Ibrahim on monitors, Abdo on Islamists
Wednesday, October 12,2005 00:00
By Issandr El Amrani

Ibrahim on monitors, Abdo on Islamists

A few days ago Saad Eddin Ibrahim had a new op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he says the time is ripe for international monitors.

Many of the opposition parties that once went along with the Mubarak regime in opposing international election monitoring are now loudly insisting on it for the forthcoming November parliamentary elections. This is a major development in the evolution of Egyptian political culture, long replete with xenophobia and conspiracy theories about the outside world. Even the most anti-American leftists are demanding to know where President Bush and the United States stand vis-à-vis this sham presidential election. Will the West be similarly oblivious to the expected travesties in the parliamentary elections?

. . .

One issue Mubarak is still adamant about, and hence made no campaign promises on, is his refusal to legalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamic movement. Believed to be the strongest opposition bloc, the Brotherhood has long enjoyed a de facto popular legitimacy. During the presidential campaign, nearly all the opposition parties courted it by pledging to work for legalization of the party. Increasingly, it looks as if all of Egypt’s political class except Mubarak’s party has come around to this position. Thus, instead of Mubarak’s isolating the Muslim Brotherhood, it has managed to isolate him. To consolidate its moral gains and prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood has joined the chorus calling for international election monitoring in November.

This is a time of tremendous ferment in Egypt. It demands that the United States and the rest of the world stay vigilant and bear witness to Egyptian popular demands. If it is too much to expect outright support for the fledgling dissident movement, there should at least be an effort to hold Mubarak accountable for the promises he made.

It still looks as though the regime is doing everything it can to avoid having international monitors. And right now it looks like it will get its way. There were apparently no strong pressure on having monitors before the presidential election (despite Condi Rice’s Cairo speech) and there is little so far, although Karen Hughes probably raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit last week and might raise it again in her upcoming trip. But the election is a month and a half away and there has not been, to my knowledge, a serious offer by an international election monitoring agency (say, Jimmy Carter’s people or the OSCE or the UN). Perhaps things don’t work that way; but in any case the Egyptians will fight it even if it comes. In a recent interview in Al Gomhouriya, presidential advisor Osama Al Baz once again stressed that monitors are out of the question. One interesting thing in Ibrahim’s op-ed, though, is that it’s true that public opinion towards international monitoring is changing. The regime’s absurd claim that it would infringe on national sovereignty is not being swallowed. When I was following Ayman Nour on the campaign trail a few weeks ago, he told me that one of the most surprising thing was that a lot of his supporters across the country were in favor of monitors–just ordinary people who I guess realize that it’s good enough for dozens of countries across the world, it’s probably good enough for Egypt.

Anyway, Ibrahim is actually holding a meeting at this very moment at the Ibn Kahldiun Center to draw up support for 6,000 election observers to take part in the parliamentary elections. Good luck to him.

Elsewhere (and earlier) in the Washington Post (surely by now the main forum in the American mainstream media for discussions of Egypt), Geneive Adbo had a bizarre column on Islamists:

But the far more significant outcome of the presidential election is that over the last year, as Egyptians anxiously anticipated election day, a strong and significant opposition movement against Mubarak went public. And who is the backbone of this opposition movement? The Islamists. For the first time since the 1970s, thousands of Egyptians of all political and religious persuasions joined forces in street protests, demanding political reform and an end to the regime. While a fractured opposition had operated behind the scenes for years, this election inspired secularists, leftists and, most of all, Islamists to take the unprecedented step of coordinating their various campaigns against Mubarak’s expected victory.

Er… no. It’s not Islamists that were behind the rise of the Kifaya movement, but the leftists. This is probably something that disturbs some Americans who don’t like the anti-globalization, anti-US ideology that is partly what fuels Kifaya. But the Islamists–the Muslim Brotherhood at least–officially supported Mubarak when its Supreme Guide endorsed him back in March. That decision has not been annulled despite later statements by the Guide that Brothers could vote for who they wanted. Moreover, Abdo suggests that the Wasat party and the Brotherhood are one and the same, although these is clearly a break in ideology between the two, even if it was started in part by former Brothers.

I suppose Abdo is still as attached to the alarmist thesis of her late 1990s book, but one wonders if she’s actually been in Egypt lately.

P.S. Meant to post this days ago, but between a nasty cold and being busy with work, I didn’t get a chance to. Same goes for a few others posts lately.

7 Responses to “Ibrahim on monitors, Abdo on Islamists”

  1. Janice Says:

    I think that you can not characterize Abdo as an example of Americans preferring to highlight islamists over the “anti-Americanism” of the Kefaya, etc opposition. She is hardly a voice of the mainstream, or even of the current administration perspective.
    And while the cairo kefaya, et. al., opposition may certainly have an anti-american cast, in many ways they are certainly more similar to the Americans than the islamists - right? certainly similar views on individual rights, rule of law, secular state, etc. Perhaps it would be better to characterize their anti-americanism as anti-administration, and fine, anti-americanist in the sense of not wanting to buy the enitre package of the consumer culture (yecch, look at that, even my metaphors are colonized) but that would let them mix pretty comfortably with a good portion of the American public.

