Events in Egypt have now entered a new phase. The regime has made the compromise
it intends to make. There will be no republican monarchy.
will not be president of Egypt. The de facto ruler is now former intelligence
chief Omar Suleiman.
It will be Suleiman’s responsibility to navigate the
dangerous transition period under way toward a revised constitution and new
parliamentary and presidential elections.
What comes next is not yet
But it may be said with confidence that there are currently two
serious, organized political forces in Egypt. These are the leadership of the
armed forces, and the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.
process now opening up will be a veiled or open contest for domination between
The Al Jazeera version of the events in Egypt, Tunisia and
elsewhere has been that they constitute the rising up of long suppressed peoples
against sclerotic, authoritarian governments. For fairly obvious reasons, Al
Jazeera, which is the creation and instrument of an unelected, increasingly
pro-Iranian monarch, leaves out a large part of the picture.
uprisings in the Middle East must be understood in the context of this larger
regional strategic picture.
THE MIDDLE East is divided into two camps.
The camp of which Egypt currently forms a part consists mainly of authoritarian
countries, ranging from fairly benign autocracies (Jordan) to deeply repressive
ones (Saudi Arabia).
This camp also includes the region’s only
functioning democracy (Israel) and is backed by the US.
It is ranged
against an Iran-led camp of uniformly authoritarian states and Islamist
The US-led camp is currently on the retreat across the region.
It has suffered a series of defeats in the last half-decade.
pro-Iranian camp now dominates Lebanon through force of arms. It has split the
Palestinian national movement in two, and has established a Palestinian Islamist
statelet in Gaza. It looks set to dominate a post-US Iraq.
represented gains in the frontier areas between the two camps, in which each
vied for influence. The events in Egypt, however, raise the prospect of a
further gain of infinitely greater significance to the anti-Western element. If
the transition period is mismanaged, it will stand to make a play for power
within one of the main bulwarks of the pro-US regional alliance.
not only the most populous state of the Arab world, it is also located in a
place of key geostrategic importance, containing within it the vital Suez Canal.
The possibility of Muslim Brotherhood influence, or worse, power would
represent, without hyperbole, a disaster for pro-US regional forces.
Brotherhood is the prototype Sunni Islamist organization, in existence since
1928. Many of the most famous, or infamous figures of Islamist terrorism began
their careers within its ranks. Abdulla Azzam, joint founder of al-Qaida,
emerged from the Brotherhood’s ranks, as did Ayman al-Zawahiri.
ideology of the movement is jihadist in nature, and where relevant, it supports
political violence. Where this is neither relevant nor possible, as in Europe
and latterly in Egypt, the movement also engages in social, political and
Current “supreme guide” of the Muslim Brotherhood
in Egypt, Muhammad Badi, in a sermon given in September 2010, said that Muslims
“need to understand that the improvement and change that the Muslim nation seeks
can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice, and by raising a jihadi
generation that pursues death, just as its enemies pursue life.”
been in evidence over the last half decade is the contrasting nature of the two
regional camps. The latest events in Egypt have confirmed the
The pro-Iranian, Islamist camp is at a distinct, indeed
enormous disadvantage when it comes to power measured in physical terms – in
economic capability and conventional military prowess.
Yet it continues
to make gains.
This is because this camp possesses an implacable will and
a belief in itself and its future. When Iranians rose up in mid- 2009 to protest
the results of the presidential elections, the regime’s counterreaction was
swift and fierce. They had read their Machiavelli well, and knew that to defeat
the uprising, it was vital to offer no concessions whatsoever. And contrary to
the hopes and predictions of sundry Western commentators, the rising was swiftly
and brutally crushed.
Iran and its allies are authoritarians with a clear
will to power and a clear, if simplistic unifying idea. The countries which they
control are large prisons, in which no hint of dissent is permitted. Yet it may
be asserted with some confidence that they are in no danger of being toppled by
popular uprisings or forced to share power or reform any time
Should such risings be attempted, the anti-US camp would have no
hesitation in drowning them swiftly in the blood of their
BY CONTRAST, the US threw their its ally Hosni Mubarak to
the wolves, following the demonstrations, with scarcely a shot fired. This is
not the way to project strength or make oneself trusted. The possibility now
exists of US pressure on the new Egyptian government to invite the disciples of
Sayed Qutb and Hassan al-Banna to participate in democratic
Should the heartland of the pro-Western part of the Arab world
be breached – by invitation – by the enemies of this camp, this would be seen
throughout the region as a major triumph for the Islamists and a defeat for the
US and its allies.
There is every reason to suppose that Omar Suleiman
will argue for a very different approach to the Muslim Brotherhood.
too has evidently read his Machiavelli. It is to be hoped that Washington will
now grasp the cardinal importance in the Middle East of standing by friends and
identifying enemies. If so, it will allow him to deal with the threat to
fledgling representative government represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, and a
better political dispensation in Egypt may even stand a chance.The
writer is a senior research fellow at the Gloria Center, IDC Herzliya. His book
The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel- Islamist Conflict was published