Tag Archives: Morsi

Islam: getting it right


by Sol Sanders

“Intelligence failures” – fundamental mistakes in evaluating a geopolitical situation – are not rare among state intelligence organizations. They are unfortunately common enough and have cost the lives of millions.

They are a reflection of what after all is a human endeavor with all its frailties. A technician’s intercept of a Japanese naval signal, in the infancy of radar, is ignored with disastrous consequences on Dec. 7. Failing to check a driver’s license more carefully when he is stopped for speeding fails to nab a 9/11 plotter. Placing the briefcase loaded with a bomb a few feet too far fails to kill Hitler costing more thousands of lives.

Such failures are only marginally reduced by the introduction of all the new techniques of the digital revolution since the opportunity for error is so great in these complex situations involving individual peculiarities as well as the presumed overriding political considerations.

Yet there are larger intelligence “failures”, those that result from a fundamental misunderstanding of a much larger cultural environment, whether it be the whole frame of reference of an opponent or constructing a seemingly logical scenario without all the facts. A case of the latter, for example: in 1937 Washington almost went to war with Japan over “The Panay Incident”, sinking of an American ship of the Yangtze Patrol thought to be an expression of Tokyo’s militarist aggression but actually the result of the smuggling activities of a corrupt Japanese admiral. That, of course, did not preclude the outbreak of that war a few years later.

Washington’s surprise and shock at the most recent events in Iraq are the quintessential example of the former, in this instance an inability to judge events in the context of the Muslim world.

For whatever reason, Pres. Barrack Obama and his national security team – despite the extraordinary credentials in Arabic studies of CIA Director John O. Brennan – are bent on misinterpreting the Islamic world. On that basis, Obama’s attempt to reach out for a new relationship with Arab and Islamic countries, expressed in his 2009 Istanbul and Cairo speeches, has come to naught. Instead, that simplistic outreach has further confused issues.

Neither Obama’s flattery nor efforts at appreciation of another culture have been successful. That is in no small part because his premises fundamentally distort or ignore history. Yes, Thomas Jefferson had a Koran in what was probably the most diverse and perhaps the largest library in colonial North America. But after years of trying to persuade the West Europeans to join the infant AmericanRepublic in suppressing piracy and abduction on the Barbary Coast, he ordered the U.S. infant navy and Marines [a standing army he had opposed] into action against Muslim warlords he could not understand but refused to knuckle under to.

Islam has not, as the President insists, played a role in the ideological formation of the American ethos. The Judeo-Christian ethic of The Founders and the founding documents owed no allegiance to Islam. It was an alien culture with which Americans have had only minimal contact until relatively recent decades.

Furthermore, all of this false rationalization is part and parcel of an attempt to equate Islam with “the other Abrahamic religions”. That, again, is a complete distortion of reality. For even where it is practiced in moderation, Islam’s fundamentals cannot be equated with contemporary Christianity and Judaism. Both of these beliefs have evolved through centuries of accomodation to Hellenism and modernization in their European existence. Islam has not, for example, given up its right to a fierce monopoly where its adherents hold political power – something now rejected by various Christian confessions after a painfully long history of bloody religious war.

Furthermore, in an excess of tolerance, any attempt to examine and relate Islam to current events is denounced as “Islamophobia”. Often the denunciations come from organizations with pretensions to representing Muslims residing in Western democracies but with hidden connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and other intolerant Islamic organizations and concepts.

Perhaps more than anything else, this misapprehension of Islam and its relation to the West explains the latest monumental failure of Washington “intelligence”. Despite entreaties from the al-Maliki government in Baghdad for months for help against a foe it recognized, Washington appears befuddled with the sudden blossoming of a crisis of the regime The threat is further magnified by the enormous commitment of blood and resources by the U.S. during its war against Sadam Hussein and the suppression of a sectarian civil war. That war was, too, initially based on the assumption that having fiddled with weapons of mass destruction earlier, Sadam was at it again – a belief shared if mistakenly by all the major allied intelligence organizations.

That is why the now seemingly sudden emergence of a barbaric terrorist force threatening to take over Iraq, one of the most important of the Arab states with its vast petroleum resources, has come as such a surprise for the Administration. All this is a repetition of the Administration’s attempt to minimize the importance of Muslim terrorism riding on the coattails of one of the world’s major religions. And that misperception has resulted in its inability to anticipate or to cope with political events, whether in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and now Iraq.

