Four big things to know about Egypt in 2014

Middle East Forum

by Raymond Stock
Fox News
January 24, 2014

Egypt will continue to make much news in the New Year — as it has since the 2011 revolution that brought down longtime U.S. ally President Hosni Mubarak amid scenes of blood and jubilation in Tahrir Square and beyond.

As Egypt celebrates the third anniversary of that revolution’s launch on January 25th, the world’s oldest nation-state enters another phase in its volatile transition from Mubarak’s fading, sclerotic autocracy to a yet-uncertain future:

With all that in mind, here are four big things to know about Egypt in 2014.

1. EGYPTIANS SHOULD BE HEADING BACK TO THE POLLS SHORTLY. The overwhelming passage January 14-15 of an amended Constitution paves the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections soon, and legitimizes the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi following the largest demonstrations in history last June 30.

This means that Egypt’s extremely popular military regime, headed by charismatic Minister of Defense General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance, after nearly seven months of physical attacks within Egypt, and of media and policy assaults from abroad.

Egypt's extremely popular military regime has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance. Pictured, Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi bids farewell to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Department)

Egypt’s extremely popular military regime has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance. Pictured, Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi bids farewell to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Department)

2. TERRORISM AND DISSENT WILL CONTINUE TO TORTURE EGYPT. Despite this latest triumph of the majority’s will, the same destructive forces that have plagued the nation following the euphoria at Mubarak’s fall will likely keep eating away at Egypt’s social, political and economic fabric for the foreseeable future.

Friday, four explosions, including a suicide bombing that blew the facade off the seven-story State Security building downtown, have struck targets throughout Cairo, killing at least six and wounding more than 60 others.

President Barack Obama’s botched handling of the rollout of Egypt’s — and the Arab world’s –democracy, in which the U.S. backed Islamists over secular liberal forces throughout the region, means our alliance with Cairo is far less secure than it was during Mubarak’s nearly thirty years atop the pyramid of power in Egypt.

Mubarak told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour on February 3, 2011, that Obama “doesn’t understand Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.”

Mubarak accurately warned that if he resigned abruptly, as he was pushed to do that February 11 by Obama and the military in response to protests, bringing to climax the Arab Spring, he would be followed by chaos and rule by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which Egypt now rightly calls a terrorist organization.

Chaos duly ensued, and the well-organized, deeply entrenched MB and its Salafi allies, after electoral victories, imposed an Islamist agenda on the country, eventually alienating almost the whole citizenry.

As Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft during a joint interview with then-outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broadcast on “60 Minutes” January 27, 2013, at the height of the Islamists’ ascendancy, “You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.”

Supporters of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, an MB hardliner, launched an armed insurgency when he was deposed on July 3, 2013 after only one year in power.

The MB’s violent protests will probably not go away, though they are shrinking at least for the moment, while some of the key secular liberal groups that helped bring down both Mubarak and Morsi are turning against the repressive military.

Turnout for the new Constitution — which strips away most of the Islamist provisions found in the previous one, rammed through by Morsi in December 2012, while placing the military leadership beyond civilian control– was officially a modest 38.6 percent, but with a “Yes” vote of 98.1 percent.

In actual numbers, almost 20 million voters backed the document, over eight million more than endorsed Morsi’s charter in December 2012, and roughly six million more than had voted for Morsi as president that May.

The MB and its Islamist allies, plus a few of the secular liberal groups that had opposed Mubarak, boycotted the vote, denouncing the crackdown on dissent under al-Sisi, a Bizarro World replay of the campaign against Morsi’s own Constitution.

The 2014 referendum’s success enables the widely-expected presidential candidacy of al-Sisi, a modern day pharaoh in a land that has known largely that kind of rule for the past five millennia.

Al-Sisi now runs Egypt through competent surrogates like Acting President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy, though his glow may dim should he finally shed his uniform and govern directly as a civilian.

3 . EGYPT MAY BE JOINING A NUCLEAR ARMS RACE WITH IRAN WHILE REACHING OUT EVER MORE TO RUSSIA AND PERHAPS CHINA FOR ALTERNATIVES TO U.S. AID. This is happening as the Obama administration implements a toothless nuclear deal with radical Shiite Iran, alienating traditional Sunni allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In October 2013, Mansour announced a major expansion of Egypt’s sixty-year old advanced nuclear program, possibly with help from Russia, with which Cairo signed an alarming $2 billion arms deal in November.

