31 July 2013

About the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

If you belong to the tiny but exceptionally brilliant group of people who have been following this humble soapbox from the beginning, you might remember that my starting premise was the critical need for and the strong likelihood of a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians on the one hand and between Turks and Kurds on the other.

In that sense, you would think that the newly announced negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement should make me happy. After all, I ventured a hypothesis and stood by my prediction through thick and thin and it happened. Who cares if only a handful of people know about it, right?

Normally, I would be tempted to gloat. Almost. But not now, as I am somewhat worried. The Saudis changed the regional equation by convincing General al-Sisi to oust Egypt's democratically elected president.

You see, previously, the setting was of a Muslim Brotherhood president trying very hard to contain his rank and file from who are vociferously asking the rejection of Camp David accords. This setup is what tilted the balance of power between Israel and Palestinians a little bit. Accordingly, throughout the process, every time Netanyahu behaved in an intransigent manner, you could get Mursi to act like he was unable to contain the hostile masses. As I mentioned before, the army was there as a security switch, in case Mursi decided to give in to those masses.

Now that the army is in power, there is no such scenario. Egypt is back to Mubarak era -minus Mubarak- and I am sure that the army will not lift a finger to elevate the Palestinian negotiating positions. Livni is the chief negotiator but Bennett is a more powerful figure in cabinet. The settlers in Israel are like tea party folks in the US: their hold over power is disproportionate to their numbers. I don't think that Yesh Atid is an effective counter balance.

The other problem is Hamas. Now that General Sisi decided to charge Mursi with the crime of colluding with Hamas, they know that their interlocutors in Egypt are hostile to them. What is their motivation to participate in a process that largely excludes them? And from the Israeli perspective, before the coup in Egypt, Hamas was an important entity that they needed to include because they were supported by Mursi. Now Hamas is in the wilderness as their only patron is Iran.

Meshaal's patron Qatar is also out of the picture. Which means that Haniyeh has now the upper hand within Hamas. But Haniyeh has no desire to have peace with Israel. He wants Israel to disappear.

So, you can see that, in its current form the process is doomed. And this is from the only person who predicted its occurrence almost three years ago.

Unless the situation in Syria and Egypt unfolds in a different direction, I am not holding my breath.

30 July 2013

Egyptian Coup: Why?

You must be aware of the rising death toll and the looming confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian army.

Needless to say, this is a total disaster.

Ever since the coup that ousted the democratically elected (but not very democratic) Muhammed Mursi, I have been wondering about the rationale for the military intervention.

It did not make any sense.

Economy in Free Fall

When I posted this piece minutes before the actual coup, I argued that it would be counter productive to oust Muhammed Mursi since none of the problems the army mentioned to justify the coup can be fixed by a new government. Egypt's economy is in terrible shape.
From just before 2011 to today: GDP growth is down (from nearly 6 percent to under 2 percent); unemployment is up (from 9 percent to over 13 percent); foreign exchange reserves are down (from $35 billion to just under $15 billion); the budget deficit has more than doubled (from nearly 110 billion Egyptian pounds to over 230 billion).
Tourism revenues were slowly going back to pre-Tahrir Square levels but after the coup and the ensuing social unrest they are dwindling again. And there is more bad news.
Tourism is down significantly due to security concerns; direct foreign investment has declined sharply; gasoline and power shortages bedevil the population; a slide in the Egyptian currency has raised prices of foreign goods such as food imports; wealth distribution is badly skewed; the nation's credit rating is cratering; the hidden "black" economy constitutes as much as 40 percent of Egyptian economic activity.
A Divided Society

Perhaps the biggest question is how the army can hope to govern a country where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour Party received over 70 percent of the votes in the last Parliamentary elections. Even if you assume that 20 percent of these votes were cast by non-Islamists who were motivated by the anti-corruption stance of Muslim Brotherhood, you will still have half the population against you.

Moreover, Egypt is a deeply divided society with several fault lines.

There are the pious Salafist rural masses who believe that, with its bikinis and alcoholic beverages, the tourism industry is eating away the country's soul. There are the rural and urban poor who live off state's subsides (one fourth of the budget) or Muslim Brotherhood's handouts. There are the unemployed youth who feel bitter about the lack of change, continued corruption and the dearth of opportunities in the country.

