Sunday, January 30, 2011


I hate predictions because they are invariably based on past events – and invariably wrong. Even stock traders hedge statements about the potential value of investments for investors by saying that past performance does not predict future performance. Having said that, I believe Mubarak will be out of office in a matter of days. Whether that produces a better or worse situation, both nationally or internationally, is anyone's guess.

The senior military officers of Egypt were in Washington last week. The army has taken over security and the police are off the streets. The army is very highly regarded in Egypt since the revolution in 1952 and for now hold all the cards. Will they be the broker for change or support Mubarak – who rose through the military establishment? The Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized political organization of the opposition, some factions of which are Islamisists of the Iranian kind. Will they end up running the country? Remember that the youth revolution against the Shah in Iran was secular and ended up being taken over by the religious extremists that have been running the country since then. Another Iran would be unacceptable to the West and particularly to the US and Israel. What happens then could be very, very bad for everyone. 

US foreign policy in the region – in Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen – will be the most affected. The US is blinkered in its policy of unlimited support of Israel regardless of what the Israeli's do or don't. But these revolutions have nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians and the risk is that US policy will be dictated, not by the underlying reasons behind the upheavals, but by Israeli views.

The problem with the changes that are coming in the Arab world is that it either will force a re-calibration of US policy in the Middle East or it will cement the relationship with Israel further. The first will be very hard and if Islamic regimes such as Iran's begin to spread, then Israel will say that peace is not justified. The peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan could be a victim of regime change and, if so, things could become extremely dangerous very fast. 

An Islamic government in Egypt similar to Iran's would further impact the foreign policies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey as well.  As I have said before, as the US withdraws from Iraq, these countries will need to adjust to the new reality.  The Saudis will need to deal with Iran differently. Turkey will also need to adjust even though it is the only one of the three which does not need to worry about a popular revolution. Turkey has been attempting to assume a leadership role in the Middle East but has been stumbling since the whole game is new to them.  It is likely that the turmoil and new government in Egypt will present Turkey with a huge opportunity to assert a leadership role if it can handle its initiatives with more subtlety.

The West – not just the US – has propped up oppressive Arab regimes for decades. Climbing down from that support will not be easy nor appreciated locally by either side of the revolutions. Egypt is a dictatorship with 40 million people in poverty, no jobs and now is witnessing its youth in the streets. Egypt has been controlled by one person for than 30 years. The revolution is driven by these issues, so far. But, that could change. I have talked with one young Egyptian stuck here in Maseru (of all places) who is trying to get back to Cairo and join in the revolt. He is a professional, young and not poor. He wants Mubarak and the government out but also worries about who will take over in their place. The Egyptian elite has never understood or listened to the youth of the country and it is paying the price. But, anyone who pretends to predict the future in Egypt or the rest of the Arab world is a fool. The only thing that can be predicted is that it is changing. It is also where I am going next in less than a month so I’ll be closer to the action.

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