Spotlight on Geopolitics

Egypt: Ex Oriente Lux

After almost one week of tribulations, the European Commission has officially announced that it will put together aid packages to help smooth Tunisia’s and Egypt’s transition to democracy. The United States and Israel are still claiming that sticking with the “devil you know” could prove a better option, in spite of evidence to the contrary from the streets of Cairo. One cannot help wondering what the experts of a superpower were doing prior to the upheavals in the Arab world and why a country still clinging to its leader-of-the-free-world position did not have contingency plans to deal with such developments. More on that later.

In Egypt, President Mubarak is playing for time. None of his hastily put together policy initiatives and declarations have worked. After the fall of the Ceausescu regime, many of his former supporters claimed that his personal rule could have been saved if only he would have given pensioners some more money and the population some more food in the shops. Mubarak tried to correct the mistake of his former pal by announcing a 15 percent increase in pensions and state employees’ salaries. Who said dictators never learn ?

With the blood of 300 victims on his hands, the Mubarak regime is now well and truly on its way out. Any delay in giving up his position only makes protesters angrier and more determined. If not careful, Mubarak stands to lose much more than his position : he could be tried for the deaths provoked by his thugs and/or have his assets frozen and redistributed among the 40 million poor he denied social justice to for so long.

What is sure is that 85 million Egyptians cannot be kept in economic destitution and lack of freedom any longer in order to soothe Israel’s security worries. The United States should clearly understand this, as well as the situation of moral hazard to which it has subjected the Arab world for decades. European Union leaders have been trying to explain the pitfalls of such policies to US and Israeli officials, but they fell on deaf ears. As of 2002, so has the Secretary-general of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. In so doing, he has attracted the ire of highly-placed State Department officials, who for a while now have been planning the dismantling of the UN altogether and its replacement with a more understanding “Concert of Democracies”.

Democratising Egypt is, to be sure, a daunting task. Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, as well as an ambitious and proud people, even if poor. Accordingly, there is no danger – as President Sarkozy has voiced it – of an Iranian-type development on the banks of the Nile. True, Western-style parties are weak and ineffective and they are quarrelling with each other. But the Muslim Brotherhood is highly respected in the country and Egypt’s youth – who represent 56 percent of the country’s population – seem determined to help change the country for the better.

Fortunately, Egypt has a model it can emulate: the Islamic democracy of Turkey. Western models would not work in Egypt, but the Turkish model might. The Turks have demonstrated to the world that an Islamic government in power does not automatically make a country an enemy of the West, being more stable and less corrupt than the military or personal dictatorships supported so far by the US. I have been hammering this message in the international press since 1998, and I am delighted that Mr Erdogan’s policies have proven the validity of that assessment.

I am now about to take a chance on Egypt and recommend to EU policymakers to accept the democratisation of Egypt along Islamic lines without misgivings or fear. In the long run, this might prove a more productive political development than all other arrangements masterminded by the West or at least supported by it. In so doing, we might finally be able to put an end to the clueless “clash of civilisations” spectre, which has been the scarecrow of choice in IR since the nineties. (sources: The Economist, Le Monde, Deutsche Welle, EVZ, Reuters, The Guardian)

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