NDN Blog

Egypt’s Constitution: A Wake Up Call For Secularists and Democracy Proponents

Amidst growing protests over Egyptian President Morsi's recent decree granting himself sweeping new powers, the assembly drafting the country's new constitutionsuddenly announced that it is accelerating its time-frame and will vote on a final draft in the coming days. The document that has emerged, though,  is far from what was imagined by many Egyptians and pro-democracy advocates in the West. As time runs out on the current process, domestic opposition and international actors need to think seriously and strategically about how to build a real, inclusive, and democratic Egypt in the face of an Islamist minority that currently controls most levers of power.

The constitutional assembly is dominated, almost exclusively by the Brotherhood and other Islamists. Nearly all of the secular members, comprising about 25 percent of the original body, walked out after it became clear that their views would not be taken seriously. This has resulted in a series of draft constitutions that place the Brotherhood's conservative vision of Islam at the very foundation of the new state in ways that seriously threaten the rights of women, minorities, and free expression.

The Islamists, however, do not represent the views of the majority of Egyptians, and a constitution which excludes the legitimate input of secular groups will lack legitimacy. President Morsi and his FJP won a plurality in the first election, benefitting from the fractured nature of the more liberal and secular opposition. This sectarian disunity among groups wishing to challenge Morsi's aggrandizement continues to be an important factor holding back the development of a more healthy and representative multi-party environment. Absent a well organized opposition that can voice a realistic and cogent alternative vision - and institutions through which they can express it - it will be difficult to counterbalance the ascendency of the Brotherhood, even if they do lack a deep well of popular support.

President Morsi and his Brotherhood allies clearly hope that the fast-tracking of a new constitution will not only codify their favored version of Egyptian government, but also diffuse the mounting discontent and protests in the street and among the Egyptian judiciary. While the clearly non-representative nature of the constitutional process and the final draft document would seem to cast doubt on this assumption, it's important to appreciate the relative cunning that Morsi has displayed in neutralizing various sources of potential resistance. Nathan Brown, one of the most prominent western scholars of Egyptian governance, describes the strategic buy-offs imbedded in Morsi's recent decree:

By careful timing and a series of carrots for various actors, Morsi may have outmaneuvered any opposition. Internationally, he has just won plaudits for his role in ending the fighting between Israel and Hamas; that likely offers him a bit of insulation from international criticism and some vague domestic capital for showing Egypt's centrality. Offering cash to the revolution's victims and retrials for their attackers seems designed to placate street activists. Non-Islamist forces in the Constituent Assembly are seeing one of their fundamental demands-an extension on the clock-met. And an obvious source of opposition-the judiciary, whose role is dramatically evicted from the transition process-may be a bit confused on how to respond. After all, it is leaders of the "judicial independence" movement from within their ranks that appears to be leading some of Morsi's charge.

The current draft constitution has been described by some analysts as a fundamentally "rights-reducing document." This view is certainly shared by many Egyptians, though it remains unclear how much agency that opposition has to effectively alter it. The international community in general and the United States in particular could play a positive role in aiding this process by stepping up to advocate forcefully for a more open and inclusive process that reflects the true intentions of the revolution.  Western actors cannot expect to alter the ideology and preferences of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Ikhwan have proven to be fairly pragmatic in the way they respond to incentives. This provides hope that various carrots, such as the $4.8 billion IMF loan currently under negotiation, could be effectively tied to reforms in ways that pull the ruling FJP toward more responsible leadership and institution building. The development of more organized opposition and the deployment of effective international pressure, though, are medium-term goals at best. Given the fast-tracked timeframe of the current constitution, the most important consideration of the moment may well be the process for future constitutional amendments.

