The Sensible Endorsement

October 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This week, the Liberal Interventionist DemocracyArsenal featured a guest post by Stephen Mclnerney who replying to Tarek Masoud’s Foreign Policy article, stood against electing Gamal Mubarak as the best hope for a democratic Egypt.

Realistically of course the cure in this case turns out to be worse than the ailment. First of all, both Masoud and Mclnerney are fundamentally wrong in arguing for democracy in Egypt. The coming of democracy to Egypt or to any other state for that matter does not guarantee that western interests are met – which should be the main concern of anyone arguing on the succession process in the Arab Republic. This is quite clearly predicated in Democratic Peace Theory which as has been argued before on this blog, makes Libints and Neocons brothers in arms in ‘making the world safe for democracy’; neocons through war, libints through subversion.

Other than the fallacy that what is best for democracy is best for the west, one has to ponder on what the added value of democracy itself would be. The Middle East democracies are far from the liberal standard of the Atlantic revolutions. Lebanon continues embroiled in factional squabbles – its sovereignty ever limited by regional power plays – the Gulf states have only made timid approaches to the parliamentary system and often the Islamists make inroads in what few free elections there are and finally Iran’s system can work only if supervised and constricted by the theocratic apparatus. Turkey is usually the next case study offered for a successful Islamic democracy but Turkey has itself been ‘guided’ by secularist coups and now that the regime is finally consolidating itself, it is has decided that cooperation and peace with its illiberal neighbours might benefit it more than coalescing with the democratic west.

The point of all this is to state clearly that democracy is not necessarily compatible with Egyptian society and if it is it would always be of a very different kind. Most of the attempts at exporting the liberal democratic model have either not worked at all or developed into imperfect democracies and only after a fair share of bloodshed. How can democracy work in a country which has only known separation from Church and State through the gun barrel? How can civic movements mobilise the population into ideological party structures if there is scarcely a civil society in Egypt? Or will the votes of the intellectual and financial elites count double than those of the ordinary Egyptians?

When I visited Egypt, even our tour guide expressed sympathy for the terrorist attacks in Egypt. He mocked the National Democratic Party (NDP) and praised the subversive Islamists. If a travelled and cosmopolitan citizen, with a vested interest in the success of market economics and cooperation with the west cannot help himself from admiring the extremists, what hope is there for a healthy Egyptian democracy?

Would Egypt profit from a democratic system? Market economics is already in place, Egypt is a regional power which has built a stable geopolitical structure that works for its benefit. Egyptians in general prosper as is demonstrated by the growth of the country’s economy and population. Democratic process and rule of law, while guarding and promoting rights and freedoms, are also generally bureaucratic and sluggish. As one can observe in Mediterranean states, the advantages of the implantation of democracy in dissimilar cultures – from those of the Atlantic paradigm – are quite often outweighed by demagogic political cultures, short-term thinking and political instability; and how well would the EU’s Mediterranean belt fare without the northern European economic umbrella and Washington’s strategic one? One can at least induce that not so much priority would be given to the fundamental freedoms of the Atlantic ‘good society’.

Ultimately, why endanger all of Egypt’s achievements on behalf of a social engineering experiment with a long track-record of failure in the region? I am sensitive to the ineffective and worn off character of a decadent regime but Cairo’s prosperity and stability should ensure at least a few more decades to the current regime.

The only prospect for stability after Hosni Mubarak is the NDP. Direct military rule would escalate tensions and an unknown successor coming from the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) might bring about infighting and jostle for power within the regime.

The opposition is large but two main movements stand out. On one hand we have the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. They have for the past years come out as a moderate democratic movement with Islamic philosophy as inspiration for political reforms. Be that as it may, the brotherhood’s ties to Hamas and the MB’s branches in Jordan and Syria send a different message. In the very least, one could expect a MB led regime to change Egypt’s strategic paradigm in the same way the AKP changed Turkey’s. How tensions with Israel, the EU and America would help Egypt is anyone’s guess but true enough, they’d be popular; and I repeat: this is the least we could expect.

The other movement is Mohamed el-Baradei’s National Association for Change. Its platform is everything the west is salivating for. Baradei stands for the ‘good society’: liberal democracy, rule of law, equal rights for men and women, fundamental freedoms, protection of minorities, social justice. The inherent problems with this having already been addressed.

Over at DemocracyArsenal, Mclnerney also states that Gamal would be weak comparing to his father but Hosni Mubarak was himself weak when he took over from Sadat and in Syria, Bashar al-Assad seems to be doing fine. The logic of subverting a system that works for Egypt and for western interests is beyond me but then, most universalists are usually found to have priorities in mind other than those of the states they claim to represent.


  1. A.Shawki said,

    Excellent post. I fully agree with your analysis, however from an Egyptian perspective, I would ultimately like to see democracy implemented in a few decades. What worries me now is the absence of rule of law, gross violations of human rights, corruption and inefficiency in all levels of government, illiteracy and poverty, issues that need to be dealt with before we can talk about democracy. Gamal Mubarak has done for the economy in five years what his father couldn’t or wouldn’t do in 25.

    • M. Silva said,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I agree that civil society has to depend on itself in order to reach whatever reforms it sees fit.
      I however doubt that practical aspects of Egypt’s system of governance such as corruption and inefficiency, will ever be resolved in sufficient a manner to allow for a western style democracy.

      Also a question: why do you consider Gamal’s economic record better than his father’s?
      Egypt prospered under Hosni Mubarak, did it not?

      • A.Shawki said,

        It’s true that corruption has reached unprecedented levels in Egypt, but I’d still like to be more optimistic and think that eventually there will be some form of democracy, maybe not western style, but some form that will allow accountability, efficiency and transparency.

        It was Gamal and his miracle team in Ahmad Nazif’s cabinet that started the liberalization of the economy, encouraging private and foreign investment and expanding foreign trade, albeit with his father’s approval. Growth jumped to 7.4%, GDP more than doubled from $78.8 billion in 2004 to $162.8 billion in 2008. Foreign investment increased from $2 billion in 2004 to $13 billion in 2008. There is still a long way to go, but the economy they inherited was a mess. They introduced tax reforms resulting in significant revenue increases. Even in 2008 the economy was growing at 4.5%, I believe. What they haven’t been very successful at is the trickle down of these benefits, there is huge income inequality, also inflation is a threat. It will take time to reverse the effects of the failed socialist policies of the 50s and 60s, but they’re on the right track. Gamal’s hand are still tied and doesn’t have full control yet, but from what we’ve seen so far, I think he can do it if given the chance. The problem is that opposition to so called inheritance is so great, and he doesn’t seem to have much support from Hosni.

  2. The Sensible Endorsement « The Westphalian Post » Stay in Egypt news said,

    […] original post here: The Sensible Endorsement « The Westphalian Post October 8, 2010 | adam | Tags: country, general-prosper, growth, regional-power, […]

  3. Frank said,

    Oh sweet irony. Why is it that avowed “realist” generally know nothing about reality on the ground?

    “Egyptians in general prosper as is demonstrated by the growth of the country’s economy and population.” I’m dumbstruck by your ignorance.

    Go back and play some more Risk.

    • M. Silva said,

      Very well Frank, I’ll bite.

      Don’t Egyptians prosper? Hasn’t the population been increasing steadily for decades now?

      Care to put some figures where your mouth is?

      • Frank said,

        Figured you’d be the one to provide the stats since you made the assertion first. But I’ll bite back.

