Rule of Photo-Ops and the Divine Right (Hand Side).

I have been waiting to write about the coup in Egypt in the past week, because such an unexpected and confusing event makes for bad snap-punditry. (My word choice here — “coup” — is one of the central, but inane, controversies of this rough-draft-style analysis. I think we can call what has been happening in Egypt since January 2011 an ongoing revolution, which has included many many protests. But the event that concerns us this week is a military coup). Contrary to David Brooks and the WSJ, no this event doesn’t mean Egyptians aren’t democratic or require “a Pinochet.” Nor does this event spell “the end of political Islam.” For those looking for the best of different styles of analysis that deal well with the current ambiguity, please see essays by: Nathan Brown (on institutions and tactics), Ellis Goldberg (on the Muslim Brotherhood), Sarah Carr (on the pro- and anti-Morsi crowds) and Walter Armbrust (on the Egyptian media).

I have merely a brief note today along the line of Armbrust’s interests: the manipulation of the mass media. When protesters complain about the “deep state,” they usually mean the hand of the military or Ministry of Interior in electoral politics. But there is another institution that has not been overthrown since the Mubarak era and before: the presidential photo pool. Take for example:

2013-635089910998087619-808This is brand-new Prime Minister Hazim al-Biblawi (on the left), a finance technocrat and former deputy prime minister under SCAF chairman Muhammad Hussein Tantawi (on the right), meeting today with “acting” President Adli Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, who still has not spoken in public.

Morsi Qandil Pres.previewHere we have just-ousted Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party President Muhammad Mursi (right) and his Prime Minister Hisham Qandil (left), probably taken around a year ago. It’s the same corner of the President’s office, same bright white flat flash lighting, the same chair and couch (before reupholstering), different tree in the same place, same coffee table, same phone, same kind of flowers, same paunches and same postures (on which more below).

kamal-el-ganzouri-mohamed-hussein-tantawi-2011-11-25-12-10-10Just prior to Mursi’s election, the governing pair were Tantawi (right) as head of state and Kamal al-Ganzouri (left) as prime minister, in the first half of 2012. Al-Ganzouri had been Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister from 1996 to 1999. This is a different part of the room, plus Tantawi gets all the armed forces’ service flags (not to mention a tiny national flag on the table, just in case). Tantawi remains in uniform, as he never became a civilian president.

But the message is the same in each image: there IS a government and hierarchy withstands all shocks. The photographer poses the more powerful man on the right, with his hands apart, making a gesture or ready to do so. The less powerful man (the prime minister) is sitting with legs together and hands folded in his lap ready to receive a command. These carefully constructed images are a reflection of the Egyptian constitution, in which a strong president has the unilateral right to choose his prime minister, who merely carries out the president’s plans. In the 2013 scenario, the military has wised up and made a senior judge the nominal president, maintaining a facade of civil government probably while reserving close veto powers over Mansour’s decisions.

I’m not claiming this recent coup has set the revolutionaries back to square one. Nor do I think that this school of propaganda photography is enslaving Egyptians to an anti-democratic political system. But there are institutions of the Egyptian state that run deeper and attract less notice than the usual suspects such as the riot police. These photos are effective tools, in a media environment still dominated by state-owned organs like Al-Gumhuriya, Al-Ahram and Channel 1, for numbing the public to the exercise of power with their placidity and repetitiveness. Whether it works in the long run is another matter.

I was unable to find an image of Mubarak sitting with one of his many PMs like the ones above, but I will leave you with the image below. Yes, that’s Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s the same chairs and same coffee table, and the same bogus message: Mubarak was in control.


Posted in Egypt | 2 Comments

Egyptian Anti-Shiʿa Sentiment on the Rise: 5 Killed in Giza Attack

Egyptian newspaper Al-Dustur (The Constitution) reports that a fifth person has died after a crowd attack on Sunday on a house in the Giza village of Zawyat Abu Musalam where Shiʿa leader Hassan Shahata was conducting religious services. Shahata was one of the victims (warning: graphic photo). Reportedly, local fundamentalist Sunni Salafi clerics provoked the crowd to surround the house and demand Shahata and his followers leave the village. When he refused, they set the house on fire and beat dozens of people in attendance when they fled the fire.

