While Yasmin Revolution in Tunisia inspired population throughout Arab world and wide support to change regime got decisive role in Egypt it was clear that Tunisia was not an isolated event – some process has started with geopolitical consequences. Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt is one step with process and it is still unclear how far and how deep the outcome will be as well where the tremors will reach.
Egypt has came to a crossroads – Egyptians may choose to embrace the model of a secular reformist state with a prominent role for the military as Turkey has done; there is a second possibility that the Islamists exploit the influence to gradually take the country into a reverse direction – not towards modernity and reform but backward, nearest example could be Iran. With smaller scale the same is possible in Tunisia too as well with rest of some twenty Arab countries short of democracy. If all countries on the Arab road make the same selection towards Islam so an Islamic Caliphate could be reality. Islamic radicals seek to take over governments from North Africa to Southeast Asia and to re-establish a caliphate they hope, one day, will include every continent. Islamic United States is a central aim of some radical groups.
Now there is a moment for change, I would claim that the status quo is sooner or later unsustainable in all Arab countries. However in all probability the roads will differ from country to country. Arab regimes have a choice: They can either lead a reform process from above or watch it take place in the streets below, different interest groups on the street level may implement different agendas.
The Egyptian autocrats removed the Internet from Egypt; the Chinese autocrats removed Egypt from the Internet. (an anonymous quote from web forum)
The popular unrest in the Arab world has even reached Libya. There have been calls in Libya for demonstrations next week to protest against Muammar Gaddafi’s 41.5-year rule. From social media I have got messages that especially youth is trying to collect people for 25th February demonstration but Libya’s regime is not waiting escalation passively – internet is blocked, many prominent bloggers and tweeter are arrested and related facebook sites hacked. As Gaddafi has iron grip in country the time for revolution might not have arrived – yet.
The workers are the primary instigators of the Egyptian uprising. The April 6 group of young labor activists first came to prominence when they supported strikes by textile factory workers in Mahalla al-Kubra and elsewhere for improved wages and work conditions. There have been more than 3,000 labor actions by Egyptian workers since 2004. The pro-labor youth activists have been among the major leaders of the uprising in the past week, and had pioneered the use of Facebook and Twitter for such purposes. According DEBKAfile large sections of Egypt’s economic machinery are shut down by spreading strikes. Although reforms and pay hikes have been pledged by the new Egyptian government, large groups of workers, mainly in Cairo, rebelled against state-appointed managements and set up “Revolutionary Committees” to run factories and other work places, including Egyptian state TV and Egypt’s biggest weekly “Ros el-Yusuf.”
While some demonstrators may demand for Western-style liberal democracy the main part of them have their interests with the state of the Egyptian economy – Egypt’s peasants, workers and merchant class to rise en masse. The demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual, and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. Beyond that, there is a deep divide in the opposition and thus far do not appear to have been able to generate the type of mass movement that toppled the Shah of Iran’s regime in 1979.
In social media there is not so many tweets espousing Islamic extremism, instead there are many of them supporting Socialist/Marxist themes. Tunisian public rising was clearly against former dictator Ben Ali and his local and foreign collaborators in the US, Israel, France, Germany and Italy. In the first post-Ben Ali government of Tunisia at least six new people of a 17 member cabinet were selected from these groups. Similar as in Tunisia also Egyptian grassroots big part of political activists are coming from Socialist/Marxist/Unionist circles. In Egypt there are some of the more well-known socialists groups involved in kicking off the January 25th protests (Source and more in The Graph: The Socialist Roots Of The Egyptian Protests ):
- Kafya/Kefaya – “The Egyptian Movement for Change” – Translated to English it means “enough”. It’s made up of socialists, Marxists, (seems ‘Change’ means the same to them as it did to Barack) secularists and Islamists. Some see this group as Mubarak’s primary opposition group.
- Tagammu – “National Progressive Unionist Party” – a socialist political party in Egypt that rejects religious extremism.
- Mahalla/April 6th – a large group of unionists/socialists and their youth supporters.
- The Center for Socialist Studies – an Egyptian group in Giza committed to bringing about “revolutionary socialism”.
- Nasserites – mainly Arab nationalism combined with socialism and secularism. Named after former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. These supporters tended to be older in age and were in much smaller numbers at the protests, but their worldview is mostly consistent with their younger counterparts.
The political Islam waits on the sidelines. The Muslim Brotherhood has not been instrumental in this movement to date. The socialists involved in the January 25th uprising do not trust the Muslim Brotherhood politically because they see that group as beholden to Egyptian capitalism. However, the Brotherhood has money, powerful people who don’t mind engaging in murder, and years of organization on their side. If they want to co-opt this movement, they’ll be a force that the Egyptian neo-Marxists have to deal with. Based on events in Tunisia and Egypt The Graph concludes that
it’s clear that the current “revolution” in Africa has more to do with socialism than it does about Islamic fundamentalism, although the latter is playing a strong secondary role within some of the factions. Socialism has very deep roots in the Egypt and the Middle East going back to the era of Salama Moussa who wrote the first Arabic book on socialism in 1912 titled, “Al-Ishtirākiyya (The Socialism)”. Moussa also helped form Egypt’s Socialist Party (later to be renamed the Communist Party in 1923) in 1921.
