If somebody had asked me three weeks ago which mid-east regime would be in danger of being overturned Egypt would not have been at the top of the list. Yet that is what has happened and it is accelerating very rapidly. The reason I haven’t written about it so far is that at this point, my head is still not completely wrapped around the past week in Egypt and things are changing very rapidly.
Allow me however, to provide some initial thoughts about the crisis.
This is not Tunisia, this is not a popular uprising looking for more democracy, this is an uprising motivated by economic factors.The average wage in Egypt is less than $200 a month, and prices are rising. The UN calls Egypt a “low income food-deficit country,” and one-fifth of its 85 million people live on less than $1 a day. However the recent uprising in Tunisia did help inflame the situation. Thanks to social media an the internet, Egyptians saw what happened in Tunisia and people who had lost hope for the end of the 30 year reign of Mubarak were inspired.
Interestingly this uprising was not started by Mubarak’s main opposition, the terrorist aligned Muslim Brotherhood, the first protesters were young middle class social media buffs, then it spread to all ages and fanned out to poorer Egyptians. It wasn’t until today, after Friday prayers that the Muslim Brotherhood got involved. They were caught unprepared by but they will catch up. Have no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will put themselves at the head of this movement if it continues long enough. And have no doubt if this “popular uprising” continues in this form, the light at the end of the tunnel will be a regime more oppressive than that of Mubarak.
The Egyptian military is the wild card. Mubarak would not be in power without the support of the military. The Military will not continue to back Mubarak if the country continues to slip toward anarchy. Col. Ralph Peters was on Fox earlier today and related an old Egyptian saying that they would rather live 100 years under a despot than live one day under anarchy. It was no coincidence that the Army did not get involved in controlling the protests until today, the same day the Muslim Brotherhood got involved.
I don’t think the administration saw this coming, and to be honest I don’t know if they should have seen it coming, that will be decided by historians, I do know that the administration must make sure that a hostile to the US Muslim Brotherhood does not take over Egypt. About 30% of the world’s oil supply passes through the Suez canal. Egypt has been one of the few consistent US allies in the middle east a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt would not be pro American. Yet with all of these reasons to try and tone down the rhetoric, the Obama administration’s public stance has been critical of the Mubarak government. In fact the Obama administration showed more support to Ahmadinejad’s government during the post-election uprising in Iran, than it has shown to Mubarak. Don’t get me wrong, Mubarak is a despot, but he is OUR despot. Why did Obama pull back from Mubarak so early?
As you watch the crisis in Egypt unravel keep your eye on the military, they will only support Mubarak so far, the question is where is that tipping point? Will they put in a new strongman? Will they support the “popular uprising”, the Muslim Brotherhood? Will the military ranks split up between two or more of the factions?
One other thought, have you noticed how quickly the Mubarak government was able to shut off the internet? Last week CNet reported that Lieberman will re-introduce his Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act bill in the new Congress. The new bill would not give the president the power to “authorize emergency measures to protect the nation’s most critical infrastructure if a cyber vulnerability is being exploited or is about to be exploited.” but also a provision that says “the federal government’s designation of vital Internet or other computer systems ‘shall not be subject to judicial review.'” In other words a president can shut off the internet and we can’t do anything about it. Seeing what happened in Egypt this past week, Americans should work extra hard in opposing Lieberman’s bill.