What’s Up with Egypt?

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 …

The Future.

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.

 

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28 comments on “What’s Up with Egypt?

  1. this was the slickest military coup since teddy roosevelt took panama and finished the canal. it looks as though the democratic ideals are being given plenty of airplay, but all revolutions yell “democracy” including in china, russia, france, and other examples throughout history.

    the pharoahs of egypt may have been authoratarian, but they take no guff of the theocratic alternatives…

    i loved your use of MC Escher’s crystal ball self portrait… a very inspiring look into what one looks like when viewing their own image… great pic.

    smarmy editor, @Samuel_Clemons

  2. Albert Berg says:

    I usually like being right, but not this time. All that talk about freedom and democracy, and what we’re going to get is another military appointed dictator.
    The military had the real power before and they’ve still got the power. Nothing substantial has changed.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      On the positive side, this is the same country that produced Anwar El Sadat. If any Middle Eastern country can pull off an improvement from chaos, it’s Egypt. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. educlaytion says:

    Great recap. This style is so close to my teaching style that it’s scary. If any of my uppity students demand answers this week I’ll send them this way.

  4. Kerry Meacham says:

    Great information here. It’s nice to get political news from a reliable source.

  5. Ellie says:

    Thanks for that smart-as-a-whip commentary!

  6. Susan S says:

    Best. Commentary. Ever.
    I’ve just about decided to ignore all major outlets and depend on Bayard and Holmes for my news. It’s certainly more entertaining this way.

  7. Piper Bayard says:

    Holmes: Thank you for your kind response Terrell. I was waiting for someone to ask about Israel. Israel has plenty of reasons for anxiety concerning the turmoil in Egypt. They knew that Mubarak enjoyed his cash from the US taxpayers more then he enjoyed the idea of replacing Israel with a government run by someone like Arafat. The more Egypt saw of “Palestinian government” the less they felt like attacking Israel. Ironically, the Palestinian “leaders” acheived what 10,000 Israeli diplomats could not have acheived in a thousand years. They convinced Egypt that Israel should be left in power.

    Israel will do it’s best to stay informed. My guess is that the horrible economic situation in Egypt has made it a little easier for Israel to purchase “friends” in Egypt at various levels of Egyptian society. If they see an opportunity to take some action that can prevent an ayatollah type clique from taking power then they might do so, but they know that any appearance of Israeli activity in Egypt will be politically costly. In the current situation in Egypt “belief” and appearances matter as much as facts and “reality.” Israel does not wish to do anything to contribute to imagined legitimacy of any Islamic radicals.

    On paper, a coordinated crisis management team effort by the US, Israel, and Europe would make great sense. “Great sense” as long as you ignore human nature. At best, a committee of wiz kids will passionately debate the issues and might have the seating arrangements for the meeting clarifide before the pyramids melt. They would produce a few strategy papers, and they would be ignored. To avoid working at cross purposes and to avoid paying the same bribe twice (or three times) all the concerned parties would have to risk exposing their assests. This won’t happen. Hilary can (and perhaps will) talk until she is blue in the face, but any cooperation will be reactive rather than proactive. What those meetings are like is a topic for a whole other blog.

    I was remiss in not making it clear that my article is based on open source information, my analysis, and my opinions. I do not wish to insinuate that I am reading the “Old Man’s” morning briefings. If at any time I should by accident become aware of any classified material, I would not, under any circumstances, divulge that information to anyone other than the proper authorities. I do not wish to create an impression that I am operating anything like a “wikileaks” gig. So, anything I say on this or any subject, I can say openly and will do so as honestly as I can and with the hope of not offending “all men (and women) of good will.”

    And now for a “What will Libya do” question…anyone?…..anyone?

    • David says:

      I’ll bite. What will Libya do? Iran appears to be unfolding as predicted, with executions queued up right on schedule. The only question there is probably whether they’ll overplay their hand.

      • Piper Bayard says:

        Thank you for your imaginative question, David.

        Ah, yes. Qaddafi, aka Kadafi, aka Gaddafi, aka Uncle Momo, aka “The Clown Prince of the Great Pan Arab Republic.”

        There are some important differences between Libya and Egypt. For starters, the cultures are vastly different. Whereas Egyptians have had a strong ethnic identity for many thousands of years, Libya is country made up of several different cultural groups, such as Berbers and various unique Arab tribal groups, as well as a few Turks and Italians thrown in for good measure.

