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NightWatch 20120619

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NightWatch

For the night of 19 June 2012

Pakistan: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has disqualified Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani from holding office, retroactive to the date of his conviction for contempt of court.

Chief Justice Chaudhry declared that Gilani's office had been effectively vacant since 26 April when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Zardari from before he became president which would have disqualified him from office. Gilani argued the president has constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Tuesday's ruling disqualified Gilani from office and from parliament under laws passed by parliament concerning qualifications of its members, including no criminal convictions.

The leader of the governing coalition, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), held an emergency session to decide its next move.

Comment: There are no good guys in this political crisis and it could worsen to include judicial action to disqualify president Zardari. That is the next logical legal step.

Gilani

Gilani simply refused to carry out a direct order of the Supreme Court, in the interest of protecting the president. He concurred in the conviction and served a trivial sentence which for members of parliament was administered by the Speaker of the National Assembly. He declined to appeal. Now the Speaker of the National Assembly also is under investigation for contempt of the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Chaudhry

Chief Justice Chaudhry has deep seated resentments against Zardari and Musharraf for their roles in his unconstitutional house arrest in 2007. He is the only Chief Justice to ever have been suspended and was not reinstated until 2009. Nevertheless, he strictly and aggressively interprets and applies the laws passed by parliament, which consistently cause the undoing of its members.

One reason for this is his campaign to establish the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan as a co-equal branch of government. In practice, the judges have been manipulated, suborned or ignored in Pakistan's parliamentary system because most are civil servants of the Justice Ministry. Chaudhry has been their champion.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Faction

The complaint against Gilani and the new complaint against the Speaker of the National Assembly were brought by a collection of plaintiffs, most prominently associated with the Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was exiled by President Musharraf for eight years and only was permitted to return in 2007 after Musharraf resigned. Nawaz Sharif strongly backed the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry in 2009.

Nawaz Sharif has had designs on returning to the leadership of the government for at least five years. Removing Gilani and weakening the PPP are important steps in a long term political strategy. Nawaz and the PML-N want to remove president Zardari as well. Nawaz Sharif is no friend of the United States.

Chief of Army Staff General Kayani

Finally, Chaudhry almost certainly consulted with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani and other key security officials if only to warn them of potential security consequences. Chaudhry has cultivated ties with Kayani to build support for his campaign to ensure the autonomy of judges in exchange for close judicial scrutiny of government attempts to overreach in military affairs.

Thus, far there have been no civil disorders, but demonstrations in Islamabad are likely this week.

Russia-Syria: Update. A Brilliant and astute Reader has provided insights on what to watch when the Russian amphibious task group reaches the base at Tartus, Syria.

The Russian ships could signify that the Russians know something about the insurgency we don't and the situation may be worse than generally assessed. If the Russians do indeed load materiel on the ships, it would support that Idea.

If they off-load materiel, that would indicate continued support. If the Russians do both, it would indicate they are hedging their bets and are not sure how it will turn out. Thanks for the feedback

Egypt: Anti-army government demonstrations resumed in Tahrir Square in Cairo. They were led by Muslim Brotherhood members, who shouted, "Down with military rule." Protestors also gathered opposite other government buildings, nearby.

Comment: Crowds and public protests are the primary legitimate political mechanisms left to the Brotherhood for registering opposition and exerting pressure on the military government, now that parliament is dissolved.

What is not clear is whether the protests can be sustained. Anecdotal reports suggest Egyptians are weary of the agitation, plus the economy has worsened significantly. Prior to the latest political confusion, it was estimated to grow only 2% in 2012, but that figure presumed a return to stable political life.

Presidential election: Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq claims he won 51.5 percent of the vote in the presidential election. He said Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi's claim of victory is false.

The Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission said in a statement on 19 June that it has not finished compiling results from the presidential runoff and has not concluded investigating appeals regarding results from some polling stations.

Comment: There remains a substantial chance that Shafiq will be declared the winner, thereby completing a clean sweep in the military's recovery of powers it has ceded to elected civilian officials. The Brotherhood's quick assertion of leadership in the renewed protests suggests they expect as much.

Restored powers of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF): Al-Ahram published an English translation of the SCAF's latest constitutional declaration. Prominent among them are the following:

The president declares war after the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is concerned, at the moment of issuing this declaration, with the current composition and all that is relevant to the affairs of the armed forces, appointing its leaders and extending their services. Until a new constitution is drafted, its head holds all the authorities stipulated by the laws and charters of the General Commander of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Defense. (Note: this is a reference to Field Marshal Tantawi, the head of the SCAF)

In the case of disturbances in the country that require the intervention of the Armed Forces and after the agreement of the Supreme Council, the president of the republic may issue a decree for the armed forces to intervene in the task of safeguarding security and protection of vital establishments of the state. The law is to clarify the authorities of the Armed Forces, its missions, cases to use force, arrest, detention, legal competencies, and cases in which responsibility is canceled.

Regarding Article 56: SCAF is to resume the competencies stated in bullet number one of Article 56 of the constitutional declaration issued on 30 March 2011 until a new parliament is elected and resumes its competencies. (Note: The military council took back legislative power in accordance with Article 56 of the original constitutional declaration, issued on 19 March 2011.)

Comment: Sunday's supplemental statement is the SCAF's third constitutional declaration since February 2011. Cumulatively the declarations stand for the proposition that in Egypt there is no authority higher than the SCAF. On armed forces-related issues, the SCAF claims powers that cannot be challenged. The Army's insistence on the trappings of legality is quaint.

For the record, this is not a military coup because the military seized the powers in the first place last year and was slowly dispensing them to elected authorities. That process has stopped and the SCAF is back in full control.

Allan Massie published an article in The Scotsman on 20 June that spotlighted the ironies of the so-called Arab uprising. In Egypt the US- equipped Egyptian Army has taken back power from elected officials. In Syria, the US pursues a common cause with al-Qaida of overthrowing the Syrian government.

There are other ironies. The Egyptian and Syrian Armies are the protectors of minority rights and Christians. The Syrian leadership may be expected to pay close attention to what the Egyptian SCAF has done, and might take comfort from its stand against the Islamists.

Unlike in Syria, the Egyptians thus far have been free of outside intervention. However, the Muslim Brotherhood is at a cross roads in its strategy. It has been foiled in its bid to take power through the ballot box. There is no chance the armed forces leadership will tolerate the Brotherhood and its political allies controlling a future parliament through elections.

Even if the Brotherhood candidate Mursi wins, the armed forces leadership has neutered the presidency by reserving to itself direct control of defense, foreign and internal security affairs and the authority to pass laws.

The Brotherhood might have no choice but to go into opposition overtly and covertly and request outside intervention. Iran would be willing to oblige.

End of NightWatch for 19 June.

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