        The prosperity you reference (I assume because you don’t say) has everything to do with the macro economic stats A.Shawki cites above. In the Egyptian context, those have little if any baring on the economic life of the broader population. Growth has been heavily subsidized by the government and the private companies that have emerged are generally backed by politicians or those with close ties to politicians. Take Ahmed Ezz’s steel and ceramics empire for example (more background on these insider deals here

        Four-fifths of Egyptian families (yes whole families) live on less than $3,000 a year. ( Public dept and inflation in 2009 were both on par with Iceland and to quote from the CIA Factbook ” Despite high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor.” (

        Hell, even Egypt’s exalted GDP/capita ranks a rather uninspiring 136th, sandwiched between two sinking Pacific islands (Kiribati and Niue).

        What exactly is prosperous about any of this?

        As far as population growth being in some way related to Mubarak’s rule, I have no idea what you are talking about. Egypt’s population growth rate has actually slowed since the 1980s ( Plus, since when is population growth a surefire indicator of prosperity?

  4. M. Silva said,


    First of all, thank you for taking the trouble.

    1 – The word ‘prosperous’ indicates economic growth, nothing else. I think you understood it as wealth. I realise the Egyptian population is poor, I do not dispute that but their income has been increasing for decades now. That’s progress.

    2 – Mubarak continued Sadat’s reforms. I believe his economic handling was good, at least when compared to Nasser’s.

    3 – Of course population growth is an important indicator. Take North and South Korea and compare the demographic growth. It has everything to do with how successful their economies are.

    Please read this:

    Your argument that Egypt is poor does not invalidate the regime’s positive economic management.
    Finally, given that this is a post pertaining to Egypt’s leadership succession, I have not yet seen any argument that the opposition might do better…

    • A.Shawki said,

      Thanks for posting the IMF report.
      People forget that all this just started 4-5 years ago by Gamal. Also remember he is only handling the economy, he is not responsible for education, social affairs or other areas in desperate need for reforms, he still has his hand tied.

    • Frank said,

      Not a problem. Love an argument.

      1. You wrote “Egyptians in general prosper as is demonstrated by the growth of the country’s economy and population,” if you want to backtrack and say that all you meant was simple, raw economic growth figures fine be me, but it isn’t what you wrote. Bottom line: Egyptians *in general* aren’t prospering.

      2. I agree that Mubarak was better than Nasser, but that isn’t a particularly good argument. TGI Fridays is fancy stuff after McDonalds. And as A.Shawki points out, Hosni didn’t really do that much until Gamal began his reform drive in 2004.

      3. Still not sure what you are talking about with growth rate. To reiterate my point, population growth is not a surefire indicator of economic development in the way you suggest. Let’s look at some countries with high population growth rates to drive this home: Burundi 3.69%, Gaza Strip 3.85%, DRC 3.21%, Burkina Faso, and the list goes on. I know the macro point you are trying to make (ie that there is a positive long run correlation between population growth and economic growth), but this clearly exposes ignorance your part. In Egypt, population growth has been a problem not a success. There isn’t enough housing, the education system is failing under weight of new students and many college graduates seriously under employed.

      -I’ve read it. I’d recommend you go back and read the Economist’s report on Egypt ( for added perspective on how little this growth has meant to anyone other than the IMF and Egyptian elites.

      -Finally, my argument isn’t that the opposition would do a better job, but that political reforms are needed for Egypt to actually take a step forward. Is it really too much to ask for NDP to lift the emergency law and allow international election monitors? They will win the parliamentary election regardless, that isn’t a question. Egypt needs independent voices in parliament to introduce new ideas, a press that can criticize the government without fear of retribution, and at least a semblance of a check and balance system. See my response to A.Shawki below for more.

      • M. Silva said,

        1 – “to prosper – To be fortunate or successful, especially in terms of one’s finances; thrive”

        If Egyptians have more financial resources today and better living conditions than … say … 10 years ago, how can you refuse to acknowledge Mubarak’s regime has made Egyptians prosper?…

        2 – Glad to hear it. Well, you know what they say: ‘good is the enemy of great’. I much rather keep someone I know is good rather than experiment with someone that just might be great…
        Better safe…

        3 – I agree that population growth is a problem and not an advantage for development.
        But you must also accept that if there weren’t a thriving economy, there wouldn’t be more children…

        – I never said the development was proportional for masses and elites. But then I do not care. In most of the Middle East that is the norm, why and how could Egypt be different?
        Lets stop comparing Egypt to developed countries, please.

        – As far as freedom of expression goes, I might agree with you. Full democracy though I am not so sure of.
        Is there any independent poll that suggests that ‘They [NDP] will win the parliamentary election regardless’ ?…

  5. A.Shawki said,


    I agree that population growth is in fact one of the biggest problems facing Egypt, but the economic data I provided do indicate growth, and they definitely do reflect on some segments of the population, mainly skilled labor. The problem is that with a screwed up education system (thanks to Nasser’s policies and NDP failure to correct it), there is shortage in skilled labor and professionals needed to fill the jobs created by the growth in investments, while many unemployed graduates can’t find a job. There is no denying that the economy is turning a corner, and there are always pains associated when that happens. There is also no denying that the improvements in the economy however small can only be credited to Gamal Mubarak and his team, which is the main point of this blog.

    Since the 1952 so called revolution, the only criteria for selecting ministers and senior officials was loyalty to Nasser, now for the first time Gamal has managed to put a cabinet made up of successful businessmen experts in their field, creating growth and everybody is pouncing on him. Ahmad Ezz, since you mentioned him by name, inherited a fortune from his father who was one of the biggest steel dealers in the country, he then built his ceramic empire from scratch among fierce competition long before joining the NDP, he is a very shrewd businessman, not a very likable person, that’s why he’s hated so much. He is of course very powerful but not corrupt. I don’t really care how influential big corporations are as long as they keep creating jobs, and keep the economy growing.

    Nobody that lives in a western democracy can even begin to fathom the damage done to this country by the Nasser regime, of course there is still poverty, ignorance and suffering, but the point here is who is more qualified to lead the country after Mubarak, I’m willing to give Gamal the benefit of the doubt and let him continue the reform he started, rather than hand it to some communist schmuck (most opposition parties are by the way) or a religious fanatic.

    • Frank said,

      I understand your argument that Gamal has had a positive effect on the economic situation in Egypt, speaking in terms of broad economic indicators, but I worry that he has little support outside of a clan of business elites, which could lead to instability, ineffective management, and a host of other ills if he is elected. Also, while in certain situations I’m sympathetic to the argument that economic development must precede political reform, I can’t help but ask, how long do we have to wait? Why is it necessary for everyone to look the other way while abuse, under the auspices of the emergency law, is widespread and elections are systematically rigged (even when it isn’t necessary)?

      I also understand your concern about the opposition, generally a lackluster bunch at best and craven fools at worst. But it isn’t like Tagammu or Wafd actually have broad popular support. Hell, even if the Brotherhood won all of the seat they are running for they would still only comprise 1/3 of parliament. Do you really think NDP needs to cheat to remain the dominate force in the Egyptian political scene? The key is for opposition parties to be able to present their arguments to the population freely and when elected be able to express their views in parliament. This will allow new ideas and some semblance of a check and balance system to emerge. While of course this could certainly happen if Gamal comes to power, as Masoud writes, it’s unlikely that anything will change if the U.S. doesn’t pressure the regime to move forward with political reforms.