The Shiʿa population of Egypt is small. As with the Christian communities that comprise roughly 10% of Egypt’s population, the state produces no official demographic figures, but estimates of Egyptian Shiʿa range from range from 200,000 to 1 million (0.25 to 1% of the population). However, Egyptian Shiʿa complicate the nationalist image of Egypt as a Sunni Muslim country even more than the Christians do, despite Egypt’s historical association with Shiʿism. Cairo was the seat of the Ismaʿili Shiʿi Fatimid Caliphate between 909 and 1171, named after the prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, and even Sunni Cairenes revere shrines to Fatima’s children Zaynab and Hussein. The Fatimids founded Al-Azhar, which in a twist of history, has become the most famous seminary of Sunni Islam after the Salah Ad-Din, a Sunni Kurd, established the Ayyubid Dynasty.

A brief Shiʿa recap: Fatima married Muhammad’s cousin ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, who was the fourth successor (khalifa, Caliph) chosen by the early Muslims (the “companions” of the prophet) to lead the Muslim community and political state. ʿAli and his sons Hassan and Husayn faced competition from the Ummayad clan of the third Caliph, ʿUthman, for political leadership of the early Islamic Caliphate that they ultimately lost with the death of Husayn at the Battle of Karbala in 680. However, the concept that religious and political authority belonged to a male descendant of the prophet (Muhammad had no sons that survived to adulthood) survived and re-emerged with different movements and dynasties in Islamic history that eventually evolved into different sects of Shiʿism based on different successions of authority and other factors (Click for more detail). The takeaway point is that both reverence for the prophet’s family, and more formal theological and legal elaboration of Shiʿa beliefs has been polymorphous and does not belong to any particular historical place or time. Most of Iran, today the political leader of the Shiʿa world, converted to Twelver Shiʿism only during the Safavid dynasty starting in the 16th century.

The recent growth in Shiʿa hatred in Egypt, as with most communal conflict, has nothing to do with ancient antipathies, but rather results from a complicated interaction of domestic and international politics. Just as Egypt became politically realigned with the United States under President Sadat in the 1970s, the 1978 Iranian Revolution overthrew the US ally and friend of Sadat, Muhammad Reza Shah. When Egypt granted the deposed Shah refuge, and later recognized Israel in the Camp David Accords, Iran cut its diplomatic ties with Egypt. It later went so far as to name a Tehran street after Khalid al-Islambouli, the assassin of Sadat. Iran’s influence in the region has grown since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which replaced the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein with a Shiʿa-controlled parliamentary democracy, and it has become the leader of international resistance to Israel with its support of Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. This has been threatening to Egypt, which is a US ally and has a peace treaty with Israel.

The domestic position of the Shiʿa in 20th-21st century Egypt has been varied. It seems the community has grown in recent years: a good number of Shiʿa are descendents of recent Iranian expatriates, such as the wife of Gamal ʿAbd al-Nasser, Taheya Kazem. Others, including many of the most vocal activists like Shahata, have converted from Sunni Islam. During a period of anti-colonial pan-Arab and pan-Islamic associationalism in the mid-20th century, a group of Iranian and Egyptian clerics founded the Association for the Rapprochement between Islamic Schools of Law (jama‘at al-taqrib bayn al-madhahib al-islamiyya) in 1947. ʿAbd al-Nasser continued to promote this organization, and in 1959, the rector of Al-Azhar issued a fatwa to the effect that the Shiʿa Jaʿafari school of law was a fifth legitimate school, alongside the four canonical Sunni schools of law. Rainer Brunner is the expert on this subject; his recent article is available online. Al-Azhar has made abortive attempts to continue this project in recent years, but they all depend on an improvement in relations between Egypt and Iran.

According to Brunner, the rise of independent Shiʿi activism in Egypt has had strange connections to Sunni Islamism. Salih al-Wardani and Ahmad Rasim al-Nafis, who became the leading spokesmen of Shiʿism in the 1990s, both converted from Sunni to Shiʿi Islam in prison for participation in the Sunni Islamist movements of the 1970s. There has been acrimony recently between Shiʿa ashraf of Upper Egypt, who claim descent from the prophet, and recent Shiʿa converts like Muhammad al-Darini, who founded an organization to promote Shiʿism in Egypt: the Supreme Council for the Protection of the Family of the Prophet (al-majlis al-ʿala li-raʿayat ahl al-bayt). When al-Darini resigned his leadership of this group in 2007, he suggested ʿAbbud al-Zomor, a leader of the Sunni Salafi group Al-Gamaʿa Al-Islamiyya which has a strong presence in Upper Egypt, as his replacement!

