A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NYT: Is Fayza Abu'l-Naga Challenging SCAF?

This New York Times article is portraying Egypt's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abu'l-Naga's campaign against foreign NGOs as being carried out in defiance even of the Military Council. In this view, authority is increasingly divided and the Minister appears to be alienating the US without the approval of SCAF. I am, frankly, skeptical.

I know SCAF has shown plenty of signs of disorganization, internal division, and incompetence, but that doesn't mean it's powerless. If the Minister of International Cooperation can alienate a key ally/aid donor unilaterally, why has every other Minister in the Cabinet, including Prime Minister Ganzouri, seemed to ask SCAF's permission  before every statement? Admittedly, the alternative — that SCAF itself is behind the campaign against NGOs — requires assuming a level of Machiavellian scheming (pledging good relations when Field Marshal Tantawi meets General Dempsey, while pursuing the NGOs at the same time) that raises plenty of questions, too.

I think the NYT article could be the correct reading, but I frankly doubt it. I'd guess (and it is just a guess) that SCAF is gambling that it can play the popular "foreign interference" card domestically (and remove annoying democracy activists in the process) without losing the US aid package, calculating that the US military values the strategic relationship too much to jeopardize it. I suspect that may in fact be true of some in the US military, but they don't make US policy in an election year, a factor SCAF may be badly underestimating.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine the generals leaking to the NYT the "fact" that they just can't control this rogue crazy woman in the Planning Ministry, so don't blame them for what's happening, blame her. But again, I'm not there; I'm going on experience and instinct, and could be wrong.


Mostafa said...

Agree... I personally find it far fetched that, if she were in fact acting independently, SCAF would not have the power to remove her. (as you correctly point out every other minister seems unable to take decisions without SCAF approval, let alone defy them!)

Additionally, think that SCAF feels/knows the $1.3B is safe (Pentagon vs State Dept vs Congress perspectives: http://ow.ly/95LdK)

On a larger note, several things I have read and some people I know say/tell me that she is well spoken, presentable, independent, etc. etc. and the only reason I mention this is because it seems that they are using that to their advantage! I mean the West can't openly call for the dismissal of the one female in the completely patriarchal Egyptian society - particuarly a non-veiled, liberal one... She has been around for ages (great Masry Al Youm article with detailed career history: http://ow.ly/95KWi) so she either has first on people in power, knows the right people and helps them in some meaningful way...

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Thanks for reinforcing my guess. Also an excellent point about the West being unlikely to urge the dismissal of the only woman in the government.

Stephanie Swierczek said...

Mike, so is it your read that SCAF is either letting her run amok or is actively encouraging her? I guess my question then is, why would she take on this task if there's a real risk she'd take the fall if things go badly? She seems smart enough to see that coming.

It makes sense in the NYTimes interpretation that she's doing it to play on popular opinion and solidify her own position in power. The SCAF does seem willing to give up token gestures when the public rallies, for example the end of the Emergency Law. Maybe she's testing that theory and betting public support would keep her safe?

I don't favor one interpretation or another, just wondering what she'd gain by volunteering to be the public face of SCAF's gamble.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


I have no way of knowing. She's been a survivor, one of the last Mubarak people still in the Cabinet. Maybe she believes it, but I still don't think she's acting against SCAF.