Thursday, September 15, 2011

As Egypt falls apart

The next stop in the Mission of Misery in the Middle East is Egypt, where developments are ominous, to say the least.

Michael Totten has been sounding the alarm for some time.  He continues in his new missive, an interview with Egyptian liberal intellectual Hala Mustafa:
Egypt’s revolution against Hosni Mubarak captivated the world. It helped inspire an armed rebellion against Moammar Qaddafi’s hellish dungeon in Libya and peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party regime in Syria despite his government’s ruthless repression. The only problem with the Egyptian revolution is that it was not a revolution. It was a coup d’etat against the president by the army.
The coup d’etat had the support of the people, of course. It might not have happened had mass demonstrations not broken out, and it certainly wouldn’t have otherwise happened on the day that it did. Still, no one from Mubarak’s political opposition is in charge. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces rules the country as a military junta.
The damage Gamal Abd al-Nasser did to the country cannot be overstated:
“The moment of liberal change hasn’t come yet,” [Mustafa] said. “The regime today is the same one that was founded in 1952. This is still the Nasserist regime. I was hoping this revolution would bring something different, that we could return to the liberal tradition that existed before Nasser destroyed it. Egypt had a historic opportunity to revive its liberal past, but the moment has passed. The military didn’t encourage that path, the Muslim Brotherhood jumped over everybody to manipulate the process, and the liberal secular forces retreated.”
Egypt really did have a liberal tradition, at least relative to what it has now, before the so-called Free Officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser launched their military coup against King Farouk in 1952. Egypt was hardly a democracy at the time, but it was much more open and tolerant and oriented toward the West than it is now. Nasser changed everything when he imposed socialism (in the Russian rather than Scandinavian style), pan-Arab Nationalism, and a particularly virulent strain of violent anti-Zionism. Yet with Soviet backing he transformed Egypt into something that looked like a regional superpower.

Many Sunni Arabs throughout the region swooned to his pan-Arabism and wished to be annexed by Cairo. Syria actually did annex itself to Egypt for a couple of years when the two merged into the doomed United Arab Republic. Nasser even started military adventures abroad when he sent soldiers to Yemen and sparked the Six Day War against Israel. Both conflicts led to disaster, especially when the loss against Israel in 1967 ended with the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula.
The regime is an Arab Nationalist one, but radical Islam has been gaining in strength ever since Nasser squelched Egypt’s liberalism. The overwhelming majority of women throughout the country wear headscarves now whereas few did in the first half of the last century. A startlingly large number of men sport bruises on their foreheads—acquired by hitting their heads on the floor during prayer—to show off their piety. I see more men with bruised foreheads in a single day in Cairo than in all other Muslim-majority countries I’ve visited in my life put together.

The revolution, coup d’etat, or whatever we ought to call it, has not returned Egypt to 1951, the year before Nasser. History has no rewind button. Egypt can’t regain what it lost when King Farouk was overthrown any more than the United States can suddenly go back to the Truman era.
“All we can do,” Mustafa said, “is preserve the minimal amount of our liberal tradition that still remains. But the military rule and the growing Islamization of the society make it very difficult. The conservative forces are trying to prevent any sort of progress in the country. The military rulers are different from the Muslim Brotherhood, but they don’t contradict each other.”
Most Western analysts describe Mubarak’s government as an American ally that was at least moderately cooperative with Israel, which is accurate to an extent, but his state-controlled media cranked out vicious anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda every day for three decades. No one should expect liberalism (and I’m using that word in its general sense, not in the parochial American sense) to emerge any time soon after all that. Egypt’s official propaganda after it signed the peace treaty and after it replaced the Soviet Union with the United States as its nominal ally has been no better than it was during the heyday of Nasser’s pan-Arabist days.
It’s difficult to imagine how any new Egyptian president with even an ounce of popular legitimacy could make Israel or the United States happy. It’s just as hard to imagine a Westernized president getting elected or having the support of the army, though there are some Westernized Egyptians around. Hala Mustafa is hardly the only one, but she belongs, alas, to an ideological minority.
Totten's fear is that the army and the Muslim Brotherhood will join forces.  Read the whole depressing thing.

But if that's not depressing enough for you, check out Barry Rubin:
How is Egypt’s revolution different from a real democratic revolution, as in Eastern Europe? Here’s a symbolic way to remember it.
The most famous line, at least from an American, on the road to Eastern Europe’s transformation cane from President Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Eventually the East German people did the job. The tearing down of the wall was a symbol of opening the borders, letting in the light of the outer world, throwing out the old totalitarian ideas that had sat on the people’s heads and pecked at their brains for decades.
While the tearing down of a wall in Berlin signaled a democratic and liberating revolution in Eastern Europe, it symbolizes the decision to make the Egyptian revolution the basis for a new dictatorship of hatred, blindness, and destruction.