The Sunni fundamentalists and Shiʿa were both on the social margins and in political opposition until recently, and had little to gain from conflict until 2011. The Mubarak regime imprisoned both al-Darini and Hassan Shahata in the past 10 years for alleged proselytizing activity, which the Egyptian state counted as Iranian infiltration. The regime arrested dozens of Shiʿis in 2009 upon suspicion of a “Hizbullah cell.” Since 2011, however, Salafi politicians have become the far-right provocateurs of the current political mainstream in Egypt, the center-right Muslim Brotherhood. Shiʿa fear-mongering has become an effective tool to burnish their righteousness. An MP from the leading Salafi Party, Nour, said last month that Shiʿis are more dangerous than “naked women,” and held a conference to combat the supposed spread of heretical views in April. Besides seeking to prevent conversion, the political tenor of this Salafi activism highlights Shiʿi insults to the companions of the prophet (some of whom were enemies of ʿAli).

The Muslim Brotherhood has been caught trying to manage its and Egypt’s image on a larger stage: President Morsi recently hosted Iranian President Ahmedinejad in Egypt, the first such visit since the Iranian Revolution, which bolsters Egypt’s anti-imperialist credentials. Egypt and Iran are also trying to establish tourism between their two countries, although the public visit of Shiʿis to shrines in Egypt could raise Sunni sensitivities. More recently, however, Morsi has voiced his support for jihad against the Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. While Muslim Brotherhood leaders have condemned Sunday’s attack, Nour and other Salafi leaders seem largely unapologetic. Media attention to Shiʿis in Egypt has been increasing (Sarah Carr has a good article from the now-defunct Egypt Independent), but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into defusing the Salafi exploitation over Shiʿism — or stoke the fire.

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Security For All — Coming Soon to Satellite!

Interior Minister Ahmad Gamal Eddin has announced the ministry’s intention to launch a satellite television channel. The Ministry of Interior is still recovering from a collapse of bureaucratic morale from the breaking of the Central Security Forces (al-Amn al-Markazi) on January 28, 2011. It can barely keep cars from driving the wrong way down one-way streets. It seems unable to stop spectacular daylight robberies of five-star hotels in Cairo (the lede of this Reuters round-up on security in Egypt), or, as we saw this week, to prevent a small protest in front of the U.S. embassy from getting out of hand.

Despite — or perhaps because — of the inertia of its actual police forces, the propaganda wing of the ministry has taken the past 18 months as its opportunity to rise and shine. Bursting onto Egypt’s televisions on jetskis out of an episode of Baywatch and with the drum-machine-and-Stravinski-string-hacking blare of a Bond movie comes الأمن للجميع (Al-Amn li-l-Gamiʿ, or “Security for All”), a thrice-weekly show on state-owned Channel One. One imagines the new satellite channel will show programming like this 24 hours a day.

Like “To Serve and Protect,” the current ministry motto recited in the opening is “The Police Serve the People. The Law Is Above Everyone.” I have not pinned down the date the first episode aired, but the show’s Facebook page was created on May 17, 2011. Considering Egypt was governed on Facebook for the greater part of the past 18 months (I’m looking at you, SCAF), I think that this should be a reliable source of information for the month the show was launched. Hossam el-Hamalawy covered it around this time, too. The Facebook page links to the whole family of Ministry of Interior Facebook pages, including one memorializing the troops and officers “martyred” in the revolution. The  page first linked to videos of the show ripped by a site called “” until the ministry made its own You Tube page on March 13, 2012. Most of the clips on this channel have fewer than 1,000 views; there seems not to be much interest either in the way of support or opposition. According to this page, the Ministry of Interior is 60 years old. Is this an homage to the 1952 revolution? The ministry has been at the core of the Egyptian state for a lot longer than that.

