No Epiphany in Egypt

No Epiphany in Egypt

Democracy is not the right to have it your way. Nor does respect of human rights (yet) include suppression of oppressive religions. Egypt is achieving democracy; let it be.

It nearly makes me laugh when Americans warn of the “Islamic state” Egypt is destined at least for a while to become.

Admittedly, many of these warnings and concerns are from our far right, like the one cited above. More studied observers have recognized Egypt’s direction for a long time, and we aren’t suggesting nuclear rearmament.

David Schenker from one of Washington’s most respected think tanks on Arab events said in July “Egypt is an Islamic state.”

Numerous other scholars realized it even earlier. But University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne leads an aggressive faction of Bolshevik Revisionists the press is sucking up. In June Coyne said “Egypt is doomed” when Morsi was elected, then pitifully asked, “Is this what it’s about?”

Yes, as a matter of fact. It’s called democracy. Put in a way Coyne and others might well understand: It’s called The Right To Make The Wrong Decision.

It doesn’t take a history scholar to know that revolutions aren’t a simple few moments of bad guys being replaced by good guys. Every revolution of note, including our own, took lots of time to settle down.

Whether it was the Bolsheviks being ousted by the Leninists or Maximilien de Robespierre parsed by the guillotine, most revolutions are started by people who don’t get their way … at least for a very long time. Consider how long Chairman Mao was in power.

Yet night after night we get breathless reporting from our celebrity newspeople standing over Tahrir Square waiting to document Egypt’s inevitable situation just like the so-called reporters standing on Jersey’s sand beaches waiting to be slammed by Sandy.

We know already.

Or even my sanity retreats like the New York Times yelling, “The revolution in Egypt is in danger of being lost..”

Are we so steeped in our own rightness that we don’t even have the patience for a major social revolution to play itself out?

Egypt’s revolution isn’t going to be lost. It’s just going to take a while to reach any viable fruition and even longer to achieve the social graces we expect of our own mature democracy.

America should be proud of the restraint we maintain from spanking Iran, for example, or of the slow nudges we’ve been giving Burma. We dearly believe in our country and its liberal society, but we can’t drag the playground brat into our Christmas choir and expect her to sing lovely harmony.

It takes time.

Let it be.

Better Than Democracy

Better Than Democracy

What if they don’t want “freedom”? What if they want a benevolent dictator operating in a framework of Sharia law? Is such liberty to be denied?

The Egyptian diaspora begins voting on a proposed constitution Saturday. A week later, those in Egypt will vote and within two weeks Egypt will likely have a new constitution.

The proposed constitution looks a lot like the old one under Mubarak with one notable difference: the elected president is limited to two 4-year terms.

The powerful role of the military, the judicial process, the suppression of women (tantamount by notably saying nothing about them and referring to citizen rights as the “right of men” and founding law on Sharia), the legislative process and internal geopolitical map are all carbon copies of the Mubarak years.

In addition to the limited terms of an elected president, the effective control that current president Mursi has on the military actually seems greater than Mubarak’s.

Amnesty International who I support strongly is livid. In their article published last week they described with vengeance case by case of Tahrir Square protestors injured by tear gas canisters dated March 2012 and sold to Egyptian police by Americans.

The article ends, “One thing is certain: the protesters will not accept a return to rule by decree, or accept a constitution written by a committee that doesn’t speak for them.“

Is the filibuster more important than one-man, one-vote? What if the protesters are not the majority?

I don’t want to get too philosophical, but we are at least breaching philological meanings of democracy and it strikes me as remarkably parallel to Harry Reid’s current conversations about Senate rules.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other champions of human rights are unanimous that democracy is not as important as their own missions to protect basic human rights.

So that means that protecting basic human rights is more important than freedom, democracy or liberty, right? Do you ascribe to that?

I do: democracy is not always the best mechanism for achieving the most important goals of protecting human rights. And right now in Egypt, we have the greatest example I could ever have concocted to prove this.

Democracy brought both Hitler and Mussolini to power. It enshrined racism in America’s south for nearly a century. Democracy protected torture under Bush; it freed the thug Nixon; it allows even today Peronists to destroy Argentina.

And right now in front of our eyes democracy is crushing the marginal advances in human rights protections that Egypt has made the last generation.

Because that’s what the majority of Egyptians want. That’s the manifestation of democracy.

Are the majority of Egyptians bad? Let’s phrase that more acceptably: is what the majority of Egyptians feel they want as government bad?

Yes. Because, we say with arrogant displeasure, they are either too dumb and uneducated, too coopted by an oppressed civilization, or too immoral to protect human rights.

No! say the protestors in Tahrir Square and herein lies a great test of democracy. The liberals who wish to protect human rights in Egypt as in the U.S. may be in the majority, but they have never coalesced into succeeding well in a democratic system.

Some argue, now, that the incredibly fractured Mursi opposition will coalesce, because if they don’t, they’ll be crushed.

In America a similar argument has proceeded throughout my life regarding the many different directions and movements that have continually had difficulty coalescing into the Democratic Party. Maybe America’s democracy is mature enough that it works for us, today, from time to time.

But in Egypt? I don’t think so. The same self-destructive motive that governs any older American to vote Republican and diminish his rights under Medicare and Social Security, or for any woman to vote to promulgate law to govern her pregnancy, is identical to the majority of Egyptians today who are equally self-destructive, willing to sacrifice their basic free will for something else.

What else?

Probably security. Probably promises of economic advancement. Maybe just more cash.

It happens here, too.

Democracy is sloppy and as society moves into the instantaneous informational age that makes sneaky theory less long-lived, it may be out of date.

Human rights is more important than one-man, one-vote. Egypt does not seem to believe this. And so…

… are human rights so important that they should be protected from without? How far do we go and remain morally correct? Are we a global community first? Or do we dare to accept our brother’s immorality because there is something even more precious than human rights?

Self-determination. Because we are uncertain of the inviolability of our own morality? Because … we might be wrong?

Look Out! Peace & Prosperity!

Look Out! Peace & Prosperity!

