Leaders go AWOL

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

March 30 2012

Philip Whitfield

Cairo: Famously, Field Marshall Montgomery, who turned World War II on its head defeating the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel in Egypt, described leadership as the capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character that inspires confidence.

A study unearths the qualities. Three different types of leaders were assigned to work with groups of children. The first leader was authoritarian. He gave orders to the group, but remained aloof from its activities. The second leader was democratic. He offered guidance and encouragement and joined in with its activities.

The third leader adopted a laissez-faire approach. Although he supplied knowledge to the group, he did not involve himself emotionally with either its activities or its results.

The authoritarian-led group won on quantity. The democratic leader produced the highest quality.  The easygoing group was the most satisfied.

What might that tell us about Egypt’s next president? He’ll win the popularity stakes and be a huge disappointment, failing to rouse the nation to work harder or improve quality.

Though there remains a week or so for someone to emerge that could galvanize the populace it appears unlikely. Egypt’s 5,000-year-old heritage seems destined to fall into the lap of a political midget.

How is it that so few leaders are emerging? Nasser had vision. Whatever you thought of Sadat, he led from the front and made no bones of his desire for peace in the region. Mubarak? He stole the show.

Missing is someone who can define a worthy national objective that excites people, rekindling hope and justifying the turmoil.

The presidency is more than a political tussle between competing parties. The person who assumes the role has to suture the wounds and mend the scars that discolor the relationship between civilians and the militia.

Is that person going to be another autocrat, a military mind brainwashed to follow orders whatever they are, defining cold missions such as numbers of houses and schools to be built?

Or, as looks increasingly likely, is the president harboring an ultra-conservative Islamist agenda? The Commission on International Religious Freedom says Egypt’s transition government has engaged continuously in and tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. The next president’s vision needs to define the Egypt to be, not the Egypt atrophied in its past.

Egypt needs growth, needs jobs, needs tourists and needs investment, says Simon Williams, chief economist at HSBC Middle East. This is an extremely difficult set of economic challenges for anyone to manage, let alone a newly elected post- revolutionary government facing high expectations.

Nowadays both the military and business around the world decry the adage that people are born leaders. Leaders are developed.

Asked where his leadership skills came from, President Obama said his grandmother was his teacher. Something had to be driving you…maybe you’ve got something to prove, he said, citing his father’s example that motivated him: leaving Kenya to study and go to Harvard.

Global companies are founded on exceptional training programs, focused on finding and supporting leaders. GE spends $1billion a year on training, much of it on its own elite management college.

Jack Welch and A.G. Lafley, former bosses of GE and Procter & Gamble, claimed they spent 40 percent of their time on personnel.  Andy Grove, who ran Intel obliged all senior people, including himself, to spend at least a week a year teaching high-flyers.

Their obsession with talent has served the likes of GE and P&G well.  They have trained enough leaders for themselves with plenty to spare.  P&G’s alumni include Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s boss; Meg Whitman, formerly of e-Bay; Scott Cook, Intuit) and Jim McNerney, Boeing.

Egypt could learn a lot from such talent masters.

Dr. Joseph Nye, who has been a US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary of State, and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and professor and dean at Harvard’s JFK School of Government, has recently begun teaching Leadership.  He says almost anyone can become a leader.  Leadership can be learned. It depends on nature as well as nurture.

To summarize a complex argument, but one that needs understanding in the Middle East and in Egypt in particular, Dr. Nye says the West has come to the conclusion that 10 years of counterinsurgency and nation building is a very labor intensive and lengthy process. It is particularly difficult when the outside power is not welcome among a nationalistic and awakened population, he says.

He advocates waiting to be invited to help to transfer knowledge and to accept that nation states such as Egypt can no longer find their way alone. The Internet and instant communications have brought new actors, some subversive, to center stage.

Small groups can destabilize and cause countries to be disrupted for years on end. The subversives become leaders and opinion formers, masters of sophisticated communications that outsmart elected leaders who lack comparable skills.

