SISI’S EGYPT: REPRESSION AT A CROSSROADS

By Matt M. Joye
Senior Editor

In Egypt, it remains a very good thing to be a general. Even the protestors who occupied Tahrir Square and brought down the former general-turned-dictator Hosni Mubarak courted the support of the army. Now, after just over a year of rule by President Mohamed Morsi, the coup that unseated him has placed another former general in the presidential palace. Indeed, since the toppling of the monarchy in 1952, Morsi remains the only civilian elected to Egypt’s highest office. Yet despite the clamoring of average Egyptians for a return to stability, the landslide electoral victory of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not been a harbinger of democratic transition. It may in fact signal a dark road ahead for the country that cast off a 30-year despot less than four years ago.

Much has transpired since the momentous swell of popular protest and revolution—known collectively as the Arab Spring—began in Tunisia on Dec. 18, 2010, and exploded onto the world stage. Indeed, even now its imprint extends from the current Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, to the unseating of President Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso after 27 years of rule, and more ominously in the continuing civil wars in Ukraine and Syria. Nowhere became more synonymous with this global movement than Egypt: hundreds of thousands gathered in the streets of Cairo, centered on the iconic Tahrir Square, to demand the ouster of President Mubarak. In the end, after withstanding a brutal and deadly crackdown, they remained; gone was the former general who had ruled the country for almost 30 years.

The celebration of that victory would certainly have been tempered if protestors had known three years later another former general would occupy the presidential palace. Elected with 96.1% of the vote, President Sisi seemed to gain some form of democratic legitimacy after leading the coup that deposed President Morsi in July 2013. In one sense it ended an aberration: the military has been the dominant institution in Egypt since at least the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952. After being sidelined for a year by the electoral victory of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood—the only other viable organized political institution in Egypt—it would appear the generals have escaped banishment to the barracks and returned to the field, albeit with somewhat bruised egos. [1]

Indeed Sisi’s ascension has taken on aspects of a jilted institution determined to re-establish the power and prestige of a group that has long dominated the Egyptian state. At times this has bordered on the bizarre. Sisi and the regime have advanced a cult of personality built around the president as Egypt’s savior. The Egyptian media coverage of his recent United Nations speech portrayed a triumphant and overwhelming response by the assembly to his address; the New York Times version was less glowing, noting the applause came almost exclusively from his entourage. Egypt’s private media outlets have vowed to observe a self-imposed gag order on criticism of his government. One satellite network even stated, “…freedom of expression cannot ever justify ridicule of the Egyptian Army’s morale.” After the United States briefly suspended some military aid to Egypt, US Secretary of State John Kerry was subjected to security wands on visiting the presidential palace—unusual for a visiting dignitary. In the midst of protests in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs even issued a statement advising the US to undertake “respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”

Obviously at times it pays to have a short memory. The violent attack on Pro-Morsi demonstrations by the military in the aftermath of his overthrow killed over eight hundred people, according to Human Rights Watch, and was unlikely to have occurred without at least tacit approval from Sisi: he was in charge of the military and deputy prime minister at the time. The Muslim Brotherhood is now banned as a “terrorist” organization, which has swept up many non-Brotherhood supporters in the subsequent raids. Perhaps most ironic, the leader who has only risen to power because of a series of protests now bans demonstrations of more than ten people without a special permit, and these are hard to procure.

Foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations, under the guise that they provide a conduit for foreign interference, have also faced new restrictions. NGOs that are based in Egypt will now need the approval of the government before accepting any foreign funding. When HRC tried to deliver its findings on the Rabaa Square massacre, its representatives were turned away at the airport and prevented from even entering the country: this was the first time HRC had been denied entrance to Egypt. Former US President Jimmy Carter’s NGO, which promotes free elections and human rights, has already withdrawn, with Carter citing an environment so antithetical to democracy that it “could be extremely difficult, and possibly dangerous, for critics of the regime” to remain.

Two Egyptian institutions that were critical to the development of resistance and opposition to Mubarak were universities and mosques. Both have been targeted by repressive government measures. Muslim imams and preachers must now have approval from the government, and many smaller houses of worship have been closed. At Friday prayers, every preacher must deliver the same sermon. Universities, once a space free from police and thus safe to demonstrate after the restrictions, have been rocked by arrests and violence now that security forces have returned. Now long lines and searches are mandatory just to enter campus, staff may be fired for “inciting” demonstrations, and the head of each university is appointed by the president under new restrictive policies. A wave of preemptive arrests and protests has resulted.

