The eruption of mass protests on Egypt’s Tahrir Square calling for an end to the rule by the military junta has put the United States and Turkey on the horns of a dilemma.
Washington cannot overlook that the demand of the protestors is for democratic change and an end to the military rule. Indeed, US wields enormous influence over the Egyptian military, which receives 5 billion dollars American military aid annually. But Washington will be averse to the military’s abdication of power. Because, the democratic opposition is led by forces that are beyond the pale of US influence, Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
True, US has established low-key contacts with MB but it is a long haul to develop a “constructive dialogue” proper. What worries US most will be MB’s stance on a host of issues concerning Israel – MB’s stance on Egypt’s peace accord with Israel; security cooperation between Egypt and Israel; on Hamas; on Iran, etc. Israel has even alleged that Tehran has links with sections of MB. (Indeed, MB is far from monolithic.) In sum, US geopolitical interests are best served if democratic change takes a back seat for the present in Egypt.
It’ll be fun to hear what Barack Obama has to say. If he comes down too hard on the military, Israeli Lobby will be hopping mad in Washington, the Republicans will go on the offensive. But if he keeps mum, that’ll be the mother of all ironies. Remember, it was Cairo University that Obama chose in 2009 as the venue for that famous speech?
Turkey is in an equally awkward spot, but from a different perspective. The Egyptian military is of course asking for a “Turkish-style” constitutional role in the country’s political life. Turkish PM Recep Erdogan paid a high-profile visit to Cairo two months ago. And he counselled the Egyptian people to follow secularist path. MB went ballistic. Other Islamist groups also joined the fray and flung invectives at Erdogan. Thus, Turkey is today in an embarrassing position. It just doesn’t want to be seen as the role model for Egypt anymore. The “Turkish model” suits the Egyptian military, but that is not how Turkey thought it will become a role model for the Middle East.
A “sideshow” is going to be Jordan. Can you hear the rumblings of a gathering storm in Jordan? Again, MB may be spearheading the democracy wave in Jordan, especially if the Egyptian protests gather momentum. No wonder, Jordanian monarch King Abdullah just paid a rare visit to West Bank – after a gap of 11 years!
What happens in Egypt will be of momentous consequence to the Middle Eastern politics. Obama and Erdogan must be shaking their head in despair. Both are at a loss for words. Erdogan would much rather talk about Syria. Their Persian Gulf allies would also feel uneasy as the democracy wind from Egypt will eventually shake up the oligarchies there, too. Again, the only country in the region that genuinely salutes the protestors on Tahrir Square would be – well, Iran.
Posted in Politics.
– November 21, 2011