Egypt Is an Adversary, Not a Neutral

As my PJ Media colleague Barry Rubin observes in a Jerusalem Post column, “Does this mean Egypt is going to ally with Iran? No, Egypt will fight Iran for influence tooth and nail. The two countries will kill each others’ surrogates. But it means Morsy feels no friendlier toward America than he does toward Iran.” I hate to take issue with Dr. Rubin, but I think that is somewhat beside the point: Morsi’s Egypt has allied with Iran against Saudi Arabia, which is the main target of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi monarchy will not fall tomorrow, to be sure, but it faces a growing challenge from within: the Brotherhood appeals to ambitious Saudis who did not have the good fortune to be born into the monarchy. By showing open contempt for the Saudi regime, and frustrating Saudi and Turkish attempts to control the Syrian crisis, Morsi has emerged as a challenger to the Saudi monarchy for the dominant role in Sunni Islam.

The whole of the foreign policy establishment, from Dennis Ross, lately Obama’s Iran advisor, to Fox News commentator Fouad Ajami, believed that Egypt’s economic desperation would force Morsi to eat out of the hands of the Saudis. But Morsi doesn’t want the cake. He wants the bakery, and he is happy to force the long-suffering people of Egypt into North Korean conditions if that is what it takes.

Morsi knows far better than our foreign policy mandarins that Egypt, as it is now constituted, is an unsolvable problem. With 45% illiteracy, 50% dependency on imported food, inadequate water, a chronic lack of skills, and a host of other ills, Egypt can’t get there from here. He has to break out or break down. Egypt’s situation is desperate, but the country is led by desperate men. The staid guardians of the status quo, the corrupt old guard of the Egyptian military, have chosen not to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood. It was time for them to go, and they went.

The Obama administration has presided over a collapse of a system of alliances which sustained America’s position in the region for sixty years. And if you want to know what’s happening, ignore the self-consoling spin in the mainstream media, and listen to what our adversaries are saying. They have the ball.

UPDATE: Egypt's foreign exchange reserves rose by $700 million in August, mainly due to Qatar's deposit. The government had predicted a $1 billion rise; the different probably reflects spending by the central bank to support the Egyptian pound, which has traded weakly. Egypt's stock market rose, but that should be read in context: the whole value of Egypt's stock market is roughly equal to a medium-sized component of the S&P 500, for example, American Express or 3M.