Sunday, February 13, 2011

Egypt's future

The crystal ball is ver cloudy regarding Egypt.

Anyone who makes hard and fast predictions about the future of Egypt, much less the Middle East, will probably look foolish in a few weeks. It is equally unrealistic to prophecy doom and disaster and to prophecy a rosy and democratic future.

If the Egyptian revolt heralds a new democratic era, than of course it is a great event in the history of the Middle East, an event that will encourage peace and prosperity.

Those who seek to promote "stability" through dictatorships need to remember that despotisms usually end in revolutions and that in the long run, no situation in which most of the people are unhappy can be stable if they have a more promising model. Others should be aware that it is likely that in any country of the Middle East,, and especially in Egypt, most of the people will probably be desperately unhappy in any regime: The nationalists and modernizers will be unhappy under an Islamist regime, the Islamists will be unhappy under a nationalist or Westernized regime and most people will be desperately poor for the foreseeable future under any regime.

In the best case, Egypt and Tunisia will serve as examples for their neighbors in the Middle East, and we will, as Elliot Abrams predicted recently, see a chain of such popular revolts across the region. Al_Jazeera commentators see an "Arab Intifada." Such scenarios are unlikely.

The situation is fluid. It is easier to start a revolution than to know where it will end, and most of the "experts" have thus far been wrong about Egypt. At this moment Egypt is formally ruled by the army, a situation which has existed in fact since the Nasser coup. The army, as usual in such cases, promises reform and democratic elections. The promises may or may not be fulfilled. <

More at Scenarios for Egypt

Is Egrpt like Iran?

The Iranian government and every radical group outide Egypt was us to believe that Egypt isundergoing anIslamic revolution, but that may not be the case. At least some Egyptians do not seem to think so. This article is from the Egyptian journal Al Ahram.

Egypt is not Iran

Far from bringing comfort to the Iranian leadership, Egypt's revolution is inspiring Iran's democratic opposition, writes Rasha Saad

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Popular and political forces in Egypt vehemently criticised statements made by Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei last week that described the Egyptian uprising as "Islamic" and linked it to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

During his Friday prayer sermon, Khamenei was quoted as saying that "the riots in Tunisia and Egypt are a sign of the Islamic awakening in the world following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran."

"After years of struggle, the Iranian people see that their voice is heard with strength in other regions in the Islamic world," Khamenei added.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul- Gheit said Khamenei should be attentive to calls for freedom in Iran rather than "distracting the Iranian people's attention by hiding behind what is happening in Egypt."

The Egyptian foreign minister said that "Iran's critical moment has not yet come, but we will for watch that moment with great anticipation and interest."

Khamenei's statements caused uproar from Egyptian demonstrators in Tahrir Square, who protested against what they saw as Iranian interference in Egyptian affairs.

"Egypt will never be another Iran. We will never be ruled by a theological dictatorship as is the case in Iran," one of the protesters told a cheering crowd.

Leading demonstrators also said that they wanted to establish a democratic and not an Islamist Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt's main opposition groups and accused by some Egyptian officials as having been behind the uprising, rejected Khamenei's statements.

The Brotherhood's website editor Khaled Hamza said that the uprising in Egypt was a revolution carried out by the Egyptian people and that it was not linked to Islamist tendencies.

Hamza said that the Egyptian protests were not part of an Islamist uprising, but instead were a mass protest against an unjust, autocratic regime. The protests included Egyptians from all walks of life and all religions and sects, he said.

Al-Azhar, the highest religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, also said in a statement that it strongly condemned "Iran's policies, which rely on clerics issuing calls that are at odds with the principles of Islam and which blatantly violate the Quran and the prophetic traditions."

"Al-Azhar totally rejects any foreign intervention in Egyptian domestic affairs, as well as any instrumentalisation of the legitimate demands of the loyal young people of Egypt."

It warned against playing on people's religious faith in order to spread instability.

According to an Iranian source close to the country's diplomatic circles, Khamenei's statements revealed "a total misreading of the situation in Egypt."

The source told Al-Ahram Weekly in an interview that the statements were further proof that the Iranian leadership was "living in its own bubble, unaware of what is happening outside".

The source said that Iranians who have been following Egyptian affairs and former Iranian diplomats have been calling on the Iranian leadership to set up a centre for Egyptian studies, since there was little understanding of Egypt in Iran. However, these calls had not been answered.

The world as a whole has been taken by surprise over recent weeks, as millions of Egyptians have joined protests led by the country's young people in an uprising against the regime that has included Muslims and Copts and men and women from the upper, middle and lower classes.

No Islamist slogans have been in evidence during the protests, and no Islamist radicals have been seen as taking the lead, the source pointed out.

"On the contrary, the uprising might be the beginning of the end of Islamism in Egypt," the source said.

However, analysts have nevertheless expressed concerns that it is still too early to say how the uprising in Egypt could develop.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution could serve as a model for those wishing to hijack religion and use it in a political struggle, as did Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters in Iran after 1979.

Ali Alfoneh, an Iran analyst and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Weekly in an interview that the Iranian Revolution should serve as a warning to activists in the Middle East.

A broad political alliance had brought about the revolution against the Shah's regime in Iran, he said, but following this victory Khomeini and his followers had managed to exclude moderate and democratic elements from the new regime.

"This should teach pro-democracy activists in Egypt a lesson about what could happen the day after the victory of a revolution in Egypt. Will they get a democratic regime, or will they get something worse than the regime they have toppled?" Alfoneh asked.

He also said that the events that took place in Iran in 1979 had lessons for President Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian armed forces.

The Shah had worked to modernise Iran, as presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar El-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak had done, but he had denied the right to democratic participation to the Iranian public, leading to a radicalisation of the population.

The Shah had not begun to liberalise the regime until the crowds were in the streets demanding his ousting, and by this time the liberal reforms were seen as being concessions from a regime that had already collapsed, further emboldening the opposition.

"The lessons to Egyptian officials are clear: first, stabilise the situation, and then introduce real reforms designed to liberalise the political system," Alfoneh said.

Alfoneh said that the Egyptian army should learn from the experience of the Iranian armed forces that had cooperated with Khomeini. While Khomeini granted the leaders of the army amnesty before his seizure of power, he later had them arrested and shot after the victory of his faction in the revolution.

The leadership in Iran has long seen itself as being in the vanguard of the Middle East and an inspiration to the Arabs.

According to Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the leadership in Iran has long believed that should the region's autocratic regimes fall they will be replaced by Islamist governments similar in nature to that in Iran.

"Right now they're struggling to spin the protests in Egypt accordingly," Sadjadpour said in an interview with the Weekly.

Sadjadpour said that some people romanticise Iran like some Latin Americans romanticised Castro's Cuba in the 1960s and 70s, or that some European intellectuals romanticised the Soviet Union in the mid- 20th century, seeing these as austere political orders that they were ready to applaud from afar but which they hardly wished upon themselves.

"If Egypt is able to make the transition to democratic government, it could dramatically alter the regional dynamics of the last three decades," he said.

"The dominant narrative would then no longer be Arabs being inspired by Iranian fundamentalism, but Iranians being inspired by Arab democracy. For this reason I think that the Iranian opposition is far more excited about events in Egypt than the Iranian regime."

According to some reports, the spin that the Iranian leadership has tried to put on events in Egypt is actually a reaction of fear, since many Iranians have likened the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to the revolts in Iran after the 2009 presidential elections.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist Iranian politician and leader of Iran's Green Movement, has likened the protests in Egypt and Tunisia to those in Iran in 2009 on his Website, declaring the Arab revolutions as a continuation of Iran's Green Movement.

"Undoubtedly, the starting point of what we are witnessing in the streets of Tunis, Sanaa, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez should be seen in the Iranian protests," he wrote.

Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, both former Iranian presidential candidates, have issued calls for a rally to take place in Tehran's Azadi Square, the site of mass protests by Iran's opposition movement after the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Despite the fact that Iran's constitution allows for peaceful demonstrations, it is doubtful that the government of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will allow opposition protests, for fear of a re- eruption of the Green Movement in the country.