Is the Egyptian presidential line-up up to snuff? Can the candidates rise above online clatter? Egypt faces acute problems of budget deficits, national debt, unemployment and underemployment and chronically poor education for most. What’s the plan? What’s the message?

Overhauling the security apparatus and finding a role for the military in the new Egypt are 21st century problems that can’t be resolved with an archaic blunderbuss mentality. If the power vacuum continues, Egypt’s revolution could descend into the quagmire that’s Libya today — a leaderless maundering, murderous mayhem.

Neither SCAF nor their cabinet demonstrate the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it. So their candidates for the presidency are invalid.

At a time of great revolutionary turmoil in France, a little-known politician and lawyer, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin (1807–1874) distinguished himself as a great leader of the working people.

What was his campaign slogan? There go the people. I must follow them for I am their leader, he said.

And he did, very successfully.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Crucifixion double-cross

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

March 2 2012

CAIRO: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely — Lord Acton in 1887 reflecting on Europe’s descent into despotism. Keeping stumm, only blurting out objections to mixed bathing beaches and gin and tonics, hid the Egyptian Islamists’ intentions: to erect gibbets to crucify killers and chopping blocks to amputate an arm and a leg off thieves.

Crucifixtions? Why was the country allowed to vote without knowing what Salafi MPs had in mind?  Of course, you say, it must be a hair-brained idea from a small cabal of extremists.

Hold on. The arm-and-a-leg bill has arrived in parliament, supported by other Islamists and clerics from Al Azhar, the venerable headquarters of Sunni learning.

The bill is symbolic of a concerted effort to convert Egypt into a theocratic Islamic state. This week is pivotal as those who’ll write the new constitution are being picked.

Seeking power, Islamic candidates assured the electorate they were in favor of multi-party government. Everyone’s views would be respected, they said. Now they’ve got power they’ve abandoned tolerance blatantly.

They’re going for broke: an Islamic constitution, president, government and parliament.

The voters were duped. The secular and liberal members of the new parliament are being ignored; the Islamists have called for a vote of no confidence in the government. They’ve reneged on their pledge not to run for the presidency, announcing they’re looking for a candidate and they’ve given Islamists free reign to write a constitution they want.

The Islamist onslaught is contrary to the spirit of Tahrir.

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding, Mahatma Gandhi said wisely. Voltaire’s opinion was that tolerance was the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly, he said.

Can a way be found to accommodate pluralism before it’s too late? Or, is Egypt embarking on an Iranian-style path that hands power to a bigoted religious clique?

If the Muslim Brotherhood that dominates political decision-making can take U turns whenever they want, what’s to stop them renouncing the Peace Treaty with Israel?

If they can ignore election commitments, what are the portents for peace? Not good.

The Brotherhood has assured Hamas that the border between Gaza and Egypt will be opened permanently so that goods and people can cross freely  — a shift of policy and a slap in the face to Israel, which didn’t go unnoticed. Israel sent two planes to Cairo to pick up the embassy’s furniture and filing cabinets.

An Israeli official told Reuters the Egyptians are free to do what they want on their border, of course, but we are working on the assumption that, if only for the sake of their own national security, they will ensure weapons and terrorists do not pass into Gaza from the Sinai, or in the other direction.

Iran’s support for Hamas is also a critical piece of the new diplomatic jigsaw being put together by Egypt. The Tehran news agency IRNA reports Iran is ready to expand relations with Egypt, quoting Mojtaba Amani, Iran’s top diplomat holding the Egypt brief.

Visiting Cairo last month he was following up on a meeting between Egyptian businessmen and Iran’s Chamber of Commerce last year. Amani said talks were underway to resume Iran-Egypt relations immediately. Bilateral relations would require a change in laws, he said. As it stands, Iranians are not permitted to enter Egypt.

So, one way or another, Egypt is developing a new foreign policy. A particular word came up last Wednesday when the Chinese vice president Xi Jinping met the Egyptian foreign minister, Mohammed Amr in Beijing.

Trust.

China hopes to work closely with Egypt to further consolidate political trust, Xi said.

