Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mission Control...we have a problem: Egypt

Continuing the President's fascination with space references to encapsulate current events on the ground, our political mission control does have a problem.  Heck...I have a problem.  And I wonder if I don't have a lot of company.  How many of us have even spent a few minutes wondering, much less reading and studying, about modern Egypt and its effect on the United States and the Middle East?  Not many, I would wager.

And to try to get up to speed right now is to swim upstream against the purveyors of panic and disaster.  So...attempting to at least get an idea of the game board, and where we stand, who are the players?  First, of course, there is Mubarak.  Leader of Egypt since the 80's, he is a strong, autocratic ruler who came out of the military and has their instinctive support.

Then there is his security chief, Omar Suleiman.  Just sworn in as Vice-President of Egypt this morning (significant, as there has been no Vice-President during Mubarak's almost 3 decade-long run as President), he has been the head of Egyptian State Security since 1993.  He is a very powerful figure in international circles, very good at his job.

 Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel laureate and former secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency is a major political opposition leader who flew home to Egypt to join in the demonstrations.  He is currently under house arrest.  While some complain that he is a "johnny-come-lately" to the protests, he did get some street cred for his joining in the demonstrations on Friday before being put under arrest.

Another potential political figure is Arab League Secretary General Amer Moussa.  A former Egyptian foreign minister, he was in Davos at the World Economic Forum.  It is not clear that he would want to leave his current post in order to jump into the chaos back home, but if so he could be a factor.

Then there is Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Sami Annan.  Appointed to the position in 2005 by Mubarak, he will reflect the opinion of the Military at large, no small concern.  The public holds the army in high esteem, so the usual distrust by the people of anyone connected or appointed by Mubarak may be somewhat less for Annan, but there is no indication that he has any designs, conscious or sub-conscious, on holding the top office.  He will likely speak for the Military and, as such, could determine any care-taker regime and the speed of any change, should that come to pass.

And finally, the fly in the ointment is not just one man but a group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.  Although weakened by the constant prosecution, harrassment, and detention by Mubarak's government, it is still a visable force in the streets, as the Muslim youth pour out of the mosques to join in the uprising.

So...what is the likely-hood for an end-game?

First, Mubarak is likely at the end of his run.  The only question is one of timing: immediately or with the advent of new elections within a relatively short time.

Turning to the likely ascendant to power, my bet would be for ElBaradei.  Why?  Because the Military is unlikely to allow an Islamic oriented government...and the military has veto any Islamist is out. Annan does not want power, just a peaceful Egypt.  Moussa is too comfortable and has too much power and wealth doing what he is doing.  Why would he want to get down in the mud with the other peasants? He already has gotten his.  Suleiman is a potential, but he was appointed by Mubarak and it is unlikely that anyone with that close a connection to the out-going President can succeed politically, regardless of his desires.  And, although, I have not even raised his name before, Mubarak's son is totally out of the picture.  He has never been military, so the army has no liking for him, and the people will absolutely not even consider him in any position of power.

Whether immediately, or at the next elections, I think we will see ElBaradei as the next leader of Egypt.

Last question...what does this do to the political climate in the middle east vis a vie Israel and Islam?  I thing the status quo holds on both.  Egypt and its people are solidly behind secularist government, and both have investments in continuing the current position with Israel.  

Now...we have to sit back and see how it all plays out in real life.  I hope my analysis is right.  As a side note, it will be extremely interesting to see how quickly the Obama administration analyses and chooses postitions diplomatically during this crisis.  I predict some serious stumbling around, both publicly and behind the scenes...this is a decidedly callow group in power lacking a high-power diplomatic mind.  If it doesn't hurt the United States, it should be entertaining.

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