Restore Morsi Now!

I am no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, as many of their political positions are diametrically oppose to my own.

However.

I am a big fan of democracy.  However imperfect his election and that of the parliament, President Mohammed Morsi deserves the world’s support.  We in America often forget just how imperfect our democracy is.  Putting aside hanging chads, they used to have a saying in Chicago: vote early, vote often.

Democracy takes time to get right.  It takes commitment, and it takes patience.  Could you imagine the United States Army going in and taking over CNN in Atlanta, and arresting the president, simply because of a large protest on the Mall?  Those protests are meant to sway legislators and those who vote for them peacefully.

And it hasn’t always been so peaceful, even in America.  Some people may remember Sheriff Bull Connor who set dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protestors.  And we don’t even have to go back that far.  But we got better at it.

So would Egypt, if they give it time and patience.

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Why is Hamas Attacking Now? It’s All About One Man

Egyptian President Morsi is the one man that Hamas is looking toward to start a war with Israel, and that is why there are rockets flying back and forth.

Map of IsraelWhile there has been very little news of formal progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians, until this week there had been modest informal improvements day to day in the West Bank, at least.  Why now, then, did Hamas decide to escalate in southern Israel?  The answer can be found in the protests occurring in Egypt, and the new government of President Mohamed Morsi, who is aligned through the Muslim Brotherhood with Hamas.

President Mohamed MorsiBy escalating the violence, Hamas hopes to elicit a reaction from Israel that would stoke people in Egypt to press Mr. Morsi to abrogate Egypt’s treaty with Israel.  Mr. Morsi previously signaled that the treaty is not inviolate, by stating that the Camp David Accords had envisioned a permanent solution long ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuThis fits a pattern that the Palestinians have been attempting for the last year: rather than come back to the table, they would prefer to see international pressure exerted on Israel, and the more the better.  Firing rockets toward Jerusalem has therefore pushed the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a corner: the Israeli response against such attacks has always been robust, if not aggressive.  If the the rocket attacks into Gaza that demonstrate this point have caused as many Egyptians to protest, imagine what the result of a ground offensive would be.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud AbbasIn the meantime, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has had to cut short his world tour, where he has pushed the countries to elevate the status of Palestine to observer state.  This has many implications in both political terms and International legal terms, and would represent an attempt at an end run around a bilateral solution.  It would provide Palestinians legal claims to sovereignty of their territory.  Those claims would do the Palestinians little good in the short term, as Israeli tanks roll across Gaza, and all for the veiled hope that they will somehow come out better (and Israelis worse) thanks to Egypt coming into a war on their side, perhaps bringing others with them.

It all hinges on how President Morsi responds to this crisis, and there is reason to be concerned that he will not respond well.  Either the Palestinians have grossly misread his support, or he has failed to communicate his position clearly to them, or he is willing to go to war for them in the right conditions.  The first two possibilities would seem naïve.  If Israel is perceived by enough people to have not responded proportionally, the matter will escalate beyond its borders.  This is what Hamas is hoping for.  It is a very high stakes game, that involves live ammo and the deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis.  Americans who think this won’t involve our military are being equally naïve.

Benjamin Netanyahu now joins the ranks of prime ministers of Israel who have advocated strength and ended up seeing Israelis attacked.  Good one, Bibi.

Is it us or is it all of the Middle East that needs fixing?

Egyptian President Mohamed MorsiThere is a great interview in the New York Times with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and I encourage everyone to read it.  Egypt has a very complicated and pivotal role in the region, and with the United States.  Since their treaty with Israel, the U.S. has given Egypt over $1 billion a year in financial aid, and either in turn or simply by happy coincidence they have been a moderating influence in the region.  Of course, we were giving money to a government that was not democratically elected, and whose policies towards Israel were not popular.

President Morsi takes America to task.  He says that we need to change, and that we need to not ignore the suffering of Palestinians.  I agree.  We have not done a good service to the Palestinians.  Mr. Morsi views that the promise of the Camp David Accords has not been fulfilled.  He further accuses us of interfering with the region with our foreign aid polices, while at the same time noting our support for the Arab Spring.  This man is clearly positioning himself as the spokesman for the region, and he has pretty good street creds to do it.  Furthermore, he is the democratically elected leader of a region where previously the only country to have one was Israel.

On the other hand, we are not the only ones who need to change.  Each society in that region needs to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and that American values preclude us from prosecuting someone for their views about Islam, whether or not we like their views.  Mr. Morsi does not address this.  His failure to immediately condemn the invasion of our embassy as well as his failure to call out problems within the region, means that he himself must come to terms with what it means to be a leader.  In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, it’s easy to stand up to your enemies, but standing up to your friends takes true courage.  Furthermore, there are some regional values that we ought not stand for, and one of them is the poor treatment of women.  On the one hand, he says that woman should be allowed to run for public office, but on the other hand, being a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, he implies that he himself wouldn’t vote for one.  For the region, this is radically liberal.

The question for The Obama Administration is how to deal with this man of contradictions.  It seems to me that the U.S. should make clear two things:

  • First, what conditions need to exist for the Palestinians to achieve their goal, and that Hamas’ violent views do not meet those conditions.  Egypt has an especially  important role to play here.  While they are in a good position to support the Palestinians’ aspirations, Mr. Morsi can say, “you have us until you are violent.”
  • Second, our fundamental freedoms as articulated in our Constitution are not negotiable, and we will not treat with people or their representatives who threaten Americans or our diplomats, simply because someone said something they didn’t like.

Honesty in a relationship demands that divisions need to be exposed before they can be healed.  The biggest question we should be asking ourselves is what the American aid we are giving is going to.  Mr. Morsi clearly resents the aid we gave to his predecessors.  What, then, does it mean to provide Egypt aid today?

Finally there must be follow-through on our part.  If we say we’re going to do something, we must do it.  If Palestinians meet the conditions to create their own state, we must support this position.  Mr. Morsi is pointing out that at this time, nobody in the Middle East views the U.S. as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, and that needs to be corrected – both the perception and the underlying reasons.

Is hacking Skype a human rights violation?

Not twenty four hours ago did I write about how the Pentagon is going to announce how cyber-attacks could be casus belli.  Now the Wall Street Journal reports that an Egyptian intelligence agency was monitoring Skype communications of dissidents.  Let’s first agree on a truth.  No one’s right to privacy is absolute or ever assured.  However, plotting the peaceful overthrow of a government (in America we call that an election) should not be subject to snooping.  If we can go to war over hacking, should we not then also stand up for people’s human rights to peacefully and privately express their views?  Ronald Reagan used to rail on how the Soviet Union wasn’t free.  He was right.  Now here we are in age of the Internet.  What do his words mean in today’s context?  The free flow of information is  a human right.  It’s not absolute if, for instance, you’re talking about robbing a bank.

By the way, the Egyptians did not break Skype’s encryption, but instead seem to have infected the system of the dissidents.  That’s something Skype can only partially control- that is, if the infection was spread by Skype’s Instant Messaging capability, then they do bear some responsibility.  But if it was spread by other means, then there’s really not much they can do.