Whither Egypt?

Feb 3, 2011 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

February 3, 2011

Number 02/11 #01

With the extensive coverage of the mass unrest in Egypt, and President Mubarak having announced (with a bit of a nudge from Washington) that he will neither be contesting the election in September nor leaving the country, this Update will focus on informed speculation about what might happen next in Egypt.

We lead off with discussion of this subject from former US National Security Advisor Stephan Hadley. He sees two most likely scenarios, both involving a transition to greater democracy under the guidance of the military – one with a lame duck Mubarak still nominally in charge, another under a different transitional governments. In either case, he stresses that the political system will need time and assistance to develop real political parties, so that the public is not left solely with a choice between the ruling NDP and the radical and powerful Muslim Brotherhood. For his complete, optimistic assessment of how the outcome in Egypt can be largely positive for both Egyptians and the West, CLICK HERE.

The next item, from analysts Jonathan Schanzer and Khairi Abaza, supplements Hadley’s argument by offering a more detailed program for an orderly transition to democracy in Egypt based on a useful historical precedent. Schanzer and Abaza review a plan for democratisation developed by opposition politicians for Egypt in 1983, based on Turkey’s return to democracy in 1981-82 following the 1980 military coup there. Its core is “a military-backed caretaker government that could maintain order on the streets, create a safe political space, and then guide the nation into representative governance”, and seems to closely parallel what the protest movement is demanding, while also allowing time for parties to develop and thus provide competition to the Muslim Brotherhood and NDP. For the details, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer an analysis of how changes in Egypt could affect the US, and even more so, Israel, from noted American foreign policy specialist Walter Russell Mead. Mead points out that, strategically, the uncertainty over the future of Egypt could not have come at a worse time for Israel, with the Iranian threat, Turkish relations soured, and peace prospects chilly. He reviews how the different scenarios for Egypt would affect Israel’s prospects, the chances for peace, and US-Israel relations. For this important piece from a top analyst, CLICK HERE. More on Egypt and the peace process comes from Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi, Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post  and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute. Meanwhile, an additional good geostrategic look at the implications of Egypt’s unrest comes from George Friedman of Stratfor.

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The Two Likeliest Political Outcomes for Mubarak

Egyptian society needs time to prepare for free elections and to remediate years of government oppression.

By Stephen J. Hadley

Wall Street Journal, JANUARY 31, 2011

All eyes are now on Egypt and an Obama administration struggling to find its footing. The truth is that once revolutionary fervor emerges and a situation descends into crisis, any administration is largely hostage to events and the dilemmas are acute. Do we desert a longstanding ally, only to raise doubts about our staying power in the minds of other longstanding allies? Do we remain loyal to a longstanding ally even after he has clearly lost public support, only to alienate a people struggling to win their freedom? In the midst of a crisis like this, the options are few.

Before the current crisis, there were good options. They were urged on the Egyptian government by a series of American administrations-including especially the administration of George W. Bush, in which I served. The United States pressed President Hosni Mubarak publicly and privately to encourage the emergence of non-Islamist political parties. Our calls for action were generally ignored and non- Islamist parties were persecuted and suppressed.

The result was a political landscape that offered the Egyptian people just two choices: the government party (the National Democratic Party or NDP) and the underground Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. This sad outcome was President Mubarak’s own creation. He did it in part so that he could argue to successive U.S. administrations and his own people that the only alternative to his rule was an Islamist state. But it didn’t have to be this way.

Some critics argue that no U.S. administration went far enough in pressing President Mubarak – including the administrations in which I served. As important as the “freedom agenda” was to President Bush, there were other issues – terrorism, proliferation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to name a few-that required us to deal with the Egyptian government. Perhaps as important, the Egyptians are a proud people. No nation wants to be seen to be giving in to public pressure from another state-even a close ally. In the end, the decision was President Mubarak’s. He made it, and he is now facing the consequences.

At present, the two most probable outcomes of the current crisis are a lame-duck Mubarak administration or a Mubarak departure from power in favour of a transitional government backed by the Egyptian military.

Under the first outcome, President Mubarak rides out the current crisis. Presidential elections are expected in September of this year. It seems unlikely that either President Mubarak or his son Gamal will conclude that under current circumstances they can run and win. That will leave President Mubarak presiding over a lame-duck administration. The issue will be whether he seeks to transfer power to another authoritarian strongman backed by the army or dramatically changes course and uses the upcoming presidential election to create a democratic transition for his country.

The precedents for this latter outcome are few but not nonexistent. It is essentially the role that the Bush administration urged on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, which he played successfully in 2008. The resulting government is admittedly a weak one that continues to cause the U.S. real problems in Afghanistan. But it is a democratic government, and by its coming to power we avoided the kind of Islamist regime that followed the fall of the Shah of Iran and that has provoked three decades of serious confrontation with the U.S. and totalitarian oppression of the Iranian people.

Under the second outcome, President Mubarak surrenders power and is replaced by a transitional government supported by the Egyptian military. The presidential elections then become the vehicle for transferring power to a government whose legitimacy comes from the people.

Either way, Egyptian society needs time to prepare for these elections and to begin to remediate the effects of years of government oppression. The Egyptian people should not have to choose only between the government-backed NDP and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Non-Islamist parties need an opportunity to emerge to fill in the intervening political space. Time is short even if the presidential elections go forward as expected in September. The U.S. should resist the temptation to press for an accelerated election schedule. Hopefully wise heads in Egypt will do the same.

Time and a full array of political alternatives are critical in the upcoming presidential election and the parliamentary elections that undoubtedly will follow. If given an array of choices, I believe that the Egyptian people will choose a democratic future of freedom and not an Islamist future of imposed extremism. While the Muslim Brotherhood, if legalized, would certainly win seats in a new parliament, there is every likelihood that the next Egyptian government will not be a Muslim Brotherhood government but a non-Islamist one committed to building a free and democratic Egypt.

Such a government would still pose real challenges to U.S. policy in many areas. But with all eyes in the region on Egypt, it would be a good outcome nonetheless. With a large population and rich cultural heritage, Egypt has always been a leader in the Middle East. Now it has the opportunity to become what it always should have been-the leader of a movement toward freedom and democracy in the Arab world.
Mr. Hadley was national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

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The Answer to Egypt’s Problems?

An obscure plan from the 1980s.

Khairi Abaza and Jonathan Schanzer

The New Republic, February 1, 2011 | 12:00 am

President Mubarak’s government may soon collapse. Popular support for him has evaporated, and while the Obama administration has declined to officially take sides in the Egyptian protests, it is clearly looking toward some sort of endgame. But what form would such a transition take? Oddly, the most obvious possibility is a plan that has, in its broad contours, been around since the mid-1980s.

In September 1980, Turkey’s government was overthrown in a military coup, but the military cooperated with interim civilian leaders and ultimately presided over a peaceful democratic transition that included the creation of a new constitution in 1982 and elections in 1983. This example inspired members of Egypt’s nationalistic, business-oriented Wafd Party, which was resurrected—after disappearing in 1952—at about the same time. So in 1984, a plan based on Turkey’s experience was drawn up and presented by Ibrahim Abaza, a member of the executive bureau (and the father of one of this article’s authors), Yusuf Hamed Zaki, a member of the party’s high committee, and a handful of others. It envisioned a military-backed caretaker government that could maintain order on the streets, create a safe political space, and then guide the nation into representative governance. While Egyptian newspapers debated the merits of the plan, the Mubarak regime, which had been in power for only a few years, ignored it. Similarly, several successive U.S. presidential administrations listened politely, but opted not to pressure their allies in Cairo.

Now, former International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohammed ElBaradei and his followers are demanding a series of reforms that track closely along these lines. As ElBaradei explained to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, “the next step … as everybody now agrees on, is a transitional period” followed by “a government of national salvation, of national unity” that would “prepare the grounds for a new constitution and free and fair elections” while the “army will be able to control the situation.”

Echoing the Wafd Plan, ElBaradei hopes the military will ensure that President Mubarak flees the country and then keeps the peace during a period of transition to democracy. To safeguard against abuses of power, the opposition plan would ensure that no one figure holds a monopoly of authority within the provisional government. Order would be maintained by the military, while an interim cabinet would handle political matters and the transition to democracy. Cooperation between the two would be critical.

The plan also envisions a gradual, managed transition to open political competition that would give political parties—which have suffocated under Mubarak’s rule—time to put down roots and sprout branches. The process would be designed to mitigate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that reject democratic principles, without excluding them entirely from the political process. The transition period of a year or more would potentially level the playing field; the Brotherhood has a head start on everyone else, having developed social infrastructure throughout the country, and significant grassroots support.

Egypt would also need an interim president—such as ElBaradei or recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman—who would oversee the drafting of a new constitution that guarantees the liberties of all Egyptians. This is particularly necessary because the political opposition stands unanimously against the current constitution, which is based on socialist and non-democratic principles.

After this transition period yields a governing document and functioning political parties, Egyptians would go to the polls, while the military would ensure the safety of the voters and international vote monitors, who must be invited into the country to observe and certify free and fair elections.

For President Obama, supporting such a plan would make good sense. It would enable him at last to shun Mubarak and support the Egyptian people, while doing everything possible to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood does not fill the country’s political vacuum. It should also be attractive to Washington because it relies on the Egyptian military. True, this is the same military that started this mess with the Free Officer’s Coup of 1952, but it still has the trust of the people (it has not fired on the protestors). President Obama might even have a little leverage here, thanks to the estimated $2 billion per year in aid that buys Egypt advanced military hardware.

