Is This What the Revolution Was All About?
The great promises of the Egyptian revolution appear to be dissipating into a chaotic state of disorder, shattering the prospect of a new democratic and progressive Egypt serving as a model to the rest of the Arab world. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is miserably failing to balance populism with responsible governance and regional leadership. Egypt today appears to be a floundering state with a transitional government that is rapidly losing legitimacy in the eyes of its people and losing credibility in the eyes of the international community.
Security has been a major concern for Israel since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a long and trusted ally. The terror attacks in Southern Israel and Israel’s killing of Egyptian policemen in the Sinai enraged Israeli and Egyptian masses alike, plunging the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty into doubt like never before. On September 16, just more than a week after an Egyptian mob tore down the Israeli flag from the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the walls of the compound were breached and a mob ransacked the embassy, threatening the lives of the Israeli personnel inside. For Egyptian security forces to allow this to occur is inexcusable under any circumstances. It was more than obvious that momentum was building for this attack and yet the internal security sat on their hands doing little to prevent such an egregious violation of diplomatic protocol and Egypt’s international obligation to protect foreign embassies.
The repercussions of the Egyptian governments’ failure of leadership will affect more than its bilateral relations with Israel. It will leave a terrible impression on many other nations, especially the United States and the European Union, on which Egypt so heavily depends. The haphazard nature of the embassy episodes portray a nation in utter turmoil, and a government that is seeking to both placate angry mobs in the name of democracy while presumably fulfilling its international responsibilities. It is clear that the interim Egyptian government must choose a clear and cohesive policy, and not merely react to the mob’s demands. Until it does, the international community will not have confidence in Egypt to serve as a trustworthy regional partner.
The Egyptian authorities are not likely to allow the peace treaty with Israel to collapse, but through their negligence the relationship could deteriorate to a point that could endanger it and let a single event lead to a total collapse. What would happen if under pressure, Hamas provoked Israel into another war in Gaza? How would the Egyptian government response to popular rage then? The upcoming vote on Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, and the expected protests could lead to Egypt’s first test in this regard. Meanwhile in the U.S. Congress, further reports of the strain on Israel-Egypt ties will inevitably lead to greater populist calls for ending aid to Egypt altogether, exactly at a time when it needs the support of the international community to rebuild a battered nation.
Although the transitional government is not supposed to make major foreign policy initiatives but serve as a caretaker until a new government is elected, this government has shifted significantly on major foreign policy issues by seeking to align itself with its traditional rivals, Turkey and Iran. During his visit this week to Egypt, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan delivered a verbal attack on Israel, further fomenting anti-Israeli sentiments on Egyptian soil with the blessing of its government while signing trade agreements to triple commercial ties with Egypt, in an effort to appeal to the Egyptian street.
Further, Egyptian authorities continue to downplay the historical rivalry between Egypt and Iran. Last February 2011, the Egyptian Authority agreed to allow two Iranian war ships to pass through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean heading for Syria. In each case these niceties were not based on any structural foundation of strategic interests and are unlikely to last. If Egypt is to regain regional leadership, it will inevitably resume its role as a rival of both Ankara and Tehran. The last thing the Arab world and Egypt in particular want is a return to Ottoman-style Turkish dominance or to succumb to Iran’s ambition to become a regional hegemon with nuclear power.
At the same time, the Arab Gulf states have become increasingly concerned with Cairo’s posturing. As the nations of the Gulf search for ways to reach a better understanding with Israel over their growing concerns regarding Iran, Egypt is undermining the Sunni Arab alliance. Instead of purposing a coherent foreign policy, the Egyptian government is using Israel as a political football to distract and placate the masses in the short-term, at the expense of its long-term interests.
More than eight months into the revolution, there is still no sign of where Egypt is going in terms of social and economic development. Mubarak was deposed but his colleagues remain in power with different names and titles. Thus it is no surprise that many of the same problems remain. People need jobs, education, health care and a real prospect for better days to come. What has this government done to advance a new socio-economic and political order? Today, doctors, airport employees and engineers have gone on strike, and thousands of teachers and students have demonstrated in the streets.
The government has cracked down on media freedom and reports indicate that Egyptian women are being increasingly sidelined from political participation. Instead of developing at a minimum a two-year plan to lay the foundation for new socio-economic initiatives to create jobs and meet some of the public basic needs, Egypt is floundering, headed for an election for which the newly emerging political parties are not prepared. The public dialogue with these parties is limited and the Muslim Brotherhood could win more than a third of the new parliament. Maybe this is exactly what the military junta wants-a cozy deal with the Brotherhood as long as the military can maintain its supreme authority over national security, foreign policy issues, and its vast economic enterprises. Is this what the Egyptians really want and what the revolution was all about?
As a supporter of Egypt and admirer of its people, it pains me to see Egypt’s s transitional rulers gambling with the nation’s future. The hope that Egypt can emerge from its transition from dictatorship to a secure, stable and prosperous democracy is increasingly dim to the detriment of the people of Egypt and the entire region.