The current situation in Egypt has created new challenges for the United States and needs careful calculations for proper progression. On one hand the U.S. wants stability in the country while on the other hand it supports democracy, which will ultimately empower suppressive Islamic regimens and threaten the U.S. interests in the area.
At the moment there are three powers that claim legitimacy in Egypt: the army, the Islamist-led parliament, and the young revolutionists of Tahrir Square. Each of these factions believes that they are the legitimate power.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) feels as though they are the ones who made the revolution successful as they supported the population against Mubarak.
The young revolutionists of Tahrir Square believe that they are the ones who created the revolution and thus they must have a share in power (currently they have less than 3 percent representation in the Parliament).
The Islamists believe that they are the only legitimate power as they have risen through the ballot elections.
Among these groups, the army is still the only force that has held long and relatively stable relations with the U.S. and thus can protect its interests in the area.
Unfortunately, the military’s nonchalant attitude, and lengthy trial, of Mubarak and his family among many other terrible decisions has created a strong wave of antagonism against the SCAF among the population. Despite this, for a multitude of different reasons, the military still enjoy an immense amount of popularity within the country.
The Islamists who dominate the new Egyptian parliament have not clarified their position on major issues, such as the peace treaty with Israel. In fact, in the recent anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members were shouting slogans that were supportive of the Nazi ideology. These include: "Hitler Basha (an Arabic word of praise) said (correctly) it in the past . . . any Zionist must be humiliated.”
The context of these slogans was to commend Hitler’s actions against the Jews. If the moment arises when the Islamists seize all the power, i.e., control the military, intelligence, and police, it will be extremely difficult to stop them from transforming the country to be similar to Iran or even worse.
The existence of the military in a position to have full control over the armed forces is the best option for the U.S. to protect its interests in this vicinity (despite the mistakes of the SCAF).
If the U.S. lets the army down and pressures them to hand the power completely over to the civilians, they are risking their foreign interests. In this case it is likely to face a more vicious religiously based fascism replacing the military suppression of the population. It would be significantly easier to deal with the latter than with the former.
The third group, the young liberal revolutionists, are very passionate about democracy, however, they lack the necessary experience needed to rule the country and do not have apparent leaders. Many of them divert their energy only against the military and completely ignore the Islamist threat upon the nation. In addition, these youth have yet to gain the vast majority's support.
The U.S. needs to have a distinctive strategy to deal with these groups.
The U.S. should show support for the army as long as they maintain the secularism of the country and protect U.S. interests in the region.
On one hand, the U.S. should show respect to the Islamists and on the other hand they MUST be very clear that the Islamists cannot get any support from the U.S. if they do not clarify their current ambiguous position on respecting the previous international commitments of the country including the peace treaty with Israel.
The U.S. needs to ask the MB leaders to clarify their position from the recent pro-Nazi slogans that were used by their members in Tahrir Square on the anniversary Jan 25. It will be completely irresponsible to use American taxpayer dollars to support a regime led by people who encourage pro-Nazi slogans.
At the moment the MB is facing several challenges. These include:
1. Possible confrontation with the military if the MB insisted not to give the military certain privileges in the new Egypt.
2. An impatient population that will expect the MB-led parliament to bring a fast solution to the already declining economy.
3. Salafi groups who will insist on a very strict interpretation of Islam. For example, the Salafi groups already started to object to accepting loans from international banks as they see it as Rebba (usury) which is “Haram” or forbidden in Islam.
4. The young revolutionists who accuse them of betraying the revolution. In fact, in the recent demonstrations of the Jan. 25 anniversary the revolutionists physically attacked members of the MB, raised their shoes against them (a very insulting thing to do in the Arab culture), and cursed them loudly in public prayer that was joined by thousands.
5. Divisions within the MB as several young members started to feel that their leadership was losing its moral character. For example, the daughter of Akram Al-Sheer (a leading member within the MB) had a fight over the phone with the Murshid (supreme guide) of the MB and decided to resign from the organization after he hung up.
All the above factors have put the MB in a situation where they cannot fail in bringing fast economic success for the country; otherwise, the above powers will unite against it and end their political dream to rule the country.
The U.S. should use this moment to their benefit as the MB is starting to worry that they may not be able to solve the current economic problems of Egypt. Recently, the MB started to say that no single faction in the society can solve the problems in the country by itself. This has been said to escape from being entirely responsible if the economy falls even steeper after they come to power, as their failure will abort their dream to prove that “Islam is the solution.”
The current situation gives the U.S. an advantage over the MB as the group will not risk Egypt losing billions of dollars in U.S. aid and other forms of support. Losing such a large monetary amount can significantly threaten their political future and risk the concept of Islamic revival.
In fact, one of the most effective ways to tame the MB is notify them that if they worked against U.S. interests or break the former commitments of the country, the U.S. aid that typically goes to Egypt will go to Israel instead. This will place the MB in a situation where any decision that they may initiate against U.S. interests will turn out to be beneficial, to whom they consider to be their worst enemy, Israel.
In addition, The U.S. needs to direct the various human rights organizations, which are supported by U.S. federal money, to have a strong humanitarian arm that plays a more social role within society. This could include food banks to distribute low-cost food to the poor and supporting their creation of small projects.
The organizations in Egypt that are supported by the U.S. must give more care to such humanitarian efforts so that seculars and liberals can defeat the Islamists in the next elections — rather than putting their main focus on standing against the military. The latter approach pushes the military toward the Islamists and risks bringing the more suppressive Islamists who will overpower the population in the name of Islam.
In conclusion, the current complex situation in Egypt needs a U.S. strategy that puts its interests as a priority and deals with the current realities.
The U.S. needs to back the military in having full control over the armed forces (as long as they keep the U.S. interests in the region), use the power of the U.S. aid to Egypt to influence the MB, and direct the U.S. financed organizations in the country to give more care to humanitarian — rather than political — efforts.
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