Obama’s Second Term: Time for More Ambitious Foreign Policy

Tuesday night's election results were a powerful endorsement of President Obama's leadership.  Though exit polls seem to indicate that foreign affairs played only a minor role in the decisions of most voters, the President has a remarkable opportunity to reassert American leadership in his second term by outlining and executing an ambitious global agenda. The last four years have been characterized by a largely safe and conservative foreign policy that was focused on cleaning up two wars that this administration inherited and a global terrorism threat in need of containment. For the most part, the President has done an admirable job on both fronts and has exercised deft, competent, and thoughtful leadership across a range of foreign policy. However, when given opportunities to make big ambitious plays, he has consistently chosen play it safe. The response to the Arab Awakenings could be much more powerful, with policy leadership and a political push equal to the historic opportunities in the region. The European monetary union remains in perpetual near-crisis while the President has elected to play a supporting role. The US trade agenda, most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has made slow and steady progress, but has remained largely absent from the President's broad narrative of American values promotion and strategic vision.

In order to accomplish this, the Administration will need to fully come to terms with the "rise of the rest" and ascension of middle-income countries on the world's stage. Strong American leadership in this new world will require reimagining the architecture of global governance. Some of this is underway with the increased reliance on the G20 rather than the G8. But more will have to be done to incorporate other nations substantively into the fabric of the IMF, World Bank, and Security Council. Additionally, we will need to craft new institutions that can coordinate collective action and truly make the United States an indispensable super partner, in addition to being a super power. The US is well positioned to lead this movement, but it must choose to seize that mantel and responsibility.

In President Obama's second term, he should also double down on expanding the benefits of trade, openness, and economic growth in the developing world. There is perhaps nothing that can do more to solidify and secure long term US interests abroad than to help usher in a new world of opportunities for everyday people living in volatile and tumultuous regions. Families in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East want what everyone wants: Decent jobs, safe communities, educational opportunities, and a real path for their children to realize their full potential. Simon Rosenberg has observed that "FDR and his fellow progressives took on the challenges of their day and built the domestic programs and international institutions that ushered in an era of unrivaled prosperity and stability." The challenge facing today's progressives is no less important.

This administration has chalked up many foreign policy accomplishments over the last four years, but over the next four - the president has a real opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of reasserting a 21st century liberal internationalism. With the partisan congressional dynamics largely unchanged after last night's election, it is certainly possible that gridlock over domestic policy will create incentives for the President to focus more attention on a more ambitious foreign policy. I hope that he does. 

This essay was originally published by the Roosevelt Institute at Next New Deal

Obama: The Clear Winner of the Foreign Policy Debate

Obama was the clear winner last night, coming across as strong, engaged and knowledgeable. Romney didn't make any huge missteps, but certainly looked and sounded like a pretender to the throne. A man who has memorized lots of talking points, but seems unclear how the pieces actually fit together. The larger dynamic is that Romney's goal was clearly to represent himself as a moderate - veering much farther from the foreign policy of George W Bush (and most of their shared advisors) than he did from the foreign policy of president Obama. While this pivot to "moderate Mitt" may sit better with voters, they should keep in mind two things: There's no reason to think that he was lying about his hawkish inclinations during the primaries and exposing his true beliefs tonight. The reverse is just as likely to be true. And even if Romney reallydoesn't believe in irresponsible adventurism abroad, the NeoCon staff he'll put in place certainly do.

One of the scariest results of Romney's vacuous ideological flexibility is not "hypocrisy" per se, but the fact that his lack of core beliefs will make him dangerously susceptible to the influence of his advisors -- people whose policy preferences and views are NOT being vetted in the light of day.

