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Political Developments - 2013

Throughout the first half of 2013, Egypt witnessed regular protests and mass demonstrations against the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. Protests occasionally degenerated into violent clashes between security forces and bands of protestors, in some instances resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. For the most part, clashes were limited to Egypt’s major urban centers, occurring in and around Tahrir Square and government ministries in Cairo, as well as symbolic centers of the revolution in Egypt’s other cities. Society became increasingly polarized, which added to the potential for clashes between factions when protests did occur. Although police gradually returned to the streets since the 2011 revolution, they did not appear to have a level of operational effectiveness necessary to control crowds or deter criminal activity.

An initial attempt to hold elections for the House of Representatives (the lower house) between April and June was blocked after the Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) found fault with the electoral legislation. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had called for parliamentary elections starting on 27 April 2013. The voting took place in four stages across a country deeply divided between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party that had ruled since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak and the more secularist opposition. The voting would end in late June with the parliament scheduled to hold its first meeting on 06 July 2013. It would be Egypt's first election since an Islamist-backed constitution was adopted in December. Critics said the constitution - drafted without opposition input and approved in a hastily organized referendum - failed to provide adequate human rights protections and failed to curb the power of the military establishment.

In May 2013 Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi increased the influence of his Muslim Brotherhood over government in a Cabinet reshuffle that replaced two ministers involved in crucial talks with the IMF over a $4.8 billion loan. The changes fell well short of the opposition's demand for a complete overhaul of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's administration. Kandil, a technocrat appointed premier in 2012, named nine new ministers. They included Amr Darrag, a senior official in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as planning minister. Fayyad Abdel Moneim, a specialist in Islamic economics, was appointed as finance minister, replacing al-Morsi al-Sayed Hegazy, another expert on Islamic finance.

On 02 June 2013 Egypt's highest court ruled that parliament and the group of lawmakers who wrote the constitution were not legally elected. The court is filled with holdovers of the old system trying to undermine Egypt's political transition. In the latest standoff between Egypt's judiciary and the nation's Islamist government, the constitutional court says the nation's Shura Council was elected under flawed election laws. But it ruled the body will stay seated until new elections are held. Shura members are Egypt's sole lawmakers, after the high court ordered in 2012 the lower house, traditionally the more influential body, disbanded. The court decided in the both the cases of the upper house and lower house that political parties had unfairly fielded candidates in races for the one third of seats meant to be reserved for independent candidates. Both elections saw Islamist politicians dominate their respective chambers.

The court also ruled against the 100-member constitutional drafting panel, but it was not immediately clear what effect it would have on the document itself. The lawmakers' draft won approval in a national referendum in 2012, despite violent opposition to both the laws themselves and the process by which they were adopted. This latest setback wuld make it harder for Morsi to complete the election of the lower house by the end of 2013.

The June 30 Front, a newly formed coalition of opposition groups, said peaceful protests were needed to fulfill the goals of the revolution and rejected any attempts to "terrorize" the Egyptian people by the government or its allies. The movement began with a petition drive by the Tamarod, or Rebel, campaign to show a lack of confidence in Morsi. Members said they had the signatures of more than 15 million, exceeding the number of votes cast for Morsi last year.

By late June 2013 Egypt was bracing for what many believed would be the biggest round of protests since Morsi took office in June 2012, as well as counterdemonstrations by his Islamist supporters. Egyptian authorities ramped up security across the country, with police and army personnel on high alert. Citizens stocked up on cash, food and other supplies fearing disruptions in the coming days. The usual long lines for limited gasoline now stretch for a kilometer or more. President Morsi apologized for the lines, blaming them on corruption and black market dealings.

Opponents, mainly nationalist, secular and liberal groups, were calling for Morsi to step down. They argued he had lost legitimacy and divided the country while worsening the daily lives of ordinary Egyptians. The president's supporters, most from the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Islamist groups, said Morsi must be allowed to serve out his full term. Extremists have threatened violence against the protesters.

On 1 July 2013 the Egyptian military gave President Mohamed Morsi and opposition leaders 48 hours to settle their differences and agree on a path forward. If they don’t, according to the military, it will issue its own plan for Egypt’s future. The ultimatum was delivered by Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after several days of massive nationwide protests and violence that has left at least 16 people dead. Al-Sisi’s warning came after anti-Morsi protesters ransacked the Cairo headquarters of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The military’s ultimatum also came after anti-government demonstrations throughout Egypt that were the largest since the 2011 revolution that swept former president Hosni Mubarak from power. Arabic-language media quoted the Interior Ministry saying the crowds in Cairo and other cities across Egypt totaled as many as 3 million people. Other accounts reported that the protests had drawn at least 14 million people onto the streets, with a large number of them demanding Morsi's resignation.

