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The US and Israel Can Ill-Afford to Lose Egypt?

USA and Israel, Can ill-afford to lose Egypt?protest

By Asif Haroon Raja

Propelled by the happenings in Tunisia, the youth of Egypt decided to take to the streets. Protests started in Cairo on 25 January and soon spread to Alexandria and other cities. Police and paramilitary forces resorted to brutal actions to disperse the crowds and killed and injured people in dozens but the strength of protestors kept swelling. Their main slogans were ‘go Mubarak go’ and ‘liberation and democracy’. When fatalities reached the figure of over 300 and hundreds got injured, Mubarak handed over security to the Army and curfew was imposed. Defying the curfew, on 4 February one million people gathered at Tahrir Square in Cairo and camped there saying that they would not vacate it till President Mubarak resigned. Saturation of Tahrir with sea of people paralyzed the flow of traffic. The Egyptian Army emulated Tunis Army’s example and refused to shoot at the surging crowds and was satisfied that no anti-Army slogan was raised by the protesters.

82-year old Hosni dug his heels and refused to abdicate power despite surging pressure of the people and USA and key western countries veering away from him. His pledge to quit in September to ensure orderly transition was neither welcomed by the protesting Egyptians nor the world leaders including Obama. All favored swift and credible transition to democracy. His nomination of Lt Gen Suleiman Omar as his vice president on 29 January, dissolution of cabinet and recreation of fresh cabinet under new PM and his promise to carryout reforms didn’t calm down the people.

When Hosni addressed the nation late night on 10 February, contrary to the expectations of all that he will announce his resignation, he expressed his resolve not to quit till election of new president. After jeering at him the whole night, when the crowds started moving towards the presidential palace in Heliopolis menacingly, Hosni decided to throw in the towel, hand over the reins to Omar and to shift to his private residence in Sharm el Sheikh. The 18-day revolt of the youth launched with a revolutionary zeal without the support of a political party or a central leader ended on a victorious note on 11th night.

There were countrywide celebrations which are still continuing. While bulk has moved out of Tahrir Square under constant goading by the army, the diehards are not ready to move out till completion of transition to democracy. They say that they had not made sacrifices to replace a dictator with another one. The parliament has been dissolved and the constitution suspended. The situation is still in a flux since the army is taking its time and wants to continue with Hosni’s policies till completion of transition and formation of new government. The people are demanding release of political prisoners, lifting of state of emergency, closure of military courts, fair and free elections and swift handover of power to civil government.

Throughout the popular uprising, the US helplessly watched the unfolding events and made no effort to defuse the crisis. The west took a similar stance and asked Hosni to hasten the process of transition. Rather, it kept pressing Hosni for speedy and fulsome reforms and asked the Army to show restraint. It was apparent that America had given up aging president and was looking for a younger and fresh replacement.

Irrespective of its stance taken, fall of America’s protégés in Tunisia and in Egypt in a space of one month has consternated the Americans. One of the pillars of the US Middle East twin-pillar policy based on Saudi Arabia and Iran had crashed in March 1979 and ever since Iran is anti-America. It’s most trusted ally Turkey has started to distance itself from USA, EU and Israel and is moving towards the east after seeing double standards of the west in response to Peace Flotilla episode near Gaza coast. Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon have emerged as serious challenges to its strategic partner Israel while Iran is hastening to become a nuclear power.

Saudi Arabia’s King is also unhappy over the US dubious role in Egyptian crisis and is having second thoughts that like Hosni he too could be ditched by USA in case such a situation occurs in his country. In protest, he has extended a hand of friendship to Iran. Israel too is displeased since it kept urging Washington to play a pro-active role to save Hosni. It can ill-afford to have anti-Israeli regime in Cairo supportive of Hamas and can also not afford to lose oil and gas supply from El-Arish in Egypt’s North Sinai to Ashkelon on cheaper rates.

Under the circumstances, the US can ill-afford to lose the most populous and powerful Arab country which has proved to be a reliable ally. Egypt is strategically important since it controls vital Suez Canal which acts as a transition point between the Mediterranean and Red Sea; Ras Banas Base provides excellent landing facilities to US Special Forces to tackle any untoward situation in vital Middle East region; it is a secular state and is anti-Islamists and bounded by a peace treaty with Israel; it has influence both in Arab and African world. The US as well as Israel cannot afford to have an anti-American regime in Cairo since their stakes in Middle East are very high. Now that the heat of popular revolt has subsided, The US will try to hijack the movement and bring in a protégé of its choice.

The prospects of oppressed political parties in Egypt that had a small presence in the legislature to form next government have brightened up. These include Akhwan al Muslimeen which is the largest Islamic party in the Arab world, centre-right Wafd, the left-wing Progressive Unionist Party, centre-left Nasserite Party, Al-Ghad, and Kifaya. No sooner these conservative parties gain power and National Democratic Party occupies opposition seats, Camp David Accord will breathe its last and old antagonism between the two countries will reappear and will make Middle East politics more explosive. It would also heighten pressure on uncompromising Israel under right wing extremist coalition led by Netanyahu to stop illegal settlement on occupied Arab lands and to arrive at a negotiated settlement of Palestinian dispute. In case Israel continues with its dogmatism and persecution of Palestinians, possibility of 4th round of Arab-Israeli conflict would increase.

Possibilities open are that Vice President Omar takes over power. Army rule will be unacceptable to the people since Omar was responsible for unleashing brutal oppression against Islamists. The other is that Omar delays general elections till September and lets the same system to continue by propping up a civilian leader like Amr Musa or ElBaradei acceptable to senior leadership of the Army, the US and Israel, co-opt part of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as well as other friendly political parties/groups as junior coalition partners of NDP.  This may also not work since with little prospects of change, the MB will not accept the offer and the people will reject it. The third is to carryout essential constitutional and electoral reforms and hold free and fair elections in next three months time and let all parties to take part in elections. This option if exercised will calm down the people and will be welcomed but it may not be acceptable to USA and Israel if the Islamists win the elections. The Army instead of catering for American interests would do what is best is in Egypt’s national interest.

About The Writer: The writer is a retired brig and a defence and security analyst. Email:[email protected]

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