A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Feuds: MB versus Al-Azhar and (Maybe) General Intelligence?

 The Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was already embroiled in its latest round of sparring with the judiciary, and now it's being challenged by another key institution, Al-Azhar, and (depending on whose version you credit), maybe an even more formidable foe, the General Intelligence Service (Jihaz al-Mukhabarat al-‘Amma,  جهاز المخابرات العامة). Though both parties are denying talk of a feud between the Brotherhood and the Mukhabarat, anyone familiar with the history of either institution is unlikely to be surprised.

First, Al-Azhar. The new Constitution provides that Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars' Authority is the final authority on issues involving Islamic law. In the past week the Shura Council, the Upper House which is functioning as a Parliament in the absence of a Lower House, pushed through a law promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood authorizing the issuance of Islamic bonds (sukuk). Al-Azhar has now insisted that, consistent with the new Constitution, it must give prior approval to the Sukuk Law. The Salafi Nour Party is supporting Al-Azhar's claim, and also wants al-Azhar to approve any new IMF agreement, since it would involve payment of interest.

One would normally expect this kind of constitutional dispute to be resolved  by the courts, but the President and the judiciary are already at loggerheads over President Morsi's replacement of the Prosecutor General.

There has already been a lot of speculation (denied by the parties, but not silenced) that the Army is increasingly disillusioned by the Brotherhood-dominated Government. Now there's a debate about General Intelligence.

First, several people expressed concern about growing problems between the Brothrhood and the GIS:

Sources close to Morsi, meanwhile, say that the president "faces a coup attempt partially orchestrated and executed by the intelligence apparatus."
In a recent television interview, Morsi himself voiced concern about what he described as "certain loopholes within the intelligence apparatus."

Morsi's statement followed assertions by FJP leader Mohamed El-Beltagi that "an intelligence officer" had been "apprehended" distributing money and weapons to thugs hired to attack Morsi supporters.

This week, Abul-Ela Madi, leader of the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) made similar statements, alleging the existence of a wide-ranging conspiracy against Morsi from within the ranks of Egyptian intelligence.
The Wasat Party's Madi's alleged claims were reported like this:
On Tuesday, Madi said at a Wasat Party meeting that Morsi had told him that, during the Mubarak era, Egypt's General Intelligence apparatus had established a secret group of 300,000 paid thugs. He went on to assert that these thugs had appeared during recent political violence.
"President Morsi told me that, several years ago, General Intelligence had formed a secret group of 300,000 thugs, including 80,000 in Cairo alone," Madi had said in statements that were captured on video and circulated online.
He added: "General Intelligence then handed responsibility for this group over to Egypt's General Security Directorate in the interior ministry, which, in turn, handed it over to the State Security apparatus."
The group, Madi went on, "resurfaced again during recent clashes at the presidential palace [between Morsi's supporters and opponents]; this is what President Morsi told me."
But the same link cited above  has the Wasat Party's backpedal:
"The statements were [intentionally] taken out of context in order to make it look as if [Madi] was accusing an apparatus known for its patriotism," the statement asserted.
The party statement clarified that Madi had meant that the ousted regime was still using state apparatuses against its opponents.
The party went on to stress its respect for the General Intelligence apparatus.
"The Wasat Party declares its respect for Egyptian state agencies, including General Intelligence, and reiterates its longstanding position that all sovereign apparatuses – including the military, police and intelligence – should stay out of political conflicts and alliances," the statement read.
Madi, the statement added, "had been speaking about what the former regime use to do, namely, exploit state apparatuses to form gangs of thugs. What we suffer from now is the result of that ugly past, to which we will not return."
Oh, they meant the bad old General Intelligence Service, not the new one! Past and former GIS officers have been noting that the agency is subordinate to the Presidency (link is in Arabic) and politicians are defending it, though one of its former senior officials, Hossam Khairallah, turns the argument around and sees a threat to GIS from the Presidency:
"Anger is boiling over amid such continuing irresponsible statements from the [Wasat] party or other groups close to it," Hossam Khairallah, strategic analyst and former first undersecretary of Egypt's General Intelligence apparatus, told Ahram Online.
Khairallah – who ran in last year’s presidential elections that were ultimately won by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi – articulated the simmering discontent within the ranks of the intelligence apparatus over Madi’s statements, which many of its members reportedly perceived as an insult.
The former intelligence official also condemned Egypt’s presidency for not issuing a statement on the matter. He went on to predict that Egypt's current General Intelligence chief, Major-General Mohamed Raafat Shehata, would resign if the presidency failed to react “appropriately” to the matter and hold those behind the allegations responsible.

Khairallah, for his part, denied that anything of the kind had taken place during his 35-year tenure in the intelligence apparatus, stressing that Egyptian intelligence was devoted to information collection.
"Directing such considerable numbers needs thousands of leaders," he argued. "This is illogical. It has never happened under the rule of any of Egypt's presidents."
Khairallah was of the opinion that providing such information was not in the president's interests and could even jeopardize the state's national security.
"This gives Egypt's foes the opportunity to topple an apparatus that should act as a guiding light to the president," he asserted.
"It is the country's intelligence that should be the president's guide, not the [Brotherhood's] Guidance Bureau, which believes that [former General Intelligence chief] Omar Suleiman left a black box [of information] to the apparatus," he noted.
Khairallah also voiced doubt as to the future of cooperation between the presidency and Egyptian intelligence amid what he described as "attempts to target the intelligence apparatus."
Khairallah believes that any bid to 'Brotherhoodise' Egyptian intelligence would fail, since this would bring the presidency into conflict with the army.
He pointed out that, during Egypt's transitional phase of military rule, former military head Hussein Tantawi had issued a decree stipulating that the head of intelligence should be drawn from a military background. This, Khairallah believes, further rules out any possibility of the 'Brotherhoodization' of intelligence.
Recent weeks have seen scattered reports of the imminent appointment of Mohamed El-Beltagi, secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as interior minister or intelligence chief. Such speculation, however, was later quashed by El-Beltagi, who on Thursday described the reports as "false rumours and fabricated news."
Those rumors may be behind the whole flap, a pre-emptive mood on the part of the intelligence community to block such an appointment.

The late GIS Director Omar Suleiman was a devoted enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brotherhood remembers. Most of the GIS senior leadership rose under the aegis of Suleiman and doubtless have little love for their onetime adversaries either,

Some of the GIS' defenders note that it is responsible for foreign intelligence, not domestic. This is not believed by most Egyptians, though technically State Security Investigations, part of the Interior Ministry,has the lead there. Just as State Security has now been replaced by the entirely different (new stationery!) National Security, the GIS Madi says he meant to criticize is a totally different GIS. Or so we're told.

Omar Suleiman is dead. That much is true. (Hmm...)

No comments: