Saturday 9 March 2013

Gulf States Buy Egyptian Riots

A great deal of reporting on the political unrest in Egypt offers simple explanations fully comprehensible to readers in London, Paris, or New York, couched in the political expressions that those audiences are accustomed to hearing. Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has been depicted as an Islamist with an Islamist agenda who is also an inept leader unable to solve any of Egypt’s manifold problems, most particularly its shrinking economy.

This in turn is producing a revolt of the middle class—which supported genuine reform after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak—as well as of the proletariat and working class, which have seen declines in already marginal standards of living and have been on the receiving end of brutal police crackdowns that have included well-documented instances of torture both in Cairo and in the economically significant governorates adjacent to the Suez Canal.

But the conventional wisdom may not be completely accurate. Washington has evidence that as much as a billion dollars has been clandestinely introduced into Egypt since the June presidential election. The money has gone to some organizers of the riots taking place, including junior Army officers in mufti, to force the regime to react with excessive force and lose what little legitimacy it retains—which is precisely what has happened.

A fatally weakened Morsi government might well have to accept a new regime of national unity that would include the military, which would become the dominant force in the arrangement without having to risk the opprobrium involved in actually forming a government. The primary objective of the new alignment would be to restore order, further enhancing the military’s status. On January 29, the Egyptian Army’s commanding general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, not surprisingly suggested that the army might have to intervene if the civilian government proves incapable of suppressing the rioting.

So who is behind the unrest? The money fueling the confrontation comes from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, none of which are enamored of the Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi. They fear that the untidy democracy, such as it is, in Egypt and elsewhere amid the Arab Spring could spill over to their states, and they desire a return to something like the military-backed regime of Mubarak, which was politically reliable and dedicated to suppressing political extremism and even dissent in all forms. A government of national unity, backed by the army, that would give lip service to democratic institutions would be just fine.

The U.S. government is aware of how the money flowing into Egypt is being used, and it too disapproves of the messy democracy in Egypt. There is some sentiment on the U.S. National Security Council and in the White House favoring a return to something like the Mubarak rule in Egypt, if that could be arranged “democratically,” without sparking a wider conflagration.

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