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Read It Now: The Possible/Probable Main Crisis for 2012

Save this note. Last year I predicted that Egypt's instability might well be the big story of 2011. Why wait until December?

The central scenario for the Middle East in 2012:

Hamas attacks Israel with mortars, rockets, a few missiles, and a few attempts at cross-border attacks. Israel counterattacks into the Gaza Strip.

What does Egypt do?

A. Egypt with President Amr Mousa and a parliament with an Islamist (Muslim Brotherhood plus Salafist) majority or at least a radical nationalist-Islamist majority.

B. Egypt with President Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh of the Muslim Brotherhood along and an Islamist majority in parliament or at least a radical nationalist-Islamist majority.

There will be a great temptation for such a government, in either case, to join the war, setting the entire region ablaze.

Why wouldn't Egypt do so?

A. The Egyptian army thinks it would lose. Then it persuades the government to keep out. Pragmatism over ideology.

B. The Egyptian government doesn't want to lose U.S. aid money. Pragmatism over ideology. The fact that the Egyptian army's wealth and privileges are largely based on the U.S. aid is the main defense against this scenario.

Problems with these constraints:

A. Radical nationalists and Islamists are not known for putting accurate calculations of military forces or money above ideology. See, for example, Egypt in 1967 starting a war with Israel; Iraq invading Iran and then Kuwait; Iran taking U.S. hostages and thus throwing away U.S. military aid; Afghan Taliban backing September 11 attack, etc.

B. Islamists especially believe in the power of their Allah-allied ideology to overcome any material factors.

C. Even if Egypt lost the war, the regime would benefit in terms of popularity.

D. The regime would (wrongly) believe that it would draw in other countries, thus changing the balance of forces and beginning a series of wars culminating in Israel's destruction. It would be encouraged by massive pro-Egypt rallies in Damascus, Amman, and other Arab cities. Slogans would include "With blood and fire we redeem you oh Jerusalem!" and "Jews remember Khaibar, the army of Muhammad is coming!" And there would be various anti-American slogans and possible attacks on U.S. embassies.

E. Radical nationalists and Islamists believe America is already their enemy, so what's to lose?

How would the U.S. government respond?