Tag Archives: Egypt

The Egyptian bet


Any hope for an exit from the current Middle East chaos lies with the efforts of Gen. Pres. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stabilize its politics and rebuild the Egyptian economy.
With its 90 million people and traditional role as the intellectual leader of the Sunni Arab world, el-Sisi’s efforts to move out of the collapse of four years ago is critical not only for his own country but for the region as a whole.. There is general acknowledgement in the area of Egypt’s overwhelming importance and leadership – except in the pro-Iranian elements dominant in Damascus, Lebanon-Hezbollah, Gaza-Hamas, and Yemen-Houthi, and increasingly in Baghdad.
Egypt’s importance brought thirty country leaders, dozens of financial companies– more than 1,000 potential investors— including non-Arab states for his conference at Sharm el-Sheikh in mid-March. The Gulf states alone pledged $30 billion in loans and investments. That’s in addition to larger earlier Gulf emergency loans to Cairo after el-Sis’s takeover.
El-Sisi has laid out an ambitious economic agenda: he has launched a second, wider Suez Canal, proposes to build a new capital linking Cairo to Suez, and invites a massive inflow of foreign investment.
His political agenda is even more ambitious. He has declared war on the Moslem Brotherhood and other Islamic radicals, imprisoning thousands of activists of the previous regime. He proposes to lead a strengthened Arab alliance against ISIL, now controlling large sections of Iraq and Syria. When the Islamic terrorists murdered 30 Copt Christian Egyptians in Libya, he immediately struck with air raids and is pushing his Arab allies and the Western powers to come down militarily on the Libyan Islamicists.
Perhaps his most important contribution to the current scene, however, has been his courageous attempt to address the traditional Moslem origins of the current outbreak of terrorism. He went to al-Azhar University, the fountainhead of Sunni theology, to personally to call on the Muslim clergy there for a reformation of Islamic thought. . He said that without such a revision of traditional Muslim thought, the basis of the present terrorism will not be eradicated. In effect, he has turned his back on Western apologists– including Pres. Barack Hussein Obama—who identify Islam as “a peaceful religion”.He made a demonstration visit to a Coptic church at Christmas, acknowledging that this 15% of the population has been under traditional persecution and particularly recently by Muslim extremists.
El-Sisi’s undertaking cannot be underestimated. Three-quarters of Egyptians are under the age of 25, one of the most youthful populations in the world. This demographic bulge drives an additional 4% of the population into the workforce annually, with a formal unemployment figure estimated at 14%. Unemployment among college graduates is even higher.
Although his 2013 military overthrow of the previously elected Brotherhood government of Pres. Mohammed Morsi was generally popular, and despite his brutal efforts to smash its remnants, el-Sisi may be facing a growing insurgency. Islamic terrorists have controlled parts of the Sinai peninsular for several years. He has broken with Hamas in neighboring Gaza because of its terrorist activities and its flirtation with Tehran. But individual urban terrorist acts threaten a full revival of Egyptian tourism which at its peak employed about 12% of Egypt’s workforce as well as contributing more than 11% of GDP and 14.4% of foreign currency revenues.
Although the U.S. was officially represented by Sec. of State John Kerry along with American firms at the investment conference, the Obama Administration still flirts with remnants of the Moslem Brotherhood whom some of its leading lights believe represents “moderate” Islam. The cutoff of $1.3 annual American military aid after the 2013 coup— especially delivery of F16s needed in the Sinai campaign– has sent el-Sisi searching for other suppliers, including a recent initialization of a French fighters deal and negotiations with the Russians.
El-Sisi’s relations with the Israelis remain formally cool. The Israelis, despite their request, were denied entry to the investment conference. But there are reports of frequent personal contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And there is obvious on the ground collaboration in further isolating the Hamas regime in Gaza, a common Egyptian-Israeli concern.
Despite repeated public and private appeals by el-Sisi for a resumption of the U.S.-Egyptian alliance, the Obama Administration— bending to its leftwing human rights critics and pro-Palestinian sympathizers – has refused. The danger, of course, is that as el-Sisi’s project becomes more intense and difficult—and with outside support for the Islamic terrorists—he will move further away from Washington toward a more independent position. Washington risks that, particularly, with its present attempt to find a working arrangement with the Tehran mullahs despite their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
sws-03-16-15

The end of a geopolitical model


Whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan survives the current crisis, the legend of “The Turkish model” is dead. The implications of the loss of Turkey’s image abroad, particularly in the Islamic world, may be far more important than the explosion of corruption scandals which always cynical Turkish voters may take in their stride.

But the possibility that Turkey could be the template for a predominantly Muslim, democratic, prosperous, stable society has failed after more than a half century when it was a highly vaunted prototype. The longer-term implications of that failure reach far beyond what happens to 70 million Turks and the 10 Turkish million immigrants to Europe. It goes to the heart of what Samuel P. Huntington called the clash of civilizations, and the long sought modernization of Afro-Asian societies where 1.3 billion Muslims live.

