Friday, February 11, 2011

Quo Vadis?


What comes next for Egypt? It's easy to say, "That'll be up to the Egyptians", but it isn't entirely accurate.

The United States depended on the stability of Mubarak's regime as a cornerstone of our Middle East policy. They were cool, but still neutral, towards Israel, and Mubarak's secret police and state intelligence apparatus shared information with the CIA (along with interrogating Al-Qaeda prisoners when it suited the U.S.).

That's gone now. What comes next?

The Chess Game

The Iranians, through their client organizations, Hezbollah and Hamas (and others ideologically aligned with them, such as the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt), would like to extend their influence further, because this is a long story of tribes and religious factions and generations-old rights and wrongs.

At its best, it's just another tale of desire for power over others (always, for their own good), and wealth, of the sort that's despoiled human affairs for twenty Millennia. It's considered the Great Game, played out across thousands of years of history -- and the nations of the West are newcomers ( One reason the English, when they were the dominant Empire, tried so hard to study and understand the East).

These days, it tickles the Iranian Mullahs that Shiite Islamic Persians might begin to rival the Arabic, Sunni Islam regimes (Saudi Arabia in particular; and United Arab Emirates [Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Quataar, Bahrain]; Kuwait), all vastly wealthy from sale of oil reserves, that have led the Muslim world for so long.

It's one reason Iran wants nuclear weapons, why they want control of Lebanon (through Hezbollah and a quiet alliance with Syria); and why they play very nicely with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda: It suits their purposes.

Riding The Tiger

The Muslim Brotherhood has been very quiet during the uprising against Mubarak in Egypt, another Sunni-led nation -- but, then, so were the Bolsheviks in March of 1917.

I'm not trying to equate the Islamics with communists (Little Rupert pays Glenny serious money to do that on teevee). But, that's how it is in revolutions: Radical groups can hijack popular revolts through discipline, organization, and fear. The Bolsheviks did it. In a slightly different way, so did the radical wing of the French Committee For Public Safety during their 1789 Revolution, ending in the execution of the King, and the Terror. So did the English in the revolution against the Stuarts in the seventeenth century, resulting in the execution of the King and the preeminence of Parliament. You could argue that the nazis did followed a similar process, but that would be stretching the example a bit.

Crane Brinton, in Anatomy Of Revolution, a text I once had to read at University, argued that revolutions follow a general pattern: Popular discontent builds until it overflows in demonstrations, strikes, sympathetic politicians walking out of parliament, etc. This is followed by some violent event, a "crisis", that crystallizes the Mob (Brinton's term) and radicalizes them to take action (In France, the storming of the Bastille and the Estates Generale taking control from Louis XVI; in Russia, occupying the Winter Palace and the Duma announcing a new government; the forced abdication of Nicholas II).

The leaders of the Opposition to a regime take control and form a provisional government. At this point, a smaller, more radical group within the Opposition begins to agitate the Mob, causing them to demand more change than the new, more moderate government, is comfortable with.

If they don't make the changes, they'll lose popular support and control of their revolution. As most popular revolts stem from resistance to an oppressive regime, the new government can't arrest the radicals, just because they're asking for change; that's what the revolution was for.

The provisional government is forced to make concessions -- and the radicals, even if they got what they wanted, will claim the provisional government is Wrong And Bad, and go on agitating the Mob, forcing them to make even more concessions or arrest the radicals. It's Morton's Fork -- and, the new government is often well and truly Forked in the end.

Eventually, the radicals make their move, and assume control. Afterward, things can be disorganized and chaotic. People don't like prolonged periods of uncertainty, and not having reliable deliveries of food, and after a time can spark a Thermidorian Reaction (Please look it up. It has nothing to do with lobsters), where a dictator arises (in Britain, Cromwell [though that didn't last]; in France, Napoleon; in Russia, Stalin) to end the revolutionary chaos and provide "order" and "stability". You can see how well that worked out for France, Russia, and for Europe, in Stalin and Napoleon's cases.

The British? Well, look what happened to them: They ran the world for a few hundred years but in their cuisine, boil everything, including their bread (ganz Shreklich); so, who cares.

So, Egypt: Will it evolve into a more free and open Arabic society, a balance of religious belief and secular lifestyles; an example of a middle way out out of despotism and a jewel of the Middle East? Or will it descend into Iranian-style 'Islamic revolution'?

Who knows. As Yoda says, "Always in motion is the future". When in doubt, quote a hand puppet.