Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt, Libya, and the U.S.

I don't really like to write much on Egypt because we already have our own in-house expert, Ms. Dina, who has written many great posts already. So, I'd be very happy if she would reply to this post and tell me if I "mess up" in my analysis.

In my previous posts, I did not delve into the issue of the Ikhwanul Moslem (Moslem Brotherhood) in Egypt, since from what I observed in the beginning, I thought that they were losing their place in politics, preempted by the youth secular mass movements and delegitimized by various troubles facing the fundamentalist states around them, notably Iran. Apparently, I am wrong.

This may be too early to say, as it will be a while before the dust settles, but I am observing a very troubling development that may drive Egypt to the path of Pakistan, which is a very disturbing duet of Military-Islamists squelching the nascent democratic movements for a short term political gains.

Revolution is always a multi-lanes street. On one hand, there are some groups of people who successfully spearhead the efforts to overthrow of the authoritarian regime. On the other hand, there are often other groups that act as a spoiler, trying to redirect the revolution for their political gains. The end results often differ wildly from what the first group wanted. The Bolsheviks in Russian Revolution, the Jacobins in French Revolution, the Mullahs in Iranian Revolution are just a few obvious examples. Less obvious are hijackers that come directly from within the political system.

After a revolution, the military is usually delegitimized as a political power. It happened in Indonesia, that the fall of Suharto also led to a short-term delegitimation of political role of the army, forcing them in the end to surrender their precious voting bloc in parliament. Of course, as people noticed over time the sad fact that both the police and the politicians were very corrupt, the army, this time supposedly clean from any scandals, once again became rehabilitated. Not completely, mind you, but at least people were looking at them as a relatively clean institution with strong leadership, safeguarding the nation. It became the selling point for Indonesia's current president, Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a retired general.

The biggest difference between Egypt and Indonesia lies in the number of Islamist parties. In Indonesia, there are many parties that use religion as a symbol, ranging from the moderate National Awakening Party (PKB) and National Mandate Party (PAN) to the Ikhwanul Muslim-types, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Crescent and Star Party (PBB). In Egypt, however, it seems that the Ikhwanul Moslem is the only Moslem party, monopolizing the religious symbols, using tactics not dissimilar with the old Indonesian Islamic Party Masjumi back in the 1950s--such as telling voters: if they choose other parties, they will go to hell.

In Indonesia, back in the 1950s, the secular elite, troubled by the possibility of an Islamic party taking over Indonesia and creating an Islamic state, decided to gang up, exploiting the rift within the Masjumi, and managed to keep Masjumi from getting the majority of the seats. In Egypt, however, it seems that there is simply no organized challenger to Ikhwanul Moslem. The Ikhwanul Moslem is the only game in town, as Mubarak had eliminated any other possible contender to power.

I think Ikhwanul Moslem predicts that they can win the majority of the seats in an election. The only thing that prevent them from winning and taking over the country is the army. Thus, both sides make a deal: Ikhwanul Moslem can get their quick election, while at the same time, the army's presence in Egyptian politics is guaranteed. This is not dissimilar to Zia's bargain with the Islamists in Pakistan. 

If my analysis is correct, then the future of Egyptian politics may be dire, as it will descend to the path of Iran's theocracy and Pakistan's quasi-Islamist state, where the minority rights are trampled and the government rules with impunity, supported by the Qur'an and guns. The Saudis may not like the bargain, but it is possible they will accept it due to Iranian threats, Shiite revolts, and possibly guarantees from the Ikhwanul Moslem and the government that they will not try to export their revolution next door.

On Libya: I don't think we can expect a quick war here in Libya. The reason is simple: even though the alliance has been able to hurt Qaddafi's army, forcing them to withdraw from many rebels' stronghold, the rebels are too disorganized to mount an attack successfully, especially after Qaddafi's mercenaries and loyalists got their act together. Air power does help in rallying the rebels, still its effectiveness remains questionable. There has been no precedent in world history where air power delivers a knockout blow on a leader or a state.

Therefore, it is doubtful now whether Qaddafi can be overthrown quickly. Plus, even with him in a corner, he is using all his cash reserves to stay in power.

Of course, if Obama's luck holds, Qaddafi will fold in the future and then it is back to business as usual. Still, should it take a while to clean up Libya's mess, and Obama's bypassing Congress will create further headaches for him. The War Powers Act demands the President to ask Congress for support or permission before deciding to go to war.

Already, Obama has sown much criticism, even from his main cheerleader. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think Obama took this decision in haste, something to which he did not give much consideration or deliberation. Had he really carefully moved his pieces on the board, he would have tried to build a support in the Congress first on a possible military action. Even though I do not oppose Obama's decision to strike Libya, I think he just blew the opportunity with questionable and rushed decision-making.

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