Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Israel’s New Neighbor Egypt: Radical Nationalist President; Islamist-Dominated Parliament

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post but I own the rights and the article is extensively updated here with additional information. So if forwarding or reprinting please link to this address.

By Barry Rubin

Amr Moussa, probably Egypt’s next president, has given a comprehensive picture of his views, a foretaste of the likely policies of someone about to become the Arab world's most powerful person. One thing he said is particularly important and shocking. Read on.

Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister (1991-2001) and head of the Arab League until his resignation takes effect on May 15, is a figure from the Egyptian establishment and the old regime. But which aspect of the old regime: that of the centrist Husni Mubarak, the moderate Anwar al-Sadat, or the radical Arab nationalist Gamal Abd al Nasser?

Moussa is the last Nasserist. He knows that the next president must also be a populist to survive. So he will bash Israel, the United States, and the Egyptian upper class. The hope is that he will be pragmatic enough to restrict his demagoguery to rhetoric.

It might seem ironic that a revolution against the old regime ends up electing as president a figure from the old regime. Yet Moussa perfectly combines experience and name recognition with radicalism. A recent Pew poll shows him with an 89 percent positive rating. Moussa’s prospects look so good because the Islamists aren’t running a presidential candidate. Moderate democrats, restricted to a small urban middle class constituency, can choose among four candidates running against each other, thus further splitting that vote.

Another reason Moussa’s election appears likely is his deft use of the anti-Israel card. So identified is Moussa with hostility to Israel that in 2001 a popular song entitled, "I Hate Israel (I love Amr Moussa)" zoomed to the top of the Egyptian hit parade. Indeed, Moussa is now emphasizing that much of the reason for his break with Mubarak was due to his desire to take a stronger policy against Israel.

Moussa’s basic argument in his Wall Street Journal interview is that Egypt has obtained nothing from peace with Israel and that Israel is completely at fault for the lack of an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement. Of course, Egypt received: the Sinai's return; the reopening of its oilfields and the Suez Canal; and the opportunity for more trade, tourism, and a lower military budget. Failure to take advantage of the latter points was due to Egyptian decisions.

In addition, Egypt and Israel had what amounts to an alliance against revolutionary Islamism, particularly Hamas in the Gaza Strip. President Moussa will reverse this policy and see Hamas as an ally, albeit one that he won’t trust and might try to restrain.

Hamas is now starting to believe that by attacking Israel it will have the power to draw Egypt into a war with Israel. If that view is not countered decisively by the next Egyptian government, the result will be a return to the 1960s and a terrible major conflict. Unfortunately, the current U.S. government cannot be counted on to see and help eliminate that problem.

As the Wall Street Journal accurately notes: “U.S. and European officials said they don't see the Egypt-Israel peace agreement in danger in the near term. They say Cairo won't place in jeopardy billions of dollars in aid.”

We’ve seen this kind of economic determinism before and every time it is applied to Middle East states it fails. Examples:

--Yasir Arafat will make peace with Israel because he wants to get a state and huge compensation funding.

--Syria will moderate and turn toward the West and away from Iran in order to get trade and investment.

--Iran would much rather become wealthy than to pursue these silly ideas about spreading Islamist revolution.

Now, here’s what’s really shocking in the interview. To quote the Journal’s account, Moussa, “Described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood…is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront.”

Think about that. Even Moussa, who is anti-Islamist, admits this, though Western governments and mass media haven't figured it out yet. He's running as an independent meaning with no political party behind him. Thus, Moussa must constantly compromise with the Islamist majority in parliament that will consist of the Muslim Brotherhood plus even more radical groups.

The alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood with even more radical "Salafi" groups--the kind of people who launched a terrorist war in Egypt during the 1990s and who support Usama bin Ladin--is another dangerous development. The Salafis are the ones attacking Christians; the Brotherhood-Salafi alliance has organized two demonstrations outside Israel's embassy. In contrast, there are no riot police present and the demonstrators are allowed to approach closer to the embassy than before.  It's only a matter of time before there's a nasty incident.

Now, just for fun, check out this MEMRI video on the pro-bin Ladin, anti-American demonstration at the al-Nur mosque in Cairo. They chant, "Death to America" and the Islamist chant calling for the slaughter of all Jews. There's also a new one we'll be hearing a lot of in the months to come, "Obama is the enemy of Allah!" There are, what, 2000 people in that one mosque?

Note how young the crowd is. See how they use their state-of-the-art smartphones to taken snapshots of bin Ladin's face in the mosque's place of honor! At least one of them is wearing the jacket of the English national football (soccer) team! Why they might even use Facebook!

The Financial Times reports a speech by Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie that when Egypt's parliament meets the Brotherhood, which will have the largest bloc, will propose the following program:

"An end to normalization [with Israel] which has given our enemy stability; an end to [Egyptian] efforts to secure from infiltrators the borders of the Zionists; the abolition of all [joint] economic interests such as the Qualified Industrial Zones agreement and the export of Egyptian gas to Israel."

Note the key point there: "an end to efforts to secure from infiltrators the borders of the Zionists." In other words, to turn Egypt into what the Gaza Strip was in the 1950s, Jordan was in the late 1960s, and Lebanon was in the 1970s: a springboard and safe haven for terrorists attacking Israel across the border. Such a policy can only end in full-scale war.

Isn't it great that now Egypt is a democratic state where people feel free to voice their opinions? Of course, the problem is the nature of those opinions.

Remember this: The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't have to engage in terrorist violence within Egypt because it has allies ready to do so. This is just like Hamas' use of smaller groups to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip and then disclaims responsibility, allowing its apologists to claim that now it's really moderate.

While I doubt that the Islamists will have an outright majority they should come pretty close and thus have one by allying with various radical nationalists, leftists, and independents.  That also means they'll take a leading role in writing Egypt's new constitution.

Moussa makes another important point in the interview. First, after many years in which Egypt was oriented inward, he will reassert a leading Egyptian role in the Arab world. That probably means conciliation with Syria and the recreation of a radical Arab bloc that includes Egypt for the first time in more than 30 years. The best thing that can be said is that neither Iraq nor the Saudis would participate, while the Jordanians would be very wary.

Egypt will no longer be a U.S. ally. The question is the degree to which it will be an enemy of the United States.

Finally, he knows that he will have to deliver economic benefits to the masses. But that probably means higher subsidies and more government jobs, policies that will do nothing to improve Egypt’s economy in a real way. The worse the economy gets, the greater the anti-Israel, anti-American demagoguery will be.

. We are able to predict this crisis more than six months ahead of time, yet Western countries, media, and experts have not yet seen what is certainly coming down the road toward us.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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