POLITICAL AND SECTARIAN POLARIZATION MAY SPARK A NEW PHASE OF THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION
One year into the presidency of Muslim Brother Muhammad al-Mursi, Egypt finds itself consumed by economic deterioration, severe energy shortages, labor unrest, domestic insecurity, sectarian divisions and rumors of imminent coup attempts. The nation’s political crisis threatens to come to a head on June 30, when massive demonstrations are scheduled to call for Mursi’s resignation and an end to rule by Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood. Leading members of the Brotherhood, including the president, have been observed moving out of their homes to temporary residences before the demonstrations begin (al-Tahrir [Cairo], June 19).
In a June 26 televised speech intended to deter the massive demonstrations planned for June 30, the president admitted making mistakes, but remained consistent in blaming Egypt’s troubles on “enemies of Egypt”:
There are many reasons for what we are suffering now. We should admit that. As a president, I have exerted painstaking efforts, sometimes I did it and sometimes I made mistakes and mistakes can happen, but rectifying these mistakes is a must… The enemies of Egypt have left no stone unturned in sabotaging the democratic experience in Egypt. There are some people who have illusions that the state of corruption, oppression and injustice will come back” (MENA, June 27).
The military responded to the impending demonstrations and possible violence with a statement issued on June 23 by Minister of Defense and Military Production and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi, who insisted the army would “not accept, approve of or allow Egypt’s entry into a dark tunnel of conflict, clashes, civil war, distrust, sectarian strife or the collapse of state institutions" (al-Ahram [Cairo], June 24; June 25). Al-Sisi called on all parties to work towards conciliation in the few days remaining before the June 30 anti-Mursi protests. The statement was closely examined by political analysts in Egypt, who searched it for clues as to whether the military was ready to retake power despite recent signs that it was prepared to remain on the sidelines of the political dispute so long as its privileges were guaranteed. In the meantime, Egyptian military forces are reinforcing bases near major Egyptian cities with armor and additional troops in anticipation of the June 30 protests. Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim has said Egypt’s police would not favor any political trend in the streets on June 30, but would take measures to prevent attacks on public property or police stations (al-Jumhuriyah [Cairo], June 20; MENA, June 24). Some 200,000 police are expected to be available to provide security on June 30.
The broad aim of the opposition, which includes liberals, Coptic Christians, leftists and others, is to call for Mursi’s resignation, the appointment of the Supreme Court president as an interim president, the creation of a national salvation government to guide Egypt into new elections and the formation of an assembly to draft a new constitution (al-Masri al-Youm [Cairo], June 21).
Most of the Salafist fronts do not seek a change in leadership at the moment despite their significant differences with the Muslim Brotherhood politicians. In general, they have also adopted the language of democracy (which they rejected as un-Islamic before discovering it offered a pathway to government) in asserting Mursi’s right to continue as president as mandated by Egypt’s voters. The Salafist Nur Party (Egypt’s largest Salafist political party) has announced its intention to sit out both the pro-government demonstrations and the anti-government protests, saying it rejects the current political polarization (MENA [Cairo], June 25).
However, in a recent interview with a Cairo daily, Muhammad Abu Samrah, the secretary general of the political wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, declared that party members would not support President Mursi or the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets on June 30, but rather warned that if any attempt is made to storm the presidential palace or proclaim a new president, the movement’s “hundreds of thousands” of jihadists would interpret this as the “zero hour”:
If President Mursi falls, we shall immediately declare the launching of the Islamic Revolution. We have our justifications, the most important being that we accepted democracy as a system for the rule, even though many of the jihadists reject it. Since we have accepted it everybody must respect it. But toppling Mursi means that they have rejected democracy and even stomped on it with their shoes. Here any legitimacy collapses, in which case we shall declare our Islamic Revolution and will call on the people to take to the streets to support us… If the Republican Palace is stormed and a President other than Mursi is declared, as some are circulating, that will be the zero hour. We shall immediately go out on the streets. But this does not mean that we approve of Mursi or the Muslim Brotherhood… The first ones that the Islamic Revolution will be directed against are the Muslim Brothers, for they have not enforced Shari’a as they pledged and have reneged on all their promises (al-Akhbar [Cairo], June 11).
For this purpose, the movement has postponed the departure of jihadists to Syria until after June 30. With Salafist groups giving their approval for Egyptian jihadists to travel to Syria, the first batch of fighters had been scheduled to leave this month (al-Masri al-Youm [Cairo], June 18). If Mursi is forced from office, Abu Samrah suggests that the choice of the Salafists would be Shaykh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a populist Islamist politician who was forced from the presidential race due to his mother’s dual Egyptian-American citizenship (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, January 25).
