woensdag 2 februari 2011

Kritische commentaren over Egypte en de VS (Barry Rubin)

Barry Rubin is misschien soms wat cynisch en negatief, maar dit zijn welkome aanvullingen op de commentaren van de Nederlandse media waarin de Moslim Broederschap als ongevaarlijk en gematigd wordt neergezet, en er over het algemeen weinig aandacht is voor de mogelijk desastreuze lange termijn gevolgen van een regime wisseling in Egypte. Even voor de duidelijkheid: Barry Rubin, en wijzelf natuurlijk ook, zijn helemaal voor een democratisch en vrij Egypte. De vraag is alleen of dat gaat gebeuren. Een land dat nooit democratie heeft gekend, waar de bevolking slecht is opgeleid, veel armoede en corruptie heerst, de media de bevolking deccennialang hebben opgehitst tegen de VS en vooral Israel, en dus logischerwijze vooral woede en wrok heerst, kan dat opeens veranderen in een stabiele democratische staat? Het is helaas niet erg waarschijnlijk.
Hieronder wordt eerst even de myhte doorgeprikt dat El Baradei de ideale man is om een nieuwe regering in Egypte te vormen. Verder vraagt Rubin zich af of de Amerikanen nou werkelijk zo slecht zijn geweest voor Egypte, en de haat tegen de VS zal verdwijnen als zij Mubarak laat vallen en een nieuw regime - wat dat ook zal worden - steunt. De VS heeft Mubarak gesteund, maar ook het Egyptische leger helpen opbouwen na het verlies van 1973, en er toen bovendien voor gezorgd dat dit verlies beperkt bleef. De VS hebben ervoor gezorgd dat Egypte de hele Sinai terugkreeg onder gunstige voorwaarden. Egypte is voor haar koude vrede met Israel verder beloond met een jaarlijkse gift van 2 miljard dollar, die vooral naar het leger gaat. Kortom: met hulp van de VS heeft Egypte het modernste Arabische leger en is een van de belangrijkste landen in het Midden-Oosten.
If ElBaradei Can't Tell the Truth About the Muslim Brotherhood, He Can't Master It

Posted: 01 Feb 2011 05:40 AM PST

By Barry Rubin

Muhammad ElBaradei blatantly lied to CNN. Naturally, the reporter neither called him on it or followed up to ascertain the truth.

Here he is talking about the Muslim Brotherhood

ELBARADEI: "This is a myth that was sold by the Mubarak regime, that it's either us, the ruthless dictators, or above them the al-Qaida types.

"You know, the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism, as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places. The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group. They are a minority in Egypt. They are not a majority of the Egyptian people, but they have a lot of credibility because all the other liberal parties have been smothered for 30 years.

"They are in favor of a federalist state. They are in favor of a wording on the base of constitution that has red lines that every Egyptian has the same rights, same obligation, that the state in no way will be a state based on religion. And I have been reaching out to them. We need to include them. They are part of the Egyptian society, as much as the Marxist party here. I think this myth that has been perpetuated and sold by the regime has no - has no iota of reality."

Let's count the lies--and Elbaradei knew he was lying, though he used tricky arguments to circle around the blue whale in the room, his Muslim Brotherhood ally:

1.  The Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the Iranian model, has nothing to do with extremism, as we have seen it in Afghanistan and other places.

Obviously, the Brotherhood is not a clone of the Taliban or Ayatollah Khomeini but it has a great deal to do with extremism. Of course, the Brotherhood is distinctively Egyptian, but it is a distinctively Egyptian Sunni form of extremism.

"I've worked with Iranians, I've worked here. There is 100 percent difference between the two societies."

Precisely. But the Brotherhood is still a group that wants to set up an Islamist society to govern every aspect of life under Islamic law as interpreted by the Brotherhood. Germany and Japan are more different than Egypt and Iran but both had fascist regimes. The USSR and China are more different than Egypt abd Iran but both had Communist regimes.

