This week marks the second anniversary of the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Two years after the refrain “the people want to topple the regime” filled Tahrir Square, it is now Egypt itself that is toppling. Street violence has pitted various groups against each other—anarchists against Islamists, policemen against protesters, men against women—and has left scores dead throughout the country.
The economy is hemorrhaging reserves and incapable of securing foreign investment, while Egypt’s currency tumbles to record lows. The international community, captivated two years ago by the revolution, has little confidence that Egypt’s new rulers can make peace between the country’s feuding factions. If the conventional wisdom among Western policymakers holds that Egypt is too big to be allowed to fail, the stark reality is that by many measures it is already failing.
A $4.8 billion IMF loan has been put on hold pending President Mohamed Morsi’s stabilizing the political situation. The catch is that the loan requires a host of reforms, like slashing subsidies for fuel and household staples, that will cause yet more suffering across a wide swath of Egyptian society, most likely bringing further instability. Much of Egypt’s technocratic class is in exile or in jail, charged, often spuriously, with corruption under the old regime. Any of the liberal reform measures that might actually help set Egypt back on its feet are associated with precisely those figures that the revolution sought to punish.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to extend Egypt a line of credit last week during his visit to Cairo, the first by an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution. However, Iran’s currency has taken an even steeper plunge than Egypt’s. Under heavy U.S. and EU sanctions, Tehran needs cheap agricultural imports to keep food prices down and unrest at bay, but Egypt doesn’t even feed itself.
During his tour of Cairo, Ahmadinejad was accosted by a Sunni Islamist who rapped him on the head with his shoe in a piece of Middle Eastern political theater that illuminates the key differences between Egypt and Iran. To be sure, the ruling regimes of the two countries share an abiding hatred of Israel, but the more important issue for both right now is the civil war in Syria, where Tehran needs to prop up Bashar al-Assad and Cairo is sickened by his regime, which has targeted tens of thousands of fellow Sunnis for death. Moreover, Iran has put Morsi in an awkward position by continuing to send arms to Hamas through the Sinai. As much as Morsi may want to join Hamas’s war against Israel, he can’t lest he forfeit American and European backing. There is no alternative superpower for Cairo to turn to. Inasmuch as Morsi is tied to Washington’s apronstrings, Iran’s active support of Hamas only highlights his impotence.
The good news regarding Egypt is brief, but noteworthy: Those forecasts auguring from the entrails of Mubarak’s demise the birth of a universal Muslim Brotherhood-run caliphate stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf were off by a very wide mark. The Islamist organization, which has been building its political base and waiting in the shadows to take power since its 1928 founding, turns out to be incapable even of governing Egypt.
Contrary to the reading of many Western academics, the Brotherhood did not win the presidency because of its long history of grassroots work, its social activism, or its political acumen and organization. Rather it came to rule Egypt simply because everyone else—from the secularists and liberals who kicked off the revolution to the military—was that much more incompetent. The fearful notion, still held by many in the West, that the Brotherhood plots to own the hearts and minds of the world’s billion-plus Muslims comports not with reality but only with the Brotherhood’s preening and now patently absurd self-image. Under Morsi’s stewardship, the Muslim Brotherhood model has been shown to produce poverty, hunger, instability, and violent internal conflict. Who among the umma would seek to unify under such a banner?
One thing Hillary Clinton got right in her testimony before Congress last week: “When America is absent,” she said, “there are consequences.” But the administration she served has chosen to be absent, and we are seeing the consequences play out, from North Africa to the Levant, where the unchecked flow of weapons, experienced jihadist fighters, and Salafist ideology is reshaping the regional balance of power—and tilting it agai
The flurry of excitement over Syria’s “moving” of chemical weapons highlights yet again the paralysis gripping U.S. Middle East strategy. “We’re kind of boxed in,” an administration official confessed to the New York Times. “There’s an issue of presidential credibility here, but our options are quite limited.”
Iran is claiming to have successfully "hunted" an American drone, according to a piece in the regime organ Fars News Agency. The propaganda outlet claims that this is the first time Iran has shot down an American drone.
Two technology firms that monitor global Internet traffic report that Syria has been cut off from the Internet. Regular landline phone and cell phones services have been affected as well, Syrian opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid told me. “Therefore, the possibility of accidental damage can be discounted,” said Abdulhamid. “This is something done intentionally by the regime, and reflects growing desperation on account of the recent advances made by rebels, especially in Damascus.”
Yesterday a car bomb in Beirut killed a senior Lebanese security chief along with seven others, while wounding hundreds in Ashrafiyeh, a busy neighborhood in Christian-majority East Beirut. The target, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, was close to former prime minister Saad Hariri and his late father, Rafik Hariri. Yesterday evening, Hariri supporters, mostly Sunnis, closed down roads and burned tires in protest against the assassins, almost certainly tied to the Syrian regime and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
On and around September 11, 2012, al Qaeda attacked multiple American assets around the world. The attack that has received the most attention is the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. But the U.S. consulate in Libya was not the only diplomatic facility assaulted by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in September. Terrorists with ties to al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, were involved in at least three other U.S. embassy sieges in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and possibly elsewhere.
A pro-America rally is scheduled to be held tomorrow outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. The expression of support for America is being organized by Im Tirzu Movement in order to "remind the United States that Israel is America's best friend in the Middle East"
In a message to Israeli citizens yesterday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he'd use his remarks at the United Nations to respond to the "black day" at the international body. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak later today.
“Bir Halek, Ya Fayyad” is not a catchy tune. But the popularity of Palestinian singer Kassem Najar’s song, which translates to “Get A Grip, Fayyad,” is an indication that Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, may be on the way out. Najar, however, is the least of Fayyad’s problems.
This evening on CBS's 60 Minutes, President Barack Obama called the recent violence in the Middle East "bumps in the road."
CBS's Steve Kroft asked, “Have the events that took place in the Middle East, the recent events in the Middle East given you any pause about your support for the governments that have come to power following the Arab Spring?”
A central tenet of President Obama’s foreign policy platform is that al Qaeda is “on the path to defeat.” The death of Osama bin Laden, drone strikes in northern Pakistan and elsewhere, the Arab Spring, and Obama’s more conciliatory approach to the Muslim world have all supposedly come together to sound the death knell for al Qaeda.