This is not a plan without risks, but inaction carries risks of its own. Embraced by the reformers and protest leaders, the plan prescribes concrete steps toward democracy while minimizing the likelihood of chaos or Islamist rule. And the fact that it has its origins in the Wafd Party means it is an indigenous idea, not a foreign imposition on the Egyptian people.

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at FDD, and a former Wafd Party official.

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Israel on shifting sands

Walter Russell Mead

Politico, January 31, 2011 04:36 AM EST

As the Pharaoh Hosni I totters on his throne, both Israel and the United States are feeling the pain. So are the kings in neighboring lands. The Saudis, for one, trusted in pharaoh to keep Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — a potential rival to their leadership of Sunni Muslims — in check.

As the world watches the unpredictable turmoil in Egypt, no country is paying closer attention than Israel. The peace treaty between the two states is the most important result of 40 years of negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and is still the cornerstone of any lasting settlement to this complex, bitter and dangerous dispute.

From an Israeli point of view, the upheaval could not come at a worse time. Iran looms in the east, muttering about destruction of the Jewish state and working feverishly to build nuclear weapons. Hizbollah, Iran’s Lebanese ally, has just taken de facto control of that country’s government – frustrating years of joint U.S., European Union and Gulf Arab efforts to solidify Lebanese democracy and institutions.

Wikileaks-style revelations from Al Jazeera about Fatah leaders’ negotiating flexibility with Israel — wildly different from their tough public stands — have undercut their credibility and generated new support for Hamas. A combination of stunning Israeli rudeness and ineptitude, along with profound changes in Turkish political culture, has strained Israel’s other major regional alliance close to the breaking point.

Now Egypt, the moderate state on whom Israelis and their friends have pinned so many hopes for peace, could be on the brink of an uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood – which has strong and longstanding ties with Hamas – may storm its way into the halls of the pharaohs, even as other moderate Arab rulers review their emergency exit plans.

Sixty years after the proclamation of the state of Israel, 30 years after the Camp David Accords and almost 20 years after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands at the White House, is Israel going to be once again isolated and friendless in a hostile Middle East?

At the moment, Israeli officials are scrambling to follow the confused and conflicting reports coming out of Cairo. It is too soon to know how this fast-moving situation will develop. In an unwelcome repetition of the Biblical Exodus, the families of Israeli diplomats have been called home from Cairo. American and other Western civilians and diplomats may be pulled out as well — though evacuating people scattered across a country of 85 million people is no easy task. 

Events in Egypt may stop short of this kind of break. The peace treaty with Israel is unpopular among many Egyptians, but the military understands its importance to Egypt’s own security. Détente with Israel serves Egypt’s interests, not Israel’s alone — the treaty may well survive the Mubarak regime.

But if political change in Egypt leads to dramatic changes in Egyptian-Israeli relations, consequences could be profound. 

First, hawks in Israel will likely be strengthened. Those who insist that peace with the Arabs is impossible are likely to point to the collapse of the Egyptian-Israeli relationship to prove their point. Their argument that Israel cannot trade land for peace will resonate. Israel returned the entire Sinai to Egypt and evacuated South Lebanon and Gaza – without getting any closer to peace.

Why get out of the West Bank? Whose word can they trust? President Barack Obama is likely to have an even harder time coaxing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make concessions to the Palestinians for a peace that fewer and fewer Israelis will believe in.

(If the peace survives a regime change, though, the peace camp in Israel could benefit — arguing that agreements which meet the needs of both parties can survive political turmoil.)

Second, while U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background. If a radical regime emerges in Egypt that repudiates the peace treaty, supports violence by Hamas or in other ways threatens Israel’s security, the United States is unlikely to leave Israel twisting in the wind.

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The net result: The Obama administration will likely draw closer to Israel in response to majority sentiment and the political winds, further weakening the president on his left flank and further narrowing the gap between the foreign policy of this administration and that of its predecessor.

The Egyptian upheaval could be an important turning point in world history. The consolidation of a reasonably moderate and democratic government in the cultural capital of the Arab world could put the region, and the world, on the road to a more durable peace. A radical victory could drive a wedge not only between Israel and the Arab world, but deepen the divide between the West and the whole Islamic world.

Back in the reign of King Hezekiah, the prophet Isaiah reports that Assyria, a Mesopotamian power whose lands would ultimately become part of the Persian Empire, was besieging Jerusalem. The commander of its army taunted the Hebrew defenders: You trust in Pharaoh to rescue you, he said, but Egypt is a broken reed. If you lean on it, it will pierce your hand.

We shall soon see if that warning holds good today.

Walter Russell Mead is the James Clarke Chace professor of political studies and humanities at Bard College and editor at large of The American Interest. He is writing a book for Knopf about the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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