Members of the Egyptian opposition believe Mursi’s supporters have adopted a façade of democratic adherence only to allow Mursi enough time to entrench members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements in Egypt’s power structure. A recent round of gubernatorial appointments saw regional demonstrations against the appointment of Islamists, most notably in the Luxor region, where Adel Muhammad al-Khayat, a member of the Gama’a al-Islamiya organization that killed 58 tourists there in 1997, was inexplicably appointed governor and charged with a mandate of increasing tourism. The bizarre choice of governor for Luxor, home of ancient Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, resulted in the immediate resignation of Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou (though his resignation was not accepted). The regional and national outrage over the appointment, which seemed designed to discourage rather than encourage international tourism in a country heavily reliant on tourism as a means of income and source of foreign currency, resulted in the new governor’s resignation only a few days after his appointment.
The Brotherhood has been organizing what it calls “million-man marches” in support of Mursi using the slogan “No to Violence, Yes to Legitimacy” (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], June 21; Egyptwindow [Cairo], June 21; MENA, June 21). Pro and anti-Mursi demonstrators have increasingly come to blows across Egypt in recent weeks, raising the possibility of widespread violence on June 30. Following major clashes between opposition forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the Sharqiyah, Fayyum, Minufiya Gharbiya and Kafr al-Shaykh governorates, Brotherhood media outlets have blamed the violence on the Tamarud (“Rebels”) movement, the Dustur Party of Muhammad al-Baradei, the Popular Current (a political coalition led by Neo-Nasserist Hamdin Sabahi), the Black Bloc, Christians and assorted “hooligans and dangerous criminals” (Amal al-Ummah [Alexandria], June 19; Egyptwindow, June 19; al-Jumhuriyah [Cairo], June 19; Ikhwan Online [Cairo], June 20).
Tamarud has also been the target of attacks, with Molotov cocktails being thrown at the movement’s offices in Cairo on June 7. Tamarud (“Rebels”) is trying to collect 15 million signatures on a petition to force an early presidential election and claim to have 10 million signatures so far (Xinhua, June 7).
President Mursi’s speech appears to have had little impact on the mounting tensions in Egypt, where inflammatory Islamist rhetoric is matched only by the determination of the opposition to bring enough people out into the streets to force the president’s resignation. With elements of both groups believing provocations could force intervention by security or military forces on their side, there is a serious risk the June 30 demonstrations could mark the beginning of a new and more violent phase of the unfinished Egyptian revolution.
SUDANESE PRESIDENT DECLARES SOUTH SUDAN’S OIL WILL NEVER PASS THROUGH SUDAN AGAIN
Only three months after a long and bitter dispute over South Sudanese oil flows through Sudan was resolved, the pipeline from the South is in danger of being cut off once again, to the mutual disadvantage of both states. The earlier dispute, which saw oil flows from South Sudan suspended for 16 months, was based on a dispute over pipeline fees. Now political considerations have come to the fore, with Khartoum demanding that South Sudan stop its alleged support of forces belonging to the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in the Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. Khartoum’s decision comes at a time when it has been unsettled by rebel advances in North Kordofan province that could eventually open the road to a strike on the capital itself.
Bashir announced at a June 8, 2013 rally in Khartoum that he had told his oil minister to “direct oil pipelines to close the pipeline and after that, let [South Sudan] take [the oil] via Kenya or Djibouti or wherever they want to take it… The oil of South Sudan will not pass through Sudan ever again” (Sudan Tribune, June 17, 2013). The Sudanese government has said the pipeline must be shut down in a gradual 60-day process and that all oil within the pipeline area already in Port Sudan will be shipped out as usual (Sudan Tribune, June 15). The affected oil shipments belong to the China National Petroleum Corporation, India’s ONCG Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas.
Even if the current dispute was resolved quickly (which looks unlikely), it will still have the result of encouraging plans to develop a new pipeline to carry South Sudan’s oil to Djibouti or Kenya’s Lamu Port instead of Port Sudan. The planned pipeline to Lamu Port would be joined by another new line from Uganda, which has been determined to have a commercially viable three billion drums of oil (Daily Nation [Nairobi], June 18, 2013).
However, for the pipeline to Lamu Port to become a reality, new oil discoveries are needed in South Sudan. Most of these hopes are centered on potential discoveries in the massive but promising Jonglei B Bloc that was formerly a concession of French oil firm Total. The B Bloc has now been divided into three parts, with Total joining in a partnership with U.S. Exxon Mobil and Kuwait’s Kufpec in at least two of these blocs (Reuters, June 4, 2013). Unfortunately, eastern Jonglei is the home of the Yau Yau rebellion, an obstinate challenge to South Sudan’s success that Juba believes is supplied and organized by Khartoum (for rebellion leader David Yau Yau, see Militant Leadership Monitor, May 2013). South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit is reported to have discussed construction of the new pipeline with the Toyota Corporation of Japan during a visit to that country (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20, 2013).