    A big issue I think here is whether ABdo might not be right about the opposition outside of CAiro> CErtainly there is one kind of oppostion movement here, pursuing lawsuits and demonstrations, and int’l attention, but that is not the entire scope of national discontent with Mubarak. I am not necessarily talking about the muslim brotherhood’s current official position, but about popular islamism. Outside of Cairo the islamist discontent with the regime seems far more prevalent than the kefaya type opposition. thoughts?

  2. Issandr El Amrani Says:

    Outside of Cairo the islamist discontent with the regime seems far more prevalent than the kefaya type opposition.

    Absolutely true. In fact the biggest demonstrations of the past few years have been in cities like Mansoura, Alexandria, Zagazig and others. And they have tended to be run by Islamists, especially Islamist student movements at provincial universities, rather than secularists. This tends to go under-covered in foreign coverage of Egypt, because journalists are lazy and rarely stray outside of Cairo. But frankly it’s also under-covered in Arabic, probably for the same reasons.

    I will not agree with you on Kifaya having more in common with Americans (or at least the “red” America that the current administration represents). Kifaya’s position in the ideological spectrum is one that is similar to many Europeans’ point of view, but this is a very minority opinion in America. Americans these days are rather ambivalent aboutthe secular state (see school prayers, “intelligent design,” the 10-commandments-in-courts-debate). And I would argue that Islamists are as dedicated to the rule of law as anyone in Kifaya. As for individual rights, the picture is more muddled. No groups’ rights have been more under attack in Egypt than the Islamists. On the other hand, they do have views on religious choice that would curtail certain individual rights. But we don’t have to assume that Egypt with Islamists in power (hopefully under a democratic system where they could lose it) would necessarily be as repressive as the Ayatollahs’ Iran.

  3. praktike Says:

    OK, but the weird thing is that Abdo seemed to be talking about specific demonstrations that have gone on this past year, and AFAIK it’s not an accurate characterization to say that the backbone of *those* demonstrations has been the Islamists. So when I read this I was wondering what news she’s been reading.

  4. Atle MK Says:

    Isn’t it easier to compare (if that is needed) Kefaya with the anti-globalization movement that is seen across the globe, rather than specifically comparing them to Americans? Hence, like most of the anti-glob movement (or I woul term it the anti-capitalist movement for academic and ideological reasons).

    As far as I’ve understood AGEG, the popular committees etc. (and a lot of other groups and people I am not familiar with) more or less crescended into Kefaya (please correct me if I am wrong). This would follow a patter that emerged from the mid-80s to Seattle 99 (by way of esp. Birmingham in 1998) when all these diverse groups, individuals, NGOs etc. became the anti-capitalist movement (of course this is historical simplification).

    I guess my point is that it is unsatisfactory to compare it to European or American views. Why not compare them to Venezuelans or Bolivians, or Indians and South Africans?

  5. Issandr El Amrani Says:

    We should not lose sight of the main, and specifically Egyptian, grievances of the groups that have coalesced around the Kifaya slogan. Their main aim is preventing the re-election of Mubarak (I guess now they’re just against him more generally) and the Gamal’s inheritance of power. At least that’s what they’re officially about.

    But if you look at the history of the movement that eventually grew into Kifaya, it basically comes from the far-left (revolutionary socialists, Egyptian Communist Party and the more outspoken members of the traditional left), lefty Islamism, labor associations, and most importantly (I would argue) the movement that grew out of the solidarity groups that campaigned for Palestinians in 2001-2003 and Iraq in 2003. AGEG (the Anti-Globalization Egyptian Group) is one of these movements, but one that has little real clout among the larger left (although arguably it is bringing the most novel ideas and is slowly changing the ideological outlook of the paleo-left and young activists in particular.) The single-issue popular committees (lagan shaabia, singular lagna shaabia) were also very important in this regard.

    I’m not sure what Kifaya is comparable to, really… it’s an interesting idea. The thing with Kifaya is that at times it’s a bit difficult to see what it’s about apart from being against Mubarak. Kifaya has not come out against globalization as far as I know, so it’s a bit tough to say that it is comparable to the global anti-globalization movement. But it could still evolve into something like that, especially in a post-Mubarak era.

    And Prak, yes I do think she’s thinking about Kifaya and not the other demos. Very strange.

  6. Ahmed Fathy Says:

    who said that Muslim Brotherhood supported Mubarak?

  7. Issandr El Amrani Says:

    In February 2005, Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef issued a statement saying he accepted the authority of Hosni Mubarak. A quick Google search yielded this article, by one of Egypt’s top expert on the Brotherhood, explaining the move as one that has generated much debate inside the movement. I can try and find more sources on this, if you like.

http://ikhwanweb.com