Diplomats noted that particular reference. Trust — or lack of it — is at the heart of the NGO dispute between America and Egypt. The US Embassy harbored a group of NGO workers because the Egyptians couldn’t be trusted not to throw them into jail indefinitely. Americans and Europeans paid $5 million bail for the same reason.

Now Egyptians have reason not to trust its leaders. During the weeks of electioneering candidates pooh-poohed any suggestion that Sharia law would become the norm.

Yet that’s what’s united the Islamists. The Salafis bill would introduce a section of Islamic law that specifies crucifixion for robbery and amputations for theft — hands for the first and second offence, feet for third or fourth convictions.

Quranic punishments were abolished in the Ottoman Empire in favor of the French penal code, which Egypt adopted in 1875, restricting Sharia to matters of personal status. Though some Egyptian politicians flirted with introducing Islamic law in the late 70s and early 80s, the attempt was dropped.

Now the Islamists have the majority in parliament and, though they swore they wouldn’t, they’re fixing the constitution and the presidency. According to Al Ahram 70 percent of the constituent assembly will be from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice and the Salafist Nour parties.

Only 14 of the 50 MPs will be independents or non-Islamists and even the 50 non-parliamentarians will be dominated by pro-Islamists, according to a list examined by Al Ahram.

So much for the new dawn, the sacrifice of hundreds and the suffering of tens of thousands.

Power gradually destroys every humane and gentle virtue, said Edmund Burke, the Anglo Irish politician philosopher whose support for the American Revolution was tempered by his condemnation of the French.

Egypt’s revolution deserves support. But those who claim to be revolutionaries do not.

They can’t be trusted if they can’t be sincere.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

 

New broom sweeps vacuum cleaner

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

March 22 2012

CAIRO: Now that the lesser leagues are sorted, it’s time for the big boys to make hay. As Charles de Gaulle put it: In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.

The nation’s political wanabees are clamoring. Who’d wanabee big? As of now, 800 aspirants are carting around the application form to be president.

The easiest way forward is to get one of the big political parties to nominate you. Harder still is to find 30,000 registered voters who will endorse your candidacy. Failing that, you can round up 30 MPs to vouch for your probity — ask a pot to call your kettle black.

Your best bet is to get the nod from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). They’ve the organizational expertise to get out the vote nationwide. Their endorsement should grease the wheels to power, particularly, as Al Ahram suggests, the MB is working hand-in-glove with the military to coalesce around a sure-fire winner.

But the MB shies away from running the whole show. They have the biggest share in parliament. They seem to favor a prime minster and a cabinet in government calling the shots rather than a dictator president.

Another opinion is that the Arab Awakening has woken up the MB’s traditional supporters. They’ve splintered into all manner of groups. Hence the battalion-sized mob grabbing application forms.

Taken at their word, the MB want the country managed by a government that reflects the diversity expressed in elections. On the other hand, you could argue that the MB is being dragged out of its back rooms and clandestine cabals to cope with a raucous hullaballoo.

Even their youthful spokesman has more than 80,000 followers on his personal Facebook wall and often speaks without clearance from the MB high-ups.

The MB’s main presidential challenger could come from the ultra-conservative Salafis. They proved a much stronger force in the parliamentary elections than anyone anticipated. Supporting a radical cleric for the post could bolster the Salafis, particularly if the MB water down their Islamist appeal to garner secular votes.

There’s the rub. If the Islamist vote splits, a secular technocrat could creep in. Or even a woman if a female candidate can canvass charismatically and win the nation’s heart.

We tend to think of Chandrika Bandaranaike from Sri Lanka as the world’s first woman president (1994–2005). But several blazed the trail. Khertek Amyrbitovna became head of state in the People’s Republic of Tannu Tuva in 1940 until its incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1944.

An American-educated Christian became a head of state in China of all places. Soong Qing-ling (1893–1981), leader of the opposition against her brother-in-law Chiang Kai-shek shared the presidential position for a couple of years in the 1970s.

