Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Egyptian revolution, the United States and Israel, testing old textbooks and writing new ones

I’m probably going against the current that dominated the pro-Israel blogsphere by saying that the American administration was right in supporting the largely peaceful ouster of president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But I do believe that to be the case.
In explaining my opinion it is important to point out that both this current and the said American policy are due to sound reasons. This current of Israel based skepticism exists mainly because of the crisis in US Israel relationships that took place last year over planned constructions in East Jerusalem. This crisis left many Israelis and supporters of Israel distrustful of the Obama administration. This mistrust was echoed in the concern some Israelis had that the abandonment of Mubarak preludes an abandonment of Israel. But there is no comparison between the American Middle East policy of March 2010 and that of February 2011. Then the United States acted as if it had a textbook of new ideas regarding Middle East peace making. But since those ideas were new, and with no relation to past experience, the textbook was actually a guessing book. However, during the more recent Egyptian crisis of January and February 2011, they did had a textbook to read from, an old and reliable one. It is called “How to address a dysfunctional allied dictatorship,” or “How not to get bogged down in another Vietnam.” It is an important book that proved itself in 1986 during the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. Then a pro-western tyrant was removed from power in a way that kept the country as an ally of the west without slipping into an endless civil war involving thousands of American troops.

The Vietnam war
 The American lesson from Vietnam is very clear; an unpopular allied dictatorship that lost its ability to enforce itself on its population is not a strategic ally but a strategic burden. But the Middle East is not Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia as in Latin America, the United States of America earned the animosity of millions because it supported brutal unpopular despots. But in the Middle East the unpopularity of the United States predates the relationships with the tyrannies of the region, and even the United States itself. This animosity is an ideological one, an opposition to the American and western values of democracy and civil liberties and not just the policies. They are based on the widespread of popular intolerant ideologies, such as nationalism, pan-nationalism, and religious fundamentalism. These ideologies are rooted in the history of the region. It is a history of empires and kingdoms ruled by Arab dynasties and Islam as their official religion. These intolerant and even anti democratic ideologies are the legacy of that era. They had produced hostile anti democratic regimes such as that of Gamal Abdle Nasser in Egypt, and the Wahabi regime of the Saudis in the Arabian Peninsula whose origin goes back to 1744. Their starting position was that of hostility to the west and its democratic values. But as their own internal difficulties grow and as the region’s political arena changed, creating mutual threats to them and the west, the two sides got closer. It is a simple convergence of interests that created a near lose-lose situation for the west and in particular its leadership, the United States of America. The duration of these regimes, their corruption, and repression, undermined severely their popularity. Their new proximity to already hated United States, acted as a reconfirmation of the corruption of these regimes. Simultaneously it reaffirmed the bad image of the west.

US Middle East policy – 2011
Learning the lessons from Vietnam and adapting them to a different region.
That is the American challenge in the Arab spring of ‏2011

This fundamental difference does not suggest that the Vietnam experience is irrelevant here; after all there are similarities. It does suggest that some adjustments are needed. This rises equally from the Israeli textbook. Like the American textbook it is based on sound experience, however there isn’t a lot of text in it, just a few lines. ”Avoid another Iran, beware of the Muslim Brotherhood, remember how Hamas, one of their offshoots took over Gaza, both by elections and by force.” In the leaderless revolution that took place in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most likely opposition group to benefit since it is the largest and most organized. Along with its anti-democratic and anti-Israeli platform, which it had obscured but not abandon, it is a genuine threat and not just a bogyman in quotations. This suggests that the best course of action based on the Israeli warning signs is to crash the Lotus revolution. But that runs into conflict with the next line in the Israeli textbook. “Beware of another Lebanon, were a civil war created Hizbullah and gave the hegemonic seeking Iran a major foothold in that country.”

What these two textbooks tell us is that they are not in conflict with one another. Rather they are in the same place, in need of new ideas. In a situation like this the events on the ground are the ones that are writing the new textbooks, events that are being shaped by the political forces currently working in Egypt. These forces are the ruling military elite, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the general public who only began to be an active political player.

The questions are what each of them want, what are their goals, concerns, and priorities:

What does the current regime see as a greater threat, Iran, Islamization, anarchy, or the spread of democracy?

What does the Muslim Brotherhood want? To hijack the revolution the way Khomeini did in 1979 Iran, or use the democratic process the way Hitler did? Or do they intend to leave things as they are so they can enjoy the new opportunities without risking loosing their gains by starting political upheavals whose final outcome cannot be predicted?

And what are the priorities of general public, democracy or jobs?
These unanswered questioned are the making of uncertainty. And there is no need to list its drawbacks, especially in the Middle East, where the stakes are high. Here chaos and bloodshed can be no more the one mistake away. Writing damn good textbooks for everyone involved.