Friday, 17 January 2020

Egypt And The Middle East

Updated: August 3, 2013 3:03 pm

Whatever may have been the external influences behind the ouster of the last Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the fact remains that the still blowing wind of the Arab Spring has instilled in the minds of the Egyptian people a sense of democratic sentiment which is not prepared to brook any authoritarian dictator. It is now clear that Morsi was hopelessly unequal to the intricacies of the Middle Eastern geopolitics. He failed to position Egypt properly in the geopolitical chessboard, could not strike a balance among the contending parties, flip flopped too much and had to quit the field leaving behind some serious questions about future developments in the volatile region.

Although Egypt’s importance in the Arab world has diminished considerably over the years thanks to its crumbling economy, yet the ancient land is too important for the US as well as the western world due to the existence of the Suez Canal, its proximity to the Gaza Strip and its inherent potentiality to become leader of the Arab world. So there is reason for the US and the West to remain assured as the army, perhaps the only steady institution in the country, is now in control of the situation. At the same time, it is bound to feel a sense of loss also as the Muslim Brotherhood, the organisation to which Morsi belonged, had come considerably closer to the US and the West belying earlier apprehension that it would act like another instrument in the spread of Islamic terrorism.

Here lies a potential risk which may result from the ouster of Morsi. His Muslim Brotherhood presented a face of moderate Islam. But it may now gradually metamorphose towards a hardline approach casting a long shadow over the long standing Egypt-Israel détente. Given the fact that Egypt still possesses perhaps the best organised army among all the Arab states and the ongoing unrest in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a stable and tranquil Egypt has become necessary for peace in the Middle East.

At first Mohammed Morsi understood this and that goaded him to build up an inclusive administration, maintain friendship with Turkey which is a NATO satellite, respect the long standing Camp David peace treaty with Israel and accommodates western business and political interests. But at the same time, due to inexperience in international politics, he made several self contradictory moves. He went to participate in the last Non-Aligned Movement conference in Teheran disregarding the expressed desire of the US that Iran should be isolated in international fora. Then using the NAM platform he suddenly attacked the Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad and advised him to step down voluntarily, thus bowing down to ‘popular demands’. At that time Morsi could not visualise that one day he would have to face the same situation.

Rather than promoting the principle of non-alignment the actual motive behind was to please the US as Egypt’s economy was tottering and Morsi was desperate to get a 4.8 billion dollar IMF loan without putting much premium to the prevalent anti US sentiments in his country. Morsi’s move facilitated the agreement for the loan as the US was willing to catapult Egypt as the leader of the Arab world in order to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East. Even the idea of cutting down 1.3 billion dollar annual US subsidy to Egypt was also shelved.

The ouster of Morsi may open up several unpleasant scenarios, the most important one being the possibility of Egypt becoming another hotbed of Islamic terrorism after Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza. Its oil revenue had peaked in 1996 but then started declining throughout the remaining years of the 1990s and then during the first decade of the 2000 till 2007 when Egypt became an oil importer. In 2012 its population reached up to 84 million, a 50 per cent jump from the 56 million mark in 1990. With the high fertility rate of 2.9 children per woman there is distinct possibility that within the next 15 years the country will have a large mass of unemployed virile population.

Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to implement its political agenda leaves room for future unrest. It could not chalk out its relations with the judiciary, police and the army. In March there was a sit in demonstration by the police and other allied security forces. Confrontation arose as Mohammed Morsi wanted to remove the public prosecutor for his failure to bring several Hosni Mubarak era army generals to trial. He also wanted to remove judges of the Constitutional Court who were appointed by Mubarak and tried to protect several elected and non-elected institutions packed with Islamists from judicial review. When faced with opposition, the former Egyptian President tried to lower the retirement age of the judges and declared his decrees to be outside the purview of the court.

Contrary to popular beliefs, so far as Egypt was concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood represented a workable option for the United States although a simultaneous distrust for the Brotherhood remained among US policymakers. That is the reason why Barack Obama, the US President, refused to castigate Mohammed Morsi after the latter’s ouster, wished for a return to democracy and most important, asked his policy makers to evaluate whether the aid packages could continue. He has reasons to be apprehensive about safeguarding the interests of the US and Israel in the future shapes of things to come.

The opposition also cannot guarantee a stable future. The sidelining of Mohammed Elbaradei, a hot favourite with the West, point out that there might be some truth in the ongoing speculation that Saudi Arabia had provided material support and inspiration towards the ouster of Moahmmed Morsi. Here lies the tragedy for the Muslim Brotherhood. In spite of being an Islamist outfit which enjoys widespread influence not just in Egypt but in the Sunni Arab world as a whole, it ultimately failed to gain confidence with the fountainhead of Wahabi Islam due to its urge to become friendly with the West, without however becoming a trustworthy ally.

After Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has become an unpredictable proposition. Hazem-al-Beblawi, the new Egyptian Prime Minister, has ordered arrests of almost all the top ranking leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and at the same time was all for inducting representatives of the Brotherhood in his cabinet. Elbaradei, the Vice President, is a liberal while Adly Mansour, the President, is a Mubarak loyalist. Elbaradei heads the National Salvation Front, a confederation of 35 groups. Most important among them are members of the Kefaya, an organisation which has been demanding democratic reforms since 2004. Along with them are to be found the judges who were appointed by Mubarak and are never tired of chanting encomiums for the former President.

Morsi was no consummate player and in the name of an independent foreign policy he has left behind a heap of confusion. His party, the Muslim Brotherhood, represents conservative Sunni belief yet it is extremely close to the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon. His exit means that Egypt will cast off its short lived policy of an independent regional actor. This will help Israel in pushing forward its plan of aggressive resettlement and strangulation of the Gaza Strip. Mohammed Morsi’s plan of an independent foreign policy was not in consonance with Egypt’s economic condition and neither the US nor the hardline Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia liked it. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the two principal financiers of Egypt since the time of Hosni Mubarak and they did not like Egypt’s attempt to become a big player. It is likely that in spite of the presence of some liberals in the new government, Egypt will come under Saudi influence more and more.

The driving out of the Muslim Brotherhood led government in Egypt is the sweet revenge, the Saudi King Abdullah has taken. He never pardoned the Obama administration for its alleged support to the Arab Spring that ultimately dethroned his friend Hosni Mubarak. There are reports that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate have already assured massive financial aid to the new Egyptian administration.

By Amitava Mukherjee

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