Erdogan, without daring to acknowledge it publicly, turned his back on the top-down secularization of Mustafa Kemal, the general-politician-philosopher who founded the modern Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Over the past decade, Erdogan nibbled at Atatűrkism’s basic building blocs – political authoritarianism, state capitalism and anticlerical tenets. He even edged into recognizing the multiculturalism of the Anatolian peninsular instead of Atatűrk’s Ne mutlu Turküm diyene! [How happy is he/she who calls himself/herself a Turk!]. That included not only the ancient, cosmopolitan megametropolis Istanbul [Constantinople] [14 million] at the crossroads of Europe and Asia where Erdogan’ S political career began as mayor. He also hesitantly recognized the identity of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds who have waged guerrilla war and terrorism for autonomy or independence for more than three decades. But simultaneously he moved toward more and more conservative Muslim concepts, appealing to rural Anatolia which had given him his big parliamentary majorities. That process is seen as a threat by the Alevi sect, another disproportionately wealthier 20 percent of the population, whose Sufism is considered apostate by many in the orthodox Sunni majority.

Erdogan’ policies – particularly his continued economic liberalization –ushered in a period of growing prosperity and optimism about the country’s future with continued if diminishing hope of entering the European Union. Most critically, he adroitly broke the hold of Atatűrk’s secularist heirs in the military. He probably ended the possibility of another of the half dozen coups by the military whose intervention had prevented political chaos and kept more outspoken Islamic forces at bay.

But in the process – and not least because of his egotism – his tactical skills were less than a strategy, bereft as it has been of consistency and integration. His foreign policy aiming at neo-Ottoman regional leadership has collapsed. Overall progress has been at the expense of growing destabilization Perhaps much of that was inevitable in a rapidly growing and changing society. But now the exploding corruption scandals and more importantly, the in-fighting inside his Justice and Development Party [AKP], a coalition of Muslim-oriented political groups, could bring down the regime as well as his administration.

But the culmination of these Turkish events has much larger implications:

  • ·        The increasing instability and possible collapse/transformation of Erdogan’s administration again puts the question of whether there can be a modern state in Muslim-majority lands without a formal break with traditional Islam.
  • ·        Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s reliance on Erdogan – in 2011 more telephone conversations with him than any other foreign leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron – is another sign of the failure of the American administration’s Mideast policies.
  • ·        The growing economic crisis in Turkey, a result of reaching a development plateau and the growing political instability, puts into question for other Muslim states economic liberalization which permitted growth but [as in Iran] fed a new reactionary Muslim-oriented middle class..
  • ·        Turkey’s growing instability is writing finis to its effective participation in NATO, and may, indeed, point to the growing inability to turn the spectacularly successful anti-Soviet alliance into a broader security and peacekeeping coalition.
  • ·        Turkish instability is going to further imperil assimilation of the 10 million Turkish émigrés in Western Europe, recruited, especially in Germany as gastarbeiter, but who now constitute a growing European social and political problem in a period of extended high unemployment and growing Muslim fanaticism.

Islam has never had its Reformation or its Counter-Reformation paralleling Christianity in the West. Its religious thinkers for at least a half millennium have largely been ignored Greek logic and philosophy and its Roman progeny, the foundations of Western – and increasing universal – law. Orthodox Islam calls for no separation of church and state. In fact, orthodox Muslims demand the reestablishment of a worldwide ruling religious leader such as the Ottoman Empire’s sultan who also as caliph was the commanding religious figure. In majority Muslim countries, both Sunni and Shia ecclesiastics refuse the hard fought fundamental of Western democracies, equality of all religions before the law – including minority Islamic sects. Turkey’s role as the most successful example of a predominantly Muslim country advocating that concept – and rejecting much of sharia, traditional Islamic law — is now crumbling. Advocacy by Asian and African leaders of emulating Ankara’s road to modernization is not likely to be heard in the future.

That has implications for American policy. Obama had accepted that old hypothesis and said that Erdogan was one of his closest friends. It was to him in part that the Arabists surrounding the U.S. president sought counsel. But Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dreams of becoming the go-to for the area’s regimes, has gone a glimmering. Instead, Turkey is at odds with virtually all its neighbors, especially Egypt and Israel, and, of course, Syria. There the al Assad regime now under siege after Erdogan effusively courted it only a few years earlier is driving tens of thousands of refugees into Turkey as well as the surrounding countries. Furthermore, the corruption accusations link some perpetrators to the mullahs of Iran – the Turks’ historic competitor for influence through the Mideast and Central Asia. As the internal conflict among Turkish Islamicist groups likely intensifies, Now Washington will find itself hard put – if it already has not done so – to pick sides.

Abetting the crisis is the rather sudden turn in Turkey’s economic outlook, after its gross domestic product more than tripled during Erdogan’s office. Now the trade deficit is widening dramatically, the lira is devaluating at a rapid pace, unemployment is increasing, and the political turmoil has taken a toll of the stock market, discouraging foreign investment as well as fueling a capital flight.

What may be even more significant longer term is that the liberalization of the economy which began in the 80s before Erdogan’s arrival at the helm has produced a new and growing class of entrepreneurs. They, like their Persian counterparts as a result of reforms by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, seeking a new orientation from their peasant backgrounds, tend toward religious obscurantism.