        One huge difference between the Qadaffi gang and the Mubarak gang is that Qadaffi has his own money. Ok, some would argue that the oil belongs to Libyans at large but Qadaffi controls it. With nearly 3 million BB/day in crude production, Qadaffi has more economic options then Egypt. Lets look at medicine, the standard of living, and education in Libya because all three of those influence someones willingness to go down to the plaza and set something or someone on fire on any given day.

        Those fascinating and “primative” Berbers and nomadic Arabs have certainly settled down since Bernard Montgomery and his army left town. It might come as a surprise to many folks to hear that the Libyan education system is, by most measures, far advanced to that of Egypt. Libya spends nearly 9 times as much per student on education as Egypt does. That’s a bunch. And while we here in the USA have scientificly proven that “money spent” does not automaticly equal “learning accomplished,” there is no denying that, unlike Pakistan, Libya is trying to educate itself. Who would guess that Libya would spend more on education than their neighbor that houses the old University of Alexandria and so many international institutions of learning? The average educational life expectancy for an Egyptian is 11 years. Thats not bad. The average educational life expectancy for a Libyan is 17 years! That’s astounding. Somebody in Libya is going to grad school, and more of those somebodys are female then male. Their graduate schools may not be great, but the efforts being made are impressive.

        Right now, Libya is considered a good destination for mid-east doctors. Many of them have found that they need not relocate to Chicago or to the war zones of Los Angeles to get a better pay check. Medical professionals are welcomed (if the’re not Bulgarian) and well paid in Libya. A poor person in need of surgery is better off in Libya today than they were ten or twenty years ago. The medical system in Libya still struggles against corruption, but they have come a long way in the last couple of decades.

        The standard of living in Libya is fantastic for Uncle Momo and his pals, and pretty good for about 70% of the population. Unfortunately 30% still lives beneath the poverty leval, but Qadafi has proven to be capable of change when motivated. (US Air Force F-111s and US Navy 6th fleet A-6s were great motivators in 1986.) During the last 10 years, Libya has taken steps to decrease unemployment and improve the lives of the poorest Libyans.

        The improvements in education, health care, and the standard of living cerate a sizeable influence against grass roots movements, but human nature being what it is can not be ignored, and right now “throwing out the establishment” is all the rave in the Islamic world.

        As for Islamic fundamentalism in Libya, the “L.I.G” and other groups have not done well in Libya. Tribal loyalties in Libya remain very strong inspite of all the changes since the Libyan government was founded in 1951. Qaddafi has always had to deal with those diverse groups. It’s interesting that with 78% of Libyans urbanized, most Libyans remain more loyal to their tribe than they are to Libya.

        Whereas Mubarak was a legitimate member of the Egyptian Military leadership, Qadaffi can never make that claim. Qadaffi’s PR folks have treid to convince the world that he is a Sandhurst graduate. The staff at Sandhurst remains proud of the fact that he is not….and it shows. Uncle Momo’s interactions with the US 6th fleet and his misadventures in Chad indicate the military acumen of someone dumber than Saddam Hussein or George Armstrong Custer.

        Uncle Momo has succeded in dodging several coup attempts by the Libyan military. He routinely purges the leadership of the Libyan military to head off coups. When not posing as a Sandhurst graduate, Qaddafi has also tried on the costumes of “world Islamic fundamentalist,” “mao-er than thow communist,” “Che-like land reform communist”, envrionmental activist, and my favorite,”world peace activist.” But even in Libya, nobody reads his “little green book.” Usually, he just dresses like a clown and almost always acts like one.

        This year Uncle Momo wants two things for his next birthday. The first is to remain in power and not have to beg the UAE or Qatar for a place to live. The other is for Egypt to have neither a democracy nor an Islamic theocracy. With the oil cash he receives he need not be Einstein to stay in power. But if he slips, someone else will try their hand at managing that oil cash. Libya has little influence today in Egypt. The ever changing rantings of Uncle Momo don’t float well on the Nile.

        Libyans are planning a “day of rage” type protest scheduled for February 17. The perceived leaders of the protest have already been informed (in person) by Qadaffi that he will hold them responsible for any unpleasantness. I guess on February18 we will have a better picture.

  8. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Piper Bayard, Marilag Lubag. Marilag Lubag said: Commentary about Egypt. RT @piperbayard What's Up with Egypt?: http://t.co/rkbss2p [...]