I don't feel the need to go over the standard highlights and lowlights that the chattering class at-large is all grinding through. Instead, I want to highlight two moments from last night that I don't think are getting enough press:

  • Romney said that China wants "the world to be free and open." While the Chinese certainly desire a stable global economic system, the entire reason that the Romney campaign talking-point on Asia is "getting tough on China" is because they believe in strategic, rather than free, trade. The Chinese model is one of control - not openness. It's certainly possible, even likely, that this was simply word vomit resulting from applying memorized bromides to whichever country he happened to be talking about. (Hard to go wrong with "X country really wants freedom"). But this is a guy whose entire argument for his candidacy is that he's a savvy and experienced global businessman. He's BEEN to China, right? Read about it maybe? Done business there? The Chinese simply aren't big proponents of freedom and openness and Romney getting something this important so wrong could be sufficient evidence of him not clearing the Command in Chief bar.
  • While Romney hued identically to Obama's current policy on Iran, he made one rather strange departure, declaring that he would "make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation." From best I can tell this was a completely new talking point and I'm not sure where it came from. Kevin Drum points out this morning that the Fox News crowd generally hates international laws like these in general, and appeals to refer people to the Hague in particular. Drum is probably right that if this were espoused by Obama or another Democrat that the Right would scream about facile subservience and failure of American assertiveness. I think the more interesting question, though, was posed last night by Spencer Ackerman: "Has anyone ever been indicted for inciting genocide without involvement in genocide?" Romney is clearly alluding to the Iranian President's remarks that have been roughly translated to suggest he would like to see Israel wiped off the map. But Israel hasn't been wiped off the map. I'm not an international legal expert, but Ahmadinejad must have done a pretty poor job inciting Israel's extermination if it hasn't happened despite the fact that he's the president of a country with an ample military at its disposal. I'd also be curious to see what this policy looks like if logically expanded to other leaders, countries, and contexts. It's simply a pretty odd foreign policy position to roll-out this late in the race and it just strikes me as ill-conceived. 


Here's What Obama Should Say About The Benghazi Attack

As the Obama Administration continues to struggle in finding a way to answer critics of its response to the attacks on the US Embassy in Libya, they would be wise to give up on finding blame and talking about intelligence failures. The real story is about context. This attack did not occur in a vacuum and only by placing the daily events in the Middle East in the proper -- and wider -- frame of the historic transitions underfoot, will the president be able to really address people's concerns. If President Obama is asked about these events during tonight's debate, may I suggest a response like this:

The attack on our Embassy was a tragedy and we take every attack on American personnel overseas incredibly seriously. Ambassador Stevens knowingly risked his safety and his life to take up the post in Libya because he understood that we are the midst of a truly historic time of transformation in a region that has for far too long been plagued by dictatorship, repression, and violence. This past, however, does not need to determine the future of the Arab world. We have witnessed more democratic transitions in the region over the last few years than we’d seen during the previous three hundred. Millions of people now live under elected governments and when a tiny minority of extremists raided our embassy, it was because the terrorists are growing weaker, not stronger. We saw the residents of Benghazi literally run them out of the city and make moving signs of solidarity with the American diplomats they had come to understand as key supporters of their liberation.

This attack – while terrible – must be understood as but one small part of a much larger story of regional transformation. A transformation that not only benefits the 300 million people of the Middle East, but is an incredibly positive development for American values and interests. The Libyan people just elected their own prime minister. The freely elected President in Egypt is currently working with diverse constituencies to draft a new constitution. Al-Qaeda has been dismantled. We have assembled an unprecented global coalition to isolate Iran and apply crippling sanctions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being responsibly ended. There is no doubt that we are safer and better positioned in the region now than we were five years ago. More must be done to consolidate the recent gains and to help these young democracies realize their full aspirations of becoming open and prosperous countries.  And more will be done. To redouble our efforts today would be the best way to honor the memory of those fallen diplomats and it is the course that I will undertake over the next four years.


The MENA Initiative - Insights on Middle East Policy

NDN's MENA Initiative was created to help build a domestic constituency for a more robust and strategic US economic engagement strategy with the Middle East and North Africa. We do this through high-profile and high-impact events that bring diplomats, foreign officials, leading academics, and members of the NGO and private sector community face to face with policymakers. We also advance this agenda by making and winning these arguments in the media and in the public sphere. Stay abreast of all this work at www.menaprogram.org

Recent Work

Brad Bosserman live-blogged last week's foreign policy debate for the website PolicyMic and his post-debate analysis is available on the NDN site.