The growing Islamicist sentiment of the Erdogan administration itself – including accusations that growing opposition to his government among Turkish groups is plotted by kafir [unbelieving foreigners] including the Americans – is distancing Turkey from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It will add to NATO’s renewed conundrum of its future role with the messy U.S.-led alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Erdogan’s threat to go to the Chinese for new weapons, which would create security lapses in integration with NATO, has further put into question the allegiance of one of the alliance’s most loyal members in time past. With Western Europe’s dramatically falling birthrates, Turkey’s army was seen in Washington and European capitals as an important element in any NATO peacekeeping effort. Given the growing decline in most of the European military budgets, Brussels had looked to Turkey’s young population [more than a quarter under 14] as a stalwart partner. That hope vanishes as the political crisis matures.

Although a first generation of immigrants to Western Europe seemed to be assimilating, their offspring have in more than anticipated numbers turned to radical Islam. There is a growing number of second and third generation Turks [and European-resident and native Arabs] who have joined the jihadist-led opposition to the ostensible secular regime in Syria’s civil war. Mosques in Europe, many supported by the militant Wahabbi sect of Saudi Arabia, have become hot houses for the spread of radical Islamicism and recruitment for jihadist terrorism. If the once secular regime of Turkey continues to move away from its Atatűrk traditions, as seems likely whatever the result of the current political crisis, it will have an adverse influence on assimilation of these immigrants.

Overall, this Turkish crisis inevitably becomes an integral part of the instability sweeping the Muslim umma [world] from Casablanca to Zamboanga, an accelerator in the age-old struggle for modernization in that impoverished and retrograde cultural environment. At the moment, the forces of reaction [and terrorism] are winning in the face of the incapacity of Muslim modernists [or “moderates”] and the Obama Administration to offer an effective counter to a romantic call for a return to simplistic, medieval orthodoxy [Islam=”submission”]. That, unfortunately, as 9/11 tragically proved, produces a growing threat not only to the future of Muslims themselves but to peace and stability throughout the world.

sws-12-28-13

Egypt: “mind” or “mouth’?


It’s impossible to tell whether it is infection from the hysterical Mideast Arabic and English commentaries on radio and TV. Or is it twaddle the result of misunderstanding of the complexity of the issues? Whatever, our talking heads are more than usually befuddled about events in Egypt. And they are lending further confusion to an already impossibly muddled situation with Obama Administration attempts to straddle the unstraddable.

No, “democracy” was not overthrown in Egypt, nor can it be restored with the ouster of the present puppet government established by the military. “Democracy” is not simply elections, however fairly they may be managed – and we in the U.S. know something about the difficulties of that. It requires a whole set of values, not the least, the concept of the individual and his right to his own thoughts and, in so far as he does not harm others, actions. That has rarely if ever existed anywhere in the Arab-Muslim world – except perhaps for a brief glimpse of it, ironically, under what is now Pakistan in late British colonial days. [Now, for example, in Pakistan proselytizing for a religion other than Islam, and that is often interpreted in exaggerated ways, brings the death sentence. A leading political figure was not only assassinated for advocating its amendment two years ago but his confessed murderer was cheered in courtroom scenes — by lawyers!]

Nor is it likely democracy will come any time soon to any Arab country. Even in Malaysia and Indonesia, far distant from Islam’s Arab origins, whatever exists by way of progress toward it hangs by a thread. Nor notwithstanding Pres. Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, never did widespread tolerance exist in Islamic history — certainly not in the supposed halcyon years of al Andalus, the Berber kingdoms of southern Spain There pogroms against Jews and Christians [despite extensive intermarriage and the use of minority members as court ministers] dot its relatively short history. That’s why Moses Maimonedes, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers and physicians, a Jewish scholar writing in Arabic, in the 12th century fled his native Cordoba – eventually landing in Egypt, no less – to save his life.

But Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president, would not have welcomed Maimonedes, given his expressed hatred for non-Muslims. Despite his followers’ claims, he was not “democratically elected” [as wikipedia would have it]. He won a minority victory as the best organized political force in hastily arranged elections after a half century of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship.. Nor is he a democrat despite the claims of his followers – many of whom have been attending “peaceful demonstrations” with Kalashnikovs for attacks on their opponents and police stations. He is a leader of a longtime secret society – kept underground by successive Egyptian regimes for three  generations. It is dedicated to establishing a monolithic Islamic state in a country with more claim to “multiculturalism” than any in history.

The trail of Morsi’s Brotherhood is a long history of assasinations and attacks, for example, on Egypt’s 15 to 18 million Coptic Christians and destruction of their churches. [Ask former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a Christian married to a Jew, whose grandfather, Boutros Ghali, as prime minister of Egypt under the British “protectorate”, was assassinated in 1910 by a member of a pan-Islamic party, ancestor of the Brotherhood.]

Must one excuse the excesses of the military regime in its effort to return Cairo, Alexandria and Suez [on the Canal, critically sensitive to world trade, by the way] to some sort of stability? Anyone who knows Cairo knows that is a relative term in the best of times. No, but there are “mitigating circumstances” by Mideast standards: the whole country was headed for immediate economic collapse, even famine with 70% of its food imported. The military’s effort to disassemble Brotherhood encampments in strategic areas and neuter opposition to the succeeding [called an interim] regime was absolutely necessary to avoid total chaos.

