Egypt: Going, Going…

The pot is aboil all over the Mideast and the Maghreb; today the world’s attention is focused on Egypt, where the long reign of Hosni Mubarak seems to be coming to an end. (Mubarak’s son, his heir apparent, has apparently already fled.)

The indispensable NightWatch offers a crisp analysis of why events like these can move very quickly:

Comment: In Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria long time leaders are trying to reinvent themselves or, perhaps just stall for time so they can safeguard their wealth and families.

In Critical Decisions [actually, the book is “Crucial Decisions” – MP], Irving Janis made the point that catastrophic failure means the whole leadership group must be replaced in business and in politics. There are no second chances; no do-overs. The irony is that by the time failure is recognized, it is too late for the incumbent regime to fix it, even if it has the insight and capabilities. People always want new blood.

That creates a dilemma for incumbent leaders. They all have a set of resources for handling the normal range of challenges. They also have reserves they can draw on in the event of a crisis. However, the only way a regime’s leaders can be certain a crisis is occurring is when the normal resources prove incapable of continuing the challenges, as occurred in Tunisia. This is as true for police forces in urban America as it is for security personnel in Cairo.

Recognition that a crisis is emerging, in practice, always occurs after damage has already taken place and forces have faltered. That means that leaders are almost always in a reactive mode. The police have to be overrun before the Army can be called in.

To be proactive would be to act with what appears to be unjustified and unnecessary force because the police have not failed yet. It is a dangerous time because the damage can be so great that the reserve forces of order cannot or might choose not to restore order. In Tunisia, for example, the reserves, in the form of the Army, balked and the head of government fled. Internal uprisings can get out of control with little warning, as a result.

The final point is that the usual diplomatic mantra is that the US has relations with governments and its policies are not tied to people. And yet in every Middle Eastern state, the widespread perception is that US policy is identified with individual rulers, from the Kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco to the strong men in Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria and Egypt. The practice works and policy support flourishes until the leaders are overthrown.

Strongman rulers cannot all of a sudden be generous democrats.

The implosion of the senescent Mubarak dictatorship will create a power vacuum in the region’s most populous (and overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim) nation. The US, seeing that Mubarak is no longer the “strong horse”, has now conspicuously withdrawn its support for him, and has made public statements asserting the “universal human rights” of the protestors now rioting in the streets, and expressing its optimism about democracy in general — despite what democracy can be expected to lead to in situations like this.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and although the newspapers have so far reported that religious groups appear not to have played much part in the uprising, anyone who has paid any attention to Egypt’s modern history will know that the principal opponent of the secular Egyptian dictatorship is, and has always been, the Muslim Brotherhood — the patient, hydra-headed global Islamist organization (its front groups include Hamas in Gaza, and CAIR in the US) that has been awaiting its chance in Egypt for decades (and which of course has never forgotten the execution of its chief political theorist, Sayyid Qutb, by Nasser in 1966).

The Muslim Brotherhood (or “Ikhwan”) differs from militant Islamist factions like al-Qaeda not in its goals, which are more or less the same, but only in its strategy: it has no moral or philosophical aversion to violent jihad, but considers it unnecessarily provocative, and therefore counterproductive. As such, it can make an ostentatious public display of distancing itself from terrorism, and so it is embraced by gullible Westerners — for whom the only imaginable threat from Islam is terrorist violence — as a “moderate” Muslim organization to be supported and embraced. This suits the Ikwhan, whose avowed strategy is to sabotage secular democratic societies from within, just fine.

The Obama administration, however, which has made “outreach” to the Muslim world a priority (even going so far as to make NASA’s “foremost” mission helping Muslims “feel good about their historic contribution to science and math and engineering”) clearly feels the the Muslim Brotherhood is an outfit it can do business with. We should not be surprised to see — in fact we should be astonished not to see — the Ikwhan seizing the opportunity now taking shape in Cairo, for which it has worked and waited so long. We should also not be surprised to learn that they will do so with the overt or covert support of the United States: so broad is the Brotherhood’s influence in Egypt that it is almost unimaginable that they will not take the reins, and you can be sure that Foggy Bottom and the Oval Office have already made the appropriate calculations.