Watch out! A period of political stability is looming, and with it economic stability. From South Africa to Kenya to Egypt and across the pond to the U.S. tranquility looms large for a while, perhaps the rest of the decade.

I guess it’s the end of the Great Recession. Like a patient recovering from a near life-threatening disease, the initial feeling of weakness is actually relaxation more than a loss of a power. The juices are strong, again, and confidence is returning..

The Arab Spring has settled into what extreme progressives like myself fear is ennui and may be, but whatever it is, nothing much more is going to change from what we see this morning. And coasting along for a while isn’t such a bad notion, really.

With all the potential turbulence in the Mideast, it struck me that Egypt’s Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, the current regime, was one of the first to congratulate President Obama on his reelection with unnecessary gusto:

The politically allied Ahram Online said that President Mursi “hailed” Obama for his reelection. In polispeak that’s pretty strong stuff. I think it means more than just don’t twist the $2 billion life line.

And there’s no question that if Obama’s policies in Iran don’t lead to positive movement, the errant child of Israel, the perfectly bilingual Netanhayu, could pull the trigger. But even he seemed remarkably humbled by recent events. Or maybe more correctly, the tiger’s been caged.

Whichever it is, the tension meter in the Israel/Iran war zone plummeted last week.

I think the area cooled in large part because of clever Mursi of Egypt. Mursi has all his life worked in the background and we criticized him on his democratic assumption of national political office for continuing to do so. But his messages are pretty consistent: no more war. Perhaps even heavy handed: no more protests.

Mursi is not want to restrict his ideology to The Nile. He wants peace in the whole area and he has begun to coalesce his Shia partners in a way that compliments western sanctions against Iran’s crazy Shiites. His efforts are truly masterful and little known because he prefers the shadows.

In South Africa I think the circus which has been its politics for the last decade or so is coming to an end. President Zuma’s long theater of the absurd comes under public review when the ANC convenes next month to decide if he should continue as leader.

It’s one thing to be a dancing bear, and quite another to chase the audience out of the tent. Zuma’s multiple wives (I think for PR purposes alone), his absurd pronouncements about AIDs, his annoying suits against critics and most recently, his gross mishandling of the country’s growing labor unrest has cooked his goose.

South Africa’s doing well, more so when compared to the west and less so when compared to nearer South America but sure enough that Zuma’s incredible even public graft is likely over. Watch the December conference carefully, but I think it will herald in a new, better and more stable political regime in South Africa.

And all pivots March 4 on Kenya, and I will be in Nairobi if briefly, and I expect to hear the olive thrushes not bazookas going off. It’s been a laborious often agonizing process as this remarkable country rereates itself from the devastation of its 2007 violence.

But recreated they have, and while Kenyan politics is forever unknown until the day it happens, the man in waiting to be the next President ever since his unimaginable concession five years ago of his legitimate election as President back then, will likely be Kenya’s next leader. And its first leader of the “New Era.”

New Era, indeed. In America we won’t slip off the fiscal cliff, or if we do it will be short-lived and not significant. This doesn’t mean not without drama. I heard this morning that Dancing With Stars is critically losing viewers, and my 7-1 Chicago Bears forgot last night how to play in the cold and sleet. We need drama in America, and I’m sure the fiscal cliff will step to the fore.

But some of the most radical thinkers in America before the election are remarkably sanguine if subdued right now. That means for the time being the fire’s gone. And maybe, that’s not so bad.

But when it’s all said and done, which will be in a very short time, we’ll all recognize that we were the patients who almost died but didn’t, and whose juices are now flowing stronger than ever.

Knight of Power

Knight of Power

Yesterday, Egypt crowned a new prince. There is nothing for us as secular outsiders to fear of a powerfully Islamic ruler but a lot for the subjects of this new Egyptian strongman to fear.

After yesterday’s palace shakeup Mohamed Morsi is Egypt’s most powerful man. Yesterday, he emasculated the two most powerful military men who have ruled Egypt since Mubarak stepped down. He replaced them with young Islamists in the military clearly now beholden to him. And he has eliminated at least for the time being any legislature that could challenge him.

What’s left?

Time. The progressives who started the revolution long ago fizzled out in the face of overwhelming Islamic democratic sentiment among voters. Rather than force issues of womens’ rights, habeus corpus, free speech and such, they chose to wait and see how oppressive Morsi and team would be to their progressive ideas.

So far there’s been no chance to rate him; the Big Boys have been fighting for the crown. We don’t know what jewels may have spilled out. But one thing is clear: Morsi is scaring to death Egyptian democrats.

Now that the crown is clearly upon Morsi’s head the world may soon know how draconian or — on the completely other hand — how Islamically permissive Morsi will be. Analysts have been delving into Morsi’s past for a clue.

His many years as a college professor in California give progressives hope. Yet I see a remarkable similarity to the young Muammar Gaddafi who carefully and systematically removed opponents as he patiently came to power in 1966-69.

Morsi, however, is no Gaddafi. The Libyan leader for all his narcissism and greed was for all practical purposes a moderate Islamist perhaps because he was a permissive and pretty immoral individual. Morsi is anything but: his Islamic purity is almost terrifyingly strong.

Morsi’s final blow to his opposition was to effectively sack the military strongman Hussein Tantawi yesterday. He did this by manipulating an effective military coup led by the younger, Islamist officers clearly allied to him. And he did it on the 23rd day of Ramadan, which the Koran labels as the “Night of Power.”

The respected Egyptian analyst, Issandr El Amrani, said immediately afterwards, “It is hard to believe [this] purely coincidental.”

Each night of Ramadan Morsi breaks his own highly publicized fast by a 5-minute radio broadcast that answers what are supposedly random call-in questions by everyday Egyptians. But the highly scripted and professionally edited segments are anything but random.

What progressive Egyptians fear most is that two popular ideologies, democracy and Islam, are in critical ways diametrically opposed. But the questions Morsi allows – quite contrary to the flattering NPR report cited above — are about how many bakeries exist and which potholes will be repaired first.

There is no mention of Egypt’s escalating crime, crumbling military in the troubled Sinai, increasing power outages, escalating unemployment or self-imploding stock exchange.