Crime news in Egypt, as a part of the daily evening news, has always been somewhat spectacular, if in an empirical fashion. It seems in news reports that the more drugs, guns, knives and bad guys captured, the better. This is probably a result of the unitary nature of the security apparatus in Egypt. There is no municipality run community policing in Egypt; rather, everything is under the chain of command of the Ministry of Interior down to the level of the neighborhood qism (precinct), or markaz, in rural areas. So even though there’s plenty of news stories of individual crimes happening in particular places, a lot of the ministry’s aggregates achievements around the country into mind-numbing statistics. 2,345 kilograms of hashish and 169 guns — that’s a good week’s haul. The police often provide state TV with videos of one or another gang of criminals standing shamefacedly in front of a table of the loot. For example, here’s 33 knives, 13 guns and (some of the) 57 gangsters from a recent bust:

Security for All still shows clips like this one, but the production values for the overall package have been kicked way upstairs. Now, there’s a glass-and-brushed-aluminum studio for the announcer, replete with a backdrop of Cairo at night and a banner with the Ministry of Interior emblem on it. The show’s fifteen-minute run time leaves room for highly produced and dramatic videos. With this pulpit, the ministry can also convey a much higher-concept message than mere kilos of drugs captured. I have chosen excerpts from an episode that aired February 13 this year that are exemplary of the new approach.

In the first minute of the show, the announcer gives one of the most baldfaced distillations of the Egyptian state’s security ideology I have ever seen. Here’s my paraphrase in English:

We always begin our program with the slogan, “The Police Serve the People, and the Law is above Everyone,” but we would like to reiterate at the start here that, really, the police serve the people, and the law is above everyone. But for the police to serve the people, there needs to be a realization of just one thing, a difficult issue. This is the issue of security. Security (الأمن, al-amn) and safety (الأمان, al-amān) are very important things. What does security mean? Security, in all simplicity, means stability. And if there’s stability, there will be work, and if there’s work, there will be economic activity and development. This will attract capital investment, and improve Egypt’s place on the world map to the one it deserves. There will be tourism, one of the reasons for national security, and also one of the most important sources of national income and one of the industries that we work in. Of course, we have to be present (on the map) in tourism, and so we are present on the map of security. Any tourist group that wants to travel today looks at the map of security and sees the regions and countries that enjoy a high level of security, to choose a suitable and safe place to visit… So you see, Egypt’s touristic, economic and even historical position is realized through the concept of security. Security is not only the responsibility of the men of the police, but it also comes about through the cooperation of all citizens.

In this brief essay, the Ministry has collapsed the concept of crime and security. It ignores individual crimes against private interests, promoting instead public participation in a cult of security and obedience to police forces. Its reductive identification of security as the solution to Egypt’s economic problems makes no mention of the other reasons, from disastrous public sector management to corrupt privatization deals and the outmoded education system, for these problems. The announcer cites tourism as the part of the economy most sensitive to security, but only implies that terrorism or violent political protests are the specific crimes that hurt this sector.

The astounding short film that the announcer says represents Egypt’s dedication to security depicts a special forces raid on a gang in rural Qalyoubiya.  The program does not say what the criminals in question did in any detail or what crimes they are being charged with. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how some (probable) drug dealers in an area remote from monuments and beaches affect the tourism industry. We start with the police in the early dawn preparing for a raid. The voice over: “The aim: thuggery” (البلتجية, al-baltageya).

OK, so it all looks pretty organized, these guys have a game plan, and they’re all decked out in state of the art gear. After 30 seconds of driving clips, which I have left out, the film cuts abruptly to the raid in progress:

Holy moly! I remember my surprise when I learned as a kid that the police (in the U.S.) had to fill out a report for every bullet they fired — it totally contradicts every police/action movie ever made. However, I’m not sure anybody filled out any paperwork for the fireworks display above. It is impossible to tell if there is a real gunfight between the gang, holed up in some building or behind some trees, and the police, and there’s no narrative to explain this. It appears that many of the troops are just firing in the air to create an atmosphere of mayhem. It is my suspicion this is what the army did on the night of the Friday of Rage (Jan. 28, 2011) in the desert near Tora Prison south of al-Maʿadi to keep people afraid and in their homes. The film wraps up with the capture of the crooks and then about 15-20 short interviews with the troops and their commanders, who mostly thank God for success and pledge how much they love their country. It concludes with a tender ballad over replayed scenes of shooting.

