Thursday, February 3, 2011


First, before you bother to read anything I have to say about Egypt, please read this:
A Guide: How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt. I'll wait.
I've been somewhat reluctant to post about Egypt because I'm still in 'wait and see' mode. Clearly, a major revolt is under way, but the outcome is still very much uncertain. But last night saw a major escalation, as "pro-Mubarak" mobs (hired thugs and undercover security forces) initiated violence against the protesters. Aljazeera English has the video. To me this reeks of newly appointed military intelligence ogre Omar Suleiman vice president as Mubarak's hand picked successor. In other words, I don't believe that Mubarak has any intention of allowing "democratic elections" and intends to install a continuing dictatorship ahead of his own departure. Whether he succeeds or fails in this remains to be seen, but it certainly sets the stage for a potentially very bloody future.
As with all news from the Middle East, my most trusted source is Juan Cole at Informed Comment, and he has a very interesting perspective today:

The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them. First the justification was the putative threat of International Communism (which however actually only managed to gather up for itself the dust of Hadramawt in South Yemen and the mangy goats milling around broken-down Afghan villages). More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world’s Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise– all of which are patently false.

This has been a long running problem with American foreign policy: we've valued "stability" over human rights, so we've supported leaders who are abhorrent and turned a blind eye to brutalities until revolt becomes inevitable. Obama and Clinton are merely continuing the American tradition of caution in their rhetoric, which is understandable but wrong. Certainly, there are real reasons to fear the spread of instability in the region, but trying to hang on to the status quo usually results in more extreme (and violent) change. It is a very tricky balancing act: we may be the 'superpower' in a global economy, but we don't have the ability (nor should we want it) to rule the world. In the case of Egypt, we have a very real vested interest in stability (totally aside from Israel) and that is the Suez Canal, which is vital to the world oil supply transport. I'm not saying that this is "right", but our economy is oil dependant and that's not going to change overnight.
Which is why there is so much fear of "Islamic extremism" in our dialogue. I think it's completely overblown, especially when I hear the fear mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood. As some of my longer term readers may know, I read and speak some Arabic (admittedly at a mid grade school level; not fluently), and the Muslim Brotherhood is certainly not an "extremist" or "terrorist" organization. You can read their English Website if you have doubts. While they do support Hamas and Palestinian Independence, there is nothing "anti-American" in there positions, unless you believe that Israels interests should dictate our policies. Consider this:
The Muslim Brotherhood is not on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. It renounced violence in the 1970s and has no active militia.

And, of course, there is no real proof that the Brotherhood would come into power should democracy prevail in Egypt. The main cause of the revolt in Egypt is economic, not Islamic fundamentalism. The Egyptian population is rather highly educated, which is why the economic disparity has caused so much tension. College educated Egyptians can't get jobs beyond cab driver or street vendor, and they naturally resent their poverty while living under a wealthy elite. While I won't predict the outcome of elections in Egypt, the demographics lead me to think that a truly fair election would favor business over religion. But it really isn't up to us to decide; that is up to the Egyptian people.

One part of watching yesterday's clashes that was truly surreal was the "pro-Mubarak" mob riding in on Camel and Horse back. These Camels and Horses are usually employed giving rides to tourists, not to run roughshod through crowds. The fact that the army allowed them to charge into the crowd is rather ominous for the future of the protest.
But these are only the opinions of one fairly lazy blogger, so feel free to disagree.
For ongoing coverage, you can watch Aljazeera English live feed here.

Added: blog friend demeur pointed me to a strategy memo posted at Friday Lunch Club, which he posted a translation of titled "Just try and stop the truth from getting out". It's truly ominous, and after a close look I'm inclined to believe that it's authentic, but the post lacks verifiable sourcing so the usual internet caveats apply.

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