Troublesome US Ally in Egypt

From Kota Kinabalu, SABAH

February 2, 2011

OPINIONThe Wall Street Journal (Feb. 2-6, 2011)

Troublesome US Ally: Hosni Mubarak

by Max Boot

Hosni Mubarak and His Amigo from Texas

As Hosni Mubarak teeters on the brink, a lot of wishful thinking is emanating from the West–both from those who want gone and those who don’t. But it does scant justice to the complexity of the situation to claim that Mr. Mubarak was a superb ally, or to imagine that we (Americans) can manage an easy transition to a post-Mubarak regime.

The best that can be said for Mr. Mubarak is that he has been easy for the West to deal with. He is always ready to spur along Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to stage military exercises with the United States. He is certainly a dedicated foe of Gamaa al Islamiya and other Islamist terrorist organisations that threatened his rule. Above all, he did not renounce  the peace treaty with Israel that had gotten his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, killed. Behind the scenes, Mr Mubarak and Omar Suleiman,formerly his Intelligence Chief and now his Vice President, have had close relations with a succession of Israeli Prime Ministers and American Presidents.

Egypt's VP Omar Suleiman: His Days are Numbered Too

But let’s not romanticise the soon-to-be departed dictator. He presided over a very cold peace with Israel. Even as he was negotiating with Israeli leaders, he was turning a blind eye to the rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism that polluted Egypt’s state-controlled news media and mosques. The Middle East Media Research Institute has an invaluable archive of these revolting statements. Last year, Hussam Fawzi Jabbar, was quoted as saying, “Hitler was right to say what he said and to do what he did to the Jews”. Keep in mind that in Egypt most clerics are state employees whose pronouncements are carefully monitored by the secret police. That Mr.Jabar is able to say such outrageous things in public means that Mr. Mubarak doesn’t object.

Consider the two-part essay, “The Lie About the Burning of the Jews”, that appeared in 2004 in Al Liwaa Al-Islami (The Islamic Banner), an official journal of Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. The article is a statement of Holocaust denial, claiming that Hitler’s genocide was invented by the Zionists to justify the creation of the Jewish state. At least the editor-in-chief of Al Liwaa Al-Islami was fired after that incident, under American pressure.

By contrast, no one in Egyptian state television has been disciplined for its 41- part series “A Kinght Without a Horse”, which ran in 2002 and dramatised the old canard of anti-Semitism, “The  Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. That cinematic masterpiece was produced in cooperation of Hezbollah’s Al-Munar television which suggests that Mr. Mubarak is hardly an inveterate foe of all things islamist.

Indeed he often did little to stop the massive smuggling of supplies into HAMAS-controlled Gaza. His attitude has seemed to be that HAMAS can arm itself against Israel as long as it doesn’t cooperate with its Egyptian Islamist brethren against him.

Like other secular Middle East dictators (e.g. the Assads in Syria or Saddam Hussein in Iraq), Mr. Mubarak played a canny double game with the Islamists, ruthlessly repressing their domestic attacks but turning a blind eye to their organising and export of Jihadism abroad.

Thus while Egypt’s services cracked down hard on Islamist terrorism in 1990s when it was threatening the lucrative tourist trade, Mr. Mubarak has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood– the mother of all Islamist organizations–to be the main opposition party. This has made him, as he well knows, the indispensable man to the West–the only thing supposedly standing in the way of an Islamist power grab.

Yet Mr. Mubarak’s police state actually drove many Egyptians into the arms of the radicals. It is no coincidence that al Qaeda started as primarily an Egyptian-Saudi organisation run by citizens of two of our closest and most repressive allies. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, was radicalised as a boy in Egypt and then all the more so after spending three years being tortured in Mr. Mubarak’s dungeons in the 1980s.

Mr. Mubarak’s downfall could well be a good thing in the long run if it opens up Egypt’s closed political and economic systems to greater dynamism and debate, so that in future frustrated young Egyptians can find peaceful expression rather than strapping on a suicide vest. Yet we should be realistic abou the short-term costs of a new regime in a country that has been subjected to decades of anti-Western and anti-Israeli propaganda by Mr. Mubarak–and where many blame us (with some justification) for inflicting Mr. Mubarak on them. A government that better reflects the will of the people will be less willing to cut deals with the US or Israel.


Nobel Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei

Mohammed ElBaradei, the former UN Atomic Agency Head who has emerged as the leader of the opposition, made it clear his anti-Israel sentiments in an interview last summer with the German magazine Der Spiegel. He called the Gaza Strip “the world’s largest prison” and declared that it was imperative to “open the borders, end the blockade.”

Mr. ElBarade also glowingly of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who has assailed Israel in harsh terms and voted against United Nations sanctions on Iran. Mr. ElBaradei said: “Turkey is a member of NATO and partner of the West and Israel. And yet Prime Minister Erdogan had no qualms about supporting an aid flotilla for Gaza that was supposed to breach Israel’s sea blockade. The people of the Arab world are celebrating him. Erdogan’s photo can be seen everywhere.”

