The Egyptian revolt: Repercussions and Possibilities
By: Tallha Abdulrazaq
I confess that I certainly did not see the events that are currently unfolding in Egypt coming. I knew that one day it had to happen, but I certainly did not think it would happen so soon. A thirty year iron fisted rule by Mubarak, the pervasiveness of the ludicrously sized Egyptian security apparatus (some figures put the ratio at 1 security/intelligence officer to every 30 Egyptians) and a tired and downtrodden people are usually not the right ingredients for a popular revolt of this magnitude and ferocity. Similarly, the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, former disgraced despot of Tunisia, caught me off guard too. However, I console myself with the knowledge that nobody saw this coming. Who would’ve thought that the Arabs, normally so docile and willing to be ground into the dirt by their illegitimate governments, would rise up with such fury and attempt to cast down the masters imposed upon them? Human intellect is no match for God’s will, that’s for sure.
But what are the potential outcomes to what is happening in Egypt? Inspired by the Tunisians, they’ve taken to the streets in the hopes of finally getting rid of the man and the government that has been oppressing them for decades. The police confronted the protesters before pulling back and seemingly vanishing, and the Egyptian Army has yet to do anything decisive for either the protesters or the embattled Egyptian government. However, internationally, already we are seeing involvement and signals from significant world powers.
During Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, and whilst discussing Egypt’s problems, he never once said the word ‘democracy’. He used vague, flaccid terms such as ‘reform’ and ‘freedoms’, but not once did he ask for Mubarak to institute a true democratic system in Egypt. Obviously, this is because a truly democratic Middle East would pretty much spell the end for the facade of peace with Israel. Anyone who really thinks there is a peace process is, quite simply, blind (I won’t bother to explain the situation here. Suffice to say, go and read the Palestine Papers released by Al-Jazeera, a series of leaked “peace process” documents). Hamas was encouraged to join in the political process. They did. They also won a so called free and fair election, and were subsequently sidelined by the international community. Clearly, “Liberalism” and “democracy” take a backseat to real power politics. With regards to Egypt, democracy does not bode well for US or Israeli national interests.
In the meantime, Mubarak is trying to ingratiate himself further with the security services and the army by making appointments such as a new deputy to himself, former spymaster Omar Suleiman, as well as other government positions to former senior officers. This could be seen as a sign to curry favour with these key branches of Egyptian security. However, and one day before Tuesday’s ‘million man march’ in Cairo (February 1st 2011), the army has announced that it will not open fire on “the great Egyptian people” and that it recognises their “legitimate grievances”. This could be a sign that the end is nigh for Mubarak, particularly if the army makes good on its promise. If that’s the case, then even the return of the police, now also having been resupplied and rearmed by the Israelis, will have a minimal effect as the army has vowed to crack down on any trouble makers. One hopes that this includes the police who are mostly there to protect and to serve Mubarak’s regime, and not the people.
There is a high chance that a government in Egypt involving, but not necessarily run by, the Muslim Brotherhood could have potentially massive repercussions. The Brotherhood is the most popular and the largest of the many opposition groups of Egypt and likely represent a large swathe of the Egyptian populace. Even if not, the vast majority of Egyptians are against Egyptian complicity in Israeli actions against the people of Gaza, including the ongoing illegitimate siege. A new government involving popular forces could spell the end of the siege on Gaza, and provide Hamas with a significant political victory. They will be perceived as being steadfast, regardless of the hardships, and still a strong and viable alternative to the Palestinian Authority dominated by Fatah. This, in turn, could lead to Israel attacking the Gaza Strip again with even more force than before, perhaps even drawing an outraged and appalled Egypt into the conflict, and further de-legitimising Fatah leading to further instability in the West Bank which could also have further knock on effects in the wider region. This is one possible outcome.
Already, the Israelis are trying to rally global support for Mubarak to keep him on his shaky throne. Netanyahu has reportedly said that “Israel and Egypt have been at peace for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these ties be preserved”. One does not need to wonder why. The 1979 peace accord between the two states saw the first Arab (state rather than popular) act of recognition of the Zionist state, and ensured Israeli security on one of its borders. The above scenario would be a nightmare for Israel, and it is keen to avoid it.
These popular revolts started in Tunisia and have now spread to Egypt. Could we be seeing more countries rising up against their autocratic rulers? Not to jump the gun, but it is unlikely we will be seeing a similar phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or other wealthy Gulf states. Indeed, the Kuwaiti government recently effectively bought off their people by providing every Kuwaiti citizen with 1000 dinars; no small sum. However, it is not completely beyond the scope of the imagination that this popular fury may carry over and occur in Jordan or even Syria. After all, it happened with Egypt and no one expected it. Who’s to say we won’t be pleasantly surprised again?
Tallha Abdulrazaq blogs at The War Journal