Tuesday, February 22, 2011

France: The challenges of Middle East unrest

Le Monde

PJ: This article was published prior to the resignation of Mubarak and offers a glimpse into the diplomatic efforts that led to the eventual outcome in Egypt.

The Arab wall begins to fall
Freedom makes you giddy
Part way through a revolution, only one thing seemed certain in Egypt: there is no longer an Arab exception to the worldwide desire for dignity, human rights, and possibly democracy
by Alain Gresh

The geopolitics of the Middle East is at risk and several western commentators see a parallel between Egypt and the Iranian revolution in 1979. The weakening of the US position, already discernible in Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, became clearer with the fall of Saad Hariri’s government in Lebanon. Even if peace between Cairo and Tel Aviv survives the present events, it is unlikely that Egypt can maintain its pro-West diplomatic stance. The new Middle East may be very different.

The dilemma for the Obama administration in the US is cruel and insoluble: criticising Mubarak, as the US has done, weakens the position of its ally and strengthens the demonstrators; supporting him would have little effect except to make the demonstrators more anti-American. The White House’s only channel is its close link with the Egyptian army (which receives $1.3bn a year in US military aid). Sent on to the streets to restore order, the army has not, so far, confronted the demonstrators who happily fraternise with it – reminiscent of July 1952 when the Free Officers took power under Nasser. Most significantly, well into the first week of demonstrations, it pledged not to use force against demonstrators.

The army is a major power, especially economically, controlling not only the arms industry but some civilian industries. It provides its officer corps with substantial benefits – hospitals, housing, clubs. Could it seize power? Suppress the revolt? Ask Mohamed ElBaradei to orchestrate the opposition? Or itself lead a transitional government? The only structured force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, played a minor role in the current drama and joined the public struggle only late in the week.

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