It’s been difficult for me to communicate what has been happening in Egypt for me, as I have been battling an insidious Trojan and virus for the past 10 days. I’ll blog on that later. That being said, it’s time to get some truthful spin out on what is happening there. Now I talk with people all over the world for business every day, including the Middle East. So what I am writing is not just a bloviation – it’s from informed sources.
I know everyone is concerned that Egypt will be the next Iran and what that could mean for the region and US relations. While I rarely use the words “never” in writing, let me say that there are different factors that have been at play in Egypt. What you have been witnessing over the past month was not an uprising of Islamic militants in the street, but an orchestrated, fairly bloodless Coup De Tat of Hosni Mubarak.
Now I already hear what you’re thinking – “We saw the demonstrations, we know about the Muslim Brotherhood!”. Yeah, I know too. They have been actors in large-scale theater. The director has been the Egyptian Army. Yes, the very army that has been there from the beginning in the streets, the same army that represents a full 25% of the Egyptian government expense, and the one so heavily fortified by the US for the past 30 years.
So why all the fuss and why now? Since 2000, there has been widespread rumor of an attempt to make changes in Egyptian law to allow President Mubarak to pass power to one of his 2 sons. The most likely candidate was Gamal Mubarak, the younger of the two sons. While both have been in the business sector, son Alaa has kept a low profile and Gamal has been in the process of being groomed to take over for his father. Alaa had also been accused of business corruption within private sector dealings. However, there was one tiny problem, even in the farce of what they called democracy in Egypt, passing on power to an heir was un-constitutional in Egypt. In 2005, President Mubarak ordered the Egyptian parliament to change the constitution to allow for multi candidate elections. While that seems harmless, it was seen as the first step to ensuring son Gamal would be the top candidate as he would have support of the ruling party and the government controlled media. With the elections of 2011 coming next, this was seen as a step to bring in someone outside of military grooming in an orchestrated manner without elected influence. The army was not going to allow this.
Egypt’s military is to its citizens as to what Rome’s was back in its days of glory. Employing nearly 500000 soldiers, it is one of the areas of pride for Egyptians. Going back to ancient Egypt, when the Pharaohs ruled, having a strong military presence has always been a part of the culture. Even when the great kingdom was destroyed 4200 years ago from drought, the military was never gone through all the misery.
Egypt’s current woes can be traced directly back to the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and the rise of Gamal Nasser after the overthrow of King Farouk. Coincidentally, the military had “free officers” that led the revolution, as they felt King Farouk was to blame for Egypt’s poor performance in the 1948 war with Israel. Nasser brought in the term “Arab Socialism”. There is far too much on this man to attempt to blog on here. Do a Google search and read for yourself. Needless to say, Nasser was not a favorite child of the US and he openly dealt with the Soviets as allies during the Cold War. Egypt’s army was considered the MENA (Middle East North Africa) Soviet Army and the US could never gain ground with Nasser.
That ended in the Six Day War of 1967 when Egypt, Jordan, and Syria attacked Israel. In short, Israel wiped them up with a mop. In three years, Nasser was out and another former military man, Anwar Sadat, was in as President. Sadat down sized relations with the Soviets and picked another war with Israel. In 1973 he ordered the army to attack Israel in The Crossing with initial success followed by large losses to capture the Sinai. A US-Soviet led UN peace keeping effort ended the hostilities, but Sadat had restored Egyptian military pride based on the boldness and initial success of the campaign.
Sadat changed Egyptian policy with Israel from open confrontation to one of peace keeping which ultimately led to the peace accord with Israel in 1979. Unfortunately, Islamic extremists were not happy with these moves and killed Sadat in October 1981. Hmm, apparently these nut jobs have been hanging around in the minority for quite a while. VP Mubarak, a former Air Force Commander who was considered a hero from the 1973 conflict, stepped right into the Presidency. Hope you see the military pattern here.
Mubarak reign has been fairly aggressive in terms of bring private enterprise to Egypt and keeping government growth slowed. As a result, Egypt had seen solid economic growth in the 1990’s and 2000’s. However, he was nowhere near as successful on the political front and thus began to stifle economic gains the country had seen.
So back to my original premise of the military involvement in ousting President Mubarak. His son’s, while probably what the country needs in terms of private enterprise experience in government, are not military men. With an ever-increasing conclusion that President Mubarak, autocrat that he was, was going to find a way to pass on power to his non-military son was an unacceptable answer for the Egyptian Military. Egypt’s military leaders have had a hand in the government in various ways since 1952. They are literally 25% of the consumption of the Egyptian budget, own land and corporations, and in short have no intention of seeing that way of life die by power passing to an outsider of the military. If the people elect someone new, even the Muslim Brotherhood, they can control that sot from the start and never miss a beat.
Doubt my theory? Consider this – Cairo has 18 million people living there. While 200000 protesters are no sneezing matter, if the Egyptian population was seriously pe’od, they could have overrun the army, the Republican Guard, and anyone else they wanted. When the “protesters” moved in, so did the army to oversee events. When Mubarak came out with his “up yours” talk the other night about not stepping down, an amazing series of events changed one day later. Hmm, did the army escort his fanny out they way they wanted? Yes. Did it happen exactly as planned – no. Obama did not get Mubarak out as was planned. Yes, my friends, Barry O had an unwitting hand in this and missed a huge lay up the army gave him. Obama’s part was to communicate to Mubarak how well he had done over 30 years, but the country had changed before him and he needed to go out with a new legacy. A legacy to give Egypt a new way in democracy,etc, etc. When Obama came out and announced the US was “with the people” he automatically angered Mubarak. No glory for Obama here, although I’s sure he’ll try to claim some.
As of today, the army has suspended the Egyptian Constitution and dissolved Parliament. Egypt is for all intents and purposes under martial law. The real question will be if they hand back over power or keep it for themselves. If they do allow elections in the fall, then the real question will be if they prop up their own “candidate”.
In the end, the Egyptian Military likes having their influence in matters. They know to keep the 1 billion coming in from the US to keep peace with Israel and to get Egypt back on the path as a tourist spot means keeping the nuts at bay. Don’t look for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt just yet because the Brotherhood represents a threat to the military.
And that will not restore the Jewel of the Nile.