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Peace Reigns In Cairo. The Poor Get Stuck With the Bill.

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I’ll keep the power. You keep the dough. Deal? Deal.

Out with the old, in with the old. And a good thing too. Turns out Egyptian Army Incorporated is still in the money after the latest Cairo carve-up.

Reading the tea leaves in Egyptian politics is fun, fun, fun. And President Morsi’s move to offload Field Marshal Tantawi and the Mubarak army old-guard crew is a fascinating one.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in a tough spot. They wanted power, but they didn’t really want to “own” the total basket-case that is post-Mubarak Egypt. But now the two month deliberations are over.

Triggered by the ease by which militants in lawless Sinai put the hurt on the Army down there, Morsi has decided that it’s time to take power and risk responsibility for not improving the degraded lot of the average Egyptian. It was probably a wise move, because he was almost certainly going to be blamed anyway, being President and all. And he has the added bonus of being an agent of God, so it’s Allah’s fault if things go awry.

Result? The earnest and once absolute SCAF declaration that the Egyptian Parliament was unconstitutional, and that the Presidency had to remain toothless was overturned with the stroke of a pen, and very little harumphing by the military. In fact, they’re all in favor.

When surprising things happen in Arab countries, it’s almost always the result of a back-room deal, and this is probably no exception. Let’s take a look at what both sides want and see how that deal was – probably – cut.

What Does The Egyptian Military Want?

Three things. Lots of money, no responsibility for the Egyptian economy that they continue to exploit, and finally, no war with Israel. They gladly ceded responsibility for the nation in return for continued peace with the “Zionist oppressor” and a blind eye turned to their rank financial corruption, the latter being signaled by the likely deal to let Tantawi keep his ill-gotten riches in his Swiss accounts without any scrutiny from the Islamists. The only things that would make the Egyptian military really mad would be a war footing with Israel and losing their gold-plated Mercs. Neither of these will happen.

What Does Morsi and his MB Want?

Two things. Control and no fuss from the Military. They get the former, and the latter with this deal. They also get something else, a get out of jail free card only available to Islamist governments. It’s called religion. There’s nothing like putting your future in Allah’s hands when things get a little hairy. Lots of superficial social programs, lots of talk about the power of prayer, the nobility of charity, and a healthy dose of old time anti-semitic propaganda. Meanwhile the money that should be spent on infrastructure, sewers, and irrigation projects gets siphoned off to the guys with the ribbons and medals to, well, keep them quiet. Ba da bing!

The new minister of defence is the perfect man for the job. A supposed Islamist, who’s also apparently trusted by the US, and is a former Mubarak-era chief of military intelligence, so he knows just where the bodies are buried.

Written by coolrebel

August 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Egypt and Libya – A Grand Alliance in the Making?

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The Arab Spring is giving way to a rather uncertain winter. In Egypt, the Brotherhood is bubbling, the Army is busy containing, and the people are getting restless for the change promised by the departure and trial of Mubarak. In next door Libya, the echo of the bullet that liberated the rebels from the world’s most bizarre pariah of a dictator will soon give way to reality. A fractious and bloody civil war is almost certain to ensue in this colonial afterthought of a country, that’s never known anything but a lunatic totalitarianism.

In the vacuum of Gaddafi’s death the tribal, factional power-grab will be a nasty affair, made worse by the release of a powerful Islamist faction, the rise of tribal and city militias, a split between East and west, deep distrust of collaborators, a thirst for revenge, a big pot of black gold, and a strategic position just to the south of very vulnerable Southern Europe. NATO is gone in a few days, and the Libyans will be left to their own devices, their only support being the stirring and useless rhetoric of democratic idealism. They badly need a national army but won’t get one for decades. Without a cohesive national force to rely on, securing Western oilfields will be tough sledding and the Islamists will take full advantage of that weakness to impoverish and destabilize Libya, so Allah can pick up the pieces and give succor to a disheveled and desperate population.

Meanwhile, links between heavily armed Islamists in Libya, now free of Gaddafi’s yolk, and the Bedouin and fringe Islamists in Egypt and Sinai, will add to the headaches of an Egyptian Army that dreams of making money and playing with its armored American toys while the people get one wall away from lynching six Israeli security officials in their embassy and causing all out war. The Army would like a democracy that they can control, but worry that won’t be possible. They’d like to remove the State of Emergency Egypt has been laboring under for decades but dare not loosen their grip, especially now the Coptics are readying their own protective militias against the bubbling Islamic fundamentalism.