Never mind Morsi’s vile, vituperative public pronouncements [only in Arabic] cursing Jews and other “infidels”. [As Anwar Sadat, the martyred Egyptian leader, assassinated by an offshoot of the Brotherhood in 1981, once said in reply to a question about some outrageous statement by another Arab leader, “Oh! You know how we Arabs talk!”] But Morsi thorough manipulation of a “constitution” almost instantly arrived at was steering the country toward “sharia”, rule under Islamic religious law.

Now with sharia as with so many Islamic concepts, you can have your pick. It has been defined and runs the gamut from the “tolerant” ways of the late Ottoman Empire which generally only imposed fines and other legal restrictions on its vast non-Muslim population. The name for those non-Muslims to whom this whole set of Islamic “values” is applied is dhimmis. But just like everything else in Islam, it has been differently interpreted from Dakar to Zamboanga. But whatever else it means, it is second class citizenship – a concept that simply does not square with democracy. In more “effective” enforcement, Yemeni Jews were required to observe special obeisant movements whenever encountering Muslims despite their industriousness which was essential to the impoverished south Arabian region functioning.

Sharia often includes treating women as chattel, permitting divorce without the wife’s consent by simply uttering the words, “I divorce thee”, three times. Sharia often includes punishments long outlawed in more civilized societies – more than 200 years ago by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment”. Where Muslims rule with sharia, as in Saudi Arabia, chopping off a hand, or fingers instead, for theft is a subject worthy of intense religious speculation. Christians in their worst arguments talked of how many angels danced on the head of a pin or who was a witch to be burned at the stake, but that is now centuries past. Israeli Orthodox Jews still do argue against drafting yeshiva students of “the law” for military service.. That is not to say that there has not been Islamic jurisprudence as studied and as sage as any in the world, particularly in the old Persia and in India, but it is not what Morsi was about.

Or take “jihad”. Central Intelligence Director John O. Brennan publicly has defined it as the search in Islam for salvation. Yes, in the Arabist scholarly circles he navigates, Brennan – known in some circles as Brennan of Arabia – is correct. But it also has been the battle cry for more than 15 centuries in the Islamicists’ efforts to conquer the world, and subject it to a “caliphate” – again a word with a dozen meanings but generally a unified Islamic political state under an absolute Muslim ruler. The fact is that neither the historical Zoroaster, Abraham, Mosses, Jesus, Gautama nor Confucius, founders of the great mass religions, were soldiers. Mohammed according to the holy book of Islam, the Koran, apparently was and a very bloody and successful one..

All of this was in the quiver of Morsi as “the duly elected” chief executive of Egypt. It turned out that most Egyptians, perhaps, for we will never know, but seemingly the bulk of those politically active, did not endorse this program. And then the head of the military, originally chosen by Morsi, apparently because he once wrote a thesis with Islamicist overtones when he was studying under the auspices of  the American military at Leavenworth, overthrew the Morsi Administration. His action appeared to have, even by the most critical observers, the assent of the majority of Cairenes, if not that of the American State Department again left out in the cold.

Morsi and his followers refused to bow out for hadn’t they, they said, supported by the anti-anti-anti-Islamic spokesmen in the U.S. and Europe, acting as an echo chamber, stood for “democracy” The answer is obviously “no”.

So we have come full circle: are the talking heads and a couple of Senators confusing the issues? Are the analyses on the hour by National Public Radio, The New York Times, along with the White House statements, just contaminated with the incredibly paranoid and hysterical rhetoric of the Middle East? Or have they, like so many increasingly ill-educated young Americans, lost touch with the English language and its definitions?

sws-08-17-8-13

 

Down the Egyptian Fennec foxhole


Fleeting memory – and perhaps proof that if there are lessons of history, they are never learned – is that there is almost no mention of “Nasserism” or “Pan-Arabism” in the current reporting on Egyptian chaos.

Yet for two decades a young army officer out of nowhere, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, towered over Egypt, the Arabs – and even the broader Muslim world — allied to the Soviet Union and preaching shortcuts to modernization. Today his politics is scarcely mentioned among the 400 million Arabs much less in the rest of the world. That could only be, what with a third of Egypt’s 90-million under 15, nearly three-fifths under 30, most at best semi-literate – a population that increased at least 25% in the last two decades.

Yet as that motto over the U.S. Archives says, the past is prologue. Nasser’s 1952 revolution and two decades of military misrule contributed to the current tragedy in so many ways. Like successor politicians, even in the Western democracies  – one too close to home — Nasser preached “comprehensive” solutions to the myriad problems of what was once the breadbasket of the Roman empire with its triple-cropping and rich Nile River silt soil. The corruption and incompetence of the pseudo-liberal parliamentary monarchy which preceded him, the first effort at a stable, modern society in one of the world’s oldest civilizations, was so imperfect he said it had to be overthrown by what turned out to be sheer demagoguery.