On July 1 1974, Argentina’s president Juan Peron died in office and his third wife Isabel was sworn in, the first non-royal woman to head a western hemisphere state. She didn’t last long and skedaddled off to Spain.

Bolivia, Iceland, India, San Marino, Malta, Guinea Bissau, The Philippines, Indonesia, Finland, Ireland, Brazil, Austria and Switzerland are among countries that have elected a woman president. Why not Egypt?

Baffling is the silence of the youthful democrats who were so instrumental in igniting the movement for change. Just because they fared poorly in the parliamentary elections shouldn’t mean they should evaporate. In theory the under 35s have more votes than their conservative elders.

Maybe they were getting organized for the last elections and ran out of time. Maybe they posed a threat to the backroom boys that have in mind a scenario ushering in status quo Mark II with the MB/ military in charge and Mubarakites rehabilitated after a wrist tapping.

The hollering from the Mubarak cabinet’s holdover Faiza Abou El-Naga supports that theory. On the face of it she capitulated in the showdown with Senator John McCain. But she’d done what aspirants for high office are inclined to do. She raised her profile and diverted the nation’s attention from malaise at home by playing the xenophobia card.

If she enters the presidential race, the closet Mubarakites can come out and vote for what they can call the nationalist candidate, someone with only Egypt’s future in mind.

By the time campaigning begins in May, El-Naga’s stump speech could rebound with praise for saving the country a billion dollars in aid and paint the NGO kids as carpetbaggers who slunk back home after their number was called.

Footfalls echo in the memory down the passage, which we did not take towards the door we never opened — T.S. Eliot.

What’s interesting at this stage is the media’s identification of a couple of candidates they think stand the best chance: Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, the secretary-general of the Arab Doctors Union and former MB leading light and Hazem Sallah Abu Ismail, a prominent lawyer and Muslim preacher who advocates Islamic Law.

I say interesting because every article is stamped with a health warning that nobody knows how many candidates will run in the election and opinion polls are skimpy.

Personally, I’m rather pleased that’s the case. We’ve seen how badly wrong opinion polling in Egypt was this year. Nobody gave the Islamists as large a slice of the pie as they won.

The danger now is that a contrived opinion poll might skew the result by promoting one candidate as a frontrunner and, not wishing to be left out, the public trails along to the polling stations to make it happen.

Frontrunners attract big money supporters and this is where corruption begins. I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine is the mantra of political success.

The French have been the most tenacious in trying to minimize opinion polls’ influence. In 1977 the French media were barred from publishing opinion polls in the week before an election. In 1997 the newspapers ignored the blackout law. Eventually it was restored to 24-hours before a vote.

Not that anyone cares anymore. The Internet is out of the courts’ range.

And if people play their cards right in Egypt, this is where the presidential election can be fought and won.

And we all know who’s best at tweeting, don’t we?

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Crime and punishment

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

March 20 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: A juicy tidbit in The Iron Lady biopic playing at Citystars. All het up, Margaret Thatcher harps on to a hapless hanger-on: While England looks back on history America looks forward with a philosophy.

Ignominiously Egypt neither respects its history nor has faith in ethics to get out of the mess. Moneygrubbing rules.

Mrs. Thatcher’s carefully coiffured locks and deftly deliberately deepened vocal gravitas summoned a revolution more profound than anything that’s erupted thus far out of the Arab Awakening.

Don’t go all wobbly on me now George, Thatcher scolded the first President Bush as Iraq bade attention. Hand-in-hand Thatcher and Reagan made haste to bring the Berlin Wall down and topple the Soviet regime.

In Egypt today, it seems all that tough talk promising to hurl the book at the criminals who looted the nation’s coffers for decades was whistling in the breeze. Rather than tossing them in jail and throwing the keys away the criminals are picking the locks.

Reading between the lines, I get the impression justice is for sale if the price is right. One story after another is surfacing of negotiations to let the villains off if they can pony up enough cash.

You have to be wary about what you read nowadays. The newspapers aren’t as bold as before. But you can be pretty sure you’re on to something when both the leading Islamist parties are jumping up and down with ants in their pants.

