An orderly transition of power in Egypt

Progress certainly won’t be achieved under yet another radical Islamic regime.

January 31, 2011 03:11
3 minute read.
Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cair

Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cairo 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Just last week IDF Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and predicted that President Hosni Mubarak’s regime would remain stable.

Kochavi was not alone in his prognosis. Media pundits, academics, and regional analysts were all providing similar projections in the wake of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.

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But suddenly, in a matter of days, Mubarak’s autocracy, held in place by an extensive, well-armed and feared security apparatus was being challenged on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Mubarak’s grip was slipping.

A transfer of power from Mubarak to intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the establishment’s candidate, appears to be more likely than the toppling of the present military regime and the creation of a vacuum that would inevitably be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, it would be unwise to rule out such a scenario – particularly in the long term – judging by the speed at which events are unfolding.

Political stability in Egypt is a cardinal Israeli interest.

Relations with Egypt since the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in March, 1979 have been cold, yet even a tepid peace with Egypt is of utmost importance.

The quiet along our mutual border has allowed the IDF to redirect military resources to other potentially inflammatory locations – south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip – while reducing the strain on reserve soldiers.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the IDF and Egypt have quietly coordinated efforts against Iranian-supplied arms smuggling.

Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule would not only put an end to all this, but a sometimes reluctant ally, with the largest and (Israel-excepted) strongest armed forces in the Mideast, based on the most advanced American-made technologies, would be transformed into a bellicose foe.

To cover all the borders as potential military fronts for the first time since the years following the Yom Kippur War, the IDF would need to undergo major structural changes, spreading its already limited resources even thinner.

ANYONE WHO cherishes liberty inevitably sympathizes with the aspirations of Egypt’s men and women, young and old, secular and religious, educated and not, who have taken to the streets in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other sites across the country, demanding an end to Mubarak’s oppressive government. Those rare blog entries in praise of freedom that managed to skirt Mubarak’s Internet blackout were truly moving. Justice is on the side of the legions of young Egyptians blocked from getting ahead by a corrupt and mismanaged economy and a system in which who you know is more important than what you have to offer.

It would be comforting to believe that there is a third way – that when the dust has settled, Egyptians could find themselves led neither by a radical Islamist regime headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, nor by more Mubarak-style repression under Suleiman or someone else. One would like to believe that Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad ElBaradei, leader of the reformist movement, is right when he argues that it is only Mubarak’s propaganda that has convinced the West that Egyptians must choose between just two options – the status quo authoritarian regime, or “the likes of bin Laden’s al-Qaida.”

Yet the sad fact is that an overwhelming proportion of Egypt’s populace supports Islamic fundamentalists.

When asked which they preferred, 59% said Islamists and 27% said modernizers, according to the latest Pew poll from last February.

The mass protest on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities is not an articulate political movement that has clear ideas about what it wants to achieve, other than the ousting of Mubarak. In fact, besides the Muslim Brotherhood or political parties taken over by it, there is not a single significant organized political movement in Egypt that can muster a large enough constituency to present a coherent alternative to the present regime.

Progress that would allow the Egyptian people to live a better life, with basic human rights, freedoms and greater economic opportunities, can most likely only be achieved via a transition from Mubarak to someone like Suleiman, who can maintain order while fostering gradual change. It certainly won’t be achieved under yet another radical Islamic regime.

An orderly transition would be better not just for Israel, but for the Egyptian people as well.

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