Then you have women, a majority of whom feel betrayed by the revolution. While the Islamists predictably threw them under the bus, the other political groups did not lift a finger for them (that is, other than to grope them in Tahrir Square). Sexual assault incidents are much higher than under Mubarak. And women have a harder time making their voice heard.

Minorities are also disillusioned.  From their perspective, the whole of last year looked like a fight between radical and moderate Islamists. Christians, secular or liberal forces were nowhere to be seen. There were many deadly attacks on Copts during Mursi government (the last one occurred just a couple of weeks ago). And the government was rather slow to react and did not appear impartial.

Regional Perspective

The coup was also a bad idea from the regional perspective. The Brotherhood is well organized in Syria and it controls a significant number of rebel brigades. Also, Mursi's administration was the most implacable foe of Bashar al-Assad:
The former president had made supporting the Syrian opposition in its fight against President Bashar Assad a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Cairo also is the official headquarters of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group. 
Just weeks before Morsi was deposed on July 3, a senior presidential aide said authorities would not prevent Egyptians from traveling to Syria to join the rebel cause.
In that sense, a situation where Mursi remained President but was made more pliable would have been Obama Administration's first choice. As I mentioned, the US tried very hard to stop the coup. They wanted to find a way to keep Mursi in power and work with General Sisi. They went along with it when their efforts failed. Since then they have been working overtime to manage the crisis. Chuck Hagel has been calling General Sisi to get him to soften his approach and the Pentagon has just announced the suspension of the delivery of fighter planes to send a signal.

This is understandable since (in my humble opinion) the Mubarak regime change was done to change subtly the balance of power between Israelis and Palestinians and to coax Netanyahu to negotiate in earnest. All with a view to bring stability to this strategically important region. And Mursi adhered to the script and never challenged Camp David accords. With Mursi gone and a caretaker government under military supervision, the incentive for Netanyahu to pursue peace is much weaker.

This is not all.

On Syria, the new Egyptian government has already made a u-turn:
In his first public comments since becoming Egypt's top diplomat, Nabil Fahmy said Cairo continues to support the Syrian uprising but that Egypt has no intention of supporting a jihad or holy war in Syria.
"Everything will be re-evaluated," Fahmy told reporters in Cairo.
Perhaps the most important implication of the military intervention was how it disrupted certain alliances and changed the power balance between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And wherein lies a possible explanation for the coup.

Saudi Arabia vs Qatar

Qatar was the main backer of Mursi's government. The former Emir gave him $8 billion to enable him to say no to the IMF package (IMF was going to give $4.5 billion). The other major Friend of Mursi (FOM) was the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. He gave Mursi another $2 billion in loans and visited Cairo to hold rallies to bolster the Egyptian president's popularity.

Tellingly, Saudi Arabia was not in that picture. Sure they were friendly to Mursi. But they did not like his administration. That's because, since 9/11, the House of Saud considers the Brotherhood a dangerous organization and the main source of radicalization among Saudi youths. As soon as the coup was announced King Abdullah personally called General Sisi to offer his support and pledged a very generous financial package: "Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have jointly provided Egypt's military regime with grants and loans worth US$12 billion."

It may not be surprising to see Kuwait and UAE get behind Saudi Arabia. But curiously, Qatar's newly minted Emir, Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani also expressed his support for the new government. This is a radical departure for Qatar. The current Emir's father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the previous Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani were staunch supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides giving a lot of money to Mursi, they financed the bulk of the Syrian uprising and led the Arab coalition against al-Assad.

Think about this for a minute.

Suddenly, the previous Emir, who is just 61 years old, abdicates in favor of his young and inexperienced son. The young Emir, instead of waiting for a few months to be mentored by the experienced and respected Prime Minister, promptly and brutally gets rid of him (he even fired him from the Qatar Investment Authority). Then, literally within days, a coup takes place in Egypt and the man to whom Qatar gave $8 billion is removed from power. And the new Emir, far from throwing a fit like Mursi's other patron, Erdogan, declares his support for the new government because "he respects the wishes of Egyptian people."

To me, all of this indicates that Qatar's joy ride in the region is over. Saudi Arabia seems to have flexed its muscles to make sure that it is the only leader of Sunni Islam in the region.

I am not sure about their ultimate motive. Maybe they did not like the idea of democratically elected political Islam as they much prefer the Al Saud-Al Wahhab division of labor. Maybe they were concerned about the Brotherhood's success in Egypt and potential success in Syria. And they saw that as a threat to their dominance. Maybe it is a combination of all these things as they are afraid of the Arab Spring turning into a real force for change.

