Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dr. Guy Bechor and his 10 Rules for Egypt's Regime Survival

If you have been following the events unfold in Egypt via Al Jazeera, Twitter or any western source (that got most of its sources through the former), the lack of regime change in Egypt this far into the revolt must seem strange. That's because our understanding of Egypt has been clouded by democratic optimism on one side, and Qatar's agenda on the other. With lack of thorough understanding of the history and the culture of Egypt, it's almost impossible to make a clear headed judgment.

There is however, one analyst, that knows Egypt very well. Unlike some analysts who predicted the fall of the Mubarak regime and its replacement with the Muslim Brotherhood, or others who optimistically foreshadowed the dawn of 'true democracy', Bechor maintained that the regime will probably survive this round.

To let his readers better grasp his understanding of the situation, Dr. Bechor came up with 10 guiding rules to why the regime has thus far survived, and will probably continue doing so. To those of you who can read Hebrew, you may follow the link. To those who don't, here is my summary of them:

Rule 1: The Egyptian military and the vast security apparatus remained firm behind Mubarak.  A vast state apparatus of millions of armed members will not give up easily. According to Bechor, the defense establishment saw the removal of Mubarak as standing for its own decapitation. Early own I wrote that western demands for immediate democratic reforms from the regime are unrealistic, because they amount to the establishment committing suicide. It's hard to believe that such a big and powerful interest group will go down looking, considering how 'kind' revolutions tend to be on the former regime.

Rule 2: Unlike the Palestinians and the Tunisians, Egypt is not a decades long social construct. Egypt is an ancient civilization that maintained a very consistent power structure throughout its history. The very centralized and hierarchical nature of government raises from Egypt's historical need to tame the Nile with vast and complex projects. In a way, Egypt is a civilization based on social engineering. I wrote about the absurdity of demanding immediate changes in such a state is unrealistic.

Rule 3: Egypt is a country of institutions. The operation of state institutions and their supremacy is an axiom. Every institution must function, and every individual must carry out his official capacity. Of course the old and feeble Mubarak can just through in the towel and go relax in Baden Baden. But that will not be responsible of him at this stage.

Rule 4: Historical perspective. Analysts claimed that events like this have never happened before. This is not true, as 1952 saw quite a popular uprising. Crowds of hundreds of thousands sacked 700 Cairo hotels. Articles were addressing the same social problems that exist today. A few months later we saw the Officer's Revolution that brought Nassr to power. What we see now is another internal military coup, not a popular revolution.

Rule 5: Perspective. The broadcasts give the viewer the illusion that all of Egypt is out on the streets. But the parts of central Cairo where all the turmoil is taking place are amazingly congested to begin with and millions of people go through them on a daily basis. Egypt is a country of 90 million people, all squeezed a long the Nile and its delta. To that there is the added mass of 15 million young unemployed males. For them, being out and demonstrating just gives them a temporary sense of purpose. All in all, Cairo is quite crowded after any Friday prayer.

Rule 6: Mubarak's play. If I leave, chaos will surely ensue! Maybe self serving, but the fear of chaos does register with the people. There is a fear that if the head of the pyramid is chopped, the entire body will collapse.

Rule 7: The Mukhabarat never ceased functioning. While they stepped away from the demonstrators, they took note of faces and names for 'future reference'. And their interrogation chambers, reeking of urine were working full time.

Rule 8: There is no real alternative. While in the Iranian revolution there was a charismatic Islamist leader who was able to establish himself as a true alternative to the Shah, and won the support of several key sectors of society. This is not the case in Egypt. Western favourite El Baradei has been away from the country for three decades and speaks with a strange accent. He also does not have wide ranging support (except for 300,000 'Like's on his Facebook profile). The spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is in exile in Qatar (another Al Jazeera connection).

Rule 9: Mubarak. He is a great political survivor, following Machiavelli's rules for maintaining power quite effectively.

Rule 10: The Pharaohnic past. It survived with great continuity for 3,500 years. While many orientalists view Egypt's Pharaonic past as irrelevant and distant, Bechor who made his PhD and much of his further research, sees it as the key to understanding Egypt's political culture and distinguish it from the rest of the Arab world.

While I don't want to claim that we should actively help Mubarak's survival, we must realize that we can not and should not project western values on Egypt. Barry Rubin, who has been ringing the alarm bells on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood now talks about the prospect of regime survival.:

The West, then, interpreted events in Egypt in its own image: Mubarak as Darth Vader (or Dick Cheney, whichever you think is worse), the revolutionaries as heroic strugglers (which is why we weren’t permitted to point out that many of them were Islamists who wanted to set up a worse dictatorship), and Obama as the moral, all-seeing president who knows America’s interests are best served by taking a leap in the dark with no strategy, no serious evaluation, and no clearly defined goal. 
Is this a tragedy for all those Egyptians who really do want a moderate, secular democracy? You bet it is. But one day, when there are enough people like that, they will succeed.
Basically, the west in general and Obama in particular is causing great disservice to its strategical interests because of utter inability to take caution. We project our values on the Egyptian people. If we topple Mubarak and get the Muslim Brotherhood, we lose. If we come out fiercely against Mubarak and he succeeds, we lose.

Shouldn't we follow the advice of Obama and let Egyptians decide for themselves rather than let a foreign power decide for them (which is ironically enough, what Obama has been trying to do all along)?


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