There’s no doubt about the growing crisis in Egypt. Here are four dispatches
from a 24-hour period: AP: “A ferocious fight between members of Egypt’s Muslim
Brotherhood and their opponents near the group’s Cairo
headquarters...could mark a dangerous turning point... raising worries
that the confrontation between Islamists, who dominate power in the country, and
their opponents is moving out of anyone’s control.”
The Christian Science
Monitor speaks of “Bread riots or bankruptcy: Egypt faces stark economic
Then there’s The International Herald Tribune’s “Fall in
Egyptian Pound Weighs Heavily on the Ill,” which speaks of “a shortage of an
estimated 400 different drugs, some of which are considered
So even with an almost $5 billion IMF loan supposedly on
the way – none of which will ever be repaid, meaning taking away from Western
economies to prop up an Islamist anti-American regime – the prospects aren’t
However, there are a few things that seem to have been
First of all, none of the many articles pointing to the disaster
in Egypt have mentioned this was all totally predictable and yet no one in the
establishment – the “herd-news,” to coin a phrase – predicted it. There is no
reflection on how mistaken enthusiasm for an Egyptian revolution helped
transform a mildly repressive pro- Western regime that managed Egypt’s economy
as well as possible into an Islamist-dominated half-dictatorship, half-anarchy
If you don’t acknowledge making big mistakes, people, you can’t
correct them, or avoid them next time.
One reason this 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 because I shudder
at what is to come.
The second missing aspect is analysis of what all
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
That’s the kind of fantasy usually reserved by the West for the
“peace process.” In Egypt’s case it is too obviously nonsense for anyone –
except editorialists who tell people what they “should” do – to take
Alternatively, the best chance, in theory, is a military coup.
Let’s remember that the Egyptian army is what people have been badmouthing for
two years now, and that Western governments have worked hard to prevent it
attaining any real political power. The destruction of the Turkish armed forces’
political role – far more positive than that of Egypt’s equivalent – has also
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 its officers and is mainly concerned about its own
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
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.
$5b. from the IMF has been spent, Egypt will be no better off
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 one common factor. Can you guess what it is?
Time’s up! It’s turning up the demagoguery
against foreign scapegoats and getting involved in foreign adventures to
mobilize support for the regime (which is incompetent at solving domestic
crises). This sometimes leads to war.
Example: Why did Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait in 1990? Answer: Because things weren’t going well
at home economically.
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 come to pass. 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
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
On the other hand, Israel is going to have to face angry,
hostile regimes in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and
Fortunately, these regimes will be in two different – Sunni and
Shia – camps. Equally, as they wreck their own countries they are less able to
form a conventional military threat.
And as they spend most of their
energy on internal battles over power, they have fewer resources for foreign
adventures. The problem, of course, is in the unconventional – terrorism,
guerrilla warfare and possibly ultimately nuclear weapons.
The author is
the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA)
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