Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Egypt's Military: The Kingmaker

On Sunday the Egyptian military made an ultimatum that President Morsi and his opponents--mostly liberal pro-democracy and old regime types--had 48 hours to agree on a way forward or the army would intervene. Here is a link to a video from PBS Newshour on that development. This follows on a massive rally held in Tahrir Square in Cairo held by anti-Islamist protesters who want to claw back some of the power that President Morsi has taken for himself.

Developments in Egypt parallel developments in Iran in 1979 in some respects. Then there was a broad revolutionary spectrum composed of Marxists, nationalists, liberals, and Islamists that all banded together to overthrow the monarchist regime. Once the Shah left the country and power was given to the revolution the coalition began to collapse. For the first year moderate nationalists ruled and the force behind the Islamists, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers in the clergy, moved to radicalize the revolution and provoke a confrontation with the West by seizing control of the American Embassy in Tehran. The Islamists drew their support from the rural poor who had been migrating to Tehran and living in poor neighborhoods during the Shah's reign. Khomeini promised them sharia, dignity, and economic improvement. The Islamists benefited from a clandestine network that they had used and built over 15 years of opposition to the Shah. Moderates were purged from the revolutionary committees (komitehs) and the government found itself controlling less and less, as in the days of the Russian Revolution. The komitehs were the equivalent of the Russian soviets or soldiers' and workers' councils.

Today in Egypt there is a similar split among the forces that overthrew Mubarak two years ago. But the military, unlike in Iran in 1979, was never forced from power. It is now in a position to play kingmaker by backing first one side and then the other and thereby forcing the parameters of a compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secularists who do not want Egypt to become a Sunni version of Iran. What is at stake for the military? At a minimum it wants to guarantee the conditions that will allow for the continued flow of American aid and Western investment in Egypt. These include respect for property, law and order, and the continuation of the peace treaty with Israel. By ensuring that these minimum conditions are met the army will keep the aid flowing that feeds the population and pays the salaries of the military as well as replacing the military equipment that is aging. Here is a profile from Der Spiegel of the new military ruler of Egypt, who is the man behind the judge put in place of Morsi by the military's action.

The Egyptian military and Washington does not demand democracy or military rule so much as stability. If one looks at the socio-economic indicators of Egypt, it is not ready for democracy. Here is journalist Lee Smith with his take on the Egyptian analysis of their own problems. It lacks a stable middle class that is large enough to run the country. It is much like France in the time of the French Revolution in the late 18th century or in the early 19th century. It took France 81 years from the start of the French Revolution to the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870 before it began to build a stable democracy. This is because France lacked the stable institutions for democracy, the habit of democracy and a culture that embraced it. As Protestants and secular Catholic intellectuals gained more influence as university education spread, the power of the Catholic Church began to diminish. Still, throughout the Third Republic there was a battle between pro-Catholic traditionalists in parliament and anti-clerical secularists. With Islam even more entrenched in the Middle East than Catholicism was in France in the 19th and 20th centuries, expect an even longer battle for control and influence. And expect a few more republics.

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