Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Egypt's Re-emergence Might Mean

Asia Times published an excellent essay from former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar that expounds on the various ramifications of Egypt's "Arab Spring": its role in sponsoring the Hamas-Fatah deal (which was signed in Cairo today), its decision to unilaterally end the blockade of Gaza by opening the Rafah checkpoint, its reaching out to Iran, and its thumbing its nose to Saudi concerns about a "Shiite Crescent."

In essence, having divested itself of Mubarak, Egypt is now re-establishing its rightful place as the king-pin of the Arab world.  This has the potential to alter radically the geopolitical power relationships in the Middle East, with one major effect being that, for Israel and the US, there will be no more business as usual.

For the US in particular, Egypt's re-emergence poses a special dilemma: balancing consideration of American values (which, we're always told, stand for democracy, human rights, and self-determination) with American interests (essentially, Israel and oil).  Egypt is still a work in progress, of course, and it's likely that the Egyptian military will continue to hold some of the high cards in whatever emerges as its new form of government (i.e., if a democracy emerges, it may be more on the Turkish than the American model, with the military seeing itself as the guardian of the state).  But as Bhadrakumar points out, the military now is being responsive to the general mood of the public - which opposes Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and ongoing efforts to cripple Hamas, resents the US's unquestioning support of Israel, supports Palestinian self-determination, wants the US to butt out of Egypt's affairs and Middle Eastern affairs in general, and accepts the inclusion of overtly Islamist parties in political life.

If it is to remain true to its alleged values, the US will step away and let the Egyptians wrestle with the challenges they now face.  And to the extent that Egypt's progress toward democracy needs to rest on a strengthened economic foundation, the US should continue its financial assistance.  But you can bet that Mr. Obama is already taking some flak from Congressmen, fueled by the Israel lobby's political pressure and financial inducements, demanding that the US put a hold on further aid to Egypt as long as the Egyptians continue to support the new reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

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