Roadmap for Transition after Morsi

The Tamarod (‘Rebel’) campaign is a grassroots effort to delegitimize Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s rule. It has been the driving force behind the June 30th protests which are expected to draw some of the largest crowds since the January 25th revolution in 2011. On Wednesday, the June 30th organizers held a conference to design a roadmap for transition, should they succeed in ousting Morsi.  Egypt Independent published an outline of the transition plan which consists of five major pillars:

  1. The current chairman of the Constitutional Court will temporarily take over the Presidency of the Republic. However, the post will be primarily ‘honorary.’
  2. Executive powers will be transferred to the Prime Minister who will lead the government in designing an economic rescue plan and implementing social justice measures.
  3. The National Defense Council will be called upon to continue to perform its role in protecting the safety and security of the nation.
  4. A committee of legal and constitutional jurists will draft a new constitution which will be subject to popular referendum. The committee will also have temporary legislative power to review ‘necessary and essential laws’ for interim administration.
  5. The transition period will not exceed 6 months. New presidential elections will be conducted under strict judicial supervision and international oversight, with parliamentary elections to follow.

Mohammed Badr, the spokesperson for the Tamorod campaign, told Egypt Independent, “The battle is not to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood, it is to save Egypt.”

Why Did Some Persist, and Others Fall?

I got into a discussion this morning with an Indian and Egyptian friend over the dynamics of the Middle East, and one of the more interesting questions of the events over the past few years – why is it that the Middle East’s monarchies (the Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco) managed to survive more or less intact, with some internal reforms, while the region’s military-led “republics” collapsed (Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia)? Is there something intrinsic about the monarchies that kept them alive?

The discussion came about because the simplistic reasons for survival, which fall into two broad categories, do not feel satisfying. The first, and more common refrain, is that petrodollars (especially in the Gulf States) managed to bribe populations. Domestic moves, like Saudi Arabia’s massive $100 billion plus spending boom or handouts in Kuwait and the UAE, certainly add credence to that case. The second, less common but still discussed, reason is that the monarchies were more respectful of their populations by doing away with the illusion of choice. Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria both had elections, no matter how useless they were. The theory is that, by holding even fake elections, the authoritarian regimes were insulting and making a mockery of their people. The monarchies, by contrast, have always been clear about power in the state and how it operates. Again, there is likely some truth to this theory, but it still feels unsatisfying.

Both theories hinge on a selective reading of dynamics in the region. Namely, they first depend on the idea that the monarchies have been stable. Bahrain is a clear example of this not being the case – the government very likely would have collapsed within a week had Saudi Arabia not intervened to support it in March 2011. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Oman have both faced serious protests. Second, not all of the military-backed republics have fallen. Algeria, despite some minor protests, still seems to be holding firm. And Jordan, a country which could be considered both a military-backed republic and a monarchy, has survived. Jordan has elections for a Parliament, yet said Parliament is rigged in favor of “East Bank Jordanians” who are one-third of the country and also dominate the security services.

Rather, the more satisfying answer for why some governments have survived and others have fallen is that some have been far better at managing and working the intense internal divisions that exist within each country to their advantage.

Hosni Mubarak’s regime had managed to anger every interest group in the country – the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, the liberals, and large segments of the business elite. Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria has hinged on the support provided by segments of the Alawite population (roughly 10% of the country), and a sliver of the Sunni business elite out of touch with the rest of the country. Wide swaths of each country loathed their leaders.

On the other hand, the governments that survived have managed to build a shared interest on the part of various groups that is large enough to prevent serious instability. Jordan has relied on the fact that the 1/3rd of the country composed of the East Bank Jordanians remains clearly in charge, and fearful of what could happen should the country become a full republic with the 2/3rds of the country that is Palestinian gaining control.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile has always been able to depend on the fact that, and this is very rough, the three segments of the country that are not the royal family (the civil service, business elite, and religious conservatives), fundamentally do not trust each other. There is massive overlap between the three groups (i.e. many civil service members in the Ministry of Education are extremely religiously conservative), but broadly defined, the three groups do have differing interests. All three groups thus see the royal family as the best option – especially since in lieu of the royal family, they all have no idea who would be in charge.

And across the regimes that have collapsed versus those that have remained in power, it is possible to point to those managed tensions within society. Qaddafi’s regime had alienated everyone except his tribe, and convinced residents in Benghazi and Tripoli, despite their historical divergences, that they had a shared interest in a new government. The Kuwaiti Emir and family have convinced the country that their Parliament is so dysfunctional that it could never be trusted to run the country.

