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More than three months after the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi from power, the Obama administration is making plans to suspend a substantial portion of military aid to Egypt. For the U.S., the decision is fraught with political and policy hazards since the region’s security is heavily dependent on U.S. aid. Kojo finds out how the U.S. aid decision could impact Egypt’s security amid renewed protests and crackdowns.
- Hamza Hendawi Cairo Bureau Chief, Associated Press.
- Khalil al Anani Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute; Author, "Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity and Politics."
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Your Turn on the government shutdown, the Redskins' name, Nobel Prize winners, anything on your mind. But first, the government shutdown may have pushed the crisis in Egypt out of the top headlines, but tension and violence on Cairo's streets is again reaching a low boil after months of bloody demonstrations following the July ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Obama Administration this week officially acknowledged its displeasure with the takeover by pulling aid from the ruling military regime. It's a bold move fraught with political and policy landmines and it's a gesture many say is too little too late, not really bold at all. But how badly does withholding a few jets, helicopters and missiles hurt a military intent on banning members of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood? And how does the curb on aid play on the streets of Cairo where thousands have died or been arrested?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to have this conversation in our Washington studio is Khalil al Anani. He is senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. He's also author of the upcoming book "Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity and Politics." Khalil al Anani, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KHALIL AL ANANIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Cairo is Hamza Hendawi. He is Cairo bureau chief of the Associated Press. Hamza, thank you for joining us.
MR. HAMZA HENDAWIThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Hamza, I'll start with you. Before we get to the issue of U.S. aid to Egypt, I wanted to talk about the news out of Cairo yesterday that ousted President Mohamed Morsi and 14 members of the Muslim Brotherhood will stand trial next month. What charges is the military bringing against Morsi? As I recall, these charges are not why he was detained originally, but what are the charges now? And what has been the reaction on Cairo's streets?
HENDAWIThe military's not bringing those charges against the ousted president but the prosecutors. And the charge is incitement to murder. And that is to do the offense outside Morsi's Cairo palace in December when his supporters set upon peaceful protestors who were camping outside his camp. We had a day of street fighting between the two sides in which ten people were killed. Admittedly, many of those ten people are actually Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
HENDAWIBut we have had documented evidence that members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has set up what they call -- what rights activists called torture centers right outside the walls of his palace. It's on these charges that Morsi is facing trial on November 4.
NNAMDIKhalil, the military has made several moves recently to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, including outlawing it. Could Mohamed Morsi's trial serve to fuel this movement rather than diminish it?
ANANIAbsolutely. I think this trial would add fuel to the current crisis. I know it'd increase demonstrations of the Muslim Brotherhood because this is another attempt by the regime to eliminate and to approve the Muslim Brotherhoods. This would add to the current crisis, by pushing them to go to the streets and try to challenge this trial.
NNAMDIHamza, as the military-backed government moves to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood, we're hearing that the government -- the military is also promoting a more moderate military endorsed brand of Islam for Egyptians. What is that and how is it being received in Egypt?
HENDAWIThe Muslim Brotherhood was perceived -- for many years before it was in power following Mubarak's ouster in 2011 was perceived as a moderate and pragmatic organization. But when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in late 2011 through the parliamentary elections and then Morsi winning the presidency in June last year, it became apparent to many Egyptians, and perhaps the military too, that it was not the -- it was not the moderate organization that everyone had thought it to be.
HENDAWIThere was -- to the dismay of many Egyptians there was that discovery that there's too much common ground between the Muslim Brotherhood and militant groups in Egypt. I think General Abdul Fatah Al-Asisi himself is perhaps one of the champions of what's being called in Egypt a moderate Islam or a centrist Islam. Asisi has been big in his public pronouncements about what (unintelligible) which is the primary seat of Sunni Muslim learning, what it stand for centrist Islam.
HENDAWIAnd this is all part of a campaign that the media is launching, with the blessing of -- at least the implicit blessing of the military against the Muslim Brotherhood portraying it as in essence, a terrorist organization that has many, many ties with militant and Jihadi groups, some of which are active in the Sinai Peninsula.
NNAMDIHamza, the Muslim Brotherhood spent 60 years as an outlawed organization. So outlawing it once again puts it, if not in its comfort zone, certainly in a situation to which it is accustomed. What is the sense about the party's future at this point?
HENDAWII think the 60 years in which the Muslim Brotherhood lived and operated as an outlawed organization is looking increasingly like it's going to be -- is going to pale in comparison to what this regime is doing to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not exaggeration to view the crackdown as one that -- whose ultimate aim is to crush the Muslim Brotherhood and never let it see -- let it rise again to power or to any sort of evidence in the public life in Egypt. Is that possible? I'm not so sure.