For as the reality of the depth of Egypt’s problems sank in, Nasser turned to preaching unity among the Arabs – a groundless concept so often promised and failed. Ethnicity, geography, wealth and history – even religious concepts — divide the Arabs at every crisis as is the case just now. But with the adulation of millions, Nasser turned to implacable hatred of the most effective modernizing force in the region, Israel, with disastrous results in three wars.

Simultaneously, in his rush toward Soviet-style socialism, he purged Egypt of its centuries-old ethnic minorities, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Genovese, the Venetians. The Jews had already fled, the wealthier to France, the poorer to Israel. This “middle class” had nourished the caravan trade for centuries and were the factors of its agricultural economy and nascent industrialization.

Moreover, Nasser’s pan-Arabism excluded and threatened Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christians, quintessentially Egyptian and close to 15% of the population. From Upper Egypt fellahin peasants to Alexandrian and Cairene landlords and entrepreneurs they were disproportionably wealthy, said to control 50% of the country’s riches. Age-old animosities were revived with continuing persecution persisting to this moment. But unlike other indigenous Mideast Christians, perhaps as many as 15 million Egyptian Copts are not just going to pack up, and fade away. Obviously they have played a significant role in turning back the first wave of the Islamic radicals under ousted Pres. Mohamed Morsi and his dissembling Moslem Brotherhood fanatics.

But Nasser’s tortured economy iheritance persists.

It would be hard to exaggerate its current failings, exacerbated, of course, by the instability of Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring. Having long ago descended into the abyss, Cairo has to import 40% of its food. It runs a trade deficit equivalent to an astonishing fifth of its gross national product [GDP]. The government’s credit rating has collapsed. Price controls and subsidies had seduced the population into uneconomic waste of domestic oil and gas moving toward a tenth of the GDP. The official 10% unemployment [25% among the young] is notional. Crony capitalism – including the military – distorts virtually every market. Recourse to the International Monetary Fund’s cash has been held up by its unsavory reputation – whether deserved or not – with the Egyptian polity. But in any case, the IMF still needs a road map for some sort of return of stability.

Through modern times Egypt has been a top destinations for international tourists –  in 2010, 5.5 million came spreading $14 billlion. With growing international travel, that had doubled from a decade earlier. And it was despite an ugly 1997 massacre of 62 foreign tourists at Luxor — the center for expeditions to the Valley of the Kings ruins, a Pharonic history dating as far back as 5,000 years.

One of the tipoffs of the total incompetence — if not its true nature — of the ousted Morsi regime was appointment of a former Islamic terrorist as governor in the region until public outcry immediately drove him out. He was a member of the outlawed Al Gama’a al-Islamiyyaorganizationalleged tohave perpetrated the outrage. Their bloodthirsty assasinations of public officials – including implication in that of Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat – have suggested a tacit alliance with Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Although officially renouncing violence, Al Gama was heavily represented in the parliament elected last year. Its one time leader, the blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman who directed the first attack on the New York City Trade Center in 993, is now in a U.S. prison. But he refuses to renounce violence and probably still plays a role in convoluted Egyptian Islamicist politics.

The continued political crisis has wreaked havoc on tourism, of course, And with one in every 12 in the labor force working with visitors, the bonds between reestablishing order and its reputation abroad is essential for any resurrection, even temporarily, of the economy.

Nasser’s death in 1970 and the subsequent break with the Soviet Union by his successor, another military leader Sadat, ushered in reform. Chaperoned by Pres. Jimmy Carter, Sadat made his famous peace visit to Israel. He turned to the U.S. and the West and the Persian Gulf oil ministates for what has been billions of dollars in economic and military aid. – $19 billion alone from Washington, still on the hook for $1.3 billion annually.

The 90s finally brought a serious effort for economic reform, to dismantle Nasser’s legacy. But much of Egyptian industry is still in uneconomic and corrupt government companies in a bloated public sector. Even before the recent political explosion, inflation and unemployment with huge military outlays pushed a growing public debt. Only the three million Egyptians working in other Arab countries and their remittances, the lifeline of the Nile’s irrigation waters, an off and on export of gas to Israel and Jordan, and the relative trickle of tourism – and massive aid, of course — has kept the country afloat. [A nasty additional cloud on the horizon is the threat of riparian countries on the upper reaches of the Nile to void British colonial imposed divisions which benefited Egypt and the Sudan downriver disproportionately.]

It would be a fool’s errand to predict what comes next. The long descent of Indonesia’s once highly efficient plantation-colonial economy under the demagogic Soekarno and the collapse of Burma’s pre-war colonial agricultural exports under the rule of the mad Ne Win and his successors proved there is no bottom in pre-industrial societies. Southeast Asia is not Egypt, of course, although the once common relatively easy life of the tropics suggests comparisons.