The President’s attempt to end the conflict with Muslim terrorism by unilaterally announcing its demise will fail of course. Unfortunately, Muslim terrorism is alive and well in half a dozen countries with every expectation that it will continue to make the U.S. and Americans one of its principal targets. The current advance of a terrorist group in Iraq with a significant number of international participants, many recruited from America and Europe and Australia, is only a manifestation of that general continuing problem for U.S. policymakers.

Probably even more damaging, by failing to acknowledge the traditional role of violence and conflict in the history of Islam, the Administration has further handicapped those forces in the West and in the Muslim countries seeking modernization. The fogging of issues has permitted essentially antidemocratic organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood to mask their real intent. It blinded the Administration to the growth of what was intended as another religion-based tyranny under former Pres. Mohammed Morsi, then its reluctance to accept his popular overthrow by the military reduced Washington’s ability to influence the new Egyptian regime. In Syria, Washington was unable to see that the popular resistance to the Assad dictatorship was coming under the domination of international Muslim fanatics which has now spread to Iraq, not only threatening that government and its neighbor Jordan, but with the possibility of providing the kind of sanctuary for attacks on the U.S. as took place in the Taliban’s Afghanistan on 9/11.

To quote the old cliché, ideas have consequences. Failure to deal with the relationship between Islam and the Muslim terrorists which threaten American interests in the region – and even the U.S. homeland as in 9/11 – is likely to cost dearly.

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Hold your horses!


The old cliché has it that history is written by the victors. But the victors’ historians, too, are human. In an effort to write a narrative which the rest of us can follow, they pick up what we diginicks call a “thread”. Until someone identifies a major theme and writes [and rewrites] that narrative, much of the important peripheral events get lost in the shuffle. Or they may get exaggerated beyond their eventual importance. All of this to say that in our world just now of instantaneous communication, everyone and his brother is grasping at straws in an unfolding crisis and drawing conclusions that will not stand the test of the coming historical narrative.

If that sounds wordy and pretentious, dear reader, you are right. What I want to say is, simply, the old-fashioned, “Hold your horses!” Wait out developments because we do not know what is happening or what will happen next before making final or even partial judgments.

I am appalled that radio and TV talking heads – as well as friends – grab a piece of this infinitely complicated geopolitical and humanitarian puzzle and run with it.

At the risk of seeming glib myself, may I just throw out a few of what I hope are helpful if not saving interpolations:

No, I am not an “Arabist” nor have I done more than stick my foot across the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights truce line toward Damascus only 40 [all downhill] miles away. But I have watched the Mideast for half a century out of the corner of my eye and if for no other reason, do think I have some semblance of historical perspective.

Yes, there is a general consensus that the U.S. should not intervene further in what began as a civil war in Syria unless “American national interest” is threatened. But like so many other political concepts, “national interest” is defined in many different ways: the fact that Basher al Assad is increasingly kept in power by the mullahs in Iran while developing their own weapons of mass destruction and a Russian UN Security Council veto camouflages Putin’s arms sales to Assad has changed the nature of the conflict.

No, Pres. Obama does not need a vote in the Congress in order for him to take military action in Syria in pursuit of American national interest and without a declaration of war. Almost every recent U.S. president has done just that. It irony that many of today’s opponents trace their opposition to foreign intervention as “progressives” to Pres. Woodrow Wilson who “unilaterally” used American military power repeatedly including intervention in the Mexican Revolution and, indeed, its civil war..

Yes, there isn’t much chance the U.S. or any one else can stabilize Syria, an artificial state created in the last gasp of British and French colonialism in the 1920s. Before the murdering al Assads arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s with their domination of its airforce by their Alawaite minority, there were some two dozen Syrian [mostly failed] coup d’etats. The Assads established whatever stability the country has had by brute force – including a 1982 month-long artillery shelling of a civilian population in Hamma that killed tens of thousands.

No, there is nothing new about the reluctance of America’s ostensible allies to join in what they generally say is a worthwhile military effort. After years of lobbying the British and the French whose citizens like those of the infant American Republic’s were being held for ransom, Pres. Thomas Jefferson [who had originally opposed any kind of permanent military] in 1802 went to the Congress for permission but no declaration of war to go for a military “strike” against the Barbary pirates.

Yes, there is no telling where Pres. Obama’s request to the Congress would lead were his “strike” against Syria with or without Congressional endorsement to be carried out.  [Please note all the essential subjunctives!]  I recall the old generals’ adage that all war plans and strategies go aglimmering with the firing of the first shot in any military engagement Assad, for example, has chosen not to respond to Israel’s three raids wiping out Russian munitions intended for Hezbollah, Assad’s ally in Beirut and southern Lebanon, who threaten the destruction of Israel, and he might try to ignore any American attack however effective.

