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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Egypt and the Arab Spring Revisited (Part 2)

We often condemn European history.  But much of the 20th Century was dominated by powerful leaders and not all of them were European (Emperor Hirohito and Chairman Mao Zedong to name just two of them). The phenomenon of 21st Century autocratic rule is even more problematic than its 20th Century antecedents because nuclear armed regimes may initiate a conflict that they will not be able to control and the catastrophic result of which no one of sane mind will want to contemplate.

We appear to forget that our fear of war does not transfer magically to everyone else.  When the President of a nation that aspires to own nuclear weapons is on record as stating that the difference between him and us is that ‘his kind’ worship death as we worship life, then we need to be constantly fearful of the intentions of ‘his kind’.

First let us appreciate that Egypt is not Syria where a small minority of Alawi (and Shia) representing 12% of the total population has dominated the countries military and politics since 1920 when France received its mandate to rule.

Whereas Assad Senior ensured the succession of Assad Junior, in Egypt it was the Generals who disagreed with Mubarak Senior grooming Mubarak Junior to take over from Papa. The leadership of Egypt is watched over by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forcers (SCAF). It is they that forced out Hosni Mubarak and they do not represent a small minority of secular stakeholders.

What the Generals do represent is a pragmatic military elite with its claws deeply embedded in the cookie jar. The Egyptian military is said to control up to 40% of the Egyptian economy and it was dissatisfaction with how the biscuit was divided that led to the current revolution. The people despaired of ever sharing the spoils of corruption.  And just as Turkeys secular rulers were defeated by the demographic curse of a ballooning population with no prospects for secure or even temporary employment and therefore no opportunities to emerge from poverty, Egypt’s fundamentalists were able to take advantage of this aching often inchoate desire for change to create conflict and align a mushrooming constituency of fundamentalists towards regime change. Nevertheless in this life they promised no more than an outlet for their anger and frustration, and solace in the afterlife.

Religious Muslims, practising a time honoured path to power in order to ensure the dominance of their brand of faith are connecting with others of similar mindset across the region. If that is a threat to regional stability it is because there is nothing standing in their way to say their way is wrong.  It is because of this lack of opposition that there is no need for restraint.  And by manipulating dissatisfaction with the government they do not have to offer a credible solution or even hope. 

In Egypt, the military toppled one of its own. But whether or not it could control the centrifuge once it has begun to spin is another question entirely. The Generals may have wanted to incite the Brotherhood into violent opposition. Remember that in Algeria in 1991 the fundamentalists appeared to have won the first round of elections. As a consequence the ruling party cancelled the elections and the Generals sacked the government, taking control. The resulting civil disturbances cost 200,000 lives in a bloody celebration of wholesale kidnapping, rape and butchery that was carried out overwhelmingly not by the military, but by Islamic purists whose ethical compass did not hold them back from the commission of countless atrocities against fellow Algerians.

A conflict in Egypt would be catastrophic.  While Algeria is ethnically, almost entirely homogenous, Egypt is more diverse.  It is also the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood and arguably, the epicentre of its intellectualised bigotry.  The potential for a civil war could destabilise the entire region because Egypt is, by simple virtue of its size, the most powerful Arab country in the region.  Against it, Turkey and Iran could and would exploit the resulting chaos in order to build new alliances and reinforce old ones, further undermining order within already fragmented societies. 

Why should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood? To quote Yehudit Barsky, the following is their slogan:

Allah is our objective.
The Prophet is our leader.
Quran is our law.
Jihad is our way.
Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

The aim of the Muslim Brotherhood is to eliminate all Western influence and create an Islamist state in Egypt and ultimately, the world. It aims to dominate the rest of society and to return Muslims to the pinnacle of their power over others.  Jihad is described as ‘physical warfare’ and is the obligation of ALL Muslims.

Eighty per cent of the Egyptian electorate that voted in the second round of elections held in May 2012 voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme Salafist party.

The Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed on the White House lawn in the presence of US President Jimmy Carter on the 26th of March 1979.  Normalisation (the key component of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel) was never seriously implemented. Gaza continues to be an Iranian proxy (through Hamas) and an Egyptian proxy (though the control of its border with Gaza). Both of them are waging a war of attrition against Israel.

The strategic threat to Israel is in the nature of the regime. The best we can hope for is a neutral, militarily stable power but we must remember that it is a power that has only ever clamped down on the extremists when they threatened the political survival of their own regime.

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