The Region: Egypt pipeline bombing is only the beginning

A real revolution and full-scale regional war might be the end.

By BARRY RUBIN
May 1, 2011 23:26
Flames from February attack on Sinai gas pipeline

Egypt gas pipeline blast 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Gas flames 20 meters high signal the birth of a new Middle East. That pillar of fire, unlike the biblical one, indicates that Egyptians are following new, would-be prophets into the desert. A new Pew poll, despite the positive spin by the mass media, is very worrisome.

Once again the Egyptian pipeline supplying 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas supply has been bombed. It had just reopened after the previous bombing, following a delay so long as to make one suspect it wasn’t just technical. The terrorists simply waited until damage from the prior attack was repaired before launching another one. No doubt, this process will continue. This is a major setback for Israel – a high price for having trusted in trade with an Arab neighbor with whom peace had been concluded – supposedly – more than 30 years ago.

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Whether or not Egypt formally renounces or demands changes in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, that too is finished as a source of stability. Egyptians support tearing it up by a 54 to 36 percent margin. But many of that 36% would probably support major revisions – a position now advocated by most Egyptian politicians.

Among other developments, the Egyptian government supported Syria in the UN to prevent any condemnation of that country for repression of peaceful demonstrators. Arab solidarity has trumped any consistent stand supporting democracy and human rights. Mubarak had a bad relationship with a terrorist-sponsoring, anti- American Syria. The new regime will reverse that. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby has announced that the Egypt-Gaza Strip border will soon reopen fully, meaning that arms, money and terrorists can flow freely into Gaza. As if that’s not enough, the Egyptian government helped negotiate a Fatah-Hamas deal that radicalizes the Palestinian Authority and makes negotiations, much less peace, impossible.

As part of this deal, Egyptian troops will enter the Gaza Strip. And what will they do there? Help unify the Hamas and Fatah militaries, in theory.

But that’s not what’s going to happen. What is more likely is that the Egyptian officers will become military advisers to Hamas. And what if Hamas attacks Israel and Israel retaliates? Will this trigger a war with Egypt, especially if Egyptians are accidentally killed?

ACCORDING TO this new Pew Poll, Egyptians view the Muslim Brotherhood favorably by a margin of 75% to 20%. Asked directly, 31% say they sympathize with Islamists; 30% don’t. While 62% say laws should strictly follow the Koran, most of the others say all laws should merely adhere to its values and spirit.



What this amounts to is that roughly one-third of Egyptians want an Islamist state and support the Brotherhood, one-third are open to its propaganda, and one-third are opposed (including, presumably, the country’s 10+% Christians).

Egyptians respect the military – at least for now – and think well of the democratic movements that made the revolution. But when it comes to programmatic sympathy for an organized group, Islamists are clearly the strongest force.

The poll also shows some interesting variations in public opinion. Contrary to Western expectations, sympathy for the Brotherhood is greater among high-income (43%) and middle-income (41%) than among low-income Egyptians (26%).

Remember the conventional wisdom that poverty and ignorance breeds Islamism? It’s just flat wrong; this finding suggests that revolutionary Islamism might be more a wave of the future than a relic of the past. Moreover, it shows that even the middle and upper classes don’t naturally embrace democratic moderation – another conventional wisdom in the West.

Islamism, like Marxism, is a coherent ideology that fulfills the needs of people looking for systematic answers to their problems. Why are the poorer less Islamist? I would suggest two factors. Poorer Egyptians are likely to be more traditional in religious terms, and loyal to the nationalism of the old regime. In other words, they are relatively passive recipients of what they’ve been taught in religious and political terms.

This explains the seemingly contradictory finding that while 59% with only a primary school education want to annul the treaty with Israel, “only” 40% of those with a college education do. Xenophobia is a simple idea quite consistent with both tradition and the Arab nationalism dominant in Egypt for the past 60 years.

Here, we see the potential power of anti-Israel and anti-American demagoguery. The most sophisticated, I’ll bet, would prefer some clever maneuver that guts the treaty without making Egypt look bad internationally.

Speaking of attitudes toward the United States, guess what? President Barack Obama’s assistance in wrecking the old regime overnight brought no additional popularity to America. Attitudes toward the United States are negative by a 79 to 20% margin. Hostile views of Obama personally are less overwhelming, but still strong – 64 to 35% – and unchanged from before the revolution.

The conclusion was that the US involvement was negative by a 39 to 22% margin, with 35% saying it was neither, which also represents a defeat for Obama. In other words, Obama’s actions convinced no one.

As for presidential candidates, Amr Moussa scored an amazing 90% positive rating. Readers know I feel he will be Egypt’s next president and follow a radical nationalist policy, opposed to Islamism but willing to make concessions to the Brotherhood that might be the first stage in a longer-term Islamist transformation.

FINALLY, THERE is a new force to be reckoned with: Islamists more radical than the Brotherhood. Suddenly these groups – many comprised of former Brotherhood activists – are getting a lot of media time. Some think they could get 5 to 10% of the parliamentary seats if they run candidates, in addition to the Brotherhood’s likely 30%.

Also, these are going to be the people committing a growing number of terrorist attacks and assaults on Christians.

The natural gas pipeline is only the beginning. A real revolution and fullscale regional war might be the end.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (www.gloria-center.org) and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com


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