Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Commentary on Egypt

Here I just wanted to excerpt some of the most substantial commentary I've seen on the situation in Egypt. For ongoing news, among others I would recommend Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog, Helena Cobban's Just World News, and the excellent reporting of The Independent's Robert Fisk.

Gareth Porter, Why Washington Clings to a Failed Middle East Strategy LobeLog Foreign Policy 01/31/2011:

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those "rogue" regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept. It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.

But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another.
Stephen Walt, A realist policy for Egypt Foreign Policy 01/31/2011:

In fact, this is one of those fortunate moments when the United States does not face a clear tradeoff between its moral sympathies and its strategic imperatives. For starters, Egypt is not a major oil producer like Saudi Arabia, so a shift in regime in Cairo will not imperil our vital interest in ensuring that Middle East oil continues to flow to world markets. By itself, in fact, Egypt isn't a critical strategic partner. Yes, military bases there can be useful transit points when we intervene in the region, but the United States has other alternatives and military intervention isn't something we should be eager to do anyway (remember Iraq?). Egypt is not as influential in the Arab world as it once was, in part due to the social and economic stagnation that has characterized the Mubarak era, and its recent efforts to mediate several on-going disputes have been unsuccessful. Furthermore, U.S. support for dictators like Mubarak has been one of al Qaeda's major reasons for targeting the United States, as well as a useful recruiting tool (along with our unstinting support for Israel and our military presence in the Gulf). It is also one of the main reasons why many Arabs have a negative view of the United States. Viewed strictly on its own, the U.S. alliance with Egypt has become a strategic liability.
Gary Sick, The Worst of Both Worlds Foreign Policy 01/29/2011:

There is no need to strain the analogy. Iran and Egypt were and are very different places, with very different political dynamics. But the fundamental nature of the decision that is required today by the United States is not very different from the dilemma faced by the Carter administration three decades ago. Should you back the regime to the hilt, in the conviction that a change of leadership would likely endanger your most precious security interests? Or should you side with the opposition -- either because you agree with its goals or simply because you want to be on the "right side of history" (and in a better position to pursue your policy objectives) once the dust has settled? ...

Revolutions are inherently unpredictable. They may fizzle or subside in the face of sustained regime oppression. They may inspire a hard line military man to "restore order" and perhaps thereby elevate himself into a position of political authority that he is later loathe to relinquish. They may propel a determined radical fringe into power and thereby impose an ideology that has nothing to do with what people thought they were fighting for. They may go on far longer than anyone imagined at the start.
Bob Dreyfuss, author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (2005) and no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood (to put it mildly!) Who's Behind Egypt's Revolt? The Nation 01/31/2011:

Let's look at the emerging coalition, in its parts.

First, by all accounts, is the April 6 Youth Movement. Leftists, socialists and pro-labor people know that the movement takes its name from April 6, 2008, when a series of strikes and labor actions by textile workers in Mahalla led to a growing general strike by workers and residents and then, on April 6, faced a brutal crackdown by security forces. A second, allied movement of young Egyptians developed in response to the killing by police of Khaled Said, a university graduate, in Alexandria. Both the April 6 group and another group, called We Are All Khaled Said, built networks through Facebook, and according to one account the April 6 group has more than 80,000 members on Facebook. The two groups, which work together, are nearly entirely secular, pro-labor and support the overthrow of Mubarak and the creation of a democratic republic.

The leader of the April 6 movement is Ahmad Maher, a 28-year-old construction engineer who was profiled last week in the Los Angeles Times. Well-wired and Internet-connected, Maher told the paper: "After the revolution in Tunisia, we are able to market the idea of change in Egypt. People now want to seize something." A year ago, when ElBaradei returned to Egypt, Maher was inspired to organize a movement of young, secular, and pro-labor Egyptians. "Maher began reaching out to secular grass-roots and student movements emerging to reform a nation they believed had substituted oppression for vision," reported the LA Times. "Momentum was slow to build, particularly enlisting Egypt's increasing band of labor activists representing millions of underpaid workers."

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