The current U.S. administration is supporting Egypt in the same way that Iran under the shah was backed by the U.S. in the 1970s — as a regional power supposedly doing its bidding. U.S. administrations, unfortunately, have taken a dim view of internalizing historical lessons, and it may prove particularly perilous with the Obama administration.
The improbable fall of the shah, and his replacement by the radical, anti-American, messianic Islamic Republic led by ayatollahs, could very well occur in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak’s 28-year martial-law rule is similar to that of the shah’s, albeit the shah’s treatment of his people was somewhat more moderate. And the shah at least strove to build a middle class by fostering economic growth and expanding educational opportunities to average Iranians.
As with the shah, Mubarak is receiving some of the most sophisticated offensive arms in the U.S. arsenal. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, large quantities of F-16 fighter aircrafts, M1A1 heavy tanks, Apache helicopters, E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning spy planes, as well as an array of missiles including the Patriot missiles, shoulder-borne TOW and Stinger missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, air-to-surface and surface-to-surface Hellfire missiles, Maverick air-to-surface guided missiles, and cluster bombs have been delivered to Egypt by the U.S. (Most of these Israel receives as well.) Egypt receives about $2.1 billion annually courtesy of U.S. taxpayers (in 1990 the U.S. forgave $7.1 billion in past Egyptian military debt).
Egypt’s name, according to a report by the Federation of American Scientists, can be found on the CIA’s list of known proliferators, along with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.
On the eve of the Iranian Islamic revolution, few pundits would have predicted the demise of the shah. The influx of rural workers to the cities, especially Tehran, along with the inability of educated young men and women to find suitable employment became a time bomb which Ayatollah Khomeini exploited. The Egyptian internal security forces are as brutal as the Iranian SAVAK, and Egypt’s exploding population (83 million at last count), high unemployment, low wages, rampant corruption, and nepotism (Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, is being groomed to succeed the 81-year-old Hosni Mubarak) makes Egypt like Iran in 1979 — ready for an explosion.
The Muslim Brotherhood, with its largest following in Egypt, is waiting in the wings — and it may yet proclaim Egypt as the next Islamic republic. Opposition to Mubarak’s arbitrary rule and the possibility of Gamal Mubarak’s succession is a prescription for a combustible political situation.