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: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,705991,00.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.)