HENDAWIMohamed Morsi won 5 million votes in the first round of the presidential election last year. And then he won by 12 million votes in the runoff. Can you eliminate what the Muslim Brotherhood stands for in the mind of all these people? Perhaps not but I am almost certain, as many Egyptians are, that there will be no political role for the Muslim Brotherhood, at least in the foreseeable future.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you think Egypt's military will ultimately succeed in dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com. We're talking with Hamza Hendawi. He joins us by phone from Cairo. He is Cairo bureau chief for the Associated Press. Khalil al Anani joins us in our Washington studio. He is senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and also author of the upcoming book "Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity and Politics."
NNAMDIKhalil al Anani, do you also make a distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood's past as an outlawed organization and what the military today is trying to do to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is apparently to destroy it completely?
ANANIWell, I think this would be a very difficult moment to assume that the current crackdown would lead to the elimination and to the end of Muslim Brotherhood. We are talking about not only a religious party, but at the same time social movement that has at least 500,000 of core members who are very ideologically committed. And they have a cause regardless what this cause is or not. But they insist that they should have a place in the public arena.
ANANIThat's why I have much doubt that the current crackdown and the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood would lead to the end of their prisons, at least in the foreseeable future. And I would say it's not -- I think the issue now is beyond the Muslim Brotherhood. It's about the future of democracy in Egypt right now, which I think there is no -- many signs that Egypt is heading in this direction by -- given the fact that since the ousting of President Morsi, there is not much freedom which comes to freedom of expression. There is martial law now and police and there is a curfew.
ANANIAnd anyone would like to voice any opinion that might oppose the current military-backed government would be, you know, harassed by the security forces. So now we are going back to replicate this era that used to be there over the last six decades by putting the Brotherhood under pressure and trying to (unintelligible) power under this scandal of security and police regimes. I think this would be very destructive to any democratic future for Egypt.
NNAMDILet's talk a little bit about the U.S. foreign policy and how it's being applied in this situation, the move by the U.S. this week to suspend some military aid. One has to emphasize that about half the military aid for the year has already been delivered. They're holding off on the rest of it. There were calls soon after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi from power in July to cut off military aid. Three months later after many bloody protests, the U.S. is finally doing some measure of that. What kind of message do you think this administration is sending by cutting off aid now? Is it too little too late?
ANANIIt's absolutely too little too late. I think this, again, should have been taken immediately after the ousting of the firstly -- the first democratically-elected president, which is Mohamed Morsi, regardless if I agree with him or not. But I think the administration should have taken this position, I would say, three months ago. Now I don't think that this decision would lead to any significant change in the relationship between the United States and between Egypt. Because we are talking about partial cut of the aid which merely related to some kind of fighting jets like F16 and Apache helicopter which can be a message that you cannot continue on such a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and against the opposition.
ANANII think it's too little too late but it's important that -- to send the message that you cannot, you know, go away without any kind of punishment about your behavior and actions. The question is -- now is, how would the generals perceive this aids cut and how they would act accordingly. In other words, they might use the cutting of aid as a way to increase their popular support. And this used to be the game (unintelligible) over the last six decades and the regime is trying to create an enemy outside and trying to make appear for people by getting support through this kind of strategy against the enemy.
ANANISo I think cutting the aid might benefit the current regime more than harming it.
NNAMDIIndeed Hamza Hendawi, we're hearing that popular opinion of the U.S. is sinking in Egypt. The state media have even accused the U.S. of supporting terrorism. What has been the reaction from the military and the reaction on the streets to the news that the U.S. will withdraw the rest of its military aid this year?
HENDAWIThe military has so far remained publically silent on yesterday's U.S. move. However, General Abdul-Fatah al-Asisi in an interview published just today did describe the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt as a strategic one. But he also cautioned that he will not -- or that Egypt will not allow any meddling in its domestic affairs. Anti-U.S. sentiments in Egypt have been there for a long time, during Mubarak's time and Sadat before him.
HENDAWIThere have been a lot of conspiracies going on in the media and among all the Egyptians, at least in Cairo, that the U.S. -- or at least the Obama Administration was sad to see Morsi go. That the Obama Administration is plotting some scheme with the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar and Turkey to carve up Egypt and carve up other parts of the Arab world.
HENDAWIBut like Khalil al-Anani has said, the cut off or the partial freeze of the aid to Egypt will play into the hands of the regime. Because you stand to gain a lot of popular support, you stand to gain a lot of street credibility if you're seen as someone who's standing up to the United States. And while the move is -- cannot be called symbolic but it is highly unlikely that you'll impact at all on how the U.S. -- the Egyptian military is performing.
