Egypt's politics since the 2011 revolution has consistently combined bare-knuckled combat with abstruse legal maneuvering, as if WWE wrestlers were attempting to operate parts of their contest within the framework of a Japanese tea ceremony. There are four major differences. First, wrestling matches and tea ceremonies last minutes and hours, but Egypt's legal-political battles began decades ago and show no hint of dénouement. Second, the Egyptian struggles are completely unscripted and unpredictable. Third, they matter. Fourth, their participants are focused not only on the moment but also steeped historical antecedents of today's struggles -- it is impossible, for instance, to hear a discussion of the judiciary that does not refer to an infamous judicial purge in 1969.
In order to assist befuddled observers of Egyptian politics, we have assembled this brief guide explaining the current state of play.
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As Iran's economy continues to deteriorate, the labor movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes. Iranian labor, encompassing unskilled workers from rural areas and lower-class urban laborers is not a homogenous group. And thus far, Iranian laborers have not joined the opposition Green Movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime's mismanagement, corruption, and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits, and job security -- enough reason for Iranian laborers to organize and oppose the regime. Parallels can be drawn between the Islamic Republic's treatment of the labor movement today and the Shah's treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime's denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker's rights.
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Egypt watchers were briefly all a-twitter yesterday about the appointment of the country's first post-revolutionary mufti. With rumors widespread that a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abd al-Rahman al-Barr, would get the nod, concerns that the "Brotherhoodization" of the Egyptian state was soon to spread to the official religious establishment. In the end, al-Barr was passed over, but the brief kerfuffle obscures the real long-term struggle likely to take place over Egyptian religious institutions.
Instead of al-Barr, the designee is Shawqi Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Karim, a scholar of Islamic law teaching in Tanta. ‘Abd al-Karim is a figure known to his colleagues but with a low public profile. He has written widely on subjects ranging from the narrowly technical (a comparison between Islamic and civil law on the right to cancel a sale while the contracting parties are still in each other's presence), to the broadly social ("Women and Globalization in the Arabian Peninsula" in which he praises the spread of education among women but decries homosexuality), and to the esoteric (a book on sex selection and sex changes, a surprisingly lively topic among Islamic legal specialists in part because laws governing the family and even prayer are highly gendered, so that it becomes important to know whether one is dealing with a male or a female).
Egypt's cataclysmic courtroom battles seem to be giving way to prolonged guerilla warfare over the judiciary. Attention-getting lawsuits will continue -- Egyptian judges simply see their courtrooms as places that should welcome calls for justice; Egyptians outraged by their government or their fellow citizens will continue to seek to cast their anger in legal form. Judicial anger over recent presidential actions will still simmer (indeed, I cannot remember a time when I have heard so many judges express themselves so ... well, so injudiciously). But the likelihood of a repeat of 2012's string of startling rulings is receding. That development may cause some relief to those struggling to master Egyptian law on the quick, but Egyptian politics, law, and courts are paying a price for those battles and their resolution.
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In recent years Kuwait seems to have descended into a never-ending succession of elections, government reshufflings, protests, and grillings of ministers. This often baffles outside observers, and in Kuwait it gives rise to a sense of chronic crisis and dysfunction. Up until recently, however, it has also been possible to make out an underlying story in Kuwaiti politics, a story of the rise of the political influence of the National Assembly. Thus in 2006 the opposition forced through an electoral redistricting over the opposition of the government; in 2009 the prime minister submitted to a parliamentary vote of confidence for the first time in Kuwaiti history; in late 2011 the opposition in the National Assembly forced out the sitting prime minister; in February, following a major bribery scandal implicating pro-government members of parliament (MPs), the opposition won a resounding 34 seat majority in the 50 member National Assembly. Not long ago, few Kuwaitis took seriously the idea of a "popular government" with a prime minister from outside the family; today many expect that it will happen, with the main question being how long it will take.
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If a student of constitutional texts sat down to read the draft Egyptian constitution from beginning to end, he or she would find much of it familiar -- the language, structure, and institutions would seem to bear resemblances to constitutions in many other countries, even if the particular choices made or terms used were products of domestic political debates. He or she might pause at Article 4, promising that al-Ahzar will be consulted in matters of Islamic law. But the observer would likely be totally flummoxed upon arriving at Article 219, defining the principles of the Islamic sharia in technical terms from the Islamic legal tradition not used outside of scholarly circles: there has been nothing quite like this language adopted anywhere else. What does this mysterious clause say? How did it get there? And what impact would it have? These are three important questions, but each is more difficult to answer than the previous one.