That alliance-shifting switch was prompted by Obama’s decision last fall to suspend about a third of the annual $1.6 billion U.S. aid package to Egypt out of pique at al-Sisi’s crackdown on the MB, while the White House had increased aid to Morsi when he had muzzled and even murdered his own opposition, angering most Egyptians.

To calm these strategically dangerous waters, last week Congress voted to grant $1.52 billion in aid to Egypt for 2014 — but it is so hedged with conditions that no one can be sure if all or indeed any of it will actually go to Cairo, or assuage a single Egyptian after so many snubs if it does.

4. CHRISTIANS WILL STILL SUFFER BUT MAYBE NOT AS MUCH. Egypt’s long-persecuted Christian minority, wrongly blamed and physically targeted in a pogrom by the Islamists after Morsi’s fall, will find neither the same level of active persecution, nor — unfortunately — much more government protection than it did in the waning days of Mubarak, which were also marred by frequent acts of mayhem against them.

Nor will they probably receive any help from the White House, which shamefully has been almost completely silent on the ever-more intense, large-scale violence against Christians throughout the Middle East and Muslim world in recent years.

Yet despite the divisions that still wrack the country, we ought to thank al-Sisi and the Egyptian people for ending the reign of the falsely “moderate,” militantly anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-female and anti-gay MB, that is allied with Al Qaeda and was using Egypt as a base to spread its influence and ideology.

For that service alone, Egypt today would be worth more than every penny it might yet see of the American taxpayers’ money–even if we cannot buy a genuine democracy in a land that has never known one.

Raymond Stock, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, spent twenty years in Egypt, and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010. He is writing a biography of 1988 Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) for Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and is a prolific translator of his works, most recently “Before the Throne” (Anchor Books/Random House, July 2012).

Related articles

Complete the Islamists’ Defeat

not-a-coup1“Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all tried to get rid of the Brotherhood. Only Mursi succeeded.”

–Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Facebook, July 3, 2013

By Raymond Stock, July 2013:

On July 8, the Obama administration finally did the right thing in Egypt—by not calling what Mohamed Mursi’s historically huge opposition rightly hails as its “corrective revolution” a coup.  Thus it prevented the automatic cutoff of America’s $1.6 billion of mostly military aid, without which our connection to the largest Arab state (and perhaps the Suez Canal) would be lost. But it would be a grave mistake if the U.S. should insist that the aid would continue only if everyone –the deposed Muslim Brotherhood (and other Islamists) among them—is included in the now-rebooted “transition to democracy.” Nor should the Egyptians want to go to this route.  Such would be an historic error that will sabotage whatever good might come from the already diminished influence which that aid buys – as well as from the heroic actions of the Egyptians themselves.

In addition to Egypt’s probable lack of enough secular and civil society to create a genuine democracy, the seemingly imminent civil war would not permit that transition to happen, at least not now—and perhaps not ever.  With Monday’s opening clash in front of the Ministry of Defense that left roughly fifty Islamists dead and one soldier slain, after numerous other killings over the year of MB rule, and culminating in scenes such as the murder of opposition teens by throwing them off of an Alexandria rooftop last week, the much-feared Algeria 1992 redux may already have begun.

Yet as tragic—and even heartless—as this might seem, it would be better to have that civil conflict now then to wait until the Islamists are better armed and prepared, especially having been invited back into power to share the running of the state.  That will give only them both renewed legitimacy and access to material resources that they do not deserve—and which the last year shows they will only abuse.

*******************

Despite the dangers of growing violence, the removal of Mohamed Mursi is a truly promising moment for Egypt—and should be for us all. The Islamists have suffered their first great setback since the launching of the Arab Spring, one that threatens all their gains everywhere, from Cairo to Tunis, Tripoli to Benghazi, from Aleppo to Sanaa, and even perhaps to their Turkish neighbors in  Ankara and Istanbul who have really begun to rebel under Recep Tayyep Erdogan’s slier version of MB rule.  Egypt has a long, long way to go to create a truly open, prosperous, and democratic society, and the path may be even more bloody, but only now does she have even the slightest chance to succeed.  This is what we should be focused on now, rather than expecting a smooth, stable democracy while placating the forces of darkness–who can never be appeased.