So what is a self-respecting Supreme Military Council to do protect itself from the gnawing threat of having to fire on its own masses? What can prevent a conflagration that will force the Egyptian Army to watch as tourists avoid the place like the plague, and foreign aid dwindles, sending Egypt into a turmoil that could easily make it the next Pakistan?

The answer is simple. Get control of Libyan Oil.

Libya’s oil is plentiful, high quality, and available.  Invading your neighbor is kind of outre these days, so it has to be something a little – well – smarter. One possibility is for the Egyptian Army to offer itself as the ‘stopgap’ security force protecting Libyan oil from ‘domestic and foreign threats’ until the Libyans raise their own army. Of course, that will never happen, so the Egyptians will be there – with the full support of the oil-thirsty West – for years, decades perhaps. In that time, the Egyptians could be paid for Libyan stability in oil, shoring up Cairo’s foreign trade accounts and enabling it to pay for handouts to the mob to stop them rebelling against Egypt’s military rulers. It’s a win-win-win for everyone. The Libyan National Transitional Council gets protection for its only asset, and the ability to protect itself against Islamism with a thoroughly Arab solution. The Egyptians get oil on the cheap to buy-off their mob and shore up their sagging economy, get to protect themselves from Libyan Islamist incursions by going after the bad guys before they hit Egyptian soil, protecting Egyptian security and Tourism. And as for the West, they get a security force to protect the Libyan oil supply, stabilize world prices during a very soft economic patch, and help maintain stability in North Africa, which will also help Tunisia, and even Morocco.

It’s almost certain that none of this will come to pass, because there almost never is a plan, but it’s fun to conjecture that this could be a rather interesting solution to a problem that’s going to be a thorn in America and Europe’s side for many years to come.

Written by coolrebel

October 22, 2011 at 11:14 am

Egypt: The Army’s In Control. What Next?

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Just Fired Hos. Anyone Want To Be Prez?

In hindsight, Mubarak was done the moment the police lost control. Mubarak could only truly count on the police, and when his attempt to use them to retake the square fell flat a couple of weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before he looked to the Army for protection.

Suleiman wasn’t going to allow Mubarak to take the whole shooting party down, but Hosni begged for time, and Suleiman agreed to try and wait out the demonstrators. The demonstrators responded by realizing they were being penned in the square, regrouped, reinforced and threatened to break out.

After rumors (sourced perhaps from the US but also maybe internally) started to swell that Mubarak was on his way built on the streets, Suleiman told Mubarak to obfuscate and confuse in one last vain attempt to keep him in power, but the demonstrators were having none of it. As the mood turned ugly, there were only two ways to return the country to stablility, fire on the crowd or sacrifice Mubarak.

And so he went.  It all happened, very, very fast.

The Army has bought some time. The protesters have their scalp and the hope is that they’ll go home. The Army’s plan is probably to stack the cards so the transition to democracy is as much in their favor as possible. They also know that now Mubarak has gone, and discussions about the future shape of Egypt are about to begin, the protests, stunning so far in their leaderlessness, are going to need some, but quick.

The Army no doubt relishes the idea of dealing with some US-educated Google executive who lived in the UAE, weeps in public and is married to an American, now being the voice of the Democratic movement. He’d last five minutes, and he’s wisely reluctant to take the reins. They’re even keener on El-Baradei, long time secular resident of Geneva, who’s failed to get the crowd behind him to any meaningful degree and totally lacks a power base. He’s probably the puppet of choice, but it’s unlikely he’s got the chops. So who else is there that’s not the Brotherhood? The answer has to be a fat capitalist member of the business elite. Again, the Army is probably licking its collective camouflaged lips at that one. A technocratic dose of neo-liberalism is probably not quite what the Egyptian street has in mind when they showed up in Tahrir Square.

A full on military takeover is not viable or seen as legitimate (except in an out and out emergency ) so ultimately the Army is going to have to choose a ‘leader’ that is not Suleiman – who has already announced he’s stepping down in favor of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces deal (a name that’s right out of the Military Coup Hall of Fame).

Clearly, Army control is short term, and that’s the way they want it. The last thing the military needs is to actually be responsible for running a poverty-stricken country that survives on tourism, baksheesh and government largesse. Fixing the monumental social and economic problems the nation faces is not in the Army’s manual and never has been. No, they’d rather have some other sucker on the hook for that. And what better way to give that poor schmo legitimacy than to have him, you know, elected by the people.

