10 February 2011

Islamism in Egypt, and US aid

The protests in Egypt have faded somewhat from headlines in the US, but they are still continuing, and apparently escalating (note: "industrial action" is British for "strikes"). Mubarak seems to be determined to cling to power to the bitter end, and the security forces are still "disappearing" people, but it's hard to imagine the uprising quietly fading away now.

Some in the US worry about an Islamist regime coming to power in Egypt, the precedent being the Iranian revolution of 1979. In fact, Islamist, anti -West, and anti-Israel slogans and imagery have been rare during the protests, even if not totally absent. Muslim-Christian cooperation has been a constant theme. The Islamist but non-violent Muslim Brotherhood denies political ambitions. As the rebellion spreads from country to country, there is little sign of an Islamist direction.

In the end, the Egyptian military has a de facto veto power over the direction of the country's political evolution -- and it's there that US influence will be felt. Egypt is the second-biggest recipient of US foreign aid (after Israel), and most of that aid is military, amounting to $1.3 billion per year. The military is unlikely to endanger that aid flow by allowing an anti-Western Islamist regime to take power, especially since there's no sign that the Egyptian masses want such a thing.

It's often said that the US has no power to influence the direction of events in Egypt, but that's not quite true. Military aid is the exception -- a carrot, not a stick, and all the more effective for that.

There's more to the matter than that, though. If a moderate and modernizing government does emerge in Egypt, the US needs to give help and encouragement in the form of increased economic aid. Whatever price we paid for helping such a development in Egypt and the broader Arab world, it would be well worth it.


Blogger Nance said...

I find myself tightening my stomach muscles, urging the Egyptian military to stand with the protesters. I'd almost forgotten a small personal motive for that wish:

In the early eighties, my husband was stationed at a now-defunct base in Arizona that specialized in training foreign air forces to fly American planes...with the sorts of American fighter tactics those planes were designed for. In addition to teaching them in the air, my husband also taught the "platform" (classroom) courses.

Socially, we welcomed country after country and they feted us, usually with food and entertainment from their respective homelands. So I got to meet some of the leaders of Egypt's air force. I'm sure those men are retired, as are we, but I want them to have been honorable men who trained honorable men.

It seems a little foolish to say that, just because I once met someone who was in Egypt's military, I'm pulling extra hard for their support of democratic desires, but that's how we humans are, after all.

10 February, 2011 05:57  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things, some of them I even know something about. But I must confess, the issues surrounding the Middle East are not high on my knowledge base so I tend to refrain from voicing opinions about this very complex region. That pretty much leaves me with crossing my fingers and waiting.

10 February, 2011 09:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nance: An understandable view. In most Arab countries, the military is relatively modern in outlook compared with the rest of society. They may end up taking over if Mubarak leaves -- hopefully just to keep order until elections can be organized.

RtS: The Middle East is one of my areas of specialization -- and even so, I'm far from sure how this will ultimately turn out.

10 February, 2011 09:47  

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