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Egypt: Revolution? By Whom? For What?

January 28th, 2011 - 3:23 pm

As I’ve remarked in the past–but you can’t say the truth too often, right? — nobody knows what a revolution looks like.  And in fact that last clause may be very misleading, because there is no one thing that a revolution looks like.  Some revolutions happen very quietly, like the Information Revolution.  On the other hand, some very revolutionary-looking events, like lots of people in the streets calling for the downfall of a government or a regime, are just street theater.  Ask the “revolutionaries” who filled the streets of Paris calling for the end of de Gaulle.  Or the crowd that levitated the Pentagon.

You can’t judge a revolution by its theatrics.  Something real has to happen, something beyond marching, chanting slogans, and making demands.  Revolutions end systems of rule and replace them with new ones.  Is that happening now in the Middle East?  I think that the Green Movement in Iran is revolutionary, and that, if successful, it would end the Islamic Republic and replace it with a secular political system that separates mosque and state.  I think that the efforts by Hezbollah to take over Lebanon also constitute an attempt at revolutionary change, because it would turn the secular Lebanese system into an Islamic Republic.  It can go both ways.

All of which is a long way of saying that there’s a lot of tumult in the Middle East (and not only the Middle East;  there were big demonstrations a few hours ago in Albania), a great perturbation in the Force, as Obiwan would say.  Lots of fighting.  Lots of factions.  In Egypt, which is by far the most important of the Arab countries affected by the tumult, there are genuine democrats and also members of organizations (from the Muslim Brotherhood to Islamic Jihad, Hamas, et al.) who would transform Egypt from an authoritarian to a totalitarian regime.

Remember my Grandma Mashe:  “Things are never so bad they can’t get worse.”

So how are we to look at it all?

The basic point is that most everything and everywhere is up for grabs.  From Yemen to Iran to Lebanon and Somalia,  from Egypt and Jordan to Syria and Tunisia, we’ve got tumult.  There are lots of different forces in play, and in many cases there is no way to know who will make what decisions, let alone what decisions they will make.  Orders will be given, some of them will be obeyed while others will be ignored.

Welcome to the real world.

Let’s take the most important Arab country, Egypt.   The key institution is the army, which does not want an Islamic regime, but also does not want Mubarak fils.  I suspect that if they agree to save the current regime (likely), they will want to inherit it.  They remember that the shah’s generals made a deal with the forces of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979, and were decimated.  But even if they prevail and put an end to the tumult, how long would that “order” last?  That may depend on other things in other lands.

The key to many of these tumults — certainly not all, for example, Tunisia — is Iran.  The mullahs have been pounding their chests and claiming to have inspired the insurrections.  Everywhere.  This is nonsense and they know it.  Few Jordanians or Egyptians want to live in the Arab version of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Indeed, you can be sure that the mullahs are frightened by a lot of this.  They know that the Iranian insurrection of 2009-2010 was the real inspiration for many of the demonstrators, and they know that the Iranian people know that, as they also know that Iranians are saying to themselves that “if the Arabs can overthrow their regimes, surely we (superior Persians) can do the same.”  That is why the thugs were out in force in Iran’s big cities the last couple of days.

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