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Egypt: What's Really Happening?

Posted on the 16 August 2013 by Charlescrawford @charlescrawford

Two more superb American articles about Egypt.

One by Adam Garfinkle looms at the very big picture and has some mightily wise words to say on the logic of political change:

We can see in past developments leading to liberal democracy the dialectical relationships among technological changes, social mobilization, economic specialization and the sometimes derivative, sometimes independent power of political ideas.

But what we also see in more cases than not is the outsized and unpredictable role of both happenstance and exotic personalities. Some places become democratic that shouldn’t, according to the lights of social science, and some don’t that should.

At times like these analysts can therefore know oodles of history and social science and have ample reservoirs of area- and country expertise and still end up totally wrong because some jerk simply screws up.

We’ll know pretty soon if al-Sisi deserves the description. The technical term for this is the “monkey-in-the-machine-room corollary” of political development...

Then there is Michael Totten talking to Eric Trager, who knows a thing or two about the Muslim Brotherhood:

Many people think of the Brotherhood as an Islamist organization that rejects Al Qaeda style violence, so therefore it’s “moderate.” And this, in fact, is how Muslim Brotherhood leaders describe themselves when I talk to them. I’ll ask them what they mean when they say they’re moderates, and they’ll say, “we aren’t Al Qaeda.” Frankly, that has never been my standard of moderation. [Laughs.]

I think Washington’s fascination with the Brotherhood is the product of a search for an Islamist organization that reflects the “culture” of the Middle East and isn’t violent. There is a lack of appreciation for the fact that just because an organization doesn’t lead with violence doesn’t mean it’s going to be moderate or democratic or capable of governing...

The United States has done a very poor job managing perceptions in Egypt. The administration assumed if it wasn’t critical about Morsi’s behavior domestically, they’d win his cooperation on foreign policy. The problem is that Morsi was only willing to cooperate with us on foreign policy in the short run. The Muslim Brotherhood wants to consolidate power in Egypt and then create a global Islamic state. It’s a key part of their ideology and their rhetoric. They talk about it with me. They can’t be our partners.

Worse, by not speaking up and criticizing Morsi as he tried to create unchecked power for himself, it created the impression that the United States wanted to replace Mubarak with the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s extremely damaging in a place like Egypt with such tumultuous politics.

We didn’t support the Brotherhood. We failed to speak up and manage perceptions. In the future, the only way to address this problem will be to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. We have to spread our risk by making sure we engage everybody.

Really good. Read them both. Now.

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