So what does the Army actually want? Simply put, it wants what it has now. It wants nothing to change. It enjoys tremendous wealth, privilege and power, gets to play with brand new toys like F-16s and M-1 tanks, which, incidentally, don’t actually have to be risked on the field of war. It’s loved by the people and because of the peace with Israel, it can get on with the edifying and decidedly less lethal business of making gobs of money for its officer class through massive involvement in every level of Egyptian economic society. What’s not to like?

And what about the Protesters? What do they want? Well, we’re about to find out that beyond the sacrifice of Mubarak, the various groups in Tahrir Square have precious little in common. But one thing they all want is for stuff to change (in their own very special ways). Of course any change of any kind is exactly what the Army doesn’t want.  Beyond that, there are probably as many visions or Egypt’s future as there are mobile cellphone charging stations in Tahrir Square. And each of the ideas is as charged and potentially dangerous too.

Does the bourgeois elite want Sharia? No way. Does the urban poor want the elite’s economic control and privileges to be maintained? No. Do and old and young see eye to eye? Nope. And guess who knows all that better than anyone? Suleiman and the “Supreme Council”. He’ll exploit those new divisions for all their worth so that the democracy that emerges is weak and fragmented, like the one in Pakistan.

The reason is simple. An ongoing plurality is a disaster for Army power. Divisions are far better, and in a place like Egypt, likely to stifle serious attempts at the very change that Army doesn’t want. I mean, if a plurality called for the peace with Israel to be rescinded, they’d have to go back on a war footing. That would be bad, and what would be even worse is the idea that the military budget could be sacrificed to say, make people’s lives better.

The elephant in the room is Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood knows that economic disaster is its number one ally. The more a national infrastructure breaks down, the more Islam can fill the void. The MB’s offshoot in Gaza, Hamas, plays that card to perfection, as does the Hizbollah in Lebanon, providing its very own “socio-religious contract.”  Egypt isn’t much better off than Gaza, if at all.  That’s good news for the MB but only as long as it doesn’t actually ‘run’ anything with a government seal over its door.

So the MB doesn’t really want power, for the same reason that the Army doesn’t want it. They don’t want to be on the hook, simply because if they were, they’d have to do something. And that’s not easy in a nation like Egypt which is an economic basket case waiting to happen. The last thing the Islamists want is responsibility for that, because it might put a crimp in their popularity. They’d rather pick up the pieces with their Islamic social services after the secular leaders have messed things up. Then they can blame the elite, Israel, as well as the West, and invoke Allah in one fell swoop.

Indeed, staying out of power is probably the only way to keep the MB together. If they won democratic power, they’d have to appease the Egyptian elite and Army which decidedly don’t want Sharia, which would put an end to any upbeat economic prospects in Egypt with all the attendant problems that would cause.  There would also be one other minor problem. If the Brotherhood led a government, their own radical elements would most probably splinter because the beloved Islamic caliphate was taking too long to be forged in the cradle of the Arab world.

Last but not least, spare a thought for the rest of the world.

The authoritarian Arab regimes are all deeply unhappy about developments. At least the oil states can buy off the population. But if that doesn’t work, they do have a problem.

Then there’s the Chinese. That pesky Internet deal certainly worked magic in Egypt, and inflation is on the rise in China big time. Are the cards aligning for a new Tiananmen?

And there’s the West, full of the joys of Spring now that democracy is flowering in Cairo. Except that they don’t like the idea of real democracy, because it’s possible that once the Egyptian people don’t get the economic changes they seek in six weeks flat, they’ll once again turn on their time-honored enemy, the Jews, and demand, democratically, of course, that the peace is rescinded. The last thing the US wants is for its Egyptian Army allies to turn on the Israelis using US hardware. But at the same time, they do not want Pakistan on Israel’s doorstep and have to be seen to be doing the right thing. It’s a most vexing situation for old Barackslider.

All in all, pontificators like Thereisnoplan are having a whale of the time Egypt-watching.

Written by coolrebel

February 11, 2011 at 3:47 am

Egypt: The Role of The Internet and Why Beijing is Watching

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There’s nothing the social media and tech mavens like doing more than talking up social media and its influence.

In Iran, that influence turned out to be overplayed, and the ‘Green Revolution’ fizzled out. But in Tunisia and Egypt, it seems like it did indeed play a major organizational role, at least in catalyzing the original clashes. The Iranian police state proved itself much more adept at manipulating social media for its own ends. Plus it had the added advantage of dealing with a rebellion that was bourgeois in origin. The Egyptian riots seem to have a far wider social base, which may prove to be crucial. It’s interesting to note that in both Tunisia and Egypt, satellite cities away from the capital played a big role in fomenting the rebellion.

