Arlene from Israel
31 January '11
The issues are anything but simple, and resolution of the situation in Egypt will not happen overnight, or in a week or a month. I do not intend to focus exclusively on this situation. And yet... it is so important, and so fraught with major consequences, that we must continue to keep a very watchful eye.
At present there is a sort of holding pattern, or stalemate. Mubarak is refusing to step down. He has appointed a new cabinet and instructed the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to "allow wider participation" of political parties, and to address unemployment concerns.
These orders touch upon two key issues.
Financial difficulties being endured by the Egyptian people have a great deal to do with what brought tens of thousands into the street. (Anxiety about the subsidization of bread -- a staple in Egypt --because of Egyptian fiscal policies that have brought higher prices may have figured into this.)
Wider participation of political parties is meant to signal the very beginning of governmental reform; what actually happens in this regard remains to be seen.
The "new" cabinet has seen some people replaced, but still consists of many familiar faces.
In the meantime, the protests are still going on in the street, with tanks roaming about and helicopters overhead. Protesters insist they are not stopping until Mubarak leaves.
The expectation in many quarters is that Mubarak will resign shortly and make way for his vice president, Suleiman -- who certainly has the experience and capacity to take control.
Zvi Mazel, who served as ambassador to Egypt, has written:
"The people are no longer clamoring for food and work, they want him gone, and it is doubtful that they will settle for less. Even if Mubarak manages to hold on, it will be as a diminished president..." (Thanks here to Lily S.)
What seems most clearly the case is that if there is to be stable reform in Egypt -- that moves even tentatively in the direction of democracy -- it must be done via a moderating and reformulated version of the current regime, and not via a takeover by the street.
If Mubarak is to finish his term, writes Mazel, "he will have to implement political and economic reforms, including significant salary raises and increased subsidies, though it is not clear where the money will be coming for. The emergency laws which granted him extraordinary powers will have to be scraped, together with the special clauses introduced in the constitution to limit the possibility for an independent to be candidate for the presidency."
There is much talk about who the leaders of the protest movement are and which ideologies they represent. Young people -- educated and often radicalized -- are seriously invested in the rebellion. But what becomes more and more evident is how deeply involved is the Muslim Brotherhood, even though it has not moved to officially assume leadership.
As Shmuel Even, writing for the Institute for National Security Studies, put it:
"The outcome of the riots may not necessarily be connected to what or who ignited them, rather to whatever power structure is created and those who succeed in leveraging it for their own benefit."
The Brotherhood has announced official backing for El-Baradei, who first demanded Mubarak's ouster, and now has the Brotherhood's blessing to negotiate a "unity government."
Down the road, it goes without saying, the Egyptian military, and the leader it supports, will have considerable effect on what happens.
At first, with Israeli consent, the Egyptian army placed troops on its Sinai border with Gaza, to prevent Hamas terrorists from infiltrating.
Consent from Israel is necessary because according to our peace treaty with Egypt the Sinai, a buffer zone, is to remain demilitarized.
Now news has broken of something more significant. Israel reportedly gave permission yesterday for Egypt to station two battalions - about 800 soldiers - in the Sinai. This is the first time Egyptian troops will have been stationed in the Sinai since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty 32 years ago. They are to be based in the Sharm el-Sheikh area on Sinai's southern tip, far from Israel.
This is being done to enhance Egyptian government stability, and, I am assuming, to increase its army's ability to respond quickly against Hamas militants in the Sinai.
This is not about to be confirmed on the record. Israeli officials who spoke to YNet about this did so anonymously because of the Netanyahu ban on discussing the situation.
There was a time when Egypt having troops in the Sinai would have been a source of great turmoil, as it would have been seen as a threat here in Israel. As it is now, the Israel government is demonstrating a readiness to support the Egyptian regime -- the only nation prepared to do so.
For the record, not everyone was pleased with this. MK Uri Ariel (National Union) protested that:
"This government does not have the right to enable Egypt to break even a comma of the peace accords. It's a terrifying precedent for the future.
"Anyone who knows the Middle East knows that forces which improved their positions against Israel won't withdraw easily and it doesn't matter if they're commanded by Mubarak or his successor."
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres said today (not specifically in response to Ariel's comments) that:
"We always have had and still have a great respect [for Mubarak]. I don't say everything that he did was right, but he did one thing for which all of us are thankful to him: He kept the peace in the Middle East."
Lest there be any misunderstanding about this: The Brotherhood is Islamist. Whatever pseudo-popular or faux-democratic machinations they might rely on in the interim, they are seeking a Muslim state run according to Sharia, the elimination of Israel, and then the ultimate goal -- a world-wide caliphate (employing a "grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization ").
Barry Rubin has provided this quote from a Brotherhood member of Egypt's parliament:
"From my point of view, Bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi [the leaders of al-Qaida who staged the September 11 attacks and massive killings in Iraq] are not terrorists in the sense accepted by some. I support all their activities, since they are a thorn in the side of the Americans and the Zionists...."
With reason, there are analysts who see Iran's hand in what is going on in Egypt.
Turkey has gone Islamist; Syria is in Iran's camp; Hezbollah, an Iranian puppet, is now controlling Lebanon; Hamas, another Iranian surrogate is in Gaza; and Moshe Yaalon, Minister of Strategic Affairs, says there are Hezbollah elements there as well.
For the last hold-out, Egypt, to go this route as well in the course of time would be cataclysmic. This is the case foremost for Israel. But also for the stability of the entire region and the interests of the US. Consider, with everything else, what it would mean if Islamists controlled the Suez Canal.
Barak Ravid, writing in Ha'aretz, says that Israel is calling on the US and a number of European countries to moderate criticism of Mubarak in order to preserve stability in the region. Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West's interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime.
He cites a senior Israeli official, who said:
"The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests. Even if they are critical of Mubarak, they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications."
This theme is also reflected in the words of Dore Gold, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
"Precisely when the Egyptian government had its back to the wall with the worst protests in recent history, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs threatened the embattled President Mubarak with a cut in U.S. foreign aid. What kind of signal did the White House press secretary's threat about cutting aid send to King Abdullah of Jordan or to President Saleh of Yemen, as well as to other allies in the Persian Gulf? Did it mean that as soon as an Arab leader gets into trouble, he starts to get disowned?"
If the leaks by Al-Jazeera last week pretty much sank the already near-moribund peace process, what is going on now may deliver the final blow.
PA leaders, after being embarrassed by leaks ostensibly showing their willingness to compromise, are bound to be more intransigent than ever. And now, facing the instability in Egypt, Netanyahu -- who already has expressed concern for Israeli security in any final agreement -- will be all the more convinced that if regimes surrounding us are not stable it is essential to hold on to strategic territory.
In the course of time, I hope to address some of those who persist in the delusion that "peace" is attainable now.
With this, a ray of light:
Last Thursday, key leaders of the US House sent a letter to President Obama urging that he veto a resolution at the Security Council that would declare Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, and including eastern Jerusalem, to be illegal.
The letter stated that:
"The passage of this resolution would simply isolate Israel and embolden the Palestinians to focus on further such pyrrhic victories, immeasurably setting back prospects for achieving real peace."
It asked that Obama "pledge in response to this letter to veto any UN Security Council resolution that criticizes Israel regarding final status issues."
The letter was sent by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA), incoming Middle East subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH) and ranking member Gary Ackerman (D-NY).
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution
See my website www.ArlenefromIsrael.info