FP: There are a few good analysts of the ME, but none so accurate, different and interesting as Martin Kramer. I do not recall him ever being outright wrong or regurgitating conventional Western “wisdom”.
In this short piece he shared with me he refers to a study he conducted in 2005 about ME regimes and their likely fate. His conclusion:
In summation, we see liberal democratic transformation as unlikely. We believe the contest is bipolar, between regimes and Islamists, with the former less and less able to resist Islamist entreaties and encroachments. We believe that the coming decade will see more power ceded to Islamists, who will be wooed by regimes, the secular opposition and foreign powers alike. As elections allow them to demonstrate their appeal, they will increasingly become the fulcrum of politics.
Note that even before Obama it was the Bush administration who initiated the undermining of Arab regimes by its “rhetoric about democracy”.
Kramer was rightly skeptical of democratization and he validates my long time arguments in this blog. The Arab culture and religion, which are tightly intertwined—Islam is at its core a religion by Arabs for the Arabs—are not compatible with both order and freedom. It is not a coincidence that no Arab regime has been democratic since the colonial powers left the ME. The Arab world developed two forms of authoritarianism to enforce order at the expense of freedom: military rule and Islamism.
But order at the expense of freedom is conducive to corruption and senility and as military led regimes weakened, only the other alternative can replace it, which is exactly what happened. But Islamists have two significant advantages over military rulers:
1. They understand the critical value of and rely heavily on ideological indoctrination and its inculcation into state institutions, educational system, the media and the military.
2. They rule in the name of Allah.
If they manage to take over, it will be a very, very long time before they weaken, if at all. And because the problems affecting Arab societies are not resolvable by Islam—indeed, Islam is one core reason for their failure—their instinct will be to resort to external violence as a means to both distract from the failure and to piggyback on and exploit the success of others. That’s what supremacism and Jihad have always been for.
Now consider his current prediction of MB’s strategy. Did you see anything similar by anybody else?
The military’s efforts to contain the Muslim Brotherhood, at this late date, can only buy limited time. The parliament has been dissolved, but it will have to be reconstituted, and then what? The rewriting of the constitution can be delayed, but the constitution will have to be written and approved by the legislature, and then what? And if the president isn’t to be the supreme commander of the Egyptian armed forces, then who will be? The simple truth is that Egypt isn’t going to revert to military rule—it’s too late, the polls show that a vast majority of Egyptians want a transition to civilian, constitutional rule. For the military, the question is, what are the terms of this transition? What will guarantee their economic enterprises? What will assure them that they won’t be prosecuted and purged? This is now the core of Egyptian domestic politics: the terms on which the military will exit. And with each passing day, the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood is strengthened in this negotiation, because it grows more legitimate and the generals grow less legitimate. There are those who think that the Muslim Brotherhood can still be outmaneuvered by gerrymandering the system. In the long term, it can’t. Egypt is headed toward populist Islamist rule, and it is just a matter of time before the Brotherhood checkmates its opponents.
So how will the Muslim Brotherhood rule? It is the misfortune of the Muslim Brotherhood that, having waited more than 80 years for power, they have come to it at perhaps the lowest point in the modern history of Egypt. The country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, the result of decades of bad decisions, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law. The Muslim Brotherhood is in a bind, because it has to deliver. For the masses of people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution wasn’t about democracy and freedom. It was about bread and social justice.
The Brotherhood has a so-called “Renaissance” plan for the overhaul of the Egyptian economy. I won’t pretend to judge its feasibility. Could modernization of tax collection double or triple tax revenues? Can Egypt double the number of arriving tourists, even while contemplating limits on alcohol and bikinis? Can a renovation of the Suez Canal raise transit revenues from $6 billion a year to $100 billion? Can Egypt’s economy surpass the economies of Turkey and Malaysia within seven years? These are all claims made at various times by the economic thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood, who trumpet Egypt’s supposed potential for self-sufficiency.
If you think this is pie in the sky, then it isn’t difficult to imagine the “Plan B” of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is to find ways to raise the rent Egypt collects from the West and rich Arabs for its geopolitical position. Call it a shakedown, call it a bailout, it doesn’t matter. The message Egypt is sending is that it’s too big to fail, and that the world, and especially the United States, owes it. The deputy guide, Khayrat ash-Shater, put it directly: “We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship.” Egypt, which is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, is thus owed compensation.
A key part of this narrative is that Mubarak sold peace with Israel on the cheap. In Egypt it is believed that the $1.3 billion that Egypt receives a year in military aid, and hundreds of millions more in economic aid, are just a portion of what Egypt’s adherence to peace is worth. To get more, the plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to persuade Washington that it can’t take Egypt for granted. The strategy will be to stimulate crises that will be amenable to resolution by the transfer of resources. No one can predict what those crises will look like. It’s hard to imagine that some of them won’t involve Israel.
So the question the United States faces will be this: is Egypt indeed too big to fail? Is the United States now not only going to talk the Muslim Brotherhood—which it is already doing—but actively work to help it succeed? The question comes at a time when the United States has become frugal. And there is no superpower rivalry that Egypt can exploit. When John Foster Dulles informed Nasser in 1956 that the United States wouldn’t finance his great dam at Aswan, Nasser went to Moscow. Today there aren’t any alternatives to the United States.
That being the case, the only way for Egypt to get the attention of Washington is to threaten to spin out of American orbit and into the opposing sphere of radical Islam. At no point will it be indisputable that the United States has “lost Egypt.” But at every point, Egypt’s loss will seem imminent. In that respect, the Muslim Brotherhood has already made its mark on history: from this day forward, Egypt can’t ever be taken for granted again.
He got it right in 2005 and he is right now.
I expressed similar thoughts on this blog. The only thing I would quibble with is that the question “Will the US actively help MB succeed?” has already been answered: Yes. The US has done and is doing it. See my comments on JoshuaPundit’s recent post.
The Islamists will play the West like a violin and extract considerable resources that it cannot afford, with which they prepare themselves for undermining their very source.