I am not claiming that nationalistic, pro-police propaganda is peculiar to Egypt; the US led the way twenty years ago with “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.” However, Egypt’s version is blatantly crafted to the needs of the national government in this turbulent time, especially for an insecure new leadership. President Morsi spent his first day in office with the army, but on his second morning, he met the top 20 police generals to discuss strategy. Certainly many Egyptians fear an increase in random violent crime like armed carjacking — but I wonder what effect viewing such an over-the-top assault has on most people, beyond entertainment. Does it inspire confidence in the Interior Ministry? Mostly, the film reminds me of the “Upper Class Twits Go Hunting” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus:

Stay tuned for more of my “best of” selections of this entertaining, brainwashing TV program. My thanks to friend and colleague Aaron Jakes, who turned me on to Security for All in July.

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The New Fun-Pak-Sized Egyptian Emergency Law: Mekki

Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmad Mekki told Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida on Monday the Egyptian government is in the process of writing a new emergency law. (Egypt Independent has the story in English). He said it would allow the president to declare a state of emergency law with a duration of one week only to combat outbreaks of “thuggery.” It seems to me this legislation is a bit premature, considering such a law would rely on an article of the still-unfinished constitution that should delimit the cases in which the president may declare the state of emergency and the amount of oversight parliament will have over the declaration, continuation and cancellation of the emergency.

A state of emergency, which according to the 1971 constitution and 1958 law allows the president and his security forces to detain individuals indefinitely without trial and to restrict speech, public assembly and other civil rights and liberties, has been in effect in Egypt in one form or another for 64 of the past 73 years. In its most recent guise, it required periodic renewal by parliament. This was usually easy for ex-President Mubarak to obtain from his National Democratic Party-dominated legislature. However, the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood post-revolutionary parliament decided to let it expire on May 31, ending the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ power to transfer crimes to military or state security courts. (They had sent thousands of such cases in 2011 but mostly had stopped anyway in this year). The symbolism of this legislative action against executive power was undoubtedly one of the SCAF’s reasons for its ruling to dissolve parliament a little more than two weeks later.

Now that President Morsi has cut a deal with the military to ease his elderly rivals from their positions of power in SCAF, and he is actively reasserting most of the president’s historical powers (including the power to declare war), the dilemma over how to handle Egypt’s public security is settling on his shoulders. When the Muslim Brotherhood (belatedly) joined the revolutionary furor of January 2011, it implicitly endorsed the demand for the end to military trials for civilians and to the state of emergency. At the same time, Egypt’s large security bureaucracy is mired in thousands of man-years of authoritarian training, and it has reflexively withdrawn both from political repression and to a certain extent simply maintaining law and order. Now in a position of power, Mursi has to reconcile his promises to the public with the reality of running an enervated state confronting both a very active political opposition and violent insurrection in the Sinai.

The state of emergency, for better or (mostly) worse, has been a defining feature of liberal democratic constitutions since the First World War. But the political discourse in Egypt needs to overcome its fixation on “thugs.” During the revolution, this became the standard term the state used for protesters, especially those that resisted police repression; the revolutionaries have since turned it back on plainclothes police and hired pro-state protesters that have fomented violence on the street. “Stopping thuggery” is rather like outlawing outlawishness. (In the Al-Jarida interview, Mekki uses al-ashqiyaʾ, a term with a long history in state discourse meaning more than just criminals, but bandits or outlaws that have transgressed against the state). There should be sufficient specific measures in the penal code to arrest and try in civil court individuals causing violence or committing other crimes without resorting to the emergency law.

Mekki’s comments have caused a predictable uproar among opposition figures, including Amr Moussa. PM Hesham Qandil denied that the law would even be an “emergency law,” and Mekki has since met with human rights activists to explain the legislation. As the constituent assembly begins to release its draft constitution to the public, expect the debate about police powers (among many others) to intensify.

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Egypt Presidential Election Maps: Upper Egypt Districts Part Two

Here are the final independent segments of my map of the Egyptian Presidential Election final round held on June 16-17, in which Muhammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood won over former Air Force General and Mubarak’s last Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq. These two maps show the remainder of agricultural Upper Egypt until the High Dam at Aswan, and they represent a further 3 million of the 25 million votes cast in the election. The last 500,000 votes, which I have not yet mapped, were in remote and small desert oasis towns and seaside resorts on the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I will include these only in my upcoming, national-scale amalgamation of my prior maps. I have updated the online spreadsheet that contains the full data set for the districts connected to the numbers on the map.