Egypt’s long history of synthesizing totally different intellectual currents and absorbing economic abuse like a sponge give some faint hope. But, for the moment, the future could not seem bleaker.

sws-07-07-13

Dealing with Islam


A decade after 9/11 the U.S. still puzzles over how to deal with an Islam of 1.3 billion people, most of whom either cannot or refuse to move into the modern era. This American [read broader Western] inability to find an ideological approach will enhance a threat to U.S. security long after troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is profound, involving the history of Christendom’s relations with Islam for one and a half millennium. Recently new complications arise from declining Western populations seeking immigrant labor, welcoming large numbers of Muslims, again, often either unable or unwilling to integrate into a heterogeneous West. This aggravates external security, not least because many sophisticated Islamic leaders condone deception [taqiyya] about their aims. In a traditionally open, sometimes to the point of naiveté, American society, this adds additional burdens on law enforcement and the justice system.

Washington’s armed attempt to root out state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan not only has taken an enormous toll in lives and treasure, but produced war’s inevitable “collateral damage” used by the terrorists to misrepresent U.S. aims. In a world where simply the charge of “colonialism” precludes serious discussion between advanced and backward societies, Washington, even were it capable, cannot impose its values as it did after World War II on Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan.

Nor is there an economic determinist solution. Even where development has taken place – in Lebanon or Algeria or the Gulf sheikhdoms – cultural advancement is stymied, even retrogressing under tutelage of subsidized reactionary preachers. And although private capital [globalization] has brought industrialization quickly to many new corners of the world, cultural factors block what the economists used to call “take off” in the vast Arab belt and Persia despite incredible raw material resources [oil and gas].

A new test of Islamic renewal is underway in recently “liberated” eastern North Africa and, probably soon in Syria. Rebellion driven by the youthful demographic bulge has blown away the old despots. But the best organized to fill the leadership vacuum are political incarnations of Islamic totalitarianism led by Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood. That will further imperil Egypt’s 85 million, a third of the Arab world with a traditional claim to lead Muslims culturally, relying on foreign handouts after Pres. Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of protected crony capitalism.

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

 sws-09-09-11

 

 

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader. Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel. A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks. Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

sws-09-09-11

The grim Arab summer


Among nations, as in private lives, there are self-evident long-term trends, often cataclysmic, but with unforeseen tripwires for timing the unpredictable denouement. At the moment notable among these is continued failure of modernization among the 1.3 billion Arab/Moslem world.

What a few months ago seemed an irresistible wave of rising expectations forcing a renaissance in Tunisia, Egypt, and other “moderate” Muslim societies, has stymied

But it has had economic and political consequences. Others, unforeseen, are bound to come along, but for the moment:

  • The bloodiest of all retrograde Arab dictatorships in Syria is doomed, its mostly reluctant advocates notwithstanding. Saudi Arabia, chief expositor of a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil foreign policy, appease [and fund] it. Washington and Paris cower, fearing Basher al-Assad’s demise might lead to something even worse than his purported secular tyranny. Damascus’ strategic partners — Iranian, Lebanese and Palestinian Islamicists – using it as a trampoline to Mediterranean power, can only wring their hands. Turkey dreaming of an alliance ushering in Neo-Ottoman glory is befuddled with an onslaught of refugees.
  • Egypt, long Islam’s cultural center, flops back into a new lap of corrupt if camouflaged military government. Collapse of tourism and crippled local industry threaten minimal growth achieved during the Mubarak era with a yawning, unemployed youthful demographic bulge. Army leadership, shrewd enough to continue a half-peace with a formidable enemy, Israel, nevertheless, flirts with populist anti-Semitism while enriching itself through protectionist, crony state capitalism rather than opening up to investment, technology transfer and rapid growth.
  • Pakistan, largest self-proclaimed Muslim state of 200 millions ironically conceived as an Islamic modernizing force in dying British Imperial India despite its confessional moniker, implodes. Its military, only Pakistani “national” entity, has suffered a lethal blow from the unilateral surgical American strike killing Osama Ben Ladin. The related perception of impotence and/or incompetence complements rising opposition to the generals’ corrupt incestuous relationship with greedy Punjabi feudal elite. Washington influence seeking to foster make-believe democratic parallel civilian government feeds anti-Americanism. Beijing siphons off massive U.S. aid to one of the world’ poorest populations through an anti-India alliance even as Chinese “aid” projects come under terrorist attack.
  • The Obama Administration, buying into Muslim victimization mythology reinforced by the President’s own pesudo-Marxian historical view, has no strategy for dealing with the energy fulcrum Persian Gulf powers wield however haphazardly on world economy. The Administration’s muddled “alternative energy” policies – not excluding the crassly politically motivated band-aid release of strategic reserve oil – is ever more irrelevant in the face of vast new fossil fuel discoveries [shale gas and deepwater drilling] and potential [e.g., Arctic oil].
  • Libya encapsulates Mr. Obama’s failing attempt to wind down Pres. George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism”. Refusing the full weight of American arms to NATO’s effort, initiated by the Europeans, risks temporary resumption of Muammar Qadaffi’s long history of terrorism against Americans. In the bargain, “Libya” dramatizes long ignored NATO inadequacies with its increasing dependence on American muscle.
  • Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal announcement touched all domestic 2012 electoral bases, but it offered no solution to the fundamental question: having taken on Islamic radicals, Washington has not struck the lethal blow. There is no Hitler bunker suicide, no Japanese militarists’ surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, the Osama drama notwithstanding. Probably unconsciously, Pres. Obama has taken a leaf from old Sen. George Aiken’s rejected Vietnam playbook http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Aiken: “declare victory and come home”. Later modified by Pres. Richard M. Nixon and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger to “a decent interval”, it failed, demoralizing the U.S. military and undermining domestic self-esteem for a generation while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives without accomplishing its geopolitical goals of mollifying the Soviets or welding an effective Chinese alliance.

