ARAB EARLY SPRING 2011
It seems that the famed and failed “Arab Spring of 2005” was only delayed. In 2005, the world media bantered about a catch phrase to describe the budding signs of democratic reform in states throughout the Middle East. They called it the “Arab Spring.” We are now looking at the Arab Early Spring of 2011. Authoritarian regimes across the Middle East are facing a rising tide of anger and protest from their citizens who are demanding more freedom. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and now Syria are all seeing the streets filled with angry citizens.
Two weeks ago, Egypt was thought to be a stable regime to whom Washington has looked to as a strategic partner in maintaining peace in the Middle East. The U.S. accepted the authoritarian leadership of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. In the trade-off between democracy and stability, the U.S. went with stability. The prospects of change in Egypt were minimal and every expert in Washington believed that Mubarak was firmly in control, likely to leave only when he could pass the reins on to his son.
Today, Egypt is in a state of chaos. Mubarak’s regime seems feckless, as the army has decided to sit this one out. The police forces were driven back and have now left the streets. Egypt is in a state of utter lawlessness. The U.S. now stands by, uncertain of which side to follow as the events continue to unfold. Contrary to pundits, it turns out that the Egyptian regime was neither stable nor secure.
The Obama administration finds itself with diminished leverage over President Hosni Mubarak. Last week, President Obama’s demand that Mubarak step down immediately was met with bloody pro-Mubarak demonstrations the next day. The administration now has stepped up its contacts with the Egyptian military to try to exert influence over the dramatic events affecting this key ally.
The Egyptian regime has been based since 1952 on a coalition between the army and the bureaucrats. The army is fully in control of both actual power and the economy. U.S. officials have a deep, longstanding relationship with the Egyptian military. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in direct military aid to Cairo. Nonetheless, the ties between the two nations are complex.
If the U.S. doesn’t find a way to empower secular leaders in the region, the fear is that we will create a vacuum that the Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood will fill. Losing Egypt to the grip of Islamic fundamentalism would be a huge blow to the U.S., to Israel and to the entire Western world.
Some observers believe that the U.S. should stand down. They believe that there is little to be gained by forcing our way onto this stage. The only chance for lasting reforms is for Egypt to settle this matter without outside influence.
Forum Question of the Week:
Should the U.S. take a back seat to the turmoil and see what happens in Egypt? Or should it take a more active role to “keep the peace?”