Egypt: Out of the Frying Pan into the Frying Pan
By Barry Rubin
We don’t know what shape Egypt’s political direction will take. One bargaining process that’s going on is negotiations between the United States and Egypt in which Washington is the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, Put roughly the U.S. proposal is that American aid and recognition will be given the military takeover in exchange for the release of Muslim Brotherhood and other prisoners of the army, a chance for the Brotherhood to participate in fair elections and in a coalition government.
Is this good for Egypt? Of course not. Such a government would be inoperable and would daily increase the tensions.
It prevents the understanding by the Islamists that the are defeated and must be submissive.
It plays in the naivete that showing compromise (weakness) will bring conciliation.
Of course not. It can only help if one believes that the Brotherhood and Salafists will be moved by American backing and reciprocate by not staging terrorist attacks.
Any way, the new regime will have twice as much Saudi and other Arab monarchy aid than the West would offer on tougher conditions, though of course that won’t be advanced military aid.
One thing is for sure: a year or two from now Egyptians will not be happy with the current regime. Why is that so certain? There are social-historical and objective reasons. Let me focus on the less controversial latter ones. Egypt is a country where too many people live on too little land without many resources. It is also trying to become an industrial society too late in history with too much competition.
Egypt’s social problems are perhaps more the result than the cause of the difficulties. And discussing these would take a lot of words many of which you’ve already heard. The economic problems will not go away no matter what happens. There are no billions of dollars in aid out there; no—if you forgive please this phrase—Allah ex machina. If massive international support per capita couldn’t get the Palestinian Authority of 2.5 million people going how is it going to happen in a place with 35 times more people?
Then, too, is the political situation. There are now three factions which we can broadly call the military-civilian complex (the ruling class for the last half-century and its supporters); the Islamists; and the “moderates.”
The military-civilian complex are the same people who have always run the country. They have not done a great job, with marked greed, corruption, and incompetence. If this were a movie the title could be ”Back to the Past.” It will be a more tolerable Mubarak situation, just as it would have been if that president had turned over power five years ago, as the military-civilian elite wanted him to do.
Westerners may have deluded themselves into thinking that Egyptians changed their opinion in two years but most have not. Many of those who voted for the Islamists may have decided they prefer the comforts of a relatively benign dictatorship but lots of Egyptians of Egyptians oppose the counterrevolution.