The crisis triggered a series of resignations by cabinet ministers, leaving Morsi isolated. Senior officials who quit include foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. Others to resign are tourism minister Hisham Zaazou; communication and IT minister Atef Helmi; the minister for legal and parliamentary affairs, Hatem Bagato; water minister Abdel Qawy Khalifa; and environment minister Khaled Abdel-Aal. Morsi also lost the support of Sami Enan, his military adviser, who resigned and said the army would not “abandon the will of the people”.

US President Barack Obama spoke to the Egyptian leader via phone. A White House statement said he "stressed that democracy is about more than elections; it is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government, including the many Egyptians demonstrating throughout the country".

On 2 July 2013, the Egyptian military presented its proposed roadmap that would be implemented if President Mohamed Morsi and the opposition did not reach an agreement within the 48 hour ultimatum that had been set. Under the proposed plan, the military would again take control and establish an interim council, to consist of civilians from different political groups and experienced technocrats, who would run the country until an amended constitution was drafted. The constitution would be expected to be drafted within months and after its ratification a new presidential election would be held. Parliamentary polls, however, would be delayed until strict conditions for selecting candidates were in force. President Morsi responded by saying that his government was legitimate and constitutional and that he would not be "dictated to." This set the stage for a stand off between President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military and there was no clear indication as to what the military proposed to do with the President if he did not resign or come to an agreement with opposition political parties.

Egyptians had been protesting almost continuously since demonstrations toppled the 30-year reign of Hosni long-time president Mubarak in February of 2011. But activist groups splintered, alliances shifted and competing protests across the country left more than 100 dead in July 2013 alone, one of the bloodiest periods, after the Egyptian military toppled President Morsi and put him under house arrest.

Neither side in the Egyptian conflict had shown much taste for reconciliation. Commenting on TV coverage, Rawya Rageh noted that "The rhetoric used by presenters and their guests, particularly on private stations – who Morsi had come at loggerheads with particularly during his last days in office – has gone beyond trying to isolate the Brotherhood and veered into the more serious territory of demonizing and dehumanizing them. Pro-Morsi sit-ins in the eastern and southern part of the capital have been repeatedly described as pools of filth covered in human excrement, and occupied by lice-ridden people with skin disease.... The Muslim Brotherhood’s channel Misr 25 and other TV stations backing Morsi were promptly shut down the day he was removed from office. They, too, had been engaged in a similar campaign of demonizing Morsi’s opposition for months ahead of the June 30 protests."

Egyptian political developments were seen by some as manifestations of what many inside and outside of academia have called the "deep state" - an elite which has manipulated and controlled the political system. The divisions plaguing Egypt often are portrayed as a struggle between those for and against ousted President Mohamed Morsi. But for those on Morsi's side, there appeared to be a far more sinister player on the scene - moving against whatever progress Egypt has seen since the 2011 uprising. The deep state - a concept rooted in the old Ottoman Empire and popularized in recent years in Turkey - pits conservatives against Islamists who would bring change. Even some opposed to both the Mubarak and the Morsi governments saw a deep state triumphant. Morsi was opposed by the judiciary, but also the media, the foreign office, the police force, the military, Al Azhar mosque and the church. And they resisted.

Mohamed Soudan, foreign secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing said, “As soon as the Revolution of 25th of January started, there is a conspiracy against this revolution. There is a deep state. There is corruption. There is counter-revolution started also.” Soudan said this “deep state” aimed to revive everything the protesters on Tahrir Square two years ago tried sweep away. “Now the police state is coming back," he said. "The army state is coming back. The conspiracy of the former regime, Mubarak regime is coming back."

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour called for the Muslim Brotherhood to join the military-led transition and take part in upcoming votes to decide on a new constitution, parliament, and president. But the Brotherhood refused, insisting that doing so would essentially be giving approval to what it views as a military coup against the government of Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader. "The entire political process is nothing more than a sham. And participating in it gives it legitimacy," said Gehad El-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, in an interview with VOA. It makes little sense, Haddad said, for the Brotherhood to try to win elections as it did for the past two years, if it is does not believe that Egypt's military will allow it to take power again. "There is no guarantee the military will not do this again," he said. "We've already gone through a presidential election, we've gone through parliamentary elections, we've gone through a constitutional referendum."

The dispersal of the Rabaa Square sit-in on August 13, 2013 was the single deadliest incident following the July 3, 2013, change in government. Three reports varied in their estimates of the number of protesters killed during the dispersal of the sit-in, ranging from the fact-finding committee’s claim of 607 civilian deaths to the estimate of the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) that possibly more than 1,000 civilians were killed. All three reports published the Forensic Medicine Authority’s account that eight police officers were killed at Rabaa. The three reports offered conflicting information on how events unfolded and to what degree government forces were responsible for civilian deaths.

On 14 August 2013 Egypt's interim presidency proclaimed a one-month state of emergency, ordering the armed forces to help the Interior Ministry enforce security. In addition, a nighttime curfew was declared in Cairo and at least ten other provinces. Under the state of emergency, Egyptian military forces have wide range of authority without challenge from a second or third party. They may enforce curfews, close institutions, detain anyone at will, keep people in detention as long as they deem necessary and enforce travel restrictions.