Protests have begun in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Albania, and Jordan and they are planned to take place also in Syria, Libya and the rest of Arab world. There may not be a common ideology behind these protests, but e.g. in Albania the Socialist Party is speaking out against the current government.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB)
The Muslim Brotherhood may look so far like bystander; however it is may get even decisive role with further developments. Though many members of the MB joined the protests, they maintained a low profile. The group’s traditional slogans were not seen in Tahrir Square. However inside MB there exists many views. One of them came publicity via Muhammad Ghanem, representative of Muslim Brotherhood in London, who demanded civil disobedience but also “Halting Passage through the Suez Canal… and Preparing for War with Israel”.
Egypt’s MB always remained a pragmatic organization, true militant Islamists or jihadist groups are e.g. Tandheem al-Jihad, which was behind Sadat’s assassination, and Gamaa al-Islamiyah, which led a violent insurgency in the 1990s responsible for the killings of foreign tourists. There is some base to claim that majority of Islamists who are not jihadists and instead are political forces. The MB is internally divided. It faces a generational struggle, with an old guard trying to prevent its ideals from being diluted while a younger generation looks to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a role model. The core question – without clear answer – is if the Muslim Brotherhood will remain a benign force in the event that it came into power.
The Muslim Brotherhood has participated to electoral competition and representation, developed new professional competencies and skills, and forged closer ties with Egyptian activists, researchers, journalists, and politicians outside the Islamist camp; indeed the MB could well evolve to be more like Turkey’s Justice and Development (AK) Party.
In her article What the Brotherhood Is and How it Will Shape the Future published in Foreign Affairs, Carrie Rosefsky Wickham concludes following:
It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization — not only individual members — will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation’s toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West.
As Muslim Brotherhood rule is one possible option in future Egypt and to understand the implications, The Palestinian Media Watch has translated the important MB book “Jihad is the way” by Mustafa Mashhur, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, 1996-2002. Translation can be found from PMW site.
Anonymous leaflets How to Protest Intelligently – circulating in Cairo also provide practical and tactical advice for mass demonstrations, confronting riot police, and besieging and taking control of government offices. Signed “long live Egypt”, the slickly produced 26-page document calls on demonstrators to begin with peaceful protests, carrying roses but no banners, and march on official buildings while persuading policemen and soldiers to join their ranks. The leaflet ask recipients to redistribute it by email and photocopy, but not to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are being monitored by the security forces. Here some translated pages of How to Protest Intelligently :
One previous model for recent upraising in Egypt is what Egyptians havealways called the “Revolution of 1919”, though many English histories follow the British colonial usage and call it an uprising. Like 2011, 1919 had no clear leadership and was largely a genuine popular uprising. It had its own flag, with the crescent and the cross to show both Muslims and Copts supported it, a symbol has be seen occasionally also recent demonstrations.
Attitudes in Egypt
In a survey conducted April 12 to May 7, 2010, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project examined the views of Egypt and six other Muslim publics about politics and the role Islam should play in it. A 59%-majority of Muslims in Egypt believed that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. About one-in-five (22%), however, said that in some circumstances, a non-democratic government could be preferable, and another 16% said it did not matter what kind of government is in place for a person in their situation. Besides attitudes to different questions in Egypt the following tables include also results in some selected countries where the same survey took place: (Source: Pew Research Center publication )
Hardliners exporting terrorism
The Gaza Strip was clearly an exporter of terrorism to Egypt before the current crisis began. Egypt’s outgoing interior minister, and after him the Egypt media, accused the Army of Islam operating in the Gaza Strip of involvement in the mass-casualty suicide bombing attack at a Coptic church in Alexandria (January 2011, 25 killed and at least 80 wounded). Army of Islam operatives in the Gaza Strip were accused of directing terrorist activities in Egypt for Al-Qaeda and of contacting terrorist operatives through the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gazan border (which, according to the outgoing interior minister, threaten Egypt’s national security). The Army of Islam was also accused of involvement in other terrorist attacks carried out in Egypt in recent years, including one in the El Khalili bazaar in Cairo which killed a woman tourist from France (February 22, 2009).Various jihadist-Salafist networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda thrive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The Army of Islam (Jayish al-Islam), established in 2006, is one of the most prominent. It -temporary – later joined by operatives of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing.
Another example of internal Arab terrorism with roots in the Gaza Strip was the exposure of a terrorist network in Morocco. In June 2010 an eleven-man cell of Moroccans from Casablanca, Azjlal (in the Atlas mountains) and Oujda (in eastern Morocco), as well of Palestinians, was exposed. The cell was headed by Yahya al-Hindi, aka Abu Qutada al-Shami, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip. He had previously been a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative and was influenced by Al-Qaeda’s ideology. ( Source: The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center )
Israel’s security concern
PM Netanyahu’s early comments were supporting Mubarak, but few days later statements from Israel were moderated more towards understanding the need to replace him. President Obama publicly sided with the protesters’ cause, but is secretly helping the army play for time and keep Mubarak going for the interim; now also Israel and its intelligence have joined the effort. Israel’s early support for Mubarak was probably based on fear that Mubarak’s regime will be replaced with Islamist regime, he anyway was capable of keeping the Muslim Brotherhood in its place. Israel may have hard experiences about Brotherhood’s activities in Gaza strip, however the views in this organization are not one to one with those among Iran’s ayatollahs.