2. "The Muslim Brotherhood is a religiously conservative group."

False.  Mainstream Egyptian clerics are religiously conservative. To be religiously conservative is to want to maintain the status quo. The Brotherhood is quite unhappy with Egyptian society and wants to change it drastically. That is why it is a revolutionary group even though it has been patient and careful about pushing the revolution.

And the claim that the Brotherhood is non-violent is also quite tricky. It dissolved its terrorist wing only because of government pressure and has advocated terrorism against Americans and Israelis. It applauded and incited the assassinations of secular activists and Egypt's leading novelist. As I've pointed out in previous articles, its rhetoric sounds quite like al-Qaida (though it is not at all friendly toward al-Qaida as an organization).

3. "They are a minority in Egypt. They are not a majority of the Egyptian people, but they have a lot of credibility because all the other liberal parties have been smothered for 30 years."

Well, they are less than 50 percent. But in a situation of severe repression and harassment they received 20 percent of the vote. Thus, it is reasonable to think they have more support than that. Polls show very hardline religious views among the majority of Egyptians. And no other group has anywhere near the level of support that the Brotherhood does. Once given a real chance it may grow quickly as has happened in other countries, like Iran.

Incidentally, the Brotherhood has been more smothered than have liberal parties yet remained far stronger than liberal parties. That tells you something about relative levels of support, toughness, and organization.

4. Here is the biggest lie of all by far:

"They are in favor of a federalist state. They are in favor of a wording on the base of constitution that has red lines that every Egyptian has the same rights, same obligation, that the state in no way will be a state based on religion."

This is so ridiculous that it can only be told to those who know nothing about the Muslim Brotherhood. According to its platform, the Brotherhood favors greater rights for Muslims; fewer rights for women, and a strong unitary state based on religion. ElBaradei knows he is conceal the group's true nature.

5. "And I have been reaching out to them. We need to include them."

Actually, since launching his candidacy for president, ElBaradei has been dependent on the Brotherhood, which has furnished most of the support for his political career. He is not merely including them, he must give them a big slice of power. And they are far stronger than he is, than any liberal democratic movement is in Egypt.

So is it a "myth" that the only alternative is either the Mubarak regime (or what might be called the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak regime)? We are going to find out. But in judging that issue ElBaradei is lying to us. If he spoke the truth, he might have a better chance of disproving this "myth." But his lies make me suspicious that--even if a better alternative is possible--ElBaradei is going to prove Mubarak's myth to be accurate.

Egypt's Revolution: A Simple Guide

Posted: 31 Jan 2011 09:27 PM PST

By Barry Rubin

There's a lot of confusion about the Egyptian crisis yet it is vital people understand what is at stake.

The first issue is whether only the ruler or the entire regime is going to fall. The mere resignation of President Husni Mubarak from office would not be a huge problem. Vice-President Omar Suleiman or someone else will take over, the regime will make adjustments to build support (and probably repression of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Egypt's policy—certainly its foreign policy—remains relatively unchanged.

But if the entire regime falls this would lead to a period of anarchy—bad—or a new regime—worse. There are three huge problems:

The moderates' weakness. There are no well-organized moderate groups with a big base of support. Can any such politicians compete with the highly organized, disciplined Muslim Brotherhood which knows precisely what it wants? Indeed, the much-touted Muhammad ElBardai is a weak and ineffectual man with no political experience whatsoever. Many of the activists who have backed his candidacy are themselves Islamists.

Indeed, many of the non-Islamist "moderates" are not so moderate. In sharp contrast to reformers in other Arab countries, many of the Egyptian "democrats" are themselves quite radical, especially in terms of anti-American and anti-Israel thinking.

ElBardai, by the way, is mainly known for being very soft on Iran when he was running the investigation of its nuclear weapons' campaign.  As Egypt's leader, if that happens, he would clearly be friendly toward Tehran. How could the United States build any serious coalition against Iran without either Egypt or Turkey?