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President Mohamed Morsi and his advisors cannot have expected that his November 22 constitutional declaration would throw Egypt into a renewed state of turmoil. That it has speaks volumes to the immense changes that have occurred in the country during the past two years. Morsi's support for President Barack Obama's truce initiative during the fighting in Gaza clearly reassured the U.S. president that under a Muslim Brotherhood (MB) president Egypt would keep the peace with Israel. Because this has been the dominant concern within the U.S. foreign policy elite about the Egyptian revolution, Morsi had good reason to believe that the United States and the Egyptian Armed Forces would not object to his domestic decisions.
That Morsi's move has proven, in a deeply divided country, to have been a serious error of judgment is worth reflection. Early responses, especially in the United States, have either been self-satisfied sighs of recognition that the MB have finally revealed their true nature or, alternatively, sharp criticism of a westernized liberal minority that refused to accept gracefully the verdict of democracy mandating a stronger role for Islam, the MB, and Morsi himself.
With the violence that broke out in front of the presidential palace in Egypt yesterday, one can no longer describe the constitutional draft produced under the Mohamed Morsi government, as just "flawed." In process, the draft is abysmal. In context, it revises history. In content, it is silent, vague, and problematic. In consequence, it is bloody. It isn't just that Egypt can do better. Ratifying this constitution would reward, and deepen, polarization -- and the goals of the January 25 revolution would be that much further away from being achieved.
The most obvious problems with the constitutional draft are procedural. The process was supposed to deliver a representative constituent assembly, which would produce a consensus-based document that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians would sign up to, and feel invested in. The first assembly was dismissed in April, after the supreme administrative court pointed out members of parliament could not elect themselves onto the assembly, and that the assembly involved too few women, young people, and representatives of minority groups.
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While few noticed in the midst of an intense political crisis, Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi issued another controversial decree recently: Decree no. 97 of 2012, introducing a few important amendments to Egypt's long-standing 1976 labor law. The highly controversial law has already garnered significant opposition from a wide array of labor activists especially as it threatens to extend a long history of state control over labor affairs. While this may not be directly linked to the battle over Morsi's decree claiming unlimited Presidential power, many Egyptians see it as part of a broader bid for executive and partisan power.
The most controversial amendments include a provision to remove any Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) union board member who is over 60 years of age. The ETUF has been historically close to Egypt's rulers and most of its current top leadership is comprised of loyalists to the Mubarak regime. The current leadership was elected in 2006, a year that many activists claim was particularly marred with state intervention to prevent reformist candidates from running and ensure the success of loyalist candidates. According to the law, removed unionists would be replaced by candidates who had received the second largest number of votes in the last union elections (2006). Importantly, however, the law authorizes the highest authority (in this case the minister of manpower -- currently also a member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khaled al-Azhari) to fill any remaining posts that could not be filled for whatever legal reason. Another amendment entails extending the current electoral term for ETUF leaders for an additional six months or until a new trade union law is enacted, whichever comes first.
These amendments raise two key questions: what implications does the content have for the future of state-labor relations in Egypt; and what is the significance of the timing of these amendments?
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi turned Egyptian politics on its head on Thanksgiving eve with his now familiar style of governance: a unilateral, surprise decree, the fourth of its kind since Morsi assumed his position in June. Each of these decisions has proceeded with little to no consultation and, regardless of their intent, each proclamation was notable for carving out further and broader authorities for the executive. The common thread linking these decisions is the majoritarian lens though which the Muslim Brotherhood understands political life and democratic politics -- one which bodes ill at this foundational moment when Egypt is attempting to refashion its social compact and establish a sustainable constitutional and political order.
Morsi's majoritarian mindset is not anti-democratic per se, but depends upon a distinctive conception of winner-takes-all politics and the denigration of political opposition. Winning elections, by this perspective, entitles the victors to govern unchecked by the concerns of the losers. This chronic overreach has cemented the divide between Islamists and non-Islamists and heightened suspicions of the Brotherhood's ultimate intentions.
