‘I’m worried that others aren’t worried’

A Middle East expert answers some pressing questions about the current upheaval in Egypt.

egyptian protestor kissing army officer_311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
egyptian protestor kissing army officer_311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
How do you judge the Egyptian protests?
It is tempting to see this as a revolution that will bring down the regime. But Egypt is not Tunisia. And while the demonstrations are passionate, it is not clear that the numbers of participants are huge. If the elite and the army hold together they could well prevail, perhaps by removing [President Hosni] Mubarak to save the regime. We should be cautious in drawing conclusions.
Do you see the threat of an Islamist takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood?
So far, the uprising has not been led by the Brotherhood. But it is the only large organized opposition group. It is hard to see how it would not be the leading force after a while. Its leadership would have to decide that it is facing a revolutionary situation, and that this is the moment for an all-out effort.
But if it does so and fails, there will be a terrible repression, and the group will be crushed. It appears that the Brotherhood is joining the protests, but has not made its basic decision yet. In the longer term, if the regime is completely overthrown, I do believe the Brotherhood will emerge as the leader and perhaps the ruler of the country.
Do you see any chance that Egypt will follow the model of Iran in 1979 – democratic protests followed by an Islamist regime?
Absolutely, yes. On one hand, so far they lack a charismatic leader. On the other hand, alternative non-Islamist leadership is probably weaker than it was in Iran. Remember also that the Iranian revolution went on for almost a year, with the Islamists emerging as leaders only after five or six months.
Many experts predicted that moderate democrats would emerge as rulers and said an Islamist regime was impossible; but that isn't what happened. I very much hope I am wrong.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
How can the Arab status quo be changed without letting the jihadist fanatics take power? Are democracy and liberalism possible?
One would need strong leaders, strong organizations, an ability to repress opposition, a clear program and unity, among other things. None of this is present on the moderate democratic side. Again, I wish it were otherwise. [In Egypt] more than any other country, reformers – though not all of them – have believed they can work with and then manipulate the Islamists. That seems like a mistake.
The chances for democracy and liberalism are different in every country.
Tunisia has a good chance because there is a strong middle class and a weak Islamist movement. But in Egypt – look at the numbers in the latest Pew poll. Thirty percent like Hizbullah (66% don’t). Forty-nine percent are favorable toward Hamas (48% are negative); and 20% smile (72% frown) at al-Qaida.
Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.
In Egypt, 82% want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77% would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; 84% favor the death penalty for a Muslim who changes his religion.
Asked if they supported “modernizers” or “Islamists,” only 27% said modernizers, while 59% said Islamists.
Is this meaningless? Last December 20, I wrote that these “horrifying figures in Egypt... one day might be cited to explain an Islamist revolution there... What this analysis also shows is that a future Islamist revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible.
What kind of threat does the Muslim Brotherhood network pose to Israel and the Western democracies?
In power? A huge threat: renewed warfare, overwhelming anti-Americanism, efforts to spread revolution to other moderate states, a potential alignment with Iran and Syria (though that might not happen), incredible damage to Western interests. In short – a real disaster.
What shocks me is that Western media and experts seem so carried away by this [protest] movement that they are only considering a best-case outcome. As I suggested, I would prefer things were otherwise, but I am deeply worried. And one of the things I'm worried about is that others don’t seem to be worried.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.