We collected some of the best analysis from around the web tackling the recent protests throughout the Middle East.

The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs published an article by MENA Initiative Director Brad Bosserman that discusses the strategy behind a Marshall Plan for the Middle East.

What We're Reading


Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists. The Washington Post. October 23, 2012

Obama Tried to Restore Ties With Iran in 2009, Report Says. Al-Monitor. October 28, 2012

UN envoy 'terribly sorry' about Syrian ceasefire's failure. The Hill. October 29, 2012


FACT CHECK: Romney's VMI Speech Supports Obama's MENA Strategy


Governor Romney today gave what he billed as a major address on his Middle East strategy. I wrote last week about the five questions that he should have answered today. Essential details that have real consequences for how a Romney Administration would actually conduct itself in the region. Unfortunately, those questions remain unanswered. What he did do, strangely enough, was make the case for the strategy that the Obama Administration has been pursuing for the last two years. On almost every single issue that Romney raised, the policy he claims to favor is the one currently being implemented. Instead of a critique, this address should be understood as an endorsement of Obama’s current strategy, and as a call to embolden it.


Romney says that he will “impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.” But President Obama has already organized the most restrictive multilateral sanctions regime in history; a policy that is delegitimizing the current government and has led to popular revolts in Tehran.


Romney says that he would “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need.” The Obama Administration has been working with Gulf allies to get weapons and support channeled to the rebels for months now, but has also acknowledged how risky it is to supply incredibly powerful weapons to groups that have unknown agendas and little ability to keep them out of the hands of anti-American forces. It’s unclear how Romney’s policy would be any different.


Romney says that he will “champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world.” The President, though, is in the midst of negotiating a major trans-pacific trade agreement, and has finalized regional trade and investment framework agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council and the countries in the MENA region. Ambassador Sapiro articulated this trade-led policy over a year ago, so it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Romney has missed it.


Romney says that he will provide aid, but make it conditional on democratic progress, leverage international partners, and organize it under one administrator. That’s an excellent summary of the Obama policy. Ambassador Bill Taylor – the Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions – was probably surprised to hear that Mr. Romney appeared not to know that he existed, though he was appointed to coordinate all aid to MENA transition countries over a year ago.

Additionally, the Deauville Partnership was created by the US and its G8 allies specifically to provide aid that incentivized moving down the path of good governance, and leveraging multilateral partnerships with the IMF, foreign allies, and other development banks.

If Mr. Romney really wants to deploy the lessons of George Marshall, whom he name-checked five times during his address, he should call on House Republicans to stop blocking the economic engagement agenda that Obama has been pushing for over the last year and a half. The MENA Incentive Fund, $450 million in debt forgiveness, and essential aid to the transition countries remains in jeopardy. If Romney believes in Marshall’s vision of reconstruction and democracy promotion, then he has some phone calls to make to Capitol Hill.

Read more at www.menaprogram.org


5 Foreign Policy Questions that Romney Should Answer on Monday

As Governor Romney prepares for a major foreign policy speech on Monday, there are a number of critical questions that he needs to address. Mr. Romney likely chose the venue – the Virginia Military Academy – because of its contribution to generations of American military might. It should not be forgotten, though, that VMI was also the Alma Mater of George C. Marshall – whose plan for global economic engagement, liberalization, and aid led to the post-war recovery of Europe and laid the foundation for generations of stability, prosperity, and democracy. Governor Romney should keep that legacy in mind as he describes his foreign policy strategy, and provides answers these important questions.

