BREAKING: Mubarak to step down, xfer power to military junta. UPDATE: xferring authority but staying on until September

Fox News reports:

President Hosni Mubarak will step down shortly and transfer authority to the Egyptian Higher Council of the Armed Forces, a senior Egyptian official confirmed to Fox News on Thursday.

The group is comprised of the minister of defense, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi — who stands atop the military hierarchy — along with the military’s chief of staff, the chief of operations, and commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Air Defenses.

The source pointed out that the transfer of power will occur “outside of the constitutional framework” because under the Egyptian constitution, Mubarak’s resignation ordinarily would mean that the speaker of the house would become president and elections would be held within 60 days. […] The source did not know how long the military would reign nor what mechanism or timetable would be put in place to end the military’s administration of power, but said that “when (the transfer of power from Mubarak) does happen, they will presumably indicate the direction of the country.”

The source drew parallels with the Army coup of 1952, and the removal of King Faroukh, noting that it took six months before the monarchy was dissolved and the modern republic formed.

[…] The source predicted, without certainty, that Mubarak will retire to Sharm el-Sheikh and lead an “isolated” existence.

The official also expressed criticism of the Obama administration and the American press for short-changing the reform process that Mubarak and Suleiman had begun to put in place, and which the official claimed had been moving along “fine” in “very rapid” fashion.

As a case in point, the official cited the committee to amend the constitution that had been formed, including with opposition membership, and which he said had agreed swiftly on the six article[s] of the constitution to be reformed.

The official said the “constant requests for more measures, to be undertaken more quickly, more rapidly … the constant push” and “lack of recognition” for the reform measures being undertaken in good faith all conspired to create a “national consensus” in Egypt that forced Mubarak’s ouster.

“They did not give too much room for the (reform) process to move forward,” the official said of the Obama administration.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Mubarak announced that, while he is transferring authority to his newly-minted VP Omar Suleiman, he will remain president until September.

Jerry Pournelle on Egypt

Jerry Pournelle:

It’s getting more clear: the Egyptian Army is waiting things out. The US official policy is idealism: the US supports democracy and freedom, and opposes oppression, and —

The realistic appraisal is a bit different. And exactly what is democracy? The Egyptian middle class doesn’t think that a modern country chases a President into exile at the demands of a mob. Neither does the Army. The Army doesn’t want to fire on the populace. The silly test of crowd resolve, a bunch of civil servants and tourist guide union people “armed” with riding corps riding into the square, showed that the crowd wouldn’t disperse without serious action by the Army. Having the cops shoot people wasn’t in the cards. The Army told Mubarak to retire, with honor, and he has agreed to; luckily for all his term ends shortly anyway. The mob refuses to disperse; the Army waits. It hasn’t yet said it is time to go home, but many Egyptians would like to have an economy again. The feeling among many of the middle class is “He will retire, his son won’t run for office, well have a technocrat as the next President. What more do we want? We don’t like the Jews, but we don’t want another war either.”

There will be elements who want to provoke the Army, and there are reports of shooting at the bridges.

The Al Jazeera footage shows night fighting with night sights on weapons; that’s probably the police. It wasn’t indiscriminate firing. Unlikely to be the Army.

Assuming that things don’t boil, Mubarak will leave in the fall. With military honors, and he will take up residence somewhere near government house, probably with a role much like Clinton has.

That will be in Fall. There is enough time to have some organization of a “loyal opposition” and that will probably happen. Meanwhile there are food riots across the Arab world, and the US continues to subsidize burning corn in automobiles so we can avoid importing oil from countries that pay for wheat and maize.

Read also his earlier entries on the same page. But do not worry. The country is in the very best of hands.

UPDATE: Clarice Feldman (via Insty): The Incredible Lightness of Obama.

The Egyptian, an 82-year-old with terminal cancer, easily bested the community organizer, the man elected by people who quite clearly confused the last presidential election with an American idol contest. While many who elected the American president probably do not yet realize it, it is lucky for them that he lost the showdown, for had he not, the results would have created worldwide havoc and devastation.

And also:

The man who in 2009 in Cairo said, “So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed on one nation by any other” was now dictating to Mubarak the kind of government Egypt should have and when it should have it.  Mubarak noted only the obvious: that if he stepped down immediately, the situation would devolve into chaos.  The rulers of Egypt have a stake in its continued existence which supersedes Obama’s adolescent moral preening.  Had Obama any real interest in democracy in Egypt, he would have followed Bush’s lead and done something to help bring that about before this.[…]

I think it’s a good rule of thumb that whenever Obama begins a statement with “Let me be clear,” he means quite the opposite of whatever follows.  And someone might whisper in his ear that if you run around the world bowing deeply before foreign rulers and undermining your country’s moral position and standing in the world, you cannot expect to have your imperious demands be taken seriously abroad.