      • A.Shawki said,

        I don’t think we’re much in disagreement here. However there are a few points worth noting. Gamal actually has more support than you think in the most unlikely places, in villages, it’s not the support that would win him an election, but it’s there. People that oppose him do so because he’s NDP, and after 30yrs of NDP rule, I can’t blame them, but this is not rational thinking. I always believed that voting for the opposition just to get rid of the ruling party is stupid and not the right thing to do. The regime is very sensitive to the idea of inheritance, he faces a huge anti Gamal, anti inheritance and anti NDP campaign from opposition parties and groups such as Kefaya (enough) and No to inheritance, without any attempt from the regime to counter that.

        I never said we should look the other way, political reform should go hand in hand with economic and social reform, not free elections. I’m just curious Frank, where are you writing from? Because unless you’ve lived in Egypt for some time, you’ll never realize how bad it is. Farmers and peasants still live the same way the pharaohs did, true they have mobile phones and satellite TV, but 30% are illiterate, some areas still don’t have running water, sewers nor electricity, they spend most of their time watching religious channels where strange fatwas come, like Micky Mouse is evil and should be killed, (this is not a joke). Can you appreciate what illiteracy really means? Sometimes I can’t. Nothing was done over the past 6 decades to educate and improve the lives of these people. Nasser didn’t just destroy the economy, but also destroyed the Egyptian spirit and mentality, he turned the people into lazy, unproductive, selfish, ignorant and every other name in the book, How can you expect them to make the right choice at the polls.

        One of NDP’s stupid mistakes was chocking secular opposition parties (no, they have very little support) while underestimating the MB. The result was they won 20% of parliament seats in 2005 only after the government interfered when they realized what was happening. The NDP won something like 36% and only got control of the house after enlisting independent candidates, other parties won a handful. So you see, they can win if given the chance, and that should never be allowed to happen. I agree that the US should pressure the regime for more reforms, but I doubt that will happen soon. Education should be top priority, building an effective civil society will take decades, what is needed immediately is to lift the emergency law and treat the people as human beings. With the election scheduled for 2011, I’m afraid there is no time for much else.

        It is sad when you think that Nasser, having so much popular support after the revolution, could have lead the people any which way he wanted, he could have established a good base for a great country in the 18 or so years of his rule. After 60 years we are worse off than we started, it will take a hundred to reverse the damage.

  6. Frank said,

    M.N. Silva you can’t be serious. I’ve destroyed you at every point in this argument and all you can come back with is the dictionary definition of prosper and a trite, tired defense of the Mubarak regime.

    If that is all you’ve got, I’ll leave you to it.

    • M. Silva said,

      You’ve ‘destroyed’ me at every point?!…

      Now that’s a bold statement considering you are the one who hasn’t been able to prove me or Ahmad wrong.

      To prosper means to thrive economically and that Egyptians have done and keep doing. How did you counter this the first time? By saying Egyptians are poor, which has nothing to do with it. You presented indicators that show Egypt’s underdevelopment but unnecessarily so since that was not at stake but rather the Egyptian economy’s strength.

      How did you counter it the second time? You didn’t. Instead you keep accusing me of ignorance but keep failing to show that Egypt is in recession or that your so-called democratic reforms can improve the economy or the country.

      If you are tired of debating the issue that’s fine. Just don’t invert the context of the conversation to save face. You couldn’t prove Egypt isn’t prospering, you absurdly claimed Mubarak was ‘bad’ but had to concede he was better than Nasser and you failed to offer a single alternative.

      Finally, you keep advocating reforms without demonstrating how beneficial they’d be for Egypt… What’s there to prove that your reforms would improve Egyptians’ lives?

      • A.Shawki said,

        It’s Ahmad.

        As far as I’m concerned, economic reforms are underway and the economy is growing, maybe not as fast as one hopes, but growing nevertheless. Problems facing the economy include shortage in skilled labor, bureaucracy, corruption, infrastructure and the anti business sentiment being fueled by opposition groups. These issues and many others such as education, civil liberties and the rule of law must be addressed by whoever will come after Mubarak. This reform must continue and must never derail. We can keep debating this till the sun rises from the west, but the facts on the ground indicate that a western style democracy right now would be disastrous.

  7. Frank said,


    1. It’s not true that Gamal opponents are limited to the opposition. As I’m sure you know many in NDP don’t even support Gamal. (Hell, there are even quotes from Hosni criticizing father to son transitions in other countries–oh the irony)

    2. I’m well aware of the situation in Egypt. The issue is that your argument is basically circular: The illiterate fools can’t be trusted, so lets keep the government in power that has kept them stupid and ignorant by failing to reform the schools and clamping down media. That is a lovely cycle which in many other contexts has fueled extremist and governmental collapse.

    • A.Shawki said,

      I never said that, if you read my second post on October 8, 2010, at the end I said “he doesn’t seem to have much support from Hosni.” and many in the old guard don’t support him, in fact he only has his mother’s support. But that does not have much of an effect on the public as does the anti inheritance campaign by the opposition, that’s what I was talking about.

      Don’t twist my words, nobody is advocating the status quo forever. I said many times and I’ll say it again, there has to be reforms, and I believe that the only one capable of carrying such reforms safely is Gamal Mubarak. Opposition groups will, if given the chance, revoke the Camp David accord with Israel, sever ties with the US, that is their platform, is this what you want, another war with Israel? Yesterday Hassan Nafaa, is calling on opposition groups to reject the senate’s democracy bill, a bill that the Egyptian regime has been lobbying like mad to kill. Is that the kind of thinking we want, absolutely not.

  8. M. Silva said,

    Egypt Week in Washington? Part II
    by Steven Cook, Senior Fellow

    I had been planning on posting something about Iran this week even though it is beyond my “from the Potomac to the Euphrates” writ, but I feel compelled to return to last Monday’s post “Egypt Week in Washington?” Since my take on democracy promotion in Egypt, the editorial writers at the Washington Post have weighed-in again after a meeting between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in which—if press reports are correct—the issue of repression in Egypt was not raised . I also received an email from my friend, Michael Singh, wanting to know if I was calling him “airy fairy.” I assured Michael that I was not, but that I thought the debate about democracy promotion lacked some substance, and had so for some time. I also had a terrific lunch with Andrew Albertson, the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy—see the picture above. He actually let me keep the mug.

    Yet, it was Issandr el Amrani of The Arabist (the first blog I check every morning after reading up on NY sports teams), who laid down the gauntlet of sorts in a comment on my site. He asked me to delineate the potential risks of pushing the Egyptians on political change. Let me just say that before I start, I wrote the original post only because for all the talk of encouraging the Egyptians to undertake reform, I hadn’t read or heard anyone take up the potential downside risks of democracy promotion with analytic rigor. It is hard to do what I am asking in a blog post, but let me start with a thumbnail sketch of plausible (not possible) risks and their probability. So here goes…

    If the United States pushes the Egyptians on democracy:
    1) The Muslim Brotherhood will take over (high risk, low probability);
    2) The Egyptians will stop catering the peace process (low risk, low probability);
    3) The Egyptians will slow down logistical support for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (moderate risk, moderate probability);
    4) The Egyptians will be less cooperative on intelligence sharing (moderate risk, moderate probability);
    5) The Egyptians ignore Washington’s call for greater political openness and President Obama looks weak (high risk, high probability)

    Of course, we can quibble over my designations of low, moderate and high, but please do not argue that the Egyptians will do 2, 3, and 4 anyway because it is “in their interests.” That’s a tautological road that I am not sure my critics want to travel. If you want to argue that something is in Egypt’s interest, you have to demonstrate that Cairo has been willing to sacrifice or exchange something important in the service of these interests.

