Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Egypt: The New Great Game and Global Arms Race

'The EU's top diplomat...Lady Ashton ( a Labour Peer ) is in Cairo to try to negotiate an unlikely settlement between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and the army, but demands and recent behaviour from both sides mean reconciliation is far from likely.'
So reports the Guardian's Patrick Kingsley. Lady Ashton has reported from an undisclosed location after having been escorted there by the Egyptian army that ex-president Morsi is doing 'well', knows what is going on in the world and that she would not comment on her visit as "I was not going to represent his views".

It is hard to see what bargaining power Ashton actually has and whether this is mere 'public diplomacy' to make it appear as though the EU is in the business of 'democracy promotion' as opposed to promoting its business interests over democracy in the name of 'stability'.

The two, business interests and democracy, are not necessarily incompatible. Yet the military takeover is not very likely to promote democracy as the old Mubarak era elites in the 'deep state' are only prepared to tolerate a measure of it provided they can stave off any threats to their hegemony in Egypt.

The only thing Ashton seems to have offered is vacuous platitudes about the need for a "fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood". That will impress neither the Muslim Brotherhood not the Egyptian army which is backed directly by Washington.

The reason the US will not remove its $1.3bn funding is that an authoritarian regime is favoured by strategic partners and major suppliers of oil to the US such as Saudi Arabia. The kingdom fears the spread of Muslim Brotherhood ideas in the region and a weak regime in which terrorists can thrive.

Indeed, after Mubarak fell in 2011 and the US switched to supporting a democratic transition in Egypt, Saudi Arabia indicated that it could draw closer to new emerging energy hungry industrial powers such as India and China. This is poses a threat to US hegemony over the Gulf region.

Moreover, Egyptian generals have long indicated that the $1.3 billion US military aid, which has not changed since 1978, is not substantial enough. There has been resistance to the army downscaling its military capacity to act only as a rapid deployment force to defend Western oil interest in the Gulf.

Given Egypt's global geostrategic significance occupying the land bridge between North Africa and the Middle East, and with the Suez Canal and the SUMED pipeline, the Egyptian military and the 'deep state' have every interest in playing off rival suitors vying for influence in the region.

Ultimately, Washington will not want to sacrifice influence both in Egypt and Saudi Arabia against China's and Russia's attempt to make strategical inroads into the Middle East. There is an arms race now on with both Great Powers which are eager to gain a foothold and diplomatic leverage.

A Congressional Service Report in late 2011 revealed that Egypt purchased $800 million in Chinese weapons since 2003 and $600 million from Russia. That led to the US increasing its sales of weapons to Egypt from $4.5 billion between 2003 and 2007 to $7.8 billion from 2007 to 2011.

Compared to these broader trends and the feared decline of the US as a world empire, the delay in delivering four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt is a mere diplomatic token gesture no less than Lady Ashton's show of concern about the democratic transition being placed back on track through being 'inclusive'.

Egypt is the site of a brutal power struggle in which the army can ramp up the the stakes by executing a military coup in the name of preserving 'stability' . Then, as General Sisi has indicated, the consequent rise of terrorist threats as all the more reason why those interested in regional stability should support it.

These are the realities of the West being far too dependent upon oil and gas to fuel their high octane economies. The EU state's representatives will warble on about human rights and democracy but are always prepared to do that while leaving the real business of energy geopolitics to the US and NATO.

Both in the Middle East and in Central Asia a New Great Game is on between the major powers for control over oil supplies and the pipeline routes that ensure hegemony. Egypt is squarely in the middle of that global contest as is Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, the latter being another pipeline transit state.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Geostrategic Significance of Egypt.

After the July 4 military coup in Egypt, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared the UK "will work with the people in authority in Egypt" but condemned the removal of President Morsi as "a dangerous thing". Since then Hague has uttered numerous platitudes that amount to a tacit acceptance of the situation.

With the latest killing of 82 Muslim Brotherhood supporters following on from a previous one in which 51 were shot dead , Hague opined "now is the time for dialogue, not confrontation”. The situation is clearly very different to Syria where President Assad's use of force against protesters in 2011 led him to demand his removal.

