A better explanation of what’s happening in Egypt

Barry Rubin’s article today on the Egyptian crisis is infinitely clearer than the New York Times’ lead article on the same subject, showing again how the Times’ prime directive as a newspaper is not to inform but to conceal (that is, to conceal the unpalatable truths about the leftists, enemies of the West, unassimilable minorities, homosexualists, and criminals whose interests and power the Times seeks to advance). This does not mean that Rubin’s column is without difficulties. He wanders a bit, but does succeed in making some sense out of a terribly complicated situation.

Here is my summation of his main points. The people were unhappy with the election structure because it put off the election of a president and the (possible) end of the military rule until mid 2013. The regime then entered negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood from which secularists and liberals were excluded. The resulting deal was even worse than the problem it was supposed to solve. The election of a new government was now moved up by a year, to June 2012, but the elections were organized in such a way that the Muslim Brotherhood was virtually guaranteed to take power. Thus the problem has changed from indefinitely prolonged military rule, to the quick onset of Islamist rule. This is why the Tahrir “Skverers” have exploded (excuse my wordplay).

Here is a slightly abridged version of Rubin’s column:

Only days before parliamentary elections, Egypt is in a huge crisis whose outcome will determine the future of almost 80 million people and perhaps the Arabic-speaking world’s fate for decades to come.

Will the army go ahead with elections that will be won by the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Salafist groups, thus producing an Islamist regime?

Or will it cancel elections, declare martial law in some form, and set off a passionate civil conflict?

Or will it find some compromise that quiets the disorder but doesn’t solve the problems (see below for the proposed new deal)?

That’s quite a difficult choice and not one the army prefers. Understandably, the military has a third alternative: set up some compromise rules for the new Egyptian state that leave it feeling secure even if this plan sacrifices a lot of other factors.

The nominal cause of this upheaval are the demonstrations in Tahrir square that have produced a bloodier tool [?] than any single event in the entire Egyptian revolutionary process, with more than 30 people dead. But the real background is this:

Despite the persistent mocking of Western officials, media, and “experts” about the Muslim Brotherhood’s weakness and moderation, it has become increasingly apparent that a very radical Muslim Brotherhood will take power and fundamentally transform Egypt into something far worse than that which existed during the six-decades-long Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak regime.

The army’s compromise went along the following lines:

A parliament would be elected on November 28. In April 2012 it would choose a 100-member assembly to write a new constitution, a process that would take one year. After the constitution was written by April 2013 it would be ratified. Only then, in the second half of 2013, would a president be elected and the military junta stand aside and yield executive authority.

So much for the delaying aspects of the plan; there were also provisions for protecting the military’s interests. It would retain control of its own budget, which would remain secret; moreover the junta could veto the constitution entirely or in part. And finally, though vaguely, it wanted some provisions to protect rights including those of the Christian minority. The last item presumably was out of concern with the country’s international reputation.

The junta’s position is a combination of greed and its self-image as guardian of Egypt’s national interest. Officers enrich themselves by large-scale business enterprises.

At the same time, they are no doubt aware of the likelihood that an Islamist regime would eventually purge the army and arrest officers—as is happening in Turkey, the explicit model for the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy—and replace them with its ideological followers. They also might take into account that the Brotherhood is likely to get Egypt into a losing war with Israel and take steps that would cost the military hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Now this clash in itself has added still another dimension. It is said that if you wound an elephant you have to kill it as otherwise the enraged leviathan will trample you. The Brotherhood now sees the military as an enemy and if it comes to power would have all the more incentive to crush that rival…

… the alternatives are unattractive and we don’t know what will happen. The West is siding with the civilians: democratic rule, elections, a military regime is bad….

That makes sense in normal conditions but might be disastrous on a strategic level. We’ve been through this kind of thing before in which the supposed good becomes the worse of two evils.

The Bush Administration supported Hamas participating in the Palestinian election out of some sense of misguided fairness plus depending on fantasy-laden Fatah polls predicting that Hamas would lose. The Bush and Obama administrations stood by and cheered the “moderate Islamists” in Turkey as they moved step by step to install and strengthen an anti-American regime there.

In contrast, regarding Algeria the presidents at the time took a realpolitik view, arguably maintaining their distance and neutrality while in practice supporting the military’s victory. France did the dirty work, something that doesn’t apply to these contemporary situations.

The attitude of the moderate Egyptian parties is interesting. On one hand, they are totally against the military retaining power or even a lot of power; on the other hand, they are starting to get real scared about what it would be like to live in an Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood and even more violent Islamists. They are pulling back a bit from taking sides in this struggle.

After meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups (but not the liberals who were left out, an indication of how insignificant they are becoming politically!), the junta has a new proposal: The new constitution is set to be finished by June 2012 (not April 2013) and the presidential election will be held no later than June 2012 (instead of June 2013). The parliamentary elections will happen as scheduled.

If this is so and it is implemented, it means that the Islamists have forced the military to back down completely, a victory that will add to their confidence that they will get everything they want. Arguably, Egypt is even worse off now than it was a weak ago. Perhaps, though, there are other aspects to the deal we haven’t heard about yet.

Having cut its own deal, the Brotherhood stopped participating in anti-government demonstrations. “The Brotherhood refused to join the protests, saying that the parliamentary election due to start Nov. 28 is the way to transfer power.” Right, transfer it to them.

- end of initial entry -

Daniel F. sent the article, with this note:

In case you haven’t seen, the above is Barry Rubin’s take on what’s going on in Egypt. I think he explains why the scheduled election process about to begin is not satisfactory to the Muslim Brotherhood. [LA replies: But as I indicated above, I think Rubin is saying the opposite of what Daniel thinks he’s saying.] To what Rubin says, I would add the suggestion that the fact that the ongoing demonstrations are being conducted by ostensibly secular leftist groups does not necessarily mean that the Brotherhood is not the force behind them. The Brotherhood probably does not want to confront the military directly at this time, and likely has coopted the leftists to do their dirty work for them.

It is just stunning that the United States government now treats the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally and client, and has better relations with them than with the Israeli government. As you frequently say, the current occupant of the White House, while far from the genius imagined by his sycophantic supporters, is not stupid, as self-deluding Republicans like to think he is. He is deliberately and actively working against the interests of the United States. This is not terribly surprising to those who informed themselves about his background before he was elected.

Daniel F. replies:

I’m glad you found the Rubin article enlightening. You may be right that I misinterpreted him to mean that the Brotherhood is behind the current unrest. Rubin’s writing is not always outstanding for clarity, and his writing is never particularly graceful or elegant. His attempts at humor almost always fall flat. Perhaps this is because he is in Israel and does most of his work in Hebrew. Still, his analysis of what’s going on the Middle East is consistently persuasive. Being in Israel, he is not affected by the ideological democracy-mania one usually finds among pro-Israel international politics pundits here in America.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 23, 2011 07:13 PM | Send

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