“Democracy” there may be, briefly, in the wake of Mubarak’s fall; but anything resembling a secular, West-friendly democracy will be short-lived indeed, if it comes to pass at all.

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  1. the one eyed man says

    The statement that the Obama administration “clearly feels the the (sic) Muslim Brotherhood is an outfit it can do business with” is unsupported by fact.

    The link you provide is to an Israeli newspaper which quotes an unsourced article in an Egyptian newspaper. There is no evidence, quotes, or identified sources to substantiate the claim. This is not just thin sourcing; it has as much credibility as Michele Bachmann’s breathless account of the Obama administration spending $200 million a day on a state trip to India, which was sourced from an Indian newspaper. The fact that some newspaper somewhere prints something does not mean it is true.

    Furthermore, the Israeli article, dated 4/6/09, stated that the putative meeting was two months in the past. Obama became President on 1/20/09. In order to accept the claim which the article makes, one would have to believe that the newly inaugurated President – facing a frozen banking sytem, a collapsing auto industry, the loss of 700,000 jobs a month, as well as the litany of other problems he inherited from his predecessor – would make virtually his first order of business a meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood. One would also have to believe that the alleged meeting somehow would have been kept secret from both the right wing press and the mainstream press, all of whom would have had a field day writing about Obama meeting with Muslims in the Oval Office.

    This is a perfect example of confirmation bias. It is the type of story some wish to believe, and hence is accepted without challenge, despite the fact that it cannot withstand even the slightest amount of scrutiny.

    Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    That story — which is no thinner than the daily cavalcade of anonymous sources we see every day in the Times — is hardly the only indication of the government’s attitude toward the MB and its various front groups. (It has been widely reported, for example, that the administration insisted on extending invitations to members of the MB for his Cairo speech.) Given the extent of Mr. Obama’s effort at Muslim “outreach” it is hardly surprising that he would open a channel to the leading Islamic opposition to the superannuated Egyptian dictator; given other political realities, it is also not surprising that he would do so discreetly. You are welcome to take all of this with as many grains of salt as you like.

    Perhaps I’ll assemble a separate post on the worrisome topic of the Ikwhan’s influence, high-level connections, and activities here and abroad; I’m not inclined to argue about it here. Meanwhile, if you’d seriously like to learn more, Andrew McCarthy, the Federal prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing, has researched this subject extensively, and presents a chilling summary in his book The Grand Jihad.

    Posted January 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Apologies to both Peter and Malcolm,

    I now see what was being referenced.

    Peter, was there a fellow by the name of (something like) Aylman Zawahiri associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and if so, how? If Mr. Zawahiri did have an association, did he gone on to another association with a place called Tora Bora? Does Mr. Zawahiri wear glasses? Does he purport to be the same individual making YouTube videos?

    If so, to what purpose is his YouTube intent?

    I tell you this Peter with no equivocation. On January 17 of this year what Malcolm “alleges” was indeed fact – there was a POTUS directive issued to the State Department asking, “Can ‘we’ do business with them (the Muslim Brotherhood)?”

    My own supposition is that The Brotherhood at that moment was/were “laying back.”

    Peter, I’m not gonna really “engage” with you here on Waka – but if “we can do business” – I don’t have a problem with Malcolm forwarding a portion of a dated email.

    You might wonder about that January 17 date and how I’m certain of it.

    There resides a gravemarker in Arkansas on which the DOB is January 17. That date I remember.

    There’s a bit more – but if you need more – I’m certain, provide your transportation and I’ll show you what you need.

    Malcolm, forgive me, I’ve been catching up – I didn’t read this post until a few minutes before the timestamp now appears.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    My issue is not whether or not the administration can do business with the Muslim Brotherhood, as I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t subscribe to the Bush administration’s notion that you only talk to people you like. If they are going to play a large role in Egypt’s future – which at this point is anyone’s guess – then it behooves us to have a dialogue with them.