    In any event, taking a hard look at what I have here suggests that the risks of democracy promotion in Egypt are likely manageable. The question then is: how do you do it effectively? During lunch, Andrew suggested that policymakers and advocates for democratic reform think creatively about the kinds of incentives or disincentives that could move the Egyptians in the direction of reform. Hmmmmmm. I like the idea of incentives, but does it have to be that complicated?

    You can criticize the Bush administration for a lot of things, but you have to give it credit for the President’s forthright calls for political change in the Middle East and Egypt, in particular. Bush’s bully pulpit had two dynamic effects on the region. First, it helped to change the discourse in the region about reform, which regimes have been unable to reverse despite trying through a variety of coercive measures. Second, it provided cover for democracy activists to pursue their agendas. Even opponents of the United States and Bush, in particular, acknowledged the benefit of the president’s public support for democracy.

    So here is my advice to all the good folks at the NSC and State Department who work on this issue: Have President Obama—not the Vice President, the Secretary of State, a spokesperson, but the president himself—say the following in the Rose Garden, the Oval Office, or at the Council on Foreign Relations either the week before or the day after the Egyptian election.

    “President Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party made commitments to the Egyptian people about free and fair elections, the lifting of the emergency law, and more generally, progressive political change in Egypt. I am disappointed that they reneged on their promises. The Egyptian governments efforts to curtail press freedom, the jailing of peaceful opposition political activists, and ongoing human rights violations run counter to everything officials in Cairo have been promising for the better part of the last five years. Do not ask me, read it in the President Mubarak’s 2006 electoral platform. The Egyptian people, the vast majority of whom want to live in a more open society, deserve better.”

    This is definitely picking a fight with the Egyptian government, but not necessarily one that President Obama would have to win right now. It does not involve threats over aid or complicated conditionality formulas or an effort to develop bureaucratic leverage over Cairo. President Obama just needs to keep making the case over and over again. The Egyptian response will most likely be rhetorical only and it signals to Egyptians—activists and others—that the United States has not abandoned the issue of political change.

    The downside risk seems to be that President Mubarak will stay away from Washington again and Gamal Mubarak may not drop by the White House in for a coffee on his next private visit to the United States to renew his pilot’s license. It’s worth the risk….

  9. M. Silva said,
    Strategic Posture Review: Egypt
    Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh

    Egyptians like to say that their country is Umm al Dunya, or “the Mother of the World,” and that, as the crucible of a great civilization dating back 7,000 years, its natural place is among both regional and global powers. In many ways, the boast is entirely accurate. By dint of its history, geography, and demography, Egypt has played a central role in Middle East politics and security policy since World War I. Successive global powers such as Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, most recently, the United States have come to regard Egypt as an indispensable asset for achieving their regional and global ambitions. The Suez Canal remains critical to the security of the Persian Gulf and its vast energy reserves, as well as to global trade. Egypt also maintains the region’s largest and most powerful Arab military. In addition, at approximately 80 million citizens, almost one in four Arabs is Egyptian.

    Beyond these hard-power indicators, however, Egypt has historically maintained a reservoir of soft power that has had a profound influence on the politics of the region and beyond. Consequently, for the better part of the last three decades, Egypt has been a pillar of the United States’ Middle East policy. Cairo — along with Riyadh as well as junior partners in Rabat, Amman, and the small Gulf states — has helped create a regional political order that has made the pursuit of U.S. objectives in the Middle East — namely, the free flow of oil, Israel’s security, preventing other external powers from becoming influential, and confronting rogue states — relatively less expensive. The question remains, however, whether Egypt will continue to be able to play this influential role as other regional powers emerge and domestic problems increasingly buffet the country.

    Foreign Policy

    The Free Officers’ coup of July 1952, which ended the almost 150-year reign of an Albanian-Ottoman dynasty, altered the political trajectory of Egypt and the entire Middle East. Although the United Kingdom and the United States were interested in cultivating Egypt’s new rulers and including Cairo in post-war security arrangements for the Middle East, the Egyptians chose not to participate. Instead, in mid-1955, Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, declared that from that time on, Egypt would pursue a policy of “positive neutralism” in foreign affairs.

    In practice, Nasser was willing to deal with both the East and the West, striking one of the largest weapons deals at the time with a Soviet satellite, Czechoslovakia, and negotiating the financing for the Aswan High Dam with Washington, London, and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (the precursor to the World Bank). Washington, London, and the IBRD ultimately reneged on the deal after Nasser raised questions about the terms of repayment and recognized the People’s Republic of China. In response to what he considered the West’s betrayal, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, declaring in October 1956 that the waterway was an Egyptian asset that would be used solely for Egypt’s development.

    The result was the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt of October-November 1956, often referred to as the Tripartite Aggression. Washington opposed the military action, which effectively ended European influence in Egypt. As for the Aswan High Dam, the Soviets provided the financing for the project beginning in 1958.

    Although Cairo was drawing closer to the Soviet Union, Egypt’s foreign policy in the 10-year period following the nationalization of the Suez Canal focused almost exclusively on inter-Arab politics. This was a time when Nasser’s domestic power was at its zenith, and Cairo was making a bid for Arab leadership. In March 1958, Nasser agreed to a union between Egypt and Syria, turning his rhetoric about pan-Arab unity into a reality — at least temporarily. The United Arab Republic failed in a little less than three years, foundering on conflicting expectations, Egyptian high-handedness, and Syria’s internecine political struggles. Its break-up may have brought an end to Egypt’s experiment with Arab unity, but Nasser continued to pursue a policy of solidarity with the region’s republican forces. In October 1962, he committed Egyptian troops in support of republican forces against royalists in Yemen’s civil war. However, Egypt’s forces quickly became bogged down there, and it was only the emergency of the June 1967 that prompted Cairo to bring them home.

    Israel’s crushing defeat of Egypt after just six days of fighting in June 1967 had significant consequences for Egyptian foreign policy. First, Nasser was forced to repair his relations with the region’s monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia, whose resources he would need to confront Israel and rebuild his armed forces. He had been extremely critical of these regimes during much the 1950s and 1960s. Second, Egypt drew ever closer to the Soviet orbit, as Moscow was Cairo’s only source of weaponry after the near-total destruction of its forces in Sinai during the brief conflict.

    Cairo’s efforts to forge good relations with its previous competitors in the Arab world paid off six years later, when the Egyptian armed forces successfully overran Israeli positions on the East Bank of the Suez Canal in October 1973. Combined, the power of Soviet-built arms and the Arab world’s “oil weapon” proved effective in helping Egypt achieve its aims in the war: to alter the geostrategic environment in a way that would force the Israelis and their American allies to the negotiating table. Indeed, the October war began a process of negotiation between Egypt, the United States, and Israel that ultimately led Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser in September 1970, to Jerusalem in November 1977.

    Sadat had long harbored the desire to move Egypt away from the Soviet Union into the orbit of the United States, because he believed that Washington, as Israel’s patron, was central to Middle East peace and, equally important, that the U.S. was a more-suitable partner to help Egypt in its quest for modernization. For his part, Sadat argued that Egypt could serve as a bulwark against Soviet penetration of the Middle East and East Africa, a launching point for U.S. forces in the event of a crisis in the Persian Gulf, and a general force for regional stability. This was particularly appealing to the Nixon and Ford administrations, as Egypt’s geostrategic reorientation would effectively end the Arab military option against Israel and mean a net loss for Moscow in the zero-sum game of Cold War politics.