  9. [...] What's Up with Egypt? « Author Piper Bayard 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. [...]

  10. Jami Gold says:

    Thanks for this analysis! Very clear and easy to understand.

  11. kadja1 says:

    OMG! I even got news about Friggin’ Libya on here! ROTF! Hey, what is the deal with their detesting the Bulgarians? I’m curious as to that one since I’ve never heard of it.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Holmes: Hello Kadja1. Where is Kadja2 today?

      The “deal” with the Bulgarians reads like a 50′s Italian comedy, but, sadly, it is true. It is also truly a tragedy for an unknown number of innocent children in Libya.

      In early 1999, Qadaffi became aware of the fact that over fifty infants and children at Al Fateh Children’s Hospital in Benghazi had become infected with an H.I.V strain. In most countries, this would have prompted an investigation by the health department, screams from the Parliament or Congress, and a wild death dance performed by “media” producers and the hovering lawyers.

      Since Benghazi is in Libya, naturally none of this occurred. Uncle Momo announced that 23 Bulgarian medics had been arrested for conspiring to infect the children. According to Qaddafi, they were part of a plot run by the C.I.A., Israeli Mossad, and British MI-5 to introduce a new strain of AIDS into Libya in order to destabilize their otherwise Utopian world. He should have hired Oliver Stone to do the talking, but he didn’t so instead of a B-grade movie plot we got this C-grade sci-fi plot.

      Naturally, normal humans around the world knew the story was suspect from the start, but Qaddafi has no need to explain the disaster to normal humans outside of Libya and his imaginary “pan-Arabic kingdom.” The Bulgarians were duly raped and tortured, which is a normal part of the “booking” process in Libya. After all, how can a prisoner possibly tell the truth if they haven’t been properly raped, beaten, and electroshocked?

      (Note to Self: See if Obama can make water-boarding a routine procedure for the congressional budget committee. No Perrier…tap water.)

      There were medical staff from other countries working at the same hospital, and although they were readily available for torture, they were left alone. Bulgaria maintains no air bases bordering the Mediterranean. It only has a few aging military aircraft at home, and has no aircraft carriers to send to the Gulf of Sidra so in his ever growing wisdom Qadaffi picked Bulgarians as a handy target. Never mind that several of the infected children had been released from the hospital before the Bulgarians even arrived in Libya.

      After many long months of “diplomacy,” some circus-like back room dealings, and an on-sight investigation by European AIDS experts, a more reality-based explanation was given. The infections were due to massive routine negligence by the hospital staff. Syringes were being used multiple times to save money. Yes that’s right, with nearly three million BB/day in oil production they wanted to save a few dinar by reusing syringes.

      Whether or not anyone of the well-connected Libyans at the hospital were subsequently taken out to a moonlight picnic by Qaddafi’s “policemen” is unknown to me. What I do know is that innocent children remain infected and will continue to suffer. Since the incident, Qadaffi has never recanted his nonsensical rantings about the Bulgarians, but they were eventually released. So “death to the Bulgarian devils” is still an acceptable war cry in Libya.

      Qadaffi has since allowed his minister of health, Professor Dr. Mohamed Abu-Ujaylah Rashed,” to listen to the advice of American and British-trained Libyan doctors and has supposedly instituted new controls in the hospitals in Libya, but with such a glaring example of corruption at the top of their society, it’s hard to be sure that continuing corruption will not cause similar incidents.

      Naturally neither Qadaffi nor Libyans invented corruption or destructive excesses in greed so the hospital incident could have happened anywhere where bipeds roam, but the response to the tragedy was a classic “Momo the Clown” performance.

      The hidden message in this sorry incident is that we all need to be our children’s (and our own) final health authorities.

  12. M.E. Anders says:

    Holmes – Thanks for your synopsis on the Egypt situation + the concise history for our benefit. Your research proved valuable.

  13. [...] Don’t miss this special treat! Holmes gives us his expert analysis of the Egyptian situation, along with a discussion of Israel and Libya in the comments section. What’s Up with Egypt? [...]

  14. mr blue says:

    so, what countries currently have the biggest impact in Egypt besides the Egyptians?

  15. [...] My profound thanks to Holmes for sharing his insights. Don’t miss his commentary on Libya in the Comments section of last week’s post, What’s Up with Egypt? [...]

  16. [...] Bayard’s (and Holmes’) What’s up in Egypt – Holmes shares some interesting insights about the current situation in [...]

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