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Egypt In Crisis

Egypt in crisis.  A “collapse of the state” warning, and what comes next.

Egyptian protesters chant anti-government slogans during a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. (AP)

Egyptian protesters chant anti-government slogans during a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. (AP)

Two years ago from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egypt swept out a dictator. Then came elections and a push to democracy – the first in 7000 years – and tumult.

Last week, Egyptians were in the streets yet again. Fiercely. And fiercely repelled by the government of president Mohammed Morsi of the Islamic Brotherhood. Curfews again. Emergency rule. Police hitting hard. And a top general warning of the “collapse of the state.”

Suddenly it seemed it could all come apart at the seams. Just fail. But then what?

This hour, On Point: the crisis in Egypt and where it goes.

-Tom Ashbrook


Nancy Youssef, covers the Middle East for McClatchy newspapers. (@nancyayoussef)

Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. Author of “Islamist Politics in the Middle East: Movements and Change.”

Gigi Ibrahim, Egyptian journalist, blogger, and activist. Time magazine called her “one of the leaders” of the Tahrir Square protests in 2011. (@gsquare86)

Closing Segment on Syria

Sam Dagher, Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. (@samdagher)

From Tom’s Reading List

McClatchy “Declaring that ongoing street protests could lead to the ‘collapse of the state,’ Egypt’s top military general warned Tuesday that if opponents of President Mohammed Morsi continue to paralyze the country through demonstrations, the military might have to intervene to defend the government.”

The New York Times “Protesters threw incendiary devices over the walls of Egypt’s presidential palace during Friday demonstrations against PresidentMohamed Morsi, leading to clashes with riot police officers that filled the area with tear gas and threatened to deepen Egypt’s spiraling political crisis.”

The Daily Beast “While Saturday’s violence highlights the increasing polarization in Egypt—which only two years ago united to topple a dictator—it also demonstrates the growing power of this group of young men, known as the ultras. Organized and unified, arguably more than any other opposition group, this bunch of hooligans played a key role in the popular uprisings two years ago, often thrusting themselves on the front lines when battles with security forces grew fierce.”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    It is a fair bet that if we treat whoever ends up in charge with openness, respect, and goodwill, everything will end up fine.  If we try to manipulate them and abuse them, there will probably be tension.

    • Jasoturner

      The United States will always act in it’s own national interest.  I would propose that we will deal with Egypt in whatever way limits our antagonizing the oil states in the region.

      It is a shame that a country as beautiful as Egypt is undergoing such turmoil.

    • Gregg Smith

      What if we just give them 20 F-16′s? Will they like us then?

      • Acnestes

        Sigh.  Right out of the box?  Really, Gregg, I’m disappointed after all your efforts Friday to persuade us you were serious.

        • Gregg Smith

          I don’t know, I think our decision to give them 20 F-16′s is relevant to the discussion. Don’t you? Seriously?

          • Acnestes

             I do, but I found your comment glib.

          • Gregg Smith

            Guilty as charged.

      • Shag_Wevera

        Conservatives are often fond of comparing our budget and debt problems to a family sittin round the ole kitchen table.  Let’s try it with foreign relations.  Imagine if a family treated another family in the neighborhood the way we treat middle eastern countries.  That’d be some horrible people in that family.

        BTW, 20 f-16s really is chump change.  What country doesn’t have access to fighters of that caliber?  Mig 31s, mirages, etc.  It really isn’t the fighters that matter anyway, it is all the tactical and logistical support that makes these things effectively dangerous.

  • AC

    what exactly is displeasing them about the current admin?

    also, why is it there’s always the angry ‘use-any-excuse’ guy in every crowd destroying property? why throw ‘incendiary devices’ into the palace? that’s just a waste of materials…i’ll never understand that….like when sports fanatics lose and burn cars….so stupid.

    • Don_B1

      It is the same “irrationality” that is expressed by mobs as “blind rage.”

      Today this country faces the “blind rage” that has captured a major party, which seems willing to literally destroy the economic strength of this country just to get something that it can’t get on the strength of its ideas winning at the ballot box.

      If successful it would be equivalent in some way to the Sunni minority ruling Iraq and taking out all its peeves on the Shiites.

      And just because they are not throwing literal “incendiary devices” into buildings, they are throwing economic destruction into the homes of all the bottom 80% of working Americans.

      How doesn’t that fit the definition of being a traitor?

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    Great day for “democracy”, eh? What’s our next move … pull a Shah maneuver on Morsi? Obama had best stay out of this one …

  • DeJay79

    I was so proud of the Egyptians 2 years ago. and I was hoping that more countries would see the benefits of self rule and peacefully (as peacefully as possible that is) throw off the rule of oppressive dictators. I was saddened my how much life was lost in Libya but still happy with the result. Poor Syria is just a mess and Bahrain never really stood a chance.

    Egypt as the largest and most important country to be part of the Arab Spring really needs to come together and find the common ground for all the people (whatever their religious beliefs are) not just for thier good but for the good of the entire region. Otherwise any future revolution oppressors will only have to point to Egypt and say “See, that is what happens with out us in control, Is that what your want?”

    • Don_B1

      Two countries compared, I believe on “UP/with Chris Hayes” on Saturday or “GPS with Fareed Zakaria” on Sunday, showing the differences in paths taken in response to the Arab Spring, were Egypt and Jordan.

      The King of Jordan “immediately” replaced two cabinet ministers and appointed a government reform committee which reported out a list of government reforms, at least some of which have been implemented, moving the control of several government functions from the King to the legislature. I believe elections have been held which the Brotherhood boycotted and the results have been widely accepted.

      Egypt went to elections for bodies that would write a new Constitution and begin governance. Because the Islamic Brotherhood had the biggest name recognition and the history of elections was not something to inspire confidence, people apparently voted for opposition leaders that they “knew” rather than for those who would put them on the path to a real democracy.

      The “lesson” to take from this is that the transition from dictatorship to democracy is necessarily a long one, as people build confidence in the democratic process. Liberalization, showing that it does not take extremists to achieve a stable fair government with leaders that are working for everyone, MUST come first, under “benign” dictators, and then real democracy. That is a transition that has come rarely in history, but it can happen, as it has in Europe and America and now in South America.

      If the Egyptian military had not been so corrupt, with all the generals getting rich off cuts from every military contract, they might have been able to provide that transition.

      Another example is the George W. Bush administration insisting on elections in Gaza when Shamir pulled its forces out of Gaza. The elections turned power over to Hamas, with devastating consequences.

  • Ray in VT

    Why is Egypt still in turmoil?  To me there seems to be a fairly straightforward answer.  Self rule is a messy business, especially in a country where the traditions and institutions needed to support such a society have not had the time or conditions to take root.

    • Gregg Smith

      Morsi saying Israelis are “descendants of apes and pigs” doesn’t help the peace process.

      • Ray in VT

        No, it doesn’t, although the present Egyptian government has maintained the peace treaty with Israel, despite the fact that such a situation is not popular with many Egyptians.

        Also not helpful to the peace process:  the unwillingness of the Israeli government to halt the building of settlements or to do more to crack down on the destruction of Palestinian property by Jewish extremists.

  • Jasoturner

    This has got to be making Israel very nervous indeed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paolo-Caruso/1778940602 Paolo Caruso

      Actually,  destabilization is exactly what Israel is trying to create throughout the Middle East. 

      • Jasoturner

        An unstable middle east threatens the national interests of Israel.  Why do you think they want to  destabilize the region?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    When democracy is not an entrenched, fixed, rigid system of control like it is here in the US, it can get pretty messy.

    • Don_B1

      I agree with most of what you said, except the “rigid” part. While change must not be too easy (see those states which allow constitutional amendments by majority vote, particularly in “off-year” elections; e.g., California and its “Proposition 13″), change must be seen as possible to address the problems caused by technical change, etc., as the daily life of work and healthcare change over time with different possibilities of growth and/or exploitation.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Does Nancy Youssef feel safe in Egypt?  Are the police and the military conflated; are they entrenched?  They are said to have all this money and commercial privileges, from the United States, to begin with.  They say it hasn’t been reformed yet.  Maybe reform is not an objective, and has something to do with Israel’s prospects and intentions (and the USA)?  I’m thinking there is a difference here between the National Guard and local police, and maybe also in Egypt, so that people can begin to recognize uniforms and evaluate their safety.

