Egyptians have been busy. In the last three weeks, they’ve ousted a ruler of almost three decades, they’ve seen their military dissolve parliament, and they have heartened anti-government protests in Yemen and Algeria. In today’s global society, such developments anywhere are important to people everywhere, yet reliable information is difficult for us average writers, bus drivers, school teachers, and other mere mortals to sift through when so many political enthusiasts are pushing their own agendas.
That’s why today, I am proud and pleased to bring you an objective analysis of the Egyptian situation that we can count on. My writing partner, Holmes, is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations. That’s his description of himself because he is also a very humble man who would never willingly garner admiration or status. What you need to know as you read this, though, and this is coming from me, is that he is a man-in-the-know and an expert at political and military analysis. I’m honored today to bring you his take on the current state of Egypt, and what its future may hold.
What’s Up with Egypt?
By Jay Holmes
Recent events in Egypt have many people wondering what the future of Egypt will be like. In order to make a more informed guess about what’s in store for the Nile River/Suez Canal neighborhood, we need to first look in a direction that does not require a crystal ball, Egypt’s past. Egypt has a long past—about 7000 years long—so we’ll be brief.
In 4500 B.C., before Egyptians knew they were living in what would one day be referred to as “Egypt,” farming communities along the Nile River were turning out pottery that was as sophisticated and artistic as pottery that American Pueblo tribes produced in the twentieth century A.D.
By 4000 B.C. the Egyptians had hierarchical societies along the upper Nile.
Around 3000 B.C. the upper and lower Nile groups became a unified kingdom.
Around 2900 B.C., the prayers of bureaucrats and wannabe novelists were answered by one Egyptian god or another, and papyrus was invented for writing. Some of those early novelists are still waiting for publishers to call them back, but the rest of life in Egypt progressed rapidly, thanks to record keeping and written communications over their vast empire. Egyptian folks then stayed busy with important inventions in medicine, engineering, irrigation, and organizational methods. In the process they built some of the world’s leading tourist attractions in the form of giant pyramids.
In 31 B.C. Egyptian Queen Cleopatra spent too much time in highly fashionable Egyptian beds with an early Roman frat boy type named Marcus Antonius (he of the second Roman Triumvirate). Fellow Roman Triumvirate member, Octavian, caught them sleeping—or whatever they were doing in bed—and defeated the Roman/Egyptian army. Rome began its direct rule of Egypt. (Note to single ladies: Don’t get in bed with guys who have large gambling debts. It will always end badly.)
Having an Italian in charge annoyed a lot of Egyptian taxpayers, just like it annoys a lot of Italian taxpayers today, but Egypt would not have another independent Egyptian ruler for 2000 years. This is critical to understanding the dynamics of Egypt today.
In 641 A.D., Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt. Various Muslim factions, including Mamluks, Baybars, and Ottomans, vied for control of Egypt until a particularly rude tourist from France by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte showed up in 1798. In 1801, due to pressure by various Islamic groups and the British Navy, the French left Egypt. They stole hotel towels on the way out and failed to pay the bill.
After a series of aggravating Turkish and British interventions, Egypt finally gained its independence from England. In 1956, Gamal Nasser became President of Egypt and nationalized the British-built Suez Canal. He was the first truly independent Egyptian ruler of Egypt since Queen Cleopatra.
Egypt then involved itself in several “Arab coalition” wars against Israel until 1979, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Peace Accord and recognized Israel as a state. This ended Egypt’s troubles with Israel, but left Egypt somewhat isolated from other Islamic nations in the region. To make the new Egyptian isolation tolerable for Sadat, the United States agreed to huge economic and military support for Egypt.
When Sadat was murdered by Iranian-backed Islamic terrorists in 1981, a committee selected Vice President Hosni Mubarak to serve as the president. Mubarak was one of the most educated and well-trained generals of the Egyptian Military. In military terms, Mubarak was no lightweight. He attended the Egyptian Military Academy, the Egyptian Air Force Academy, and the Frunze Military Academy in the old USSR.
From what we know from old Soviet files, the Soviets considered Mubarak to be one of the very best and brightest of Egypt. He was a skilled jet pilot and a bright staff officer. He was a sort of “Egyptian Buck Rogers” from the Soviet point of view.
Mubarak rose quickly to the head of the Egyptian Air Force. Nearly everyone either agrees or assumes that Mubarak began amassing incredible wealth during his time as a senior air force officer in charge of contracts. Estimates of Mubarak’s personal family wealth range from 25 billion to upwards of 70 billion $US. He was obviously very skilled at popular table games such as Kickbacks and Pie-slicing.
If we accept the bottom figure of $25 billion as fact, then we are talking about 5% of the Egyptian GNP. This figure, alone, is enough to indicate a huge negative effect on the Egyptian economy. Now, remember this about any leader of any criminal enterprise. They are not the only ones taking money. Assistant goons tolerate submission to a head goon because they are allowed some slice of the pie.
When we consider the size of the pie in Egypt, and the number of slices being removed, we cannot know or even estimate the actual total numbers, but it is not hard to understand the ongoing disaster that we call the Egyptian economy. That economy leaves the average working class Egyptian with a miserable standard of living.