In the aftermath of an attack by militants in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 24 that left more than 30 soldiers dead, the Egyptian Army bulldozed hundreds of houses to create a buffer at the Gaza border—initially giving only 24 hours advance notice—and leaving thousands homeless. The Sinai has long been a battleground between militants and the Egyptian military. But the attack has upped the ante, as the military had claimed until now it was winning the war against the insurgents. The Egyptian government has responded with additional repressive measures. One such policy, which hands prosecution for violations of public utilities over to military courts, is broad enough that marches on public roads could fall within the new jurisdiction.

Under even the most enlightened leadership, Egypt faces numerous challenges that would test the functionality of the state. Economic pressures are almost at a breaking point, with the collapse of the tourism industry, the decline of export revenues as gas and oil production decline, and a bloated bureaucracy and huge debts that siphon off much of its budget. Recent cuts in fuel subsidies, which caused gas prices to spike by 80 percent while electricity costs also rose, are not popular and thus speak to the extent of the crisis. The violence in the Sinai is unlikely to diminish in the near future. The specter of a Muslim Brotherhood re-emergence from the shadows is equal parts convenient spook and real fear in the minds of military brass.

Yet in the overwhelming crackdown on any entity that remotely threatens the rule of the military, there are potential seeds of opposition sown. Public support of the military has fallen dramatically, and the underpinning of earlier support—the wish for a return of stability after the chaos of the revolution and the Morsi regime—largely hinges on whether Sisi can deliver both stability and the economic growth that might accompany it. The removal of fuel subsidies was in part directed at the IMF, which is currently withholding a $4.8 billion loan critical for debt payments. Some investment has returned, but Sisi has not shed the state-centric economic model of old. Egypt has a history of cronyism based on state protections for favored industries: the military has often been the biggest beneficiary of state-directed economic ventures (Mubarak was personally connected to at least 469 businesses). It is possible that the stability of a Sisi regime will restore the stability necessary for economic growth and investment, which might be the biggest panacea for the ills of Egyptians.

There is a more dire option. With so much pressure on every avenue of dissent and political organization, overwhelming repression might produce far more determined—and risk-adverse—adversaries. The designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is no doubt politically expedient, but the wider net of oppression might alienate much larger segments of the population. Cracking down on universities, mosques, demonstrations and the like leaves little room for opposition within orthodox political channels. The domestic situation also limits the support that Egypt can garner from its longstanding allies, namely the US. The attempts by Sisi to foster closer ties with Russia stem in part from the hesitancy the US showed—read temporary suspension of military aid—after the coup that brought him to power. Egypt needs to address its structural deficiencies and attract investment to deliver on the growth that is the justification for its authoritarian rule—trading freedoms for the sake of stability. If Sisi cannot deliver an economy that at least partially fulfills the promises of the revolution and coup, it may take all of the qualities of the general in him to hold onto power. For those who occupied Tahrir Square four years ago, this might seem all too familiar.

1. Bahgat, Gawdat and Robert Sharp. “Prospects for a New US Strategic Orientation in the Middle East.” Mediterranean Quarterly 25.3 (2014): 27-39. Project MUSE. Web. Oct. 29, 2014.

Photo by EEAS

THE STRUGGLE FOR RIGHTS WITHIN UGANDA’S LGBT COMMUNITY: AN AMERICAN DEBATE RELOCATED

by Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

In late 2009, the Ugandan parliament introduced a bill that would allow life imprisonment of homosexuals, and in some instances, the death penalty. Though the bill expired after having been tabled for two years, the Ugandan parliament passed a similar bill in late 2013. [1] President Yoweri Museveni, after some hesitation, signed the bill into law in early 2014. [2] Though it may appear as if the president and parliament were just acting to meet the demands of the Ugandan majority, there is much more going on in the background. In the battle over LGBT rights in Uganda, those in favor of the bill have received support from American evangelical missionaries. On the other side of the debate, those against the bill have heard support from international groups and individuals, including U.S. President Barack Obama. Indeed, it appears that this is not simply Uganda’s fight, but also represents an international “spillover” effect from the ongoing debate over LGBT rights in the United States.

