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June 15, 2007

Who's REALLY scared of Gaza?
Posted by Jerry Mayer

If you want to know who is most terrified by what is happening in Gaza, it's not the US, although this is bad news for Bush. It's not the Israelis, although this is bad news for them, too. It's not even Abu Mazen over in Ramallah. There is even a clever argument to be made that over time, this will weaken Hamas and eventually contribute to a painstaking peace, built on a West Bank first policy. I don't know if that's true, but it is the best outcome that can be hoped for.

But the pictures and stories of executions and security officers pushed off roofs are affecting people far beyond Israel-Palestine.

The people REALLY frightened are those in the security forces in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and other places where Muslim extremists have been brutally tortured and suppressed. This is what it would look like in Cairo if (when?) the rulling claque there started to fall.

I loath Hamas, and what it stands for. It has practiced terrorism with inhuman glee, and is committed to the destruction of Israel. But at the same time--Arafat's treatment of them during his reign was atrocious. His corrupt Fatah movement ripped off the people and tortured its opponents in the very prisons and buildings overrun yesterday.

Mubarak has been far worse to his Muslim opponents and far more corrupt even than Arafat, which is quite an accomplishment. (in his defense, there was more to steal)

What does all this mean? Well, it could mean that Egypt looks over the border into Gaza and sees the abyss to which it doesn't want to sink. And that could weaken Mubarak's opponents, and give a desperate power to Mubarak's supporters. Victory or death is quite a good rallying cry. But I don't think that's the likely outcome. I think it will embolden the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and splinter the security forces that fight them. Come the revolution, no one in Egypt's feared security forces wants to individually be high on the list of torturers and suppressers.


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I think you're right on the terrified analysis. It will be very interesting to watch how Egypt handles matters.

I'm sure this analysis explains the bang-up job the Egyptian army and security services have done interdicting the flow of arms from Egyptian territory into Gaza.

Seriously, we need to try a little harder to avoid the assumption that the domestic opponents of regimes like Egypt's dislike them for the same reasons we do.

I'm curious. Why do you think the Muslim brotherhood dislikes Mubarak (rather mild term for it, sort of like saying that Rosie and Donald Trump are not fans of each other)? It seems to me that they hate Mubarak because:
1. He's secular
2. He's corrupt (an even larger understatement)
3. He tortures them (they may not object to torture itself, per se, as much as we do, but that's not a given to me)
4. He's allied with us, deeply
5. Relatedly, he made peace with Israel.

Did I miss anything crucial?

I agree that Mubarak must be really shitting bricks over this. But don't forget, Hamas IS the democratically elected government of Palestine, not Fatah. Whether you like Hamas or not if you are in support of democracy you have to recognize this.

This may lead Mubarak to crack down even more on the MB because he sees the strength of Hamas and what they can do in Gaza and wants to prevent that happening in Egypt. Nonetheless, the MB's control of Egypt I think is inevitable, even if it doesn't come until Mubarak passes away of a natural death. They represent the hopes and priorities of the majority of Egyptians and if there were free elections tomorrow they would win them by a landslide.

Others are starting to recognize this. The US congress is meeting with MB members, Fatah has now even called on the MB to help mediate the situation in Palestine. That I think is quite significant as in the past they have turned to Mubarak for assistance. For them to turn to Mahdi Akef instead is a significant marker that the power shift is just a matter of time.

Zathras-Those are not only the reasons the MB hates Mubarak, but they are the reasons Egyptians who may not even be MB hate Mubarak. Although it was Sadat who made peace with Israel, not Mubarak. And he doesn't onl y torture MB, he tortures and imprisons a lot of innocent Egyptians for crimes they didn't commit.

Sorry that last remark should have been directed at Jerry not Zathras.

Hi Night--Yes, I didn't mean to suggest that these reasons were exclusive to MB. I was answering Zathras's point. And while Sadat made the peace, Mubarak maintains it.

A key question for any MB rule is what happens to the Coptic community. Christians in Iraq were quiet supporters of Saddam, because he was good to them, where they were 3% of the population. (good being a relative term, he of course had no compunction about killing them if they annoyed him). Mubarak has also benefited from similar support among Copts. They are 10-20% of Egypt's population (it's a very dicey number, very political, no one really knows).

If the MB can continue to reach out to the Copts, then they are more likely to succeed and to get some modicum of western support. But there have already been attacks on churches. The status of Christians in Palestine has gone south lately. The emigration of Palestinian Christians is ongoing. I shared a podium with Reza Aslan a month ago in Germany, and he estimated the Christian percent of the Palestinians now at 10%. Historically it was closer to 30%. Either he was wrong or there has been a massive departure over the last 20 years.

Everyone in Egypt who isn't directly on the take hates Mubarak. He's a thug and an incompetent dictator. Even some on the take hate him...Sadat had much more popular support. Secular nationalism in Egypt has gone entirely rancid.

Politics in an Arab country are about who has the right to give orders, advantage their friends and deal, as they see fit, with their enemies. The enduring hope of many Americans has been that changes in government, even radical ones, will replace corrupt autocracies with something better. The historic policy of the American government in the region has been based on the fear that changes in Arab government, especially radical ones, will only lead to something worse.

The opponents of Egypt's government who matter -- that is, those who would be likeliest to come to power were that government to lose office -- dislike it because it employs tools of coercion against them that they would like to employ themselves, and because it maintains a peace with Israel they would like to break. These changes would not represent steps in the right direction.

I do not doubt for a moment that many millions of Egyptians despise the corruption of Mubarak's government, hate the idea of his turning leadership over to his son, and yearn as do most people the world over for a government that delivers justice, performs necessary services honestly and reliably, and can be trusted. They do not like Israel but have no wish to go to war with it.

Would these people, who are certainly numerous in Egypt and may even be a majority, control a post-Mubarak government? I don't know Egypt near well enough to say it's impossible, but recent Arab history strongly suggests it is unlikely. I know that isn't an attractive thought to people whose faith in democracy sustains their view of what is possible in Arab countries; to be honest, it is not an attractive thought to me either, because while I haven't any faith in Arab democracy Egypt is large enough to be important.

But I'd never suggest hope and faith as appropriate foundations for American foreign policy. And, all other considerations aside, we can't forget (Mubarak cannot have forgotten) that the same movement now protesting piously against his corruption produced the people who murdered his predecessor. The original point on this thread was that Egyptian authorities must be very nervous at the Hamas takeover in Gaza. I think that's unlikely; Egypt could have done much to inhibit the growth of Hamas' armed strength, and didn't. It's more likely that Hamas' seizure of Gaza and how its members have dealt with their enemies from Fatah only confirmed Egyptians officials' beliefs about how their own Islamists would act if the government's boot were off their neck. Are those beliefs wrong?

I agree that it confirms the Egyptian security forces' beliefs about what will happen if they stop torturing and cheating the MB out of power. But where we seem to disagree is that I think the Gaza example will lessen the appetite of individuals within Mubarak's security state for brutality. I could be wrong, but I see this as damaging the Egyptian state in its battle with extremists. I recognized in my original post that it could work out the opposite but I don't think so.

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2007 — The Bush administration is quietly weighing the prospect of reaching out to the party that founded modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

I guess Shadi has more influence than we realized.

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