    Still, Egypt was unable to benefit fully from American largesse until it took the dramatic step to end its state of war with Israel. With Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and the subsequent Egypt-Israel peace treaty of March 1979, Cairo’s transformation from Soviet to American client was complete. Peace was accompanied by an American commitment of $2.2 billion in annual economic and military assistance.

    Egypt’s agreement with Israel came at a steep cost, however. Although hailed in the West as a singular achievement, the assumption in the United States and Europe that Egypt’s peace deal with Israel would be the first step toward comprehensive regional peace proved to be wholly inaccurate. Rather, Egypt’s separate peace prompted the Arab states to break diplomatic relations with Cairo and move the Arab League to Tunis. Still, the treaty with Israel enhanced Egypt’s relations with the West, which poured resources into the development of Egypt’s economy, infrastructure, public health system, and educational sector.

    The assassination of Anwar Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981, suddenly ushered in the era of President Hosni Mubarak. The new leader’s immediate foreign policy priorities were to develop strategic ties to the United States in order to keep economic and military aid flowing, while at the same time to return Egypt to the Arab fold. In practice, this meant a delicate balancing act of keeping Israel at a distance, but not so far that it created difficulties in the U.S.-Egypt relationship.

    Mubarak was largely successful in achieving these goals. In 1989, the Arab world restored diplomatic relations with Egypt, even as peace with Israel became institutionalized, if hardly warm. Cairo also worked to make itself a partner of the United States in the region, with the high point of the relationship coming in 1990 when Egypt dispatched 35,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to take part in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. . . .

  10. M. Silva said,

    Today, is Egypt Honored, or Humiliated?
    By Tariq Alhomayed

    The above title was the headline of one of the major Egyptian newspapers yesterday, yet the title is not as significant as the question itself. Did Election Day honor Egypt, or humiliate it? I think this is an unfair question, and our starting point here should be the Arab situation on the whole, and specifically Arab states that claim to be democratic.

    Did the latest elections in Iraq honor the nation? No, the electorate’s choices were not respected, and the political crisis was resolved by foreign interference, particularly through Baghdad’s mayor; the U.S. ambassador. Was Lebanon honored after its last elections? Again no, because the resulting Lebanese government will be defined in the Arab political dictionary as “a collection of mobsters under an Arab umbrella”. Elections, and specifically Arab ones, are not necessarily related to the honor or humiliation of the nation. Whatever the outcome, the loser of the election will believe that the nation has been humiliated, whilst the winner will believe the nation has been honored. This theory is against democracy in every sense, and it reminds us of the famous saying that fundamentally, democracy needs democrats.

    Nations are not honored by democracy, but by production, stability, and the preservation of human dignity. Nations are noble when they incorporate all their citizens, regardless of their roots, sects, or religions, and every citizen enjoys equal rights.

    Therefore, whatever the shortcomings of the Egyptian political system today, we can say that there is less injustice and inequality compared to previous years, especially during the era of Jamal Abdul Nasser. The freedoms enjoyed by Egyptians today, even if they aren’t complete, represent a significant improvement from the Nasser era, and the faults of the current system are also far fewer. I am not saying that the Egyptian political system should be praised, or criticized, but we should recognize what has been achieved, and build upon this, rather than destroying everything and starting from scratch. States, like knowledge, always develop in a cumulative manner. A good example here is Spain: Until the 1960s, Spain suffered from crises and dictatorships. Yet today, it is one of the brightest and radiant European democratic nations. This has been achieved through work and stability, in contrast to the Arab states that claim to be democratic.

    Thus, it is not a case of whether Egypt has been honored or humiliated [as a result of the elections]. What matters here is that Egypt preserves what it has achieved, and builds on it without foreign influence or interference, under any pretext. This foreign influence could come from the corridors of Washington, or through the media and financial assistance of Iran, as was the case with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It is puzzling that some have criticized the Egyptian regime for being an ‘agent for the Americans’, whilst the critics themselves actively seek to utilize the Americans. Homelands are built on the foundations of their citizens, and not foreign intervention.

    Washington overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, yet more people have been killed under the new democratic Iraqi regime, than during Saddam’s rule. More money is stolen these days than during the previous regime, and the sectarian situation has worsened. What we want to say is: Let us preserve our homelands, and implement rational and cumulative changes, instead of emotional or reckless ones. China is also a state without free elections, yet the whole world views it with appreciation and respect.

    In summary, we would say that our homelands are honored when we preserve them, and not when we gamble with their futures. This is our message.

  11. M. Silva said,

    • A.Shawki said,

      This is the first time I hear of Ahmad El Shafei as a possible candidate, I know nothing of the man to judge him, however being a military man is one big point against him. I wish people would realize by now that Mubarak will never allow an outsider to be the next president, and that Gamal is the better alternative than another military succession.
      Thanks for sharing.

      • M. Silva said,

        I agree but it is also generally true that the military establishment tends to intervene more directly when it perceives the regime to be in danger. Seeing as how it was the army that put this regime in place, that tendency is all the stronger…

  12. A.Shawki said,

    Yes, but after almost 60 years of the military pulling the country down to almost the bottom of the civilized world, one hopes that enough is enough.

  13. M. Silva said,

    World Citizen: What Will Egyptian Voters Choose?

    What kind of country do Egyptians want to build? That is one of the most important questions arising from the country’s recent revolution, one with enormous geopolitical consequences and whose answer remains clouded in speculation, mystery and contradiction.

    Egyptians toppled their government in part because it cared little about their views and priorities. Until now, the public had negligible influence in the country’s policymaking process. That has changed suddenly and dramatically. Without a history of open political discourse and competitive elections, however, it is unclear what path Egyptians will choose in the coming months when, presumably, democracy will turn public opinion into a potent force for charting the country’s future.

    A number of polls carried out by American and European organizations offer a glimpse into the Egyptian mindset, revealing a future electorate that at turns seems moderate, if not outright progressive. But it also appears eager to embrace some of the very customs that send shivers down Western spines.

    For those who would like to see a new Egypt that strengthens individual freedoms following a liberal democratic model, with freedom of thought, religion and expression, the Pew Global Attitudes Poll taken in 2010 shows reasons for serious concern. More than 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims said they believe that Muslims who convert to other religions deserve the death penalty. A similar number expressed support for stoning people who commit adultery, and 77 percent favored whippings and cutting off hands as punishments for theft and robbery.

    Those findings suggest that Egyptian Muslims, who make up 90 percent of the country’s population, might support religious political parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, by large numbers.

    But other studies lead to precisely the opposite conclusion. In the midst of the recent uprising, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) undertook to decipher the nations’ political views. The survey (.pdf) it commissioned from Pechter Polls found a population that by overwhelming margins rejected political Islam in its own country and abroad. Just 15 percent of those polled said they strongly or somewhat approve of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only 17 percent said they approve of the Hamas government in Gaza, and 19 percent approve of the current government in Iran.

    The contradiction may stem from a difference in the methods used and the populations surveyed by the two polls. Pew’s survey was conducted in face-to-face interviews nationwide, whereas the WINEP poll relied on telephone interviews in just Cairo and Alexandria, the country’s two largest urban centers. The Pew poll is, then, more representative of all Egyptians — urban and rural, with and without access to telephones. In that respect, it arguably provides a more accurate picture of future electoral outcomes. But the WINEP poll provides useful insight into the views of the more active and possibly more influential participants in Egyptian politics — people living in the country’s two largest cities, affluent enough to at least have access to a mobile phone or a landline.

    When it comes to the prospects for maintaining close relations between Cairo and Washington, recent polls also paint a mixed picture, at best.