  • AC

    i guess there’s an ‘ole-boys-network’ everywhere in the world. no wonder they’re mad !!

    • Ellen Dibble

      If the old power structures were NOT left intact, there’d be another kind of crisis.  Right now in Syria, the opposition leader is offering to meet with the regime, which in the past had been out of the question, and it’s possible that the revolution there will manage to keep in place the parts of the administrative infrastructure that are needed, and reform the rest.  

  • Ellen Dibble

    Didn’t Obama call Morsi on the carpet at a certain point, saying that American backing would not be there for him unless this or that?  That shows the effect of moneyed interests on an international level.  The same sort of thing happens within the country, as Gigi Ibrahim was explaining by Skype.  Money talks — apparently in the Egyptian government too.  Not only for “power grab,” but maybe also because the economy depends on the people with deep pockets getting their way.

  • Bill Minter

    Egyptian Friends of mine, like so many others, were disappointed with the two choices in the election.  But they described the future under Morsi and the Moslem brotherhood as one that would be very good for the very poor, but very bad for progressive secular democracy, and they feared far right Islamic law.  Morsi on your show is presented as NOT extreme or good for the poor, but rather too moderate and unwilling to make real change.  Which is it?

    Cleaning Garbage is hardly a bourgeios capitalist endeavor!

  • Don_B1

    The problem that Morsi created for himself was likely a function of the oppression he experienced all his life: if you do not get your way by “talk,” you grab power to effect what YOU want. It is the fate of most “revolutions” that they adopt the tactics of the government they overthrew.

    An exception was, at least temporarily, in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela provided strong enlightened leadership, and, like our George Washington, left government before being conflated with it. But the transition was not complete as it will take more time before the electorate can show the needed maturity in selecting representatives to work for a fair government.

    We need to remember that the American colonies had had nearly a century of near representative government and had grown confident in its ability to be self-governing.

    • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

      Yes, but Egypt doesn’t have 2 centuries to get it right. Despite being the giant of the Arab world, Egypt is desperately poor, with 9? million living in slums around Cairo. It would be tragic if they descend into chaos, with the poor, as always paying the heaviest price. They really are a decent rich warm world people, fertilized by every culture and empire over the eons.

  • Sy2502

    The problem with countries that have never had Democracy is that they aren’t very good at it. How can they have a revolution to overthrow a dictatorship, only to democratically vote into power… more dictators? 

  • TomK_in_Boston

    What annoys me is the politicization of our positions on these revolutions. If the President hesitated to get behind the totally unknown insurgents, he was attacked. If he did, he was attacked for deserting our dear old ally, the dictator.

    I think there is a very naive view that the dictators will be replaced by western-oriented friendly regimes. I think religious fundamentalists are more likely. 

    It’s a tough call. A long time ally and ruthless dictator like Murabak, who nevertheless supported some western values notably women’s rights, vs rebels about whom we know very little but have a good chance of being fans of sharia and jihad.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000806423682 Michael Dean

       You’re SPOT ON! Obama would be blamed for some cat in an Egyptian restaurant’s steak not being cooked properly. The same hypocrites are doing that with him [Obama]  over Afghanistan> If he literally brings everyone home, the moment something ‘goes wrong’(whatever THAT is…), then it’s his fault, and …” ‘Why’d Obama pull all of the troops out?!!!’ “. Yet, the very same ‘critics’, in the same breath, would chastise him for not getting everyone out (NOW!!!…),

  • http://twitter.com/damarciartin Artin Yanciyan ツ

    I wonder what  the egyptians’ expectations were like before the so called “revolution” ? did they really believe that they would have a democracy after all ? did they really think that all the bad things had happened just because of Mubarak ? I listened to the Egyptian lady on the phone. She said that they should get rid of Mursi and Tom asked what she meant by it. She didn’t answer but we all know that she means “give us guns, and we will be the new rulers.” and this will change nothing. more guns will not help anybody.

    • Hams El

      Where the heck did you get “guns” from? NRA must be planning to find a new hub.

      Everyone in Egypt wants stability, they want jobs, they want justice.. they want bread, they want to be treated with dignity.

      Only people who have guns are thugs and criminals – especially in US

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