Two questions for you about Egypt

1.  Faced with a popular revolt of the type we’re seeing in Egypt, can an American president make a difference?

My sense is that, while we’re certainly not going to drop bombs, the American president (any president, not just Obama) is such a vast presence that both his silence and his speech matter.  His bully pulpit is so large that, by appearing to support one side or another, either through silence or affirmative statements, he can affect the momentum within the other country.  What’s your point of view?  This is separate from whether Obama is being inept.  After all, if anything he does is meaningless theater, his ineptitude, if it exists, is irrelevant.

2.  What do you think will happen in Egypt?

I think that, while the average Egyptian on the street is not an Islamist (meaning he’s not committed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s jihadist goals), he really doesn’t know what he wants beyond not wanting the current situation.  That vagueness creates a vacuum, and I think the MB is poised to fill that vacuum.  If it does, I predict that, in four months, (a) Egypt will have sharia law; (b) Egypt will abrogate the treaty with Israel and attack; and (c) there’s a 50% chance that the Islamists will let their hostility to the Wets override their economic self-interest and shut down the Suez Canal.  Of course, if Mubarek can hang on long enough for a peaceful transition, maybe something good will come of all this.

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  • David Foster

    (off-topic)…Book, you were asking about REITs. The current Forbes (2/14 issue) has an article on REITs  by Peter Slatin.

  • Charles Martel

    I think Obama has pretty much spent down the prestige of the U.S. presidency. The Egyptian man on the street has no access to honest news, and I doubt that he spends much time at all thinking about the U.S. or Obama.

    The only thing I can think of that Obama could do right now that might make foreign heads of state look up is to assert military power. But against whom and with what?

    Regarding other developments that might come to pass:

    I think it would be a lot harder to enforce sharia among 85 million people than the MB thinks. Throw in 8 million Copts, many of whom will take up arms if forced, and imposing a tyranny will not be a cakewalk.

    Egypt really has nothing to attack Israel with. No matter how well they are armed, Arab armies are incompetent. If Egypt really wants to push the matter, I’m sure an Israeli nuke dropped as a warning just outside of Port Said might change its mind.

    Even our nancy boy prez would probably join the Brits, French and other nations in slapping down any Egyptian attempt to close the Suez Canal. Heck, if the UN would spare some of its crack pedophiles, we could see mankind’s last best hope helping to keep the canal open.

  • stanley

    The news is reporting that Obama is “greenlighting” MB participation in the government. The bully pulpit of the US presidency is not what it was, and the fact it is Obama reduces its aura of power even more. What is more important is who is the Egyptian military and what do they want? The MB cannot come to power without their permission and cooperation, and unlike the Egyptian intelligence the military has the respect of the people.
    This is a well grounded article and brought up several major points that helps to allay my fears that the groundwork for WW III is being laid:

  • 94Corvette

    I was in Argentina in the early 80’s with the first visit to Buenos Aires by the US Navy in decades.  The officers on my ship sat down with our counterparts from the Argentinean Navy for dinner and we discussed their country and their return to ‘normal’ after Juan and Evita Peron.  As we sat drinking coffee after our meal, it became very apparent that they were just like you and me.  They wanted freedom, a chance to raise their children in safety and a hope for the future.  I think that can be said about the majority of people in Egypt as well.
    A lesson they shared was that an effective dictator does not allow the development of politicians or leaders who could pose a threat to their reign and so, when the dictator falls, often there is no one to fill that vacuum.  In the case of Argentina, that vacuum was filled by the military and believe it or not, it was a role that they did not want to assume.  On one hand, they supported their Constitution and it forbade them from taking control.  On the other hand, they were sworn to protect their country from enemies from without and within and they saw their homeland being torn apart by anarchists.  They took the position that taking control was the lesser of the two evils.
    I think that is the dilemma the Egyptian Army is facing.  Other than the Muslim Brotherhood, they are the only organization with the structure to effective take control.  From what I have heard, they are respected by the general population.  They have shown restraint in these early days of protest.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming days. 
    I do hope that the US does not repeat what we have done time and time again; we quietly support the revolution but at the last minute, we abandon those seeking to change the status quo and leave them hanging in the wind (witness the recent uprising in Iran). 
    These are frightening times and I would sleep better if we had more experienced and mature leadership.  (And I don’t think that having the principals over for a beer summit will work this time.)   