Read more at Foreign Policy Research Institute

 

On Mistaking Mohamed Mursi For His Mask

by Raymond Stock
Foreign Policy Research Institute
February 2013

“You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.” — President Barack Obama, “60 Minutes,” January 27, 2013

imagesCA6KQ9BHWith President Mohamed Mursi’s proclamation of a “new republic” on December 26, after the passage of a Constitution that turns Egypt into an Islamist-ruled, pseudo-democratic state, the “January 25th Revolution” came to a predictably disastrous (if still unstable) terminus. As momentous for world history as the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (should it hold), it represents the formal—if not the final—victory for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in its 84-year struggle for power in the land of its birth. Indeed, 2012 will likely be remembered as the year that Islamists made the greatest gains in their quest for a new caliphate in the region. And without a drastic change of course by Washington, 2013 might surpass it by far in progress toward the same, seemingly inexorable end.

Egypt, the largest Arab state, the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and our second most important ally in the Middle East, is now in the hands of a hostile regime—an elected one at that—which we continue to treat as a friendly one. Even if the sudden outburst of uncontrolled violence along the Suez Canal since January 26—coupled with escalating political and economic tumult in Cairo and elsewhere—leads to a new military coup, it would likely be managed by the MB from behind the scenes. The irony and the implications are equally devastating. This new reality threatens not only traditional U.S. foreign policy goals of stability in the oil-rich Middle East and security for Israel, but also America’s declared support for democracy in the Arab world. Moreover, the fruits of Islamist “democracy,” should it survive, are catastrophic to the people of Egypt, the region and beyond.

How did all this happen? And what role did the U.S. play?

Excellent piece on the revolution in Egypt and the role Barack Obama has played in it. Read it all at Middle East Forum

Also see Ryan Mauro’s interview of Raymond Stock: Egypt Expert: Morsi Confidently Fooling West at RadicalIslam.org

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock is a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and former Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University. He has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania.Stock lived in Egypt for 20 years and was detained at Cairo Airport in December 2010 and deported back to the U.S. due to his 2009 Foreign Policy Magazine article criticizing then-Egyptian Culture Minister for his policies and anti-Semitism.

He is currently working on a biography of Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature, Naguib Mahfouz.

Raymond Stock: The Arab Spring & Egypt’s Nuclear Weapons Program:

Is Egypt Pursuing a Nuclear Weapons Program?

By Tiffany Gabbay

As the Middle East rages out of control, great emphasis is placed on the Islamic Republic of Iran as it scrambles furiously to produce a nuclear warhead. A lesser known evil boiling beneath the surface, however, is that Egypt, now led by the Muslim Brotherhood via its newly elected President Mohamed Morsi, may indeed have nuclear weapons-ambitions of its own. During an exclusive panel discussion with Professor Raymond Stock, former visiting assistant professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, delved deeper into Egypt’s relationship with Iran and its plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Stock, a Guggenheim Fellow, lived in Cairo for 20 years until he was ultimately deported by the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, citing a 2009 article by Stock criticizing then-Culture Minister Farouk Hosni’s bid to head UNESCO. The panel was hosted by the Center for Security Policy and the Middle East Endowment for Truth and was moderated by Congressman Fred Grandy.

Dr. Stock explained that the ousting of Hosni Mubarak “made us realize” that while not wholly democratic, Egypt was indeed “liberal” under his regime. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is “to restore the caliphate.”

Stock discussed the role the Brotherhood played in spawning support for the Arab Spring and ensuring that the masses would come out in support of various Middle East uprisings. He added that the current U.S. administration’s penchant for defining the people in the Middle East based on their religion and not their respective ethnicities and state boundaries is a “real tragedy” as it only feeds into the greater Islamist “supremacist idea.”

“This is the real tragedy of what we are doing.”

In terms of Egypt’s nuclear ambitions, which began in earnest in 1954 under then-President Nassar, the country’s first small research reactor was built by the Russians that year. Then, in the 1998 Argentina aided in the development of another reactor, also fueled by Russia.

Currently, the Egyptians can “produce 6 kilograms per year of plutonium,” according to Stock. “That is the amount needed to make one bomb annually.” Thus, since 1998, the professor concluded that while Egypt may use its plutonium for some peaceful purposes, it also has had the capability to produce 24 nuclear warheads.

“They have an ongoing fuel supply for it.”

He added that in terms of enrichment, Egypt is but a heartbeat away from its current medium-grade enrichment capabilities to the high-grade capacity. “Once you get to 20 kilograms, you have essentially mastered the enrichment process.”

The professor explained that Egypt has always been open about its nuclear ambitions, even if it was so under the guise of “civilian use” but that financial difficulties have precluded the country from moving a WMD-program along full-steam head.

Read more at The Blaze

Stock’s panel discussion was hosted by the Endowment for Middle East Truth in conjunction with the Center for Security Policy.