One reason recognizing this mistake is important is that the same thing is about to happen in Syria. And I don’t say that because I regret the fall of the anti-Western radical Assad regime but rather that I shudder at what is to come.
The second point is to analyze what this chaos means. It does not mean a stable democracy, that’s for sure. Let’s examine the record of Middle East countries in this situation. Again, mind you, what’s going to happen is totally predictable.
Ideally, of course, the forces in Egypt will say, “Let’s stop acting so silly! Let’s all be nice to each other and create a representative republic and pull together to fix the crisis.” That’s sort of the kind of fantasy usually reserved by the West for the “peace process.” In Egypt’s case it is too obviously nonsense for everyone except editorial writers who tell foreign dictators and terrorists what they “should” do.
Alternatively, the best chance in theory is a military coup. Let’s remember, however, that the Egyptian army is what people have been bad-mouthing for two years now and Western governments worked hard to push them away from any possible political power. The destruction of the Turkish armed forces’ political role—far more positive than that of Egypt’s equivalent—has also been achieved.
The army might some day step in but, after all, that would just bring us full circle to 1952, the last time it happened in Cairo, creating a regime that lasted almost six decades! Besides, the army is inhibited by concern that such an action might set off a civil war that would make Syria look like a picnic in terms of bloodshed though the army would eventually win. And the Egyptian army is not institutionally moderate either. It includes growing Islamist forces among the officers and it is mainly concerned about its own economic holdings.
So what’s left? Well, the moderates can’t win but the Islamists can. The Brotherhood is not going to give up power and the Salafists look forward to a chance to kill various categories of Egyptian citizenry.
The worst but by no means impossible outcome, then, is that the Muslim Brotherhood will suspend democracy—in practice if not in theory—and with the help of the other Salafists will crush moderates, which means Christians and anyone dreaming of equal rights for women.
It is vital to understand that there is no real solution for Egypt’s economy. There is no policy that a government might follow—especially once the country has become unstable—that would work. There are too many people; too few resources. Labor discipline and productivity simply cannot compete with Asia. Massive subsidies needed to avoid a violent explosion eat up all the aid money.
After the $5 billion from the IMF has been spent, Egypt will be no better off economically.
What happens when Middle East states become ungovernable for political or economic reasons, or both? There’s a long list of examples. But there’s another factor that happens, too. It’s turning up the demagoguery against foreign scapegoats and getting involved in foreign adventures in order to mobilize support for the regime (which is incompetent at solving domestic crises). This sometimes leads to war.
One example of this is Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait in 1990 because things weren’t going well economically at home in Iraq.
Who are the two most popular scapegoats? Israel and the United States. Who are the two most popular scapegoats for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist extremists? Well, the contemporary Egyptian Islamists have added a third sector: the Saudis.
Moderates or any non-Islamist will be accused of being a foreign agent and being involved in economic and social sabotage to ensure they are thoroughly discredited.
Now this prediction might not happen. But it is certainly the most reasonable analysis, especially when the Egyptian regime could link up with a Syrian counterpart and—if they solve their current spat—Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.
Obviously, this presents serious challenges to Israel. On one hand, Israel has no influence on what happens in Egypt or Syria. Does anyone really believe that “solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict” will fix these issues? Well, yes, all too many people say they believe that, especially in Western policymaking circles. But the difference is that far fewer believe that any longer.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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