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Dr. Josef Olmert

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No Real Surprises in Egypt

Posted: 11/26/2012 2:07 pm

As the Egyptian situation is quickly unfolding, developing into a major domestic crisis, with potential regional and international implications, the word "surprise" looms large in press reports about the events. Surprise about the steps taken by President Morsi, surprise about the direction that the "Arab Spring" is taking, surprise that Egypt fails to adhere to the expectations of some naïve columnists, even those who publish at the New York Times... The real surprise is this ritual Western "surprise," another indication of the disconnect between a liberal Western view of the world and that of veteran Islamists and long-time members of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as President Muhammad Morsi.

Some historic context is in dire need here. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 and endured ongoing, almost unstoppable harassment, persecution and attempts at total physical liquidation. They survived it all, waiting for their moment in history, exactly as is expected of fundamentalist movements, and not just Islamic. In the process, they outlasted the Wafd Party, the original Egyptian Nationalist party, the proto-Fascist Young Egypt party of Ahmad Hussein, the Arab-Socialist union of Nasser, the National Democratic party of Sadat and Mubarak. They outlasted them all, due to the winning combination of motivation and message. Islam should not be explained, taught and forced upon the ordinary Egyptian. This is the authentic voice of generations of Egyptians who knew and legitimized nothing else. Nationalism, be it Egyptian or Arab, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Western-oriented Liberalism, on the other hand, always seemed to be foreign, unnatural implants, only to be rejected by the collective body of Egyptians -- not all of them, but Judging by the results of the post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, a big majority of them. Through these elections and the subsequent presidential elections, Muhammad Morsi and the Brotherhood came finally to power. And after all these trials and tribulations the Brotherhood came to power because they want to assert their platform, not that of their long-standing, historic rivals.

And for those who raise their eyebrows, well, no, this blogger is not a recent recruit to the Brotherhood ranks, far from it. Just trying to describe the new political reality in Egypt in its true realistic, and somewhat scary colors.

And back to the real world, Morsi is doing exactly what Morsi was elected for, trying to turn Egypt into an Islamic Republic. The term should not mislead us to confuse Egypt with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Sunni fundamentalists do not need Sh'iite ones to be their Koranic guides, but there are to be similarities, insofar as attitude towards minorities [Kopts and Egypt's own 1 million Sh'iites] and women, but more importantly to Morsi and his men, is to uphold the religious authority over organs of society such as the judiciary and also the military, which could pose a challenge to any process of Islamization. The quick relentless pace of Morsi's actions is the one real surprise in all that process, not the ideology behind it and the political motivation. These are the givens of the situation. What is left to be watched are the reactions both inside and outside Egypt.

The forces called in the West liberal-secular are too weak to stand up to the full might of the Islamic masses, reinforced by the machineries of power of the state. These elements may account for 20/25% of the population, but their added value is their role in society, being the core of the professional elite and the business community.

So, that brings us back to the military and other state security organs. It is an open question, whether these institutions are genuinely loyal to the Islamic government. If there is any element of risk with what President Morsi is doing, it is that he started the confrontation with his rivals without necessarily protecting himself with regard to the possible reaction of the military. Unverified reports indicate that some restiveness can be detected there, and it is also the case that the Egyptian military is a real national army, unlike the Syrian and Jordanian armies, and henceforth may feel it is its duty to intervene in order to prevent a civil war. A civil war is still a long shot, not likely to erupt, but a sustained period of instability is behind the door. This is exactly where the possible regional and international dimensions of the crisis come into the equation.

I refer to two countries in particular. Israel and the U.S. The former should brace itself for a frigid peace, much colder than the one with the Mubarak regime, yet no war, or even credible threat of war, is much preferable, under the circumstances, to any undue, exaggerated Israeli expectations from the new rulers. The latter need to be aware of the fact that this is a democratically-elected government in Egypt, the realization of America's own expectations since the beginning of the anti-Mubarak revolt. Dialogue with them is much the only realistic option open for the Obama administration, and threats from Congress or other quarters to terminate the American aid to Egypt are counterproductive. Surely, they are very premature, and if they materialize, will deprive the U.S. of any leverage on Morsi.

One regime change in Egypt was just facilitated by the U.S., another one will be one too many.

 
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