The Region: A taste of the future

Events in Egypt over the weekend do not bode well for what’s ahead

By BARRY RUBIN
May 15, 2011 22:42
3 minute read.
Protesters in Tahrir Square burn an Israeli flag

Protesters tahrir 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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First the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood said it wouldn’t run a candidate for president and would only contest one-third of the parliamentary seats. Then, it said it wouldn’t run a presidential candidate and would contest 50 percent of the parliamentary seats. Even that is misleading, since it could arrange with other Islamist parties not to compete against each other, thus adding 5-10% more Islamists (a majority).

Now the Muslim Brotherhood says it will run a presidential candidate who might even conceivably win the election. Oh, but he will run as an independent.

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One reason for this change is that earlier on, the Brotherhood was backing Muhammad ElBaradei. But since the two broke up over the referendum regarding the election timing and rules – ElBaradei thought the changes were too favorable to the Brotherhood, so they dropped him – they had no one to support. By the way, the Brotherhood won that referendum by a landslide.

Ah, but it’s okay because, according to Reuters, Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, the Brotherhood’s candidate for president, is a leading “reformist member” of the Brotherhood’s Shura Council, its highest governing body. Right! He wants to “reform” Egypt into an Islamist state.

An Al-Ahram poll (it’s still early, of course, to know how people will vote) shows Amr Moussa and Abul Futuh are tied at 20% with ElBaradei at 12%.

Note that since a presidential election would come after a strong Brotherhood showing in the parliamentary election, a lot of voters would likely want to join the winning side. Also note that the Brotherhood candidate will have a strong organization behind him, while Moussa won’t even have a party, and ElBaradei’s forces should be pretty weak and concentrated largely in Cairo.

Then add into the mix that Abul Futuh will also be supported by non- Brotherhood Islamists while ElBaradei is running against three other “moderate democratic” types for that sector of the vote.

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The bottom line is that for the first time this week, a Brotherhood takeover of Egypt in 2011 is really possible.

Up until now, I had thought that Moussa would be Egypt’s next president, with a strong Islamist presence in parliament but not a majority. But now Moussa himself predicts that the Brotherhood, with its allies, will have a majority. And even more recently, the possibility has arisen that a Brotherhood leader will be elected president.

So here are our alternatives:

Best-case scenario: A radical nationalist president, Moussa, and a strong Islamist contingent in parliament that will have a big influence in writing the new constitution. Moussa is anti-Israel and anti-American, but might be restrained by his pragmatic streak. On the other hand, the need to play demagogue – he won’t have any money with which to subsidize more food, provide additional jobs or keep the Islamists happy, or even outbid them – pushes him toward adventurism.

Worst-case scenario: A Brotherhood president and parliament transforming Egypt into an Islamist state, fully backing Hamas, subverting US influence and that of other Arab states, and potentially waging a full-scale war with Israel.

Remember that President Barack Obama said that having the Brotherhood in government is okay with him. So I guess he’ll just watch the results of his handiwork and cheer them on.

A taste of the future was provided by the massive anti-Israel demonstrations in Cairo on Friday. Supposedly the rally was to protest sectarian violence in Egypt, but it turned into one favoring more sectarian violence next door.

The Brotherhood has now escalated its demands to breaking diplomatic relations with Israel and expelling the Israeli ambassador. Remember all of those articles about how the revolution was good for Israel if only those silly Israelis woke up and understood reality as well as people in Washington and the Upper West Side of Manhattan?

Oh, and guess how the demonstration was largely organized. Ready? On Facebook! Those youthful, hip tweeting, moderate young people!

After people finally figured out in April-May what they should have known in January-February about Egypt, it might be better to learn the lesson now than to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

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  (MERIA) Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ 

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