Friday, 30 August 2013

Ed Miliband did not oppose military action in Syria. He just set conditions.

Ed Miliband did not oppose military action in Syria in the Commons last night. He just set conditions. Below is a copy of an email which, I assume, was sent to all Labour Party members shortly after 8.30 last night in which he sets out his position.

David Cameron made a gross error of political judgment by recalling parliament and asking MPs to agree to support military action in principle when both the factual evidence and the legal position were still so unclear. He should have waited. He should and could have built a political consensus. Instead he tried to rush the matter through to suit the US's timetable.

It is astonishing that the Coalition did not realise that they might well lose the vote. The result should not have come as a surprise.  After all, MPs can be expected to take public opinion seriously and furthermore some 80 Tory MPs signalled at the start of the summer that they wanted parliament recalled before any action in Syria, a clear indication that they might be opposed.

Parliament did its job last night. It held the government to account. Cameron failed to make his case.

Last night's vote is the first time in centuries that a British PM has been stopped from carrying out military action by parliament. It is also the first time for many decades - since Harold Wilson kept the UK out of Vietnam - that Britain has not fallen in with the military agenda of the US.

Short of a vote of confidence this is the most important possible vote that Cameron could lose. His loss of authority is immense. His leadership could even be threatened.

Below is Miliband's email.

Like everyone, I have been horrified by the pictures of men, women and children gasping for breath in Syria. In Parliament just now, I laid out my plan for how Britain should respond.
My position is clear: any action that our country supports must be legal, legitimate and effective. Our country must not make the same mistakes that happened ten years ago.
Our desperate desire to help stop this suffering in Syria must not lead us to rushed or wrong decisions.
You can see my full roadmap for action in Syria by watching my speech to Parliament:
Ed Miliband's road map for action in Syria
If we are to ask yet more of the most exceptional of our country's men and women -- those in our forces -- it must be on the basis of a decision that has complete moral authority.
Here are the five steps we must take before coming to such a decision:
1) We must let the UN weapons inspectors do their work and report to the UN Security Council;
2) There must be compelling and internationally-recognised evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks;
3) The UN Security Council should debate and vote on the weapons inspectors' findings and other evidence. This is the highest forum of the world's most important multilateral body and we must take it seriously;
4) There should be a clear legal basis in international law for taking military action to protect the Syrian people;
5) Any military action must be time limited, it must have precise and achievable objectives and it must have regard for the consequences of the future impact on the region.
I will use the full force of my position as leader of the Labour Party to ensure that Britain works fully with international institutions when we respond to outrages like those we have seen in Syria.
We must work together for a world in which there is peace and security for all people, and we must also acknowledge that stability will not and cannot be achieved by military means alone.
I will keep you updated on developments from Parliament,

Sunday, 25 August 2013

On the evidence, the Egyptian people did not support the coup against Morsi

Many important people in Egypt and in the West have delivered their verdict on the short-lived government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and it has been damning. However, the promise of the 25 January 2011 Revolution was that ordinary Egyptians would be able in future to give their own verdict on their own governments and that their choice would be respected.

On 3 July 2013, the Egyptian army, backed by many of the country’s secular liberal elite, deposed the government of Morsi and the Brotherhood, which had come to power in 2012 after free and fair elections. 

The army and its allies claimed legitimacy for their coup by asserting that they were carrying out the will of the Egyptian people. However, the evidence leads to the opposite conclusion.

Politicians in the US and UK have generally ignored the evidence and accepted the military’s claim.  John Kerry said that the military removed Morsi at the request of “millions and millions” and that the army had been “restoring democracy.”  William Hague declared that the overthrow was “very popular.” Tony Blair condoned the military’s action on the grounds that there were “17 million people on the street.”

The Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany – a leading member of the liberal elite – wrote, in justification for the coup, that more than 30 million Egyptians took to the street. 

BBC Monitoring has been unable to find any original sources for the figures of 17 million or 30 million cited as fact by Blair and al-Aswany respectively.

Reuters reported that a military source told them that as many as 14 million were on the streets. But how can that figure be relied on? Estimating the number of people in crowds is a very imprecise science as routinely shown by the huge disparity in the figures given by the police and demonstration organisers in the UK.

Wyre Davis, BBC Middle East correspondent, reported that he did not think the crowds against Morsi were any bigger than those in 2011 against Mubarak. 

Davis also points out that only about half a million people can fit in Tahrir Square, which was the focal point of the protest. He observes, “…the only justification for (the coup) logically is that this was a popularly backed military coup. So, it’s in the interest of the people who supported the overthrow of the president to say they had these millions of people supporting them.”  

In addition to the alleged size of the crowds, supporters of the coup also cite an anti-Morsi petition which they say had 22 million signatures. However, as there has been no independent verification, this figure cannot be safely relied on either.

The evidence for the case that most Egyptians did not support the coup rests on actual votes cast. In the course of 2012 there were five nationwide votes and each time Morsi and the Brotherhood won.

November 2011 to January 2012 in elections to the People’s Assembly (Lower House of Parliament), the Brotherhood’s party, the Freedom and Justice Party, won most votes with 37.5%. 

Some of the criticism of the Brotherhood has been that they were “too Islamic”. Second place in this election went to the Islamist Bloc, dominated by the al-Nour party, with 27.8%. The al-Nour party is an ultra-conservative party advocating a more fundamentalist version of Islamist rule than the Brotherhood. It initially supported the coup against Morsi but has since distanced itself from the military. In this election the two Islamist parties received a total of 65.3% of the votes. 

January to February 2012 there were elections to the Shura Council (Upper House of Parliament). The Freedom and Justice Party won again, this time with 45%. Al-Nour’s Islamist Bloc was again second with 28.6%. The combined Islamist vote was 73.6%. 