Leaked efforts to contain spreading Islamicist virus in Yemen with Special Forces drops armed with unmanned aerial vehicles, ipso facto, insures the fight will continue long after the highly publicized if incoherent Inside-the-Beltway “debate” over counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism is, again, out of fashion. Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA [Rtd.], a principal if scientistic participant, after all, soon will be charged with clandestine warfare. Whatever Mr. Petraeus’ success at Langley, Mr. Obama or his successor at 1600 Pennsylvania, can not long avoid the basic problem, election or no election: protecting the U.S. from continuing Islamic terrorism.

sws-06-24-11

Revolution and common sense



A revolution is not a tea party”. -Mao Tse-tung

Every revolutionary ends up by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. –Albert Camus

All revolutions devour their own children.-Ernst Röhm

Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny: they have only shifted it to another shoulder. –George Bernard Shaw

In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Historians will have to evaluate how much Obama Administration’s denigration of American power and prestige contributed to Egypt’s chaotic crisis. But led by an often untutored media seeking sensation at whatever cost, and Al Jazeera beating the jihadist drums, U.S. Mideast policy waffles and meddles beyond its competence.

The American tendency is not only ahistorical, but antihistorical. After all, our forebears came to escape their European, Latin American and Asian – even African – histories. Nothing could be further from the American experience than Egypt’s multimillennial suffocating cultural “overburden”. To further alienate Americans from context, the world has moved to instantaneous electronic transmissions. Images and tweets replace studies and serious journalism – and contemplation.

That’s why it might be well to lean back and view unpredictable events with more dispassion — and, yes, common sense. [I like the Oxford English Dictionary’s No. 2 definition: “xxx the plain wisdom which is everyone’s inheritance xxx”.]

America’s role and national interest.

Egypt’s burgeoning 80 million people has been for centuries the center of Sunni Islam; Cairo, heart of the larger Arab world with its vast petroleum resources [only gas in Egypt]. With feeble economic, cultural and physical infrastructure, the Arab and Persian petrosheikhs now levy a “tax” on the world economy [as former Sec. of Treasury William Simon rationalized.] Therefore, Egypt’s stability inherently demands Washington’s highest priority.

As Biggest Boy on the Block, the U.S. is both envied and courted, not least by Egypt. Washington struck a bargain with its annual $2 billion aid package – a bribe to keep Egypt’s military on the straight and narrow. Cairo was to modernize, bolster regional moderates, help secure the world oil supply and prevent attacks on Israel. Not least, it guarded Suez Canal passage for 80% of world commercial traffic.

Those dollars and weapons have undoubtedly helped; Pres. Hosni Mubarak, whatever else, has cooperated to stem worldwide Islamic terrorism. But no person, no nation, likes dole, certainly not Egypt with its fabled history. So “anti-Americanism” is endemic.

But current idiocies include polling – which, of course, has been so accurate in the U.S.! Does that little lady with a clipboard asking questions in an authoritarian society with a secret police wear a burka? Are “Westernized” elites or illiterate subsistence farmers measured?

Poverty, insecurity and lifestyle.

Most Egyptians have no safety net beyond extended family, living with greater insecurity than Americans have known since the Civil War. With population doubling during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a third now under 14, unemployment is staggering. [That’s why early demonstrators were mostly adolescents.] Egypt would have to generate 450,000 new jobs annually just to keep its current unemployment level.

Agriculture – less than 3% of land along the Nile is arable — desperately needs modernization. Even with the world’ best cotton, progress toward agroindustry as elsewhere in “the third world” has been slow. But farming employs one-third the workforce, including subsistence on three million holdings under five acres. Egypt, in Caesar’s time Rome’s granary, by 1980 was importing about three-fourths of its staple, wheat.

Mubarak has unwound nationalized industry slowly – often rewarding his fellow military. It was “collectivized” in the 1950s by army dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser, seduced by Moscow planners. Perhaps even more damaging, Nasser expelled ethnic communities – Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Italians – who for centuries had managed Egypt’s economy. [Still, today, Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christian minority – perhaps as much as 15% – are disproportionately “wealthier”, an always threatening political timebomb.]

The politics of desperation

Government to government and UN aid has been irrelevant. Faced with staggering problems, the remnants of Egypt’s traditional elite and its new military recruits have ruled despotically. Still, Egypt’s purchasing power ranks around 25th in the world. And the Mubarak regime has managed growth of about 5% annually. Violence has already torpedoed that; for example, frightening off 13 million annual tourists bringing in $12 billion, supporting 10 million workers.