The dynamics on this map are similar to those of my map of “Middle Egypt,” which I posted previously. Most of Asyut and northern Sohag were as strongly supportive of Mursi as Minya or Bani Suef (but not Al-Fayoum, where Mursi received an average 78% of the vote). Asyut was the home base of the large radical fundamentalist Islamist movement Al-Gamaʿa Al-Islamiyya, which was responsible for terrorist attacks on the government during the 1980s and early 1990s. The state eventually succeeded in breaking the organization through a militarized security crackdown. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the group wrote a book series from prison denying the legitimacy of violent Jihad against the state to distance themselves from their former ally, current Al-Qaʿida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri (Omar Ashour is the expert on this process). Even since the revolution, these aging ex-jihadis, in a wary standoff with the “deep state,” are refraining from direct political participation. Their sole symbolic political cause is a protest at the U.S. Embassy for the release of former member “Blind Shaykh” ʿUmar ʿAbdel Rahman, who was sentenced to life in prison in US court in 1996 for a variety of plots to attack public monuments. President Mursi sought to appease the Salafists and other Islamists more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood in his Tahrir rally speech the day before his inauguration by promising (again, symbolically) to negotiate with the US for his release. Last week, Mursi released most of the Al-Gamaʿa Al-Islamiyya leaders remaining in prison in Egypt, including ʿAbbud Al-Zumur, who was involved in President Sadat’s assassination in 1981, and Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s brother, Muhammad.

Although the vast majority of residents of Asyut do not support violent insurrection against the state, it is clear that a conservative Salafi interpretation of Islam is widespread among Muslims, lending support to the Islamist candidate Mursi. However, the provincial capitals (usually the smaller districts) always reveal more support for Shafiq, and occasionally even a majority for him.

Far Upper Egypt is again a different story. The governorates of Luxor and Aswan are the site of the most famous Pharaonic monuments and therefore the recipients of large state investments in the tourism industry. These areas, and Qena, also have a large Christian population. As a result, the vote in this area was split 52% Mursi to 48% Shafiq, and Shafiq received 60% in the city of Luxor. Media coverage of the election in these areas was surprisingly sparse compared to more contentious governorates like Al-Menoufiya or Al-Fayoum, so I don’t have much to add here.

Mursi is also trying to shore up public confidence and political support in these areas. Last week, he toured Luxor and made a public commitment to enforce security so the tourism industry will recover from low arrivals in the past year and a half. Commentators have also noted the Muslim Brotherhood is soft-pedaling its Islamist interests in restricting the sale of alcohol and gender mixing at beaches for the same purpose.

Posted in Egypt, Elections, Geography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A First Look at First Round Egypt Presidential Election District Results

I’m excited to report that I’m now working with a full set of data from the first round of the Egyptian presidential election at the district (qism and markaz) level, thanks to assistance from Hamdy Khalil, CTO of eSpace, the web development and consulting company that built the attractive and useful sites for the Supreme Committee for Elections, (as well as This data is going to provide invaluable geographic information to political activists trying to build a “third current,” among the non-Islamist, non-“feloul” (i.e. not loyal to the old regime) constituencies of Egypt. The dark horse candidate of the first round around whom the vast majority of these voters rallied was Hamdeen Sabbahi, a Nasserist-leftist politician with a long career of opposition to the Sadat and Mubarak regimes. After the drama of the final round of the election between Muhammad Mursi and Ahmad Shafiq, it is easy to forget that Sabbahi was very close himself to entering the final round, winning 4.8 million votes to Mursi’s 5.7 million and Shafiq’s 5.5 million in the first round. In the end, Sabbahi voters were forced to choose between two options they might have found unpalatable (the subject of my next post). But with cooperation, over time new leftist coalitions could have a very large constituency to build upon to make an impact on the future course of the Egyptian state, assuming electoral parliamentary life returns to Egypt in due course.

With ten candidates running, and five prominent ones that frequently split districts nearly evenly, analyzing this data visually is a challenge. My first attempt in the map above is merely to show the candidate that won the plurality in each district. A great many of the contests were very, very close. For example, in Al-Matariya qism in Cairo, Sabbahi received 26.4% to Shafiq’s 26.1% and Mursi’s 22.9%; I have marked it green on the map. But despite the razor thin margins and a lot of variation, the result on the map is again a surprising continuity across broad swaths of the Nile Delta. (The Egypt Maps link above has a reference map to place names in the delta). Shafiq won all of Al-Menoufiya, most of Al-Gharbiya and large parts of Al-Sharqiya and Al-Daqhaliya. Mursi won southern Al-Beheira, eastern Al-Sharqiya, coastal Al-Daqhaliya, and rural Al-Ismailiya and Al-Giza (in addition to much more of Upper Egypt not on this map). Sabbahi was obviously the candidate of Egypt’s cities, the choice of liberals and the urban working class. He positively dominated his home governorate of Kafr El-Shaykh, but he also did quite well in Alexandria, Damietta, Port Said, Ismailiya, Tanta, Mansoura and Mahalla el-Kubra and nearly all of Cairo and urban Giza.

The detail on Cairo here reveals interesting patterns. The most upscale areas of Zamalek and Heliopolis went for Moussa and Shafiq respectively. But El-Maʿadi and El-Mohendiseen went for Sabbahi like most of the rest of the old core of the city. Christian areas in Shubra and Rod El-Farag also slightly preferred Shafiq. Some of the satellite cities, and suburbs in Al-Qalyoubiya, went for Mursi and Aboul-Fotouh.

Moussa and Aboul-Fotouh, once the media’s front runners, who staged a tense and some say damaging debate in the weeks leading to the election obviously lost voters to Shafiq and Mursi respectively. Yet Aboul-Fotouh’s campaign was able to attract more voters in northern Beheira around Kafr el-Dawwar and in the rural areas of Damietta governorate. Moussa won a very few scattered districts, like Rashid and the southern district of Port Said, but he took relatively more in Sinai and the Red Sea.

Stay tuned for more maps. I will also return to the final round to finish maps of southern Upper Egypt, and I will attempt a high-res district map for the entirety of the country.

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Ramadan Karim! The Military has your Beef.

This is the first in an occasional series about the state of the security state in Egypt, denoted by the kicker at right. How safe is your meat? I bet it is not as safe as the meat for sale at Egypt’s October for Food Security company (شركة اكتوبر للأمن الغذائى). At least that’s what the plastic shopping bags the company uses at its many outlets would have you believe — they proudly bear in English the legend “SAFETY MEAT.” No, that doesn’t mean the company promises you its meat won’t explode or cut you in the kitchen. The funny ambiguity both in translation and in the Arabic original is the result of a complicated ideological war for economic power in Egypt. The dog whistle here is that buying this meat isn’t safe for you; it is safe for the country. If you choose instead to go to Metro supermarket and buy fancy imported goods, it implies you are hurting Egypt’s security. How come? October (named, of course, after Egypt’s October 1973 war to recover Sinai from the Israelis) is a new chain of grocery stores run by the military, and it is growing fast.

When I moved to Zamalek three months ago, I was intrigued by the small shop on Hassan ʿAsim street seen below. It was patently a state enterprise, but also much more upscale than the state-run co-operative outlets that to this day distribute subsidized wheat flour, sugar, tea and oil to lower-class families that hold special ration cards. I finally made a visit recently, purchased a security chicken and picked up the available propaganda.

As I suspected, this isn’t a state company, but rather it is run by the armed forces. Since the military coup that brought the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces one impregnable share of sovereignty in the country, there has been plenty of scrutiny of the military’s economic interests. Interesting essays have appeared by AUC History Professor Zeinab Abul-Magd in Jadaliyya (about food specifically) and elsewhere, in Egypt Independent about the military economy boycott movement “Qataʿuhum,” and in Al Jazeera.

In short, Egypt’s four republic-era presidents, who had all been military officers, allowed the military to develop its own, separate import-substitution industries, both to produce their own munitions and arms, but also to build cars, air conditioners and other consumer goods to sell to the hundreds of thousands of its members at subsidized prices. It has eventually come to sell to the public at large to add extra revenue to its secret bottom line. Part of the media’s recent obsession has been calculating “what percentage” of the economy is in the hands of the military. This is a difficult exercise not only because of the keen secrecy of military industrial production data, but because of the subjectivity of the measurement: would one use GDP (real or PPP?) or consumer market shares, or capital investment, or what?

