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The Situation in Egypt

The situation in Egypt is a bit more complicated than it is being presenting in the media.  Some are portraying this as a democratic people’s revolution that toppled a dictator, while others are seeing this as a take over by the Muslim Brotherhood.  While either possibility may play out in the long run, right now it is neither.  Egypt has been under the rule of the military for a while.  Mubarak was a former General, as were previous leaders before him.  When one exits, another military figure takes over. Even at their peak, the number of demonstrators never reached a critical mass that could have threatened the regime on its own. The military could have easily squashed this uprising anytime it wanted to, but chose not to. It appears that they used pressure from the protesters to help push Mubarak out.

Mubarak is 82 years old and has cancer. In other words, his rule was nearing an end anyway. I do not think the military liked his plan to have his son succeed him. That would have changed rule by the military as an institution to the rule of a personal dynasty. What is not clear now is how many demonstrators will be satisfied with simply ousting Mubarak. That is the only demand that the diverse protestor groups were united on. Most of the groups, with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood thought highly of the military. Right now no real change in the structure of Egypt’s government has taken place. It is still under military rule with the only difference being that the figurehead at the top is gone. The extent to which the military will move to enact democratic reforms is anybody’s guess at this point. One factor will be the degree to which the people are satisfied simply with Mubarak being removed. At the moment the military’s main concern appears to be to restore stability. They may allow democratic reform if they think that it will help to stabilize the country.

The next question is what will happen if the country does move toward a democratic form of government with free elections. Right now that is a hypothetical question as it is not clear the military will move in that direction unless they have to. The best case scenario would be to move towards democratic reform slowly so that the pro-democracy groups have time to organize. The Muslim Brotherhood only has the strong support of about 15% of the population according to Dr. Walid Phares. The problem is that they are the most organized and control the avenues of communication. An immediate move to free elections would be in their favor. While they are not widely popular, they could use their communications infrastructure to propose an agenda that would probably be accepted by the masses in the absence of a an alternative voice. The pro-democracy forces were the ones who initiated the protests and seem to have broader support. Their problem is that they are not well organized. They have a positive view of the military. The military, at least at the top leadership level, deeply distrusts the Muslim Brotherhood. They will not make the mistake of allowing the MB to gain the reigns of power unless the MB has support among the junior officers that we are not aware of. In that case, the MB could push for a coup within the military and remove the major obstacle to its rule.

The longer the democratic reform takes, the more it favors the democratic reformers rather than the Muslim Brotherhood. I think that it wold be in the military’s interest to oversee a long term move toward reform while helping the democratic reformers to get organized. This would be the best way to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood remains marginalized in Egypt. Egypt is the biggest and most influential country in the Middle East. What happens there will affect the whole region. If true democratic reforms take hold, it would be the biggest imaginable blow to the jihadist movement. This was what the Bush administration meant when they referred to “draining the swamp” in the Middle East. The jihadist movement gains support when they can paint themselves as the champions of the people in the struggle against tyranny. If a genuine democratic reform movement were to take hold across the Middle East, it would take all of the wind out of their sails. In fact, because they would probably oppose such a movement, they would come to be viewed as enemy number one. This is the scenario that the setting up of a democratic government in Iraq was aimed at.

The longer the democratic reform takes, the more it favors the democratic reformers rather than the Muslim Brotherhood.  I think that it would be in the military’s interest to oversee a long term move toward reform while helping the democratic reformers to get organized.  This would be the best way to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood remains marginalized in Egypt.  Egypt is the biggest and most influential country in the Middle East.  What happens there will affect the whole region.  If true democratic reforms take hold, it would be the biggest imaginable blow to the jihadist movement.  This was what the Bush administration meant when they referred to “draining the swamp” in the Middle East.  The jihadist movement gains support when they can paint themselves as the champions of the people in the struggle for tyranny.  If a genuine  democratic reform movement were to take hold across the Middle East, it would take all of the wind out of their sails.  In fact, because they would probably oppose such a movement, they would come to be viewed as enemy number one.  This is the scenario that the setting up of a democratic government in Iraq was aimed at.

The alternative that the Muslim Brotherhood is hoping for is a phony movement for democratic reform led by them.  That would start in Egypt and spread across the Middle East.  Other groups like Al Qaeda do not agree with the MB’s plan of subversion via the democratic process and favor violent jihad, so it is not just the forces of democratic reform that are divided.  In any case, this situation REALLY needs watching.

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