Prior to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in 2009, homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda. The point of the bill was to go one step further and make “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death. [3] “Aggravated homosexuality” is defined as repeated homosexual behavior and/or homosexual behavior by people who are HIV positive. [4] To many, this came as an extreme addition to an already draconian set of laws. The law outlawing homosexuality had been in place for nearly a century, so the sudden necessity of a new law suggests it is politically motivated; the old law is still an effective discriminatory instrument. A window into those considerations might be found in the fact that Minister of Parliament David Bahati, before introducing the bill, attended a meeting with evangelicals from the United States who promote converting homosexuals to heterosexuality through prayer. [5] The timing was symbolic in that Bahati, when proposing the bill, chose to highlight a link between American evangelical influence and the bill, albeit indirectly.

American voices also spoke against the legislation. Both Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were quick to warn the Ugandan parliament against passing the bill. Furthermore, Congress reacted by passing a resolution to advise Uganda and other countries against taking such extreme action against the homosexual community. [6] If stern words from the American government were not enough to cause hesitation within the Ugandan leadership, others have raised the issue that the legislation might conflict with the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows participating countries to receive preferential access to U.S. markets. [7] It then became a question of whether or not Uganda wanted to risk its preferential economic status in order to further suppress the rights of homosexuals. Ultimately, those speaking against the legislation succeeded in suppressing the bill long enough so that it expired. This, however, did not prevent increased homophobia in the country, nor did it prevent the resurgence of the bill in 2013.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in 2013 is very similar to the 2009 bill, though the punishment of execution was taken out, possibly in response to the outrage of international organizations. Despite the changes, the bill met similar opposition. [8] Secretary of State John Kerry compared the law to apartheid, while the World Bank withheld a $90 million loan that would have gone towards improving health in Uganda. [9] With these and other sanctions facing the nation, it would seem that the Ugandan parliament would have acted quickly to vote the bill down. This assumption seemed especially valid in light of a change of heart on the part of some of the American evangelicals. When the second version of the bill surfaced and gained traction, evangelical groups in the U.S. claimed they neither played a role in influencing the passing of the bill nor support its harsh punishments. [10] Not everyone abandoned their support for the old position: pastor Scott Lively for instance, who gained support for the bill in 2009 continued to openly support the bill. [11] At the same time, Bryan Fischer from the American Family Association mistakenly celebrated the passing of the bill in 2012 as a chance for the U.S. to do the same. [12] That is, Fischer saw Uganda’s progress against the LGBT community as an example of what the U.S. could achieve. With such contradicting opinions from evangelical groups, and international groups taking a strict stance against the bill, it is surprising that the bill passed in December of 2013. In the end, it was left to President Museveni to decide the fate of the bill. At first, he was hesitant because a quorum was not present when the vote on the bill occurred; eventually he agreed to sign the bill into law if he could be offered proof that homosexuality was not genetic. [13] After consulting a committee of scientists, Museveni signed the bill. He sent a letter to President Obama stating, “Their unanimous conclusion was that homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioral and not genetic. It was learnt and could be unlearnt.” [14] The Anti-Homosexuality bill became law, yet neither parliament nor the Ugandan people offered any major opposition. Instead, the law seemed to reflect the will of the country’s Christian majority.

