Egypt's Military Targets Islamist Gov. with Demands

Posted: Jul 03, 2013 12:01 AM

Japan-China: Four Chinese maritime surveillance vessels entered Japanese territorial waters Monday near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Responding to the coast guard's warning to leave the waters, the four Chinese vessels said in Chinese and English they were involved in normal patrol activities, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa.

Comment: The coast guard statement said the intrusion of Chinese ships was the first since 27 June and 50th since the Japanese government purchased part of the uninhabited island group last September.

This intrusion occurred the day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Brunei urged cooperation as the main solution to peaceful resolution of maritime disputes with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan and South Korea. The Chinese foreign ministry announced a working group meeting on dispute management would be held in September.

As noted regularly by NightWatch during the past several years, the aggressive behavior of the Chinese maritime surveillance authorities does not match the conciliatory words of the foreign ministry.

North Korea-Russia: First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan will depart for Russia on 4 July for discussions on ways to restart the Six Party Talks.

Comment: Kim is the senior North Korean official who visited China on 18 June when Chinese officials instructed him and North Korea about the need to restart the Talks. The Russia visit seems meant to convey that the North takes Chinese guidance seriously and is moving ahead. Actually, consulting Russia is a maneuver to slow-roll resumption of talks because Russia has little influence in North Korea, compared to China and South Korea. What Russia can and will offer Kim is advice on handling China and the US.

As a follow-up, in an official statement today, North Korea sharply criticized South Korean President Park's conduct and public remarks in China. The article was directed to the internal North Korean audience. The message contained an explicit statement affirming the North's commitment to "simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of nuclear armed forces."

China: On Monday, Chinese news services blamed the US and the West for encouraging violent ethnic unrest in western China. Two attacks in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region killed 35 people and injured 21, including some policemen.

The People's Daily, an official outlet for the Communist Party, published a commentary that said, "For fear of a lack of chaos in China," the US was "conspiring to direct the calamity of terrorist activities toward China….America's double standards on the issue of countering terrorism is no different than incitement and indulgence... How is this different than those who act as accomplices to terrorism?" it said.

According to the commentary, the "three forces" of terrorism, extremism and separatism were behind the recent violent attacks in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, attempting to create chaos in the region and separate the country.

In a separate article, the state-run Global Times criticized Western media and public opinion Monday for misrepresenting the violence as ethnic conflict, referring to "violent terrorism fuelled by the West."

"Western public opinion is fooling these ignorant extremists through cheap support," the paper said in an editorial. This "indulges the views of these violent terrorists, who are in fact a small, isolated group."

In a separate article, the same paper accused members of the "East Turkestan" movement of joining "terrorist groups" in Syria to fight the government of Bashar al-Asad before returning to Xinjiang to plot attacks. It cited the case of a man in his 20s recruited by an "education and mutual aid association." After being sent to Syria, the recruit was ordered back to Xinjiang to "raise" the level of the struggle there, where he was caught.

According to Xinhua news service, Chinese officials announced that the government will "strike hard" against violent terrorist attacks, Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee directed armed police to make 24-hour patrols in the region to ensure the safety of locals.

President Xi Jinping presided over a forum in Beijing on Saturday on maintaining stability in Xinjiang. Paramilitary police have flooded the streets of the regional capital Urumqi.

Comment: This is the first time China has cited the US, the West and Syria as contributing to the longstanding, low-level unrest in the far west. In the past China has blamed Pakistan and Afghanistan for training Uighur militants. Xinjiang is the home to the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur people. Uighur separatists want to establish an independent Shari-based state of "East Turkestan".

One reason for the anti-US theme is the US State Department on Friday stated concern about Chinese handling of the Uighurs. A Chinese commentary said the Boston bombing indicated that US "ethnic and religious policies" also have problems.

The so-called terrorists were armed with knives and sticks, a reasonable indication that they were locals with no training in organized terrorist tactics.

Pakistan: Update. Two separate bomb blasts in different parts of Pakistan on Sunday killed a total of at least 52 people and wounded more than 90 others, authorities said. The new government has offered talks, but the bombings and other attacks persist. This might have been a reception for British Prime Minister Cameron who arrived in Islamabad. Bombings often greet visiting US and UK dignitaries.

Pakistan-China: For the record. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will make an official visit to China from 3 to 8 July at the invitation of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. He will also meet President Xi Jinping.

Comment: China's importance in Pakistan's national security strategy is punctuated by the fact that China will be the first foreign country that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will visit since taking office.

Syria: Update. Over the weekend, the government began an offensive against revel controlled neighborhoods in Homs. Aircraft, tanks and artillery attacked several neighborhoods, according to the activists.

Syrian state TV said the army had achieved a "great success" in Homs after "killing many terrorists".

Meanwhile in southern Syria, rebels coming from the Jordanian border claim to have seized an army position in Daraa on Friday. "They seized two buildings in the provincial capital that regime forces were using to keep the whole city under surveillance," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"This is the most important army position that the rebels have seized in Daraa" in 27 months of conflict, Abdel Rahman.

Comment: The rebel propaganda apparatus did not dispute the government claim of progress in Homs. Neither did the government dispute rebel claims about the Daraa fighting. Daraa is where the first demonstrations occurred 27 months ago. It was considered a channel for arms supply to some rebel groups. Most press coverage suggested it was continuously rebel-controlled. Apparently not.

For the record. Rebels decapitated a Catholic priest because they said he was a government spy. They also overran the monastery where he was staying. Women and children took photos.

The information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies confirmed 49-year-old Father François Murad was killed in Gassanieh where he had taken refuge.

Local sources reported the monastery where Murad was staying was attacked by militants linked to Jabhat al-Nusra. The Syrian priest had moved to the location for safety reasons and to give support to the remaining religious and nuns.

Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy said, "Lately, Fr Murad sent me some messages that clearly showed how conscious he was of living in a dangerous situation, and offered his life for peace in Syria and around the world."

Comment: There is no report about how the al-Nusra fighters treated the other members of the monastery. Jabhat al-Nusra is the Syrian rebel group affiliated with al Qaida. Qatar supports it.

Egypt: The Army vs. the President. After two days of huge anti-government demonstrations, the Minister of Defense on behalf of the armed forces issued an ultimatum to President Mursi and the opposition to settle the unrest in 48 hours. The statement is reported in full English translation so that Readers may appreciate the entire context. Emphasis added by NightWatch.

"In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate"

"Statement from the General Command of the Armed Forces"

"The Egyptian arena and the whole world witnessed yesterday protests and rallies by the great Egyptian people to express their opinion and will in an unprecedented peaceful and civilized way."

"All people saw the Egyptian people's movement and heard their voice with the utmost degree of respect and attention. It is inevitable that people will receive a reply to their movement and call from every party that should bear a part of responsibility amid these dangerous circumstances that surround the nation."

"The Egyptian Armed Forces, as a main party to the future equation, and out of their national and historical responsibility for protecting the nation's security and safety, stress the following:

The Armed Forces will not be a party to the circle of politics or rule, and they do not agree to deviate from the role drawn for them in the genuine democratic ideology derived from the people's will."

The country's national security is exposed to a major danger, given the developments the country is currently going through. This puts responsibilities above us, according to the position of each one of us, to act properly to prevent these dangers."

"The Armed Forces earlier sensed how the current circumstances are serious and the demands they carry to the great Egyptian people. So, they earlier gave one week for all political parties in the country to reach compromise and get out of the crisis, but that week has passed without the emergence of any sign or act, which led people to take to the streets with determination and perseverance and with their full freedom in this brilliant way that triggered astonishment, appreciation and attention at the domestic, regional and international levels."

"The waste of more time will lead to nothing but more division and conflict, which we warned and still warn against."

"These kind people suffered and found no one to have mercy upon them or be kind with them. This puts ethical and physiological burden upon the Armed Forces, which deem it necessary for all parties to stop doing anything but containing these proud people who proved their readiness to achieve the impossible if they feel honesty and devotion towards it."

"The Armed Forces repeat and renew the call for meeting the people's demands and give everybody 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder responsibilities for the historical moment which the nation is going through, and it will not tolerate or forgive any party that fails to shoulder its responsibilities."

"The Armed Forces tell all parties that if people's demands are not fulfilled within the set period, it will be incumbent upon them, based on their national and historical responsibility and in respect of the demands of the great Egyptian people, to announce a future roadmap and measures to be supervised by the Armed Forces in cooperation with all sincere and patriotic trends and parties, including youth who were and still are the spark of the glorious revolution, without exclusion of any party."

"A salute of appreciation and honour to the sincere and loyal men of the Armed Forces who were and still are shouldering their national responsibility towards the great Egyptian people with full determination, persistence, pride and honour."

"May God preserve Egypt and its great people."

Comment:  Although the Army took pains to craft a balanced document, the two statements about meeting the people's demands betray that this document targets President Mursi.  The anti-Mursi opposition demands that Mursi to leave and that shortages end. The pro-Mursi crowds demand the opposition respect the results of Mursi's election.

In its effort to appear politically neutral, the army leadership issued what they know is an impossible deadline.  That means they have a plan and intend to implement it. The ultimatum is not a hasty reaction to these demonstrations.

The reference to the roadmap reinforces the theme that the army leadership has been thinking about the way ahead and been planning and preparing for this very contingency, almost certainly since last December.

The army's stated intention is to be genuinely inclusive, a political condition to which Mursi only ever paid lip service.

