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The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context

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Published by: Amos Okech on Feb 08, 2011
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The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report January 30, 2011 | 2253 GMT

CHRIS HONDROS/Getty Images Protesters wave the Egyptian flag in downtown Cairo on Jan. 30 By George Friedman Related Special Topic Page

The Egypt Unrest: Full Coverage

It is not at all clear what will happen in the Egyptian revolution. It is not a surprise that this is happening. Hosni Mubarak has been president for more than a quarter of a century, ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He is old and has been ill. No one expected him to live much longer, and his apparent plan, which was that he would be replaced by his son Gamal, was not going to happen even though it was a possibility a year ago. There was no one, save his closest business associates, who wanted to see Mubarak s succession plans happen. As his father weakened, Gamal s succession became even less likely. Mubarak s failure to design a credible succession plan guaranteed instability on his death. Since everyone knew that there would be instability on his death, there were obviously those who saw little advantage to acting before he died. Who these people were and what they wanted is the issue. Let s begin by considering the regime. 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 stabilising and progressive force in Egypt. His revolution was secular and socialist. In short, it was a statist regime dominated by the military. 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. However their foreign policy might have differed from Nasser s, the regime remained intact. Mubarak s Opponents The demands for Mubarak s resignation come from many quarters, including from members of the regime particularly the military who regard Mubarak s unwillingness to permit them to dictate the succession as endangering the regime. For some of them, the demonstrations represent both a threat

Western media has read the uprising as a demand for Western-style liberal democracy. the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. President Barack Obama s view is. Beyond that. of course. . trying to shape the political dynamics of a country like Egypt from Iran or the United States is futile. another senior military official would replace him after a decent interval. the head of intelligence who Mubarak recently appointed vice president and thereby save the regime. and a lot of people are saying all sorts of things and even spending money on spies and Twitter.and opportunity. or what the Iranians are up to. and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. This may be possible. There is. Mubarak might stabilise the situation. Omar Suleiman. The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands. workers and merchant class to rise en masse. What is not clear is that this is moving Egypt s peasants. There are four outcomes possible. Another possibility under the scenario of the regime s survival is that there may be a coup of the colonels. there is a deep divide in the opposition. Another way to look at them is that they have bided their time and toned down their real views. or more likely. I would suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood has more potential influence among the Egyptian masses than the Western-oriented demonstrators or Mohamed ElBaradei. but it is not obvious. but a revolution really doesn t depend on what the European Union or Tehran says. First. who is emerging as their leader. As in Iran in 2009.S. the democratic revolution. More important. waiting for the kind of moment provided by Mubarak s succession. but some must have seen the demonstrations as an opportunity. It is certainly not clear that they are weaker than the democratic demonstrators. Egypt s regime can be influenced in this way. A lot of people care what is happening there. In my view. All of them undoubtedly have thoughts and even plans. the demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual. Their interests have far more to do with the state of the Egyptian economy than with the principles of liberal democracy. On the other hand. or what the Europeans think. Obviously. The other element in this uprising is the Muslim Brotherhood. the regime might survive. if focused on democrats. many of which have been quiet under Mubarak s repression. This is not to say that they fomented the demonstrations. the demonstrations might be enough to force Mubarak to resign. It is not clear who will emerge if Mubarak falls. A second possibility is that the demonstrators might force elections in which ElBaradei or someone like him could be elected and Egypt might overthrow the statist model built by Nasser and proceed on the path of democracy. It is a mistake to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood s caution with weakness. as we discussed yesterday. cannot triumph unless it generates broader support. This is particularly the case in the sense that the demonstrators are deeply divided among themselves 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. The consensus of most observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood at this point is no longer a radical movement and is too weak to influence the revolution. and believing that what is happening in Egypt is the result of their conspiracies is nonsense. the usual discussion of what U. allow a replacement for example. the demonstrations might get out of hand and destroy the regime. Many certainly are demanding that.