In any case, what I would be curious to see is how the Syrian situation unfolds in view of the theory of Pipelineistan.

I am sure this was Qatar's soft belly.

09 July 2013

Yasiin Bey and Gitmo-Style Force-feeding

I just came across this video clip on the Guardian site.

I thought I should link to it. This is not because I want to make any moral points about Guantanamo Bay. That would be so redundant. No one, save perhaps Tea Party aligned Congresspeople, can justify Gitmo. What they call "the worst of the worst" are mostly ordinary people who were victims of the "wrong place, wrong time" syndrome.
Today, 166 inmates remain. Three have been convicted, while a further 30 will face trial. Fifty or so are in a legal no-man's-land, deemed by the authorities too dangerous to release but against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute. And then there are 86 who have been cleared for release, but who instead rot in a hell from which there is no escape.
The main reason why they cannot be released is that they know too much. And if, upon their release, they talk about the condition of their detention, they could shatter the doctrine of American exceptionalism.

The main reason I linked to it to find out if this was shown on North American TV. Somehow I doubt that Nightly News programs in the US had this clip in their carefully selected 22 minutes.

The other reason was to say, kudos to Dante Terrell Smith, a.k.a. Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def for providing a visual aid for what the US military calls "medical intervention."

Forced-feeding in prisons has been outlawed since 1975 when the World Medical Association issued the Declaration of Tokyo, guidelines for physicians concerning torture and other cruel or degrading treatment in relation to detention. The declaration stipulates that: "Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgement concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially."

07 July 2013

About the US Role in Ousting Mursi (Morsi) in Egypt

A good friend of mine objected to to my recent post on Egypt. 

He felt that I was overstating the American influence over the Egyptian army. In his view, the US was caught off guard when the army refused to protect Mubarak almost two years ago and the events of the last couple of days were no different: he was convinced that the Egyptian army chief General al-Sisi decided to depose Muhamed Mursi, the Egyptian President with little or no interference from the US.

I wish that were true.

The reality is that the Egyptian army will not do much without getting prior authorization from the US.

In this instance, besides the two calls placed to al-Sisi (Martin Dempsey and Chuck Hagel) that I mentioned in my last post, American ambassador Anne Patterson tried to persuade the Brotherhood to make concessions in order to avoid a coup. So much so that the protesters got the impression that the US was working on behalf of Mursi.  But sadly for everyone concerned, it did not work.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egyptian protesters were infuriated that Ambassador Patterson met with Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat El Shater for three hours on the eve of the crisis. But the real problem was not the meeting, but that she was unable to persuade Shater and the Brotherhood to make the real concessions that might have prevented this crisis. 
Today, the New York Times provides a more detailed picture.
As President Mohamed Morsi huddled in his guard’s quarters during his last hours as Egypt’s first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country’s top generals, senior advisers with the president said.
The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Mr. Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors. [my emphasis]
Mursi said no, partly because he was convinced that General al-Sisi was a devout Muslim who would never topple an Islamist President. Part of that trust goes back to the early phases of the Tahrir Square struggle where the army and the Brotherhood worked together to protect the anti-Mubarak uprising. (And that's according to the New York Times.)

Mursi's answer was relayed to the American ambassador.
His top foreign policy adviser, Essam el-Haddad, then left the room to call the United States ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, to say that Mr. Morsi refused. When he returned, he said he had spoken to Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, and that the military takeover was about to begin, senior aides said. [my emphasis]
“Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,” an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country’s Western patron, “Mother America.”

The article also notes that prior to that point the Ambassador met repeatedly with Mursi's advisers.
Mr. Morsi’s advisers had meetings with Ms. Patterson and her deputy as well as a phone call with Ms. Rice, the national security adviser. Mr. Morsi’s advisers argued that ousting the president would be “a long term disaster” for Egypt and the Arab world because people would “lose faith in democracy.” They said it would set off an explosion in the streets that they could not control. 
And they argued that the United States was implicated: “Nobody who knows Egypt is going to believe a coup could go forward without a green light from the Americans.” [my emphasis]
At that point, despite Mursi's oblivious posture, some of his advisers must have felt that a coup was imminent.
At a meeting with General Sisi at 2 p.m. the next day, Mr. Morsi’s advisers said that they had their coalition’s blessing to accept the earlier concessions the general had suggested before the protest.
 But four hours later, the General informed them that the opposition rejected Mursi's last minute concessions.
Mr. Morsi’s team did not know who the general actually consulted and the young protest leaders and some other opposition leaders said they did not know either. But that night Mr. Morsi delivered a fiery address denouncing his opponents as traitorous conspirators. 
General Sisi later publicly cited the speech as a turning point in his decision to act.
In light of the previous negotiations, I read this last paragraph as the speech was the turning point not for the General but for the administration as they decided that Mursi was hopeless. That he would rather become a martyr than give in to these demands. And gave General Sisi the green light.

