Day: June 18, 2012

Impotent superpowers

The significance of today’s joint Obama/Putin call for democratic transition in Syria is, as usual, in what is not mentioned.  Neither the Russian arms shipments to the regime nor the Saudi and Qatari arms flowing to the opposition are mentioned.  Ditto the suspended UN monitoring mission.  There is no hint of intervention other than through the Annan  plan and the UN Security Council.  The Americans are essentially accepting the Russian emphasis on dialogue and peaceful means, while reiterating their hope for eventually democratic ends.

Hope is not a policy.  The question is whether something else lurks behind these words.  I doubt it.  Note the emphasis in the statement on the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran.  Note also the emphasis on supplying Afghanistan from the north.  Russia is vital to both.  Bucking Putin in Syria would not be smart if the higher priority is blocking Iran’s nuclear program from achieving “break out.”  So long as Pakistan is blocking the usual land routes into Afghanistan, Russia is vital to NATO supply lines.

The statement is silent on Egypt.  It appeals for North Korean implementation of a 2005 (sic) agreement.  The Middle East peace process statements it references are more recent, but no more effective.

There is very little else in the statement that would excite my interest.  I can’t imagine why Jackson-Vanik, legislation whose premises (non-market economy and restrictions on emigration) became obsolete years ago, is still in effect.  Russia in the World Trade Organization is clearly going to be better for the United States than Russia outside.  But I’ve got to give Putin and Obama extra credit for this:

This year we together celebrate the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross in California, which was founded by Russian settlers and underscores the historic ties between our countries.

Anodyne is not a policy either, unless you want to convey how impotent the former superpowers have become.

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Cemented or demented?

The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has conducted an autocoup (that’s a coup conducted by people already in power against another part of the governing establishment) in the past few days.  It has taken advantage of the Supreme Constitutional Court’s decision on the parliament to arrogate to itself legislative powers.  It had already asserted arbitrary powers to arrest and detain.

After the polls closed yesterday, it even issued a constitutional declaration giving itself broad powers, no matter who is elected president.  This is as clear an indication as any that Muslim Brotherhood (Freedom and Justice Party) candidate Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election, as his adherents have claimed.

The American press describes the army as “cementing” power.  That’s unquestionably what they are trying to do.  But it is unlikely to work.  No army would find it easy to run a country as big and as complicated as Egypt on its own.  The SCAF will discover quickly that it doesn’t want to deal with food subsidies, marital status laws, female genital mutilation and lots of other things that Egypt’s citizens think important.

It won’t be easy for the SCAF to govern, but it won’t be easy to back out either.  New parliamentary elections could bring the Islamists to power, again.  The backlash might even strengthen their position, which reached 48% of the parliamentary seats in the last polls.  SCAF will find itself in a tug-of-war with Morsi, who will have democratic legitimacy on his side.  Unless the army and the Brotherhood can come to terms, Egypt is in for a tumultuous time.

The role of the army in the Egyptian revolution has been problematic from the first.   It evicted Hosni Mubarak from power.  At every juncture since, the SCAF has sought to preserve its own power and interests, even as the people of Egypt demanded more freedom and control over the country’s destiny.  It would be unrealistic to expect the SCAF to change its behavior any time soon.

So the key question now is how the people of Egypt react.  Will they again take to the streets in overwhelming numbers to demand that the revolution continue?  Or will they prefer the promise of law and order to the risk of chaos?  Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will have an important role in this difficult choice.  Will they seek, despite the odds against it, a pact with the army, or will they throw their organizational talents into street demonstrations against it, hoping to improve the terms of the bargain or even chase the SCAF from power?

It is yet to be seen whether the military has cemented power, or has deluded itself so thoroughly that its moves will be seen one day as demented.

PS: I can’t imagine anyone will ever find this here, but just in case you are someone who missed it, here is Jon Stewart’s interview with Egyptian heart surgeon/comedian Bassem Youssef:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook


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