What seems clear to me is that these big, critical issues have been intentionally ignored while the fog slowly lifted from the palace.

Well, the sky is crystal clear today. There is one man in power. He controls the military. And despite earlier popular attempts to recreate a legislature, he has said that Parliament will not reconvene. Since Egypt’s judiciary is essentially a military creation, this means today that Morsi is president, lawmaker and judge.

Some kings are good. Some kings are bad.

Jack Daniels not Withstanding

Jack Daniels not Withstanding

So far, so good. The outstanding question about Egypt remains how extremely Islam doctrine will be woven into the new society. And we aren’t going to know that for a very long time.

When my wife guided a group of intrepid Americans to Egypt at the start of this year, she heard first hand presumptions from local Egyptians that tourism was incidental to most of their hopes and inspirations, especially to those held by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Tourists will have to adapt or not come,” a pessimistic tour official told her, insisting that the new Egypt could choose to ban alcohol and inappropriate dress, two essentials of most tourists.

There are few national leaders whose surname is spelled so many different ways as Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader elected as Egypt’s first democratic president this weekend.

This is because few have bothered to translate it out of Arabic until yesterday, when his election was final. Arabic translations are transliterations. It will take a while for the English-speaking dominated world to agree on Morsi, Morsy or Mursi; Mohamed, Mohammed or Muhamed.

Perhaps, he’ll tell us what to do, and that’s been the problem until now. Senator Kerry has made two stealth visits to Egypt this year both times reportedly to talk to Morsi. The results of those meetings have been as unrevealing as the Brotherhood itself.

The Brotherhood has kept quiet counsel not just since the revolution but for the decades previously under Mubarak. They learned how to survive an oppressive regime by keeping quiet.

But there is little question what the most vocal of their supporters want – like the young student who spoke to my wife in January. They want a strict Islamist society, sharia law, abrogated treaties with Israel and Jordan and renewed ties with Iran.

But frankly I don’t think this is what Morsi wants. Extremists are not stealthy. The many decades that the Brotherhood matured under Mubarak tempered it. Morsi is a Ph.D scientist (engineering) who held a faculty position in the California State University system for three years. Two of his five children were born in California and are U.S. citizens.

He taught at Northridge in California, which to be sure is an area of extreme religions. So I don’t doubt his dedication to his own religion. And his veiled wife who has never appeared publicly with her husband allows herself to be characterized as “active in the Brotherhood.”

Well, Ann Romney is active in the Republican Party.

There are many of us good ole American liberals who believe the Israeli power grid needs radical redesign. Many liberals such as myself believe that Iran will change more quickly the more it’s left alone. And who among us will denounce campaigns to cleanse corruption?

If these are the issues that Americans most fear then we should fear Morsi. And if tourists are unwilling to save a bit of money by forfeiting evening wine, I wonder how awe struck the Karnak Temple would make them, anyway.

The methodical, unextreme way the Brotherhood has come to power in Egypt presages no quick, clear indication of their vision for a future Egypt. It reflects only their dogged struggle for power. But if Morsi’s cliched announcement that he is now the “president of all the peoples of Eypgt” is to be believed, I think the cruise ships on the Nile will be sold out in a couple years.

Jack Daniels not withstanding.

From the outside looking in we learn that democracy does not always achieve our preferences yet while hardly discounting our ideals. Now if we could only achieve that prescience from within.

Wudst Time Just Move On

Wudst Time Just Move On

Yesterday I listened painfully to a brilliant African jurist try so hard not to be condescending to a rabid American academic who characterized himself as a “strict constitutionalist.” Some Americans are so stuck in the past. We just can’t see the world whipping past us leaving us in history’s dusts.

So what does one do when in an unusual situation you’re unexpectedly driving across the country on a workday? Listen to NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and the program yesterday afternoon was fabulous: “Should the U.S. Constitution Be An International Model?”

According to the host, Neil Cohen, the program evolved from the tremendous criticism from the right of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg’s Cairo interview recently where she dared to suggest Egyptians might want to consider other alternatives to the U.S. Constitution when writing their own new one. (After the first two minutes in Arabic, the interview changes to English, stick with it.)

As Slate.Com’s David Weigel posted, the interview “disturbed the balance of the universe.” (The onslaught of rightest invective was so intense there are concerns Congress may try to impeach Ginsburg.)

Headling yesterday’s NPR program was Cape Town professor, Christina Murray. Murray was instrumental in designing the South African and Kenyan constitutions. She was among an exclusive group of global “experts” hired by both countries to assist each in creating a modern form of government.

I would have loved to have listened to Murray and those of similar learned dispositions (like Yale prof Akhil Reed Amar who was also on) talk forever about what I’ve come to realize are two of the world’s newest and now best constitutions. Then perhaps a week later we could start discussing the process of how experts like them were chosen, what motivated the revolutionaries in each country, etc.

But that’s not America, today. Media like NPR feel (under the heavy boot of Congressional funding) a national responsibility to impede intellectual development by giving equal air time to the ignorant. The result is always … nothing but further honing of irreconcilable first principles. Tiring and trite.

The vast majority of intellects studying government systems, today, understand that different cultures emerging in a new world where the ability to protect unique heritages and folkways is at last secure, will have different needs. Like Kenya and South Africa.

The vast majority of intellects studying politics, today, recognize that just as we moved from the diode to the transistor to the computer chip in a mere quarter century, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with altering a bit rules of governance first thought up in 1797.

Yet NPR’s foil to reality on the show, Roger Pilon of the ultra rightest CATO Institute, hogged air time to say the same thing again and again: Raw American 18th century democracy is primae facie the best form of self-governance because the only necessary social objective is to have as little government as possible.

What does a professor say in response to such immature, tautological hogwash? It causes pauses, and that wastes more time. And it transformed Prof Amar into someone who sounded like he was explaining to a four-year old why it was OK that the robin gobbled up the worm.

