Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt: The Most Moderate Democracy Advocate Speaks And Says A Lot

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By Barry Rubin

There is no more courageous, sincere, and moderate person in Egypt than the blogger who is known as Sandmonkey. He faced serious harassment under the Mubarak regime and is a big supporter of the democracy movement in his country.

It is interesting to examine some of his recent tweets. I have fixed spelling, put them into paragraphs, and added capitalization but been careful not to alter any of the meaning. My responses are in bold:

"Ok, just so we can calm the nerves of our Israeli twitchy neighbors, let me assure you: we aren't going go to war with you. The Egyptian army and economy are both not equipped for such battles and we have too many targets for your air force to hit. However, we do have numerical superiority and no fear of death and we can draw this out forever, so don't think you're all that [?] either."

I think his point about war being unlikely, during the next several years, is probably correct, though an Egyptian government can miscalculate--as happened in 1967--and set off a conflict. His last sentence, though, is a reminder that even he might not be entirely sure of peace being durable.

"But there are 3 things you can expect [to] change, and they shouldn't allow them to alarm you. They have to happen. OK?

"1) The Rafah gate [to the Gaza Strip] will be opened for goods and travel. It will relieve the situation, improve the economy & give us leverage over Hamas. And it will also end the talk about "Gaza under siege" and you know that this is good for you even. Don't fight it.

Israel won't fight Egypt's opening to Gaza because there is nothing Israel can do about it. Personally, I don't think Egypt is going to have any leverage over Hamas. The Mubarak government tried for many years and couldn't get either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority to do anything. If there's a Brotherhood-dominated government, Egypt will become an ally of Hamas; if there's a radical nationalist government it will be friendly to Hamas and the Brotherhood will smuggle in huge amounts of arms. The idea that this is good for Israel is quite questionable.

"2) You will start paying market price for our gas. Maybe even a markup. You've been getting it cheap & we could use the money."

 In principle, that's ok but two points: First, it sets a bad precedent for the new Egyptian government not feeling itself bound by previous agreements. Second, I think that what will happen (and of course I could be wrong) is that whoever is in power the pipeline will be sabotaged and attacked until it is put out of commission. As we've seen before with Arab governments, money isn't everything especially when it clashes with demagoguery.

"3) The army will return to Sinai. After 34 years of peace, we have proven good intentions. It has to come back at least for border protection."

This is a hugely problemmatic point. For this means that the agreements worked out in the treaty, that limits the deployment of Egyptian troops in Sinai, will be void.  Since the whole peace agreement has been thrown into question the fact that there has been peace for 34 years is irrelevant. And is Israel going to think that any large-scale deployment of Egyptian troops near its border will be for stopping smuggling alone?

"That is all. Also the Islamists won't take power. Maximum 20% in Parliament & presidential contender. They don't want to inherit this mess. Because whoever takes over will have to clean up 30 years of Mubarak rule. That won't happen overnight. Our next president is screwed."

A lot of this makes sense, though I think they will do better than 20 percent. But this also raises a problem. If the next government is going to be non-Islamist and it is going to fail doesn't this suggest that Egypt's people will become discontented with the radical nationalists and turn to the Islamists? Or that the next president, in the face of that failure, will use the usual tactics in response: blame the United States and Israel, stir up hatred against them and take dramatic, dangerous steps to appease popular anger? 

"Expect them to compete in 6 years at least for power. But Islamists won't be a problem for now. So, chill. Ok? Chill!"

So we have six years before the Islamists might come to power? Perhaps we need to start making plans for this timetable. And that schedule would roughly coincide with Iran getting nuclear weapons. I don't feel too calm with that assessment.

As I said, Sandmonkey is a good guy. He is among the most moderate one-hundreth of one percent of the Egypt people. (I didn't pick that statistic at random.) That's another factor that doesn't make me feel so reassured.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: http://www.gloria-center.org His blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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