Saturday, January 29, 2011


Egypt is a very important country. Along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt is our most important ally in the Arab world, Israel’s most important Arab friend, and it sits astride the strategically-vital Suez Canal. It has 80 million people, ranking 15th in the world, and its economy is the 26th largest. In my 2006 list of most important countries ("Top 15" and "Next 25"), Eqypt ranked #23, just outside the now-magic "Group of 20".

Egypt is also home to the Muslim Brotherhood, a key opponent of modernism and Islamic reform in the Arab world, and a significant influence on the thinking of al Queda’s Osama bin Laden.

Johns Hopkins’ Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shiite by background, writes of Egypt that it had been
the trendsetter in Arab politics, in its self-image the place where all things modern in Arab life—the cinema, radio, women's emancipation, parliamentary life, mass politics, forced industrialization—had begun. The sight of Tunisians. . . taking to the streets and deposing their tyrant, both shamed and emboldened the Egyptians. They had wearied of the large prison that [President Hosni] Mubarak had constructed for them.
Ajami warns:
Revolts of this kind are always a gamble on the unknown. At bottom, they are an attempt at self-purification, a society wishes to be done with the stain of submission to a dictator's transgressions. Amid the tumult, what is so clear today is the hatred felt for the ruler and his immediate family. Reigns like Mr. Mubarak's devour the green and the dry, as a favored Arab expression has it.
From his current Davos Switzerland perch, Washington Post columnist (and Harvard lover) David Ignatius offers this view of America’s control over events:
this is a post-American revolution, encouraged in part by a recognition of the limits of U.S. power. The unrest follows a series of American failures in the region. President Obama promised change. But he couldn't bring Israel and the Palestinians to a peace agreement, and couldn't counter Hezbollah in Lebanon or its patron, Iran. America is not the stopper in the bottle anymore, and the Arab man in the street knows it.
Ignatius fears that:
revolutions are always attractive in their infancy, when freedom is in the air and the rebellion seems spontaneous. But from the French and Russian revolutions to the Iranian uprising of 1979, the idealistic but disorganized street protesters usually give way to a manipulative revolutionary elite.
Hard to stand by and just watch what happens to many friends, along with America’s total foreign aid investment of $70 billion (sources here and here).

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