Khamis, 21 Jun 2012

Officials Delay Announcing Egypt Election Winner

(CAIRO) — Officials postponed declaring a winner in Egypt‘s disputed election on Wednesday, sending political tensions soaring as the country awaited its first new president in three decades.
Adding to the confusion and uncertainty were reports about the health of Hosni Mubarak, who is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters in the uprising that ousted him last year. At one point Tuesday, he was said to be near death, while some believed the report was a pretext by sympathetic allies of Mubarak to transfer him out of prison to a more comfortable facility.
Last weekend’s runoff election was long touted as a landmark moment — the choice of Egypt’s first civilian president to take over the generals who have ruled since Mubarak’s removal on Feb. 11, 2011. Instead, it has turned into a confrontation between the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the entrenched elements of Mubarak’s old regime, including the military.
Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with some secular youth revolutionary groups camped out Wednesday night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year’s uprising, and denounced the military, trying to push back against a series of power grabs by the generals last week.
The Election Commission did not say when it would announce the winner of the runoff between the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, and Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Both candidates claim they won, and the commission was supposed to declare the top vote-getter Thursday.
But its secretary-general, Hatem Begato, told the state newspaper Al-Ahram that the winner would be announced Saturday or Sunday.
The commission said the announcement was postponed because a panel of judges must look into about 400 complaints of voting fraud submitted by both campaigns, including lawyers for Shafiq claiming fraud in 14 of Egypt’s 27 provinces where they said ballots sent to polling centers were already marked for Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. Morsi’s lawyers accused Shafiq of buying votes and being involved in forging lists of registered voters to include soldiers, who are barred from voting, and names of the dead.
The Brotherhood says it is being targeted by an organized campaign to keep it out of the presidency, and that even if Morsi is declared the victor, he will face deep resistance that will make it impossible for him to govern.
After two days of voting that ended Sunday, the group declared Morsi won 52 percent of the vote. Shafiq’s camp on Monday announced he had won 51.5 precent of the vote.
A group of independent jurists known as the Judges For Egypt said Morsi was the winner, with a similar proportion to the Brotherhood’s count. Shafiq’s campaign accused the group of being affiliated with the Brotherhood.
Foreign and local election monitors say the runoff was not marked by enough serious or large-scale irregularities to question its validity.
In a series of swift moves last week, the generals cornered for themselves sweeping powers that effectively subordinate the next president and severely limit his capability for independent action.
A court order dissolved parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood, and the military issued a constitutional declaration that makes the generals the nation’s legislators and gives them control of the budget. They will dominate the security system after reshaping a key National Defense Council to keep it under their control. The generals will also oversee the process of writing Egypt’s new constitution. The Brotherhood raised alarm when it and other Islamists tried to pack an earlier attempt to form an assembly to write a constitution with their members, giving them the strongest voice in writing it. The assembly was dissolved by a court order.
Allies of the military, Mubarak-era officials and secular opponents of Islamists also hold sway in the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office and the election commission.
The resulting standoff has worried Washington, which has long had close ties to Egypt’s military and provides it around $1 billion a year in aid. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. expects the military to “support the democratic transition, to recede by turning over authority.”
“The military has to assume an appropriate role, which is not to try to interfere with, dominate or subvert the constitutional authority,” she said.
Privately, U.S. officials expressed concern that a Shafiq victory could have dangerous fallout, with protests and ensuing instability that could lead the military to take even stronger measures. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
While the Brotherhood and secular revolutionary groups have denounced the military’s moves, some Egyptian liberals see the steps as a way to prevent an Islamist takeover by the 82-year-old Muslim Brotherhood, or ensure that its hold on power is difficult and temporary.
“I see the military council at this point as a protector of the identity of the state against the Brotherhood, who are not a purely Egyptian party, but an international one,” said Emad Gad, a member of the liberal Free Egyptians party. He cited celebrations in Gaza Strip ruled by the Palestinian Islamic Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, when news broke of Morsi’s victory claims.
Anti-Islamist figures and others seen as backers of the military were escalating rhetoric against the Brotherhood on TV talk shows, accusing the group of seeking to set up a “parallel state” or of forming armed militias. Others defended the military, saying the generals had to protect Egypt from destabilizing changes.
Further raising the tone and sense of confusion, rumors circulated on social media sites and even some state-run media of tanks moving on the outskirts of Cairo, although the reports could not be confirmed.
“It is clear that there is sharp polarization between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Islamist Montasser el-Zayat, a prominent rights lawyer and activist. “It suggests that the next few days will probably be difficult for Egypt and the Egyptians.”
The Brotherhood has warned that a win by Shafiq, widely seen as an extension of the Mubarak regime, could only be the result of fraud and that it would send its supporters out onto the streets.
Still, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shater, sought to defuse fears that the group would resort to violence if Shafiq is declared the winner, saying the Brotherhood will use peaceful means, “not through violence or terrorism.”
Shafiq’s campaign sought to appeal to the international community, holding a news conference in English for foreign correspondents to send a message that it will accept “whatever the outcome.”
Basil el-Baz, an adviser to Shafiq, said the campaign was confident he was the winner. But he added, “At the end of the day, candidate Shafiq is willing to accept the results regardless of the outcomes.”
“In the event that candidate Morsi is indeed successful and victorious in the elections, the first phone he will receive will be from candidate Shafiq,” el-Baz said.
Adding to the electoral limbo has been the murkiness over the state of Mubarak’s health.
The 84-year-old former leader has been said to be in poor health since his ouster, even appearing at his trial in a hospital bed. On Tuesday, state media reported he had suffered a stroke and was put on life support. Security officials said Wednesday that he was in a coma but off life support and that his heart and other vital organs were functioning.
Security officials said he had been moved from his prison where he has been kept since his June 2 conviction to a military hospital overlooking the Nile in Cairo — a transfer that could stir up anger among opponents of the regime.
Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, was at his bedside in the hospital. The security fficials said a team of 15 doctors, including heart, blood and brain specialists, was supervising his care. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The conflicting reports raised suspicions among some of Mubarak’s opponents that the rumors were intended to justify the move to hospital — something his lawyers have sought.
“There are attempts to spoil the political scene,” the Brotherhood’s el-Shater said, citing “a fierce campaign of black rumors all across the country.”

