February 14, 2011
Democratic, Oligarchic or Islamic Revolution in Egypt?By LTC Joseph C. Myers
President Obama's remarks about Egypt were somewhat detached from the reality of the situation, trying to seize an event and give it historical significance, applying the notion that this was some historical moment of "freedom." Essentially what occurred was a palace coup. Mubarak was pushed out by the military and the end result is that a military "junta" has now assumed control of the government of Egypt. It remains to be seen if this is a moment for freedom or democracy.
The Egyptian military leadership is an oligarchy, and how much they will allow constitutional changes for greater democratic space is yet to be seen. So far they have suspended the Egyptian constitution and dissolved the parliament and will plan for elections in six months. For sure they will not want the Muslim Brotherhood to have much if any governing role; if they do, that will begin to put Egypt on a slow track to an Islamist state and directly impact their stakeholder interests.
While I can take short term comfort in the fact the military is maintaining order and not allowing Egypt to devolve into chaos, and our national security pundits are breathing a sigh of relief that the Army and military remain our "friends," I have also seen the rapid impacts revolutionary changes and elections can have on military institutions as well.
Venezuela and Argentina both were closely aligned to the US and to the US military until elections changed all of that, in some cases almost overnight.
Chavez has over the years converted his military into a sycophantic, political crony institution and pushed out any Americanophiles, institutionalizing anti-Americanism and cozying up to Iran and China.
Kirchner appointed a junior and politically loyal (to him) officer to be the Army commander who essentially decapitated the senior military leadership, erased 3 years of my efforts and programs in the Military Group and key institutional relations, and began to usher in a new generation of military leaders not aligned to the US, to Southcom, and to our War Colleges.
...and of course there is the example of Iran.
So a lot rides on the Egyptian military and Army. Can they maintain praetorian control of the political transition and institutions, as does the Turkish Army? Or do they allow openings that over time will erode their authority and spell their ultimate demise as an oligarchy and ally of the US?
A major challenge I see is that the rank and file Egyptian soldier is recruited from the same social terrain as is the Muslim Brotherhood and from areas where the Brotherhood enjoys great popularity, and I presume fit the same profile and Islamic orientation that the polls in Egypt have indicated and the pundits have been discussing.
And it is not only recent polling, but the World Public Opinion Poll from 2007 indicated 92% of Egyptians see the US as having the goal to weaken and divide Islam; in other words America is an existential threat to their faith.
How long the military leaders, who represent a privileged economic and social class, can sustain the centrifugal pressures of those cultural terrain facts in a democratic opening is another key factor to Egypt's future and for the region.
We wield the largest hammer still...our billions of dollars in military aid and security assistance greatly sustains the military oligarchy, so we retain major levers to pull in that regard to help guide the outcome. This may be our largest return on that investment.
That outcome is all important, should Egypt tilt toward the Islamist camp, not only will an important intelligence partner and ally in the war on terror be compromised; the global jihad will receive possibly a very decisive safe haven and clandestine state sponsorship as in Pakistan.
This advisory came ostensibly from Mubarak himself.
If that begins to unfold it will generate major changes in Israeli defense policies, for sure and costs for both us and them.
Or as Muslim Brothers rise in the Egyptian national security establishment, will our government decide to engage them, and extend invitations and conduct outreach for cooperation purposes to come to the US and observe our own counter-terrorism processes and facilities such as happened recently at the NCTC?
Reportedly however, a [secular] spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood on Iranian television, Mohamed Ghanem, has already called on the Egyptian military to "prepare for war with Israel." But that is an article of faith with the Brotherhood anyway and hopefully should not have raised new alarms.
What should have raised alarms in the intelligence community, however, was the recent [secular] pronouncement of the new Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badi, who said:
All Muslims are required by their religion to fight:
Badi seems to be providing indicators and warnings that the Brotherhood is to assume a more offensive footing against the United States and in pursuit of global jihad.
His strategic assessment likewise indicates the US is not doing very well in general, much less the war on terror. The Muslim Brotherhood suddenly exuding confidence last year about world affairs should be cause for intelligence community attention.
Meanwhile, I think our intelligence blindness and lack of knowledge as to what was really happening during the course of the last week -- whether Mubarak would stay or go -- is a function of the Egyptian military's allied and intelligence liaison status. They are an important source of our counter-terrorism intelligence and which probably accounts for why we apparently lacked good sources when we needed them inside the palace.
I hope that we are not flying blind as we move forward in this crisis scenario. I am all for democratic liberalization, but democracy is a political and voting process; liberalization is a substantive value system. A democratic process that only deepens the role of Islamic Law in Egyptian society will be anything but liberal in the classic sense.
Speaking of Islamic Law, I would recommend to readers they obtain a copy of Islamic Law and study it, most primary Islamic texts are translated into English and in doing so you may become smarter than half of our White House, national security, counter-terrorism and intelligence advisors.
You could even learn the precise legal meaning of jihad in Islam, and if asked, show more command of the topic than John Brennan or even the President, who when asked on his trip to India what it meant to him, stated:
You in fact might note that the Islamic Law definition of jihad tends to closely align with the Muslim Brotherhood's pronouncement above.
It should be noted the Muslim Brotherhood is for democracy too, the [secular] Spiritual Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, who apart from endorsing suicide bombing attacks against US military forces, has endorsed the "democracy" concept. And in elections, already described as rigged in Egypt, where they were unable to organize as a party, Brotherhood members still garnered about 20% of the parliament seats.
I too suspect the Brotherhood should do well with expanded democracy in Egypt.
Yes, the dungeon is still under lock and key in Egypt, but this is all about what happens next.
LTC (ret) Joseph Myers served 30 years in the Army with duties in US Embassies from Latin America to Afghanistan. He is also a founding member of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa.