Some thoughts on the situation in Egypt

There is a battle for the control of the Middle East. The US-led camp, which includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt is locked in battle against the Iran-led camp which includes Syria, Hizbullah-led Lebanon, Hamas, and Qatar. A new Egypt, without Mubarak, significantly weakens the US camp, regardless of what type of government emerges in Cairo. The Egyptian capital was, in the words of Aaron David Miller, America’s “first stop” on Mideast trips; the U.S. built its Mideast policy around Mubarak. Now American power in the region is on the wane, and its staunch ally has been deposed. Turkey’s strengthening ties with Iran and Syria is another significant setback for the US camp. Jordan, sensing that it may be on the losing side, has been gradually warming ties with Iran to hedge its bets. And the muddled, rumor-filled Saudi succession battle does not paint the Kingdom as a coherent, rising regional power. The events in Egypt have quickened the processes in the Middle East. Israel, increasingly isolated, is extremely worried about what the Egyptian uprising will mean for its security. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about a democratic uprising in Egypt when that country’s institutions are not perhaps ready for true democracy, and where the Muslim Brotherhood, determined to destroy Israel, will play a significant role in any new government. In the meantime, Iran’s nuclear program continues; Iraq remains fragmented and at the mercy of Iranian designs; and Lebanon has all but fallen into Iran’s orbit.

The ingredients that led to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt can also be found in Jordan and Syria, but in the latter countries, successful popular political revolt will be harder to achieve. They are also much smaller countries with smaller populations which are easier to control, whereas Egypt has some 82 million inhabitants. There is less of a financial divide between rich and poor in Jordan, and King Abdullah has already moved to head off protests there. Syria’s President Bashar Assad has removed the ban on Facebook and Youtube in his country, and some might say that he has done so to better track dissidents and social media activists.

Tectonic changes are slow to see, but when they burst out in the open, they produce huge earthquakes. What we’re seeing in Egypt is one such earthquake, and its ramifications on the region will be immense. It is finally, indisputably correct to say that there is no such thing as a status quo, reality changes all the time, even if you can’t see it on the surface, things are always going on under the surface. Power in the Arab world has shifted from regimes and armies to the populations, and this transformation has been achieved through the advent and spread of social media.

The peace accord between Israel and Egypt is a strategic asset of the highest order for Israel, and the Egyptian army. The former for obvious reasons, and the latter because it does not want a war with Israel, and does not want to do anything to jeopardize its annual US military aid. There has been three decades of peace between Israel and Egypt. This has allowed Israel to recalibrate its military force structure to deal with threats from the north, and to slash its defense budget. While there is no sense in Israel that the Egyptian military will turn on Israel any time soon, it is assumed that any new government will be less cooperative than Mubarak’s regime. Meanwhile, the Egyptian and Israeli militaries are in excellent contact over developments. While the IDF has formulated contingencies for the “day after Mubarak”, there is no serious concern at this moment that Egypt will once again become an ‘enemy state’.

0 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the situation in Egypt

  1. Dear Amir,

    I learned just today of your resignation for health reasons. I’m sure you tllk the wisest step, and hope and trust that you will do everything necessary to get back into perfect shape. I know this is possible because I have seen how a dear friend, at the age of 40, after a massive heart attack requiring 3 stents (is that the term? – wedges to keep the heart’s arteries open) followed a very strict regime of exercise, diet and medicine in coordination with his doctor, and returned to leading a normal, active life professionally. (He also got married meanwhile!)

    It’s been a great pleasure to work with you, and I hope we will remain in contact. I intend to keep up with your blog and your thoughts. And perhaps exchange some with you every now and then.

    Your article about Egypt is very interesting. I can add that some of my friends at the Vatican consider the Egyptian populace as very secular, and easygoing about religion, therefore not about to accept a leading role by the Muslim brotherhood. Let’s hope they are right. They do consider Egypt’s fate to be symptomatic for the rest of the Mediterranean, an example that might become a template for most other countries — with the probable exception of Libya….

    Regarding attitudes to Israel, however, the picture changes. Even secular Egyptians follow the Arab masses in their fixed idea that Israeli policy is an obstacle to peace because – according to them – it has not permitted, is not interested in, Palestinian statehood. My Arab colleagues here at the Foreign Press Association all, unanimousdly, feel that the maintenance of Egypt’s peace accords with Isrtael, as well as the attitude of future Mediterranean democracies will depend on this issue.

    Some Israeli and Palestinian researchers on foreign policy strategy with whom I have spoken recently seem to feel that the terms of a peace agreement are already spelled out. All that is missing is the signature of both parties — no further negotiations being necessary. I’d love to hear your comments about this — as well as your opinion on what immediate steps can be taken by Israel and the international community to ward off a sea of future trouble with the Mediterranean’s new governments – as well as with the two so-called governments of the Palestinian people – Fatah and, unfortunately, Hamas.

    Do you feel that a peace agreement and the creation of an independent Palestinian State should be a priority in Israel’s foreign policy, of course in the context of accompanying political and military strategies to ensure Israel’s security in the long-range – not just immediate – future? Could Israel take an effective first step at this moment? Would this, in your opinion, take the wind out of the Iranian camp’s use of the Palestinian issue as a war cry against Israel?

    Much love and good wishes for a speedy recovery — and also Mazeltov for your impending wedding.

    Lisa (Palmieri-Billig)
    (JPost Rome correspondent)

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