How Morsy Could Have Saved Himself

To avoid defeat, try magnanimity in victory.

Shortly after Mohamed Morsy's ouster as president of Egypt, his ambassador to the United States -- in a remarkable display of political flexibility -- appeared on American television to explain that his boss had been overthrown because he "failed to be the president of all Egyptians." This notion, that Morsy was removed because he pursued a narrowly Islamizing agenda and failed to include liberals in his cabinet, has become something of the conventional wisdom. For example, Thomas Friedman chided the former Egyptian president for having ruled in a "majoritarian" fashion, running roughshod over his liberal opponents, Islamizing the state, and putting the squeeze on critics like the satirist Bassem Youssef. In this telling, what we saw on June 30 was a replay of what we saw on January 25, 2011 -- a revolution by liberals intent on establishing a free and democratic Egypt.

Though there is some truth to this narrative, June 30 was less a revolution than a counter-revolution, carried out not by the photogenic young people who made Tahrir Square a household name two-and-a-half years ago, but by the orphans of the regime that those young people had overthrown. Morsy's sin was not that he sought to Islamize the state -- Hosni Mubarak had done a pretty good job of that himself, and the temporary constitution issued by the new interim government includes all of the shariah-talk that liberals supposedly found so objectionable. It wasn't even that it tried to exclude liberals like Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed ElBaradei from governing. According to Sabahi himself, Morsy offered him the vice presidency shortly after coming to power last year. And although ElBaradei has just been named vice president for international affairs, it's safe to assume that the number of protesters who took to the streets to put this widely (if unfairly) maligned man in government is vanishingly small.

No, the sin of the Muslim Brotherhood was not that it failed to work with liberals, but that it failed to work with the old regime. For the almost the entirety of its time in power, the Brotherhood has demonstrated a remorseless, unyielding obsession with rooting out Mubarak's National Democratic Party from Egypt's political life. This extent of the obsession was on full display in one of the last speeches of Morsy's presidency. Before a crowd made up of equal parts dignitaries and rowdy Muslim Brothers from the provinces, he railed against the remnants of the ancien regime -- commonly called the fulul -- and then took a few minutes to tell an unflattering story about a man named Kamal el-Shazly, who was Mubarak's parliamentary enforcer -- and who has been dead since 2010. This odd detour into what is now ancient history reveals the extent to which Morsy and his Brothers viewed as Egypt's primary problem as not the crumbling of its economy or the decay in public order, but the continued presence of Mubarak's allies and appointees in almost every corner of the state apparatus. "One year is enough," the president declared, suggesting that the gloves were soon to come off and a full-blown purge was in the offing. In the end, he was the one who was purged.

The Brothers were not alone in their obsession with the NDP. During the 2011 revolution, the youth of Tahrir made a grand bonfire of the ruling party's headquarters, and in the months after January 25, 2011, practically all of Egypt at least paid a healthy lip service to the need to banish the fulul. Though the NDP made a game attempt to regroup in the weeks after Mubarak's resignation, these attempts were cut short in April 2011, when a court dissolved the NDP and ordered the state to seize its assets, ruling -- in a questionable bit of legal reasoning -- that the fall of the regime "by necessity entails the fall of the instruments through which it wielded power."

But the dissolution of the old ruling party was not enough for the Brotherhood; its ashes had to be scattered to the winds. And the military, concerned only with maintaining its narrow prerogatives, assented. Prior to the 2012 presidential elections, the Islamist-dominated legislature amended the law on the exercise of political rights. That law lists several categories of people who do not have the right to vote or run for office -- prisoners, the mentally ill, the bankrupt. Islamists added a fourth, almost comically specific, category: "Everyone who has in the ten years prior to February 11, 2011, worked as president of the republic or his vice president or prime minister or president of the dissolved NDP or its secretary general or was a member of its political office or general secretariat." The bill was rejected by the courts, clearing the way for Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to run for president. If the Brothers took a lesson from Shafiq's surprisingly strong showing in that election -- he lost to Morsy by only a couple of percentage points -- it was not that the satraps of the old regime must be accommodated, but that they must be crushed.

Thus, once Morsy won the presidency, the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies made another, even more audacious, run at excluding the NDP. And this time, in order to prevent the courts from overturning their handiwork, they enshrined the old ruling party's political exclusion in the constitution itself. Article 232 of the charter that passed in December 2012 (and was suspended in July 2013) declared: "Leaders of the dissolved National Democratic Party shall be banned from political work and prohibited from running for presidential or legislative elections for a period of 10 years from the date of the adoption of this Constitution." The article helpfully defines NDP "leaders" as "everyone who was a member of the Secretariat of the Party, the Policies Committee or the Political Bureau, or was a member of the People's Assembly or the Shura Council during the two legislative terms preceding the January 25 revolution." It's not surprising that the most intense protests against the Brotherhood began after the passage of the constitution, as NDP-affiliated businessmen and NDP-affiliated television personalities began ginning up the popular anger that exploded on June 30, 2013.