The previous dispute over oil transfers was solved by a Cooperation Agreement signed in September, 2012 and implemented in March that covered oil and other issues, such as border security, citizenship, trade, banking and even the creation of a buffer zone between the two nations. Following Khartoum’s decision to suspend the Cooperation Agreement with South Sudan, Washington postponed an already controversial visit to the U.S. capital from Sudanese presidential adviser Nafi Ali Nafi, one of the most powerful men in the regime and a possible future presidential candidate, but also a figure many believe should be charged by the International Criminal Court for his role in various human rights abuses (al-Sanafah [Khartoum], June 19, 2013).
Efforts to reconcile the two Sudans have been led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, currently chairman of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. China, which stands to lose a major source of oil over the tensions between Khartoum and Juba, has joined the African Union (AU) in seeking a resolution to the dispute. Khartoum has indicated its acceptance of an AU proposal that would see the reimplementation of the cooperation agreement once the South Sudanese army was removed from the demilitarized zone between the two nations, but with both Khartoum and Juba still accusing the other of maintaining proxy forces within their respective territories, there are still important issues to be resolved if South Sudanese oil is to continue being pumped to Port Sudan after the two-month warning period ends in early August. South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar has been assigned to visit Khartoum to discuss means of resolving this latest crisis, but a date for the visit has yet to be set (al-Sahafah [Khartoum], June 16, 2013; al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20, 2013).
South Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Nhial Deng Nhial, insists that his government is ready to fully implement all the conditions of the Cooperation Agreement: “The Republic of South Sudan does not support rebels fighting Khartoum. It is in our interest not to destabilize the government of Sudan” (Sudan Tribune, June 23, 2013). Deng Alor, minister of cabinet affairs of South Sudan, remarked: “We do not want to enter into a military confrontation with Khartoum; not owing to weakness, but in order to maintain peace and its achievements… However, this does not prevent us from exercising our right to self-defense” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20, 2013).
On June 20, 2013, the Khartoum government announced sweeping changes to the military leadership, including the top positions in the army, air force, navy and intelligence service. The new chief-of-staff is Lieutenant General Mustafa Osman Obeid Salim, who succeeds Colonel General Ismat Abd al-Rahman. While government sources described the replacement of 15 senior officers as routine, it is widely believed the broad changes in the command structure reflected a lack of confidence in the existing commanders, who were unable to prevent the Sudanese Revolutionary Front from taking the town of Abu Kershola in South Kordofan and attacking the North Kordofan town of Um Rawaba in a lightly-resisted spring offensive that embarrassed government leaders. The SRF even fired four shells on a military airbase outside the North Kordofan capital of Kadugli on June 14, 2013, though the shells actually fell on part of the facility used by the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), killing one Ethiopian peacekeeper and wounding two others (Sudan Tribune, June 14; Akhir Lahzah [Khartoum], June 18).
Military developments in North Kordofan have clearly alarmed the regime in Khartoum, which has set up 27 checkpoints at entrance points to the capital to prevent the infiltration of SRF fighters (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20, 2013). Nafi Ali Nafi made an unusual public criticism of the army afterwards, saying its low combat capability meant it was struggling to deal with the rebels and was in need of new recruits. His remarks were taken poorly by the Army, whose spokesman Colonel al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad proclaimed that “if it wasn’t for the Sudanese Army… these [rebel] movements would have now seized the city of Khartoum and the regime would have totally collapsed” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 20, 2013; Sudan Tribune, June 20, 2013). Nonetheless, the president’s adviser appears to have come out on top in this struggle – most of the officers newly appointed to command positions are believed to be Nafi loyalists. The widespread changes to Sudan’s military leadership also appear to have weeded out some senior officers whose loyalty was suspect after being charged and then pardoned by the president in connection with an alleged coup attempt last November.  Only a few of those detained remain behind bars, including Major General Salah Ahmed Abdalla and Lieutenant General Salah Abdallah Abu Digin (a.k.a. Salah Gosh), a former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) known for his political rivalry with Nafi Ali Nafi and his close cooperation with the CIA in counterterrorism matters.
1. For the coup, see Andrew McGregor, “Sudanese Regime Begins to Unravel after Coup Reports and Rumors of Military Ties to Iran,” Aberfoyle International Security Special Report, January 7, 2012, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=141.