Belmont Club

A Mood Come Into Egypt

Program, program! Can’t tell the players without a program. Who make up the opposition to Hosni Mubarak and why is it important? Here’s a simple minded listing.

  1. April 6 Movement
  2. Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya)
  3. Muslim Brotherhood
  4. Baradei’s National Association for Change (NAC)

Wikipedia calls April 6 “an Egyptian Facebook group started by Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Salah  in Spring 2008 to support the workers … an industrial town, who were planning to strike on April 6”. The International Business Times says Maher told Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that “we aim to promote democracy by encouraging public involvement in the political process” through Twitter and Facebook.” It has some links with El-Baradei but its extent is not clear.
Kifaya, according to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, “was founded by 300 Egyptian intellectuals from various ideological backgrounds … to discuss political opportunities in light of the … 2005 parliamentary elections.  The groups agreed to set up a small committee of seven members, and a conference soon thereafter attended by more than 500 people concluded with the creation of the Kifaya movement … united only by a shared call for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. … Although Kifaya received attention from the international media as a force for change, its achievements have been few and its strength has waned significantly, becoming nearly obsolete by 2006.  Mubarak’s regime resorted to violent measures to contain Kifaya, including physical assault, arrests, and detainment without charges or trials, torture, and even sexual harassment and rape of female demonstrators. ”

Of the Muslim Brotherhood I will say nothing.

The National Association for Change is Baradei’s political vehicle. Carnegie describes it as “a broad opposition coalition pushing for pro-democracy constitutional reforms created by former International Atomic Energy Association head Mohammed ElBaradei and a close group of supporters.  The association is the product of an initial meeting in February 2010 at ElBaradei’s home”. Wikipedia notes that the NAC has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is not clear to what extent the MB are buying in.

None of these groups, by itself, has the power to dominate the current crisis. STRATFOR believes that each opposition group has its stength and weaknesses. An opposition led by the MB would lack legitimacy in the West, but one without it would lack legs. The secular pro-democracy groups like April 6 have all the international sexiness but the MB has more the grassroots strength, although April 6 also has a following, though it is smaller. On the debit side the MB is anathema to the West, so STRATFOR argues that the opposition’s best bet is to pool resources against Mubarak, so that the strength of one can offset the weakness of the other.

ElBaradei lacks the grassroots political support that a successful opposition leader needs, and he can find that in the MB and April 6. An alliance with the MB would give [Baradei] the religiously conservative sector … and April 6 with the secular, pro-democracy youth. The MB, meanwhile … knows that it would be beneficial toalign itself with the secular April 6 and let ElBaradei do the talking. April 6 needs ElBaradei because he is the kind of well-known figure that April 6 lacks. But thegroup has waded into its alliance with MB cautiously. Since the group’s inception, its leadershave always made a point of avoiding any overt links with the Islamist group.

This kind of coalition would paper over, but not solve, the fractures that run through Egyptian politics. It is in many ways, the coalition from hell, divided every which way and united only in their opposition to the current regime. The present Egyptian Revolution probably represents not the end, but the beginning of a longer process of political decision. Beyond Mubarak, Egypt faces a long period of deciding whether it is to take the MB’s Islamist road or a more secular one. To imagine this, think of the Netroots and the Tea Party in temporary alliance with an expatriate American politician to throw off a dictator who has seized power in Washington. Once the coalition had attained its initial goals it would fall apart just as quickly as the Western-Soviet alliance after the defeat of Hitler. The real struggle is yet to come.

Like Saddam Hussein, Mubarak’s authoritarianism froze, rather than solved, many of the underlying problems which bedevil his country.  The current crisis in fact represents the final failure of the freeze, the opening of the can of worms.  As with the fall of Saddam it ends one chapter only to begin another. But as Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The question now facing the Obama administration is which way it wants to go. Given Mubarak’s age and the uproar in Egypt, it is journey whose start cannot be long delayed.  The choices in Washington are likely to be as painful as those facing the Egyptian coalition because they involve a commitment to managing what happens afterward — not just in Egypt, but thoughout the region.

Just how the Egyptian crisis is figuring in the administration’s diplomatic strategy is an open question. It is not apparent from Hillary Clinton’s Global Chiefs of Mission meeting at the State Department that the Egypt is provoking any major changes in direction. It looks like business as usual.  Secretary Clinton’s remarks give the impression that the current trouble is just a temporary check on her new strategy of using State as “civilian power.

It goes without saying – but I will say it anyway – that this is a critical time for America’s global leadership. We have spent two years renewing our alliances, forging new partnerships, and elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense as pillars of American foreign policy and national security. Now, as we look to the next two years, it is time to build on that progress and deliver results – results that are expected from ourselves and certainly from the Congress and the American public.

We’re going to be looking to see how we can advance America’s interests and values on security, on climate change, on boosting exports and rebalancing the global economy on all of our core priorities. But I will hasten to say we face a very difficult budget climate and we face an increasingly complex, no easy answers if there ever were any, diplomatic and development environment. From the theft of confidential cables to 21st century protest movements to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory, and that requires us to be more nimble, more innovative, and more accountable than ever before.

That is why we launched the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the so-called QDDR. Now, many of you participated in this process and you contributed valuable suggestions and ideas, your staffs were deeply involved, and we consulted not only thousands of people within State and USAID directly and indirectly, but also hundreds of experts outside government. And the result is a sweeping report that we hope will fundamentally change the way we do business. …

At the same time, both from my years as First Lady and as Senator, I often saw State and USAID coming in on separate tracks, making different arguments, fighting over scarcer resources, not coming up with the kind of organizing blueprint that would move people into a decision process that would benefit our immediate and long-term goals. So the QDDR is a first-time effort, but it is a blueprint and it is a blueprint as to how the United States can lead in a changing world through the use of what I call civilian power. That is the combined force of all the civilians across the United States Government who not only practice diplomacy and carry out development projects, but who act to prevent and respond to crisis and conflict.

This approach seems altogether too vague and unfocused for the challenges which it will presently face. The State Department is neither the World Bank nor the Department of Defense;  whether this “civilian power” becomes a core competence than can effectively respond to the upheavals which portend remains to be seen.

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