Isnin, 18 Jun 2012

Time to Say Danke

Everyone is worried that Greece will default on its national debt. That's really not news. By one estimate, since it gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1832, Greece has been in default or restructuring for half this period. The news is that this time, Germany is willing to bail it out.
Throughout the euro-zone crisis, it has become conventional wisdom to regard the Germans as narrow-minded, ungenerous and dogmatically wedded to prescriptions of austerity to treat Europe's problems. Those criticisms are vastly overstated. Consider that Germany is being asked to take its taxpayers' money--in a democracy--and use it to bail out a country like Greece, which is guilty of mismanagement, poor competitiveness and financial fraud. And it has said yes! In return for this, Germans are being called Nazis in Greek newspapers.
Germany was an organizer of and is by far the largest contributor to the European Financial Stability Facility, which totals a staggering 726 billion euros ($924 billion). That number will rise and, when combined with earlier funds and loans, Germany's share will easily exceed the country's total annual federal tax revenues. Imagine the U.S. being willing to guarantee more than $2 trillion to bail out Mexico.
We hear a lot about the German public's opposition to helping the Southern European countries. What's remarkable, given the scale of German aid, is how little opposition there is. This month, Parliament will easily ratify a number of these funding mechanisms as well as a new financial-transaction tax to pay for part of this. (The Germans have the old-fashioned, conservative view that if you spend money, you should pay your bills.) In late February, one of the bailout packages cleared the German Parliament in a 496-to-90 vote. The German government has also relaxed its once rigid opposition to a more aggressive monetary policy. Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, would not have been able to provide cheap loans to Europe's banks--thus staving off a Lehman Brothers--like crisis--without German approval.
There is a lively political debate to be had about whether the U.S. needs austerity measures right now. (I would say no.) But Greece and the other weak euro-zone countries had few options. Markets had become unwilling to lend them money because of their ever rising debt loads. It was as a response to genuine market pressures that these governments began to get their budgets in order. The austerity programs place too little emphasis on growth, but had these nations wantonly spent money, their interest payments would have skyrocketed. Most important, the Germans have not emphasized austerity so much as structural reform--opening up labor markets, liberalizing sectors and dismantling protections. What economies like Greece really need is less austerity and more reform. The lesson of most debt crises is that countries that make these changes ultimately make themselves more competitive.
Southern Europe has a long way to go on that score. In terms of the ease of doing business, the World Bank ranks Italy and Greece last (30th and 31st) among high-income countries. The World Economic Forum ranks Greece and Italy 125th and 126th in flexibility of hiring and firing and 133rd and 140th (out of 142!) in the burden of government regulation. Tax collection is almost nonexistent in both countries, and corruption is rampant.
Largely thanks to European Union (read: German) subsidies, over the past 10 years, wages have risen dramatically in Southern Europe. Unit labor costs in Greece went up by 35% from 2000 to 2010. They went up 2% in Germany.
German leaders have said again and again that they are willing to bail out weak euro-zone countries. But they have asked for reform as a condition of that aid. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is opposed to a sweeping solution like eurobonds not because of their cost--Germany will end up paying more--but because they would take off pressure to reform. The only leverage Germany has with countries like Greece is that the money gets to them incrementally as they enact reforms.
Greece might yet have to default and quit the euro zone. Its competitiveness problem is simply too great and its political leadership too weak. But if it goes down this path, Greece will find that the markets will refuse to lend it money at reasonable rates unless it does pretty much the same things Germany is asking it to do. Life without Germany will mean a lot more austerity than life with Germany.