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi-led Nour Party rejected a proposal to grant amnesty to convicts offering to give up their wealth if the government dropped the charges.

Apparently Ahmed Ezz, the loathsome lackey of Gamal Mubarak is among the crooks waving a get-out-of-jail card through the bars of his cage.

CNN ran a story about Egypt’s finance minister considering financial offers made by imprisoned members Mubarak’s regime to resolve cases of corruption and illegal profiteering brought against them.

If the proposed deals are accepted Ezz, the former tourism minister Zoheir Garana and the former housing minister Ahmed Maghraby  would be freed without penalties or trials.

Apparently The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces amended the investment law on January 3, 2012, two weeks before the first session of parliament. Their amendment allowed suspects in graft, embezzlement and corruption cases to pay back ill gotten gains using assets, real estate, cash, or land in return for dropping the charges.

That’s like being caught robbing a bank and then being told everyone would forget about it if you put the money back. It doesn’t matter that you might have financed half a dozen more bank robberies with the cash you stole in the first place.

Just to save the police going to the trouble of finding you and your money, the villains are offered a deal that wipes the slate clean.

SCAF and the Minister of Finance should be ashamed of themselves. Have they no shame?

Hala Mahmoud, a civil rights activist, says the law is a farce, orchestrated by SCAF to their benefit. I am sure members of the ruling council have mutual interests with those thieves behind bars, she says. So they came up with this decree that defies the constitution to save themselves.

Why don’t they allow drug dealers to do the same?

Good question. The wheeler-dealers the country is focusing on are the Mubaraks.

The Illicit Gains Authority found Suzanne Mubarak siphoned off money intended for charities and deposited it into her private bank account, drawing on it for several years, knowing her actions were in violation of NGO laws.

She comes and goes, hospital and prison visiting, unencumbered by an electronic ankle tag. Her husband is still in a hospital and her sons are creating new records for delayed justice, enjoying take-away from the Four Seasons.

What kind of justice is that?

George Bernard Shaw said the best reformers the world has ever seen are those who commence on themselves.

Historians tend to cite the ancient Greeks for bunching together the separate categories of law:  constitutional, legal, religious, moral and conventional under one catchall namos,  as they described it.

That enabled the oligarchs of the day to slap down revolutionaries under the generalization of treason or conspiracy.

The Greeks were able to close their eyes to what we’d regard nowadays as conscience crimes, covering a wide range of ideals, obsessions and eccentricities.

Egypt’s jumbled-up mix of law seems to favor paying off actors in a criminal court drama as if they were litigants in a civil action. We’ve seen families of murder victims accept cash to withdraw their complaints.

What always seems surprising is the lack of transparency. A group of wealthy Saudi Arabian investors in Egypt have reached the end of their tether. Shaikh Abdul Elah Kaki and his family are claiming $350 million from the Egyptian government after the company they bought in 1997 was seized by the state last October.

Their lawyers can’t get any explanation. One says the Administrative Court judgment talks about privatization in Egypt being under the sway of the United States. It looks like a rogue judge who has decided to make an ideological judgment overturning the original investment, he says.

This kind of legal hanky-panky doesn’t bode well for Egypt, the lawyer says.

As well he might.

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the law. —  Plato

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

 

Bonfire of the banalities

 International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

March 14 2012

By Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Grace and pace they have not. Filibuster and bluster they’re full of. Can you believe the new crop of rags-to-riches whistle-stoppers are turning down a billion US dollars and some because their pride is hurt?

More likely they’ve been tipped off the US aid package to Egypt will end up as small pickings. Parliament’s attempt to switch the argument away from Egypt’s abominable human rights performance has rebounded.

The Islamists heading the charge look as emasculated as SCAF. Both are licking their wounds.

A spokesman for a group of middle class professionals collared me.

It’s all well and good for the papers to be covering HELP (Hosni, Elections, Losers and Parliament) he said. But they’re missing the real story.

What’s the scoop?