the U. evolve into something more radical.S. The demilitarisation of the Sinai Peninsula not only protected Israel s southern front. and potentially even Iran at a disadvantage. were at stake. the Muslim Brotherhood must become a dominant political force in Egypt. The pro-Western democratic faction is primarily concerned with domestic . For Iran. There is thus a scenario that would potentially strengthen the radical Islamists while putting the United States. Egypt is the centre of gravity in the Arab world. First. it is unlikely that this scenario would take place.S. no coalition of powers could threaten Israel (excluding the now-distant possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons). it would not welcome competition from Egypt. If the advocates for democracy win. But that s a guess and not a forecast. strategy since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel. The great loser would be Israel. But only some of these outcomes are significant to the world. Sadat s decision to reverse his alliance with the Soviets and form an alliance with the United States undermined the Soviet position in the Mediterranean and in the Arab world and strengthened the United States immeasurably. The fourth possibility is that Egypt will sink into political chaos. The threat was always from Egypt. signed by Menachem Begin with much criticism by the Israeli right. I would bet on the regime stabilising itself and Mubarak leaving because of the relative weakness and division of the demonstrators. they must turn out to be more radical than most observers currently believe they are or they must. Among radical Islamists. Were Egypt to stop that cooperation or become hostile. The first is that the Israeli military is not nearly large enough or strong enough to occupy and control Egypt. The second is that the development of Egypt s military would impose substantial costs on Israel and limit its room for manoeuvre. but not survival. This would not only change the dynamic of the Arab world. Geopolitical Significance Whatever happens matters a great deal to Egyptians. That scenario emerges only if two things happen. and if they elect someone like ElBaradei. Israel fought three wars (1948. and without Egypt in the mix. with power. but Israel would have to deal with two realities. This would not happen quickly. 1967 and 1973) where its very existence was at issue. which the Muslim Brotherhood could win and move forward with an Islamist-oriented agenda. For the United States. such an outcome would be less pleasing. it would reverse U. Second. it meant that the survival of Israel was no longer at stake. strategy would be severely undermined. In all of the wars Israel fought after its treaty with Egypt (the 1982 and 2006 wars in Lebanon) Israeli interests. though it may be content with an Islamist Egypt that acts as an Iranian ally (something that would not be easy to ensure). If Egypt were to abrogate the Camp David Accords and over time reconstruct its military into an effective force. Israel s national security has rested on its treaty with Egypt. If I were forced to choose.The third possibility is that the demonstrators force elections. The most likely path to this would be elections that result in political gridlock in which a viable candidate cannot be elected. an Islamist Egypt would be a strategic catastrophe. Iran is now the emerging centre of radical Islamism. the existential threat to Israel that existed before the treaty was signed would reemerge. the prospect of a radicalised Egypt represents a new lease on life. all for different reasons. The support of Egyptian intelligence after 9/11 was critical in blocking and undermining al Qaeda.

we can see that there are several scenarios under which certain political outcomes would have profound effects on the way the world works. After three decades of Mubarak rule. as hard as it is to imagine. if the regime decided to play the Islamist card. including this one. remained.issues. They were replaced with rows of tanks and armoured personnel carriers carrying regular army soldiers. the geopolitical arrangements would remain unchanged. When Egypt was a proSoviet Nasserite state. 2011 | 2207 GMT PETER MACDIARMID/Getty Images Riot police and protesters clash at the Qasr al-Nil Bridge near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Jan. It is unclear how long this perception will hold. seen as the only real gateway to a post-Mubarak Egypt. There is more to these demonstrations than meets the eye. and try to imagine its connection to the international system. and the outcome is not trivial. as they say. When we look at the political dynamic of Egypt. Stranger things have happened. The situation is. Most of the outcomes I envision leave Egypt pretty much where it is. the world was a very different place than it had been before Nasser. If they win power. the demonstrators demanding Mubarak s exit from the political scene largely welcomed the soldiers. especially as Egyptians are growing frustrated with the rising level of insecurity in the country and the army s limits in patrolling the streets. 29. there could be an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood designed to stabilise the regime. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught. Egypt is one of those countries whose internal politics matter to more than its own citizens. The Egyptian Unrest: A Special Report January 29. the situation could evolve as a Muslim Brotherhood government would. are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter. 28 Day of Rage protests. Despite Mubarak s refusal to step down Jan. Indeed. Similarly. but revolutions. 28 Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the lifeblood of the demonstrators. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets. in doubt. If it was decided that the regime s unpopularity could be mitigated by assuming a more anti-Western and anti-Israeli policy in other words. the geopolitical arrangements would remain in place if the military regime retained power save for one scenario. are themselves secular and would not want to return to the wartime state prior to Camp David. After being overwhelmed in the Jan. the public s positive perception of the military. the . But not all. 28. the world changes again. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. If the Sadat foreign policy changes. Egypt s internal security forces with the anti-riot paramilitaries of the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the forefront were glaringly absent from the streets Jan. a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces from the moderate to the extreme that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they manoeuvre from behind. because that would simply strengthen the military. That should not be surprising. who still number in the tens of thousands in downtown Cairo and in other major cities. albeit on a lesser scale. Unlike their CSF counterparts. When Sadat changed his foreign policy the world changed with it.