    A BBC World Service survey (.pdf) last year showed that positive views of the U.S. in Egypt climbed from 11 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2010. That, however, was also a survey restricted to urban areas. In the nationwide Pew Global poll (.pdf), Egyptians gave the U.S. dismal marks. Immediately after President Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush, the number of Egyptians with favorable views of the U.S. climbed, reaching 30 percent by 2007. But by last year, the good will had turned to dust. In 2010, a stunning 82 percent had negative views of the U.S., with almost half of them saying they have a “very unfavorable” view of America.

    Washington’s actions in the last few weeks could alter that, assuming the Egyptian people’s final verdict on Obama’s nuanced response to the uprising evolves over time. But the initial impression was decidedly negative. Only 17 percent of those surveyed in the WINEP poll approved of Obama’s handling of the crisis, while 53 percent disapproved.

    That survey also supports the opinion of analysts who argued that economic considerations, more than religious or political ideology, propelled the revolution. Egyptians’ top four reasons for the uprising were: poor economic conditions, corruption, unemployment, and poor delivery of services like electricity and water. The fifth reason, cited by just 4 percent of the people, was that the regime was “not Islamic enough,” followed by “Too connected to the U.S.,” also with 4 percent, and “Too supportive of Israel,” with 3 percent.

    Efforts to discover who might emerge as the country’s next president also provided an unclear picture, with deposed President Hosni Mubarak actually coming in third, with 16 percent. The top finisher, with 25 percent, was Amr Mousa, who enjoys strong name recognition, having served as Mubarak’s long-time foreign minister and later head of the Arab League. Omar Suleiman, the former security chief and recently appointed vice president, came in second. The most frequently named reform figures, former IAEA chief Mohammed al-Baradei and the once-presidential candidate of the Future party, Ayman Nour, scored just 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

    One important question about Egypt’s future is whether the next government will maintain the peace with Israel. The current military government says it will, and only 27 percent say Egypt should annul the Camp David peace treaty. But the sentiment is not exactly strong in favor of keeping the treaty in place. Just 37 percent reject ending it. The remaining 35 percent would not answer or did not know. This points to a potentially malleable public opinion.

    As for the kind of country Egyptians want, just 22 percent say that in five to 10 years they would like an Egypt that is “Widely praised as the first real democracy in the Arab world,” making an impressive democracy the second-most-popular outcome. The top answer, with 26 percent, is to see Egypt become a country “Whose might and power is respected and feared throughout the Middle East and Africa.”

    Again, these questions about the country’s future were asked only in Alexandria and Cairo, and they came in the midst of the uprising, at a time when democratic, but also nationalist sentiment was at a fever pitch.

    The surveys point to a population with divided, sometimes hesitant views on important issues. That is not surprising, considering that Egyptians have until now not had an opportunity to press their government to respect their wishes, so there was little point in working out some of these difficult questions. As a result, the country’s future voters have yet to make up their minds on many of them.

    For the people who will shape the opinion of their compatriots, the coming months will find a population eager to absorb information and ideas. While politicians will have to build political platforms based on the views of the electorate, the reverse will also be true. In the weeks and months ahead, skilled politicians will seek to persuade voters to agree with their views, as Egypt’s national character is reshaped by the country’s more charismatic leaders.

    It is unclear whether liberal politicians will be able to move Egyptian views towards their progressive vision of future, as these surveys illustrate that the political landscape is filled with some deeply entrenched traditional ideas. But the outcome of their efforts will determine the contours not just of the new Egypt, but of the new Middle East, with enormous consequences for the rest of the world.


    Frida Ghitis is an independent commentator on world affairs and a World Politics Review contributing editor. Her weekly column, World Citizen, appears every Thursday.

  14. M. Silva said,

    La vera storia della rivoluzione egiziana

    di Sam Tadros
    Uno studente egiziano fornisce una spiegazione degli eventi di questi giorni molto diversa da quella abituale. Gamal Mubarak stava modernizzando il paese. Le ragioni del comportamento dell’esercito. Scordatevi la democrazia.

    Una settimana fa l’Egitto era un paese autoritario stabile, con minime prospettive di cambiamento; tutti gli esperti a Washington avrebbero scommesso sulla resistenza del regime. Oggi l’Egitto è nel caos.

    La situazione è fuori controllo e e il mondo osserva con preoccupazione, confusione e paura. Forse è importante raccontare tutta la storia prima di fare delle riflessioni al riguardo.

    A differenza di quanto sostenuto dai cervelloni, il regime egiziano non era nè stabile nè al sicuro. L’assenza di stabilità non deriva dalla sua debolezza o dalla mancata risolutezza nella repressione, ma dall’essere in contraddizione ontologica col desiderio naturale dell’uomo di essere libero. Forse gli egiziani non sanno cosa sia la democrazia, ma la vogliono lo stesso; magari è proprio la vaghezza e l’astrazione del concetto a renderla più desiderabile.

    La manifestazione di massa del 25 gennaio era stata organizzata da due settimane su internet. Gli osservatori avevano sminuito il tutto parlando dell’ennesimo caso di “attivismo virtuale” che non avrebbe risolto nulla. In passato appelli simili avevano portato in piazza i soliti volti noti: poche centinaia di persone.

    Durante quel giorno sembrava che gli esperti avessero ragione: erano sì manifestazioni più grandi, ma non in grado di preoccupare il regime. C’era meno gente che in occasione delle proteste contro la guerra in Iraq, la polizia era stata tollerante e aveva impiegato solo 5 minuti a sgombrare piazza Tahrir quando alcuni dimostranti volevano accamparsi lì per la notte.

    Ma al di là di questo, le cose stavolta erano diverse. I social media avevano dato alla gente un mezzo di comunicazione e propaganda indipendente, quello che mancava. Centinaia di migliaia di egiziani guardavano i video delle manifestazioni su youtube pochi minuti dopo. Per una generazione apolitica che non si era mai interessata a certi argomenti la protesta era senza precedenti.

    E poteva esserne esagerata la portata. Non c’erano più di 500 persone nella piazza di prima mattina, ma un leader dell’opposizione scriveva su twitter che ne stava guidando 100mila. E veniva creduto.

    Non soprende che dopo 58 anni di propaganda di Stato la gente non credesse ai media governativi, ma bisogna spiegare perchè abbia creduto alla propaganda alternativa. L’ha fatto perchè aveva voglia di crederci. La Tunisia ha rotto un argine per tante persone. Non conta che la situazione a Tunisi fosse diversa, conta che “se ce l’hanno fatta loro, possiamo farcela anche noi”. C’erano 15mila persone in piazza e gli egiziani già diffondevano storie sulla fuga del figlio del presidente. L’unica domanda è se Mubarak sarebbe scappato a Londra o in Arabia Saudita.

    Le manifestazioni sono continuate il giorno seguente, e la gente ha promesso di tornare in piazza venerdì 28 gennaio dopo la preghiera. A quel punto il regime è entrato nel panico. Semplicemente, non ci stava capendo nulla. Immaginate i consiglieri che spiegano a Mubarak, 83 anni, cos’è twitter. La cosa più preoccupante era l’annunciata partecipazione dei Fratelli musulmani, l’unica vera forza politica egiziana. All’improvviso si prospettavano centinaia di migliaia di manifestanti provenienti da ogni moschea del paese. Il regime ha reagito come ogni governo autoritario che entra nel panico: stupidamente.