Some people claim that Mubarak is an American puppet, but if the U.S.A. had ever been able to control him, it never would have tolerated his double-dealing, backstabbing behavior. When we combine that low standard of living with the fact that Egyptians have lived under a “state of emergency” throughout all but 18 months of Mubarak’s pharaonic dynasty, the motive for rebellion is not too hard to understand. What is a bit harder to understand is …
Why do “we” care? Well, not all of “we” would agree about anything in the Mideast, but some important features of Egypt are the Suez Canal (more important to Europe than to the USA), the Nile and its influence in Mideast food production, and, of course, Egypt’s border with Israel. The next person that controls Egypt controls all of that and a large, modern air force, a Navy that includes eight Harpoon Missile armed, deep-sea capable ships, and an army that is armed with Abrams tanks and lots of other expensive and lethal equipment.
Some of the key external forces to consider are Iranian imperialist dreams and the giant check that US taxpayers send to Egypt every day. Though any favorable outcomes will later be claimed as their doing (after the fact) by Israel and European governments, neither Israel nor Europe are in a position to greatly impact the political future of Egypt. Syria and a variety of ”Palestinian” groups would like to think that they can influence the future of Egypt, and they, too, might later claim to have done so.
In reality, though, the future will be decided by the Egyptian military junta, whose ideology is something like “we don’t know how to run this show but anyone else will run it worse,” along with the Egyptian people, who are enjoying saying words like “democracy” and “freedom” but have little personal experience with either. Though Egyptians might not all have a clear idea of what democracy means to them, it likely includes being able to eat, and not being abused by a police state.
For the moment, the same military clique that put Mubarak in power and kept him in power is in charge. This is, for the most part, good news for Joe and Susie Egyptian. Several, less pleasant alternatives were available ranging from strong-arm VP Omar Suleiman to various Sharia Law-wielding dictator wannabes.
One very populous group in Egypt is The Muslim Brotherhood. It is not your average Knights of Columbus religious men’s club. For one thing, their membership is philosophically diverse. Their members range from altruistic people concentrating on charity and social work to radicals that want Sharia Law for Egypt. A few of their more radical members dream of Sharia Law for the entire planet, and these members are, from our point of view, the most dangerous.
The average Muslim Brotherhood member is not dreaming of a new world Islamic caliphate, but their moderation may or may not matter in any political takeover. Though everyone would like the C.I.A. to read all the tarot cards and predict this group’s future actions, the fact is that this group cannot predict itself. Internal power struggles will have to play out. Whether or not the Brotherhood can turn “popular” into “powerful and in charge” remains to be seen.
Symbol for The Muslim Brotherhood
The Iranian government views the crisis in Egypt as a possible opportunity. They have done their best to co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood, but so far they do not quite seem to be able to pull the strings in Cairo, despite their best efforts. For Egyptians and for everyone else, let’s hope that Iran does not gain decisive influence in creating the next Egyptian Pharaoh.
Against that very tempting and vague opportunity to control all that is Egypt, Iran has to worry about the image of a popular rebellion taking down a well-armed goon backed by an efficient and ruthless secret police. The fact that Mubarak could fall in spite of all his power and control is not a happy event to the Islamic Shiite thugs that run Iran. On the one hand, they are doing all they can to take advantage of the power vacuum in Egypt. On the other hand, they are double checking with their approximately 17 secret police organizations to make sure that none of the “grateful and loyal, happy, devout Iranian followers” gets any ideas about things like human rights or freedom, or other highly objectionable, traditional Western ideas.
If an Iranian lookalike gang should come to power in Egypt, the US military will suggest “surgical strikes” to eliminate critical, lethal hardware from Egypt’s inventory. The current US administration will likely refuse to make any decision regarding strikes, one way or the other, and will simply occupy itself with “the C.I.A. failed us” press releases. The opposition party in the US will then spend their time on a campaign titled That Creep Lost Egypt, as if it was ever ours to lose.
The fantasy option is a freedom-loving, democratic leader who will somehow manage to introduce a high degree of freedom while keeping all the Islamic caliphate wannabes and lurking dictators under control as he/she eradicates rampant corruption from daily Egyptian life. This fantasy leader would create jobs and eliminate crime while improving healthcare for Egyptians. It’s fun to dream.
My guess (based on my crystal ball, which runs on energy generated by my bad attitude) is that the military junta will try to present something like a believable reformist. If the new reformist dictator manages to steal significantly less, and is able to lift the state of emergency in Egypt, things might improve enough to keep Egypt from being taken over by Sharia gangsters. Any new leader in Egypt will either have to spend less time amassing fortunes and more time using the Egyptian government for something new…say, something like “government”… or they will have to go in a less attractive direction by becoming more despotic in order to control the population.
I hope that some form of progress can come to Egypt, and that eighty-three million Egyptian people can get back to spending their time developing a modern society with all its great inventions and benefits. The history of Egypt indicates that Egyptians are capable of a great future. They deserve one, and I hope they get one.