  • Mike Devx

    Ah, we just have to convince Obama that the Muslim Brotherhood want to become fellow Americans, and come here and vote Republican.  Then he’ll go after them with eyes glaring, all guns blazing, no quarter given, with merciless assaults and intent to utterly destroy.
    Aside from that, I guess he’s hoping that because of that Cairo speech where he said Good Things, they’ll just play nice and cuddly. And chant along with him, “Imagine all the non-Republican people, living life in peace,  woo-hoo, you may say I’m a dreamer…”

  • Ymarsakar

    The influence and power of the President’s words is based upon actual status and willingness to carry through. Obama has almost zero of both.
    However, the Arabic mentality finds it hard to separate out the “Old US” from the “New US”, so they might think that we are all on the same ball. But we aren’t. Bush is not Obama, though Obama may be attributed Bush’s hard line success in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan.

  • Charles

    Questions Number 1, Can an American President make a difference?

    Yes, the office of the President of the US can make a difference. The US is the world superpower and our influence carries to every corner of the globe.  So, it is natural that our chief executive would carry such “power.” How the office holder uses or abuses or doesn’t use that power is what is usually up for debate.  One advantge that we have by having a “revolution” every four years is that no matter how badly that office is used the next office holder has the chance to undo the damage.

    Question Number 2, What will happen in Egypt?

    I’m optimistic here (okay, maybe I’m like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand). But, I see Egypt as one of the more “modern” and certainly more cosmopolitan of the Arab countires.  Many of the TV soaps that the rest of the Arab world see as “decadent” come from Egypt.

    Watching the TV news I have noticed that many of the signs carried by demonstrators in Cairo are written in English, many of the TV reporters seem to have no problem with finding ordinary Egyptians who are not only willing to talk with them but also speak English.  While this might not sound like a very big deal I think it is, it doesn’t matter that they learned English in a state run school, just knowing enough English to express themselves, in the manner in which they have, to the foreign press shows that they have some exposure to “outside” ideas. 

    The YouTube video showing the demonstrations set to music that has gone viral around the world is quite sophisticated; again this is from exposure to ouside ideas and influences. This is a good thing.

    News reports and stories I have heard from folks who have visited Egypt have also stated that while Egypt is an “arab” country they are also very proud of their ancient past.  That means that there is a history there that they can see that is not a strict islamic fundamentalist past.

    Egyptians have had access to Al Jazeera and have seen what has taken place in the rest of the world; especially Iraq and Afghanistan.  Muslim countries actually having elections that matter.  This fact means a lot to many around the world – peace, democracy, and human rights are possible.

    The Egyptian military has been showing great restraint in dealing with the demonstrations in Cairo.  Ordinary Egyptians are protecting their own neighborhoods from looters.  Both of these show that some Egyptians care enough about their property, their neighborhoods, and their country to “do the right thing.”

    Egypt is at peace with Israel, even though it was some very large carrots that brought Saddat to the peace table, this has to count for something.

    Yes, if there is a power vacuum then the Muslim Brotherhood could take advantage of that.  The US President and the rest of the West can, and should, do what is necessary to aid Egpyt from sinking into such a chaotic state to avoid such an outcome.  Heaven help us all in that regard as I don’t have much faith in Obama to do anything, or to even have the slightest idea as to what to do.  But, I think there are enough folks in power in the various levels of government in Egypt to prevent this. (I say that last part while crossing my fingers for good luck)

    Lastly, and this also answers your first question, I think that historians will see this as part of the “Bush doctrine” in which George W. Bush (you know, that “wild gun-slinging, reckless cowboy”) expressed his belief that democracy and human rights are universal and not incompatiable with arab/muslim culture.