The army leadership has warned on multiple occasions about the dangers of political discord leading to a breakdown of public order and warned that it might have to take action as part of its duty to provide state security. One of the earliest was in the first week of December 2012 during demonstrations over the constitutional referendum. Warnings against chaos and violence followed in January and February 2013.

Thus, the army leadership has had lots of time to consider scenarios and options. The Mursi regime has been tone deaf, relying on its electoral victory as a shield against military action. What is ironic is that President Mursi appointed the current army leadership that now threatens him.

Two implied messages that are highly significant are that no matter what Mursi orders, the army has stated that it will not fire on the demonstrators to support his government and will not back the police in doing so. That suggests the police probably will not attempt to control the crowds.

On the other hand, some army units have rules of engagement, independent of the presidency, to insert themselves between competing violent demonstrations to stop the violence. On 2 July army armored vehicles broke up a running gun battle between pro- and anti-Mursi groups in al-Fayyum city. When the armor appeared, the shooters dispersed.

Reaction. Mursi had a meeting with the top army leadership, including Defense Minister General Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi. The regime later indicated that it will not give in to the threat of a military coup. The rebel movement, Tamarrud, welcomed the army statement and interpreted it as a statement of support.

Demonstrations. It is important to note that there have been competing pro- and anti-government demonstrations. The anti-government demonstrations appear to be larger, but are also getting more and more positive international press coverage.

On Sunday millions of people packed city squares nationwide. The opposition, Rebel, campaign issued a statement giving President Mursi until 5pm on Tuesday to step down, or the campaign would call on supporters to besiege both Ittihadiya and Qobba presidential palaces and to engage in civil disobedience.

On Monday, demonstrators ransacked the national headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Eight protesters were killed in this action. Witnesses said that in contrast to the largely peaceful protests in Cairo on Sunday, when at least two million people took to the streets, the attack on the headquarters building was brutal, and was repelled with even more brutality. The Brothers inside were armed.

Egypt's ministers of tourism, environment, communication and legal affairs tendered their resignations on. The four handed in their letters of resignation together to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

On 2 July, Muslim Brotherhood members refused to turn over to police a police officer they captured and beat.

Way ahead. The situation is incendiary, literally. The demonstrations are likely to turn much more violent.

Four characteristics are significant and distinguish this movement from the pro-democracy groups of 2011. First is the size of demonstrations. They appear much larger than the early demonstrations. It will be difficult to continue demonstrations of such size for long. On the other hand it will be difficult for the government to resist the pressure now that the army will not back the police.

Various opposition groups have achieved some semblance of organization. The demonstrations are not flash mobs, like those that started the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt and eventually were hijacked by the Brotherhood.

The opposition to Mursi is diverse. Demonstrators are a mix of age groups, secular interests, religious confessions and occupations. The main unifying factor is the failure of the government to keep its promises to fix the economy. For the political elite, the main issue is Mursi's high-handed, Islamist style of government. Mursi uses virtually all the tactics of Mubarak, plus the Brotherhood.

Multiple flash points exist. Some will come quickly. For example, Mursi seems unlikely to step down. The army ultimatum makes the dismissal of his government unavoidable. That would seem to pit the army and the anti-government opposition against the Brotherhood and its supporters.

Direct army government is not likely, but army-backed civilian rule is. Having experienced the problems of government under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the overthrow of Mubarak, this cohort of generals is not disposed to take power directly. A more likely scenario is that it would back an interim government of experts, if Mursi decides to step down.

One remedy for instant power aggrandizement by the president is to draft a constitutional provision that makes the president a figurehead, as in Pakistan and Turkey, and vest executive power in a parliamentary cabinet.

Tunisia: National Tunisian Television on 29 June broadcast a highly insightful interview with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. His replies to two questions are significant.

In response to a question on the extent of terrorism in Tunisia, Marzouki said: "The issue of violence and terrorism has taken us all by surprise. We will confront this problem of violence may be for many years to come".

However, Marzouki said, "what I can confirm is that this doesn't constitute at all a danger to democracy nor a danger to the Tunisians' way of life, a modern, civil, democratic way of life, to the equality between men and women and to the women's rights. I will never allow anyone to threaten it, and the Tunisians' way of live will be guaranteed by the constitution and the political forces."

To a question on the role of religion in society, he said that "as far I am concerned, we should give Islam its place because whether we like it or not, we live in a Muslim society."

"Islam is the main pillar for the people," the president said, adding: "But, once again, we must reject categorically all that has a link with a religious state, because a religious state is the most heinous of dictatorships."

Comment: It is not clear that the ruling Ennadha coalition shares his views, but Marzouki's commitment to a secular state seems beyond question. He is the only elected leader of an Arab state to make such a comment.

End of NightWatch


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