Free Markets, Free People

Egypt


Are Egyptian commandos operating in Libya

An interesting little tidbit to pass along from the Strategy Page (along with the 700th different spelling of his Gadaffi’s last name):

The rebellion against the Kadaffi dictatorship in Libya has not produced any official outside help, but Egypt has apparently sent some of its commandos in to help out the largely amateur rebel force. Wearing civilian clothes, the hundred or so Egyptian commandos are officially not there, but are providing crucial skills and experience to help the rebels cope with the largely irregular, and mercenary, force still controlled by the Kadaffi clan. There are also some commandos from Britain (SAS) and American (Special Forces) operators are also believed wandering around, mainly to escort diplomats or perform reconnaissance (and find out who is in charge among the rebels).

The Egyptian commandos alleged to be operating in Libya are from Unit 777 which, according to Strategy Page, is considered to be a highly “competent” counter-terrorist unit:

Unit 777 trains with the help of the German GSG-9, French GIGN, and American Delta Force commandos. All Unit 777 members are qualified in static-line (low altitude) airborne operations, and possibly with HALO (high altitude jumps) as well.

But Unit 777’s job in the past, under the Mubarak regime, was the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

So, here they are, allegedly in Libya, advising the rebels. 

Question: if true, who sent them (given Egypt’s current “turmoil”)?

Question: if their previous duty was suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, what’s their current mission in Egypt?

Question: what is their real mission in Libya – is this a move by Egypt to annex a part of Libya eventually?

Any Egyptian involvement in Libya has to be handled very carefully. While the two countries fought a three day war in 1977, the real cause of tension is the fact that for thousands of years, most of Libya was considered part of Egypt. Given the fact that Libya has all that oil, and less than a tenth of the population of Egypt, well, then, you can figure out the rest. But for the moment, everyone is a revolutionary brother. At least for as long as the moment lasts, then history takes over.

And should the rebels eventually win and given the obvious turmoil that would follow, who would be positioned then to perhaps annex a part of Libya – most likely the part with oil – claiming historical sovereignty?

Oh … and what would we (or could we) do about it?

~McQ


“Regime alteration” new US policy in Middle East?

According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s the outcome of “weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world”.

To put it more succinctly, they’ve decided the “Bahrain model” is superior to the “Egypt model”.  I’m not sure I disagree.

In the Egypt model, the end result was the US throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus … finally … and fully supporting the protesters.   Of course it didn’t end up pleasing either side in Egypt and it certainly didn’t please other Arab governments in the least.   They felt that President Obama had abandoned Mubarak and were worried he’d do the same to them as protests mounted.  The US eventually throwing it’s full support behind the Egyptian protestors had the governments of other countries very concerned.  Among them, interestingly, was Israel:

As Mr. Mubarak’s grip on power slipped away in Egypt, Israeli officials lobbied Washington to move cautiously and reassure Mideast allies that they were not being abandoned. Israeli leaders have made clear that they fear extremist forces could try to exploit new-found freedoms and undercut Israel’s security, diplomats said.

And there is evidence in Egypt that Israel’s concerns have a just foundation.  So, the administration approached the protests in Bahrain somewhat differently:

"Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," said a U.S. official. "Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."

The reason it is “too important to fail”, to repeat the cliché, is because it is home to our 5th Fleet and other war fighting headquarters.  The fear was that if the government there fell, the new government would have ties and leanings toward Iran.  Suddenly “stability” became much more important than it had previously been. 

The solution hit upon has the goal of “help[ing] slow the pace of upheaval to avoid further violence.”

Why slow the “pace of upheaval?”  Well the most obvious reasons are to attempt to maintain stability and important strategic alliances while also attempting to persuade the effected governments to negotiate in good faith with protesters with the eventual goal of implementing reforms in each country which would make the government more representative. 

Yeah, admittedly, a little on the moon pony side.  The alternative choices, however, are few.

As the article points out there is a lot of opportunity for failure in this particular approach, but while it may be a lower probability approach, if it works it would actually end up strengthening the governments and our ties with them.  And in all honesty, there is no real “high probability” approach for the US in this situation.

However, the argument against it working are founded in some simple truths – A) autocratic governments don’t like to give up their power, B) people in revolt are leery and cynical about promises like that and impatient for change and C) a slower pace might allow other more destructive factions the time to organize while “negotiations” are under way.

Obviously, as one official said, this is all done on a “country by country” basis – with the obvious exception being Libya.  Libya’s in a civil war and it’s outcome is anyone’s guess – although, as I’ve mentioned, usually the most ruthless side wins, and right now the most ruthless side appears to be that of Ghadaffi.   Meanwhile the world dithers and discusses while the massacre proceeds.

Back to the new diplomatic approach.  Do I think it will work?  It might is the best I can say.  It obviously depends on good faith negotiations being a priority for both sides and a real willingness to make change.  Do I think that exists?  I’m not sure.  My gut reaction is “no”.  Instead I wouldn’t be surprised to see governments use the time such a policy offers as a means to consolidate their power while throwing a few bones to the protesters. Do I think it is worth a try?  Yes, given that the choices are limited and instability in the region is not in the best interest of the US.

But, let’s also be real about its chances – we’re talking about two very different views of outcome here (government v. protesters) and reconciling them wouldn’t be easy even if both sides were fully committed to good faith negotiations.  The question is have these governments been scared enough to actually agree to make significant changes or are they simply buying time and using the US as a means of doing so?

Old cynical me, again referencing Human Nature 101,  thinks it’s probably the latter.

~McQ


Meanwhile in Egypt, part II …

More “surprises”:

Tens of thousands of protesters returned Friday to Tahrir Square, the site of demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two weeks ago, to keep up the pressure on Egypt’s military-led transitional government.

But by early Saturday, the military made it clear there would be limits to further dissent as soldiers and plainclothes security officers moved into the square, beating protesters and tearing down their tents, witnesses said.

Let freedom ring.

~McQ


Meanwhile in Egypt …

A “surprising” development:

For the second time in as many days, Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers from Cairo. Live ammunition was fired, wounding two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Several sources confirmed the army’s use of RPG ammunition. Four people have been arrested including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating yesterday’s army attack.

Monk Aksios Ava Bishoy told activist Nader Shoukry of Freecopts the armed forces stormed the main entrance gate to the monastery in the morning using five tanks, armored vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish the fence built by the monastery last month to protect themselves and the monastery from the lawlessness which prevailed in Egypt during the January 25 Uprising.

"When we tried to address them, the army fired live bullets, wounding Father Feltaows in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen," said Monk Ava Bishoy. "Six Coptic workers in the monastery were also injured, some with serious injuries to the chest."

The injured were rushed to the nearby Sadat Hospital, the ones in serious condition were transferred to the Anglo-Egyptian Hospital in Cairo.

Father Hemanot Ava Bishoy said the army fired live ammunition and RPGs continuously for 30 minutes, which hit part of the ancient fence inside the monastery. "The army was shocked to see the monks standing there praying ‘Lord have mercy’ without running away. This is what really upset them," he said. "As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Victory, Victory’."

He also added that the army prevented the monastery’s car from taking the injured to hospital.

Says the Army:

The Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement on their Facebook page denying that any attack took place on St. Bishoy Monastery in Wady el-Natroun, "Reflecting our belief in the freedom and chastity of places of worship of all Egyptians." The statement went on to say that the army just demolished some fences built on State property and that it has no intention of demolishing the monastery itself (video of army shooting at Monastery).

Heh … yeah the spring of peace, love and moon ponies the gullible expected to come out of all of this is off to a roaring start, no?  Fence demolition, Egyptian style – done with RPGs, machine guns and tanks all while pumping sunshine up your posterior and denying what is on video.

Sounds like a "new day" in Egypt to me … you?

~McQ


So what’s happening in N Africa and the ME?

All sorts of fun stuff … but has anyone noticed how the coverage of Egypt had all but ceased?  What’s up with that?

Uncovered by most of the media has been the return from exile of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has, for years, hosted one of the most watched talks shows on Al Jazeera. 

And this:

Some of the young activists who launched the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak say they are skeptical about the military’s pledges to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

They also warned Western diplomats in Cairo Monday that the remnants of Mubarak’s regime that still hold positions of power could overturn the uprising’s gains.

Nah … that can’t be true can it?  And who do those who ran through the streets denouncing Mubarak, Israel and the US want to help ensure the military keeps its word?

The seven activists – representatives of a broad coalition of youth groups – also called on the international community to support Egypt’s transition toward democracy, and asked for help in tracking down Mubarak’s assets – rumored to be in the billions of dollars.

The activists spoke as senior U.S. and European officials, including British Prime minister David Cameron, were to arrive in Cairo for talks with the country’s military leaders.

Why us, of course.

Meanwhile in Gadaffi land, things have gone from bad to worse.  The old boy has managed to get a fatwa issued against him.

‘Whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot a bullet at Mr Gaddafi should do so,’ Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric who is usually based in Qatar, told Al-Jazeera television.

Qaradawi also told the Libyan army not to fire on protestors.  And there are reports in some areas of Libya that those instructions are being followed.

Probably most interesting about the collapse going on in Libya are the words of Gadaffi’s son about what may follow:

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is composed of clans and tribes. There are alliances. Libya does not have a civil society with political parties. No, Libya is composed of clans and tribes. [...]

"There will be civil war in Libya. We will return to the civil war of 1936. We will kill one another in the streets. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya has oil, and that is what united the country. An American oil company played a pivotal role in the unification of Libya.

"We have a single source of income – oil. It is found in central Libya – not in the east or the west. It is in central and south Libya. That is what all five million Libyans live off. If secession takes place – who will give us food and water? Who will control the oil wells? Who is capable of managing the oil sector in Libya? [...]

"We will be forced to emigrate from Libya, because we will not be able to divide the oil between us. There will be war, and all of Libya will be destroyed. We will need 40 years to reach an agreement on how to run the country, because today, everyone will want to be president, or Emir, and everybody will want to run the country.

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt."

Interesting points about Libyan society (lack of political parties meaning lack of democratic institutions/tribes and clans – Afghanistan in N. Africa, except it has oil.) Of course he also said:

"There is no alternative other than to adopt a firm stand. I tell you that the army will play a central role in this, and the Libyan army is not like the army of Tunisia or of Egypt.

"Our army will support Libya and Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi to the last moment, and it will be victorious, Allah willing. Matters will be set straight. We will destroy all the dens of strife. [...]

"In any event, our morale is high. The leader Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is here in Tripoli, leading the campaign. We stand by him, and the armed forces stand by him. Tens of thousands of people are on their way to Tripoli. We will not sell Libya short. We will fight to our very last man, woman, and bullet. Under no circumstances will we leave our country.

"Let Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, and the BBC laugh at us. Let those bullies and those traitors, who live abroad, laugh at us, and say that we are destroying our country, but we will not leave it." [...]

And he’s considered the “reasonable” one in the Gadaffi family.  My guess is our State Department has no clue about the societal implications and probable outcome of this particular revolution – so I expect sunny, moon-pony pronouncements about “democracy advancing” in Libya to be their stock answer to everything.

Morocco, Bahrain and Yemen are also undergoing disturbances and protests in some form or fashion  – and some of those are being met with violent government crackdowns.

Meanwhile in Iran:

Antigovernment protesters gathered throughout parts of Iran on Sunday, most concentrated in the capital Tehran, to mark the deaths of two men killed during demonstrations last Monday. The government mounted a stultifying security presence in the capital, with the police making arrests and using tear gas to try to prevent the unrest from escalating.

[…]

The security forces seemed prepared for them, and in some locations, witnesses reported that police officers and baton-holding mercenaries outnumbered the protesters. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although those could not be confirmed, because most foreign journalists were not allowed to report in Iran.

Opposition Web sites and witnesses said that ambulances were driven into the crowds. Security forces, including riot-control units on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds in several places, including near Valiasr Square and Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said.

Business as usual.  And if not busy enough at home, Iran has decided now was a good time to provoke Israel by sending two warships through the Suez canal for “exercises” with Syria – the first time in 30 years Iranian warships have transited the canal.

Finally, something else to keep an eye on:

BEIJING—Chinese authorities detained dozens of political activists after an anonymous online call for people to start a "Jasmine Revolution" in China by protesting in 13 cities—just a day after President Hu Jintao called for tighter Internet controls to help prevent social unrest.

Only a handful of people appeared to have responded to the call to protest in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities at 2 p.m. Sunday, a call first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com and circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Yeah, probably not happening — yet.

Not a good week for authoritarians it appears.  Of course be careful what you wish for – while we may see one crop of authoritarians shunted to the side, there is no indication that anything other than a different type of authoritarian regime would replace it in many of these places.  Change is definitely in the air.  But whether that’s finally a “good thing” remains to be seen.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 20 Feb 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the demonstrations by public employee unions in Wisconsin, and the wave of protests across the Mideast.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


A little history lesson–Egypt and Iran

This, from Austin Bay, does an excellent job of making the point about Egypt that I have been trying to get across in a meta sense. He does it with a look back at the Iranian revolution. It, in many ways, mirrors what is happening in Egypt today. Bay makes the point that in all such revolutions, the key is organization. And unfortunately authoritarians usually do a better job of organizing than do democrats.

A democratic movement will never march in lockstep, but common principles — such as dedication to individual rights — must translate into a common spine to resist, with armed force when necessary, inevitable manipulation, threat and attack by tyrants, terrorists and their vicious partisans.

Recent history bears tragic witness. In the aftermath of their popular rebellion of 1979, the hodgepodge collection of Iranian liberals and nationalists fragmented. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical Islamic totalitarians divided the democratic coalition and attacked them individually. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 revolt, identifies the failure to form a unified democratic front as the Iranians greatest strategic error.

In an essay published in the Christian Science Monitor last month, Bani-Sadr said most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party … ."

I remember the Iranian revolution vividly. I remember Bani-Sadr and the hopes he had for a free and democratic Iran. And I also remember the relentless Ayatollahs and their eventual success at the "divide and conquer" strategy they used. Iran has never gotten off the mat since.

Bay is much more optimistic about the outcome in Egypt than I obviously am.  I think it is much to early to determine that they are headed in the right direction.  Bay says there are hopeful signs.  Good.  But … and there’s always one of those when talking about an authoritarian regime willingly handing over power … we’re so early in the process it’s impossible to tell if the military is really serious about the handover or whether nationalists, secularists, “moderate” Islamists and activists can indeed form a united front or will instead fracture at various points. 

History says “fracture”.

Bay puts the “key” to success in his conclusion:

How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.

You can be guaranteed there are what Bay calls “Bonapartists” within the military.  And in Egyptian history it isn’t unheard of for more junior level officers to resort to violence to take over (Gamal Nasser anyone?).  In the sort of revolutionary atmosphere now prevalent in Egypt it should be remembered that not all revolutionaries want democracy or freedom.  You can rest assured there are power struggles going on within a great number of these factions both within and outside the military.

Given Bay’s quoting of recent history, I’m not sure how he is so optimistic at this early date in the process, but he does seem to think that a united Egyptian democratic front may emerge from all this turmoil.  I remain skeptical and doubtful (even if I’d love to be proven wrong).  And … I have history on my side.

~McQ


Secular democracy in Egypt? The devil is in the details

The committee empaneled to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution and given 10 days to do so has named it’s head

Egypt’s new ruling military council has appointed an Islamist judge to head the committee drawing up a new constitution, angering some of those who argued last week’s revolution would deliver the country to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course there are some who continue to argue this is all a secular movement (how does one conclude a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow a “secular” group as the West would define “secular?) and that the end result will be a strong democracy as demanded by the people.

Uh, probably not.  Careful monitoring says that most likely the next government will be anything but “secular” as defined by the West:

But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.

There is something very concrete for you to watch for and monitor – the status of “Article 2” in any new constitution.  The double-talk isn’t just confined to the word “secular”.  “Moderate” gets a going over too.   What anyone in the West would consider a “moderate” here would most likely be called a “secular liberal” there.   The West might consider Egypt’s “moderates” as fairly radical here.   As an example of having to read carefully, look at this:

"Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians," said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. "He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.

Sounds great right?    But what is “Al-Wasat”?  It’s an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  And you have to love the fact that he feels qualified to speak for “all Egyptians”.

Another claim made by those appointing the committee is it includes a “Coptic Christian” (The NYT names him as Maher Samy Youssef, a judge and Coptic Christian).  Or maybe not:

But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.

He said: "We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians."

And Islamists in general (using “Islamist” in the generally accepted sense of “religious radical”)?

In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.

Nice – radical terror groups go main stream and hold public meetings. 

Back to the head of the committee …. a person who knows Egypt pretty well has weighed in:

Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a "worrying" choice.

"There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist," he said. "We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions."

Take that one sentence to heart – “there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist”.  We’ve come to understand that over the years, yet many of us seem to want to ignore that when it comes to Egypt.  Note that Abbas wants a real secular state as you and I might define it, not one as the Muslim Brotherhood would.

This move by the military council is one, I think, that is calculated to further calm fears that the military plans to continue to hold on to control.  The NYT says:

Though the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s exit, has repeatedly pledged to uphold the goals of the Egyptian revolution, many in the opposition have questioned the army’s willingness to submit for the first time to a civilian democracy after six decades of military-backed strongmen.

So appointing the committee helps calm those fears:

“The move to appoint the panel is the first concrete thing the army has done since taking over,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent civil rights lawyer and Mubarak critic. “We have only had communiqués. We have been analyzing the rhetoric. But now is the first concrete move, and there is nothing about it that concerns us.”

That last sentence is very telling, especially the claim “there is nothing about it that concerns us”.  The fact that Bahgat isn’t concerned doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be concerned.   An Islamist judge heads the committee and:

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Sobhi Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of Parliament who is a prominent figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak government repeatedly portrayed Mr. Saleh as extremist. Mr. Saleh has espoused some views many here might consider excessive, like advocating a ban on public kissing in most places, and he was released from an Egyptian intelligence prison recently.

Is that a “moderate” position?  Would such bans be “secular” in scope?  My guess is the answer would be  “yes” from someone like Saleh if passed by a Parliament (using the democratic process to pass authoritarian laws).   Anyway, you then have to love this analysis of the committee by Saleh:

“The committee is technical and very balanced,” Mr. Saleh said. “It has no political color, except me because I was a member of Parliament.”

Well yeah, so who is it that will lend “political color” to this work?  A radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood on a committee headed by an Islamist judge.

There’s no question there’s a lot of “hope” going on in Egypt right now – but as when “hope” was a prominent word here in the US during the last election cycle, everyone is being left to write their own interpretation on the large blank page “hope” has provided.   The problem there, as it was here, is what the people of Egypt “hope” will come about and what they will actually get out of this process – as it appears to be lining up – are probably not the same thing at all.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 13 Feb 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the situation in Egypt, and CPAC.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Egypt – Remember when the military taking over, dissolving Parliament and suspending the Constitution was a bad thing?

Just sayin’.  Because to hear some in this country, that’s the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread.  Yes, the euphoria over what is happening in Egypt that has gripped an element of the fairly naïve here in this country has been truly breathtaking to behold.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d like as much as anyone to see “democracy flower” and everyone live happily ever after as true statesmen come to the fore and deliver Egypt from the tyranny of dictators and forever ensure one man, one vote, representative government and government of, for and by the people.

I just don’t live in moon pony land.  That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but it is to say that’s very unlikely to happen. 

Why?

Well let’s consider the facts concerning this benevolent military takeover.  It hasn’t taken over anything.  The military has been in defacto charge of the country since Nasser.

Yes, Mubarak is gone.  So what?  Who replaced him?  Omar Suleiman.  He’s a product of the military, Egypt’s intelligence chief and named in a 2007 diplomatic cable found in WikiLeaks as Mubarak’s “consigliore”.  He’s been in that position in 17 years and has been the main means of the Mubarak regime’s ability to oppress opposition.  He’s now serving on the “Armed Forces Supreme Council “.

And speaking of the Armed Forces Supreme Council, others who serve on it are Defense Minister (and Lt. General) Anan and the new Prime Minister (and Air Marshal) Shafiz – both very stalwart supporters of Hosni Mubarak.

This 18 member body has dissolved the Parliament, suspended the constitution and banned labor strikes.  And although it has promised elections in 6 months, well, that’s 6 months away, isn’t it?  We really have no idea if that Council really means to actually hold the election or will find ruling the state to be much more to their taste than turning it over to the rabble.

The military  – of all institutions – played this whole thing very well.  It was in charge but it pretended it wasn’t.  It took the side of the protesters, nominally, and removed one of its own to be replaced by 18 of its own.  What has happened is a very well done defusing of a volatile situation while in reality nothing much has changed in terms of who is in charge of government.

That’s not to say some things aren’t different – for instance, that well-known “secular” organization (according to our chief of intelligence) the Muslim Brotherhood (yup, real secular name there, skippy) is attempting to take advantage of the situation as well and has applied for status as a political party.

And it appears, despite reassurances to the contrary, that the MB is setting itself up to be another in a long line of theocratic parties that use elections (at least once) to legitimize their rule.   Read these two paragraphs carefully:

The Brotherhood’s charter calls for creation of an Islamic state in Egypt, and Mubarak’s regime depicted the Brotherhood as aiming to take over the country, launching fierce crackdowns on the group. Some Egyptians remain deeply suspicious of the secretive organization, fearing it will exploit the current turmoil to vault to power.

But others – including the secular, liberal youth activists who launched the anti-Mubarak uprising – say the Brotherhood has to be allowed freedom to compete in a democracy alongside everyone else. Support by young cadres in the Brotherhood was key to the protests’ success, providing manpower and organization, though they never came to form a majority in the wave of demonstrations.

The question is, once it has competed in “a democracy” and won, does it ever plan to compete again?  Nothing has changed in the MB’s charter.  And having watched other “Islamic states” come into existence, democracy is not one of their foundations – although it would certainly be useful in a peaceful takeover vs. having to do so through violence.   Bottom line, though, the end state is the same.   See any number of authoritarian regimes (such as Venezuela or Iran) which began with “free and open elections”.

To answer the question on the minds of some reading this, no, I don’t consider myself cynical about this, I instead see my pessimism grounded in observing the experiences of like states and the results that’ve unfortunately resulted.  I consider my take to be quite realistic.  And that’s a pity as I’d like nothing more than to see a magic flowering of democracy in Egypt. 

The irony of course is the same people who said a democracy could never be established in Iraq are now saying democracy is spontaneously establishing itself in Egypt.  Of course democracy in Iraq has been established, however tenuously, by the presence of the US military.  However, in Egypt, those now ruling the country are from the military.  I’d appreciate someone – anyone – pointing out why Egypt, without a US military presence or the presence of any other entity capable of forcing the country down the road to democracy will suddenly become a democracy? 

In fact it seems the fox is guarding the hen house in Egypt.  There’ll be a lot of busy work in the interim -  a new or at least amended constitution (who is going to pass it or debate it with Parliament dissolved?  The military council?  The people?), the organization of political parties and elections, etc.   All the while, I expect the military to quietly consolidate its power over the next 6 months while others are buzzing around doing the busy work that will keep them out of the streets.

Will the military willingly turn over its power to a president elected by the people?  If I knew that I could probably make a fortune.   Let me just say it like this – if the winner of the election is a candidate that is acceptable to the military (say some military officer from “the club’’), then probably “yes”.  Accepting such a candidate would most likely keep the military’s grip on government in place, just with a new (and somewhat more benevolent) face.

If the winner isn’t acceptable to the military (such as a theocrat from the MB – one of the reasons they play this “we’re secular” game is an attempt to head off those sorts of charges.)  I expect to hear charges of vote fraud, illegal activities and arrests to ensue, along with a declared “state of emergency” after which the military will retain control and begin the inevitable crack-down on dissent.  It will also claim to want to hold new elections at some time in the unspecified future – to keep the West off its back and the people at home.

Not a rosy picture, that’s for sure – and I could be completely wrong.  But unfortunately, I just don’t think so.

Call it wisdom – intuition, experience and observation combined to come to a conclusion.  And it isn’t necessarily a pretty one.

~McQ

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