Egypt: a letter from Salim Mansour

Salim Mansour writes the following dispirited letter to Claire Berlinski (via Insty):

Since I do not have an opportunity to write in public more than one column per week, I am limited to what I can say. Extremely distressed by the crew in Washington, and in most European capitals. Media is so corrupted by left-leaning thinking that there is not much of an analysis to be expected in the media that is now competing with facebook, twitters, etc. The dumbing down of thinking is itself a huge problem the West is facing now as it tries pathetically to undertstand/explain politics and history of other cultures when it no longer has faith in its own civilizational values. I despair, and so I follow Samuel Pepys who confined himself to his diaries while London burned and I am trying to devote my time to reading and writing of my own (that of course I might not be able to publish, and even if published few will read).

I am more convinced now, as I wasn’t when Paul Kennedy wrote about the rise and fall of great powers, that the West has gone over the tipping point in its terminal decline. That intelligent people, or people who claim to be intelligent, (I have in mind the talking heads in the U.S. media such as Chris Matthews or Fareed Zakaria) cannot make the difference between the sham of the Muslim Brotherhood talking about freedom and democracy and the generic thirst in man to be free. These are the people who have like the Bourbons learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They are glibly about to put the Lenins of our time into trains heading for [he means St. Petersburgs] of our time, they find nothing odd that they are pushing for the Muslim Brotherhood to be taken into governing when everything needs to be done to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out even as one carefully negotiate the long historic transition of Arab societies from tribal autorcracy and military dictatorships to representative rule and constitutionally limited government. I read you when I can, and I wish that you and others like you were closer to the main media control in the West, or in government.

Read also Claire’s response. Of course, the mutual gratification society (I hope that this is a more printable word than “circlej***”)  in the MSM does not truly believe in anything more than in the illusion of their own intellectual and moral superiority.

Spengler on Egypt: “It’s the price of wheat, stupid”

… so what do developments in Egypt have to do with the price of tea in Asia wheat on the worldwide market?

“Spengler” is the pen name for an erstwhile investment banker at Bank of America who is also a senior editor at First Things. Actually, his article, “Food and failed Arab states“, is a lot more nuanced than my title, and a must-read despite its length.

Even Islamists have to eat. It is unclear whether President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will survive, or whether his nationalist regime will be replaced by an Islamist, democratic, or authoritarian state. What is certain is that it will be a failed state. Amid the speculation about the shape of Arab politics to come, a handful of observers, for example economist Nourel Roubini, have pointed to the obvious: Wheat prices have almost doubled in the past year.

Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, beholden to foreign providers for nearly half its total food consumption. Half of  Egyptians live on less than $2 a day. Food comprises almost half the country’s consumer price index, and much more than half of spending for the poorer half of the country. This will get worse, not better.

Not the destitute, to be sure, but the aspiring and frustrated young, confronted the riot police and army on the streets of Egyptian cities last week. The uprising in Egypt and Tunisia were not food riots; only in Jordan have demonstrators made food the main issue. Rather, the jump in food prices was the wheat-stalk that broke the camel’s back. The regime’s weakness, in turn, reflects the dysfunctional character of the country. 35% of all Egyptians, and 45% of Egyptian women can’t read.

The main cause, as he explains, is actually the growing prosperity of the big Asian countries: as their denizens become better off, they add more meat to their diet, and it takes about 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.

In this case, Asian demand has priced food staples out of the Arab budget. […] Asians are rich enough, moreover, to pay a much higher price for food whenever prices spike due to temporary supply disruptions, as at the moment.

Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians and Yemenis are not. Episodes of privation and even hunger will become more common. The miserable economic performance of all the Arab states, chronicled in the United Nations’ Arab Development Reports, has left a large number of Arabs so far behind that they cannot buffer their budget against food price fluctuations.

Earlier this year, after drought prompted Russia to ban wheat exports, Egypt’s agriculture minister pledged to raise food production over the next ten years to 75% of consumption, against only 56% in 2009. Local yields are only 18 bushels per acre, compared to 30 to 60 for non-irrigated wheat in the United States, and up 100 bushels for irrigated land.