    While some of the wikileaks reports were the catalyst for the “revolt in Tunisia”; Bush (an American President) used the office of the US President to talk about change.  This “talk” was heard in many parts of the arab/muslim world.  So, yes, the US presidency does have influence in world affairs.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Stanley, that was a remarkable and encouraging article to which you linked. I always take what Col. Ralph Peters has to say very seriously.

  • Owen

    “I think that, while the average Egyptian on the street is not an Islamist (meaning he’s not committed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s jihadist goals), he really doesn’t know what he wants beyond not wanting the current situation.”

    Not sure this is the case, but even if it is, what matters more if what the people the average Egyptian holds as credible want. That maybe the MB or it may be others. To speak rather loosely, I wonder about the desires and influence of the “connected” class (those who have regular acccess to telecoms and esp the internet and use it).

    If these people have influence, the MB or other groups will have a more difficult time shaping critical opinion to suit their aims. Of course if critical public opinion largely matches up with their aims, that does not apply. In that case, there will not be a vacuum, as the MB will be aligned with the people.

    The role and attitudes of the military are critical. As long as the military retains credibility, there will not be a real vacuum to exploit. So far, they seem to be doing that.

    Basically, in the internet age, vacuums are not what they used to be.

    But even if Egypt turns Islamist, the other predictions I view as very unlikely, especially in four months. Taking such radical steps as attacking Isreal and shutting down the Suez canal would require a military shake-up that would not resove itself within 4 months to allow such attacks to take place.

    It is hard to believe that the military would go into the tank so heavily for the Islamists to want to carry out such steps and would take such leave of their senses that they would think they could do it. (Even the IRGC has not been that radical.)

    Whatever happens in Egypt will take much longer than 4 months to settle out. The dangerous period in these situations is not the first few months — it’s 6 months to a year or more down the line, when the “new normal” has had a chance to sink in.

  • Oldflyer

    I really believe that the Army is the key.  There has to be a period of stability, after the country knows that Mubarak is stepping down, in which democratic forces can organize. Then the Army has to step aside.
    I see two potential problems.
    One, Mubarak loses control, chaos persists, and the Army is ineffective.  This opens the gates for the one organized entity–the Muslim Brotherhood.  (Would Iran back them?  Shiite and Sunni joining hands?)  Others have commented that if the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal were both dominated by anti-western forces, it could bring economies around the world to their knees.  Among other bad results.
    Secondly, the Army restores order, Mubarak leaves but the Army does not step aside; leading to a military dictatorship.  This would not necessarily be a bad thing for the U.S. and Israel in the short-term;  but it would get a lot of underwear knotted up.  In the longer term it could lead to a worse situation, with an even stronger backlash.

  • Don Quixote

    Personal opinions:

    1.  What the President says only matters to the extent he is willing to act & this president is not willing to act.

    2.  The sky is falling.  Nothing good will come of what is happening in Egypt.  I do think you are wrong about the attack on Israel, because they’d get creamed if they were foolish enough to try it.  Okay, that might be a “good” that comes of it.


    Faced with a popular revolt of the type we’re seeing in Egypt, can an American president make a difference?

    Yes, he can make it much worse. Obama has been tag teaming with El Baradei calling for Mubarak  to exit and quickly – all the while the Egyptian military is still in the midst of sorting out who and what replaces Mubarak.

    This is the same aggressive, don’t give a damn what you think, that the admin. took with health care. The difference is that we fight back through the courts – in Egypt it will be a street fight.

  • Ymarsakar

    Sadie, Obama’s hoping they’ll bring a gun to the street fight and end it fast, so it won’t be his problem any more. That way he can have more Golf Time!!!!!