For the record, I think it was a stupid move that will backfire. They should have kept the pressure on and get him in a broad coalition.

At this point, no one can govern Egypt without the Islamists and certainly without the Brotherhood. Already Mohamed ElBaradei's appointment as Prime Minister was contested by the Salafist Party and immediately withdrawn by the acting President Adly Mansour. They may still go ahead with it but it is a strong sign.

Moreover, as I noted in my last post, I don't think Egypt's structural economic problems had anything to do with Mursi's mismanagement and they cannot be solved by a caretaker government.

I just hope that the US and the Egyptian army have a decent plan to insert the Islamists quickly into the political process.

One last thing: please, oh please, find a way to spell Arabic names in a uniform fashion. Mursi, Morsi, Morsy? Maybe it was Morissey?

Come on.

After decades of Kaddafi, Qaddafi, Qaddafy, Gaddafy, Western media ought to know better.


About 50 members of Muslim Brotherhood were killed when the army opened fire on protesters.

If they continue on this path, with every passing day, it will get harder to reintegrate Egyptian Islamists in to the political process.

And Egypt is not Algeria: it is no longer possible to suppress the Islamists violently. Sooner or later, they will have to be part of the political class.

04 July 2013

Hezbollah and Salafists Bringing Lebanon Into Syrian Conflict

Unless you are a very keen student of the Salafist movement in Lebanon, you've probably never heard of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. At least not until recently.

Assir is a Lebanese Salafist cleric who popped up out of nowhere at the beginning of the Syrian civil war. He quickly rose to prominence through his passionate sermons, sharply criticizing the Hezbollah, the Shiite paramilitary group widely feared and disliked by the Sunni community of Lebanon. He is well known for his over-the-top tactics like blocking the highway to Sidon in July 2012, ostensibly in a bid to stop the flow of arms to Hezbollah.

Despite the fact that his father was Sunni and his mother was a Shia, his sermons are designed to incite sectarian hatred:
He once delivered a sermon at his mosque while holding a toy rifle. He told his Salafist supporters that the rifle was made in Iran and releases an audio in Arabic saying "kill Aisha" — Aisha is one of the wives of Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and is a subject of historical dispute between Sunnis and Shiites. It later turned out that the toy had nothing to do with Iran or Assir’s claims. It is manufactured in China and says in English, "Kill the hostages."
Throughout his meteoric rise Assir emphasized two points. One was his hatred for the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and he kept urging his followers to join the fight against him. The second was his hatred for the Hezbollah and he kept asking for the paramilitary organization to be disarmed and disbanded. As a corollary to that latter point, he was very critical of the Lebanese army as he believed (like many Sunnis in Lebanon) that they were in cahoots with the Hezbollah.  

Recently, with the Hezbollah joining the fight in Syria and helping Assad's army to retake a strategic city of Qusayr situated near the Lebanese border, Assir escalated his rhetoric against the Shiite paramilitary group. On 23 July, his followers attacked a Lebanese army check point near the southern city of Sidon and killed several officers and soldiers (reports range from 3 to 12).

In response to that, the army surrounded his compound and heavy fighting erupted. Initially, Assir followers suffered heavy casualties and it looked like the army was going to be able to overrun his headquarters. But according to the McClatchy News, fighters from the al-Nusra Front (a group linked to Al Qaeda and the most effective rebel force in Syria) came to his rescue. With the help of these battle-hardened Salafist soldiers, Assir and about 100 of his militants staged a breakout and escaped.
A Lebanese army intelligence official confirmed the presence of foreign fighters inside the compound, saying that an emotional and ill-advised reaction to the checkpoint attack by army officers on the scene led to the initially heavy army casualties. 
You might think that this is no big deal. Actually, it is.

First of all, it means that the al-Nusra Front is now expanding beyond Syria. As it is the most ruthless and successful armed group in Syria, its presence and growing influence in Lebanon and Iraq (surprisingly, against the wishes of Ayman al-Zawahiri) must be a source of worry for most regional actors.

