Political Comment (18 June 2012)
A court ruling ordering the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament has pitched Egypt into a full-scale social and political crisis. A senior UN official has described the conflict in Syria as a civil war, but concerted international action remains as elusive as ever.
Chaos In Egypt
As Egypt geared up for the second round of its presidential election on 16-17 June, the country's transition to democracy, not to say its entire political landscape, was thrown into total disarray on 14 June when the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled not only that the lower house of parliament must be dissolved and fresh elections held but also that a law banning Mubarak-era officials – in this case former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, who finished second behind the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Mursi, in the first round – from contesting the presidency was unconstitutional. That cleared the way for the second round to go ahead on schedule, but otherwise all was confusion. For instance, Mr Mursi claimed that the ruling "does not dissolve parliament" but applies to only a third of the members of the assembly, but he was flatly contradicted by the head of the court, Faruq Sultan, who told Reuters
on 14 June that "the ruling regarding parliament includes the dissolution of the lower house of parliament in its entirety," a statement that is unlikely to go down well with the Brotherhood, which won more than 40% of the assembly's 509 seats in the elections earlier this year. Confusion also surrounds the fate of the 100-member constitutional assembly named by parliament on 12 June to write the constitution that will define the powers of the presidency. (Presumably, if the assembly itself was constitutionally flawed, it cannot create a constitutionally valid body.) Coincidentally or not, the court's decision came only a day after the Justice Ministry issued a surprise decree giving the military police and intelligence services the right to detain civilians in order to maintain law and order until a new constitution is written, which many saw as a continuation of the hated emergency law which lapsed at the end of May. It was hardy surprising that there was no shortage of Egyptians ready to make comparisons with Algeria in 1991, when the military stepped in to annul elections which had been won by the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut. In Algeria's case that started a civil war which cost up to 200,000 lives. The situation may not be that dire in Egypt, but there must be many people who agree with presidential candidate and former Brotherhood official 'Abd al-Mun'im Abu al-Futuh, who wrote on 14 June that "keeping the military candidate and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup, and whoever thinks that millions of youth will let it pass is deluding themselves." At MEES press time on 15 June a host of questions about the situation in Egypt remained unanswered, and the one certainty was that the country is facing a grave political and social crisis.
Ladsous Says Syria Conflict Now A Civil War
The UN's chief peacekeeper, Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, was uncharacteristically blunt when asked on 12 June whether the conflict in Syria had developed into a civil war. "Yes, I think we can say that," he replied. "Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas. Now we have confirmed reports of not only the use of tanks and artillery but also attack helicopters." Mr Ladsous also sounded doubtful about the value of the UN observers in Syrian, saying that "keeping a peacekeeping force when there is definitely no peace to observe – that summarizes the situation. An observer mission which cannot observe a ceasefire because there is no ceasefire."
Mr Ladsous also suggested that the future of the UN mission might depend on the progress made towards forming special envoy Kofi Annan's proposed 'contact group' – which would bring together Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and regional players in the conflict such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Turkey – in order, as Mr Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi put it on 12 June, to "give teeth to the plan, to convince the parties to implement the plan in its entirety." That is a proposal which presumably has the support of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who on 9 June repeated his call for an international conference to support the Annan plan attended by inter alia
, Iran, saying that "we want this event to be effective. In order to be effective all the sides with any influence on the sides in the Syrian conflict should be represented there. Iran is one such country." On the same day Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov argued that there was no "fundamental difference" between the Russian initiative and Mr Annan's contact group (including Iran's participation). However, other parties involved in the Syrian crisis had more draconian measures in mind. On 10 June the newly elected president of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Kurdish activist 'Abd al-Basit Sida, called on outside countries to "stop the killing machine in a decisive decision under Chapter 7" of the UN Charter, which could authorize actions ranging from sanctions to military intervention. And on 13 June France's new Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to harden the French position significantly by calling for the six-point Annan plan to be placed within the context of Chapter 7. "We propose making the implementation of the Annan plan compulsory," he announced. "We need to move up a gear at the Security Council and place the Annan plan under Chapter 7 – that is to say to make it compulsory under pain of very heavy sanctions." This is a proposal that at the moment looks like a non-starter. The Russian position, as articulated by Mr Gatilov on 9 June, remains that "introducing restrictive or forceful measures clearly will not foster peace and only aggravate the already difficult atmosphere." And even were the Russians to have a change of heart, the Chinese might well continue to oppose further action by the Security Council. In Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, when asked about French proposal the next day, said that "China disapproves of the approach of leaning towards sanctions and pressure. We believe that in the current circumstances, all sides should vigorously support envoy Annan's mediation efforts and urge all sides in Syria to truly implement the UN Security Council's resolution and Annan's six-point proposal."
© Copyright MEES 2012.