Uganda’s population is 85% Christian, which gives power to religious officials in shaping public opinion, especially on an issue concerning sexuality. [15] It is not surprising that religious beliefs openly overlap with politics and that a majority then is in favor of limiting the rights of homosexuals. It is quite possible the evangelicals used this to their advantage in supporting the bill. Evangelicals spread their message largely through broadcasting networks that air mostly religious programming. This programming is a mixture of moderate and more conservative belief structures that, to the audience, are nearly indistinguishable. Evangelicals use these and other networks to gain funds, which then go into social and religious programs as well as toward reinforcing the viewpoints of these groups. [16] This task is made easy by the fact that the majority is already Christian. Why would parliament or the president refuse passage of the bill when the Christian majority wants it? Lydia Boyd makes the argument that the people are not only in favor of the bill because of religious beliefs. Boyd states that it is also because of a Ugandan mentality that promotes respectability and limits freedom based on the idea that too much independence causes problems within society. [17] Though it is not clear whether it is religious beliefs or Ugandan mentality that is more prominent in shaping opinion against homosexuals, the two have enough overlap to help explain this common opinion. This opinion, regardless of the law, is a major factor in reducing the social acceptance of the homosexual community. When the law passed, a Ugandan tabloid responded by listing the names of 200 people it believed were homosexual. This caused Ugandans to act out violently against those listed, as well as other members of the Ugandan LGBT community. [18] Even when the 2009 version was tabled, some Ugandans denounced the homosexual community, declaring them sub-human, threats to children, and “un-African.” [19] These declarations testify to the fear and hate Ugandans directed towards homosexuals, the sentiment providing a reason for the bill itself, and its passage providing reassurance for the outraged. In passing the bill into law, parliament was only working to mitigate the fears of the majority of the people.

With the wants of the Ugandan people met, the question remains of the role of the United States in the debate over homosexuals in Uganda. Evangelical missionaries used religious and social values of the Ugandan people to promote and influence the passing of the bill, while the U.S. government appealed to Uganda’s existing trade agreements and need for aid. The fact that either of these groups played such a large role in Uganda’s debate is reminiscent of the debate over gay marriage in the U.S. The opposing sides are the same, but there are two main differences: the setting and the stakes. In the U.S., homosexuals were and are fighting for marriage equality. In Uganda, homosexuals were fighting to avoid life in prison. The outcomes, however, differ greatly. Before Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality bill, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA, moving in the exact opposite direction. Because of this, the U.S. has established a stronger platform to make similar advances on an international scale.

It is not unheard of that the United States has used the conflicts of other nations to promote its values, but it is still uncommon for the U.S. to take such a solid stance when LGBT rights are concerned. It was only relatively recently that Obama came out in favor of gay marriage and what’s more, Americans, regardless of political party, are increasingly likely to support marriage equality. The country is making steady progress to the extent that its message of equality is spilling beyond its borders. If the U.S. government keeps up its support for the LGBT community, its efforts, though against the will of the Ugandan people, may yet stand as a precedent to continue speaking out against countries that discriminate against and diminish the rights of LGBT communities.

Photo by Kaytee Riek

Notes

[1] Englander, Daniel. “Protecting the Human Rights of LGBT People in the Wake of Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2009.” Emory International Law Review. 25.3 (2011): 1263-1316.
[2] “New Anti-Homosexuality Laws Raise International Concerns.” Vax 12.2 (2014): 3.
[3] Ewins, Lucy Heenan. “Gross Violation: Why Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act Threatens Its Trade Benefits with the United States.” Boston College International & Comparative Law Review 34.1 (2011): 147-171.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “New Anti-Homosexuality Laws Raise International Concerns.” Vax 12.2 (2014): 3.
[9] Pulliam Bailey, Sarah. “Evangelical Leaders Decry Uganda’s Antigay Law.” Christian Century. 131.7 (2014): 16-17
[10] Ibid.
[11] “U.S. Evangelicals Played a Key Role in Uganda’s Notorious Anti-Gay Bill.” Church and State 67.4 (2014): 21
[12] Ibid.
[13] Dockerman, Eliana. “Ugandan President to Sign Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” Time.com (2014): 1
[14] “New Anti-Homosexuality Laws Raise International Concerns.” Vax 12.2 (2014): 3.
[15] “Listen, then Speak: Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill is Making Cross-Cultural Relations More Complex than Ever.” Christianity Today 54.2 (2010): 53.
[16] Kaoma, Kanya. “How US Clergy Brought Hate to Uganda.” Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 17.1 (2010): 20-23.
[17] Boyd, Lydia. “The Problem with Freedom: Homosexuality and Human Rights in Uganda.” Anthropological Quarterly 86.3 (2013): 697-724.
[18] “U.S. Evangelicals Played a Key Role in Uganda’s Notorious Anti-Gay Bill.” Church and State 67.4 (2014): 21
[19] Englander, Daniel. “Protecting the Human Rights of LGBT People in the Wake of Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2009.” Emory International Law Review. 25.3 (2011): 1263-1316.