Israel assumed that its victory in 1967 had improved its national security. First, it provided Israel with strategic depth, which it never had before. An attack by its neighbors, particularly Egypt and Syria, would first be fought outside of Israel. On 1973 Israel was forced to revise its overconfident position as happened what the Israelis call the Yom Kippur War and the Arabs call the Ramadan War. Just six years after their 1967 defeat, the Egyptians mounted a two-army assault across the Suez, coordinated with a simultaneous Syrian attack on the Golan Heights. Even more stunning than the assault was the operational security the Egyptians maintained and the degree of surprise they achieved. One of Israel’s fundamental assumptions was that Israeli intelligence would provide ample warning of an attack. And one of the fundamental assumptions of Israeli intelligence was that Egypt could not mount an attack while Israel maintained air superiority. Both assumptions were wrong. But the most important error was the assumption that Egypt could not, by itself, coordinate a massive and complex military operation. In the end, the Israelis defeated the Egyptians, but at the cost of the confidence they achieved in 1967 and a recognition that comfortable assumptions were impermissible in warfare in general and regarding Egypt in particular.
The Egyptian recognition that its interests in Israel were minimal and the Israeli recognition that eliminating the potential threat from Egypt guaranteed its national security have been the foundation of the regional balance since 1978.
To be continued: revolts, reforms, coups, revolutions…?
Situation in Egypt is so appalling that a military takeover of the regime is a serious future scenario. This is no new idea – in 1952, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a military coup that displaced the Egyptian monarchy, civilian officers in the military, and British influence in Egypt. Nasser created a government based on military power as the major stabilizing and progressive force in Egypt. His revolution was secular and socialist. On Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat replaced him. On Sadat’s assassination, Hosni Mubarak replaced him. Both of these men came from the military as Nasser did.
Thinking different scenarios forward so first one could be that the regime might survive with or probably without Mubarak. Under the same scenario there may be a coup of the army staff. A second possibility is that the demonstrators might force elections in which ElBaradei or someone like him could be elected and Egypt might proceed on the path of democracy. The third possibility is that the demonstrators force elections, which the Muslim Brotherhood could win and move forward with an Islamist-oriented agenda. And then there is a possibility that Egypt will sink into political chaos.
Egypt’s society is diverse enough to withstand a despotic theocracy and if in doubt so the army is the final guarantor. Sustainable significant change requires a new political structure, as well as a new process that ensures free and fair elections and adequate opportunities for popular participation. Real democracy must be substantive as well as procedural, bringing human security to the people, including basic needs, decent work, and a police that protects rather than harasses.
In my opinion the outcome in Egypt and maybe in other Arab countries in near future will be a reform not revolution, that is, changes in personnel and policies, protection of human rights, but no challenge to the structure or the constitution. I am afraid so but the events so far are giving hope that surprises are also possible.
For radical Islam a radicalized Egypt could give a great boost even if Islamist Egypt would not be an Iranian ally. However for the United States, an Islamist Egypt would be a strategic catastrophe. Also Israel would be endangered. Israel’s national security has rested on its treaty with Egypt. The demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula not only protected Israel’s southern front, it meant that the survival of Israel was no longer at stake. In all of the wars Israel fought after its treaty with Egypt (the 1982 and 2006 wars in Lebanon) Israeli interests, but not survival, were at stake. Islamic Egypt would bring a multi-front war again on the table.
If the military regime retains power the geopolitical arrangements would remain in place, except in case where new regime must get popularity by anti-Western and anti-Israeli policy to get support base from the Muslim Brotherhood. If the advocates for democracy win, and if they elect someone like ElBaradei, it is unlikely that this scenario would take place. The pro-Western democratic faction is primarily concerned with domestic issues, are themselves secular and would not want to return to the wartime state prior to Camp David, because that would simply strengthen the military. If they win power, the geopolitical arrangements would remain unchanged.
If there are significant threats to US interests in Suez, and particularly if workers and unemployed start taking over whole areas and start to self-organise it is possible that US will ally with new regime based on army coup.
So the Western governments could be more afraid of the arrival of democratic institutions in the Middle-East than of military stable dictatorships. Anyway the outcome doesn’t depend on what the European Union, Tehran or Washington says so let’s give the stage to locals.
Some of my other Middle East articles:
- PaliLeaks, land swaps and desperate search of peace
- Cyber war has became a tool between political and military options
- Saudi-Israeli cooperation for attacking Iran
- The Three-State Option could solve Gaza conflict
- Gaza War: Could Balkan history show way out?
- Will (East) Jerusalem be the End of Two-State Illusion?
- Placebo effect for people and society with 20 bn bucks