The public's radicalism. According to a recent Pew poll, the Egyptian public is extremely radical even in comparison to Jordan or Lebanon. When asked whether they preferred "Islamists" or "modernizers," the score was 59% to 27% in favor of the Islamists. In addition, 20 percent said they liked al-Qaida; 30 percent, Hizballah; 49 percent, Hamas. And this was at a time that their government daily propagandized against these groups.

How about religious views? Egyptian Muslims said the following: 82 percent want adulterers punished with stoning; 77 percent want robbers to be whipped and have their hands amputated; 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

So how is such a radical public going to vote and what policies would they support? The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to be very popular while one would think secular moderates in suits and ties would not be able to compete in elections.

The economy's fragility. In a country like Saudi Arabia a government can buy off opposition. Not so in Egypt, a place where there are few resources (some oil, Suez Canal) and too many people. So how is a government going to make the public happy? It won't be able to offer greatly improved living standards, more jobs, and better housing. Instead, demagoguery is likely—as it has so often done before in the Arab world—to be the means of gaining votes and keeping the masses out of the streets.

This means the Islamization to some degree of social life and waves of hatred against Israel and America, the Middle East equivalent of bread (subsidies for food will be increased but how to pay for them?) and circuses. Moderate governments thrive usually when they can offer benefits. This is very unlikely in Egypt.

The Islamists' strength and extremism. If someone tells you that the Muslim Brotherhood is mild and moderate, don't believe it. In its speeches and publications, it pours forth vitriol and hatred. Making the Sharia the sole source of legislation for Egypt is one of its most basic demands. The rights of Christians and women (at least those who don't want to live within radical Islamist rules) are going to decline in a country ruled by the Brotherhood, even as part of the coalition.

As for foreign policy, is the alliance with the United States and the peace treaty with Israel going to survive under such a regime? Maybe but why should that happen? And of course, the regime will support revolutionary Islamists elsewhere. Even ElBardei wants an alliance with Hamas. Such a regime will not be friendly toward the Palestinian Authority or oppose Iranian expansionism (even though it might well hate Iran as Shia Muslims).

And what will the effect be on the rest of the region? Everyone will know—both Israel and moderate Arabs alike—that they cannot depend on the United States. Revolutionary Islamists would be emboldened to subvert Morocco and Tunisia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. With an Islamist-ruled Lebanon (for all practical purposes, if only unofficially), Gaza Strip, Iran, Turkey, and with Syrian participation, what will happen in the Middle East?

The worst kind of disaster is one that isn't recognized as such.

Again, this has nothing much to do whether Mubarak himself stays or not and everything to do with whether the Egyptian regime stays or not.

Egypt: Oh, Those hated Americans; Those Hated Israelis!

Posted: 31 Jan 2011 09:31 PM PST

By Barry Rubin

Under the headline, "Why Zionists Are Weeping," the Angry Arab blogger posts the following paragraph:

"All the people hate [Mubarak]!" one protester shouted. "He's supporting Israel! Israel is our enemy. We don't like him... Israel and America supported him. We hate them all. We don't like them!"

The Angry Arab didn't tell us that the woman who said that was wearing the garb of a very Islamist person--not just traditional dress--and whatever her institutional connections is surely a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group we're told is moderate and not representative of Egyptian opinion.

But ok let's ignore the identity of the individual and accept the idea that this is what "Egyptians" think. Now at first glance this makes perfect sense. But let's think a bit about modern Egyptian history, which began in 1952 with the accession of the military regime led by Gamal Abd al-Nasser. Now there's a man who hated Israel and America. What did he do for Egypt?

Well, there was some land reform and the old monarchy was swept away. But he involved Egypt in costly adventures in an attempt to take over the Arab world and destroy Israel. There was almost constant coups, instability, and bloodshed. Nasser intervened in Yemen's civil war and used poison gas against fellow Arabs. Islamists were arrested, tortured, thrown into concentration camps, and hung.