We’ve got to move on, folks. Murray and Amar and virtually all but one of the callers knew this. The 30+ rights enshrined in the Kenyan constitution offended Pilon who explained he was pretty offended by several of our own Bill of Rights, because “we really don’t need them” arguing that “freedom” means we have “infinite rights” anyway.

I need a plaster. But please, click on the link above and listen to the show. You can turn down the volume when old man Pilon talks.

So kudus to NPR for bringing on Murray, who I hope some day will be nominated for a Nobel Prize. She’s still young and vibrant, and her body of work is exceptional. The constitutions of Kenya and South Africa will be the models for future governments well through this century.

And if we can just get beyond the sludge of our own intransigent ignorance, perhaps even for us.

An Incredible Production!

An Incredible Production!

We’ve got another hit musical in the making: nuclear war over Tehran, American righties swinging from Egyptian guillotines, evil ladies wresting control of revolutions. Time to buy your season ticket.

The pointers in north Africa are swinging towards war: Egypt’s predictable predicament with the West cocks Israel’s war machine. This isn’t good.

Egypt’s prosecution of a number of Western NGOs allegedly for funding “destabilization” is the trigger. What? A revolution isn’t exactly stable. The notion that outside groups promote revolution at the peril of revolution is nonsensical.

Americans especially don’t understand revolution, not even their own distant one. Framing all regime changes in the history of our own relatively simple revolution more than two centuries is a mistake. We tend to think there are very few outcomes of a revolution: the good or the bad.

Only recently did American schoolbooks talk about the loyalists that supported the King. The idea that neighbors and friends and even relatives might have opposed the outcome at some earlier point doesn’t register. Too complicated.

But just reschedule your entertainment to include a few popular musicals like Les Miserables or Evita. A revolution unleashes all sorts of competing forces and until a lasting and dominant one prevails, all sorts of messes occur. Anything can happen.

In Egypt few were talking to the Muslim Brotherhood as it systematically garnered more and more control of the situation. Last year it was only al-Jazeera that early on regularly interviewed and reported on the Brotherhood. Barring any major disruption, the Brotherhood will soon become Egypt’s ruling force.

The 19 NGOs under prosecution are mostly American but also include one important German organization, and they’ve all been in Egypt for years. Some of the higher profile Americans, including the son of one of Obama’s cabinet secretaries, has taken sanctuary inside the American embassy. If their trial proceeds too far I can imagine SEALs attempting a rescue of those currently taking sanctuary in the American embassy in Cairo. Flashbacks to the Iranian revolution.

“The prosecution could hardly have been better designed to provoke an American backlash,” the New York Times writes this morning.

Situations like this are rarely logical, but they are predictable. I’m not suggesting that we should not have aggressively supported the Egyptian revolution, but perhaps this gives you a greater insight into why Russia and China want to try to screw a Syrian genie back into the bottle.

Societies like theirs are poorly prepared for the unprepared. In that competition, America wins the gold. And our unprepared for mistakes rattle the whole planet: CDS, anyone? Gambles sometimes lose.

In brilliantly reporting this morning NPR discovered that the person behind the Egyptian prosecutions is a woman holdover from the Mubarak regime, who apparently always distrusted Americans.

A revolution allows these types of sleeper ideologues to emerge and flourish. Imagine what chaos might ensue if Egypt’s military tries to interfere.

Yet Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy seems poised to stop Egyptian aid if the trials proceed.

Add to this fluid situation a pinch of Iranian nuclear power, an obsessively conservative Israeli regime and an American election and you have all the ingredients for a major war. A century from now, perhaps it will be the most popular musical on Broadway.

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Top Ten 2011 Africa Stories

Twevolution, the Arab Spring [by Twitter] is universally considered the most important story of the year, much less just in Africa. But I believe the Kenyan invasion of Somalia will have as lasting an effect on Africa, so I’ve considered them both Number One.

1A: KENYA INVADES SOMALIA
On October 18 Kenya invaded Somalia, where 4-5,000 of its troops remain today. Provoked by several kidnapings and other fighting in and around the rapidly growing refugee camp of Dadaab, the impression given at the time was that Kenyans had “just had enough” of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorism group in The Horn which at the time controlled approximately the southern third of Somalia. Later on, however, it became apparent that the invasion had been in the works for some time.

At the beginning of the invasion the Kenyan command announced its objective was the port city of Kismayo. To date that hasn’t happened. Aided by American drones and intelligence, and by French intelligence and naval warships, an assessment was made early on that the battle for Kismayo would be much harder than the Kenyans first assumed, and the strategy was reduced to laying siege.

That continues and remarkably, might be working. Call it what you will, but the Kenyan restraint managed to gain the support of a number of other African nations, and Kenya is now theoretically but a part of the larger African Union peacekeeping force which has been in Somali for 8 years. Moreover, the capital of Mogadishu has been pretty much secured, a task the previous peace keepers had been unable to do for 8 years.

The invasion costs Kenya dearly. The Kenyan shilling has lost about a third of its value, there are food shortages nationwide, about a half dozen terrorist attacks in retribution have occurred killing and wounding scores of people (2 in Nairobi city) and tourism – its principal source of foreign reserves – lingers around a third of what it would otherwise be had there be no invasion.

At first I considered this was just another failed “war against terrorism” albeit in this case the avowed terrorists controlled the country right next door. Moreover, I saw it as basically a proxy war by France and the U.S., which it may indeed be. But the Kenyan military restraint and the near unanimous support for the war at home, as well as the accumulation of individually marginal battle successes and outside support now coming to Kenya in assistance, all makes me wonder if once again Africans have shown us how to do it right.

That’s what makes this such an important story. The possibility that conventional military reaction to guerilla terrorism has learned a way to succeed, essentially displacing the great powers – the U.S. primarily – as the world’s best military strategists. There is as much hope in this statement as evidence, but both exist, and that alone raises this story to the top.

You may also wish to review Top al-Shabaab Leader Killed and Somali Professionals Flee as Refugees.

1B: TWEVOLUTION CHANGES EGYPT
The Egyptian uprising, unlike its Tunisian predecessor, ensured that no African government was immune to revolution, perhaps no government in the world. I called it Twevolution because especially in Egypt the moment-by-moment activities of the mass was definitely managed by Twitter.

