The Region: Egypt’s next chapter

The principal threat is not a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and an Islamist state, but a radical state in international terms.

By BARRY RUBIN
February 13, 2011 23:12
BARRY RUBIN

BARRY RUBIN. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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In a move that simultaneously caught the world by surprise and yet indicated the regime’s strategy, Hosni Mubarak announced his resignation as Egypt’s president less than 24 hours after refusing to resign.

The most likely possibility in this truly bizarre series of events is that Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawi and the army high command did not fully agree with Vice President Omar Suleiman’s plan to tough it out and try to preserve the regime. The army thus removed the regime. The revolutionaries had been very careful to express their respect for the military. The generals then figured it was easier to make them the winning side rather than engage in confrontation.

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Actually, though, none of this matters for the future. And to paraphrase Egypt’s greatest novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, there are a lot more memories coming.

So Mubarak is gone. The first point is that while this is huge in psychological terms, it is less important in strategic terms. Either health or the end of his term in September would have taken the 82-year-old out of office soon anyway.

The real news is the army’s statement that the entire regime will disband.

The immediate effect was to set off celebrations throughout Egypt. On one hand, this benefits the regime, which has now removed its most hated symbol.

On the other hand, since the revolutionary movement can take credit for Mubarak’s fall, it is going to be seen as gathering momentum.



WHAT WILL happen now? The military’s first communique gave several ideas: 1. a)“End the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances are over.”

In other words, once the turmoil ends, there will be a great deal more freedom.

This cleverly gives an incentive for people to stop demonstrating and go back to work.

b) “Decide on the appeals against elections and consequent measures.”

The last elections were unfair, and the military will decide whether they were stolen. If so, new parliamentary elections could be offered.

c)“Conduct needed legislative amendments and conduct free and fair presidential elections in light of the approved constitutional amendments.”

This implies that the constitution will be amended before elections. One change will probably be that the Muslim Brotherhood becomes legal.

2. “The armed forces are committed to sponsoring the legitimate demands of the people and achieving them by following on the implementation of these procedures in the defined time frames with all accuracy and seriousness, and until the peaceful transfer of authority toward a free democratic community that the people aspire to is complete.”

This implies the end of the 60-yearold regime, and a total victory for the revolution. Of course, the army might have some tricks up its sleeve.

3. The armed forces emphasize there will be no security pursuit of the honest people who refused the corruption and demanded reforms, and warns against touching the security and safety of the nation and the people. It emphasizes the need for regular work in state facilities and return to normal life to preserve the interests and possessions of our great people.” In other words, no one will be prosecuted for his actions during the revolution.

HERE ARE the issues to watch:

• Will the army dissolve parliament and hold new parliamentary elections?

• How will the regime amend the constitution?

• According to the existing constitution, there must be an election within 60 days. Is this going to happen?

• Will the demonstrations die down now that Mubarak is gone or will the pressure be kept up?

• Who will run for president? The Muslim Brotherhood will not run by itself but will support Mohamed ElBaradei.

What opposition will there be to him, if any? Given the short time available, would anyone be able to organize a party except for the ElBaradei-Brotherhood coalition? If that last point is true, we have to go back to all our previous discussion regarding Egypt’s future. For if ElBaradei is going to be president, the army doesn’t object and his main ally is the Muslim Brotherhood, the next government is likely to be a coalition that gives it an important (but not necessarily prominent) role.

There will be much cheering, but one should remember the following: • ElBaradei is totally untested, and has no prior political or governing experience.

• His views are relatively radical, as will be his colleagues’ on foreign policy.

There is an interesting question about how grateful he would be to US President Barack Obama, to whom perhaps he will feel he partly owes his position.

That might be a mitigating factor.

• Note that Obama said the US would do everything possible to help a democratic Egypt. Is he going to propose an international aid consortium or raise current levels of US aid? Given the economic situation, that is hard to believe.

• It will be interesting to watch the reactions of Iran and of Arab governments to the new regime, if there’s going to be one. Will Iran and Syria be enthusiastic – which would be the smarter move – or reserved, viewing ElBaradei as an American puppet? The Saudis and Jordanians will be nervous, wondering whether ElBaradei will support regime change in their countries. The Jordanians have an additional concern, since their main opponent at home is the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, ally of one of ElBaradei’s main supporters.

• What will the new regime do on the Egypt-Gaza Strip border? One might speculate that it will open the border – a tremendously popular move – and insist to the US that the Egyptian army will keep out weapons. I don’t believe this.

Hamas, too, will be celebrating. In a sense, Hamas will have the ability to create a major regional crisis by attacking Israel, since it can presume a degree of Egyptian support.

• As for Israel, it will seek normal relations with the new government. How will ElBaradei treat the peace treaty? Under tremendous American pressure, he will see no need to tear it up formally.

For a time, at least, the Brotherhood will agree to just let it be a dead letter.

• How will the current gas sales be treated? Perhaps they will just continue, or perhaps the line will be conveniently sabotaged just enough so that no more gas will be sold.

THE PRESIDENTIAL election is apparently going to happen before parliamentary elections. This puts the pressure on anyone who wants to play a big role in Egypt’s future to come up with a candidate. Will there be an “old regime” or radical nationalist competitor to ElBaradei and his reform-Islamist coalition? The principal threat is not a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and an Islamist state, but a radical Egypt in international terms. And the next presidential election is not the end of history. The problem is not just to create a democratic Egypt, but to sustain it.

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


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