As we’ve witnessed in real time, Egypt and revolution are now synonymous. Regionally relevant, Egypt every day slips away, from purported democracy to overthrow, to anarchy. With enough similarities to Iran in the late 70’s, another “ally” has fallen aside in a region that fuels the world.
We preach often and with interpretive translations or dramatic renditions about stability and maintaining it. We want financial stability. We want national stability and we want economic and social stability. But the “stability” we believe we had and embraced and embellished isn’t stability at all. My question is: is it repression or is it a necessary evil?
I ask as we see Tunisia fall — or begin to — and Jordan begin to wobble, while the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, increases its activity. And now Egypt. Why is Egypt so important? Fundamentally, their geography, their peace accord with Israel, the three million barrels of oil moving through the Suez canal daily, and Mubarek’s affinity to “help” us made them a necessary ally. Except for Jordan, Egypt is the only country in the region that attempts or manages to acquit themselves with maintaining a de facto peace and civil relationship with Israel.
But what of Egypt’s suppressed radicals? The basic ideology of political Islam finds its origin within Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has a long history of assassinations (Sadat) and attempts (Nasser) creating radical and political leaders (Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri and Sayyid Qutb) and influencing the world’s most wanted man (Usama Bib Laden) and terrorist group (Al Qaeda).
The current situation has its roots in post WWII, with Britain’s diminishing influence and the emerging Arab Israeli relations. Nasser’s rise to power and his rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled growing animosity and hostility in Egypt. With Nasser’s rejection of pro Western government and Islamist rule, it left him as an ideal partner for the Russians, hence our need to maintain active vigilance and persuasion within the region.
Nasser’s rejection of an Islamic government was an affront to the Brotherhood and in particular Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was the leading Islamic theologian of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. Qutb was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamist, poet, and catalyst of political and radical Islam. After a failed attempt to assassinate Nasser, Qutb and others believed to be involved were jailed, and tortured. Qutb was released and re-arrested and finally martyred. His writings, coupled with his education in the United States and his subsequent rejection of America were additional fuel for his radical thoughts and embrace of a more fundamental Islamic point of view, with some calling it a Salafist one.
All that said, the Martyring of Qutb and the success of the Brotherhood’s assination of Anwar Sadat (my father-in-law was in the reviewing stands several rows behing Sadat) was in direct conflict with the secularist roots of Egypts’ quasi Democracy.
Enter Mubarek. Vowing to only remain one term, Mubarek has remained “President” or better stated benevolent dictator since 1981, but as of late perhaps not so. Having been the ruler of Egypt for nearly 30 years, Mubarek has utilized Egypt’s Emergency Law for his entire tenure. He considers the country to be in a permanent state of emergency and under that guise has expanded his powers, exercised force and intimidation and diminished civil rights as a result. The Egyptian government routinely arrests and detains citizens for any number of reasons, with limited or no due process. Their record on human rights is also quite spotty and they are not considered to be a free society. But they are our ally.
So now the rub: should we not have been concerned with Egypt’s issues as long as they showed us favor? Much of the rhetoric trumpeted by radical Islam about the United States is its propping up of corrupt rulers and despots to ensure access to the middle east’s oil and maintain low prices. Is there any truth to their argument? Is there fundamentally a different argument that can be made about Iran and now Egypt? Certainly there are differences, but there are also similarities. I read recently that we have supported upwards of 25 dictators since WWII. Do we do this simply to maintain cheap oil? Clearly one could make a case for that. Our entire Newtonian or industrialized economy is built on hydrocarbons. The world’s economy is still based on an industrial age hydrocarbon economy. Is this the march of civilization? Is this repetitive activity, exploitation of one nation for the betterment of another, the expectation or status quo? Isn’t this the definition of hegemonic empire?
So are we willing to weigh the merits of our relationships with dictatorial leaders against our need to fuel our machines and maintain spheres of influence? Objectively and for purpose of debate, can we entertain the possibility that our activity and “needs” have created, to some extent, the environment that causes terrorist activity to occur? Do our desires and malleable stance toward human rights make us global hypocrites? Are we responsible for some of our pain? Should we be at all surprised that repression over an extended period of time creates environments and opportunities for inflamed and agitated populaces to revolt against their oppressors?
In order for the United States to flourish and reach its zenith as a nation, fuel was required; cheap energy to power an economy and industry. Cheap energy was required to create revenue to distribute as aid around the globe. Cheap energy was required to garner global influence and global force projection. Is this the march of civilization and is American Exceptionalism much different than British, Spanish, French, Roman, or Greek periods of power? I’d like to think we’ve been more humanistic in our hegomony. However, can we get past our hubris to entertain the possibility that our wealth, influence, and power were not abstract or arbitrary gains, but gained by exploiting other nations that had neither the might nor influence to stop us? And, are we all “good” with that because that’s how Nations grow and become influential? I believe one must ask the questions.
One must ask because in order to protect our way of life and defend the homeland — homeland security — one must have the historical context and not simply monkey grinder rhetoric. If we are to defend our Nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic and against existential threats, we must also be able to identify our hand in causation. Nothing happens in a vacuum; to believe it does is folly and dangerous.
If one believes in some sense of American Exceptionalism and also that same sense of International responsibility as I do, than one has to entertain all the facts, not those that simply fit our rationale. How else can one make and execute an effective homeland security plan and enterprise if we choose to ignore all the facts? As has been said before, we are all entitled to our own opinions informed or otherwise. We are however not entitled to our own facts.
The revolutionaries in Egypt are determined and growing more emboldened to bring down Mubarak’s regime. I wonder aloud if the leaders of the last 50 years of Egypt’s secular tyranny realized they spawned two enemies: the present revolutionaries and the theocratic absolutists. How much play the Muslim Brotherhood has remains to be seen and having reporters on 24/7 infotainment channels speculate or report that “leaders” pontificate about their role and/or are trying to separate Christians from Muslims is reckless and dangerous. But is it factual? I wonder if Egypt is more important than Sangin, Afghanistan where Marines engage in daily fire fights and die every day.
I wonder if the revolutionaries trying desperately to maintain calm and suppress anarchy have given any thought to what will replace the current regime. In the three act play, we are still in act one. Could this be the last of a series of dominos as former American strongholds topple or is this beginning of the people’s revolt against tyranny? Do the Saudis worry or dismiss? Does this devolving situation change our homeland security posture and procedures? These are interesting times.
And what is the definition of Homeland Security… Complexity, here we come!