And the particular connection to Kenya was fabulous, because the software that powered the Twitter, Facebook and other similar revolution managing tools came originally from Kenya.

Similar of course to Tunisia was the platform for any “software instructions” – the power of the people! And this in the face of the most unimaginable odds if you’re rating the brute physical force of the regime in power.

Egypt fell rather quickly and the aftermath was remarkably peaceful. Compared to the original demonstrations, later civil disobedience whether it was against the Coptics or the military, was actually quite small. So I found it particularly fascinating how world travelers reacted. Whereas tourist murders, kidnapings and muggings were common for the many years that Egypt experienced millions of visitors annually, tourists balked at coming now that such political acts against tourists no longer occurred, because the instigators were now a part of the political process! This despite incredible deals.

We wait with baited breath for the outcome in Syria, but less visible countries like Botswana and Malawi also experienced their own Twevolution. And I listed 11 dictators that I expected would ultimately fall because of the Egyptian revolution.

Like any major revolution, the path has been bumpy, the future not easily predicted. But I’m certain, for example, that the hard and often brutal tactics of the military who currently assumes the reins of state will ultimately be vindicated. And certainly this tumultuous African revolution if not the outright cause was an important factor in our own protests, like Occupy Wall Street.

3: NEW COUNTRY OF SOUTH SUDAN
The free election and emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s 54th country would have been the year’s top story if all that revolution hadn’t started further north! In the making for more than ten years, a remarkably successful diplomatic coup for the United States, this new western ally rich with natural resources was gingerly excised from of the west’s most notorious foes, The Sudan.

Even as Sudan’s president was being indicted for war crimes in Darfur, he ostensibly participated in the creation of this new entity. But because of the drama up north, the final act of the ultimate referendum in the South which set up the new republic produced no more news noise than a snap of the fingers.

Regrettably, with so much of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, the new country was hassled violently by its former parent to the north. We can only hope that this new country will forge a more humane path than its parent, and my greatest concern for Africa right now is that global attention to reigning in the brutal regime of the north will be directed elsewhere.

4: UGANDA FALTERS
Twevolution essentially effected every country in Africa in some way. Uganda’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni, looked in the early part of the last decade like he was in for life. Much was made about his attachment to American politicians on the right, and this right after he was Bill Clinton’s Africa doll child.

But even before Twevolution – or perhaps because of the same dynamics that first erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – Museveni’s opponents grew bold and his vicious suppression of their attempts to legitimately oust him from power ended with the most flawed election seen in East Africa since Independence.

But unlike in neighboring Kenya where a similar 2007 election caused nationwide turmoil and an ultimate power sharing agreement, Museveni simply jailed anyone who opposed him. At first this seemed to work but several months later the opposition resurfaced and it became apparent that the country was at a crossroads. Submit to the strongman or fight him.

Meanwhile, tourism sunk into near oblivion. And by mid-May I was predicting that Museveni was the new Mugabe and had successfully oppressed his country to his regime. But as it turned out it was a hiatus not a surrender and a month later demonstrations began, twice as strong as before. And it was sad, because they went on and on and on, and hundreds if not thousands of people were injured and jailed.

Finally towards the end of August a major demonstration seemed to alter the balance. And if it did so it was because Museveni simply wouldn’t believe what was happening.

I wish I could tell you the story continued to a happy ending, but it hasn’t, at least not yet. There is an uneasy calm in Ugandan society, one buoyed to some extent by a new voice in legislators that dares to criticize Museveni, that has begun a number of inquiries and with media that has even dared to suggest Museveni will be impeached. The U.S. deployment of 100 green berets in the country enroute the Central African Republic in October essentially seems to have actually raised Museveni’s popularity. So Uganda falters, and how it falls – either way – will dramatically alter the East African landscape for decades.

5: GLOBAL WARMING
This is a global phenomena, of course, but it is the developing world like so much of Africa which suffers the most and is least capable of dealing with it. The year began with incessant reporting by western media of droughts, then floods, in a confused misunderstanding of what global warming means.

It means both, just as in temperate climates it means colder and hotter. With statistics that questions the very name “Developed World,” America is reported to still have a third of its citizens disputing that global warming is even happening, and an even greater percentage who accept it is happening but believe man is not responsible either for it occurring or trying to change it. Even as clear and obvious events happen all around them.

Global warming is pretty simple to understand, so doubters’ only recourse is to make it much more confusing than it really is. And the most important reason that we must get everyone to understand and accept global warming, is we then must accept global responsibilities for doing something about it. I was incensed, for example, about how so much of the media described the droughts in Africa as fate when in fact they are a direct result of the developed world’s high carbon emissions.

And the news continued in a depressing way with the very bad (proponents call it “compromised”) outcome of the Durban climate talks. My take was that even the countries most effected, the developed world, were basically bought off from making a bigger stink.

Environmentalists will argue, understandably, that this is really the biggest story and will remain so until we all fry. The problem is that our lives are measured in the nano seconds of video games, and until we can embrace a long view of humanity and that our most fundamental role is to keep the world alive for those who come after us, it won’t even make the top ten for too much longer.

6: COLTAN WARS IMPEDED
This is a remarkable story that so little attention has been given. An obscure part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act essentially halved if not ultimately will end the wars in the eastern Congo which have been going on for decades.

These wars are very much like the fractional wars in Somalia before al-Shabaab began to consolidate its power, there. Numerous militias, certain ones predominant, but a series of fiefdoms up and down the eastern Congo. You can’t survive in this deepest jungle of interior Africa without money, and that money came from the sale of this area’s rich rare earth metals.

Tantalum, coltran more commonly said, is needed by virtually every cell phone, computer and communication device used today. And there are mines in the U.S. and Australia and elsewhere, but the deal came from the warlords in the eastern Congo. And Playbox masters, Sony, and computer wizards, Intel, bought illegally from these warlords because the price was right.

And that price funded guns, rape, pillaging and the destruction of the jungle. The Consumer Protection Agency, set up by the Dodd-Frank Act, now forbids these giants of technology from doing business in the U.S. unless they can prove they aren’t buying Coltran from the warlords. Done. War if not right now, soon over.

7: ELEPHANTS AND CITES
The semi-decade meeting of CITES occurred this March in Doha, Qatar, and the big fight of interest to me was over elephants. The two basic opposing positions on whether to downlist elephants from an endangered species hasn’t changed: those opposed to taking elephants off the list so that their body parts (ivory) could be traded believed that poaching was at bay, and that at least it was at bay in their country. South Africa has led this flank for years and has a compelling argument, since poaching of elephants is controlled in the south and the stockpiling of ivory, incapable of being sold, lessens the funds that might otherwise be available for wider conservation.

The east and most western countries like the U.S. and U.K. argue that while this may be true in the south, it isn’t at all true elsewhere on the continent, and that once a market is legal no matter from where, poaching will increase geometrically especially in the east where it is more difficult to control. I concur with this argument, although it is weakened by the fact that elephants are overpopulated in the east, now, and that there are no good strategic plans to do something about the increasing human/elephant conflicts, there.

But while the arguments didn’t change, the proponents themselves did. In a dramatic retreat from its East African colleagues, Tanzania sided with the south, and that put enormous strain on the negotiations. When evidence emerged that Tanzania was about the worst country in all of Africa to manage its poaching and that officials there were likely involved, the tide returned to normal and the convention voted to continue keeping elephants listed as an endangered species.

8: RHINO POACHING REACHES EXTREME LEVELS
For the first time in history, an animal product (ground rhino horn) became more expensive on illicit markets than gold.

Rhino, unlike elephant, is not doing well in the wild. It’s doing wonderfully in captivity and right next to the wild in many private reserves, but in the wild it’s too easy a take. This year’s elevation of the value of rhino horn resulted in unexpectedly high poaching, and some of it very high profile.

9: SERENGETI HIGHWAY STOPPED
This story isn’t all good, but mostly, because the Serengeti Highway project was shelved and that’s the important part. And to be sure, the success of stopping this untenable project was aided by a group called Serengeti Watch.

But after some extremely good and aggressive work, Serengeti Watch started to behave like Congress, more interested in keeping itself in place than doing the work it was intended to do. The first indication of this came when a Tanzanian government report in February, which on careful reading suggested the government was having second thoughts about the project, was identified but for some reason not carefully analyzed by Watch.

So while the highway is at least for the time being dead, Serengeti Watch which based on its original genesis should be as well, isn’t.

10: KENYAN TRANSFORMATION AND WORLD COURT
The ongoing and now seemingly endless transformation of Kenyan society and politics provoked by the widespread election violence of 2007, and which has led to a marvelous new constitution, is an ongoing top ten story for this year for sure. But more specifically, the acceptance of this new Kenyan society of the validity of the World Court has elevated the power of that controversial institution well beyond anyone’s expectations here in the west.

Following last year’s publication by the court of the principal accused of the crimes against humanity that fired the 2007 violence, it was widely expected that Kenya would simply ignore it. Not so. Politicians and current government officials of the highest profile, including the son of the founder of Kenya, dutifully traveled to The Hague to voluntarily participate in the global judicial process that ultimately has the power to incarcerate them.

The outcome, of course, remains to be seen and no telling what they’ll do if actually convicted. It’s very hard to imagine them all getting on an airplane in Nairobi to walk into a cell in Rotterdam.

But in a real switcheroo this travel to The Hague has even been spun by those accused as something positive and in fact might have boosted their political standing at home. And however it effects the specific accused, or Kenya society’s orientation to them, the main story is how it has validated a global institution’s political authority.

Egypt Will Ultimately Pay for Bullies

Egypt Will Ultimately Pay for Bullies

The Egyptian military’s unwarranted, brutal response in Tahrir Square is specifically because there aren’t enough protestors, there, anymore. The bully always pounces when his adversaries thin out.

The Tahrir Square protests right now are extremely small but extremely violent, contained almost exclusively to a ten-square block area in central Cairo. The vast majority of Egypt is carrying on with everyday life, including what had been explosive centers of the February revolution like Alexandria.

I just finished watching the live al-Jazeera report (around 11 a.m. EST) following the military’s “open” press conference regarding the current violence. The reporter explained how there seemed to be “parallel universes” between the military’s constant denial of its use of force against protestors, and the protestors YouTube posts.

Yet right behind her on Tahrir Square was a massive traffic jam as everyday Egyptians headed for home after a day of work.

There is no question in my mind that the way the military has handled this nuclear pinpoint is wrong and incendiary. But what it suggests isn’t that the current set of elections will be disrupted, or that the country is right now poised for civil war. Rather, it suggests that all that may happen later, after the elections are complete and the process of writing a constitution begins.

But not now.

The facts are easy to come by, and this alone shows how far along the road to democracy and transparency Egypt has come, and this is good:

First, the numbers of people involved in the current Tahrir Square protests is a small fraction of the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime in February, but it is actually for its much smaller numbers much more violent.

In large part this is because of the military’s heavy handed response, far more severe than its restrained responses to much larger protests earlier in the year. And it reflects the military’s confidence that a vast majority of the overall population supports it, and this is probably true.

So this time around there are “per capita” many more petrol bombs heaved from the protestors at Tahrir Square. The protestors’ rage when unpopped seems ungoverned by any ideological strategy. At times the protestors seem to fight among themselves:

According to the Associated Press, a precious research center maintained by France since its 18th century occupation of Egypt found itself in the crossfires Saturday. The building caught on fire, and protestors joined institute officials in trying to save the precious archives.

But when fire fighting equipment arrived, other protestors barred the equipment from trying to put out the blaze.

So what’s going on?

“The military’s violence suggests it feels emboldened,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper said Monday. The paper went on to say that the elections have been the “freest and fairest elections in the country’s modern history.”

Two of the three sets of elections for the lower house of Parliament are now complete; the third one is in a month, and that is followed by an upper house of Parliament election in late February and early March. All signs currently point to the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently has just under 40% of the winners, leading a coalition government that will include at least one very radical Islamic party.