DEBATING THE “UKRAINIAN PROBLEM”: WHAT SHOULD THE UNITED STATES DO? (PART II)


Following former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments on how to approach the “Ukrainian Problem,” two writers of Prospect Journal debate the merits of hard and soft power in dealing with Russia’s actions in Crimea. This is the second article in a two-part series. Part I can be viewed here.

By Patrick Johnson
Staff Writer

We really need to start trusting in international institutions. That’s what this debate ultimately comes down to. When Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticizes Obama for leaving a “power vacuum,” she cannot do so without simultaneously devaluing the international institutions that can fill that void. Rice’s speech critiquing the “American Withdrawal” is a typically hawkish attitude. She views the world in the Cold-War mindset: a zero-sum game that is won or lost on the basis of hard (read: military) power. Not only is this a flawed understanding of the Crimean situation, it is an archaic policy that will, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, drag us back to the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin, and every other world leader for that matter, does not view us as weak. Rather, he has a very nuanced understanding of American interests, of what we’ll fight over, and what we won’t. We won’t go to war for Crimea. Putin knows this, and operates according to Russian interests regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office. Remember, U. S. foreign policy has remained largely unchanged since World War II.

Nor is Obama by any measure a weak president. He has ordered 50 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Yes he has strengthened international alliances and focused on rebuilding American soft power, but these were measures necessitated by the policy catastrophes Rice herself helped to orchestrate. Not intervening in Syria, the go-to example of American “weakness” that war hawks embrace as proof of their claim, is actually a poor example. Intervening in Syria was never a clear case for U.S. military intervention, but a veritable quagmire, complicated by a very jumbled picture on the ground, and a host of conflicting regional parties and interests–not intervening was a demonstration of proper restraint and sheer prudence.

The reality is exactly the opposite of Rice’s view that this invasion is unprovoked. When the U.S.S.R fell, President Bush Senior promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. would not take advantage of Russian weakness, and that we would incorporate them into the international system. This proved false, and NATO has steadily expanded its membership right to the borders of Russia, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Now, like a caged animal, Russia is lashing out against expanding U.S. influence and strength.

Stop and listen to Putin’s speeches and this becomes immediately evident. Putin announced to a cheering crowd that he would no longer stand Western aggression. I’m not arguing that the Crimean seizure was legal or justified, but perhaps it was more reactionary to Western actions than Rice suggests.

Rice correctly points out that Ukrainian independence was guaranteed after 1990, when they voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons. Yet we should not be so callous as to deny Russia a sphere of influence, especially when we have had a sphere of influence that included the entire Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine. Independence and influence is simply a paradox in the 21st century with which states must learn to deal.

Rice uses the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia to illustrate her argument: the problem is, she gets it wrong. She uses the example as a case when Putin was aggressive, but vigorous American action rebuffed him. What a terrible example to offer. It shows that Putin was willing to invade even with Bush’s hawkish administration in power, and with a much larger military budget. Moreover, Putin was not entirely rebuffed. 1/5th of Georgian territory is still firmly in Russian control. The takeaway from this example should be that Russia is willing and able to control neighboring territory, regardless of who is president, or whether they project hard or soft power appropriately.

So let’s trust international institutions and soft power. Deny Russia a seat at the G8 summit, and form an international coalition (that includes China) to denounce these actions. Russia may not break over such measures, but it will bend. Invest energy in helping Kiev consolidate power in reforming the state in order to stabilize Ukraine’s currently tumultuous situation. And ultimately recognize that this situation does not herald the end of U.S. supremacy on the world stage or prove the existence of a power vacuum. It is the result of a defeated rival being continuously threatened, and now lashing out.

Putin’s actions should be vigorously resisted and, more critically, reversed. But so should Rice and her hardline critique. Her criticisms confuse the causes of the Crimean invasion and dilute American involvement. What’s worse, they threaten a return to Cold War policies. If Rice had her way, the defense budget would continue to expand, and America would police the world with a metallic fist. I challenge America to be smarter than every other superpower in world history. The U.S. must value international institutions that can solve global conflicts, just as it must figure out a way to operate and exert global influence independent of pure military strength. Otherwise, as new powers emerge, we may find ourselves with policies suited to 1914, not 2014.

Photo by poniblog