Everyone can see how hopeless the new parliament is. They haven’t got a fresh idea among them… they’re as stale as a week-old bag of baladi bread. The government’s no better.

That’s a scoop?

We kept our mouths shut when our staff — particularly those working in our homes —asked how to vote. When they told us we are giving some candidates a ‘little help’ to see them through hard times, we kept our mouths zipped.

And look what it’s got them? A dumb parliament that can’t even investigate a football match riot properly, a government that was rolled over by an American senator and a trial that’s going nowhere.

You mean the Hosni Mubarak case?

Exactly. Nobody believes the prosecution proved he did anything particularly out of the ordinary. So the only wise course is to keep postponing the result. By rights, he should be convicted, but it’s doubtful that will happen.

The real problem is not Mubarak and his corrupt clique. Good riddance to them. The problem Egypt faces is the flight of the technocrats. Hundreds of thousands who got a good education and applied themselves to working hard have fled.

Talented computer geeks are turning up in Tennessee, for example. Marketing people are spread across Canada. The European embassies are inundated with paper work. And to cap it all hundreds of applications for work permits to bring qualified people into Egypt are not being processed.

You can’t put your finger on who’s responsible. But it all seems to have come to a head after the election.

Aha. So what you’re saying is that the country is being governed by stealth?

Precisely…smoke and mirrors. The only thing that’s for sure is prices have gone through the roof.

Now it’s our turn to vote for a president with some pride.

Aren’t there 500 possible contenders?

We expect 200 by the time the forms are filled in.

So who is the middle class going to vote for?

Someone who knows the difference between pride and patriotism. Someone who will work selflessly to unite Egyptians of all flavors. Someone who has the courage to stand up to the bigots inside and outside parliament.

And who is this person?

Well, we haven’t decided to go public yet. There’s enough time for the other candidates to put their feet in their mouths. The most important thing is not to allow a religious zealot to get into the presidential palace.

We’ve seen it doesn’t follow that being religious is a sure way to govern. The Islamists ignore the Christians. That’s not right. No doubt the Christian politicians have grudges against some fanatics in their constituencies.

So what we don’t want is an ultra-religious president.

What about a woman?

We’re certainly not against women running countries. There are plenty around doing a grand job. Whether Egypt is up for a woman yet is another matter. But the professional middle classes are not against women playing the most important roles in society.

More important is to give Egypt a new face abroad. Look at the pictures in the paper of our politicians. They’re like snaps of geriatrics on an outing. They’re almost entirely old men.

Half the country’s under 25. The revolution was started by young people. They played a huge role in mobilizing their parents and grandparents onto the streets. What we need is someone not in their dotage.

Wouldn’t this be too revolutionary?

Not at all. Look, in my profession, dentistry? Lots of older dentists are retiring. To make a living they’ve had to work two shifts a day and another doing specialist work in hospitals. It can mean 4 hours driving from one place to another.

Post-revolution it’s almost impossible. On Monday a colleague spent two hours driving from Dokki to Al Salam Hospital in Syria Street. His patients had to wait an hour for him.

One of our most respected packed in his practice near the city center and just kept his other surgery in the suburbs. He handed the keys and his patient list to a younger colleague after he reckoned he was fully qualified and able to take over.

What happened? The new head of practice got a bank loan and upgraded all the equipment, spruced up the office and has doubled the number of patients he’s treating as word has spread.

It’s time for a change and the presidency should reflect the mood.

A youth is to be regarded with respect — Confucius. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present?

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

 

Did America blink?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

March 7 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind — Julius Caesar.

No sooner had the deal been done and the keys to freedom handed to beleaguered NGO workers than outraged conspiracy theorists leapt out of their closets.

On the one hand, they claimed, the government trampled over the judiciary’s alleged independence. On the other, the United States forced Egypt to eat humble pie.

Or had they?

The Cairo media plunked for outrage: Scandal. Under orders from the military, the judiciary freed the Americans and let them travel — Al Tahrir.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces proved to the world that any talk of judicial independence in Egypt is no more than an illusion, the paper said. It accused SCAF of backing off under pressure.