The Arab Spring was hard on Arab presidents: most of the personalist presidential autocracies are now gone. But no Arab monarchs fell during the Arab Spring. Why did the monarchs fare so well? The strong correlation between monarchism and survival suggests, of course, that monarchism had something (or everything) to do with it. Some scholars, however, have argued the success of the monarchs does not have much to do with their monarchism, but can be traced to other factors, especially oil and foreign support. These factors are not irrelevant, but monarchism still mattered, and for two reasons. The monarchs benefited, first, from their ability to promise reform and, second, from the sense amongst their citizens that, while not ideal, monarchical rule was better than the republican alternatives. These factors, however, are not permanent, and the ability of the monarchs to weather the recent storms does not mean that they will fare as well the next time unrest sweeps the Arab world.
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The unusually intense protests that swept Jordan two weeks ago in response to the government's decision to raise fuel subsidies focused attention on the kingdom's long-simmering political crisis. The protests shocked many observers not only because of their size and geographical scope, but because of the virtually unprecedented calls for the overthrow of the monarchical regime. The protests tapered off after a few days, partly due to a backlash against these more extreme slogans among a generally reformist opposition. But even if the Jordanian monarchy was not to be quickly swept away, deep and fundamental political problems remain unresolved.
To get a better sense of the meaning of these protests, I sat down with Jillian Schwedler of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for the eighth in our series of POMEPS Conversations with leading Middle East specialists (the full series can be found here, with the latest featured each week in the video box of the Middle East Channel home page). Schwedler, who is completing a book on the politics of popular protest in Jordan, helps to explain why the tens of thousands demonstrating in the downtown al-Hussein mosque which impress the casual observer are less politically significant than a few hundred at the interior ministry. Schwedler had this to say:
The subsiding of the headline-grabbing protests does not mean that Jordan's political crisis is over. Nor is it likely that the crisis will be resolved by elections held under an unpopular election law, boycotted by most opposition parties, and viewed as irrelevant by most activist youth. Popular mobilization is rapidly reshaping the contours of Jordanian political life in ways which the Jordanian regime seems unable or unwilling to recognize. The fading of the most potent protests (for now) should not lead anyone to relax about the country's fate.
For more on Jordan's troubled politics, see these recent articles from the Middle East Channel:
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The bargaining among Egypt's political forces over the content of the country's constitution has been noisy, public, stormy, and dramatic. Indeed, over the past week, that tussle has brought the entire constitution drafting effort into crisis. It is still not clear whether that bargaining can still lead to a consensual document or whether the Constituent Assembly will collapse or produce a star-crossed constitution.
But there has been another bargaining process that has drawn far less attention and commentary, even though much of it has been carried out in clear public view. Even those parts of this second process that have taken place behind closed doors still have left unmistakable footprints in the various drafts. And while not devoid of drama, the slightly quieter process seems more likely to produce successful outcomes. This is the bargaining among various structures of the Egyptian state.
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
Long in the making, the embers of a dormant showdown between President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian judiciary have started glowing hotter in the past few weeks. Observers smelled traces of smoke when Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud failed to convict 24 prime suspects in the Battle of the Camel, the February 2011 attack on anti-government protesters in Cairo. More recently, members of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), the court responsible for the Supreme Council of the Armed Force's (SCAF) legal cover to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, held a press conference rejecting all articles of the draft constitution concerning the powers of the court. Lastly, the administrative court set to rule on the validity of the second constituent assembly, elected by the disbanded parliament, postponed the case yet again before issuing a verdict, which is planned for next week. These events could be taken at face value -- insufficient evidence, an ambiguous constitutional framework, and more time needed to deliberate, respectively -- but the political implications behind each step suggest an institution issuing subtle warnings to restore its clout on the Egyptian stage or suffer the chaotic mess of a renewed constitutional process.
Libya's embattled transitional government is not only struggling to appoint a cabinet, disarm its powerful militias, and deal with the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It is also locked in a tense battle with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over where to try Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and the former regime's mysterious intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Since the fall of Qaddafi's regime and the assertion of a newly sovereign Libya, the ICC's intervention has degenerated into a controversial and, at times, acrimonious battle between Libya's new rulers and the Court over where the highly prized indictees should be tried. Over the past year, Libya's transitional government has sought to demonstrate its effective sovereignty to its citizens and the world by proving itself able and willing to prosecute senior members of the Qaddafi regime. At the same time, the ICC has striven to establish itself as an effective institution that can have positive effects on post-conflict accountability. However, the fight over where to try Saif and Senussi may ultimately serve to undermine the aims of both the ICC and Libya -- not to mention the pursuit of post-Qaddafi justice.
