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Egypt and the Acceptance of Limits

| 11 Comments

Back in 2004, I wrote "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mubarak?." It was about 2 things, and one of them was acceptance of reality's limits on our options. Within which, I believe American could have done some good in shaping what would eventually come. It ended as follows:

"The bottom line is simple: Egypt has to change. We have to promote effective pathways to liberty, using pressure and/or confrontation on our own timetable, all the while strengthening the real champions of liberty and weakening the poseurs and the malevolent.

It's a tall order. It won't always be satisfying. And it may take time. Fortunately, time is an option we can afford in Egypt. The only thing we can't afford, is failure."

Time was an option we could afford in Egypt. But here's the thing... eventually, it runs out. And like all seemingly stable systems with major foundational cracks (vid. also, and still, global financial system, and debt supportability above key levels like 90% of GDP), it may not take a very big shock to set the endgame in motion.

We're in motion, now, in Egypt. And if America faced limits before, those limits are sharper. The Muslim Brotherhood is still the evil organization it has always been, complete with Nazi origins, and retaining its jihadist core. But Mubarak is toast, and America must now make clear choices... if its President can manage that.

I have nothing to add to Ralph Peters' current advice. I hope my country takes it.

11 Comments

For as much as we have been flogging Carter over Iran, it's worth remembering that prior to the embassy takeover Carter was hoping for the rise of a somewhat democratic government under people like Bani-Sadr. This hope was shattered and he probably should have bloody known better, but at least his intention was not pernicious.

Marc, what can you possibly make of Obama's furtive efforts to advance the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood? To even toy with such an idea?

Glen, I honestly don't know. My gut reaction is that it's horrible, but I'm working hard to balance that with the notion that I could well be wrong.

Watching closely...

Marc

The final straw here was food prices, which always trumps politics. but it was not the only reason Mubarack fell. there are plenty of others.

Egypt will not be solved in a flash of geopolitical brilliance. The Muslim Brotherhood has survived a half a century of vicious surpression by the Government. I wish it hadn't, but it did.

I doubt Obama's move is "a furtive attempt to advance the flag of The Muslim Brotherhood" but a policy option that haws been on the table as a contingency plan that has been discussed continually in the Foreign Policy area throughout administrations for the past 2 decades.

The W's administration's pressure on the Egyptians and Mubarack to open up politically was at the forefront of the Administrations ME policy. It fell on deaf ears. I doubt that plans to co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood were not discussed since the W administration foresaw just what has happened now.

This seems to me to be the classic situation in which you wait until the dust clears and try not to jump one way or another. the ramifications here are enormous And shallow domestic political reactions are probably not the best instincts to rely on.

I agree with Mark. Watch this one closely, without carrots, even poisoned ones, this could get really, really ugly, really, really fast.

Without really endorsing Obama's stance, I can give at least one line of reasoning:

1) Mubarak is a dead man walking. Whether his corpse shambles on until the September time frame, or whether he's pitched out tomorrow, he's gone. The state of Egypt is changing.

2A) Political exclusion radicalizes. Or, to put this in comfortable terms for the gun rights crowd, "If being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is criminal, then only criminals will join the Muslim Brotherhood."

2B) Except that even criminals are rational actors, and the Muslim Brotherhood has taken the same path as many other organizations in the region, providing social services and gaining popularity despite criminalization.

3) The United States has extensive ties with the Egyptian military. These ties are personal, financial, and supply-chain oriented. Moreover, regardless of what happens in the elections later this year, those ties will remain, and the Egyptian military will remain an important force in Egyptian politics.

Given a strong belief in those, especially 2A and 3, one might reason thus: "We have sufficient handles on the secular military-- and therefore, we have sufficient blocks in place on extra-territorial shenanigans-- to allow and endorse this. Because really, it's going to happen anyway. The next government of Egypt is not going to be decided in Washington, DC. It's going to be decided in Cairo, in 'negotiations' between the popular uprising and the military. What we can hope to influence is how that government regards us."

I don't really endorse this, per se, because I'm nervous about it as well. Also, I lack the detailed facts that would be necessary to really make a decision-- and thankfully for me, I don't have to. But in those broad strokes at least, I don't think the reasoning is flawed. Especially since I can't think of anything that might be done in Washington to really tilt things one way or another.

Admitting that I know very little about the muslim brotherhood (and I hear dramatically different things depending on whose op-ed I'm reading), my basic understanding is that that the muslim brotherhood, or at least a muslim group, is very likely to control the government in the near future.... and this administration is hedging their bets in that direction.