1. Does Mitt Romney believe that supporting the Arab Spring was a mistake?

  • Romney has framed the legitimate election of President Morsi in Egypt as some kind of blunder. This opinion seems to be unaffected by President Morsi’s keen interest in developing a positive relationship with the United States and his affirmation of Egypt’s treaty obligations with Israel.
  • Would Governor Romney have preferred the Arab Spring to not have occured? Is he opposed to the largest regional democratic movement in a generation, wishing instead that the region’s 300 million people were kept contained under the thumb of autocrats? And how will those views inform a Romney Administration’s policy toward the current transition countries and places like Jordan –  that may be nearing a pro-democracy tipping point?

2. Will Mitt Romney call on Congressional Republicans to stop blocking key support for partners in the Middle East? 

  • Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger recently blocked $450 million in aid to Egypt. Republican Senator Rand Paul attempted to pull all foreign assistance from Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya. House Republicans voted to eliminate the $770 million MENA Incentive Fund, the President’s signature economic tool designed to support moderates in the region and make strategic fiscal investments.
  • Earlier this week, he wrote that “we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East.” Does he support these specific transition programs, or will he propose others instead?

Click here to read the rest of this article

US Makes Progress Strengthening Economic Ties with the Middle East

The US government yesterday finalized a new Investment pact with the Gulf Cooperation Council on the Sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, capping off a week of new efforts aimed at enhancing the economic ties between America and the Middle East. Though the US government currently has bilateral trade agreements with each of the individual countries that make up the GCC, this new Trade and Investment Framework Agreement will provide a platform for working out the details required to ultimately negotiate a regional free trade agreement with a group of economies that represent $100 billion in annual US trade.

[Read More Here]

5 Must Read Articles on the Middle East Protests

As the UN General Assembly kicks off this week in New York, one of the topics world leaders will be discussing is the recent protests throughout the Arab world. In the week and a half since the attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the murder of four American diplomats, there have been accusations of radical Islamist take-overs and calls by some to simply walk away from the region. These reactionary positions do not, however, reflect the real context of the Arab Spring, local realities, and they certainly lack any strategic vision. It is worth noting that following the attacks, the young Libyan government not only worked closely with the United States to investigate the incident and secure US personnel, but is now in the midst of forcibly disbanding and arresting the radical militias responsible for the attack.

We have assembled a sort of mini-symposium of some of the best short-articles that have been published over the last week or so, providing critical analysis for those interested in actually understanding what is happening in the Middle East, and what the US should do about it.

NDN Statement on the Tragic Events in Libya

As we continue to learn more about the heartbreaking events that took place last night in Libya, it remains vital that we recognize this for what it is: a tragic, but largely isolated setback in what will be a long and complex process of regional transformation. Despite the destructive actions of small minority, we continue to be confronted with a moment of historic opportunity in the Middle East. Everyone's goal should be to make this region more open, democratic, and prosperous. As those changes begin to take hold, we should expect that reactionary forces - both domestically and abroad - will seek to disrupt the tremendous progress that is being made.

The vision that the President laid out in Cairo remains the best path forward for long term American interests and though much hard work lies ahead, North Africa has made profound progress that would have been unimaginable four years ago. The Libyan National Congress will today elect their new Prime Minister through an open and democratic process. The attack on the US consulate provides a stark picture of the cross-road that we face. Will we redouble our efforts to support the transitions and aid the newly elected Prime Minister, or retreat from this challenge, empowering the very criminals who attacked and killed our brave diplomats? I believe that the correct choice is clear.

Now that Congress is back in session, they should respond to these events by giving the President and the State Department the tools it needs to aid moderates in this region, build on recent successes, and create a real path forward. The Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund was requested by the President last year to do exactly this, yet it remains unfunded by the House of Representatives. After last night's attacks, that situation is unacceptable. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been quick to use this attack as a way to criticize the President, but if their foreign policy vision actually is based on "confidence in our cause and clarity in our purpose," they should immediately articulate the concrete policies they support to empower moderate governments in the region, and work with President Obama and the Congress to implement them. Will Congressman Ryan call upon his colleagues in the House to support the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund?


Bradley Bosserman directs the Middle East and North Africa Initiative at NDN, a Washington-based think tank.


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