As Egypt goes so goes the Arab World. Egypt is the leader of the Arab World, the largest country and the country with the most powerful military, a developing educated class and one of the most strategically located countries in the world. Much of the world’s shipping passes the Suez Canal and the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel and cooperation with Israel on security issues has resulted in the most secure parts of the Middle East for decades. The United States and the West count Egypt is their key ally in the Arab World but now the world trembles at the revolution going on in Egypt because of the uncertain and potentially destabilizing potential in the Middle East and the world.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had ruled Egypt under emergency conditions since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 by military members loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak has continued Sadat’s policies and been a strong ally of the United States and frequently has mediated for Israel in the Arab World. He has been a stabilizing influence in the Middle East but has ruled as a dictator for all practical purposes since. Mubarak dissolved his government and appointed a Vice President for the first time during his rule. He has steadfastly refused to step down.
Conditions in Egypt include extremely high unemployment, poverty and social services which are insufficient at best and in many locations non-existent. Discontent has been simmering for years with Egyptian Police and internal security forces keeping a tight lid on dissent. The military however is the most trusted and respected institution in Egypt as it has kept a distance between it and internal security matters. The Police on the other hand are viewed as corrupt and brutal.
Matters have blown up in ways that few anticipated in the past week and it all began in Tunisia, a country on the fringe of the Arab World. Within a week of a popular overthrow of their President the flames of change were rolling across the Arab World, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. Popular uprisings in key Arab countries led in many cases by educated pro-Western moderate professionals using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
As of now we are unsure of exactly what will happen. However Egypt is the key. The protests now have an internationally respected leader, the Nobel Laureate former head of the United Nations Nuclear Inspection agency Mohamed El Baradei. El Baradei has called on the United States to support the Egyptian people and says that he has the mandate to form a national unity government and reached out to the Egyptian military which is important for the stability and security of any new government.
The demonstrations have grown in intensity and the Army had taken the place of the police on the streets to the cheers of demonstrators. While this is happening there is a surge of looting and vandalism and individuals as well as communities are taking their security on themselves with no police on the streets to do so.
With the situation on the ground continuing to get worse the United States will have to act in support of the protestors or see its influence in whatever kind of government and with the Egyptian people dissipate. The best outcome would be an orderly transition of power to some kind of national unity government headed by pro-Western leaders such as El Baradei. Unless such a transition takes place the chances of the uprising to become radicalized under the domination of the long suppressed Muslim Brotherhood is a real possibility. The key right now is the Egyptian military, respected at home and trusted it is closely linked to the United States in many ways.
We do not know how this will end and chances of it ending badly are as great as or greater than in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran and the subsequent moderate government. At least there is no Khomeini like figure ready to seize the moment and lead the country into an Iranian style revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood has been under wraps for many years and though a fundamentalist movement is populated with professional people and not clerics and it publically renounced violence years ago. One can only hope that El Baradei and the military can lead the Egypt on a democratic and peaceful course and that Hosni Mubarak will ensure that the transition is peaceful.
Lord help us all.