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While amateur video productions, presidential trips, and embassy walls have occupied the international headlines for Egyptian affairs, the country's troubled constitutional drafting process -- tasked with writing a document that will establish permanent rules and structures for Egypt's politics -- has rushed ahead in keeping with its mandated rapid schedule. Indeed, those involved have sometimes spoken of finishing their task in October, though it would be no surprise if they had to use up until their December deadline. Is the process credible enough to produce a document suitable for a society that aspires for a democratic transition? The short answer is that for all the procedural flaws, the document that is emerging nonetheless offers prospects for a working democracy. There are some critical areas that still have to be ironed out, but the real hurdles for a viable outcome may lie less in the text of the constitution itself than outside of it: in the short term, the search for consensus may prove elusive; in the long term the problems may lie much more in the act of giving general constitutional provisions precise institutional and legal meaning.
The Constituent Assembly elected by the country's now disbanded parliament has divided up into committees to draft various sections as well as a committee to oversee and coordinate those sections. Those committees are now finishing their work and drafts of sections are circulating almost too quickly for observers to track.
The recent eruption of violence in various Muslim capitals directed at the U.S. (and other Western) embassies, with tragic losses in life and property, is a predictable, if sad, consequence of globalization. The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other. The occasion for the latest uproar, the anti-Muslim "movie" denigrating the Prophet of Islam, is the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict that appears to become more aggravated over time, in no small measure due to growing Islamophobia in the West. The conflict is also helped now by the weakening security apparatus in the various Arab states experiencing mass uprisings, and the ability of various groups to exploit this vacuum to further their own political goals.
A few decades ago, this movie, or a preacher threatening to burn the Quran in Florida, or a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper would have passed, in all likelihood, unnoticed (at least by the offended parties), let alone cause major violent protests spanning continents. But in our globalized present, with the various tools of instant communication and social networking available to large swathes of humanity, what happens in a faraway place is immediately splashed everywhere, often with deadly results as we are witnessing today. Within this diverse yet networked humanity, where marginal figures are empowered, someone invariably takes offense at perceived insults emanating from distant lands. Despite all the energetic and well-meaning condemnations by sensible parties on both sides, it is unlikely that we will see an end to this cycle anytime soon.
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Egypt's January 25, 2011 revolution gave the country's workers a golden opportunity to press their agenda. Workers played a key role in the wave of societal unrest that led to Hosni Mubarak's downfall, and after the long-time president's departure many restrictions on political organization and dissent were relaxed. But workers have not been able to seize that opportunity to cohesively advance their demands. Instead, fragmentation has emerged as the dominant feature of post-Mubarak labor politics. Egyptian workers have struggled to find their own voice as they navigate the legacy of state control over labor organizations and a complicated new political situation.
In the years preceding the revolution and in the lead-up to Mubarak's ousting, Egyptian workers demonstrated their willingness to pioneer new forms of collective action, take risks to engage in collective action, and push the boundaries of their relationship to the state. Workers have become even more emboldened in the post-Mubarak period. Egypt's political leadership will thus need to take workers' concerns seriously if it is to avoid continued social and political unrest. One of the key questions for Egypt's transition is precisely what system will be used to regulate workers' representation.
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After widely applauded elections, Libya is preparing to draft its first democratic constitution after more than 40 years of Muammar al-Qaddafi's dictatorship. A 60-person committee will draft the constitution and reckon with key social issues facing Free Libya, including national identity and human rights, state and religion, and the distribution of political and economic power. The committee must frame a state in a country once characterized by weak social or political organization.
The process by which the constitution will be written is unclear. The National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which served as Libya's interim parliament after the ouster of Qaddafi until the July 7 election of the General National Congress (GNC) -- had proliferated a constitutional declaration to govern the transitional phase. The declaration called for the congress to appoint 60 experts to a constitutional committee, 20 from each of Libya's three historical provinces in the west, east, and south. But the NTC amended the declaration the week prior to the election, stating that the members of the constitutional committee would be elected rather than appointed.
The power struggle between Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brother has been likened to the life and death struggle between the cobra and mongoose. In the event the analogy was misleading in that the conflict was relatively short and its outcome anti-climactic. The Muslim Brotherhood, apparently now led by President Mohamed Morsi, unceremoniously shunted Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and his officer entourage off to various forms of retirement without so much as a whimper in response.
Like Hosni Mubarak before him, Tantawi's seeming impregnable power had been based on the weak foundations of patronage and punishment, dished out in Tantawi's case to the officers under his command. Obviously aware of resentment and disaffection within the military, Tantawi, again similar to Mubarak, sought to repress it by draconian punishment of defectors, by ladling out ever larger doses of patronage, including salary increases, bonuses and yet more plum "secondment" sinecures, and by mobilizing dependent editors and publishers to suppress media criticism of him and the SCAF. Ultimately these tactics were to no avail. Mismanagement of the political transition added the insult of degradation of the military's reputation to the injury of its de-professionalization through more than two decades of Tantawi's command. Like the country as a whole as regards the Mubarak regime, the officer corps had finally had enough of the nature and the consequences of corrupt, patrimonial rule of the military.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the 1952 Egyptian revolution, when the Free Officers, led by Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew the last king of Egypt. That revolution, within 18 months, led to the institution of a new regime, dominated by the military establishment. In a couple of days, it will have been 18 months since the people of Egypt revolted against the inheritors of that regime, which still remains dominated by the military. That military establishment now has a choice to make, for itself and the future of Egypt. Should it remain in a privileged, guardian like position that prevails over civilian authority indefinitely, at least in particular areas? Or should it make preparations to engage in what would be a truly revolutionary change, and hand over the keys to power not just symbolically, but completely?
In the past 18 months, the military establishment, represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has done well. It emerged from the uprising as the heroic institution that stood by the Egyptian people, rather than slaughter them when Egyptians revolted against one of its own, former President Hosni Mubarak. Its confidence rating, according to recurring polls has not dipped below 80 percent. The state media, the main source of information in the country, is still trusted and gives a glowing review of the military. Its opposition in the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the other anti-military rule activists, has been no match. As the SCAF handed over power to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, it enjoyed its safe exist from the limelight, and has now redeployed to where it has wanted to be -- back to the good old days, away from public scrutiny and back to the barracks.
Libya's elections did not need to be perfect, but the country plainly needs a popularly elected government to tackle the difficult and unpopular decisions involved in building the new state. The polls thus could have been judged a success merely by taking place without major disruption, a test they aced with flying colors following reports of 65 percent turnout and over 98 percent of polling centers opening without incident. Around the country, the long-awaited vote was justifiably treated as cause for national celebration.
But the seeds for political contention at the next stage may have been sown in the run-up to the polls. Less than 48 hours prior to elections, the National Transitional Council (NTC) stripped the to be elected national congress of its core mandate: supervising the drafting of Libya's new constitution. Rather than being appointed by the new congress, the constitutional commission actually drafting the charter will theoretically now be directly elected in a second set of polls that give all parts of the country equal representation. This legal bombshell risks acrimony later this year between different parts of the country as well as rejection by the newly ascendant political parties, who on paper find themselves in charge of a congress suddenly relegated to bystander status on constitutional matters.
In March 2011, I paid a visit to Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), located on the banks of the Nile in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. Two things immediately struck me. First, there was a tank parked outside of a structure that hardly seemed to be a military site. Second, the court was a beehive of activity. Since at the time Egypt had no constitution, I could not figure out why the employees were so busy.
Now it is clear that I was too quick to dismiss what I saw both inside and outside the building. The SCC's actions today, occurring in the context that they do, reshape Egypt's transition process -- so much so that some Egyptians will likely wonder if they are in any "transition process" at all. That concern is justified. The "process" part was already dead. Now the "transition" part is dying.
Those who specialize in European constitutional thought have often talked about the pouvoir constituant in a manner that often makes others' eyelids droop -- it leads to deeply abstract discussions, drawing heavily from dusty tomes that pepper discussions with French and Latin phrases, about where ultimate authority lies for issuing a constitution. But if journalists covering Egypt had taken a course in European constitutional thought -- and managed to stay awake -- they may have been a bit more hesitant before rushing out stories suggesting that Egypt is about to issue a "complementary constitutional declaration." Yes, there were efforts to fill in some of the holes left when the military surprised the country with an interim constitutional declaration a year ago. Yes, the Egyptian press was full of (often un-sourced) trial balloons suggesting the generals were just about to spring another surprise on the nation. And yes, the March 2011 "constitutional declaration" governing the transition is full of gaps and ambiguities and certainly leaves plenty of room for improvement. But it is going to be very hard to make changes to it, precisely because it is not clear where, what, or who the pouvoir constituant is in Egypt today.
Let us try to restrain our most of our philosophizing impulses (and temptation to insert erudite foreign phrases) and get practical by trying to answer three pressing questions: Does Egypt need a complementary constitutional declaration? If so, what should it say? Who could issue it?
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) warmly accepted the international community's military and political support for dislodging the Qaddafi government, and vowed to build a new state that would respect human rights. But it seems to be veering off course. Not only is it rejecting international human rights monitoring and the ICC's jurisdiction, but more troubling still, it has passed some shockingly bad laws, mimicking Qaddafi laws criminalizing political dissent and granting blanket immunity to any crimes committed in "support" of the revolution.
The NTC has a lot on its hands, and building a new administration from the ground up is no small feat. Its biggest challenge has been asserting authority over the armed groups in most towns, villages and city neighborhoods who are responsible for most abuses in post-Qaddafi Libya. The militias hold about 5,000 of the country's roughly 8,000 detainees. Some have been held for up to a year, outside Libyan law, without any charge or judicial process. Numerous cases of torture and even deaths in custody have been documented.
Virtually nobody took this week's Syrian elections seriously. It is easy to understand the nearly universal skepticism about balloting in the midst of ongoing killing in a manifestly undemocratic regime. Even when regimes have the best intentions, elections held in such difficult circumstances are rarely credible -- and few believe that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has the best intentions. A U.S. State Department spokesman declared that the balloting "bordered on the ludicrous."
But this misses the point. There is a very real political logic behind the conducting of these elections -- one familiar to decades of such elections under Arab authoritarian regimes, and one which points to the coming terrain of the unfolding political struggle in Syria. The significance of the seemingly insignificant elections lies in the crucial battle over expectations about the regime's future. Put simply, the elections are meant to signal that the regime is strong, and its downfall unthinkable. Even though results have not yet been announced, the elections demonstrate that the regime is in control, both of the process and the outcomes, and the political game must be played on their terms.
For most people in the world, retirement is a time of idleness and careful penny-pinching of pensions or savings. Senior Egyptian military officers, however, are not most people in the world. Upon retiring from his post, a senior officer in Egypt's military becomes a governor of a province, a manager of a town, or a head of a city neighborhood. Or he might run a factory or a company owned by the state or the military. He might even manage a seaport or a large oil company. Luckily for him, he also retains his Armed Forces pension, on top of the high salary for his new civilian job. This privileged group holds almost every high position in the state. Egypt is par excellence a republic of retired generals.
Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential election is rapidly approaching, scheduled to begin at the end of May. Candidates of varied political stances are enthusiastically campaigning in media and touring the length of the country offering promises on everything from security to education to foreign policy. But amid this busy atmosphere, there is silence on the most sensitive and crucial question: Will any civilian winner be able to demilitarize the Egyptian state?
On April 17, 2012, M. Cherif Bassiouni, international Arab legal expert and Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry joined Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch for a short conversation at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies. Among the topics covered: Bahrain's response to the BICI recommendations, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immunity deal, a war crimes tribunal for Syria...and why Muammar al-Qaddafi's sex addiction will make it difficult to convict Saif al-Islam.
The United Nations should establish an investigation commission to collect evidence about war crimes in Syria to prepare the ground for any future investigation, leading Arab international law expert Cherif Bassiouni told Foreign Policy during a wide-ranging interview yesterday following his talk at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies [videos of both the interview and the talk will be posted shortly]. He warned that Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh should not count on his immunity deal holding up, discounted the ability of Libya's courts to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and blasted Egypt's post-revolutionary trials as focusing on flimsy, marginal cases which avoided dealing with systemic, institutionalized corruption.
Also, he explained that Moammar Qaddafi was a sex addict whose heavy use of Viagra badly affected his decision-making -- which could complicate the ICC's efforts to convict Saif al-Islam (FP's web editors wanted that to be the lead, for some reason).
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