HENDAWIThere are some of the details -- you'll find that, for example, the Egyptians are continuing to get the spare parts, for example, for their Apaches and other weapons. The Egyptians have been getting American weapons for well over 30 years. And the country, while fighting an insurgency in Sinai, is not exactly a state of war where constant supplies of arms and spare parts are needed.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about withdrawing aid from Egypt and provide an update about the Libya kidnapping. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about withdrawing aid from Egypt. Later we'll discuss what has been occurring in Libya over the course of the past few days. We're talking with Khalil al Anani. He is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of the upcoming book "Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity and Politics." Hamza Hendawi joins us by phone from Cairo. He is the Cairo bureau chief for the Associated Press.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the U.S. should have withdrawn aid sooner? Has the Obama Administration been too slow to act following Egypt's military coup or is a more methodical approach smarter, 800-433-8850. Here is Hamada in Washington. Hamada, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAMADAHi, Kojo. I'll be brief. I'll make two comments. First of all, it's not about Morsi or the Brotherhood. It's about a president who tried to take executive legislative and judicial powers in his hands. And it's about winning the ballot box -- it's not about winning the ballot box per se, but it's what you do after you win the ballot box. And the other thing about -- another point about the U.S. aid -- cutting the U.S. aid, it's actually Israel, for thier sake, has frowned upon the U.S. decision to cut the aid because Egypt now is fighting terrorism in Sinai and even the streets of Cairo.
HAMADAAnd I see indecisive of Obama's foreign policy in Libya, in Egypt and in Syria. They didn't get -- they didn't sense what the street is really demanding. This is not a coup. This is a people's revolution. Thank you. I'll take your guests' comments off the air.
NNAMDIKhalil al Anani, our caller says that this military rule in Egypt today is not a coup. It is a people's revolution. What do you say?
ANANIWell, I think it's a coup with some kind of public support, absolutely. I mean, it's a coup, to be frank with you, if we try to revise what happened since 3rd of July until now. First of all, the first democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi -- of course, Mohamed was elected democratically, but he was not governing democratically. And (unintelligible) that he was a failure as president, no doubt about this.
ANANIBut if we follow the events that followed his ousting until now, it refers that the military's trying to come back to power, I mean, most directly through bringing a civilian facade that can govern and can rule. And they would remain in power from behind the scene. What happened then until now that you put a president under house arrest. No one know where is he exactly now. Second, you started a very heavy-handed campaign against his supporters. And they are pushing them to the wall to react violently.
ANANIAnd then to justify your crackdown against them, you are declaring martial law, arresting many people, preventing anyone from voicing any different, you know, from that of the state of the government. So I think -- I mean, we need to go beyond this debate whether this was a coup or not. We need to look at the future and I think, as I said in the beginning, there is no much signs that Egypt is heading towards a genuine democracy.
ANANIGiven the fact that the current debate within Egypt about the power of the military within the constitution, which is very ironic, that people who would vote against Morsi because he was undemocratic, now they're trying to plant the seeds for a new autocratic regime by making any kind of civilian oversight over the military. Now the new constitution was supposed to come out within a few weeks as calling for three main things.
ANANIThe first one, that civilians can be tried in front of military courts, which is something against democracy. Second, the minister of defense cannot be appointed without getting the approval of the supreme council of armed forces, which means that the military would have a veto right on the president appoint the new Minister of Defense. Third is that there is no oversight of the budget of the military, which reveals the intentions of those who are in power now to give some kind of impunity to the military.
ANANISo regardless what happened the 3rd of July, there is nothing that can let us believe that Egypt now is heading towards any kind of democracy. I would say we might regress back to have some kind of autocracy in the future.
NNAMDIHamza Hendawi, our last caller mentioned the role of Israel being opposed to the decision of the U.S. Israel was reportedly intimately involved in the deliberations to cut aid to Egypt, as we said coming out again. So the aid that the U.S. sends to Egypt is a critical pillar of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. And it apparently helps maintain some regional stability. What does the withdrawal of aid mean for that dynamic, Hamza?
HENDAWIWell, I think the Egyptians in the next few days will see the military and government officials speaking about the U.S. move as one that could inadvertently undermine the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. But that will be almost empty rhetoric. I don't think that treaty's in any danger. For these reasons, have expressed concern, but I also think that concern is a little exaggerated. And then perhaps what it is in essence is just making agreeable noises in support of the Egyptians.
HENDAWINow the Egyptian military and the Israeli military do maintain close contact. They do coordinate. They have common interests. For example, the Sinai does not become a haven for militants. It is not so much the peace treaty of 1979 as much as the present requirements for coordination between Egypt and Israel to fight a common enemy that poses a serious danger to both nations.
HENDAWISo is the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel safe after the U.S. move yesterday? Yeah, I think so. There's no doubt in my mind about that.
NNAMDIHamza, you wrote an interesting piece this month describing how the turmoil of the last two years has taken a toll on Egyptians. Can you describe what Cairo feels like as the military continues its crackdowns against Islamists? Your story also mentioned that Egyptians are in a constant state of rebellion. What did you mean by that?