But regardless of the social pattern, it’s clear to Thereisnoplan that the internet is a crucial part of the equation in Egypt, which explains why it was cut off. Washington has been watching closely, but I’m guessing that Beijing has been taking note too.

China has overheated its economy pretty nicely. A real estate bubble, a more educated, and connected population with vastly increased expectations, inflation levels near the tipping point, and a depressed international consumer economy are adding real pressure for political change. And while China’s conciliatory approach to human rights and democratic change is probably just talk, unlike their distaste for the current Nobel Peace Prize recipient – they’re getting closer and closer to a time when concrete decisions will have to be made.

Capitalism is unsettling. It makes poor people want what richer people have, it makes richer people want more, and it makes both rich and poor think that they can attain their goals. Everyone is restless, nobody is happy, and when they’re not satisfied they want to be able to express that dissatisfaction, and to have their grievances heard and acted upon by their representatives – usually elected. The apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party isn’t built like that. Up until now, China was so poor that it could catch up with the rest of the world and maintain Communist power. But those times are coming to an end.

And the wild card, even the potential decisive factor, is the Internet. The Internet gives the masses the two things Beijing least want them to have – knowledge and the ability to communicate quickly, efficiently, and laterally.  It’s clear that China’s leaders are terrified by the Internet. They censor it, block it, cajole its leaders, but they can’t ultimately control a fluid, ever changing phenomenon. Ultimately, it will prevail, because people want it to. What’s happening in Egypt is probably sending chills down the collective Communist Party spine.

If the Chinese economy melts down in the next decade, which is a distinct possibility, another Tiananmen Square could be cranked up by Social media, the internet and cellphones really, really easily. The student flashmob could grow and grow and get noisier and noisier, very fast. And if they refuse to go home like they refused to do twenty-two years ago, new demonstrations could pop up in other major Chinese cities in hours. Suddenly, the Communist Party would be faced with a nationwide scenario where its authority is threatened, and the party would face an intolerable choice. Fire or back down. If they fire, they could fan the flames and ultimately be consumed by them in which case China enters a period of instability and potential chaos which would reverberate across the entire planet. If they don’t, they open the door to the vagaries of change which could also very conceivably swallow them up.

The Internet is a beast that Beijing can’t control, and ultimately they know it. Access to it is a privilege a new Chinese generation accepts as a right. Remove it or choke it off and you pay the price. Allow it to grow and you lose control. The choices that Chinese leaders are going to be forced to make are choices they will most decidedly not like like making.

Add in festering economic issues and there’s a heady cocktail brewing.

Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 1:15 am

Egypt: It’s All About the Army Now

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All this talk of “[insert term for revolution here] revolution” in Egypt is a tad premature, and seems to gloss over the apparently incongruous fact that the Army were welcomed into the streets by the protesters. Cheering when the troops get called out is hardly the stuff of the barricades.

The Egyptian moment is moving very, very fast, but it is starting to become increasingly clear that Mubarak’s future is in the hands of the Egyptian military, which is much revered in highly nationalistic Egypt (and in which every young man serves).

So with that in mind, let’s extrapolate what this could mean for Cairo.

Mubarak has a major problem. The moment he asks the Army to fire on the protesters is the moment he books his ticket out of Cairo. The Army’s own credibility and continued power rests on it NOT doing that. The protesters know this and with the brutal and hated police thoroughly routed, it looks like we’ve arrived at stage two of the game. The ball is in the Army’s court.

So what will the Military do? It’s unlikely they want to sacrifice Mubarak – who’s one of their own – and has plied them with plenty of goodies over the decades. But the longer the streets burn (and there’s plenty of unemployed youth to keep them that way) the closer it gets to the tipping point, of losing the public trust and undermining its own power and position.

That point may come soon. And if it does, the Military will have to make some serious decisions. Do they try to convince El-Baradei to lead a transition government, or co-opt an old Field Marshal to restore control? And how long will that transition last and to what? Will the choices the Military makes choke off the billions they get from the US Government?

And what about the Muslim Brotherhood? The powerful decades-old Islamist movement (which helped to spawn and has close ties with close ties to Al Qaeda) in this intensely religious country has wisely stayed behind the scenes. But is it poised to strike and take advantage of the weakness and turmoil facing its enemies? And if does, how will the military respond?

The idea that Egypt’s repressive police state is going to give way to a liberal democracy by next Tuesday is wishful thinking in the extreme. What’s more likely is that we’ll see major fissures developing, and a situation that’s more akin to the current state of Pakistan where Islamists battle a powerful army and toothless civilian army for control of a struggling economy.