Secondly, their presence in Sidon will be perceived as a response to the Hezbollah military campaign in Syria. It is a statement, as in, if you help Assad retake Qusayr we can come to your backyard and help Sunni groups against you. This is a very dangerous tit-for-tat game in a sharply divided country like Lebanon.

For its part, the Hezbollah already met the challenge and joined the Lebanese army to fight the remaining Salafists in Sidon. Predictably, this led to angry outbursts.
Sunni anger has intensified following reports that Hezbollah members were fighting alongside the Lebanese army during the Sidon clashes. The army has denied this was the case.
Despite the army's denials, some footage of Hezbollah soldiers with their yellow arm bands emerged. In fact, Hezbollah owned Al-Manar TV showed some soldiers taking away Sunni militants while shouting "Ya Zaynab" a popular Shiite battle cry, referring to the daughter of Ali, the first Imam for Shiites. The army's reaction was to issue a threat to anyone who reported that the Hezbollah was helping them.

In the meantime, as Sunni loyalists tried to reach the compound to show their support for Assir, they were blocked by the army. This led to days of violent protests in Sidon, Tripoli (Lebanon) and all over the country.

These protests highlight a significant problem in Lebanon: The army has been one of the few institutions that managed to remain above sectarian politics. But these incidents could change that very rapidly.
Yet since Hizbullah’s inclusion in Lebanon's government in 2008, the group’s influence on state institutions, including the army, has grown, feeding Sunni worries. Today many Sunnis accuse the army of cracking down disproportionately on Sunni militants, while Shia militias such as Hizbullah remain armed. Reports that Hizbullah fighters helped the army in Sidon did little to boost its neutral image. This anger and fear over a lack of representation, armed or otherwise, of the Sunni community helped Mr Assir build his following. Many see Mr Assir's rise as part of increased Sunni militancy in Lebanon, inspired in part by Syria’s co-religionist rebels, but also by a sense that no one else will defend their interests.
As I suggested, sectarian violence is a feature in Syria but it would definitely be a bug in Lebanon.

Finally, when collectively taken, these events point to a growing Shia-Sunni divide in the region. To be fair, Sunnis always considered the Shia kafir and the animosity between the two sects border on hatred. But in the current climate, it looks like Iran, Iraq and Syria are in perpetual struggle with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the historic sword of Sunni Islam, Turkey.

Unless a rapid solution is found to the Syrian civil war and cool down sectarian hostilities, what I assumed to be an attempt to bring stability to the region might end up in a catastrophe.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/25/194944/al-qaida-linked-nusra-front-rebels.html#.UdBKLW15cpD#storylink=cpy

03 July 2013

My Take on the Islamist - Army Confrontation in Egypt

You must have seen the breathless headlines about the dark future awaiting Egypt's beleaguered President  Mohammed Mursi.

Indeed, these last weeks have not been very good for the Muslim Brotherhood. Millions of people gathered in Cairo and around the country and held huge anti-Mursi rallies. They ransacked the Brotherhood's shiny new HQ, the Salafist al-Nour Party deserted the president and called for early elections, all non-Brotherhood members of the cabinet resigned and the army issued an ultimatum for a compromise power sharing solution to be found within 48 hours.

Most commentators seem to think that Mursi's days are numbered and he will either resign or be sacked by the army in the coming days.

As the resident contrarian I am not so sure.

Let me explain.

It is the Economy Stupid

The reason why these protests were so widespread and so successful has little to do with the creeping Islamisation of Egypt. That was already the case under Mubarak. And if you look at the electoral success of the Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour party, you can see that a majority of Egyptians do favor an overt Islamist system.

What did Mursi in is the state of the economy. Instead of giving it its top priority, he focused on either silly ideological measures, like dealing with skimpy swimwear and alcohol in resorts or expanding the Brotherhood's grip within the state apparatus like fast-tracking a dubious draft constitution and placing his office above courts.