And until Thursday, the Brotherhood had supported the military’s strong handling of the electoral process. That’s changed.

Mohamed Baltegy, a senior figure in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, called the military a “collaborator” in the disruption of Egypt’s safety and security. He charged that the military rulers “create new crisis as the time for a power transfer to civilians gets closer.”

Veteran Associated Press reporter Hamza Hendawi interviewed top military officials over the weekend who insisted the protests were caused by foreign infiltrators. He continued: “What are we supposed to do when protesters break the law? Should we invite people from abroad to govern our nation?”

This, of course, is laughable. But there is a connection to reality. The military has consistently refused to cede any power over itself to any civilian authority, now or after elections. It sees the February revolution as an endorsement of its supreme authority, and it has announced that it will solely shepherd the process of creating a new constitution.

And that it has no intention to allow any new constitution to reduce its authority, a conundrum that few political activitists in Egypt will accept.

The protests are small but violent, now. When a political, civilian authority is duly placed in power through elections, and if the military then refuses to cede control over itself to that new authority, that is when Egypt will explode.

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

War or Peace, At This Very Instant

I started this blog to write about animals. Today, like so many days, it’s about elections and wars. And in this wrap-up blog before our Thanksgiving holiday, the preeminent news is at this very moment in time. Better than I would have a hoped a few moments ago.

It’s so ephemeral. It’s easy to argue that things change so quickly, that news and blog-news is disseminated so instantly, that clearly seeing a trend to events becomes more and more murky. Well, bring it on!

So let me wage a huge gamble about Kenya, Egypt and The Congo – three volatile yet extremely promising societies – which I promise to revisit next week: Last weekend the situation in all three looked nothing short of awful. This morning, at this very instant, it looks different and better.

Kenya’s advancing invasion of Somalia for the first time in six weeks has an optimistic cast. Despite unbelievable clashes in Egypt over the last few days, at this very moment in time the military seems to actually be negotiating away its position to the people, and even in the Heart of Darkness I see glimmers of goodness in the November 28th election in The Congo.

It’s only logical that the Kenyan invasion of Somali begun more than a month ago would fail and strangle the country’s developing economy and polity in the process. And the quick entry, then total abortion of the process which resulted in a Kenyan decampment less than half way to its stated objective, the port of Kismayo, looked threateningly like Kenyan defeat earlier than any could have predicted.

But then chips we didn’t know we’re in the game started to fall into place. The dysfunctional Somali transitional government got in line. Coordination began with African Union forces that have been in the country since its seems the industrial revolution. And last week, Kenya’s sometimes adversary Ethiopia resent troops into the country presumably to fight alongside Kenya.

I am not one to believe wars work very well, but reports this morning suggest that the size of the combined effort by Kenya, Ethiopia and the AU is such that routing al-Shabaab might just be possible.

In Egypt all hell broke loose last week following the military’s very ill-advised November 1 edicts setting the final rules for the election process and simultaneously entrenching itself in a cocoon of immunity from civilian authority.

Like so many countries in South America and Asia in the recent past, military autocracies justify themselves as the only cohesion to otherwise dysfunctional and often ethnically divided societies. It is laughably early for me to post this as the meetings are actually in progress in Cairo, at this very instant in time, but my intuition is on the line. I think the military is going to back down.

The poor Congo was crippled in the 1960s at the very moment of its independence, when Belgium and the U.S. teamed up to murder the duly elected first president of the country, Patrice Lamumba, for fear he was a “communist.” That body blow to its polity has seemed to fester rather than heal.

The current president is the son of the “liberator” who forcibly ousted the long-time ruthless dictator, Sesi Seko Mobutu. But Mobutu had held power for so long that throngs of people and institutions depended upon him. Chaos reigned in the eastern Kivu Province, where child soldiers and blackmarketed Star Wars rare metals fueled Dante’s inferno.

But with a little help from its friends, most notably a little acknowledged provision in the Dodd-Frank banking act, the temperature in The Congo has plummeted to near normal highland rain forest levels. The bad guys have fled north. Next Monday’s election might just actually go off well.

If these possibly irresponsible optimistic predictions come true there is an important lesson I for one should learn and could easily forget if not pointed out, now. Trust youth.

It has been us fuddy duddies predicting gloom and doom. We have nothing but history to reference. The rest of our lives would make a very short line.

It’s the youth in Tahrir Square, in Nairobi, and in the jungles of Kivu who have been insisting throughout all the ups and downs in their situations that “we will prevail.” It’s new tour companies that have contacted me from Kivu-Congo, and Nairobi and Cairo.

Tour companies? New tour companies in the midst of fire and smoke?

Egypt’s Complicated Future

Egypt’s Complicated Future

The political situation in Egypt may be very confusing, but the death-toll now exceeding 35 over this past weekend raises the profile of the current unrest above what it was when the old regime toppled in February. What can we see in the near future?

Weekend demonstrations were nowhere near as large, but just as violent, as earlier in the year. Egypt’s first free elections are scheduled for one week from today. The political parties and individual contestants in that election show no signs of boycotting November 28 or of requesting it be rescheduled, even while they are highly critical of how the election has been arranged.

This makes me believe that if we can get through this troubled week, and if elections are successful, that violence will subside and the political process will move forward. Clearly, though, if anything disrupts a clear and fair outcome, Egypt will take a terrible slide backwards.

There are several different issues galvanizing current protest, and because they’re complicated, the street shout is simply that the current military commander and defacto leader of the country, Mohamed Tantawi, should step down.

This is because he heads in a very dictatorial fashion the council that rules Egypt right now, and that council has promulgated a number of laws and procedures that have alienated large numbers of Egyptians.

The most egregious is Article 9 of the temporary constitution announced November 1. That provision isolates the military as it currently exists from any civilian authority. It guarantees a military budget that can’t be questioned, and it reserves the military’s right to veto any law passed by any government body involving the military.

But there are other issues as well.