I am more interested here in the mobilization of ideology and image the military is obviously employing to defend its interests. My internet searches about this company in English and in Arabic bring up no information (so please share this brief analysis with any journalists you know), but I strongly suspect that it has only come into existence since February 2011. And yet it has already expanded to dozens of outlets, some of which are shown on the flyer below: Sixth of October (of course), Shaykh Zayed, Nozha, Heliopolis, Rehab, New Cairo, Al-Obour, Hadayek Al-Qubba, Al-Marg, Al-Maʿadi, Dar El-Salaam, Helwan, 15th of May, El-Manial, El-Doqqi, Mohendiseen, Shubra, Shubra el-Khayma, Imbaba, Faisal, El-Matariya and El-Giza. A pro-Shafiq Facebook group made a list for areas outside Cairo. If this is the case, the military is pouring money into a public economic campaign to raise its image during this crisis (as it has done in many other ways). I don’t think the military acquired the source industries overnight, but like Microsoft trying to launch its own retail locations to fight the hegemony of Apple computer’s retail juggernaut of the past decade, it now has a unified strategy to sell food directly to the upper-middle classes.

The flyer, but not the extensive text on the facade of the store, admits that these are the products of the “armed forces” (at the upper right), a term it uses interchangeably with “food security” in other places in the text. The other fascinating item on this handbill, in the upper left hand corner, is the claim “MEAT AT ITS REAL PRICE.” This is a subtle hint at the extensive conspiracy theories present in Egyptian popular culture about the reasons for incessant inflation — in particular for meat. Much of Egyptian beef is imported from herds in Sudan, and the corruption at high levels involved in the import permits has reduced competition in the marketing of meat, resulting in high prices. The prices advertised at “October”, LE 40 per kilo for whole cuts of meat, are much better than average at the quality they seem to provide. Like any canny entrepreneur with the means, the military is using its size and unique power to soak the market with cheaper goods to push out the competition, as they are undoubtedly importing such large amounts of meat from the same sources abroad that the private traders are.

But is this policy actually making Egypt more secure? The 2-gram phrase “food security” entered the world’s lexicon during the oil crises of the 1970s (seen above), which ended the “green revolution” period of rapid expansion of grain yields in the developing world, and easy food trade, predicated on cheap energy. The concept had been around much longer, at least since the major world economic seizures occasioned during the First World War, the Great Depression and especially the Second World War, which resulted in the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to coordinate world policy to prevent the famines (like in Bengal in 1943) that large-scale wars cause. Egypt was also at risk of famine in 1942 because the naval war had severed its sources of imported wheat, and for the first time imposed “food security” measures, nationalizing agricultural planning and trade to force landowners to grow less cotton and more wheat, and extensively subsidizing food consumption. These policies survived through the Gamal ʿAbdel Nasser period, a time both of nationalist triumph but also economic and political uncertainty and war that necessitated close government management of the food supply and prices to support a socialist program. Any illusions President Sadat had of altering the political-economic prerogative of “food security,” when he tried to eliminate bread subsidies in 1977, were shattered during the ensuing mass demonstrations opposing the policy, the largest until January 25, 2011. Not surprisingly, this was the year the Arabic “الأمن الغذائى” (food security) first appeared in Egyptian political and social science literature. It has since taken on shades of meaning among technocrats and the public at large. An important part of trumpeting food security is both to win Western developmental aid (Timothy Mitchell does a good takedown on this subject in Rule of Experts) but also more generally to announce Egyptian modernity and strength in the globalized world.

Most of the food the military is offering on the flyer above appears to be Egyptian-grown and processed. This would seem to be consonant both with the idea of import-substitution nationalism (“Buy Egyptian!”) and the food security principles of adding value to local products and not wasting foreign exchange reserves on importing consumer goods (however macroeconomically sound these principles are in the long run). However, I don’t think using semi-state military finances to subsidize mass consumption of imported meat, a luxury item that only 1/4 of Egyptians can regularly afford to eat, could really be considered enhancing “food security.” The military believes it can convince the middle class masses that buying from them, and thus enhancing their economic hegemony, will bring security and stability to the country. This is a very familiar trope by now.

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