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Ellis Goldberg

Sinai: War in a Distant Province

[Aftermath of the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in October 1981. Photo from Wikimedia commons]

The July 1 battle in which the Egyptian Armed Forces regained control of a small border town from the self-proclaimed Sinai Province of the Islamic State (formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis or Supporters of Jerusalem) has heightened fear, anger, and above all self-congratulation among both the government’s supporters and its critics. Days after still unknown assailants had assassinated the country’s Prosecutor General by means of a car bomb, IS fighters attacked a ...

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Sacrificing Humans

[Photo by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ via Flickr]

In recent months, to general horror, the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria) has carried out many beheadings and one immolation.  So, too, have others loosely or closely affiliated with it, most recently of twenty-one Egyptian Christians in Libya.  These events have provoked significant debate and widespread condemnation on many levels.  Some have argued that there is nothing Islamic in these actions despite the claim by the perpetrators that theirs is the ...

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Constituting Generals

[Abdin Palace on 26 July 1952. Image originally posted to Flickr by pds209/AP]

In the lengthy, acrimonious and not always enlightening debate about the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to oust former President Mohamed Morsi it has been widely been asserted that—whether what they did was politically wise—the Egyptian generals acted unconstitutionally and immorally. They both broke their oaths and they abrogated the constitutional order. The major point of contention is whether in so doing they made a coup or carried out the revolutionary ...

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Where the Nile Flows into the Rubicon


Never in recent history have officials, commentators, and even political activists spent so much time parsing the meaning of a handful of words—notably, “coup”, “revolution”, and “democratic legitimacy.” The quality of magical thinking inherent in much of the discussion is striking. It is most striking when Western commentators—with clear and longstanding disdain for the now-deposed regime of Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood—make equally dismissive assertions that by ...

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The Political Consequences of Mr. Morsi


The week, before demonstrations planned for 30 June demanding President Morsi step down and new elections be held, has been one of unsettling violence. There is an increasing sense of foreboding that the political situation is spinning out of control. It is clearer to many what Egypt is not, (Turkey, Brazil, Tunisia, Eastern Europe) rather than what it is. With millions of Egyptians taking to the streets on 30 June, Egypt has entered into a new period of revolutionary ...

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Two Saints and a Sinner

[Two Saints Church in Alexandria following the 2011 New Years bombing. Photo from]

The name Ahmad Lutfi Ibrahim does not, for most people, evoke any particular memories. It would hardly surprise me if a few friends thought I had meant to type Ahmad Lutfi Al-Sayyid, the renowned and sometimes reviled leader of the Egyptian Constitutional party of nearly eighty years ago. And yet there he was, Ahmad Lutfi Ibrahim, on 25 January 2011 staring somberly out from the front page of the daily Al-Masry al-Youm.  He was, the paper reported, ...

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Whatever Happened to Egypt's Democratic Transition?

[Protester carrying a sign featuring Mohamed Morsi's face on a dollar bill. 25 January 2013. Photo by Gigi Ibrahim]

There is a paradigm nobody talks about much anymore in regard to Egypt: the democratic transition. The problem with the idea of democratic transition, dearly beloved by the Barack Obama Administration, most of my colleagues in political science, and the Muslim Brotherhood, was that it presumed the institutions of the state would be passed, intact, from the old regime to the new. Through elections, constitutions, and the circulation of new elites, popular ...

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Morsi and his Adversaries

[Tahrir Square on 27 November 2012. Image from Lilian Wagdy]

  With November nearly at an end, it seems like an eternity ago that Israel and Gaza were engaged in intense, if unequal fighting. Yet it was only two weeks ago that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi spent intense hours on the telephone with US President Barak Obama to craft a truce. Not long after the two men hung up their phones, Egypt’s current crisis began and many Egyptians today are, for the first time in centuries, afraid of civil war. Street fighting has broken ...

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Reflections on Egypt's Draft Constitution

[Constituent Assembly meeting. Image from Constituent Assembly's official Facebook page]

Constitutions define and set out relationships between the primary institutions of the state. They also suggest some of the compromises and agreements between powerful political forces that have been necessary to create these institutions and it gives us some hints about what the drafters think political life will look like.  On balance it looks as if, through whatever compromises they have made, the drafters of the Egyptian constitution envisage a civil state ...

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The Missing Ikhwan and An Electorate Split in Three

[Presidential election campaign posters in Greater Cairo. Photo by Jonathan Rashad]

The first round of the Egyptian presidential election, like every other election over the past year and a half, and unlike those over the previous sixty years, brought its own surprises. The usually unreliable polls were again wrong, as were most of the pundits (both Egyptian and foreign). In first place was Mohamed Morsi, the second-choice candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Close by in second place was ...

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Ellis Goldberg




Ellis Goldberg (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1983) is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington. He specializes in the study of Middle Eastern politics. From 1995-1999 he chaired the Middle East Center of the Jackson School of International Studies. His first book, Tinker, Tailor and Textile Worker (University of California Press, 1986), deals with the Egyptian labor movement. His most recent book is Trade, Reputation and Child Labor in 20th Century Egypt (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2004). Other publications include work on Muslim political movements in Islam, the origins of the post-colonial trade union movement in Egypt, and human rights. From 2007-2008, Prof. Goldberg was a visiting research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.

Goldberg’s teaching interests include comparative politics, Middle East politics, and international political economy.