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The Muslim Brotherhood Wants the Bakery, Not the Pita

UPDATE: See "The Horror and the Pita," today's "Spengler" essay in Asia Times Online, for updates and additional color on Egypt's descent into chaos.

On April 28, Saudi Arabia closed its embassy and most consulates in Egypt following demonstrations and "attempts to storm and threaten the security and safety of Saudi and Egyptian employees, raising hostile slogans and violating the inviolability and sovereignty," as the Saudis explained in recalling their ambassador from Cairo. This turn of events should come as no surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood hopes to use Egypt as a power base to replace the corrupt monarchies of the Persian Gulf with a modernized, quasi-Leninist breed of Islamic radicalism, and the Saudis have made public their alarm about the Muslim Brotherhood for months. As I wrote April 10 in this space, the Egyptian Islamists want economic chaos in order to consolidate their power at the street level and replace the doddering and feckless military government.

The proximate cause of the anti-Saudi demonstrations is the case of Ahmed el-Gezawi, an Egyptian lawyer, whom Saudi judges last week sentenced to a year in prison and 20 lashes for "insulting" Saudi King Abdullah. The Saudis claim that he was smuggling Xanax into the kingdom. Just who started the demonstrations against Saudi embassies and consulates is unclear, but the Muslim Brotherhood is holding a net to catch the fallout. As Reuters reported today,

In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood's political party said the protests at the Saudi embassy showed "the desire of Egyptians to preserve the dignity of their citizens in Arab states".

Analysts point to the rise of the Brotherhood as a cause of Saudi concern about the direction of the post-Mubarak Egypt.

"It's no secret that Saudi Arabia is very concerned about losing one of its closest Arab allies and the rise of the Brotherhood," said Shadi Hamid, a political analyst at the Doha Brookings Center.

Attacking the Saudis drastically reduces Egypt's chances of avoiding economic catastrophe, as we'll explore after the page break.