Bring the government and the judiciary before the people’s tribunal — Al Shorouk. The government moved heaven and earth to defend Egypt’s sovereignty only to cave in. Will the government be believed the next time it cries wolf?

Strange and regrettable — Al Akhbar. The Americans have flown away and the crisis is ablaze — Al Masry Al Youm.

All fair game and may prove to be true. But diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way, Daniele Vare, an Italian diplomat counseled during his posting in Beijing in the 1920s.

Let’s poke around a bit. Here’s an official-looking letter written on Nov. 8, 2005 by Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, the oversight body for American NGOs.

Among the matters Lugar asked Gershman to investigate were reports of state security disrupting democracy supporters meeting in Alexandria to discuss the then upcoming legislative elections. Lugar said senators were deeply concerned.

He lumped Egypt with Belarus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Putin’s Russia as foreign governments thwarting grassroots democratic movements.

What could congress do to highlight and address this problem, Lugar asked? The answers came back 18 months later in 50 pages, some apposite.

1) A few foreign governments were working together to seriously impede democracy assistance, including NGO workers being harassed, offices closed, and staff expelled. Even more vulnerable were local grantees and project partners who had been threatened, assaulted, prosecuted, imprisoned and killed.

2) Since Ukraine’s democratic revolution a paradigm shift had taken place in authoritarian regimes’ perspectives and strategies. China and Russia were tightening their authoritarian grip. They dubbed democracy an alien system.

3) Despite its collapse in Russia, Mubarak was tempted by a Chinese-style authoritarian society, elite-friendly and market driven.
Senator Lugar read of rival democracy movements increasing funding for radical Islamist groups from Saudi/Wahabbi, Iranian, Syrian and other sources.

Douglas Rutzen and Cathy Shea, president and program director, respectively, of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law in Washington DC cited Cuba and Egypt using thugs to constrain NGOs.

Restrictions on foreign funding of domestic civil society groups were increasingly common. Russia, Venezuela, Egypt and Zimbabwe provide perhaps the most blatant and pernicious instances of this trend, they said.

If America wanted to make a fuss about NGOs they could have done years ago. So why now? Why doesn’t America give up if their efforts are apparently so ineffective?

The grass is greener on democracy’s side of the fence? Freedom and democracy are a just society’s core values that offer all the opportunity to live a healthy, well-educated and prosperous life?

They were the British Empire’s rallying cry, particularly during Victorian times, as Jeremy Paxman has begun informing the UK in a new prime time BBC TV series, which began last week on the croquet lawn at Cairo’s Gezira Club.

Paxo’s point is that Britain could only sustain its influence over a quarter of the globe’s human beings by hiring locals to fight their battles for them.

Also by lying. Paxman claimed the Brits told the Egyptians in 1882 after they’d bought the Suez Canal they wouldn’t be staying long…and then invented the concept of a protectorate to stay on for 70 years.

It seems to me that’s what America is up to now. For any number of reasons, mainly after military ignominy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is going the way of all empires, forced to relinquish its grip in the face of anti-colonialism.

But America can’t leave. The American economy is a global, intertwined complexity of manufacturing, servicing, financing and trading that relies on stability for growth. That can’t be guaranteed with regimes toppling and the expectation of more to come.

America will try to maintain its influence by supporting proxy wars fought on their behalf by local military forces, just as Qatar did in Libya and as the Arab League is being pressed to do to end the carnage in Syria.

Obama knows the option to put American forces on the ground has been squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week the president will hear Netanyahu’s version of Iraq’s nuclear program. However much Obama would like to turn way from the likes of Iran, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, he can’t.

He may feel as Paxo reported using black and white Pathé newsreel cinema footage from British mandate Palestine. The graffiti in Jerusalem’s Old City said: Tommy, go home. Underneath Tommy, a British soldier, had scrawled: I wish we (expletive) could.

The complexities of the NGO negotiations involved scores of diplomats from the State Department and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The result was inconclusive.