The trouble isn’t long-term food price inflation: wheat has long been one of the world’s bargains. The International Monetary Fund’s global consumer price index quadrupled in between 1980 and 2010, while the price of wheat, even after the price spike of 2010, only doubled in price. What hurts the poorest countries, though, isn’t the long-term price trend, though, but the volatility.

People have drowned in rivers with an average depth of two feet. It turns out that China, not the United States or Israel, presents an existential threat to the Arab world, and through no fault of its own: rising incomes have gentrified the Asian diet, and – more importantly – insulated Asian budgets from food price fluctuations. Economists call this “price elasticity.” Americans, for example, will buy the same amount of milk even if the price doubles, although they will stop buying fast food if hamburger prices double. Asians now are wealthy enough to buy all the grain they want.

If wheat output falls, for example, due to drought in Russia and Argentina, prices rise until demand falls. The difference today is that Asian demand for grain will not fall, because Asians are richer than they used to be. Someone has to consume less, and it will be the people at the bottom of the economic ladder, in this case the poorer Arabs.

[…] Wheat supply dropped by only 2.4% between 2009 and 2010 – and the wheat price doubled. That’s because affluent Asians don’t care what they pay for grain. Prices depend on what the last (or “marginal”) purchaser is willing to pay for an item (what was the price of the last ticket on the last train out of Paris when the Germans marched on June 14, 1940?). Don’t blame global warming, unstable weather patterns: wheat supply has been fairly reliable. The problem lies in demand.

Obviously, if food constitutes 50% or more of your family budget (as appears to be the case for many poor Egyptians), doubling of food prices means privation if not outright hunger. “Spengler” is rather pessimistic, but does have one concrete policy recommendation that sounds like the most sensible thing I have read so far:

Under the title The Failed Muslim States to Come (Asia Times Online December 16, 2008), I argued that the global financial crisis then at its peak would destabilize the most populous Muslim countries[…] I was wrong. It wasn’t the financial crisis that undermined dysfunctional Arab states, but Asian prosperity. The Arab poor have been priced out of world markets. There is no solution to Egypt’s problems within the horizon of popular expectations. Whether the regime survives or a new one replaces it, the outcome will be a disaster of, well, biblical proportions.

The best thing the United States could do at the moment would be to offer massive emergency food aid to Egypt out of its own stocks, with the understanding that President Mubarak would offer effusive public thanks for American generosity. This is a stopgap, to be sure, but it would pre-empt the likely alternative. Otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood will preach Islamist socialism to a hungry audience. That also explains why Mubarak just might survive. Even Islamists have to eat. The Iranian Islamists who took power in 1979 had oil wells; Egypt just has hungry mouths.

Read the whole thing

Egypt, Chris Matthews, and the changing face of prostitution as well as politics

Insty does not shy away from “risque” topics such as prostitution, and via him I found this article by Sudhir Venkatesh on the changing face of the world’s oldest profession. When I saw the name I just had to read it — Sudhir Venkatesh, now an assistant professor of sociology at Columbia, was the graduate student of Steven D. Levitt whose “embedded research” on the economics of Chicago crack gangs made for one of the best parts of the “Freakonomics” book.

Basically, what is happening is that technological change increasingly enables the “ladies of the night” to cut out the middleman and recruit clients directly. This is rendering an increasing number of pimps unemployed, and, with few marketable skills, they have a lot of trouble finding a more respectable career.

May I suggest “MSM political journo” as an alternative? On the occasion of the Ronald Reagan centennial, I cannot help quoting the Gipper: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” (Remarks at a business conference in Los Angeles, March 2, 1977)

And prostitutes are to pimps like political hustlers are to… their enablers in the MSM. Such as Chris Matthews, one of the chief pimps of B-HO, who is now finally losing his tingle over the 0bama admin’s handling of Egypt, and declared himself “ashamed to be an American” [You don’t have to be ashamed that you are an American, Chrissy — it’s enough that I am 😉 I am almost equally ashamed to say I largely agree with Chrissy on the topic at hand, if only owing to the Law of Broken Clocks.]

Of course, sadly for him and the likes of him, blogs and social media there too allow the “clientele” to connect directly and cut out the middleman…

Walter Russell Mead: The Egyptian revolution goes off-script

Water Russell Mead (see also his earlier entry here) blogs on Egypt:

The Egyptian government has survived the first crisis of the revolution and both the government and the protesters are moving to a new trial of strength.  Surviving the first blast of popular fury — and of international criticism — is an important milestone for the government.  The longer it can hold out, the more likely it is that the core power centers of the Egyptian regime — the ‘deep state’ as the Turks say — will survive the Mubarak era and dominate the country for some time to come.