    Internet è stato oscurato, alle compagnie di telefonia mobile è stato ordinato di sospendere il servizio. Con i sistemi di comunicazione azzerati Mubarak sperava di avere le cose sotto controllo. Al contempo iniziavano i soliti arresti di leader della Fratellanza. Ma più il regime dimostrava di essere nel panico, più la gente credeva che si stesse indebolendo: era un’occasione d’oro.

    Gli eventi di venerdì non hanno precedenti in Egitto. È impossibile stabilire il numero esatto di manifestanti, ma sicuramente siamo oltre il milione. Ogni moschea era una base per le proteste, gli islamisti erano tutti in piazza, ben visibili con i loro slogan. Gli slogan erano diversi quel giorno. Di fronte all’enorme massa di persone, le forze di sicurezza erano allo sbando dopo quattro ore.

    Non si sa se Mubarak fosse stato avvisato del peggioramento della situazione o se l’avesse colto solo quel giorno, ma di sicuro non era pronto. In quel momento viene presa la decisione di chiamare l’esercito, dichiarare il coprifuoco e ritirare le forze di sicurezza. Le forze armate non si sono schierate subito in realtà: quelle sulle strade erano le unità della guardia presidenziale.

    L’esercito non era assolutamente preparato: poichè nessuno aveva immaginato una tale situazione, il livello di allerta non era stato elevato, i soldati non erano stati richiamati dalle vacanze e gli ufficiali più alti in grado erano a Washington per delle riunioni programmate da tempo al Pentagono. Oltretutto il piano di schieramento delle forze armate non contempla la possibilità di essere sfidato dalla popolazione. Nessuno aveva mai immaginato che fosse necessario mettere un carro armato in ogni strada: si pensava che il solo annuncio dell’arrivo dell’esercito, qualche tank per strada e il coprifuoco avrebbero mandato a casa la gente spaventata. Sbagliato.

    L’esercito egiziano è immensamente popolare, grazie alla mitologia della politica: è in tutti i gangli del regime, ma la popolazione lo vede come ad esso alieno. Lo considera pulito (non come il governo, corrotto), efficiente (costruiscono i ponti in fretta), e soprattutto sono gli eroi che hanno sconfitto Israele nel 1973 (inutile discutere al riguardo con un egiziano). Quando i carri armati e le truppe sono apparsi per strada la gente ha pensato che l’esercito stesse dalla loro parte, qualsiasi cosa ciò significasse. Il presidente continuava a rimandare la propria dichiarazione: il popolo si stava preparando all’annuncio delle dimissioni di Mubarak.

    Mubarak era disorientato. L’esercito non poteva sparare alla gente: non solo perchè ciò avrebbe distrutto la reputazione delle forze armate, ma soprattutto per motivi pratici. I soldati non sono mai stati addestrati per questo, non hanno proiettili di gomma o gas lacrimogeni. Hanno solo munizioni e carriarmati, e l’idea di usarli in questa situazione non è mai stata neanche presa in considerazione. Nello stupore del regime, la gente aveva salutato l’arrivo dell’esercito con gioia e ignorava il coprifuoco. Ma non solo: erano iniziati i saccheggi.

    La decisione di ritirare le forze di sicurezza era logica: erano esauste e avevano bisogno di un minimo di riposo. Inoltre erano considerate il simbolo dell’oppressione del regime, quindi dovevano allontanarsi per calmare le cose. Ma soprattutto, il manuale delle operazioni dice che non ci possono essere due forze armate nella stessa strada che prendono ordini da due diverse strutture di comando. Anche con la migliore delle coordinazioni, il disastro è dietro l’angolo.

    Non era però stato calcolato il vuoto creatosi all’improvviso: le forze di sicurezza si erano ritirate e l’esercito non si era ancora schierato – un’occasione ghiotta per tutti. All’inizio c’è stata un’esplosione di rabbia contro i simboli del potere, come la sede del Partito nazionaldemocratico (Ndp). Tutte le stazioni di polizia sono state attaccate e date alle fiamme, dopo esser state depredate delle armi. Nel frattempo i saccheggi non risparmiavano neanche il Museo egizio.

    Non posso riuscire a descrivere lo stato di evidente anarchia di sabato. Ogni prigione è stata attaccata da gruppi organizzati che volevano liberare i detenuti. Nel caso delle prigioni normali, questi gruppi erano composti da amici e parenti; nel caso delle carceri con prigionieri politici, ci hanno pensato gli islamisti, usando i bulldozer e le armi prese alle stazioni di polizia. Quasi tutte le prigioni non hanno retto: gli agenti penitenziari da soli non potevano resistere, e non erano disponibili rinforzi. Sono stati liberati praticamente tutti i prigionieri, compresi gli attentatori della chiesa di Alessandria di un mese fa e l’assassino di Sadat, poi riarrestato.

    Per le strade del Cairo era la giungla. Niente polizia, esercito confuso: un’occasione d’oro per i ladri che dalle periferie si sono gettati nei quartieri ricchi, svaligiando, assaltando e distruggendo case e negozi in pieno giorno. L’Egitto era tornato all’improvviso allo stato di natura. La gente nel panico ha preso in mano la prima arma che trovava (pistole, coltelli, bastoni) e ha cominciato a formare gruppi per difendere le proprie case. Le donne preparavano bottiglie molotov con l’alcol, mentre i comitati di strada si coordinavano meglio: a ogni incrocio importante c’erano dei posti di blocco di persone che chiedevano i documenti e cercavano armi nelle macchine. Le mitragliatrici, richiestissime, venivano vendute per la strada.

    Non voglio fare un racconto personale, ma queste persone sono miei amici e parenti. I miei vicini stavano nella casa di mio suocero ad attendere possibili attacchi. Una gang ha sparato a un mio amico, mentre un altro mio amico ha ammazzato un uomo per difendere casa sua e sua moglie. Il fratello di un altro amico sabato ha arrestato 37 ladri. L’esercito in tutto ciò si limitava a passare per le strade a prendere i ladri arrestati., e a informare i comitati che avrebbero potuto sparare senza problemi a questi ladri: non sarebbero stati puniti.

    Nel frattempo Mubarak nominava Omar Suleiman vicepresidente e Ahmed Shafik primo ministro. Entrambi provengono dalle forze armate. Per capire questa mossa, bisogna conoscere la natura della coalizione al potere in Egitto e il ruolo dell’esercito.

    Dal 1952 il regime egiziano si basa su una coalizione fra esercito e burocrati che risponde al modello di Stato autoritario di O’Donnell. L’esercito controlla l’economia e il potere reale: ex-generali sono a capo di aziende statali e ricoprono posizioni amministrative di alto livello. L’esercito stesso ha un enorme braccio economico tramite il quale controlla dalle imprese di costruzioni ai supermercati. Le cose hanno iniziato a cambiare verso la fine degli anni Novanta.

    Tutti sanno che Gamal Mubarak, il figlio del presidente, stava studiando per succedergli. In realtà Hosni non è mai stato entusiasta di questo scenario, vuoi perchè aveva intuito le ridotte capacità del figlio, vuoi perchè l’esercito non sembrava troppo convinto della successione. La moglie di Hosni invece era totalmente dalla parte del figlio. Gamal piano piano saliva i gradini dell’Ndp, trascinando su due gruppi della coalizione al potere: i tecnocrati dell’economia con studi in Occidente e fiducia nel Washington Consensus e la crescente business community. Insieme stavano cambiando l’economia egiziana e il partito.