Next Monday’s first free elections in Egypt will not be the expected moment of liberation everyone had hoped for. The rules for the election of a representative government became increasingly complicated over the last number of months.

Monday will be the first of three sets of elections, each held in different regions of the country, for the lower house of parliament (similar to our House of Representatives). The last of these lower house elections will not be completed until some time in early January. The military explains this strung-out process as necessary for guaranteeing ballot box monitoring.

The lower house might be seated some time in late January, but since actual law requires a consensus with an upper house (similar to our Senate), that is obviously not possible until the upper house is seated. Elections for the upper house are now scheduled for March. So it is unlikely that any effective government entity will exist before April.

Parliament is charged with promulgating a new constitution and paving the way for elections of a president, tentatively scheduled for a year from now.

But even that has been compromised by military edicts, which right now reserve 80 of the 100 seats in the constitutional convention as appointments. Although not wholly clear, it’s presumed the military would appoint these members. While it remains true that Parliament can accept or reject the convention’s work, the fact that the military has stacked the deck is very contentious.

There are other issues. Following the violence against Coptics recently, the military began a complicated process of vetting candidates for public office, which is intended to guarantee minority representative but at the expense of majority choice.

This obviously won favor with minorities, that therefore tend now to be less critical of the military than the bigger groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The New York Times called this a “devil’s deal” between the military and minorities who feared the large plurality of the Brotherhood.

And finally one of the most contentious issues of all, which is still being played out, is whether former Mubarak party members can stand for election. Right now they can. But this is a third change of a position by the military since the issue arose many months ago. It is quite similar to what happened with Baath party members in Iraq.

I don’t believe there can be any other plausible authority in Egypt right now than the military. The military sees itself as the guarantor the revolution, and that’s how protestors initially saw them as well. But ruling this highly charged and extremely disparate society has proved challenging.

It’s extremely important to note that despite all the issues dividing the military from those appearing as political contestants, so far none of the main players in next Monday’s elections have called for a boycott.

So there’s a fair chance Monday’s elections will go off free and fair. And if so, and if those expected to win do so, it may be the new freely elected representatives of Egyptian society will simply ignore or otherwise work around the military’s many edicts upholding its supremacy over civilian rule. My sense is that this is what many of the principal contenders currently believe will happen.

That could set up a major confrontation with the military, but some ways down the line, and conceivably a strong enough civilian government would be able to negotiate the military’s position down to an acceptable level before such a confrontation were sparked.

Perhaps by 2013 or 2014 a civilian government could gain enough control of the country’s purse strings, for example, to tame the military.

But if the election outcome is too confused; if there are too many disparate and unallied winners to present any kind of unified civilian government position, then I expect a second violent revolution will arise from the conflict of the military and the then disenfranchised and essentially emasculated electorate.

Following the completion of lower house elections by the New Year, there may be some real signs then as to how the overall situation will play out. But because the process of electing fully the two houses of parliament extends through March, the situation is unlikely to reach any real turning point before then.

So … IF Monday’s elections proceed and appear fair (as I expect, hopefully), AND IF the outcome doesn’t result in an inability to achieve a consensus government (again as I expect, hopefully), AND IF the military does not promulgate any further constraints on the electoral process, we will know in April if Egypt’s current path to democracy is workable.

Stay tuned.

(And there are two best ways to stay tuned right now. Watch alJazeera Live and follow a compendium of real-time Tweets.)

The Sun Rises on Egypt

The Sun Rises on Egypt


If you’re interested in a good deal in Egypt, time is running out. Good times in Egypt are on the march. But good deals are coming to an end.

Following a press release from Europe’s largest tour company, KUONI, on Friday it rescinded several of its deals in Egypt over the weekend.

KUONI stopped offering multiple night incentives and cash discounts on many of its upmarket properties and cruises in Egypt. Many of these are still available for mid- and down-market products, but top ranked hotels and cruise ships are now back to rack rates.

This and many other indications suggest that unless there’s some serious reversal in the political situation in Egypt, good deals there may be ending.

Tourism is a great barometer – a leading indicator – of a society’s perceived tranquility. I say “perceived” because as tourism skyrocketed in China, it would be hard to argue that areas of Tibet were “tranquil” or that progressive movements were being liberated.

And it’s perception, rather than reality, which drives tourism.

Take the current civil violence between Muslims and Christians in Egypt which broke out, again, this weekend. And last weekend was worse: 12 Copts were killed following a peculiar rumor that they were trying to force a Muslim woman to convert. (There were an estimated 65,000 tourists in Egypt last week.)

But on Christmas Eve before the revolution, 22 Copts were killed in the same type of religious violence. This was the highest of high tourist seasons in Egypt. An estimated one million tourists were in Egypt at the time, and that news story didn’t effect travel there one iota.

Coptic/Muslim violence has been ongoing in Egypt literally for millennia, but the story has rarely percolated into the world press. But Egypt is in the news, now – as it should be. Coptic oppression, like the oppression of women and Muslim activists, will make world headlines, now. And perhaps this new spotlight on problems the country has suffered for a long time will hasten resolution.

I think tourists know this. And the growing numbers of tourism to Egypt suggest it.

Egypt is just a bit smaller than South Africa. Last year’s hosting of the World Cup in South Africa help to boost its annual tourist figures to nearly 9 million. Before the revolution, Egypt welcomed around 12 million visitors annually.

This year South Africa will likely reach 9 million again, and Egypt will fall back to around 6-7 million.

That’s a lot of tourists! A lot LOT more than was expected only a few months, ago. And it’s likely a harbinger of good times to come.

On April 28 the U.S. State Department dropped its travel warning to Egypt, replacing it with a milder travel alert.

The U.S. move followed by about a month similar moves by most European countries.

Is tourism to Egypt as safe, now, as it was last year before the revolution? I think so, particularly if we speak of the main tourist areas like the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. But it’s extremely important to understand the caveat that I’m speaking of reality, not of perception. No, Egypt is not yet perceived as safe a destination by tourists as before the reveolution, even though it may, in fact, be.

But given the numbers trend, it may not be too long before that par, too, is reached.