    Rather, my issue is with the credulity which is required to believe a news report that before Obama would meet with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Mexico, China, or anywhere else, he would meet with the Muslim Brotherhood. It does not pass the smell test, and is believed only by those predisposed to view everything President Obama does in an unfavorable light, regardless of how flimsy the evidence (or lack of it) may be. When this is extrapolated into the suggestion that somehow the administration is kowtowing to radical Muslims, or planning to do so, then it becomes objectionable.

    As far as I can tell, the Obama administration is doing all of the right things in Egypt. Wikileaks reveals that the administration was publicly supportive of an ally and privately pushed for democratic rights and the release of political prisoners. I think Obama’s speech last night hit all the right notes. It is a difficult and fragile situation, where Egypt could as easily become like Iran under the Ayatollah as a democracy led by Mubarak opponents. Rather than carp about what the Obama administration has supposedly done, or is speculated to do in the future, the sensible thing to do is give it time and see how things play out.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Who’s carping? This post was about the realities of the situation. (OK, I carped a little. That NASA story really got my Irish up.)

    I do think that the West generally has been suicidally idiotic about the distinction it makes between violent “extremists” and everyone else — as if terrorism is the only, or even the principal, existential threat posed by Islam — but although I think the current President is far more sympatico with Islam than any we’ve had before, this suicidal idiocy appears to be shared by just about everyone in politics, academia, and the media, certainly including previous administrations.

    That may change.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    As you know, I completely disagree, as I think that Islam has much more to fear from us than the other way around, as the past dozen or so centuries have shown.

    However, I am sure that we are in complete agreement in hoping that the situation in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is ultimately resolved in favor of the democratic rights which Arab dictators have denied their people for so long. The times they are a-changing.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Peter, if the West — which for the “past dozen or so centuries” used to call itself “Christendom” — still had the backbone, and the unapologetic cultural and ethnic self-interest, that it had at the time of Martel and Holger Danske (or even Churchill and deGaulle) I’d agree with you. As things stand now, with, for example, Lars Hedegaard and Geert Wilders standing trial at the hands of their own people simply for speaking their minds about Islam, I think you are gravely mistaken. But as you say, we completely disagree.

    I do agree that to see stable, secular Jeffersonian democracies arise in the Islamic Maghreb and Levant would be swell. Place your bets!

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  8. “… appears to be shared by just about everyone in politics, academia, and the media, … That may change.” Posted January 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm


    I think “just about everyone” includes those who lack visual depth-of-field. And I fear “change” is hopey-dopey.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Hopey-dopey? I don’t know, Henry. I see stirrings here, in Britain, and on the Continent, of a dawning, if belated, awareness that European culture — which more or less created the modern world — faces a genuine existential threat, largely of its own making. People are starting to push back.

    I’m curious to see what happens in the Mideast, and how that affects the mood of both Muslims and native populations in Europe.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  10. I hope you are right, Malcolm. But I think the stirrings you see are trumped by the convulsions of Jew-hatred that many experience the world over.

    I lost my faith in the redemption of human stupidity, after the election of 2008.

    Posted January 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  11. JK says

    Surely TheBigHenry you recognize History (and to a greater or lesser extent) the American electorate acts like a pendulum – why I know not, I have this sneaky suspicion you’d likely have cast your ballot for Andy Jackson – leastwise for his first term.

    (And probably for his second given the Force Bill.) But then, Republicans didn’t exist… as we currently recognize them – or not, given our recent experiences – but the election of 2008 was not the first manifestation [even in our lifetimes & excluding, Clinton and Obama].

    But somehow the Union made it through.
    Personally, I’m thinking even if Obama gets his second term, we’ll somehow muddle through that too. Whether he’ll have left enough on the GW signed “Home-Equity Line of Credit from China” remains an unknown – but I’m hoping there’s enough to keep his [Obama’s] greatly expanded UAV pressure on AQAP ongoing. I am rapidly losing enthusiasm for Afghanistan – but I was losing that before Obama won his first caucus.