It is then within this rubric that money and a perceived respect come into play. The financial resources of the states are not the reason that they stayed in power, but rather, they provided the resources to convince wary segments of the population that their interests aligned with the present government. Saudi Arabia gave a significant sum of money to the religious establishment, and also spent a lot of money hiring more civil servants. And the monarchies, by not appearing to blatantly disregard the needs and wishes of their populations, were also able to leverage a reservoir of goodwill that had built up. For better or worse, all these governments – even the ones that fell – had led their countries for decades, and been responsible for building large portions of their modern states.

I do not mean to say that some element of divide and conquer is the only reason governments survived or fell, nor that one single idea is applicable across the entire region. The region is far too complicated and the forces at stake are far too massive. But within this complexity, there are some commonalities that do help understand what is going on, and I find this to be one of them.

The Ease of Lethality: US and Israeli Targeted Killing Policies

Targeted killing is not a new tactic. A number of different countries and non-state actors have used targeted killing throughout history to achieve political or military objectives. Today, however, there are only two countries that practice it as a matter of national security policy: the United States and Israel.

Proponents of targeted killing argue that it is simply more efficient war fighting—it is no more or less moral than killing an enemy on a traditional battlefield. In fact, it is argued, targeted killing may even save lives due to the precision that new technology allows. What we have seen, however, is that counterterrorism has become more lethal not less.

Kill lists get longer

According to most war ethicists, individuals must pose an imminent and pressing threat in order to justify targeted killing. President Obama acknowledged this principle as one of the five main criteria for the US targeted killing policy in a 2012 interview with CNN’s Jessica Yellin (CNN). He further qualified that the situation must not allow for the capture of the target. Israeli courts have stipulated similar criteria (UNHCR).

However, both US and Israeli governments have continued to expand their definitions of “militant” and “imminent threat.” Since the second intifada in 2000, Israel has targeted Palestinian journalists, politicians, and low-level bureaucrats (BBC). According to Israel, these actions are legitimate because the targets are all “members of militant organizations that call for the destruction of Israel through military struggle” whether they are in the militant wing of the organization or not.

The Obama administration has also used similar logic to expand the scope of its targeted killing policy. A Department of Justice memo that was leaked in February 2013 details the legality of targeted killings against US citizens deemed to be a part of Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. According to the memo, the nature of terrorism “demands a broader concept of imminence” that is not limited by evidence of a specific attack or urgency of attack (MSNBC). Instead, the US government may legitimately target and kill any individual—including an American citizen—who is deemed to be an operational leader of Al Qaeda or an affiliated group.

Even more insidious, “signature strikes” have revived the Vietnam-era concept of “military-aged male,” whereby individuals are targeted based only on patterns of behavior or characteristics rather than positive identification as a combatant (see CFR report). In other words, the US government does not even know the identities of all of its targets.

Disregard for civilian life

The US and Israel both purport to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. However, there is significant evidence to the contrary. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented US attacks on funerals and rescue efforts in Pakistan (BIJ). There are also many examples of both the US and Israel launching attacks on the same target twice (The Guardian, HRW). The second attack often kills or injures civilian rescuers who rush to the attack site to help the victims of the initial attack.

The United States has mostly denied the impact of targeted killings on civilians. In June 2011, Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan told reporters, “Nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” referring to drones (NYT). Unnamed administration officials have admitted to civilian deaths but all of their estimates have been low, ranging from less than 10 to 60 civilian deaths, and contradictory (ProPublica).

Independent reporting agencies, however, have found civilian casualties to be much higher. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has undertaken a comprehensive effort to aggregate all available data on U.S. drone strikes using international press reports in addition to fieldwork from researchers and lawyers on the ground in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. It estimates that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012 drone strikes in Pakistan killed 2,562-3,325 people, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children (BIJ). An additional 1,228-1,362 individuals were reported injured.

Israel, on the other hand, does not deny that IDF attacks result in civilian deaths—but it does not take responsibility for them either. During Operation Pillar of Defense, Avital Leibovich, the official Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson, said, “Hamas is responsible for any civilian deaths,” alluding to the claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields or purposefully provokes Israeli aggression to win more support (RT). Leibovich continued, “The Gazans chose Hamas, Hamas chose terror, terror is rocket fire, we will not simply submit to this kind of situation.” This is the same line of reasoning that Gilad Sharon—son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon—used in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post: “The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas…they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences” (JPost).

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimates that between September 2000 and June 2008, Israel launched 348 targeted killings which resulted in the deaths of 521 targeted persons and 233 bystanders (PCHR).

Beyond the loss of life, targeted killings inflict psychological terror on the civilian population and fundamentally disrupt civilian life. According to a study published in 2012 by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, “those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves” (livingunderdrones.org). This creates an environment of fear, paranoia, and resentment.

 “For Our Sakes”

Targeted killing is a tactic that has forsaken strategy. As many feared, the ease with which individuals can be targeted and eliminated has lowered the threshold for violence and raised our tolerance for lethality. It has no foreseeable end nor definable goal.

Teju Cole of The New Yorker reminds us that, “this ominous, discomfiting, illegal, and immoral use of weaponized drones against defenseless strangers is done for our sakes” (The New Yorker). Israeli and American citizens should ask ourselves, how much more violence will we tolerate in our name?

Saudi Arabia’s Next Generation is Already Here

Saudi Arabia is supposed to be facing a generational transition crisis. It is a country with an octogenarian leadership that is supposed to be kicking the succession can down the road as far as possible, without ever addressing the problem. Yet the truth is that the Kingdom’s transition is well underway. The country’s transition to a next generation of leadership, rather than just beginning, is in many ways nearing completion.

Tracing the changes begins with the death of King Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan, and the changes that it started in the massive Saudi security establishment. Saudi security is managed by a trio of three organizations – the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and the National Guard. They are each run by a different branch of the royal family. All three function as both guarantors of security, and also form a large part of Saudi Arabia’s social safety net. National Guard hospitals are one of the key ways Saudis have access to affordable healthcare for example, and all three employ well over a hundred thousand Saudis each.

The Ministry of Defense was run by Crown Prince Sultan for over forty years until his death in October 2011. The Ministry has a budget today of over $40 billion – more than Germany, South Korea, or Australia – and is also rumored to be the country’s largest landowner. Prince Sultan’s death brought about a few changes, including speeding up the privatization and reform of the country’s woefully inadequate aerospace network, and solidified the role of his son Prince Khalid bin Sultan as the Deputy Minister of Defense. Prince Salman, the Crown Prince’s brother and Governor of Riyadh, became the Minister of Defense.

After Prince Sultan, Prince Naif, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior for over 35 years, became Crown Prince. Yet Crown Prince Naif then passed away in June 2012. His successor as Crown Prince, now Minister of Defense Prince Salman, is also in his late seventies and widely rumored to be in very poor health. At the Ministry of Interior, control first passed to Prince Naif’s brother Prince Ahmed. Yet months later, Prince Ahmed resigned from his post, and Prince Mohammed, Prince Naif’s son, became the Minister of Interior. It thus became the first of the key Royal-Family-Controlled (Interior, Defense, National Guard, Foreign Affairs) Ministries to fully pass into the hands of the next generation. Most other Ministries – such as Finance or Oil – are intentionally kept out of the hands of Royal Family members and run by professional civil servants.

The National Guard meanwhile, has King Abdullah as its putative head, although his son, Prince Mutaib, is the Commander and thus in charge. The Ministry of Defense is now run by Crown Prince Sultan’s son, Khalid bin Sultan, even though Crown Prince Salman retains the formal title.

In essence, the three key security Ministries in the country are all already transitioned to the next generation. They are run, and will likely remain run for the foreseeable future, by their respective branches of the Royal Family.

However, the final coup de grace of King Abdullah’s stealth transition is solidifying his own succession. Crown Prince Salman’s health and age leave many questioning whether he will ever be King. However, King Abdullah surprised many by appointing Prince Muqrin, his youngest half-brother, as Second Deputy Premier.

Prince Muqrin thus inherits a position typically seen as a stepping stone to Crown Prince, putting him clearly in line for the throne. Yet the move was a surprise since it directly cuts off many of Prince Muqrin’s older brothers, many of whom were expected to have eyes on the throne. In addition, Prince Muqrin’s mother is Yemeni, which many had expected would rule him out for succession. Prince Muqrin however is very highly regarded among the Saudi populace, and seen as a liberal voice in the country.

The past few months have thus seen a set of moves that lay out a far clearer idea about how the Kingdom’s succession will play out. The key Ministries controlled by the Royal Family are all now run by the next generation, whether in title or simply by reality. And by elevating Prince Muqrin, King Abdullah has laid out how the succession process will now look. Prince Muqrin will be in charge of managing transition to the next generation after King Abdullah, whether by becoming King himself and appointing a next-generation Crown Prince, or by working behind the scenes to install a Crown Prince and King from the next generation without taking on either role himself.

In essence, the pieces of Saudi Arabia’s transition to the next generation are already in place. The gatekeeper is in position, and the relevant Ministries are transitioned. The only question left is which nephew gets elevated. Far from being rocky however, the transition will likely be scripted and smooth.