On 23 and 24 May 2012 in the first round of the presidential election Morsi came first with 24.78%. Second was Ahmed Shafik who had been Mubarak’s last prime minister. 

These two men went into a second round run-off on 16 and 17 June and Morsi was elected by 51.73% to 48.27%. Morsi received 13,230,131 votes.

On 15 and 22 December 2012 Egyptians voted in a referendum on a new constitution put forward by the Brotherhood. It was approved by a decisive majority, 63.9% to 36.1%. 

However, as the Economist reported, a breakdown of the voting on the constitution showed that there was a “flight from the Islamists among better-off, urban and educated Egyptians.” 

There is no doubt that Morsi and the Brotherhood upset powerful elites in Egypt. The evidence suggests, however, that the majority of the mass of Egyptians, not rich and often not well educated, would probably have preferred to continue with the president and the party they had chosen to elect only a year before.  They are liable to feel that this “democracy” they were promised is a sham.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Western policy in Egypt has been worse than a crime; it has been a blunder.

The statesman Talleyrand said of an action of Napoleon's that “it was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.” The same is true of Western policy in Egypt.

As for the crime, millions of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and those who oppose the Brotherhood but support democracy, view the West as having given tacit support to a coup and then compunded that by a muted response to massacres. As for the blunder, the West's actions risk creating a new generation of recruits to Al Qaeda.

The US and its allies, including the UK, have conspicuously failed to condemn last month's military coup (or even accept that it was a coup). Even after three well documented massacres of unarmed civilians, the US is still providing over a billion dollars annually to the army that carried out those massacres.

There was much to criticise in the Muslim Brotherhood's 12 months in government but no one has yet produced evidence of any actions that prove that they intended to cancel future elections or which could otherwise justify a coup. Throughout its time in office, the Brotherhood had to deal with constant opposition from the so-called “deep state”, a network of individuals from the Mubarak era in positions of influence.
Mohammed Morsi won the presidential election in 2012 by gaining most votes in the first round and then winning the second round run-off with 51.7% against his opponent who was Mubarak’s last prime-minister. He had as good a mandate as Barack Obama and a better one than David Cameron.

Morsi was not so long ago viewed relatively positively in the West. Time Magazine in 2012 put him forward for consideration as Time’s Person of 2012. They wrote: - “The Muslim Brotherhood's religiosity is moderate, or at least moderated by pragmatism; its politics are populist and likely the template for a number of other fledgling democracies in the region.” The Brotherhood never attempted to introduce anything like the radical Islamic program of Saudi Arabia - the West’s great ally and now the leading backer of the Egyptian military. 

It seems likely that Egypt will once again have a repressive dictator. Yet another such dictator put in place with Western backing, to replace a democratically elected leader, joining a shameful list including the likes of Mobutu and Pinochet.

How will the West hope now to persuade sceptical Muslims that it is sincere about “democracy” - a professed central aim of its successive wars against Muslims since 2001? Many will conclude that the West only likes democracy which produces regimes to its liking.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Western politicians have debased the language - at a cost - over July's coup in Egypt

In 1946, George Orwell wrote in an essay, Politics and the English Language, about the connection between the debasement of language and the debasement of politics: -“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Some Western politicians and media have debased the English language when describing what happened on 3 July this year in Egypt.  You do not need to be a supporter of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood – and I am not - to be disturbed by this.

On 3 July, Morsi was removed from power by the Egyptian military. He has been described as a very bad leader – “divisive, hapless and hopeless.”  However, he had been elected in a free and fair election only one year before, on 30 June 2012. Indeed, he was the first democratically elected leader in the five thousand years of Egypt’s history.

The dictionary defines the overthrow of a democratically elected government by military force as a “coup” but the US, UK and many other Western governments refuse to use the word and instead have resorted to vagueness and euphemism. The reason for this refusal appears to lie in the US legislation which prevents the provision of “aid” to a government that has come to power following a coup. The US gives Egypt $1.15 billion a year in “aid”- almost all of which goes to the military.

Peter Oborne has written of how William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, in his desire to please the US, has “betrayed Britain’s values” by his refusal to admit that what happened in Egypt was a “coup”.
Much of the media have taken their lead from the government. The BBC, for example, has used this ambivalent formulation: - “Mr Morsi was ousted on 3 July in what many have said was a military coup.”

It is not only the word “coup” that has been debased but also the word “democracy”. It is right that voting alone is not sufficient to constitute a democratic system. Other factors are needed too such as the rule of law, respect for minority rights and a free press.  However, much Western comment would suggest to a Morsi supporter that voting - as well as not being sufficient - is not even necessary for democracy. 

On 7 July 2013, Tony Blair in an article in the Observer made clear his support for the overthrow of the democratically elected Morsi government. Ironically, given the size of the demonstration he himself faced against the Iraq War, he laid great store on the size of the anti-Morsi demonstrations. He asserted that there were 17 million people on the street demonstrating against Morsi. He gave no source. The BBC correspondent Wyre Davis has pointed out that only about half a million people can fit into Tahrir Square and BBC Monitoring have not been able to find a proper source for the 17 million figure.

Blair wrote: - “I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn’t on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge. When governments don’t deliver, people protest. They don’t wait for an election…”

Orwell wrote in his Politics and the English Language essay: - “Words of this kind (e.g. democracy) are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  That is the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”  What Blair appears to mean by “democracy” is not at all the same as what is commonly understood by it.

Blair is not alone in Western circles in claiming that a military coup against a democratically elected government was somehow not a “coup” and was actually “democratic”; that it was (to echo the notorious quote from Vietnam) “ necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it.”

The likely result of the debasement of the English language will be, as Orwell warned, debasement of politics. In this case, it will be the prospects of the world's fledgling democracies that will suffer most.