Let me insert here a metaphor for understanding contemporary Arab politics. Arab nationalists have been hitting their heads against a stone wall for 60 years, trying to destroy Israel, defeat the West, and reestablish a great empire. The few moderate pragmatists propose to stop this madness. Instead, the Islamists explain that the way to piety, glory, and total victory is to spend 60 years more battering their heads against that stone wall much harder. Guess who is winning the debate?
One such wall, a flimsy fence actually, marks the Egypt-Israel border. A group of terrorists recently cut through it so they could attack and kill Israeli civilians on a nearby road inside Israel.
Since the terrorists sought to exterminate Israel and stage a revolution in Egypt, this was the kind of event that should bring neighboring countries to work together against a common threat. That would have happened during the Mubarak regime. Now, however, with that government gone, a junta fearful of the mob, partly sharing its views, and denied the tools of repression stands aside.
You look for bright spots, but they just aren't there:
Some other walls and murderous bands are within Egypt itself. These include protective walls built by Christians around churches.  Mobs of Egyptian Muslims attack these walls as police or soldiers stand by and don’t intervene, albeit ready to spring into action to shoot or arrest the Christians defending themselves. There is a word in Jewish history for such situations: pogroms.
The underlying basis of these attacks is Sharia, Islamic law, that mandates no synagogue or church can be built anew or repaired in lands (or, as we are starting to see in Europe, even urban neighborhoods) ruled by Islam. Why? Because the Sharia’s “tolerance” is merely a form of patience: let the non-Muslim places of worship crumble; those people will lose their religion, and eventually become Muslims.
Of course, such Sharia laws have often gone unenforced over the centuries, or were circumvented by bribes. That’s why there are still lots of churches despite the Sharia’s dictates. Why is today different? Not because Islam is eternal, unchanging, and inevitably oppressive. but precisely because a “modern” systematic ideology called Islamism insists that Sharia must be interpreted and enforced in a consistent, intransigent manner. And have no doubt that in an Egypt largely dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood those laws will be enforced. An actual Muslim individual can be flexible due to different interpretations, pragmatism, sloth, liberality, ineptitude, or venality; an Islamist Muslim cannot.


As part of their attack on Israel’s embassy, the demonstrators broke pieces from the nearby statue “Egypt’s Awakening.” The symbolism is perfect. Egypt’s Awakening is equated with killing the Jews, yet it is in fact Egypt’s Awakening being sacrificed in the obsessive, ultimately suicidal, hatred against Israel.
According to Raymond Stock, who pointed out the statue’s role in the assault, an apparent secular liberal, who said that he had participated personally in the action, remarked on Facebook that he was glad this iconic work of art could serve the cause. Israel, he said, is my enemy, while the Muslim Brotherhood is a piece of cake — i.e., no obstacle to a democratic future. Revenge and blind hatred overwhelm even supposedly cool-headed, hi-tech Facebook types.
This reminds me of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 1857 Dred Scott case upholding the legality of slavery. The chief justice explained that those with black skin were “So far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Unfortunately, that is how Jews and Christian minorities are seen in Egypt and the other lands in the region: they have no rights that a Muslim or Arab is “bound to respect.” Those who make peace with Israel, and the agreements themselves, are by definition illegitimate, to be overturned as soon as possible, with any gains used legitimately to wipe Israel off the map. The land must always remain Muslim and Arab.
Such views are not completely inevitable but they are extraordinarily powerful. Moderate Arabs or Muslims can reject that view — as King Hussein of Jordan and Presidents Sadat and Mubarak did — but moderates nowadays are few in number and even fewer in power.  And no matter what their pretense or Western gullibility, no populist regime or Islamist can defy the lynch mob.
And for a truly horrifying view, check out David P. Goldman, analyzing the increasing issue of Egypt's food supply, or lack of same:
The misnamed “Arab Spring,” really a convulsion of a dying society, began with food shortages. Egypt imports half its caloric consumption, 45% of its people are illiterate, its university graduates are unemployable, its $10 billion a year tourism industry is shuttered for the duration, and its foreign exchange reserves are gradually disappearing. In August, the central bank’s reported reserves fell below what the bank calls the “danger level” of six months’ import coverage, or $25 billion, from $36 billion in February, although I suspect that even this number is bloated by $5 to $10 billion of Algerian and Saudi loans and trade credits. Despite reports in the press that food price inflation in Egypt has slowed, Arab-language Egyptian media report that the prices of some staples, like rice and sugar, have risen by 50% or more since March. The military government is distributing bread and propane (the main cooking fuel).
Egypt turned down a proposed loan from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year because the military government could not accept the conditionality attached to IMF money. The Gulf States and the West may keep Egypt on life support, which would leave a large proportion of Egyptians in a limbo of extreme destitution. The fiscal collapse of Southern Europe (and severe problems elsewhere) makes this an inopportune time to come to the West with a begging bowl. As for the Gulf States: they are not even meeting their commitments to the Palestine Authority, and can’t be expected to carry a $15 to $20 billion annual financing requirement for Egypt.
It does not compute. Western economists can concoct all the economic recovery plans in the world, but a country that can’t teach half its people to read, and can’t produce employable university graduates, and can’t feed itself, is going to go down the drain. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak kept Egypt under control by keeping most of its people poor, ignorant, and on the farm, and by warehousing its youth in state-run diploma mills. After sixty years of such abuse, Egypt simply can’t get there from here.
The result, I predict, will be a humanitarian catastrophe that makes Somalia look like a picnic. It’s not surprising that the Egyptian mob might attack the Israeli embassy. The Egyptian street has nothing to do but rise up against perceived oppressors, because nothing good awaits them; and the desperation that will follow the collapse of the Arab “Spring” threatens every Middle Eastern regime, such that the rulers have to try to get out in front of the rage. But what will they actually do? The Egyptian military is hanging onto power by its fingernails. If it attacks Israel, it will lose, and generals will be hanged from lamp posts. The Syrian military is too busy killing protesters to attack Israel, or to assist Hezbollah in a confrontation with Israel.
Strangely, Goldman concludes that his situation is "not necessarily dangerous."  I disagree.

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