The Region: The last Nasserist

Former Egyptian foreign minister and current head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, seen as most likely to become "new" Egypt’s next president, is actually a figure from the old Egyptian regime.

By BARRY RUBIN
May 8, 2011 23:11
4 minute read.
BARRY RUBIN

BARRY RUBIN. (photo credit: jp)

 
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Amr Moussa, most probably Egypt’s next president, has given a comprehensive picture of his views, a taste of the likely policies of someone about to become the most powerful individual in the Arab world.

Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister (1991-2001) and head of the Arab League until his resignation takes effect on May 15, is a figure from the old Egyptian regime. But which aspect of the old regime – that of the centrist Hosni Mubarak, the moderate Anwar Sadat, or the radical Arab nationalist Gamal Abd al Nasser? Moussa is the last Nasserist. He knows the next president must also be a populist to survive, so he will bash Israel, the United States and the Egyptian upper class. The hope is that he will be pragmatic enough to restrict his demagoguery to rhetoric.

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It might seem ironic that a revolution against the old regime ends up electing a figure from the old regime.

Yet Moussa perfectly combines experience and name recognition with radicalism. A recent Pew poll shows him with an 89-percent positive rating.

Moussa’s prospects look so good because the Islamists aren’t running a presidential candidate, while moderate democrats are restricted to a small urban middle class constituency and four of them are running, thus further splitting that vote.

Another reason Moussa’s election appears likely is his deft use of the anti-Israel card. So identified is Moussa with hostility to Israel that in 2001 a popular song titled “I Hate Israel (I love Amr Moussa)” zoomed to the top of the Egyptian hit parade.

Indeed, Moussa is now claiming that much of the reason for his break with Mubarak was his desire to take a stronger stance against Israel.

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Moussa’s basic argument in his Wall Street Journal interview is that Egypt has obtained nothing from peace with Israel, and that Israel is completely at fault for the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Of course, Egypt has received the return of the Sinai; the reopening of its oil fields and of the Suez Canal; and the opportunity for more trade, tourism and a lower military budget. Failure to take advantage of the latter points was due to Egyptian decisions.

In addition, Egypt and Israel had what amounts to an alliance against revolutionary Islamism, particularly Hamas in the Gaza Strip. President Moussa will reverse this policy and see Hamas as an ally, albeit one that he won’t trust.

HAMAS IS now starting to believe that by attacking Israel it will have the power to draw Egypt into a war. If that view is not countered decisively by the next Egyptian government, the result will be a return to the 1960s and a terrible major conflict. Unfortunately the current US government cannot be counted on to help eliminate that problem.

As the Wall Street Journal accurately notes: “US and European officials said they don’t see the Egypt-Israel peace agreement in danger in the near term. They say Cairo won’t place in jeopardy billions of dollars in aid.”

We’ve seen this kind of economic determinism before, and every time it is applied to Middle East states it has failed. Examples: – Yasser Arafat will make peace with Israel because he wants to get a state and huge compensation funding.

– Syria will moderate and turn toward the West – and away from Iran – in order to get trade and investment.

– Iran would much rather become wealthy than pursue these silly ideas about spreading Islamist revolution.

Now, here’s what’s really shocking in the interview. To quote the Journal’s account, Moussa “described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood...

is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront.”

Think about that. Even Moussa, who is anti-Islamist, admits this.

He is running as an independent, meaning he will have no political party behind him. Thus, Moussa must constantly compromise with the majority in parliament, and he is assuming that it will be an Islamist majority.

While I doubt that the Islamists will have an outright majority, I think they will certainly be the largest bloc. That also means they will take a leading role in writing the constitution.

After many years in which Egypt was oriented inward, Moussa will reassert a leading Egyptian role in the Arab world. That probably means conciliation with Syria and the recreation of a radical Arab bloc that includes Egypt for the first time in more than 30 years.

The best thing that can be said is that neither Iraq nor the Saudis would participate, while the Jordanians would be wary.

Egypt will no longer be a US ally; the question is the degree to which it will become an enemy .

Finally, he knows that he will have to deliver economic benefits to the masses. But that probably means higher subsidies and more government jobs – policies that will do nothing to improve Egypt’s economy. The worse the economy gets, the more virulent the anti- Israel, anti-American demagoguery will be.

We are able to predict this crisis more than six months ahead of time, yet Western countries, media and experts have not yet seen what is coming down the road toward us.

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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