    Domestically, I’m not too enthusiastic either – but then Obama is merely following example. And the interest payments alone, on the debt aren’t Obama’s fault (with the possible exception of continuing the F-35 JSF program – among others) but it is nice to have a convenient person to lay blame on.

    Heck, TheBigHenry, (and we may very well disagree – rightly or wrongly, and either/or) but our collective problems cannot be laid exclusively at any particular President’s feet – rather at our own and by extension – our fellow’s.

    “Blame” for a problem is generally an unproductive thing – “recognition” of a problem is a mere observation, still unproductive. No body of politicians are capable of productive action – otherwise we’d left Afghanistan oh, five years ago – Saddam would still be scaring Ahmadinijad into spending money on infantry and Israel wouldn’t be experiencing encirclement.
    I can’t recall precisely when Malcolm ended a past post with, “looks like interesting times ahead” – but I can remember it.

    Malcolm isn’t gonna enjoy my likening but “The Genesis” of the US’ problems didn’t suddenly occur on January 20th, 2009 – the roots are deeper.

    Going out on a limb here – I’d place the root when the tree erupted from the ground at the moment the USSR fell.


    Damn how I wish for the “good ol’ days” of the Cold War.

    Then at least, all we had to worry about was the infrequent “duck and cover” – rehabilitating B-52s and the occasional proxy war which all of us could [fairly] easily abandon.

    Now we’ve a situation where the Shah falls, Reagan trades arms for hostages, Monica gives Bill a blowjob, millions are spent for Starr to unsuccessfully impeach, Bill sends a bunch of cruise missiles toward bin-Laden, “Wag the Dog” comes out which kills killing bin-Laden, the UN takes over the Clinton initiative in Somalia, the Towers fall so we invade Iraq, bin-Laden moves to Islamabad so we can begin borrowing money from China to enable them to invest in minerals extraction from Afghanistan and make hefty investments in their defense forces and fire a rocket or fifty into orbit, borrow some more so we can pay a faux ally (Pakistan) to thwart our plans so we can finance China’s military build-up, dis-mantle our only true ally’s fleet (Britain), host a global financial meltdown, elect Obama who hasn’t a clue – except to return the half-American/half foreigner (ironically) bust to Great Britain, expand the Bush era “TARP” program and re-name it the Stimulus Program, expand on the Bush unfunded “Medicare Prescription Drug Plan” with the so-called “Obamacare” which Obama didn’t author but nevertheless arouses a Tea Party which pisses off nearly everybody but New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and Rush Limbaugh (for differing reasons), Al Sharpton begins commenting on FOX news which gives rise to Sarah Palin which in turn creates demand for salmon-scent perfume, Tunisia goes to hell and then (as of 0335 CDT 1/31/2011) Egypt as gone to the dickens and since Obama is President – the only logical conclusion is THE END TIMES.

    To borrow a word from a friend – “Sheesh.”
    Now Peter, should you happen upon this – I’ll be happy to read your palm too – provided you shave it first.

    (I guess I went long – looks like some of my text got diminished.)

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  12. JK,

    Thanks for your comprehensive response to my brief, and perhaps somewhat cryptic comment about the election of 2008. I won’t attempt to address all your points, but allow me to elaborate a bit about my intended message.

    I am a very rare survivor of the hell perpetrated by the Nazis in Poland, having been born there in 1942. My rebirth occurred when my parents managed to bring me to America in 1949. We became naturalized Americans in 1955.

    My parents (now both deceased) were liberal Democrats in the grand tradition of the majority of Jewish-Americans who worshiped FDR for giving them a chance to pursue the American dream just like all Americans are Constitutionally granted the right to do. And, as might be expected, so was I, until I was old enough to understand that in politics, not everything is as it seems upon first glance. In the case of the anointed of the common people, FDR, I learned that he refused the desperate pleas to bomb the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz, which would have saved many lives of those who were doomed.