The tragedy of Morsy's presidency, then, is not that he underestimated the ability of the fulul to play the spoiler, but that he overestimated his own ability to confront them. Mubarak's party may have slinked away in the months after February 11, 2011, but it had not disappeared. After all, you couldn't rule for as long as Mubarak did without building a large coalition -- the vast countryside and the hulking bureaucracy are littered with card-carrying members of the deposed ruler's big tent. Morsy's constant talk of purge may have satisfied his supporters, but it could only convince the regime's former cronies that they had no place in the new Egypt.

The disaster that befell Egypt on June 30 -- and make no mistake, the unseating of a legitimately elected ruler at gunpoint cannot be anything other than a disaster -- could have been avoided had the Muslim Brotherhood taken a lesson from their Muslim brothers 5,000 miles away, in Indonesia. In 1998, that country's strongman, Suharto, who had ruled since 1967, was forced to step down by protests remarkably similar to those that brought down Mubarak. But whereas Egyptians tossed their dictator in jail and tore up his ruling party, Indonesians pursued a different, gentler path. Suharto -- a man every bit as corrupt as, and considerably more brutal than, his Egyptian counterpart -- was allowed to live out his days in luxury, and his old ruling party, Golkar, was not only allowed to persist (reliably capturing about 20 percent of the vote in legislative elections), but has been included in every post-Suharto cabinet but one. Indonesians may not have satisfied their powerful desire for justice, but their willingness to forgo retribution and work with supporters of the old regime is what allowed that country's nascent democracy to take root despite its endemic poverty and vast ethnic diversity.

It's not too late, however, for Egyptians to learn the lesson of Indonesia. Now that the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood have once again traded places, will Mubarak's resurgent orphans extend to the Brotherhood the kindnesses that were not extended to them? Given the dramatic campaign against the Brothers in the Egyptian media, the arrests of Brotherhood leaders, and the brutality meted out to Brotherhood protesters, the answer is likely no. But until Egypt's two old regimes -- the Brotherhood's and Mubarak's -- reach a modus vivendi, the future promises only more revolution and counter-revolution. It's not clear how much more the beleaguered masses can take before they begin to yearn for the grim stability offered by a bemedaled general.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


The Battle for Islamabad

The Pakistani Taliban aren't headed off to fight in Syria. They're gearing up for an epic war at home.

The Pakistani Taliban are heading to Syria. At least that's what a number of unnamed and lesser-known Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders told various Western news outlets this week. But claims that the TTP are involved meaningfully in the jihad against the Bashar al-Assad regime are most likely overblown. They also obscure an even more dangerous reality: The TTP and its allies in Pakistan are gearing up for a long war at home, and Pakistan's civil and military leadership have no coherent strategy to prepare for it.

There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of the reports of TTP participation in the Syrian war. First, the TTP's chief spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid, hasn't commented on the matter, though it is common practice for the TTP to speak on the record through its spokesperson on most topics. Second, TTP commanders can't seem to agree on how many fighters are going to Syria and on what basis.

For example, one unnamed TTP commander told the BBC that 12 TTP-affiliated "experts" have made their way to Syria, while another told Reuters that "hundreds" of fighters have relocated there from Pakistan in recent months. There is also some disagreement about how TTP fighters are being received by the Syrian rebels. Mohammed Amin, described by the BBC as the TTP's coordinator for Syria, said that Syrian jihadists have told his group that "there's already enough manpower" in Syria and additional foreign personnel are unnecessary. But another unnamed commander told Pakistan's DAWN newspaper that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State in Iraq, an Iraqi militant group now involved in the Syrian war, specifically requested the TTP's support. This would indeed be remarkable, given that al-Baghdadi has been dead for three years.

The truth is more likely consistent with information attributed to a third Pakistani militant, who told AFP that fighters from Pakistan -- mainly foreigners from Arab countries and Uzbekistan, and based in the tribal areas -- have been heading to Syria on a relatively informal basis.

The war in Syria is indeed a compelling destination for many Arabs living in the Pakistani tribal regions. These areas have become less hospitable due to a combination of U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani military operations. For Pakistani jihadists with the TTP and its partner organization, the anti-Shiite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the sectarian aspect of the Syrian war resonates. As the LeJ has stepped up its campaign of killing Shiites in Pakistan, its propaganda is increasingly replete with angry diatribes against the Syrian regime and its supporters in Tehran.