Security forces moved in on 14 August 2013 with armored vehicles, bulldozers and tear gas to clear two protest camps in Cairo, and clashed with supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in a number of other locales. There there wer widely divergent estimates of the casualties from the clashes. The United Nations said hundreds were killed or wounded in the clashes. The Muslim Brotherhood called the security operation a "massacre" and put the death toll at 500, while Egypt's Health Ministry said at least 95 people were killed and 874 wounded.

By 15 August 2013 Egypt's health ministry said the violence killed at least 525 people and wounded more than 3,700. The Muslim Brotherhood has put the death toll at more than 4,500. Video distributed by the Muslim Brotherhood showed hundreds of bodies wrapped in shrouds at Cairo's El Iman mosque.

On 16-17 August 2013 large crowds of Morsi supporters took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and several other cities, in defiance of a nighttime curfew. The government said the carnage left 173 people dead — most of them in Cairo — and more than 1,000 injured. A spokesman said 57 security force officers were killed on these two days. Overall, more than 700 people have been killed during the past week. The pro-Morsi National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy put the two-day death toll at 213.

Egyptian authorities had warned that a siege of anti-government encampments was imminent, but tens of thousands of demonstrators camped out in key areas of Cairo remained defiant. The government called the encampment a threat to security, pointing to provocations from some among the protesters, and the near daily marches that disrupt traffic throughout the city. International envoys tried to find a way out of the impasse, to no avail. A rival Islamist group to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi Nour Party, urged Egyptians to “stop attacking government buildings and churches.” The Nour Party has refused to join the interim government, but criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for not participating in the political process since the ouster of Morsi.

The hardliners within Egypt's government won a victory over more moderate voices, such as reformist leader Mohammad ElBaradei, who were calling for dialogue rather than force to deal with the protests. Following the violent crackdown, Egypt's interim vice president, pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned, saying he could not bear responsibility for decisions he "does not agree with and whose consequences" he feared. Some expected a low-level insurgency type thing to happen in Egypt for the next several years.

One of Morsi's former advisers put some of the blame on the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry. Wael Haddara, now in Canada, said that Kerry's statements in the weeks before the crackdown helped embolden Egypt's military. "Well I think whatever happens in Washington it is really in the manner of being too little too late," he said. "When Mr. Kerry said that the army was 'resetting things for democracy - restoring democracy' I think clearly the army understood that to be a green light, a carte blanche to do whatever they want to do and they've gone ahead and done it."

Only a few thousand supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi turned out for protests Friday 23 August 2013 despite calls for massive marches, as Islamists reeled from a fierce police crackdown. Friday was set to be a test of the remaining strength and commitment of the Islamists, who called for "Friday of martyrs" protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers. But Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood managed only to rally several thousand supporters, unlike the hundreds of thousands who flooded streets before police and soldiers dispersed two protest camps in Cairo earlier this month, killing hundreds. Their numbers had been thinned by a fierce crackdown that has seen some 2,000 members and leaders arrested, including the movement's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie.

In a 23 September 2013 ruling, an Egyptian court banned all activities by the Muslim Brotherhood, including demonstrations, institutions and associations, and ordered a seizure of the group's assets. The ruling, in a case brought by the leftist political party Tagammu, did not order an outright ban on the group itself. A second, pending lawsuit against the Brotherhood seeks to take that step.

While other groups in Egypt's long-fractured opposition rejected the military's call for a mandate against “terrorism,” Tamarod ["Rebellion"] stood by its side. Its support raised further questions of how this small group, seemingly quixotic in its quest to topple a president, found in two months the means and organizational skills to rally millions. Leaders deny any help from security forces in launching their anti-Morsi campaign. Whatever its origins, Tamarod's anti-Islamist brand appeared to be spreading. The public face of outcry against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, in October 2013 Tamarod said it would compete nationally in new elections for parliament.

Egypt's military-installed interim government criminalized the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood on 25 December 2013, further cracking down on a movement that had risen to power in national elections in 2012r. Egypt's interim government declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, broadening its authority to move against the the country's largest opposition group. A spokesman for Egypt's Interior Ministry told government TV that anyone participating in Brotherhood protests would be sentenced to five years in prison. He added that leaders of the group could receive the death penalty.

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour announced December 14, 2013 a referendum to ratify the country's new constitution. The scheduled January 14-15 vote was the first step on a roadmap back to democracy announced by the Egyptian military last July, following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Egypt's High Election Commission said 18 January 2014 that nearly 39 percent of Egypt's 53 million eligible voters cast ballots in the two-day poll, a slightly higher number than had voted in 2012. Less than 250,000 ballots were deemed invalid. The results showed 98.1 percent of valid ballots approved the new constitution, with 1.9 percent of ballots against it.

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