Liddick: Eyes on Egypt
The revolution was a complete success. The autocrat was deposed and the new government promised its people and the world a representative government, a free society and the rule of law. Both the people and the country’s allies congratulated themselves, and each other. Nine months later, the Bolsheviks overthrew the liberal government of Alexander Kerenski and Georgy L’vov, and a 74-year-long reign of blood and terror descended on Russia.
Thus is the tendency of revolution. It doesn’t matter whether we are looking at the French, the Russian, the Iranian or any of a dozen others; the pattern is the same: Those who ultimately profit from the impulse to revolt are not those who initially respond to the cry “aux barricades!”
They are rather those who lay their plans carefully, who move secretly and who are not motivated by passion, but by a thirst for power.
So it is in Egypt today. What we see is a bursting of the floodgates; an expression of popular revulsion with the regime of Hosni Mubarak and all he stands for: the repression, the corruption, the lack of jobs, a future, hope. It is the Egyptian people, long-suffering and conditioned by history to accept the most vile of governments, finally saying “enough.” We should pay close attention to their cry.
But since “enough” is not a policy nor is it sufficient grounds to form a government, we should also be circumspect in the way we approach the political firestorm that is Egypt. We should understand and recognize the aspirations of the Egyptian people, certainly. But we should also temper our behavior with an understanding of what is probably next, and lay our plans accordingly.
To date, our administration’s response to the political crisis in Egypt might best be categorized as “vigorously incompetent.” One does not praise an ally as “stable” one week and publicly demand an immediate change of government the next. It makes other partners and allies nervous: predictability and circumspection are the expected qualities of international relations, not confusion, excited utterances and different pronouncements from various sources.
In fact, one does not publicly call for the president of a close and valuable international partner to resign, period. In the words of the Dutch Prime Minister, this is “gratuitous and arrogant” behavior. When the reticent Dutch criticize thusly, one had best pay attention.
If our government is incapable of discreet diplomacy regarding the events in Egypt, it should simply shut up. Criticism of friendly rulers is something one keeps private; so is pressure to engage in specific behaviors. We can express our willingness to aid Egypt in its transition to a more democratic government, but our statements should leave no doubt that we regard this as a question for the Egyptian people to decide. Period.
And we must prepare for the results of such a process, which are not hard to predict. After a caretaker government and national elections which will be fairer than those held under the tutelage of the Mubarak regime, it is more than likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will hold, if not power, at least the majority of it.
The reasons for this are simple, and have been overlooked by the United States for decades. The Brotherhood is the oldest continuously operating political organization in the Middle East. Founded in the 1920s, it has been banned for most of its existence, so it has evolved as an underground organization paralleling the government. It is highly organized and offers much that the government does not: social support, employment, medical care, education and more. It permeates all elements of Egyptian society except the topmost levels of the government bureaucracy and possibly, the Army.
The Brotherhood is powerfully anti-Western. Those who doubt this should read “What I Saw in America,” written in 1958 by Sayyd Qutub, the leading intellectual light of the movement who was hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966. They could note some of the leaders the Brotherhood created: Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example. Osama bin Ladin. Or they could pay attention to some of the group’s more recent statements – calling for the imposition of Islamic law, or for the obliteration of Israel, or the elimination of all Western influence in the Middle East, including the government of any state which cooperates with the United States.
Our country has vital national interests in this volitile region, and it is likely that any eventual government in Egypt will not be friendly to these interests. So whatever the outcome of the current crisis, we will be dealing with the fallout for decades to come. Our government needs to fully understand the situation in all its implications, and play its cards very carefully indeed to avoid pouring gasoline, not water, on the fire burning in Egypt.
Based on past performance, I’m not hopeful.
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