an event that led to Mubarak s presidency. taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB s wellestablished social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. the unrest in the streets is unlikely to subside. has been the guarantor of regime stability. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis. For now. and Chief of Staff of the armed forces Lt. the demonstrators view the military as an ally. a spot that had been vacant for the past 30 years. Outgoing intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. Defence Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. The important thing to remember is that the Egyptian military. 29 after a week of intense discussions with senior U. who has long stood by Mubarak. One thing that has become clear in the past several hours is a trend that STRATFOR has been following for some time in Egypt. and a bloodbath in the streets could quickly foil the military s plans and give way to a scenario that groups like the MB quickly could exploit. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping. in 1981. Until Mubarak finally does leave. Considerable strain is building on the only force within the country that stands between order and chaos as radical forces rise. and thus cannot dismiss the threat of a colonel s coup in this shaky transition. Sami Annan. the army must directly shoulder the responsibility of security and contain the unrest on the streets. especially given the historical animosity between the military and the police in Egypt. is now vice president. as the guarantor of the state. whether consciously or not. the military s growing clout in the political affairs of the state. Gen. Now that the political structure of the state is crumbling. More political shuffles are expected. Islamist sympathizers in the junior ranks of the military assassinated his successor. namely. The current regime is a continuation of the political order. . raising the question of just how much more delay from Mubarak the armed forces will tolerate. are facilitating a de facto military takeover of the state. a mere colonel in the armed forces. The standing theory is that the military. are likely managing the political process behind the scenes. and the military appears willing for now to give Mubarak the time to arrange his political exit. officials. But one misfire in the demonstrations. Anwar Sadat. who oversees the Republican Guard. overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952. and therefore. Former air force chief and outgoing civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq. Egypt s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States. This will not be easy. which was established when midranking officers and commanders under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Here again. we question the military s tolerance for Mubarak as long as he is the source fuelling the demonstrations. the military has allowed former military commanders to form civilian institutions to take the lead in matters of political governance but never has relinquished its rights to the state. elections are nowhere near assured. But the military is not a monolithic entity. Israel and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. who worked under Mubarak s command in the air force the most privileged military branch in Egypt has been appointed prime minister and tasked with forming the new government. Over the past several decades. however. since the founding of the modern republic in 1952.S. who returned to Cairo Jan. will manage the current crisis.ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. It cannot shake its history. Meanwhile.

a subset of the wider society. The army is still a disciplined institution with chain of command. The midranking officers have the benefit of having the most direct interaction and thus the strongest links with their military subordinates. 2011 | 2205 GMT AFP/Getty Images Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo in December 2010 Related Special Topic Page . midranking officers could see their superiors as one and the same as Mubarak and his regime. but they face limitations in trying to preserve a regional stability that has existed since 1978. The United States. The Egyptian military is. Israel and others will thus be doing what they can behind the scenes to shape the new order in Cairo. Though long suppressed. but also itself. after all. and many likely fear the utter chaos that would ensue should the military establishment rupture. an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt s modern military. That precedent becomes all the more worrying when the regime itself is in a state of collapse following three decades of iron-fisted rule.The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt s generals today. Mubarak Declines to Run for Re-Election February 1. where there is a significant cross-section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. But there remains a deep-seated fear among the military elite that the historic opening could well include a cabal of colonels looking to address a long-subdued grievance against the state. otherwise those at the top would have purged them. Still. With enough support behind them. These elements are not politically active. those trying to manage the crisis from the top cannot forget that they are presiding over a country with a strong precedent of junior officers leading successful coups. and could use the current state of turmoil to steer Egypt s future. The fate of Egypt lies in the ability of the military not only to manage the streets and the politicians. Signs of such a coup scenario have not yet surfaced. unlike the generals who command and observe from a politically dangerous distance. particularly its foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel.

his second since the Egyptian unrest began the previous week.y The Egypt Unrest: Full Coverage Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Feb. Mubarak said he would use the remainder of his term to oversee the transition of power. 1 he would not seek another term as president in elections slated for September but that he will complete his current term. which means the Egyptian military likely will attempt to force Mubarak to step down before the elections. However. It is currently unclear whether these measures will be considered. He also called on the parliament to amend the Egyptian Constitution s Article 76 (which narrows the pool of potential presidential candidates) and Article 77 (which allows for unlimited presidential terms). The opposition immediately rejected the pronouncement. even this will not likely resolve matters. In a televised national address. Read more: Mubarak Declines to Run for Re-Election | STRATFOR . Unrest is thus likely to continue. as the need to create a neutral caretaker government until elections can be held will be the basis for further struggles between the regime and the opposition. Each political concession offered during this crisis by the Egyptian political establishment which until this point had ruled with absolute authority since the 1950s has only emboldened the opposition.

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