On the face of it, Egypt gave way to allow foreign NGO workers to be flown home, bailed for $2 million on the promise to return for trial. But that would not have occupied so many people so much time to work out.

In Mark Twain’s words: The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy: Give one and take 10.

We shall have to wait awhile to see what the rest of the deal entails.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

No mud. No lotus

International Herald Tribune/ Daily News Egypt

March 2 2012

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Ever thought who thought up yin and yang, the opposites that make a whole? Hot and cold, day and night. Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) the Chinese philosopher considered a worthy life balanced humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and faithfulness.

Would that Egypt moved towards equilibrium. The revolution has opened up chasms of disagreement. I had no idea people felt this way, a doctor who happens to be a Christian told me a couple of days ago. People I have known for years now refuse to shake my hand.

I’m in shock. Egypt is becoming polarized — against the grain of what I’d thought of society, he said. I’d always imagined we Egyptians to be tolerant and forgiving. Neither is true. I experience unforgiving intolerance.

He blames Saudi Arabia. Egyptians working in the kingdom come back brainwashed, I hear him say.

The imbalance is also reflected in foreign relations: The debacle over NGOs; foreign lenders and investors reluctant to put their money where their mouth is; foreign tourists’ unease. None of these cohorts are comfortable with new Egypt.

The spirit of Tahrir Square’s call for change has not galvanized new thinking. Egypt’s quest for a president has only unearthed Mubarak mutton dressed up as liberation lamb.

To date it’s a humdrum dialogue, the kind of pabulum you’d expect to hear in a town council race in Hometown, USA or Bletchley, Kent — absent the bold ideas, imagination and soaring rhetoric moments such as this require.

Martin Luther King Jr., in front of a quarter of a million black marchers at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

I have a dream…to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream…an oasis of freedom and justice.

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred…

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…we refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

The absence of a voice reflecting Egyptians’ forbearance and magnanimity could be the revolution’s undoing.

If anything, the opportunity that brought people onto the streets in the first place has been hijacked by religious conservatives who only joined in after they sniffed the way the wind was blowing.

The people who swarmed into Tahrir Square and stayed to see Mubarak go were united in wanting progress, not atavism. And for a while the Islamist politicians seemed to respect their wishes.

The tone has changed in recent times, no doubt prompted by the urgency to endorse candidates for the presidency within the next couple of weeks.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafis’ Nour party have hardened their line.

The Brotherhood says the candidate they’ll support must have an Islamist background. That overturns their previous pledge to support a candidate that was acceptable to all.

The Salafis have never made any bones about their religiosity and support for Islamist governance and sharia law. They’re more outspoken than before.

Let’s just remind ourselves that philosophers such as China’s Zhou Dunyi, the Greeks, the Romans; those from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were led by visionaries that focused on humankind’s moral purpose and ethics.

How did Nelson Mandela lead South Africa out of its dark place?

Facing death for opposing the white apartheid South African regime, Mandela said this: I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

In the event, Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was imprisoned with others in a tiny square cell with only a slit of a window. He slept on straw with a bucket for a toilet. His eyesight was seriously imperiled working in a lime quarry, a condition that remains to this day.

Yet released after 27 years, Mandela was more cogent and more inspiring than ever.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb, he said.

I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

Tahrir Square inspired 95 occupations in 82 major cities around the world and thousands of smaller community events, including at least 600 in America.

It’s a pity the awakening in Egypt has failed to inspire a communal thrust towards freedom equal to South Africa’s emergence or the change of attitude in America that eventually led to Barack Obama’s ascendance to the Presidency.

Shameful are the contumacious, recalcitrant stick-in-the-muds who’ve reverted to the old political ways, bargaining in backrooms, nearing fisticuffs in the parliament at the least hint of discord.

The Stone Age didn’t end because the world ran out of stone. Mankind’s resourcefulness developed smelting metal to make more effective tools.

Egypt needs a presidential election worthy of the call for democracy that led to this moment.

No mud. No lotus — out of suffering should come enlightenment and happiness.

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people — Mahatma Gandhi.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.