January 22 - February 2
Welcome to the 2nd Dispatch of 2013!
This week: Riots in Egypt, French in Mali (but no Islamists), Centrists in Israel, Women in the Military, and Incrementalism in Congress.
Riots broke out in several cities in Egypt on the second anniversary of the country’s January 25 uprising. The riots, which started as a political protest, escalated sharply on the 26th as soccer fans in Port Said took over the town in response to a court case regarding a riot last February. The riots grew further after clashes with the police left several protestors dead, and on the 27th, Egyptian President Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in Port Said and two other cities. Neither the police nor the curfew stemmed the violence, and on the 29th, the head of the military warned the state was in danger of collapse if the riots continued. The violence culminated in street battles outside the presidential palace on Friday, which left one protestor dead and several dozen wounded.
For all the Egyptian Revolution accomplished, it’s never seemed quite complete. Mubarak was removed from power by his own generals, and most of his state apparatus remains intact. Most of the last year in Egypt has played like a long game of insider baseball — long-established factions like the military and the Muslim Brotherhood vying for control, with Mubarak-appointed judges in the middle. The issues that brought the people to the street were never resolved, and Morsi’s ham-handed declarations of extra-constitutional power have stoked fear and anger in the streets. The “opposition,” many of whom are also holdovers from the Mubarak era, have been just as powerless to control what’s happening in the streets. I’m not sure what will result from these riots, but they’re a major black eye for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the police actions in the street are a stark demonstration that Egypt hasn’t come far enough since Mubarak’s departure.
The French military has retaken most of Northern Mali in just a couple weeks, meeting shockingly little resistance along the way.
After a few early skirmishes, the Malian conflict looked like it was going to be a slog. It wasn’t — the militants chose not to engage, and just left. This was a smart move — the Islamists are an alarmingly capable force, but attempting to hold North Mali in the face of a legitimate army would’ve been an incredibly costly failure. The big question now is, what happened to several thousand well-armed and trained Jihadis? NightWatch suspects they’ve gone to Libya, while the recent attack in Algeria suggests they still have reasonably free mobility through that country, and Sudan, a historic home to Salafi groups, is on the verge of collapse. The Saharan region is much, much more dangerous than previously thought.
Yesh Atid, a new centrist party, shook up Israeli politics, capturing 19 of the 120 parliament seats in national elections on the 22nd. While current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is almost certain to serve another term, Yesh Atid is now the second-largest party in the Knesset. The party is largely focused on domestic and “pocket-book” issue that resonate with middle-class and urban Israelis.
Yesh Atid’s rise is a sharp turn for Israeli politics, which have seemed increasingly religious and conservative over the last few years. Among other issues, the party is strongly in favor of removing the exemptions from army service and typical schooling for ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, who have had an outsize impact on Israeli politics lately. The party is mostly concerned with internal Israeli affairs, so it’s hard to tell what impact they’ll have on Israel’s stance towards either Iran or Palestine, but it’s nice to see a move towards more centrist, modern, and secularist politics in the Israeli mainstream again.
The Senate agreed to a small package of procedural reforms aimed at reducing some of the deadlock of the previous years. Included were two changes, one which would allow certain bills to pass within a day or two after a simple up-and-down vote, and another which reduces the opportunities to filibuster bills.
The changes are window-dressing: Senators can still “filibuster” bills without actually having to stand up and talk for hours, prove they have the votes to block a bill, or even be present for the vote. That said, progress is progress, especially for Congress.
The Pentagon announced it will lift the restriction on women in combat roles by 2016.
And it’s about time. Interestingly, the change is being pushed internally by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not imposed from outside. The policy change reflects what many have noted has been the reality on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, where any role that involves leaving the base is functionally a combat role.
Thanks for reading, and my best for the weeks ahead!