    I tecnocrati stavano facendo miracoli: l’economia sotto il governo Nazif mostrava picchi di crescita clamorosi. La moneta era deprezzata, affluivano investimenti dall’estero, aumentavano le esportazioni. Persino la crisi mondiale non si faceva sentire più di tanto. Il problema drammatico era che nessuno si prendeva la briga di spiegare e difendere questa politica economica (che stava portando il paese verso un sistema capitalistico vero e proprio) all’opinione pubblica egiziana.

    Tale processo di ristrutturazione dell’economia colpiva la popolazione, abituata a dipendere per tutti i suoi bisogni dal governo e intontita dalla stanca retorica socialista. Non conta molto che il paese stesse crescendo: la gente non se ne rendeva conto. Non che i benefici non arrivassero a tutti, ma ci si era abituati allo Stato che faceva da balia, e non si capiva perchè non dovesse più essere così.

    Gli uomini d’affari hanno approfittato dei miglioramenti economici, e iniziato ad avere aspirazioni politiche. Hanno avuto il seggio parlamentare che dava loro l’immunità, ma con Gamal hanno fiutato qualcosa di più grande. Questi voleva rimodellare l’Ndp come un vero partito più che come una massa di organizzazioni che operavano dentro lo Stato. I businessmen come Ahmed Ezz (il magnate dell’acciaio) grazie a Gamal hanno preso il controllo del partito, e con esso del potere.

    All’esercito Gamal e i suoi compari non sono mai piaciuti. Lui non ha mai fatto il militare, e i suoi amici stavano mettendo in discussione il potere delle forze armate nell’economia (con le riforme liberali dei tecnocrati) e nella politica (ora che il partito diventava un’organizzazione seria). All’improvviso per fare carriera in Egitto non serviva più la leva ma una tessera di partito.

    In ogni caso finchè c’era il presidente l’esercito non diceva nulla; era totalmente fedele a Hosni, eroe di guerra nel 1973 e suo comandante in Capo, un patriota capace di servire bene il paese. Oltretutto Nasser dopo il golpe del 1952 aveva stabilito dei meccanismi per evitare che qualcuno facesse lo stesso e deponesse lui.

    Ora che la situazione stava cambiando l’esercito era finalmente in grado di esprimere le proprie opinioni a Mubarak e guadagnarne l’appoggio. Il parere dell’esercito era che Gamal e i suoi amici avevano rovinato tutto, scatenando l’ira del popolo con le loro politiche neoliberali e la ventilata rimozione dei sussidi, e distruggendo al tempo stesso il sistema politico con l’obiettivo di smantellare l’opposizione. Il presidente in passato aveva sfruttato l’opposizione, cooptandola e garantendole sempre un po’ di spazio in parlamento. Non alle ultime elezioni: non le è stato permesso di aggiudicarsi alcun seggio. Visto che i mezzi legali della protesta le erano preclusi, l’opposizione ha scelto quelli illegali: la protesta di piazza.

    Oggi gli egiziani hanno paura. Hanno visto l’inferno per un attimo, e non hanno gradito. Al contrario di quanto dice al Jazeera, non manifestano più. Martedì in piazza c’erano 5mila attivisti e non 150mila come insiste a dire la tv del Qatar. E in questo momento a nessuno di quei 5mila importa più di tanto se Mubarak si dimette o no. Hanno altri problemi: il cibo e la sicurezza.

    Quindi, come siamo messi? Non lo sappiamo ancora con certezza, ma un paio di conclusioni possiamo trarle.

    1) Gamal è fuori dai giochi.

    2) Mubarak non si ricandiderà. Il suo mandato presidenziale scade a ottobre e o lo porterà fino alla fine o si dimetterà prima, una volta tornata la calma, per motivi di salute, che non sono inventati. Sta morendo.

    3) Ora comanda l’esercito. Siamo tornati ai bei tempi, i “ragazzini” sono stati estromessi, decidono gli “uomini”.

    4) Fine delle politiche neoliberali, perlomeno finchè l’economia regge. Scordatevi liberalizzazioni e riforme per un po’.

    Il primo compito dell’esercito è quello di stabilizzare la situazione e riportare l’ordine. Poi dovrà fare i conti con gli attivisti politici e i Fratelli musulmani, che attualmente dominano la scena. Chissà come faranno, ma c’è da aspettarsi che in un paio di giorni siano gli egiziani a implorare l’esercito di sparargli addosso. Poi ci sarà il ritorno alla normalità e la necessità di rendere disponibile il cibo per tutti. Alla fine comunque torneranno le questioni politiche.

    Nel lungo periodo le sfide sono tante. Innanzitutto c’è l’enorme perdita economica causata dalla distruzione delle proprietà; appena riapriranno le banche ci sarà l’assalto ai conti, con annessa fuga di capitali. C’è da aspettarsi che per un po’ di tempo chiunque abbia un minimo di intelligenza non vorrà investire in Egitto.

    L’esercito vorrà tornare alla situazione politica pre-Gamal. Verranno concessi aumenti salariali e sussidi per calmare la popolazione. Ma sarà abbastanza? Difficile. Gli egiziani per la prima volta hanno capito che il regime è più debole di quanto sembrasse appena una settimana fa. Se non li ha fermati l’esercito, chi potrà farlo? Oltretutto si sentono molto più potenti e orgogliosi ora, dopo aver protetto i quartieri e fatto quello che neanche le forze armate riuscivano a fare. Non è un dato da trascurare.

    L’ordine pubblico è al collasso. Potrebbero volerci mesi prima di riarrestare tutti i criminali di nuovo. Nessuno sa come recuperare tutte le armi trafugate, nè soprattutto come le forze di sicurezza riconquisteranno un prestigio che hanno perso in appena quattro ore. Si dice che il confine di Gaza sia rimasto aperto nei giorni scorsi, e nessuno sa cosa sia passato di lì.

    Ma el-Baradei e l’opposizione dove sono? Il leader consacrato (dalla Cnn) della Rivoluzione egiziana deve pur contare qualcosa. E invece no! Se non fosse per i media occidentali, el-Baradei non esisterebbe: è stato nel paese per meno di un mese nell’ultimo anno e quasi per niente negli ultimi venti. Sostenere il contrario è un insulto agli egiziani. Ah, l’opposizione? Al di là dei Fratelli musulmani, stiamo parlando di gruppi che al massimo arrivano a 5mila membri l’uno, disorganizzati, privi di idee e di leadership: totalmente irrilevanti. La vera domanda è: che ne sarà della giovane generazione apolitica che improvvisamente è scesa in piazza?

    Il futuro dell’Egitto è un enigma. In un certo senso tutto rimarrà come prima. L’esercito, al potere dal 1952, continuerà a governare, e continueranno a mancare idee e alternative politiche nel paese. Al tempo stesso, nulla sarà più come prima. Gli egiziani sono più forti di prima, e non accetteranno a lungo lo status quo. Il fulcro di tutto è sempre quello. Non è cambiato nulla sotto questo punto di vista.

    Certo, è impressionante sentir parlare di una transizione democratica. Difficilmente un popolo che due mesi fa era convinto che gli squali nel Mar Rosso ce li avesse messi il Mossad può essere sul punto di dar vita ad una democrazia liberale. Ma lo status quo non può reggere.

    Bisogna colmare il vuoto politico. Fino a quando qualcuno non inizierà ad occuparsi dei problemi veri, invece di intonare il solito ritornello sulla democrazia, le cose non andranno meglio. Anzi, andranno sempre peggio.

    (The Story of the Egyptian Revolution, by Sam Tadros, American Thinker, 2/2/2011 – Traduzione di Niccolò Locatelli)

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