Brotherhood Claims Victory in Egypt President Vote

(CAIRO) — The Muslim Brotherhood has declared that its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won Egypt’s presidential election.
Morsi “is the first civilian, popularly elected Egyptian president,” the group says on its website.
Amr Nabil / AP
The declaration was based on returns the Brotherhood reported from 95 percent of the more than 13,000 polling stations nationwide. The returns showed Morsi with 52 percent of the vote, his opponent former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq with 48 percent. A million votes separated the two, which a Brotherhood spokesman said the remaining votes could not overcome the difference for Shafiq.
The figures were from results announced by election officials at individual counting centers, where each campaign has representatives who compile the numbers and make them public before the formal announcement. The Brotherhood’s early, partial counts proved generally accurate in last month’s first round vote.
The final official result is to be announced by Thursday.

Sabtu, 2 Jun 2012

The Case Against Intervention in Syria

In Syria, the brutal regime of Bashar Assad is testing the proposition that repression works. The massacre of civilians in Houla is only the latest example of what appears to be a strategy of making no concessions and using maximum force. To the Assad regime's way of thinking, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi erred by hesitating, emboldening the opposition and sowing doubts among their supporters. So far, Assad's strategy has worked. Kofi Annan's mission, which appears to be based on the idea that Assad will negotiate his own departure, seems utterly doomed. The U.S., the Western world, indeed the civilized world, should attempt instead to dislodge the Assad regime. Is there a smart way to do it?

For a number of reasons, military intervention is unlikely to work in Syria. Start with the geography: unlike Libya, Syria is not a vast country with huge tracts of land where rebels can retreat, hide and be resupplied. Syria is roughly one-tenth the size of Libya but has three times as many people. Partly for this reason, the Syrian rebellion has not been able to take control of any significant part of the country. Nearly half of all Syrians live in or around two cities, Damascus and Aleppo, both of which seem to remain under the regime's grip. Sporadic night attacks in other places recur, but they don't expand.

Nor is it clear that the Syrian opposition is capable of unity. Popular opposition to Assad is neither broad-based nor organized. The Syrian National Council, the umbrella group of organized opposition, appears unable to unify behind a leader, agenda or set of goals. Rima Fleihan, a grassroots activist who escaped from Syria to organize the opposition, quit the council, telling the New York Times, "They fight more than they work."


The geopolitics of military intervention is also unattractive. Whereas in Egypt and even Libya, all the major and regional powers were on the side of intervention or passively accepted it, in Syria that is not the case. Iran and Russia have both maintained strong ties to the Assad regime. Were the Western powers to intervene, it would quickly become a proxy struggle, with great-power-funded militias on both sides. That would likely result in a protracted civil war with civilian casualties that would dwarf the current numbers. To many observers the situation in Syria looks less like Libya and more like Lebanon, where a decades-long civil war resulted in over 150,000 deaths and a million displaced people.

Also absent in Syria is any sign of high-level dissent. Major defections from the army, intelligence services or business community are so far nonexistent. The regime was set up by Bashar Assad's father, Hafez Assad. The family is Alawite, a Shi'ite sect that represents only 12% of Syrians, and the key military and intelligence posts belong to Alawites. These loyalists stick with the regime because they know that in a post-Assad Syria, they would likely be massacred. But Assad has also been able to stop defections among the Sunni and Christian members of the ruling elite, presumably with a mixture of threats and bribes.


That's where the regime might be vulnerable. Syria is not an oil state; the regime does not have unlimited resources with which to buy off elites. Were truly crippling sanctions to be put in place, including an embargo on energy, it is likely that the regime would begin to crack. That might result in a brokered exit for the Assad family or a full-scale collapse of the regime. It seems unlikely that the regime could persist without some source of cash.

The Obama Administration is rightly trying to approach this problem with as many allies as possible. It is also correct in trying to persuade Russia, if not to join the coalition, then at least to ease its objections to sanctions. Moscow is unlikely to take that step until it concludes that the Assad regime is doomed and that Russia is better off positioning itself for whatever comes next. But even without Russia and Iran, real sanctions and embargoes will slowly bankrupt the Syrian regime--and hasten its end.

It would be morally far more satisfying to do something dramatic that would topple Assad tomorrow. But starving his regime might prove the more effective strategy.