Another worrying similarity with Pakistan could also emerge, where the Army – through it’s semi-rogue Intelligence agency surreptitiously supports the Taliban in order to keep it at bay. Could the Egyptians do the same thing in Gaza – opening the border – and plying Hamas with weapons in order to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from striking at the nation’s heart?

Finally, there’s the issue of peace with Israel. Mubarak earns billions by keeping it intact, but will the Military be able to maintain it in the face of an emboldened Islamist threat from within? Can they afford to recall their ambassador to Tel Aviv, and re-establish cold-war ‘hostilities’ with Israel?

To call the situation fascinating is an understatement. But one thing’s for sure, Egypt’s future remains in the hands of the guys with the guns. The question is what they do with them.

Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 12:37 am

Egypt – So Where’s the Muslim Brotherhood?

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See you around, Hos.

Before we get carried away with the birth of democracy in Egypt, let’s ask ourselves why the United States has been plying the Mubarak regime with a couple of billion dollars worth of play money for the last God knows how long. Was it because he was such a great guy doing right by his peeps? Uhh, no. Could it have been because we needed him to keep the lid on the Muslim Brotherhood, that’s been threatening to give the West indigestion for the last eighty years? Way more likely.

So where exactly have the Muslim Brotherhood been during the riots in Cairo and other cities around the Nile Delta? Not in huge evidence that’s for sure. And that’s what worries Thereisnoplan. You see, it would seem like a smart move for the Brotherhood to stay on the sidelines. After all, if they were seen as stirring the pot, the US and others might be a little less likely to be pushing the Democratic agenda for Egypt, just in case Cairo went the way of Gaza after its Democratic experiment and ended up in the hands of the Islamists. It may be a genuine secular revolt, but – and this is just a wild guess – Thereisnoplan is betting that much of President Obama’s trip to the White House basement (otherwise known as the Situation Room) was spent chatting about just that eventuality.

Egypt is a very religious nation. Even the riots calling for the ouster of Mubarak had to wait until Friday prayers were done before the stones and molotovs could be tossed about. The Muslim Brotherhood has almost certainly learned the Hezbollah and Hamas playbook well. Promise and deliver ‘social services’ to the people and they’ll support you. (The mafia is run on broadly the same basis). In short, they’re well positioning to assume the mantle of power with a convenient one shot democratic moment and promise to help Egypt out of the trough that Mubarak’s cronyism got them dug into over the decades.

Now, it’s unlikely that Mubarak will lose the loyalty of the army and police forces (which would have nothing to gain under the Muslim Brotherhood) and therefore will stay in power, albeit in a weakened position. Maybe he’ll co-opt El-Baradei as the peacemaker he needs to bridge his credibility gap with the rioters, but it’s also possible the army will turn on him and wave him goodbye. Things are moving fast in the Middle East, and many predicted the turmoil in Tunisia would be an isolated moment. It wasn’t. So anything can happen.

And if one of those anythings – say a Muslim Brotherhood takeover – took place (under the guise of democracy, of course) we’d all be in for a helluva ride in the Middle East. Here are a few possibilities.

Egypt could overturn its peace treaty with Israel. That would mean more than the end of Israeli tourism in the Sinai. And while it’s highly unlikely that the militarily decrepit Egyptian forces would ever mount a full scale attack on Israel, it could prompt the reeopening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza and the arming of Hamas with more potent and longer range missiles than the jerried Qassams they’re lobbing these days.

If Mubarak folds his tent, it’ll be interesting to see how he could follow Ben Ali of Tunisia to a gated community in Riyadh or Jeddah. The House of Saud might just regard his arrival there with the same relish as a dose of the collective clap. Instead, they’d be more likely to be opening up the gun lockers for their own security forces in readiness for the distinct possibility that they might be in for the same treatment. And lurking just under the surface in Saudi Arabia is Al Qaeda, who must be watching events in Cairo unfold with glee.

Intifada part three. Could the Palestinians in the West Bank be next? Could they be thinking that hey, if it worked for the those Tunisian and Egyptian dudes maybe it’ll work for us? That would certainly deal a body blow to what’s left of Obama’s latest go at the “Mid East Peace Process”, a game that almost always leads to profound frustration and gloom for Washington. Could a hostile Egypt on Israel’s border embolden Iran? Could Tehran engineer a wholesale pan-Muslim alliance to try and defeat Israel?

Nobody knows, but it’s fun to conjecture, unless you’re in the Situation Room of course.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2011 at 11:06 am