In 1956, the British, French, and Israelis invaded but America was the only thing that saved Nasser. Those hated Americans!

Nasser allied with the Soviets who were given basing rights and some Egyptians felt Moscow had become the new imperialists. The economy was run into the ground. It all culminated with Nasser's miscalculation and humiliating defeat in the 1967 war. Remember that one? The war that was supposed to destroy Israel but instead led to Israel's capture of the entire Sinai Peninsula?

Were Egyptians happy then? Well, they were bused in for massive rallies to "persuade" Nasser to rescind his "resignation." Three years later, he died.

Ah, the good old days!  After all, he hated America and Israel. And that's all that counts, doesn't it?

Then came Anwar al-Sadat. He dismantled some of Nasser's Arab socialism and let the Islamists out of the camps (in part to balance off his "leftist" rivals in the establishment). He fought the 1973 war that "restored Egypt's honor." But they like to forget that Egypt lost the war, Israel crossed the Canal, and if not for America--those hated Americans!--who forced Israel to withdraw where would Egypt be?

Realizing that Arab socialism, war, and the Soviet alliance wasn't benefiting Egypt, Sadat changed sides, had a rapprochement with America ($2 billion in aid a year, oh those hated Americans!) and made peace with Israel (all the Sinai, the oilfields, the Suez Canal).  Oh, and the United States rebuilt the Egyptian military with advanced weapons, and all they had to do was not to launch another war on Israel. Oh, hated Americans!

But here's the funny bit. In 2009, President Barack Obama went to Cairo, said a new day was dawning and he respected Islam as much as any human being could. He apologized for the past (saving Egypt in 1956? in 1967? in 1973? a couple of dozen billion dollars in aid?). Who cares? Those hated Americans!

And on top of that, in 2011, when demonstrations broke out in Egypt demanding "freedom," who changed sides and supported the protesters, within hours publicly declaring that they no longer supported Mubarak and demanding change? Those hated Americans, of course.

This is not to say that the U.S. policymakers did everything, certainly the Egyptians were the key factor with their actions. And yet, if the U.S. government had fully backed Mubarak might not scores of demonstrators been shot down in the streets and the protests either repressed or a long, bloody civil war commenced? Oh, those hated Americans!

So after all that, let me ask you a question: Isn't it apparent that no matter what the United States does, the Americans will be hated in Egypt? And if they put into power a new government won't that new government hate them, too? Remember Iran, when the Carter Administration kept trying to explain that it really truly was ready to accept Ayatollah Khomeini's regime and wanted good relations?

So the Americans should be weeping, too, at the likelihood that a new anti-American government will emerge that is really committed to damaging U.S. interests.

What about the Egyptians themselves? Was the anti-American era so glorious and wonderful? Will they be better off without $2 billion in U.S. aid? Might not the best route be to drop these hatreds, seek peace, not reignite conflicts with Israel or the United States? Try really to build a democratic state where Egyptians can enjoy better lives?

Is Egypt going to be better off under the tender mercies of radical nationalists and Islamists? Better off seeking new wars and before long a repression at home that will make them, possibly though it is hard to believe right now, yearn for Mubarak?

Unless, of course, moderation and democracy really do triumph--which is what we hope. Otherwise, the Egyptians may be weeping, too. And if you think that unlikely--and I quite understand it if you do--just ask the Iranians who have spent 31 years (so far) paying for that revolution of theirs.


By the way, I wrote a similar piece about Iran back in 1979 when the equivalent of the Angry Arab--call him the Angry Persian--was writing about similar things. That article seems pretty prophetic now. One day, this one will, too.

And don't worry about the Angry Arab. He lives in the United States, you see, and has a nice living standard in part at the expense of the American taxpayer since he sometimes consults for the U.S. government. 

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