I am not sure what to wish for.  The current Egyptian system in many ways has overstayed its welcome and the economic, political and social development of the country has been seriously affected.  Revolutions, though, however thoroughly justified, have their drawbacks.  Both the major revolutions of the English speaking world, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776, ended unusually well.  Those revolutions, however, were the exception that proves the rule.  The outcome of other revolutions has been less unambiguously good.

The French Revolution, for example, quickly degenerated into the Reign of Terror and culminated in the military dictatorship of the “Emperor” Napoleon and a generation of brutal war.  The liberals of the February Revolution in Russia lost out to the mindlessly bloody and destructive Bolsheviks ten months later, and Russia plunged into an unspeakable civil war and the genocidal horrors of Leninist/Stalinist rule.  China’s revolutionary communists killed scores of millions of people through their grotesque mixture of brutality, fanaticism and incompetence.  The clergy of Iran turned on their allies, leading the country into the horrifying and pointless war with Iraq and establishing a regime worse than anything the Shah could have dreamed of.

I do not know what will happen in Egypt; no one does.  Most revolutions do not go on to the radical stage; they fail at an earlier era.  If the forces of order withstand the first dramatic assaults, they are often well positioned to grind their enemies down.  The Revolution of 1848 failed almost everywhere in Europe — except in France when it brought in another dictatorship and another Napoleon.

Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo – February 2, 2011 (twitpic/AJE Live)

But whether the Egyptian Revolution succeeds or fails, it does not seem headed for 1688 or 1776.  The liberal and enlightened forces in Egypt, real and inspiring though they are (and I’ve met many wonderful Egyptians), are too weak and too inexperienced to have much chance of holding onto power when and if the government crumbles away.  Egypt’s problems are too daunting, its militants too strong and too well organized, its civil society is too deeply divided between Islamists and liberals, and its civic and religious life has been too deeply wounded to make the emergence of moderate, forward-looking and constructive governance look likely right now.  There is nothing wrong with hoping that something better may come — and I do — but hope is not a plan.

It is generally difficult in revolutionary situations to interpret events clearly.  Through the smoke and noise, it appears at this point that while the personal power of President Mubarak has eroded, the heart of the military power structure in the country is still intact.  President Mubarak appears to be negotiating for a dignified exit (perhaps including some financial and legal guarantees) while all around him the Egyptian power structures are trying to ensure their own survival at a chaotic time.

At the moment there is a standoff.  Mubarak didn’t flee in a helicopter, the junior officers and the troops have so far remained loyal to the generals, and the police retreated but they have not disappeared.  The television and radio stations are firmly in government hands; the streets belong to the revolution.[…]

In revolution, momentum matters.  In a poor country like Egypt, mass demonstrations cannot continue indefinitely.  The middle class can stay in the streets, but the poorer people need to feed their families.  A few days’ pay is all that stands between many families in Egypt and hunger.  Beyond that, the kind of excitement that gives people the courage to defy authorities and risk death depends on an emotional surge that tends to fade as time drags on.

The Egyptian authorities needed to stall for time and slow down the clock.  That they seem to have done; if they can hold the line, the regime (though not the Mubarak family) has a reasonable prospect of riding out the storm or of forcing a longer term stalemate.

Stalled revolutions often produce temporary, halfway regimes in which elements of the old power structure and leaders of the popular protest movements — neither strong enough to rule without the other — try to govern together.  Both still hope to gain (or hold on to) total control, so they are rivals as much as they are partners in government.  These arrangements are extremely unstable; hard-liners in both camps are waiting for the opportunity to destroy their opponents and gain exclusive power.

There is no iron law about how this process works out.  Sometimes the old regime recovers; the unrest gradually dies down, the army stays loyal and the day comes when the pre-revolutionary regime (often the same forces with a new leader) reasserts itself.  This happened over much of Europe when the revolutions of 1848 fizzled out.  It happened again after World War One when communist attempts to seize power in countries like Germany and Hungary led to the return of conservative rule.

Sometimes the revolutionary momentum continues and ultimately the moderate and liberal elements of a coalition government lose power to the hard line revolutionary forces.  This is what happened when the October Revolution in Russia threw out the liberals and moderates and put the Bolsheviks in charge.  It is what happened in Cuba and Iran.  It happened in France when the moderates (like Lafayette) were defeated by the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror got underway.