HENDAWIWell, I'm a native of Cairo and I must admit that the dynamics of the streets of Cairo have grown largely incomprehensible to me. The city has indeed, as I mentioned in the article you're referring to, been scarred by the turmoil and the bloodshed of two-and-a-half years. As for the city being in a constant state of rebellion, that is happening at many levels. Hardly a day goes by without a protest here or a protest there, a march there or a march here.
HENDAWIAnd then there are minor forms of rebellion, People triple parking in a city like this. It's an outrageous crime but it's happening and people are getting away with it. Cafes, as I mentioned in the story, taking over entire sidewalks on business streets. That is a minor rebellion. And I can go on and mention many, many examples. But Cairo's spirit, I would say that to some (word?) has rather been hurt or scarred by the events of the last two-and-a-half years.
HENDAWIAnd many of the qualities that we have grown accustomed to in Cairo are no longer there. It's not anywhere as accepting as it used to once be. The humor is getting a lot darker. People are on edge. People have little tolerance for each other. But as someone told me when I was reporting that story, that give Cairo a little time, a respite from all this turmoil and it will surprise us by how fast it regains its old spirit.
NNAMDIHamza Hendawi is Cairo bureau chief for the Associated Press. Hamza, thank you so much for joining us.
HENDAWIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIKhalil al Anani, can you build on what Hamza was just talking about in terms of what he sees as a cultural shift in Cairo, that some people believe that after a respite we'll revert to what was previously considered normal behavior in Cairo. Do you see it the same way?
ANANIAbsolutely. I would agree with Hamza and what he said about the current transformations that are taking place now in Egypt. I would say over the last three years that have been witnessing many dynamics of change in terms of culture, in terms of ways of separation, in terms of ways of resisting and opposing the regimes, whether the military or the Brotherhood regime. And I would say with that giving more space and chances for the new generation, particularly those who are feeling alienated and disenchanted from different regimes. They don't feel that the revolution achieved its goals.
ANANII think this is the main challenge that it's facing in the regime that went through Egypt in the future. So anyone would believe that he can get away from these goals of the revolution, I think he would be very wrong without responding positively. The people's aspirations after these long years of waiting to have dignity and freedom and some kind of basic human rights, I think we would witness a new wave of rebellion and discontent that might be more bloody and more violent even in the future.
NNAMDII want to turn to Libya for a while because there are reports today that the prime minister of Libya was kidnapped briefly then released in an apparent act of retaliation for his supposed consent to the capture of a suspected al-Qaida leader by American Special Forces. The prime minister Ali Zeidan said that he had no warning or knowledge of the American commando raid last Saturday in which that suspected al-Qaida leader was captured. But U.S. officials said they had the full cooperation of the liberal government for the raid. What does this kidnapping say to you about the security and stability of Libya's transitional government?
ANANIWell, I think Libya, since the killing of Moammar Gadhafi, the former president or the former ruler of Libya, is living in a very huge vacuum in terms of security and stability. And given the fact that the revolution was heavy militarized and armed by many countries, now the majority of Libyans, they have arms in their hands. And they act as there is no state or there's no central government. That's why they believe that they can't enforce the government to do whatever they want.
ANANISo I think in this environment of huge and massive vacuums in the security and stability, you would expect anything that can happen in Libya. I would say this controversy over the arresting of (unintelligible), one of the most veteran leaders of al-Qaida, reveal to what extent the government in Libya as weak and cannot have control or serenity over its territory, given the fact that they are saying that they had nothing to do with this.
ANANIWhich indeed by some officials here in Washington, they said, no, there was some kind of fluke operation which reflects the contradiction between both governments when it comes to counterterrorism or trying to improve the security situation in Libya.
NNAMDIDo you think this kidnapping will put a huge damper on Libya's willingness to cooperate in future in counterterrorism operations with the U.S.?
ANANIOne of the problem is how the Libyan government can justify what happened on its land and its territories. So I think -- I don't think this would affect the bilateral relationship between Libya and between the United States in the future. However, they need to look for a new strategy on how to handle -- the thing is the first one, how to counter terrorism and bring stability to Libya. On the other hand, how to build institutions. We are talking about a country that has no institution over the last six decades. And they build them from scratch.
ANANISo I think result of assistance that should be -- come from the United States in terms of building an effective government in Libya.
NNAMDIKhalil al Anani, thank you for joining us.
ANANIThanks for having me.
NNAMDIKhalil al Anani is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. He's also author of the upcoming book "Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity and Politics." We are going to take a short break. When we come back it is Your Turn, whether you want to talk about the government shutdown and how it's affected the District of Columbia and the D.C. mayor's response to it, the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins, the first woman nominated to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board or anything else. Start calling now, 800-433-8850. You can also stay on the line to talk about the subject that we just discussed, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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