As a result, within a year, the already fragile Egyptian economy was in ruins:
Tourism and investment have dried up, inflation is rampant and fuel supplies are running short, with power cuts lengthening in the summer heat and motorists spending hours fuelling cars. 
The cost of insuring government debt against default surged to record highs. Forward contracts indicated a significant fall for the pound against the dollar.
Along with economic mismanagement, Mursi and the Brotherhood failed to ensure the basic tenets of governance. Remember Hobbes' Leviathan and the deal people made to escape, their nasty, brutish and short lives?
I asked four middle-aged men, two taxi drivers and two accountants, sipping sweet tea and puffing tobacco through water pipes in a scruffy pavement café, whether they would prefer to have a man like former President Hosni Mubarak back in office.
They all said yes, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "It's because back then we were safe!" finished one of the accountants.
Given these serious economic mismanagement and governance errors, you might think that the army would be justified in intervening and sacking Mursi. The problem is that the army is in no position to fix the economy. If they take over, they own the problem.

In fact, an intervention might destabilize the country even further and wipe out all that is left of tourism revenues. After all, if the army removes the duly elected president, it is highly unlikely that the Brotherhood will stand idly by and accept this. The Brotherhood may be terrible at governing but they are very good at clandestine resistance work.

The army has another problem and that is to find a unified front capable of governing Egypt. If the opposition forces were united and had such a candidate, they would have been able to field him against Mursi. If you recall, the elections were between Mursi and Ahmed Shafik, a Mubarak-era air force general under Mubarak.

As for Muhammed ElBaradei, well, he might have been a decent administrator when he was running IAEA and he is liked by the Western powers but he has no constituency in Egypt and I doubt that he can be an effective president. Especially if the Brotherhood and the Salafists were to oppose his government. And they will.

Just as people turned against Mursi when faced with a terrible economy, they will turn against the army within six months.

So, I don't see why would the army get involved in a situation that has no good solution.

The Larger Picture

There is also the issue of the stability of the region. Removing Mursi and pushing the Brotherhood underground would negatively affect the Israeli - Palestinian peace process. It would also have serious implications on the Syrian civil war.

If you remember my starting point and the decisive role of the armies in Tunisian and Egyptian regime changes and the US plans to bring stability to the Middle East by solving the Palestinian and Kurdish problems, you might see why sacking Mursi would make no sense for the region.

The regime change was needed to force Israel to come to the table (and the army was there to ensure that the Brotherhood didn't do anything to jeopardize Israel's security). Bringing in another strongman like Mubarak would mean a return to status quo ante with all the false sense of security such an arrangement entailed for Israel.

It just makes no sense.

You might think that I attach too much importance to American influence in the region. Maybe. But once the military gave that 48 hour ultimatum, do you know what happened?
General Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer, called the chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces on Monday morning, a U.S. defense official told Reuters, without providing details on the conversation. 
The call by Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Egypt's Sedki Sobhi came the same day that Egypt's armed forces handed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi a virtual ultimatum to share power.
And do you know what happened after that call? The Egyptian army issued a clarification.
The Egyptian armed forces issued a statement on Monday denying that an earlier statement from its commander amounted to a military coup and said his aim was only to push politicians to reach consensus.
Denying any political ambitions for itself, the military said it was responding to the "pulse of the Egyptian street" in issuing an ultimatum to political leaders to unite after mass rallies on Sunday against President Mohamed Mursi.
I am writing this as people await anxiously the army's response as the deadline has come and passed.

I would be quite surprised if the army actually mounts a coup. If they do, that would mean that there are other variables that we don't know about.

But under normal circumstances, my guess would be that the army will stop short of sacking Mursi and with ask for the formation of a national unity government with decent representation for the opposition parties. Perhaps with al-Baradei as the Prime Minister and Mursi as President.

We'll see soon enough.
Well so much for that. They actually did it.

Before the army announced its non-coup coup, apparently Chuck Hagel, the US Secretary of Defense called General Ahmed Fattah al-Sisi. No one knows what they talked about but my guess would be that Hagel tried to dissuade al-Sisi from intervening, as I am sure the US would have preferred a broad consensus coalition with the participation of the Brotherhood. And clearly he failed.

Obama's reaction was telling in many respects.
"We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsi and suspend the Egyptian constitution.
I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters.
Given today's developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under US law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.
The voices of all those who have protested peacefully must be heard - including those who welcomed today's developments, and those who have supported President Morsi."
First, he notes that he is deeply concerned.

Second, he calls on the military to give power back to a civilian government. He is careful to say a democratically elected government instead of the democratically elected government.

Third, he avoids the word coup because that would force him to cut military aid to Egypt and remove his main leverage. But he still threatens them with a review.

Finally, he urges for the inclusion of Islamists in the new system, as he knows that no one can rule Egypt without their consent.