That is probably what we can expect from a post-Mubarak Egypt. It is doubtful that Mr. ElBaradei would terminate Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–a move that would cost Egypt more than a billion dollars in American aid. But it is probable that, like Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey, Mr. Elbaradei’s Egypt would be less cooperative with Israel and more friendly towards its enemies. In the Muslim world, this is actually a moderate position compared to the Jihadism of the Islamists. But from the standpoint of the US or Israel it is obviously far from ideal.

Yet what choice have we? Mr. Mubarak’s day is done. It’s only a question of time before he slinks out office. The best the US and our allies can do at this point is try to make the transition as fast and  painless as possible.

*Max Boot is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. The Council is headquartered in New York with an office in Washington, DC.

8 thoughts on “Troublesome US Ally in Egypt

  1. I think this writer has conveniently forgotten that Turkey was a key ally of Israel in the very recent past – and stiill is in strategic terms. The Turks with their root Hittite-Phrygian-Ionian, Greek(Seleucid), Byzantine then Ottoman Empires have been place of refuge for the much maligned Jewry. So is Egypt.

    Instead of belabouring the short term turmoil, the long term prospects for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be one of the top priorities for these two more or less secular nations.

    This reshaping of the new world order (not by very much), gives an opportunity for the liberal, ‘decadent’ West to show their respect for multiculturalism. Not that they will.

    China? Time to withdraw behind their Great Wall and wait for the crude oil to breach USD 250-300 per barrel..

  2. Wake up Arab world and change, US ally, depend US or British aid is not the solution!

    C.L. Familiaris,
    Right, the long term prospects for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be one of the top priorities for these two more or less secular nations.

  3. Notice the subtle spin by Max Boot towards Israel. Elbradei is the new light of Egypt, a kind of consensus builder who will be like what Anand Panyarachun of Thailand was in the 1990s. It maybe recalled that following the military take-over in February 1991, Anand was invited to serve as Prime Minister of Thailand in March 1991. While reluctant to assume that political position in the aftermath of the extra-constitutional process, Anand was convinced that by assuming the position, he could help lead Thailand back to the path of democracy.

    ElBaradei, if he is finally chosen in the immediate aftermath of this turning point, will have a difficult task to rebuild Egypt for all Egyptians. He is also a realist, not a demagogue. But he will need the support of the US, Europe and the international community if he is to succeed in managing the turnaround in Egypt.

    His experience as Head of the UN Atomic Energy Commission will prove useful. He is a man of peace and I believe he will serve the best interest of his country. That can sometimes mean disagreeing with the US and Israel. After all, Egypt is a sovereign and independent nation, albeit a very important player in the Middle East.–Din Merican

  4. El Baderai is not popular with the Egyptians. He jumped onto the bandwagon at the last minute.

    Western think-thanks, especially in the US, most of them are set up by prominent members of the Jewish and Israeli lobby groups, are making spin on the Egyptian crisis to favour the status quo, ie a Pro Israel Egypt.

    Ordinary Egyptians’ interest is given a lip service by the Obama Administration and people like Tony Blair.

    When it comes to Middle East politics, take western think thank essays with a truck load of salt.

  5. Notice the subtle spin by Max Boot towards Israel. – Dato Din

    Now, who is Max Boot?

    His profile:

    Max Boot was born in 1969 in Moscow. His parents, both Russian JEWS, later emigrated from the Soviet Union to Los Angeles, where he was raised.

    He started his journalistic career writing columns for the Berkeley student newspaper The Daily Californian. He later stated that he believes he is the only conservative writer in that paper’s history. Boot and his family currently live in New York City.

    Boot is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and a regular contributor to other publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.

    He blogs for Commentary Magazine on its page Contentions. He serves as a consultant to the U.S. military and as a regular lecturer at U.S. military institutions such as the Army War College and the Command and General Staff College.

    Boot wrote numerous articles with the Council in 2003 and in 2004. The World Affairs Councils of America named Boot one of “the 500 most influential people in the United States in the field of foreign policy” in 2004. He also worked as member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in 2004.

    Didn’t I say that many of the prominent members of American think tanks who propagandize their biased views of the world are also members of the Pro Israel Jewish Lobby groups.

    The American media in particular, run and influenced by the US Jews and/or Jewish lobby, publicise these individuals to forward their prejudiced views on the Middle East politics and the Israel-Palestinian conflict so as to pressure the White House and the US politicians.

    And then the Jewish Lobby and the Pro Israel bloggers will cut and paste their articles and add more to the Jewish/Israeli propaganda.

    The majority Anglo Americans are being made suckers with their hidden motives and agenda.

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