Imagine a second Iran in the Middle-East, sharing a border with Israel and controlling the Suez Canal and all the oil and East-West commerce flowing through it. If events in Cairo are allowed to escalate to the point of governmental collapse, a second Iran is what the transformed Egypt will likely resemble.
For two weeks, demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have brought President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year regime to the brink of collapse. This puts the US in a very difficult position: The Egyptian people are clearly fed up with three decades of authoritarian rule, but Mubarak has been a major US ally in the Middle-East, which is easily the most critical geographic area to US security interests.
Even during routine transfers of power in Muslim nations, the threat of Islamic extremists taking over is always of major concern. However, if a Muslim government were to completely collapse amid chaos and anarchy such as in Egypt, with no responsible authority to conduct a methodical transition, an Islamic revolution reminiscent of Iran in 1979 is a near certainty.
A Dichotomous Relationship:
The relationship between the US and Egypt is one of total pragmatism, born of strategic necessity to both nations; Egypt has very quietly been one of the major players in US Middle-East policy for years. By the sheer weight of its incredible history as well as its 84 million inhabitants, Egypt wields enormous influence across the Middle-East and the Muslim world, and has used that influence in support of US initiatives there. They have actively hunted terrorists, honored the peace treaty with Israel and maintained the stability of the Suez Canal to support oil transit and other commerce from the Far East.
The US has reciprocated by providing funding, training and modern military hardware to Egyptian armed forces. These forces are the mainstay of Mubarak’s power base and Arab street credibility and serve as the instrument to support US interests in the region.
Unfortunately, the US partnership with Mubarak has validated the ideological grounds that America’s Jihadist enemies use to conduct terrorist operations, recruit followers and produce anti-US propaganda. The number one grievance many Muslims have against the US is its support of Israel. Number two is the US support of secular dictatorships such as Mubarak’s. These two factors, along with the many vices associated with American culture are standard subjects taught in madrassas across the Muslim world and indoctrination programs in countless terrorist organizations. Overall, what the US has gained from its partnership with Egypt is a degree of short-term stability at the expense of long-term relations with over one billion Muslims.
In other words, this is why they hate us and what they are teaching to future generations of Islamic radicals.
The Potential Threat:
As the likelihood of Mubarak’s departure increases, the question of who will assume power becomes a more pressing issue. During the last week, US President Barak Obama encouraged Egyptian opposition groups to negotiate with the current regime for an immediate transition of power. Small problem: The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized and viable opposition group in Egypt. They have been waiting patiently since their founding in 1928 for a secular Egyptian government to fall and are ready to pounce and seize power should Mubarak be deposed. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), progenitor of numerous terrorist groups such as Hamas, wants to destroy Israel, opposes US foreign policy in the region and seeks to subjugate the entire world under Sharia law. If Egypt transforms its government in a controlled, responsible manner, MB stands to make substantial gains in power and influence. However, if the Mubarak regime completely collapses, MB is well positioned to fill the power vacuum and dominate the Egyptian political landscape. This would be disastrous.
If the Muslim Brotherhood were to ascend to power in Egypt, it would most likely not honor the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979. With Hezbollah now in power in Lebanon, this would place hostile regimes on Israel’s Northern and Southern borders, as well as Syria in the northwest. America’s radical Islamic enemies know that the US economy is a key component of its way of life and its ability to wage the war on terror. Any belligerence in this geopolitical hotspot typically throws the world financial markets into turmoil. With Israel’s tendency to shoot first when threatened, it would not be difficult for MB to instigate hostilities, leading to substantial damage or reversal of the West’s fragile economic recovery. To make matters worse, MB could fabricate some fictional grievance and close the Suez Canal, thereby compounding economic chaos.
Egypt’s Future and America’s role:
Right now, the Egyptian Military is keeping Mubarak in power. Events in Tunisia gave the regime the opportunity to prepare for these demonstrations and not repeat the mistakes of his counterpart, President Ben Ali. In Tunisia, the decisive point leading to Ben Ali’s ouster was his order for the military to fire on the unarmed demonstrators. We can expect the Mubarak regime to not make any similar mistakes that would turn the military against it. I have worked with both Egyptian Special Operations and conventional forces and I am confident they will not let the demonstrations get completely out of control. Maintaining order is critical for a responsible, methodical transition of power to a government that both supports the needs of the people and maintains Egypt’s traditional foreign policies, which are favorable to the US and the West.
The US should stop pressing Mubarak to step down immediately and encouraging opposition groups to continue the protests. The current chaotic environment is perfect for Radical Islamists to create crises, and foment further violence and mayhem that will result in a premature transfer of power. Even now, the Muslim Brotherhood is bringing in legions of their Hamas brethren to instigate, destabilize and inflame the situation due to nonexistent security on the Gaza border.
We have seen this model of US foreign policy before: From 1941 to 1979, the US had a solid ally in Iran under the leadership of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. However, in January of 1979, mass demonstrations organized by Islamic radicals forced the Shah to abdicate his throne and flee the country.
A close look at the history of the Shah’s reign reveals a less than perfect ruler and legitimate reasons for popular dissent. However, the decisive point in the Iranian revolution came when US President Jimmy Carter prematurely turned his back on the Shah and voiced his support for democratic opposition in Iran. This added fuel to the fire of anarchy, exponentially inflamed the violence of the protests and made an orderly transition of government impossible. With no substantial political groups to compete with, the Mullahs and other Islamic radicals were only too happy to jump in and fill the power vacuum. The result was the single biggest state sponsor of terror in history and the death, torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands in the name of Sharia justice.
The same potential can be seen in Egypt today. With only the Muslim Brotherhood representing organized opposition, they would likely come to power if the government were to collapse. Initially, President Obama did not recognize this and actually encouraged the protests and called for a transition of power. But fortunately, he has since seen the direct, proportional increase in violent protest with his anti-Mubarak rhetoric and has finally begun calling for an orderly transformation of government.
The real solution at this point is for the US to find an Egyptian General who is both pro-US and admired by the populace. They must then work with Egyptian authorities to appoint the General as interim President, charged with the responsibility of overseeing a transition to democratic rule and presiding over free and fair popular elections. This would give secular democratic political parties to form, organize and field decent candidates to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is where the war on terror will be won or lost, not on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq. Killing a dozen terrorists here and there is not the decisive point in this conflict. The key task for the US is to prevent rogue regimes from producing terrorists by the thousands, which is what a second Iran would represent. Egyptians generally have the inherent national temperament conducive to a democratic government. They want freedom, and freedom is not compatible with Islam or theocratic rule. The US must help Egypt during this period of transition. One Iran is more than enough.
De Oppresso Liber