I hate to be once again writing about the chaos in Egypt, but it seems as if it will be a topic for some time to come. This week, Mubarak was released from prison while he awaits his other trials. The streets finally got a little quieter after days of violence. The U.S. continues to seem to be missing in action, and the Gulf States (especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar) plus Israel are seemingly on the same page. Quite a mixture!
The U.S. missing in action in foreign policy seems to be a Fait Accompli for this administration, and there is little change that one can expect. First, it has played all the cards wrong since day one. It can easily be argued that Day One was long before the Arab Spring. Always selecting status quo and stability frequently leads to a much larger mess than dealing with the first rumblings of modernization. A lesson the U.S. might want to learn now since there are still plenty of potential “springs” blooming elsewhere.
So, because the U.S. can’t decide how to deal with a split population in Egypt, a bad Muslim Brotherhood government, a military trying to pick up the pieces, and a population that is not at its core a majority of lunatics, the Saudis and Qataris have stepped up to the plate and told Egypt not to worry about money. So the U.S. – whose leverage had greatly disappeared in the past two years – now is truly sitting on the sidelines. As David Ignatius said in his summary of what the Saudis are doing this week, it is in the Al Saud’s interests to keep the military in power and to watch the Muslim Brotherhood be squashed as much as possible. The U.S. should not expect Saudi and Israeli interests to always be ours.
Then there is Israel who would much rather deal with the military and a non-Islamic government as its neighbor than have the Brotherhood back in power and controlling a very large border where Hamas and other unfriendly groups can establish a base and smuggle whatever they want. How many American politicians want to go against the security interests of Israel?
When the revolution started in Egypt, moderate, modern Egyptians who hated the corruption of the Mubarak regime fueled it. If the U.S. had supported that group and encouraged the military then to back the people, who knows where Egypt would be? But the American power base kept quiet and couldn’t decide whether they should support the ideals of the U.S. — democracy, independent judiciary, free press — or whether then they should follow the attitude of the Gulf States and Israel which was to support the status quo. The U.S. government will stay quiet again which probably means we will be watching Egypt for quite some time, and there will be continued chaos in the region since Egypt is only one of the issues in the area. And then there is the West Bank, Syria, Iraq … the Middle East certainly will keep us busy writing!