The totalitarian temptation

Egypt has been the fount of modern Islamic fundamentalist violence. Its Moslem Brotherhood, coalescing in the 1920s, advocates returning to medieval church-state organization based on a primitive Islam. Plotters from a Brotherhood offspring assassinated Pres. Anwar Sadat in 1981, an officer of peasant origin who broke off Nasser’s Soviet alliance, allied himself with Washington and made peace with Israel. Mubarak has walked in his footsteps, however hesitantly. No one is certain – because of off and on suppression – of Brotherhood strength. But it is the only significant political organization beyond Mubarak’s government hangerson – and the military. And although splintered – and without charismatic leadership of revolutionary Iran — its “magic formula”, “submission” to the Koran, to solve all social and economic problems, is as attractive as Communism and Fascism were to so many in the 1930s.

sws-02-04-11

Foreign policy by prayer


In a region noted for miracles – Israel’s prosperous if beleaguered survival, despite attempts to mobilize 360-million Arab enemies, is a recent example – prayer could be a way to make U.S. policy. Although she now contributes only by inheritance, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice voiced that possibility, woefully, recently: “…We have only one choice: to trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.“

To quote John Maynard Milord Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.

Reality is the Obama Administration cannot continue to abdicate America’s responsibility, leaving a worldwide vacuum to be filled by every would-be amateur Metternich. Obviously, policy is made with many unanswered questions. But leadership requires sorting possibilities, and decision-making, usually accepting the best of poor alternatives.

In all the uncertainties facing Egypt’s future, and indeed, the whole Arab world, by encroaching poverty pitted against rising expectations, none is so mysterious as current U.S. policy.

The talking heads more or less confirmWashington was unprepared for Cairo’s implosion. Okay, as some of us over 35 know, human events are largely unpredictable. Who could have guessed immolation by an unemployed vendor in tiny Tunisia, hardly respectable among the macho Arabs, would topple the dominoes?

But Egypt was notorious as a classically fragile third world country. There was always potential drama in rising unemployment, underdeveloped or depleted natural resources, literally thousands of years of bureaucratic malfeasance. Ruled by a highly personalized military dictatorship, no secure succession was in sight to its 83-year-old, ill, reactionary head. Yet Cairo dominated culturally a region because of its fossil fuel resources critical to the U.S. and the world economy. Yet destabilization came as a surprise? Yes, the U.S. is in a period of overwhelming domestic concern. Fickle Washington is notoriously a one-issue theater – and the Obama Administration is still winding down two wars. But surprise?

Looking for an explanation, the inevitable conclusion is the foreign policy establishment – in and out of government, for with the Inside the Beltway revolving door they are indistinguishable – is incompetent. Why?

“Group think” dominates analyses. Fads and instant expertise – instead of the long, hard, slog through history and anecdotal information – preclude originality. Even the Pentagon, supposedly noted for realism, bought into the most primitive “scientism”: the hypothesis scientific method could be applied to social problems. It spent tens of millions of dollars on “software” replacing the old crystal ball, the alchemist’s puttering, the Gypsy soothsayers on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, or the oracle of Delphi but didn’t see this coming.

Even now most media chatter trots out tired clichés. Basic problems are ignored or obfuscated. Not even the right questions are posed, at least not publicly:

1] How is any Egyptian regime going to meet growing unemployment and unrest among a notoriously young population? Will the new regime reverse largely protectionist, corrupt Murbarak policies which inhibited foreign investment and technological transfer. [Read the labels: Highly valued Egyptian cotton is made into sheets, towels and garments in India, China, Bangladesh – any place but Egypt!]

2] Fatuous rationalizations about Islam dominate the politically correct discourse. No one, probably including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, knows the fanatics’ strength in the new environment. But can there be any doubt a movement grounded in radical political and primitive Islam, threatens all modern values? Even if analyses arguing the Brothers are currently ambivalent are correct, will the obviously difficult days ahead not stir its original bowels of fanaticism as has happened elsewhere?

3] With continued military dominance likelihood, how far have the jihadists penetrated its lower echelons? Is a sergeants’ revolt likely – just as Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the original 1952 military coup instituting failed pan-Arab nationalism and a Soviet alliance? Doesn’t anyone remember Pres. Anwar Sadat was assassinated during a military review by the Brothers’ intellectual offspring in “borrowed” uniforms?

4] Most important, what role can America actually play? Is it wise to continue making public statements, often contradictory within 24 hours? Wouldn’t a quieter diplomacy – if such can be conducted given Washington’s official blabbermouths and wikileaks’ assistance – be more effective? Given past history in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc., isn’t the influence of the Pentagon on Egyptian military – despite the annual $1.5 billion aid bribe – questionable? Is America’s “soft power” being mobilized? coordination between policymakers and propaganda, official and unofficial, in a world of instant replay?

Pres. Barack Obama’s ideological proclivities will have to give way to realism if the U.S. is not to stumble further. Nothing was clearer when his feathers were ruffled by admonitions from old Egypt-hand Amb. Frank Wismer advocating a transition with Mubarak.

Running American foreign policy is not community organizing agitation, but a hard-headed, facts-based choice of always difficult alternatives. Choices have to be made, quickly, quietly, and judiciously. Harry Truman had it right: constitutionally and historically the presidency of the U.S. is a strong executive, and it sometimes doesn’t matter as much what the decision is but that it be made.

sws-02-18-11