In these situations, Americans almost always want the moderates to win.  Those are usually the people whose values are closest to our own, and with whom we can likely do business.  Unfortunately, moderates are usually too weak, too disorganized and frequently too idealistic to hold on to power in chaotic and violent times.  The hard liners — people on the ‘right’ like the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran or like Lenin and his colleagues on the left — are often much tougher, more focused and can bring more effective forces into the field than the liberal social reformers like the Marquis de Lafayette.

Protest sign in Cairo (Twitpic/elihuh2001)

For many years now, there has been a quiet tug of war between the United States and the Mubarak government.  Americans wanted Mubarak to nurture and support moderate and liberal-minded leaders and groups so that when this moment of crisis finally and inevitably came, the moderate forces would be well equipped to offer the country constructive leadership.  The Egyptian government generally resisted; it felt that as long as the choice seemed to be Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood, the US would continue to back the government, however unhappy we were with it.  Despite that refusal, the US (and many European countries who have also engaged with Egyptian civil society) continued to do everything it could to encourage the rise of a liberal and modernizing movement in Egypt.  We are about to find out how successful this was.

One reason that revolutions fail is that the middle classes can ultimately become more frightened of the lower classes and of continued disorder than they are of the government.  This could happen in Egypt; small business needs order and municipal services.  Many of the liberal, secular Egyptians leading some of the early demonstrations could be spooked by signs of Iranian style Islamic militancy — or any kind of forcible redistribution of property and mob violence.

The Egyptian army has been the most important political force in the country since Egypt’s last big revolution drove out the odious King Farouk in 1952.  During all that time the army has seen the Muslim Brotherhood as a rival and an enemy.  Will these two ancient enemies now kiss and make up?  Will they enter a marriage of convenience in which each partner seeks to slip poison into the partner’s food?  Will either the army or the Brotherhood so dominate the street that one takes power alone?  Or, if power between them seems fairly equally balanced, will they vie for the support of Egypt’s small but wealthy and influential group of liberals — not to mention the country’s significant Christian minority, the Copts?

We can be sure that these scenarios and others are whirling in the minds of the leaders of Egypt’s political forces right now.  Nobody knows how it will all work out.  It could be hours, weeks or even months before we have a clear sense of Egypt’s new direction.  One more push from the demonstrators could break the military’s will to resist — or the wave could crest and the fever break.

An important factor in Egypt’s future will be the degree to which the country depends on a strong relationship with the outside world.  Egypt is not a major oil producer and its 85 million people need more than the waters of the Nile to live the good life.  Revenues from the Suez Canal, tourism and a continuing flow of foreign investment are all essential if Egypt’s economy is to provide hope for its people.  Egypt’s military does not want and cannot afford a major arms race with Israel — nor could any new Egyptian government manage the consequences of yet another war.  Egypt is no Libya, Iran or Venezuela: it cannot afford the kind of irresponsible foreign policy those countries indulge in — though no doubt there are some Egyptians who would like to give it a try.

The only thing in all this I am certain of is that the Egyptian Revolution, however it ends, will not be the only revolution in the 21st century.  We live in a revolutionary world and governments in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe and Latin America are out of touch with public opinion and overwhelmed by economic and social forces that they cannot manage.   Many heads of state and many army staffs are likely to go through what President Mubarak and the Egyptian military are going through this week.

Read the whole thing.

Egypt: the view of Egyptian scientists

Michael Harms, director of the Cairo office of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische AustauschDienst, i.e., German Academic Exchange Service), offers a view from the Egyptian capital in an interview with Nature magazine. (Hat tip: Mrs. F2; emphasis mine)

Where are you now?

My team, as well as 55 German DAAD fellows, have been camping here in the office since Friday. We’re located in the diplomatic quarter on the Zamalek Nile Island, just a few kilometers from Cairo’s main square downtown and the centre of the protests. The situation here is still very critical: there are armed guys patrolling the streets, and there are militia everywhere.

What is the mood among Egyptian academics?

They basically share the same views with the majority of the protesters: a deep fury about the Mubarak regime. Most intellectuals say the regime is unfair and corrupt. But nobody really has a program or a vision for the future, nor are there any common goals for the time to come.

The many academics I have spoken to do not think there is currently a political force which would be capable of unifying the country. Certainly they don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood [a leading political opposition group] to do it. There is also a widespread feeling that Western-style democracy is not a panacea for Egypt. But few have a good idea of what a political system that would suit Egypt should look like.

How would you describe Egyptian science?

There are many problems. Universities are critically under-funded and academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists. You just can’t expect world-class research under these circumstances. […] Some 750,000 students graduate each year and flood the labor market, yet few find suitable jobs – one reason for the current wave of protests.

But there are some good scientists here, particularly those who have been able to study and work abroad for a while. The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education has started some promising initiatives. For example, in 2007 it created the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), a Western-style funding agency. And Egypt is quite strong in renewable energies and, at least in some universities, in cancer research and pharmaceutical research.

Read the whole thing. And I cannot recommend this piece I linked yesterday enough: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution: An on-the-ground narrative by Sam Tadros



Kabuki theater in Egypt? An analysis

[On screen: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution: An on-the-ground narrative by Sam Tadros, via @NROcorner]

The unfolding events in Egypt have made me wonder whether we are not watching an elaborate kabuki perf0rmance, as I tweeted earlier in the day.

I am not talking about the anti-Mubarak protestors, mind you, but about the response. Suppose I were a senior Egyptian army officer (the army being the only institution in Egypt that enjoys wide respect) and I were thinking like a macchiavellist in the Middle Eastern mold.  What would I do?

  • I would let the protest swell to the point where Mubarak clearly can’t hang on to power anymore, let alone transfer it to his son (which would be a recipe for suckage).
  • I would make sure the army appears to be winking a friendly eye towards the protesters
  • Once Mubarak starts backtracking (in typical “too little too late”) fashion, I’d let the army disappear for a bit
  • Then pro-Mubarak thugs come beating the protesters up, and the
  • And… the cavalry comes racing in (i.e., the army) to “restore order”.
  • Mubarak gets sent into the desert as a scapegoat, a senior army or intelligence figure becomes the new strongman, some sops get thrown to the protesters, and…
  • … fundamentally the same regime, with a different figurehead, continues to rule Egypt.

Far-fetched? You decide. And bad as this outcome may be, in the warped Middle East reality it may actually be preferable over the alternative (which is a government dominated or co-opted by the Islamists). Would that there were another way, that somehow led to true democracy rather than “one man, one vote, one time”…

[Egypt:] “…Confusion will be my epitaph/As I crawl a cracked and broken path/If we make it we can all sit back and laugh/But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying…”


Barry Rubin: Whole world gone nuts, so why shouldn’t Egypt?

Barry Rubin:

First, the White House is now calling for a smooth transition in Egypt. In other words, after one week of not-so-gigantic demonstrations, President Barack Obama is openly calling for the downfall of a 60-year-old regime that has been allied with the United States for about 40 years in the most important country in the Arab world.

It’s one thing for the president to urge moderation, no violence, and efforts at compromise. It’s another to push the Egyptian government out of power and possibly usher in a new era of catastrophe for the Middle East and the world.

Couldn’t the U.S. government wait a bit and see what happens? Couldn’t it express public support for the regime and privately urge reforms and a change of personnel? Doesn’t it have any sense of the danger of anarchy or anti-American forces coming to power in Egypt?

It could, of course, be that the US intelligence services know things we don’t know about “the day after”, and that Washington can afford wanting to be seen as being on the right side of history. I am afraid that interpretation is too charitable, however.

Yet on Fox News, the usually astute Charles Krauthammer was predicting that in the next couple of days the Egyptian army would give Mubarak the final push and put forward an alternative leader in order to preserve its own position. This could be one scenario in which a (G-d forbid) Muslim Brotherhood regime could be forestalled.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be an Islamist regime. It can be an Islamist-radical nationalist government with a moderate front man. The outcome could make Iran’s revolution look like a picnic. While that last sentence is perhaps excessively alarmist, it is intended to wake up people from this daydream of Egypt becoming a stable, moderate, democratic state given the actual situation in Egypt.

Second, naivete has reached epidemic proportions. What sets me off here as an example is the Washington Post which, under the headline “Muslim Brotherhood says it is only a minor player in Egyptian protests,” tells us about this group. Of course, it says it is not important. Just as the Big Bad Wolf wore granny’s clothes — “All the better to eat you.” Why should the Western media pick up the revolutionary Islamists’ disinformation themes?

In fact, and I’m not exaggerating, the article tells us that the Brotherhood is no threat and accuses it of wimping out:

It is not the organization of radical jihadists that it is sometimes made out to be. But its caution in dealing with Mubarak has made it appear recently that it is more concerned with protecting itself than with improving the nation.

The article tells us two historical facts about the Brotherhood: it was inspired by the YMCA and was brutally repressed by the Egyptian government in the 1950s.

Sigh. And what does it leave out? That it seeks to transform Egypt into an Islamist state, reduce the Christians to third-class citizens (they are already second-class citizens), do away with rights for women, impose sharia law, drive America out of the Middle East, and wage a war of genocide against Israel.Oh, and then there’s the history of the Brotherhood: it was financed by the Nazis from the 1930s on and tried to deliver Egypt to them in World War Two, used the Nazi weapons it had been given in 1942 to try to destroy Israel in the 1948 war, had a terrorist wing and assassinated a number of officials including an Egyptian prime minister, was repressed because it tried to kill President Gamal Abdel Nasser, supports terrorism not only against Israel but also U.S. forces in Iraq, and has a current leader who calls for a jihad against the United States.

Has anyone in the Western media or governments ever read anything from Brotherhood leaders’ speeches or publications? Apparently not. In fact, regarding the media I have seen zero evidence that it has any idea what these people say every day.[…]

Let’s next listen to A[r]i Shavit of Haaretz, expressing not only what Israelis think but in this case also what all of the Arabs are thinking:

Obama’s betrayal of Hosni Mubarak is not just the betrayal of a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation. Obama’s betrayal of Mubarak symbolizes the betrayal of every strategic ally in the Third World. Throughout Asia, Africa and South America, leaders are now looking at what is going on between Washington and Cairo.

Everyone grasps the message: America’s word is worthless; an alliance with America is unreliable; American has lost it. A result of this understanding will be a turn toward China, Russia and regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Brazil….The second result of this insight will be a series of international conflagrations that will result from the loss of America’s deterrent power. But the general result will be America’s rapid disappearance as a superpower….The policy setback which Washington will experience will be no less dramatic than the regime debacle which Cairo is experiencing.

This is the course of the Obama administration and what I’ve been warning about since it took office. Now the moment of anti-glory has arrived. Who is dumb enough to want to be a U.S. ally under these conditions?

Let me stress that the Mubarak regime has been repressive and corrupt. It is understandable that the people of Egypt want more freedom and a better life. So did the people of Russia in 1917, those of Germany in 1932 (they had a republic but most of them hated it), those of Iran in 1978, and those in the Gaza Strip in 2006. One can only sympathize with their situation.

But we are tottering on the edge of catastrophe here and the Obama administration is pushing Egypt into the chasm.

Barry quotes “Cole Porter”: “The world has gone mad today, and good’s bad today.” A much older writer put it diufferently: “Woe unto those that call evil good, and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20)

Egypt: from the Mubarak rain to the El-Baradei gutter?

Muhammad ElBaradei, the toothless feckless nuclear watchpoodle that applied a “see no evil, hear no evil” policy to nuclear inspections on Iran, is now emerging as the opposition leader.And guess what? He’s been endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood (simply called “al-Ikhwan”/”The Brotherhood” in the Arab street). Yesterday I quoted Barry Rubin as pointing out that “Muhammad el-Baradei, leader of the reformist movement, says that if he were to be president he would recognize Hamas as ruler of the Gaza Strip and end all sanctions against it. (See:,1518,705991,00.html)” Of course, Hamas is basically the Palestinian offshoot of the Ikhwan.

The Jerusalem Post also notes that the mood of the protests does turn anti-American and anti-Israeli of late. Jerusalem has wisely avoided commenting on events, but Fox News today interviewed former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman, who basically expressed his support for the Mubarak regime as he fears that any replacement will be dominated by the Ikhwan.

El-Baradei is looking like the Egyptian version of Alexander Kerensky (“no enemies to the left!”) at best, and outright in bed with the Ikhwan at worst.

It is a measure of just how dysfunctional Arab autocracies are that Mubarak’s replacement by former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as an alternative strongman might be the least unpalatable of the actual alternatives. (Sure, a secular democratic regime would be the best for everybody, but this is looking like a longshot at this stage. I dearly hope events prove me wrong on this one.)



Egypt’s January revolution: Echoes of Russia’s February revolution?

