Four Middle Eastern Upheavals
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
FoxNews.com title: "Revolution Comes to the Middle East -- A Look at Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen"
After decades of stasis, the Middle East is in uproar. With too much going on to focus on a single place, here's a review of developments in four key countries.
Perhaps Obama will be lucky and Qaddafi will collapse quickly. But no one knows who the rebels are and the open-ended effort could well become protracted, costly, terroristic, and politically unpopular. If so, Libya risks becoming Obama's Iraq – or worse if Islamists take over the country.
Obama wants the United States to be "one of the partners among many" in Libya and wishes he were president of China, suggesting that this war offers a grand experiment for the U.S. government to pretend it is Belgium. I admit to some sympathy for this approach; in 1997, I complained that, time and again, because Washington rushed in and took responsibility for maintaining order, "The American adult rendered others child-like." I urged Washington to show more reserve, letting others come to it and request assistance.
That's what Obama, in his clumsy and ill-prepared way, has done. The results will surely influence future U.S. policy.
Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sponsored a constitutional referendum on Mar. 19 that passed 77-23. It has had the effect of boosting the Muslim Brotherhood as well as remnants of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, while shunting aside the Tahrir Square secularists. In so doing, the new military leadership confirmed its intention to continue with the government's subtle but long-standing collusion with Islamists.
Two facts underpin this collusion: Egypt has been ruled by the military since a 1952 coup d'état; and the so-called Free Officers who carried off that coup themselves had close ties to the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The spirit of Tahrir Square was real and may eventually prevail; but for now, it's business as usual in Egypt, with the government continuing Mubarak's familiar quasi-Islamist line.
As 2011's winds of change reached Syria, crowds yelling Suriya, hurriya ("Syria, freedom") lost their fear of the baby dictator. Panicked, Bashar wove between violence and appeasement. If the Assad dynasty meets its demise, this will have potentially ruinous consequences for the minority Alawi community from which it derives. Sunni Islamists who have the inside track to succeed the Assads will probably withdraw Syria from the Iranian-led "resistance" bloc, meaning that a change of regime will have mixed implications for the West, and for Israel especially.
Yemen: Yemen presents the greatest likelihood of regime overthrow and the greatest chance of Islamists gaining power. However deficient an autocrat and however circumscribed his power, the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh, in office since 1978, has been about as good an ally the West could hope for, notwithstanding his ties to Saddam Hussein and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to exert control over the hinterlands, limit incitement, and fight Al-Qaeda.
His incompetent handling of protests has alienated even the military leadership (from which he comes) and his own Hashid tribe, suggesting he will leave power with little control over what follows him. Given the country's tribal structure, the widespread distribution of arms, the Sunni-Shi'i divide, the mountainous terrain, and impeding drought, an Islamist-tinged anarchy (as in Afghanistan) looms as a likely outcome.
In Libya, Syria, and Yemen – but less so in Egypt – Islamists have opportunities significantly to expand their power. How well will the former Muslim inhabiting the White House,* so adamant about "mutual respect" in U.S. relations with Muslims, protect Western interests against this threat?
April 2, 2011 update: I wrote above that "for now, it's business as usual in Egypt" and the Washington Post confirms this in an article today, "Egypt's military keeping repressive practices in place." Excerpts:
April 6, 2011 update:The military leadership insists that it's business-as-usual. From an Associated Press story, "Egypt's military says no to extremists taking over":
* FoxNews.com changed this phrase to "How well will our president, the current occupant of the White House."
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