No, Washington cannot back away from the Mideast whatever the decision Obama/Congress makes on this current issue. The U.S. has too many interests there including the region’s essential role in the world economy producing about two-thirds of the oil necessary to keep European and East Asian economies afloat even though the U,.S. is now approaching fossil fuel self-sufficiency [no thanks to Obama Administration policy but] because of the new shale technological revolution.

Yes, there is an overriding issue in Basher al Assad’s use of chemical warfare because for a hundred years the world has largely abided by an international agreement not to use this merciless of all weapons in combat, even with occasional violations by such monsters as Saddam Hussein and the Assads. That prohibition has been observe red in no small part because “poison gas” – used by both sides — turned out to be a dubious weapon in World War I for both its user and its victims. That evaluation could be hanging by a thread because of new delivery systems [i.e., medium and long-range missiles].

No, the power vacuum created by Obama’s four year effort “to lead from behind” and his Administration’s flirtation with the terrorist Moslem Brotherhood cannot be used as an excuse now to quit and run. As the saying goes, we are where we are, and unfortunately for an American public tried of war, the U.S.’ overwhelming economic and  military power is as potent when it is not directed and applied as when it is engaged.

Yes, a victory in the civil war would embolden Assad’s principal backer, the mullahs in Tehran moving to dominate the area, and Russia’s Pres. Putin, trying desperately to reassert the Soviet Union’s gone-with-the-wind superpower status. Failure of American resolve to handle this crisis will likely lead to a new and more dangerous breakdown in world stability if and when the Iranians get their nuclear weapon for which “Syria” is their diversionary sideshow or Putin with his oil and gas revenues collapsing tries some new stunt to hang on to power.

No, the U.S. did not start it all when with the British the CIA toppled the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. It was, indeed, about the nationalization of Anglo-Persian Oil Co. [ancestor of BP]. But it was also about the opening salvos of the Cold War with Mossadegh’s off-and-on-support from Moscow and its Iranian Tudeh-Communist Party. [Read my Christian Science Monitor pieces in mid-summer 1951 from Tehran when, by the way, I was subbing for their Moscow staff correspondent who later turned out to be a Soviet agent!]

Yes, Syrian Christians are caught in the crossfire as almost unnoticed by the U.S. mainstream media and the American mainstream churches 15 million Egyptian Coptic Christians were about to be slaughtered by the former Egyptian Brotherhood regime. But leftwing Christians [e.g., one of the co-founders of the so-called Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party which installed Assad’s equally monstrous father] have been Assad’s collaborators. So much for a propaganda video of a female Syrian Christian spokesman haranguing cornered, hawkish Sen. John McCain at a town meeting.

No, Assad will not be able to write off the effects of any American “strike” although, obviously, it has lost its surprise element and permitted him to move possible targets. Many if not most of the “hard” targets cannot be moved, and while he might fly his aircraft to Iran as Sadaam Hussein did when America attacked, moving his third world command and control operations centered on a family dictatorship won’t be that easy. The mere threat of a “strike” – or its further escalation under pressure from Congressional hawks such as Sen. McCain and Congressman Pete King– is already shaking the regime to its secret police torturing roots.

Yes, it would be a lot better if Obama had an overall strategy in the Mideast before setting out on a rather idealistic rectification of world morality which in a more perfect world should be left tothe UN. But that is not where we are, and the issue is whether the U.S. is to try to reinforce some international standards of decency. It is a question this country cannot escape with impunity any more than it has in the past. It is a choice that the American Republic has had to make, often to its chagrin, many times in the past.

No, historical analogies are odious as some dead white European has said, but it does seem that we are moving from the Spanish Civil War aspects of this conflict to the Munich era. Two oceans and six and a half minutes for an Iranian or North Korean ICBM to reach us no more protect us today than they did in 1939 – nor in 9/11 when a ragtag terrorist band planned and executed the death of some 3,000 innocents at long distance from their hideouts in isolated, backward, primitive Afghanistan.

Yes, we are under fire from propaganda [and conspiracy theorists] from various interests with their own agendas. But rest assured that the confusion is so rampant that just as the issue has cut across nominal Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative lines, it is rearranging normally Mideast and international European and Asian players. Russia wants to protect its old Soviet satellite Syrian Mideast legacy but its nominal UN Security Council partner vetoing American action, China, is more interested in keeping Mideast peace so its growing oil and gas import bill doesn’t go through the roof [as its economy slows].which, in turn, would profit their pal {Ras} Putin.. Ditto various U.S. domestic conflicts.

No, there are no easy explanations nor answers. This is a messy affair.

sws-09-08-13

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?

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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.

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