Belmont Club

The Fatal Words

Two words feature prominently in news from the Middle East today: “blast” and “clinging”.

More explosions in the Iranian nuclear city? “Conflicting reports have emerged from Iran over an explosion heard in the central city of Isfahan, close to the country’s sensitive nuclear facilities. … Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency was one of the first media organisations to report the explosion, saying it was heard at 2.40pm local time (1110 GMT). Fars quoted the deputy governor, Mehdi Ismaili, as confirming a sound that the news agency reported was loud enough to be heard across the city. The agency, however, removed the article from its website sometime later.”

Gunmen again target Egypt’s gas pipeline as blast halts exports to Israel and Jordan: “The attack on the pipeline was the second this month and the eighth since the popular uprising that ousted longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in February.”

The harvest of the Arab Spring: “The victory of an Islamist Party in Morocco’s parliamentary elections appears to be one more sign that religious-based parties are benefiting the most from the new freedoms brought by the Arab Spring. … ‘Egyptians voted on Monday in the first election since a popular revolt toppled Hosni Mubarak’s one-man rule, showing new-found faith in the ballot box that may sweep long-banned Islamists into parliament even as army generals cling to power’.”

The conjunction of these terms is probably not coincidental. A lot of people in the region are playing for keeps. Some are “clinging” to power while others are trying to “blast” their way to it. In these two terms is summed up the entire dynamic of the place. There’s some who’s comin’. There’s some who’s goin’. Washington’s message to the clingers is: git.

“The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately,” the White House said.

“Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.”

Git while the gittin’s good. Or do they mean while the getting’s good. Subtle difference. The hope is that the White House is guided by some kind of rational calculation rather than simply a desire to “lead from behind”. The Jerusalem Post argues for caution because “there is no one to take over”. At any rate, whoever winds up on top in Egypt will inherit an economic disaster.

But if current economic trends prevail, the Brotherhood will inherit an economic basket case. Egypt’s once vibrant economy has sputtered since President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office by jubilant, largely secular protesters in Tahrir Square last February. The military stewards, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, or SCAF, and the succession of civilian ministers it has appointed, have been running Egypt into the ground….

In a trenchant posting last week, financial analyst David P. Goldman (Spengler) reported that Egypt’s stock exchange fell 11 percent in the first three days of the week and that the Egyptian pound was on the verge of collapse. Residents and foreigners were dumping the Egyptian pound and buying dollars and Euros — yes, even Euros. It was becoming impossible to transport bank notes across the country, he noted, quoting Al Ahram, Egypt’s largest state-owned Arabic newspaper, as mobs of Egyptians were attacking the armed cars that try to transport them to branches of Cairo banks.

The Wall Street Journal has disclosed equally disturbing news: While the central bank has been frantically buying pounds to prevent the currency’s collapse as money flees the country, the acting government has burned through 40 percent of Egypt’s foreign currency reserves. Egypt now has about $22 billion left – enough to cover just four months of imports, the Journal quotes Magda Kandil, director of the Egyptian center for Economic Studies, as estimating.

Fearless forecast: news from the Middle East over the next few weeks will be dominated by two words: “blast” and “clinging”. And yes, git while the getting’s good.

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