At C2 we are following the events in Egypt with great interest. Egypt’s current regime is of the typical Arab authoritarian variety, and I can wholly sympathize with the desire of the Egyptians to give it the heave-ho. A loud chorus has been going up for 0bama to call for regime change in Egypt, which he so far has been avoiding. Yet none other than John Bolton (on Fox News), hardly a shrinking violet, reminds us that  there is one thing worse than authoritarianism, and that is totalitarianism. [UPDATE: the distinction, as defined by Jeane Kirkpatrick, is that while authoritarian regimes “merely” try to control and/or punish the behavior of their subjects, totalitarian ones  seek to control their thoughts as well.]

The Russians under the Czar figured nothing could be worse than the autocracy of the Czar. In the February Revolution they got rid of him, and good riddance it was. However, others were waiting in the wings, and in the October Revolution they grabbed their chance.

Historical parallels are imperfect, but will this be Egypt’s February Revolution — led by secular democratic groups — only to be followed by a takeover by the totalitarians of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslemi)? And will Mohammed El-Baradei be the Egyptians’ Alexander Kerensky? Caroline Glick notes El-Baradei is rather chummy with the Ikhwan, just like Kerensky had a “no enemies to the left!” policy.

Isser at IsraNed comments on copycat demonstrations in Jordan, calling for reforms, lower food prices, and an end to the peace treaty with Israel. He sees an “encirclement” of Israel in progress, as the end of peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will mean a solid ring of enemy states around her from the Mediterranean to the Mediterranean.

Barry Rubin, director of a Middle-East analysis think tank at Bar-Ilan University, is interviewed here, and is thoroughly worried.

It is tempting to see this as a revolution that will bring down the regime. But Egypt is not Tunisia. And while the demonstrations are passionate it is not clear that the numbers of participants are huge. If the elite and the army hold together they could well prevail, perhaps by removing Mubarak to save the regime. We should be cautious in drawing conclusions.[…]

So far the uprising has not been led by the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is the only large organized opposition group. It is hard to see how it would not be the leading force after a while. The leadership would have to decide that it is facing a revolutionary situation and that this is the moment for an all-out effort. But if it does so and fails there will be a terrible repression and the group will be crushed. It appears that the Brotherhood is joining the protests but has not made its basic decision yet. In the longer term if the regime is completely overthrown I do believe the Brotherhood will emerge as the leader and perhaps the ruler of the country. […]

The chances for democracy and liberalism are different in every country. Tunisia has a good chance because there is a strong middle class and a weak Islamist movement. But in Egypt look at the numbers in the latest Pew poll.

In Egypt, 30 percent like Hizballah (66 percent don’t). 49 percent are favorable toward Hamas (48 percent are negative); and 20 percent smile (72 percent frown) at al-Qaida. Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator.

In Egypt, 82 percent want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77 percent would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; and 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

Asked if they supported “modernizers” or “Islamists” only 27 percent said modernizers while 59 percent said Islamists:

Is this meaningless? Last December 20 I wrote that these “horrifying figures in Egypt…one day might be cited to explain an Islamist revolution there….What this analysis also shows is that a future Islamist revolution in Egypt and Jordan is quite possible.

Let us hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

/Thanks to littleoldlady, Realwest, Fenway, Marty, and the other good folks at C2 with whom I was discussing this!

UPDATE: some links culled from my Twitter feed:

  • Eli Lake reminds us that things weren’t that rosy between Egypt and Israel under Mubarak:  “This was stability in Egypt btw. […] A dispatch of mine from Cairo in 05″
  • Pajamas Media » Barry Rubin: Egypt: Three Possible Outcomes (“bilgeman” offers a 4th in comments)…
  • Ralph Peters argues that Mubarak is a dead man walking and that any further support to him by the West would just strengthen the Ikhwan
  • However, at the same site, repentant former PLO terrorist Walid Shoebat says we must support Mubarak, as the alternative is theocracy
  • On Twitter, Col. Richard Kemp (erstwhile British commander of forces in Afghanistan) puts it this way: “Only options: continuation in some form of current regime or #Islamist fundamentalism. There is no organized moderate group in #Egypt.” permalink
  • Jake Tapper: Wikileaked cables shed light on new Egyptian VP [former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman]
  • via Martin Kramer: Barry Rubin points out that “Muhammad el-Baradei, leader of the reformist movement, says that if he were to be president he would recognize Hamas as ruler of the Gaza Strip and end all sanctions against it. (See:,1518,705991,00.html)” Note that Hamas is a direct descendant of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood…
That may be pitching it too strongly, however: we also know from the Tea Party just what “leaderless organizations” can achieve. Yet, I see where he is coming from.