The biggest reason why Syria might draw in some jihadists from Pakistan, however, has to do with how the conflict fits into the eschatological narrative of many militants. Al Qaeda Central and its partners in Pakistan, including the TTP, constantly refer to a set of hadith, or sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, that speak of an end-times battle in the Levant led by the Messiah and aided by armed forces from an area called Khurasan. These jihadists define the Khurasan region as encompassing Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Pakistan. And their noms de guerre, geographical references, and physical movements all suggest they believe -- or want others to believe -- that they are taking part in this prophesied war.

But for all the appeal of the Syrian war, the TTP's focus has been and will continue to be on Pakistan. Over the course of this year, in anticipation of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the group has been preparing a new narrative for a long war in Pakistan -- a war that is not justified by Islamabad's support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a primary rallying call for Pakistan's insurgents to date.  

The TTP has been reframing its war against the Pakistani state as Ghazwa-e Hind, or the Battle of India. Like al Qaeda's use of hadith that mention Khurasan, the TTP has deployed a set of prophetic traditions that speak of a Muslim conquest of India, a region the TTP defines as virtually all of South Asia, including most of Pakistan. One TTP video series titled Ghazwa-e Hind, for example, features rising preacher Abu Zar al-Burmi calling on Muslims to migrate to Pakistan to defeat its "infidel" rulers and establish true Islamic rule.

So far, the actual impact of the TTP's rebranding campaign on the discussion within Pakistan's jihadist community is unclear. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential power of the TTP's new pivot. The adoption of these prophetic traditions by the TTP is particularly clever since they have historically been used by jihadists connected to Pakistani intelligence to create a broader narrative for war against India. The TTP, in contrast, is using the same traditions to direct violence toward Islamabad -- not New Delhi. What the TTP fears is that with a weakened al Qaeda Central and an Afghanistan without an American presence as a rallying cry, Pakistani jihadists will mend their ways with Pakistani intelligence and go back to attacking India. In effect, the TTP is telling them to stay put -- the main jihad is here at home in Pakistan.

The TTP's PR strategy relies on more than prophetic tradition, however. The organization -- along with al Qaeda's Pakistan spokesman, Ahmad Farooq -- has been attempting to reach broader audiences by appropriating causes and symbols from mainstream, secular political discourse. In multiple videos, the TTP and like-minded preachers have called on ethnic Baloch separatists -- whose latest insurgency has been raging since 2004 -- to abandon their secular, regional struggle and join the jihad against Islamabad. Other video addresses by Farooq from around the time of Pakistan's elections in May of this year dealt with bread-and-butter political issues like electricity shortages and unemployment. Farooq called for a mass movement of the youth led by religious scholars -- an attempt to redirect youth energy away from mainstream political parties like cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The TTP will likely fall short in their goals to broaden their support base in Pakistan. More promising are the organization's attempts to deepen existing divisions within the political class and between civilian politicians and the military. In the lead-up to this year's general election, the TTP mainly targeted Pakistan's secular parties and largely abstained from attacking center-right and Islamist parties that favor talks with the TTP. Since the election, the TTP has called on the latter parties -- who still support talks with the group, despite its murderous campaign against fellow politicians -- to separate themselves from the military, which is keen on maintaining counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas.

Negotiations between the government and the TTP are currently suspended. If and when they resume, however, the TTP will attempt to coax the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which rules at the federal level, and Khan's PTI, which rules the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, located near the tribal areas, to agree to a ceasefire and implement shariah law. While the federal government -- at least theoretically -- controls military operations in the tribal areas, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government has authority over the counterinsurgency operations in the Swat region. In 2009, the provincial government agreed to a ceasefire with the TTP, which enabled the militant group to spread deeper into the province and closer to Islamabad.

Both parties -- and the PTI, in particular -- are vulnerable to TTP pressure because they have refrained from explicitly criticizing the group and have no clear red lines when it comes to accommodating the TTP's social and political demands. The PML-N and PTI, moreover, are already at odds over the holding of an all-parties conference to discuss terrorism, and the PML-N has a history of acrimonious relations with the military. With the political leadership in Islamabad and Peshawar inclined toward appeasing the TTP -- and lacking a coherent perspective on Pakistan's terrorism challenge -- the TTP could stifle efforts to create an effective national counterterrorism strategy.

While this does not mean that the TTP will ever come close to its goal of taking over Islamabad, it does make it more likely that its war in Pakistan will rage on for years -- as other jihadists continue their own fight in Syria. Since the new Pakistani government took power in May, the TTP has sustained its campaign of assassinating secular politicians, and killing police and security personnel. Meanwhile, its ally, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have been bombing Shiite mosques across the country. For the TTP and its partners in Pakistan, the Great War is at home in Pakistan, where there is a massive, nuclear-armed state to take over and plenty of Shiites to kill.