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Egypt: Mubarak Gone. Short Term Hope. Long Term Calamity

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Let’s have some fun.

Time to look at the prognosis for the major characters…

Hos Mubarak;

the embattled President and friend to the West, currently looking for cheap tickets out of Cairo on a variety of Internet travel sites. He’s said he won’t run for “re-election” in September, but the street wants him gone now. Cue power vacuum.

The Army:

Never looked better. Despite the fact that they’ve never won a single battle of any note, their F-16s, M-1 Tanks and new uniforms sure are shiny. And get this, all the protesters love them. With Mubarak on his way out, and the Army elevated to cabinet power by the old man, it’s no surprise that they’ve pre-emptively said they won’t fire on the demonstrators if Mubarak as a last ditch effort to stay in power should ask them. That pretty much seals it for old Hos. With the toys and the status, the Army has everything to lose from the “Arab Revolutionary Spirit” in Tahrir Square. What they’re looking for is something akin to the power enjoyed by the Turkish Army during and after Attaturk. Are they going to get it? Not without a fight. What they’re not looking for is a resumption of hostilities, cold or otherwise, with Israel. That would spell the end of the gravy from the US, which would not take kindly to the unwholesome possibility of US weaponry being used against the Jewish state.

Mohamed El-Baradei:

Expecting decades in the wilderness before shuffling off into history as the AEA chief who let the Iranians get real close to a nuke, instead Mohamed El-Baradei is shaping up to be Mr. Transition to Democracy. He’s got all the credentials. The Army love him, because he has no power base and doesn’t wear a uniform, the Muslim Brotherhood love him because he has no power base and doesn’t wear a uniform. And the Street will soon tire of him because he has no power base and doesn’t wear a uniform. Where does that leave him? Shuffling off into history as the IAEA chief who let the Iranians get real close to a nuke. Ironically, it’s his very weakness that could – in the short term – be his strength. He’s a figleaf and a good one. But it would take a supremely deft touch to turn his lack of power into real control.

The Egyptian Elite:

Pity the poor Egyptian elite. There they were happily building their gated communities and controlling everything with the help of Mubarak and the Army when suddenly, the mob decided to take matters into their own hands. In simple terms, there was growth in the Egyptian economy and a reduction in some key poverty indicators, but not nearly enough to dent the crushing poverty of a mass that’s growing at a huge rate. Simply put, if the US employment is having trouble keeping up with population growth, you can imagine the scale of the problem in Egypt, a nation with none of the democratic edifice, infrastructure, and economic generators. That will put pressure on the elite and leave them looking for protection. Who’s going to guarantee it? The answer is nobody, in public, but probably the Army – in tacit terms at least. Of course, if the elite is unhappy, the Egyptian economy is unhappy, and if the Egyptian economy is weak then the mob will start blaming, you’ve guessed it, the elite. If things start getting a little scary over the next couple of years, things might be looking up for luxury real estate in London.

The “Arab Revolutionary Street”

The Twitterati and Democracy-huggers in Europe and the US are already proclaiming the triumph of people power. For the cameras at least, there will be plenty to rejoice. Elections in September with new political parties, and lots of people with ‘purple-finger disease’ – otherwise known as total delusion that they’re embarking on a great democratic experiment. Much the same BS took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. But after that purple period is over, and nothing happens to tackle the crushing poverty and injustice faced by the millions in the Egyptian mass (or the skyrocketing bread prices brought on by demand and speculation), Allah will be right there to make everything alright, just like he does in Gaza with Hamas (the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Lebanon with Hizbollah.

The Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood have played their cards very, very well. They know full well that if they’d been parading premature victory in Tahrir Square that the world would have panicked and backed a an army-sponsored transition to democracy. So they’ve stayed on the down-low, and in the short term are sitting very pretty. Come September, they’ll be a newly legitimized party that can say, “see, we’re not scary, we were just being persecuted by bad old Hos”. That’ll serve them very, very well at the ballot box, as will their rabid anti-Zionist stance that’s likely to surface as they get closer to elections. Figures vary as to their level of support, but it’s at least 20-25% and probably more like 40%. At that level they’ll at the very least be big power players, and could possibly win a plurality. On the surface this is a great time for them, but they’re likely to be victims of their own success. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, the Egyptian Party of God will have to “fix the sewers” and provide more temporal improvements for the masses, and secondly, more radical factions will demand a Sharia state and a state of war with Israel. If the latter don’t get what they want, they could very easily split off from and discredit the pragmatists, and then utilize terror, which would undermine the Egyptian state and economy, further exacerbating the chaos. The Brotherhood might not be able to resist its anti-zionist roots and renew connections with Hamas to arm its extreme factions in Gaza with more powerful rocketry to threaten Israel from a southern flank. Fun, huh?

The Prediction.

A clash between the radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army Establishment seems likely.

The short term looks good.

The Army will oversee an explosion of parties and participation. There will be an orderly election. The moderates in the Muslim Brotherhood will prevail in the short term, probably in coalition with Egyptian secular nationalists. There will be a vast surge in expectations on the street – which will not be met, because Egypt doesn’t have the economic resources to solve its deep structural problems in anything less than decades.

The mid-term looks shaky.

Dissatisfaction will surge, and the more radical elements in the Brotherhood, furious that the pragmatists haven’t made the move to rescind the Peace Treaty with Israel will split from the group, or move it as a whole, and begin to appeal direct to the masses. There will be a rise in terrorism, fundamentalism, and investment in the country will drop like a stone, as will tourism, further exacerbating the economic problems and widening the vast expectation gap. Consistently high wheat prices will add fuel to the fire, as the mass – newly empowered – seeks to blame what they see as the slow pace of change on the democratically elected government.

The long term could be dangerous but the Army will stabilize the situation.

The Egyptian Army and rejuvenated security forces (sanitized by the new democratic vista) will take on the terrorist fundamentalist movement that may well complete the transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood from tactical pragmatists to wholehearted fundamentalists. The military wing of that group (vowing a return to direct action) will attempt to destabilize Egypt, and the security forces will fail to stop them, unless they return the nation – ironically – to a police state footing with the support of the people. If terrorism in Egypt becomes anything more than occasional, it will shatter tourism – 1/6 of the country’s GDP, and a major source of foreign exchange, and choke off investment. The Egyptian economy will continue to flounder, further undermining long-term stability.  A vicious spiral could begin. The street will demand change and the Muslim Brotherhood – with a major say in government – will require the end of the Israel peace treaty to guarantee its cooperation, and protect its newly found power. If that happens, the West will threaten to withdraw support for the military, which will respond by attempting to bury the Brotherhood, in order to maintain its power.

In short, we could be back where we started.

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Written by coolrebel

February 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm

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