The gap between dominant Western perceptions of the Middle East and the region’s reality is dangerously wide. While the “Arab Spring” is celebrated as an advance for moderation and democracy, in fact the advance is going to revolutionary Islamists. Developments in Turkey and Egypt especially threaten to plunge the Middle East back into an era of conflict, instability, and the worst threats to Western interests in decades.
There are several things very much predictable about the future of the Middle East area during the next year. First, on June 12, 2011, Turkey will have an election. That election will probably be won by the government, whether or not it gets a two-thirds majority. The current rulers will interpret this as a signal to take a much tougher line toward Israel and the United States. It is possible that the extent of the increase of Turkey’s enmity toward Israel after that election will astonish the world.
If the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) wins a two-thirds majority, this means it will have control of rewriting the Turkish constitution. They will try to create a presidential regime, Erdogan will run for president, and Turkey will move into an increasingly visible alliance with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah. This is not alarmism, it is a serious analysis.
Second, the Palestinian effort at the UN to gain unilateral recognition for a Palestinian state will fail. The United States will veto this, but it will to be a mess, a mess created by the incompetence of the Obama administration, which could have prevented this.
Third, is in regards to Egypt. There is no doubt that the Egyptian revolution is just as significant and just as bad as Iran’s 1979 Islamist revolution. That development so destabilized the region and promoted revolutionary Islamism that it helped lead to six wars (Iran-Iraq; Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait; U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan; Hizballah-Israel war; Hamas-Israel war) and September 11 as well as to various Islamist upheavals, terrorism, and civil wars elsewhere (including in Algeria and Egypt).
Egypt will hold parliamentary elections in September 2011. As of now, the moderate democrats have not organized any serious party. The only serious parties organized are Islamist parties, not only the Muslim Brotherhood but others, and left-wing parties or radical nationalist ones.
THE COMPREHENSIVE TRANSFORMATION OF EGYPT INTO A RADICAL STATE
To put it simply, what has happened in Egypt is not just the undoing of the “Mubarak regime” but the undoing of the “Sadat regime,” that is, the revolution Anwar al-Sadat brought to Egypt in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sadat changed Egypt’s course from being a radical state seeking to destabilize other Arab countries, destroy Israel, and oppose U.S. interests. He deemphasized spreading revolution, made peace with Israel, and allied Egypt with the United States.
Now, with assistance from President Barack Obama, those processes have been undone. Egypt will return to the pre-Sadat era. The only question is the proportion of radical nationalism and Islamism in that mix.
It is not clear whether there will be an Islamist majority, but there will be a radical anti-American majority in parliament. There is no doubt of that. It literally cannot be any other way, so this will have to be covered in the media.
It will be interesting to try to predict what the headlines will look like in the New York Times the day after the election. How will they spin this? What will they say? What can they say about this? This is very, very serious. At that point, it should be clear that the Obama policy has been a catastrophe. He helped bring down the Egyptian regime and the result is a radical anti-American regime that is ready to go into conflict with Israel.
The opening of the Gaza border is one step in that direction. What then does it mean that they are opening the border, even if not now but when a new elected president and parliament take office? It means that weapons, terrorists, and money will flow freely into Gaza.
This in turn means that Hamas will become bolder, and at some point, perhaps in 2011-2012, it will attack Israel with rockets and mortars. Israel will then have to respond militarily. Though at that point, everyone will have to ask the question of what Egypt will do. What will the Egyptian government do? If Amr Moussa is president with a radical parliament or even an Islamist parliament, they could send troops. It could become an Egypt-Israel war.
There are, however, other possibilities. Perhaps they will simply let thousands of Egyptian volunteers go into Gaza to fight. Perhaps it will allow, or not be able to stop, or not try too hard to stop attacks across the Egypt-Israel border. Again, this is not some alarmist fantasy but realistic scenarios that one must be prepared for.
If Amr Moussa, who is not an Islamist or a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, is elected president, will he be able to resist pressure from parliament and the masses in order to maintain a tough stance? Will he want to do so? Instead, won’t he try to take advantage of this to promote his own interests and anti-Israel beliefs? This is especially true, as Egypt’s terrible economic situation would not permit him to offer the masses a better life or even food at current prices.
Now, one can say not to worry, that they won’t do anything because the Egyptian military wants to continue to receive American aid money. That is indeed an argument, but is that enough? Can the entire Middle East strategy be based on that hope?
There have been cases where countries and governments have been willing to give up American aid for political goals. Remember that the Iranian revolution threw away all the American aid and military sales. Thus merely to maintain that everything will be fine because of that money issue is not a satisfactory argument. Moreover, one must keep in mind that Egypt is going to face a major economic crisis for which there is no solution, and no amount of U.S. aid is going to resolve that problem. The price of food will continue to increase.
The Egyptians will not be able to build new housing. They will not be able to handle the problem of unemployment. They will not be able to create jobs. This is the reality. What then will happen when–as is fully predictable–Egypt’s government is unable to deliver on its promises and the country goes into crisis?
This turn of events is completely predictable; and yes, they are being ignored in the media. Now the new line is that the Muslim Brotherhood are “good guys” and moderates, while the problem is the radical jihadi Salafi groups. The Muslim Brotherhood is good; jihadists are bad; but the Muslim Brotherhood is a jihadi group and is an alliance with these groups. It is thus ridiculous to make this distinction.
Thus, a series of totally predictable crises lie ahead, yet there has been no serious analysis of the problems–much less the solutions–by the U.S. government, media, experts, and the public debate generally. Moreover, even those three crises leave aside other issues. As of June 2011, the U.S. government has still not done anything at all on Syria. Sanctions on Iran are leaking, and the three main reasons for this…
Barry Rubin’s latest books areLebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan),Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge),The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition ofThe Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan),A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), andThe Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).