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’.