    Having become more discerning in my political analyses, albeit not infallible by any means, I was quick to size-up The Obama for the fraud he is. He is the antithesis of all he pronounces to be, in order to “win” votes from the perpetually perplexed among us, most especially the naive Jewish-Americans who bought all the crap about how he was the friend of Israel, despite the ample evidence that many of his confidants are venomous Jew-haters (and, as a consequence, portray themselves as “anti-Zionists”, a despicable cover for Jew-haters).

    When I quipped that “I lost my faith in the redemption of human stupidity, after the election of 2008”, I was primarily expressing dismay at the gross naiveté of many of my co-religionists, including some in my own extended family.

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  13. JK says

    “…so was I, until I was old enough to understand that in politics, not everything is as it seems upon first glance.

    “…I was quick to size-up The Obama for the fraud he is. He is the antithesis of all he pronounces to be, in order to “win” votes from the perpetually perplexed among us…”

    I think we’ve come to the best sort of consensus we’re likely too TheBigHenry, although I don’t know I’d call Obama an outright fraud – he did manage to get elected. But that’s not the reason I’d hesitate calling him “an outright fraud.”

    Perhaps ‘a bill of goods’ or, less charitably, ‘a pig in a poke’ my primary observation being – much like Reagan, I’d have preferred a steeper learning curve.

    I’d probably include the same wish vis a vis GW – but for that hapless fellow, I’d stress, hapless.

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  14. JK says

    Oops, should be, “more charitably.”

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  15. I offered a very personal point of view for your consideration, JK, not necessarily for the purpose of reaching a consensus opinion with you or anyone else. You are, of course, free to judge Obama as you see fit.

    I would be willing to back away from “outright fraud”, though I neither specified the extent of what I believe to be his fraudulent character, nor do I think that diminishes his ability to win an election. Some frauds are very successful at achieving their goals. Moreover, I largely attribute his fraudulence to his self-portrayal as a “friend of Israel”. That is the apotheosis of mendacity.

    But if you must have a substitute for “fraud”, how about “lying mofo”?

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    Isn’t ‘a bill of goods’ sufficient TheBigHenry?

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  17. It’s not even necessary …

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink
  18. JK says

    I know. It’s just that I’ve been receiving ‘incoming’ over my “rhethoric” so I’m trying hard to be “nicer.”

    Posted January 31, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
  19. howsurprising says

    Democracy is not synonymous with Western-friendly, just as democracy here is not synonymous with Eastern-friendly. Friendship is a cooperative affair, one which can only be based on mutual respect. We cannot expect that after years of propping up an authoritarian regime that the people who throw off their oppressors will simply embrace us as friends and allies.

    Humility is best. We should listen to the Egyptian people in the streets, and give them the space to determine their own destiny as they will. If the people have democratic aspirations, then we should not crush those aspirations out of some Orientalist arrogance that they are not ready for such a thing, indeed as if they were children under our tutelage. We did not do so for the break-away states of the former USSR; rather we encouraged and celebrated their movement toward democratic self-governance, however limited and imperfect. Yet these states, for the most part, had no long tradition of democracy upon which to proceed. There were no guarantees when they took the leap. Some landed on the other side, some of those teetering (like Ukraine) and some (like White Russia) never made it at all. Jefferson would, or at least as I prefer to imagine him, be ashamed at our reluctance.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that in one form or another seeks the Islamization of Egypt (and the world) but has eschewed violence *is* better than violent Jihadists, and no worse than the many Christian organizations who seek out new converts and who attempt to sway policy. I hear those Christian activists who insist that the US is a Christian nation (not a secular one), and would have Christianity institutionalized in the very fabric of our political and social institutions. These same, like the MB, eschew violence, at least for now. I know, Malcolm, that you are no friend of religious fundamentalism of any stripe, but it seems to me that if one may tolerate Christian political religious fundamentalism as part of our own political milieu without proclaiming the impending demise of our democracy, then one ought to be willing to forgo such proclamations regarding the democratic aspirations of foreign nations, especially those with which we are not intimately familiar.

    I do like this article which explains the current political landscape of Egypt in fair detail:

    Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  20. camo says

    Doggone prescient.

    Posted December 1, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink