Ezzedine C. Fishere

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A man holds a picture of Ibrahim Eissa during a protest in Cairo on Sept. 28, 2008. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

In February, Egypt’s attorney general decided to investigate the writer and talk show host Ibrahim Eissa over his questioning of Salafi narratives of Islam. The move was a glaring contradiction to President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s repeated calls for the reformation of Islamic discourse. That contrast highlights the dilemma faced by Arab authoritarian rulers: Having decimated secularists and discredited liberalism, they have nothing left to fight Salafi thought with, and end up conceding further.

Since he seized power, Sissi has adopted the aura of an Islamic reformer. He restored churches attacked by extremists and legalized hundreds more, took the unusual step of attending Christmas Mass regularly and, last month, nominated a Christian judge to head Egypt’s highest court for the first time ever.…  Seguir leyendo »

Egyptian protesters shout slogans against the then-ruling military council during a rally in support of then-member of Parliament Zyad El-Elaimy in Cairo in February 2012. (Amr Nabil/AP)

On Wednesday, after more than two years in detention without trial, Zyad El-Elaimy, Hossam Monis and four other young politicians and activists were rushed to a “State Security Emergency Court” and sentenced to three to five years in prison. They were not tried for their original “crime” — plotting to undermine state security by running for legislative elections in 2020. Instead, they were charged with “spreading false news, threatening national security and spreading fear”.

The evidence consisted of an article or social media post by each figure, in which they criticized Egypt’s human rights record and economic policies. The trial began just a day after the charges were laid.…  Seguir leyendo »

A boy carries Taliban flags for sale in Kabul on Sunday. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images)

Reactions across the Middle East to the stunning Taliban victory in Afghanistan have focused mostly on what it says about the United States. For many, it shows how America’s standing is diminishing; how the United States has betrayed its allies, leaving behind those who believed its promises — yet more proof that “those whose only cover is America are naked,” as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly once said.

Some are deliriously convinced the United States “handed over” Afghanistan to the Taliban as part of a plan to use the Sunni Islamists against Iran. Others, including many nationalists and leftists, claimed it as a victory of a national liberation movement against U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied gather in Tunis on July 25. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

This week, Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the country’s prime minister, suspended its parliament and deployed troops to ensure legislators did not enter the building. This constitutional coup appears a clear effort to replace the fragile democratic regime with strongman rule. It answers the wishes of millions of Tunisians disillusioned with their weak democracy, whose dysfunction is exposed by a rampant covid-19 pandemic. Yet, as the cases of Egypt and Saudi Arabia show, while strongman rule can bring a measure of stability and progress in the short run, it cannot fix the country’s deep-seated problems.

Arab despots dream of reproducing South Korea’s Park Chung-hee and often begin their rules with success stories.…  Seguir leyendo »

A view of the Blue Nile near Dejen, Ethiopia, in September 2020. (Yonas Tadesse/FTWP)

Egypt and Ethiopia are inching, slowly but surely, toward conflict.

Negotiations over the construction and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile — which Egypt fears will cause droughts in the country downstream — have collapsed. On Tuesday, the Egyptian president warned that “no one can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try”. The following day, the Egyptian military revealed joint air force training with Sudan, which it is calling the “Nile Eagles”. (Sudan also depends heavily on Nile water from Ethiopia). Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government is moving forward with plans to fill the reservoir of the dam, which it wants to complete by 2023.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman holds a placard as she protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in Paris on Dec. 8, 2020. (Michel Euler/AP)

Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz published a little-known novella in 1974 called “Karnak Café”, in which a group of students discuss politics and fall in and out of love in 1960s Egypt. Though their involvement in politics is not ideological, but rather motivated by a general desire to better the country, they are targeted by state security. They’re detained, accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, tortured, then released with a halfhearted apology. Despite avoiding politics — and the cafe — they’re arrested twice more, accused of subversion, and raped and tortured. One of them dies under torture, and those who survive are broken.…  Seguir leyendo »

People wave flags in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2012, to mark the first anniversary of the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (Amr Nabil/AP)

Ten years ago, we rocked Cairo’s Tahrir Square with acts of freedom, defied a culture of apathy and conservatism, broke a brutal security apparatus and ousted its leader, forcing the political space open in an unprecedented way. Above all, we filled Egyptians with pride and optimism instead of fear and resentment. We did all that and more before we were resolutely defeated.

Since then, all those who took part in the Tahrir Square protests have been evicted from the scene, along with the hope for the Arab world they had generated. In their place, old and new authoritarian rulers stand vindicated.…  Seguir leyendo »

A police officer gestures to firefighters as they extinguish a police car that was set on fire by antigovernment protesters in Tripoli, Lebanon, on April 28. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Covid-19 hasn’t unleashed its full force on the Middle East — yet. If or when it does, it is expected to overwhelm the region’s fragile health services and leave behind a trail of pain and destruction.

Common sense suggests that such a crisis should rearrange priorities in the Middle East. It should help rulers and opposition groups understand that good governance, not identity feuds, is their main challenge, and that improving health services, expanding access to clean water and ensuring safe housing cannot be achieved by repression or Islamization.

The covid-19 crisis should also remind Middle Eastern states that protecting national security requires regional integration, not rivalry with neighbors.…  Seguir leyendo »

The death on Tuesday morning of Hosni Mubarak is a reminder of where Egypt’s authoritarian regime stands. The man whose figure overshadowed Egypt for 30 years, whose death has been the subject of speculation for nearly 20 of them, has passed away quietly, years after he lost relevance.

I am from the generation that was in high school when Anwar Sadat was president. Sadat was hailed internationally as a modernizer, a courageous Arab leader who brought peace. But for the people of Egypt, he was an egocentric tyrant who imprisoned his opponents, presided over a corrupt regime that enriched the privileged and was more interested in impressing foreign audiences with fake signs of modernity while the country reeled in decay.…  Seguir leyendo »

One didn’t need to read 25 books to predict that the Palestinians would reject President Trump’s Middle East “peace plan”. Palestinians have a reputation for rejecting offers, knowing quite well the next could be worse. They rejected the 1947 United Nations partition plan that gave them less than 45 percent of Mandatory Palestine, Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” at Camp David in 2000, and Ehud Olmert’s even “more generous” offer in 2008 after the Annapolis process. The world has grown weary of this perceived lack of pragmatism; many feel that, given their weak position, Palestinians should accept what they can get or “shut up”, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman so eloquently put it in 2018.…  Seguir leyendo »

A flag is waved by anti-government protesters as they demonstrate in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Feb. 10, 2011. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP)

The Islamists and secularists of the Middle East have been fighting each other for a century. Their conflict has achieved nothing but perpetuating authoritarian rule. Yet, calling on them to unite and set aside their differences is naive at best, for their differences are real and fundamental. Faking unity during the Arab Spring backfired and left both sides more distrustful of each other.

What Islamists and secularists need to do is not seek an impossible alliance but rather build a framework for coexistence that allows them to break away from their zero-sum relationship. This is a critical first step toward laying foundations for democratic governance in the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators protest the country's ruling elite and the December presidential election in Algiers on Tuesday. (Ramzi Boudina/Reuters)

The powerful images of pro-democracy protests emerging from Beirut, Baghdad and Algiers remind us once again that Arab authoritarianism has outstayed its welcome. But, in the eyes of many, it hasn’t yet outlived its usefulness. The weakness of Arab states has reached a point where authoritarianism has become the only glue keeping them together. The challenge for Arab democrats is to move beyond simply calling for democracy and instead focus on building realistic pathways for democratic change.

Arab authoritarianism is not traditional despotism. It has morphed into a complex strategy to cope with state weakness. Arab states were not strong to begin with: They have never been able to provide policy frameworks that foster economic development and social justice; manage social and political conflicts; and protect their standing in the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

In less than two weeks, the Egyptian parliament suggested, debated and approved “constitutional amendments” that would allow President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to stay in office until 2034, make him head of the judiciary and subjugate the political system to a military “guardianship”. These extraordinary amendments will be subject to a referendum after a 30-day “public debate” (in a country where a tweet could land you a five-year sentence). Article 226, which defines the constitutional amendment process, explicitly prohibits the amendment of presidential term limits or the provisions related to freedoms “unless the amendment offered more guarantees” to these freedoms. In other words, Sissi’s proposed amendments are unconstitutional.…  Seguir leyendo »