Fouad Ajami: Egypt & The Role Of Reversal In The Greater Near East

On July 22, 2010 I posted an essay surmising the near death and political paralysis of Egypt during the crisis that is Honsi Mubarak.  Other critical analysts are now weighing the future that is becoming of Egypt.  Faoud Ajami’s op-ed in today’s (July 26, 2010) Wall St. Journal portrays a dangerous imploding autocracy that has not flourished in the intimate embrace of Western tutelage.  Instead, the regimes internal dynamics, assisted in part by imploding demographics, open borders and wireless technology place Egypt on a path of reversal unbecoming an ally.  The West has proven itself worthy of Egypt’s political integrity yet this nation has not embarked on libertarian policies to assist in its transformation out of autocracy.

How did Egypt get to this impasse?

Mubarak was present on the day assassins took the life of Sadat.  The band of plotters ruled by Lt. Khalid Islambouli had no coherent plan to rule after the seizure of power, for they only wished to provide an example of apostasy in hope that successors would acknowledge and build Egypt in line with Koranic principals.

Instead, Mubarak was the unassuming choice to guide Egypt post Anwar Sadat.  Mubarak would internalized the political template of his predecessor, and in doing so, would confound militants.  “In the years at the helm, Mubarak would stick to the big choices Sadat had made:  He would stay in the orbit of the Pax Americana, he would maintain the ‘cold peace’ with Israel.  The authoritarian state, with the army as its mainstay, would keep its grip on political power.” The question is, would it be enough?

We can now see in the balance that, any centralized political agenda would be undone by the ruling passions engendered in decentralized digital media.  Mubarak anticipated such in his limited public display toward American largess.  He understood the anti-Western, anti-colonial inheritance of his countrymen.  Still, Mubarak knew of a fault line intrinsic to Egyptian political survival.  He alone would midwife the agenda ruling the future of Egypt.  We are now witnessing the limits to such bifurcated self determination.  For throughout Egyptian domestic life lay the pious sentiments of traditionalists  who fervently believe that Egypt’s future lay in relations with a greater Arabia.  The order of Pax America exacerbated the schizoid life of ordinary Egyptians, most especially in light of the glorious history embodied at Giza.  Mubarak’s own political compass was informed from the very duality that became Egypt.  He personally attended the funeral of Yetzhak Rabin while permitting anti-semitic rages in his own populace.  He never personally defended the modernist course that ruled Egypt.  He was no Kemal Ataturk, or for that matter an Iraqi Hussein.  A cautious, suspicious autocrat by nature; he fit the calculations of his western Masters.  Can such sophisticated acumen benefit Egypt’s future in light of the passionate commitment that is fundamentalism?  We are nearly to find out.

One thing is clear.  Egypt’s immediate future is balanced between two poles, a Janus like embrace of a radical militant Muslim Brotherhood fashioned in opposition to complacent authoritarian rule.  Nothing has grown in the middle.  As a result, he has “left Egypt prey to the doubts and dark thoughts that cripple the life of Oriental despots.”                         He dangerously let loose on Egypt a steady speculation fit for an archaic milieu.

Mubarak’s fickle authoritarian rule has propounded a crisis that may undue Egypt near term, for in ruling a police state he hunted down political enemies and created the fundamentalist mindset that is today’s Al Qaeda.  The Cairene of aristocratic pedegree is Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Ladin’s most loyal follower.  Captured, tortured and turned, he made he way to the Afghan Jihad rising in command and stature.  The same for Omar Abdul Rahman.  He quit his native country of Egypt for Brooklyn.  All channelled their furies into vile hatred for The Great Satan.  Although no great upheavals have taken place in Egypt, Mubarak’s ruling autocracy may very well destroy itself in sustaining its own perverted status.

There is great irony in such a stasis, for Egypt led the march into modernity.  Egyptian primacy can be traced back to Napoleon and the rivals that became of French influence throughout the region.  Sadat himself was born into that world of Parisian ideals so lovingly depicted in Hollywood films like Casablanca.  But all of this is now past.  The furies that rage this Continent and beyond will make a reckoning. Many other Arab nations have gone their way and “negotiated their own terms” with both the Great Satan and rising militants.  Such is the world of dubious statecraft in unstable autocracies.

Egypt now embodies a growing disappointment that the reckoning may undo Egyptian life itself.  We are witnessing a bitter resentment of a large country at the crossroads of three continents.  Egyptian Arabs know the possibility of unimaginable horror.

One thing is certain:  “Egypt needed and deserved something better and more ennobling than a tyrant’s sterlie peace.”

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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