy appointed. [....]
If anyone thinks this dynamic of intensifying political polarization and deepening crisis, quite possibly leading to a transition from one form of authoritarianism to another, is an odd or mysterious follow-up to the hopeful beginnings of Egypt's "Arab Spring" in 2011 ... then they should go back to their history books and re-read the accounts of 1848 (or 1789 or 1917 or 1979).  If the fall of Mubarak had produced a smooth transition to a stable regime of democratic representative government, that would have been historically peculiar and difficult to explain.

At the same time, there are various reasons to think that the Egyptian military doesn't want to take on the responsibilities and liabilities of ruling Egypt directly and explicitly again (especially when the country is deeply split, the economy is in free fall, and the whole region is in upheaval).  So how this crisis will get resolved is still an open question.

—Jeff Weintraub