Hi Joe, must be a slow week if I’ve got time to skim the blogosphere. I read Mr. Peters article looking for the impeccable advice to which you refer. After a pretty good analysis of the geo-politics at work he loses me with that familiar ‘the other political party [specifically their Muslim leader] is wholly to blame’ conclusion. If he could have left it at the policy level – apparently with some advice to act quickly and decisively to oust Mubarak, (after ceding that this was outside the US purview), and concurrently, to more overtly support the Egyptian ‘people’(ironically, a group of left leaning protesters if there ever was one) I could appreciate his analysis more. Instead I feel the PAC style ‘conclusion’ section degrades an otherwise useful analysis. Check the comments section on that article to see to whom else his ‘advice’ appears to have an uncritical appeal.

Obama's new line on the Muslim Brotherhood, to Bill O'Reilly, is that they are "one faction among many."

That banality is perfectly unassailable. The Nazis were one faction among many, right up to the time that Hitler became Chancellor. You could have gone even further with the Bolsheviks, accurately pointing out that they were a tiny minority even among left-wing parties right up to the moment of their putsch - and for a long time after! Years ago it was pointed out endlessly that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had no support outside of Tehran's city limits, and that was probably true for the NOTHING that it was worth.

The legacy-of-idiocy media and the lefthead bloggos have picked up the cue like a dog chasing a frisbee, and the word for the nonce is that "The Muslim Brotherhood is not the issue." Tomorrow it will be that the MB is a benevolent philanthropic marvel, slandered by the Islamophobia spread by Jews and their Jew Lobby.

Well Glenn, we'll see. If there as powerful an influence in Egypt as people say, I don't think we can stop them. Nor does any statement by Obama change their electoral power for the greater or worse.(in many places in the ME, US support of a candidate has made them less likely to win elections) Someone did point me out to this minor press release the other day:

According to the report, a spokesman of “Ekhwan ul-Muslimin”, Muhammad al-Biltaji announced Friday in a videoconference interview with Al-Jazeera TV, “We had earlier announced we have no ambition for achieving the presidency post, or any other posts in a coalition government.”:http://twocircles.net/node/238042

Now, it's certainly possible that they're lying, but this doesn't sound like a statement that would have been released by Hitler/Khomeini in their early days.

A scholar was on NPR last night (can't remember expertise) who said that the Sunni sect has a different way of establishing religion in government than Shia. I thought it would be worth a mention if someone knew something more on that point.

Glen - I am guessing that you are saying that it is evident that the Muslim Brotherhood are 'the' cause of the 'oust Mubarak' sentiment and activity occurring in Egypt. Further, that everyone knows and accepts your thesis; and for Obama to label them as merely one of many factions in this fracus is either ignorance, or worse, dis-information for some nefarious purpose. I don't doubt for a minute that the MB have an agenda well served by the removal of their 'democratically' elected leader, but to award them causal status when there appear to be plenty of coincident factors at work, is to run the risk of looking like a political demagogue serving your own agenda. We can agree that the MB or any (say right wing Christian) fundamentalist group seeking to supplant secular democracy with their theocracy is a bad idea, but your assertion here is based on a factual stretch that I am not convinced is correct.

IanC -

No, I do not say that the MB planned the uprising against Mubarek. I'm more of the opinion that they didn't.

In countries with weak or non-existent democratic institutions, being a "tiny minority" is no obstacle to power. In fact, it has certain advantages: Lenin deliberately limited the membership of the Bolsheviks to keep the milquetoasts out - "Better fewer, but better."

In terms of democratic, centrist parties that will counter-balance extremism - Obama's apparent assumption - Egypt is less well-provided than Russia was in 1918. They MUCH less equipped than was the Weimar Republic. If they have any advantage over the Iran of 1979, I'd like to know what it is.

The fact that Obama has singled out the Muslim Brotherhood for inclusion - the only part of Egypt that seems to be of any interest to Obama - shows how dangerous and relevant they are. The idea that such a group can be neutered by getting it to make some declaration of peaceful intentions ... well, that idea bleats for itself. Somebody should check Lenin's Tomb and see if the son of a bitch is smiling.

alchemist -

So the MB humbly renounces any political ambition? Actually, that sounds exactly like the Ayatollah Khomeini, who held no political office. Theocrats don't aspire to be presidents and kings - they are the masters of presidents and kings.

Well Glenn, we'll see. If there as powerful an influence in Egypt as people say, I don't think we can stop them. Nor does any statement by Obama change their electoral power for the greater or worse.(in many places in the ME, US support of a candidate has made them less likely to win elections) Someone did point me out to this minor press release the other day:

According to the report, a spokesman of “Ekhwan ul-Muslimin”, Muhammad al-Biltaji announced Friday in a videoconference interview with Al-Jazeera TV, “We had earlier announced we have no ambition for achieving the presidency post, or any other posts in a coalition government.”:http://twocircles.net/node/238042

Now, it's certainly possible that they're lying, but this doesn't sound like a statement that would have been released by Hitler/Khomeini in their early days.

A scholar was on NPR last night (can't remember expertise) who said that the Sunni sect has a different way of establishing religion in government than Shia. I thought it would be worth a mention if someone knew something more on that point.

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