The reason is that British interests are clearly ultimately tied up in upholding the power of the Egyptian army as a force for 'stability' in a way they are not under Assad. Britain's foreign policy is largely an echo of that of Washington which funds the army with $1.3bn annually to provide regional security and retain influence.

The alliance dates back to the late 1970s when Anwar Sadat sought to realign Egypt away from the Soviet Union as it had been under Colonel Nasser and towards the US and Israel. Having suffered defeat in the Six Day War of 1967, Sadat used the Fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and oil price shock to switch sides.

The greater technological power and military superiority of Israel had shown Nasser's Pan-Arabist visions to be no longer tenable. Moreover, by striking a peace deal with Israel and agreeing to protect the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt stood to benefit from its old strategic position and role as an oil transit nation.

One reason that General Sisi knew he could take the risk of deposing President Morsi was that the army is vital in protecting Egypt’s Suez Canal through which 12% of all international trade goes and 22% of the world’s total container traffic. China's consumer goods destined for Western markets go via the canal.

The fall of Mubarak in 2011 saw an increase in Salafist militant activity in Sinai and Sisi has tried to portray Morsi as being in league with them and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Clearly, whatever propaganda being used to justify the coup in security terms Salafi groups threaten terrorist attacks on shipping and oil tankers.

Any attack on the Suez Canal or disruption of trade would lead to an increase in oil and commodity prices, something that would be deeply unwelcome to Western economies struggling after the 2008 crash . Consumer goods such as tablets and Ipads would go up and dampen down 'consumer led' recoveries.

Moreover, as an ally of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Israel, neither the US or Britain has any interest in a weakening of the 'old regime' and Egyptian state's ability to protect the Sumed (Suez-Mediterranean ) pipeline which pumps over 2 million barrels a day of Gulf petroleum to Europe and the US.

The Sumed pipeline is a owned by Arab Petroleum Pipeline Co., a joint venture between the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi's National Oil Company (ADNOC), and Kuwaiti firms. All of the Gulf States involved are important oil suppliers, investors and allies.

The US Energy Information Authority emphasises the growth of importance in LNG transports via Egypt and the Suez region as one of the world's vital 'strategic chokepoints' that needs protection is supplies are not going to add an extra 6,000 miles of transit around the continent of Africa.
'The rapid growth in LNG flows over the period represents the startup of five LNG trains in Qatar in 2009-2010. The only alternate route for LNG tankers would be around Africa as there is no pipeline infrastructure to offset any Suez Canal disruptions. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Italy received over 80 percent their total LNG imports via the Suez Canal in 2010, while Turkey, France, and the United States had about a quarter of their LNG imports transited through the Canal'.
Ultimately, a destabilised Egypt would disrupt energy security and push up oil prices. Even if neither London nor Washington welcome the use of force to crush the Muslim Brotherhood they have no interest either in seeing a weak government collapse before more economic instability and political turmoil.

All We Can Do for Syria Now

Timothy Garton Ash has claimed that politics as present has reached a deadlock in dealing with the Syrian civil war. In his column 'All we can do for Syria now is donate to the relief effort', he seems to want to distance the West from having had any control over events on the ground politically,
'Beside the external Islamic patron states, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the Sunni side, there is Russia arming al-Assad's forces against rebels who are being (very tentatively) supported by the US – almost as if we were back in the cold war.'
Yet the US and Britain is already doing things it should not ( covertly backing the insurgents and trying to dictate the terms of any peace ) and not doing the things it should ( most obviously engaging in diplomacy with Iran). But it will not do this because Iran is regarded as the enemy of the UK's geopolitical interests.

Garton Ash does not mention the obvious fact Turkey is a NATO member which is irresponsibly stoking up the conflict in Syria by training Syrian Muslim Brotherhood militias to fight Assad. He omits that Saudi Arabia is the lynchpin of Britain's strategic policy for controlling Gulf oil and Iran's main regional competitor and foe.

The alliance with Saudi Arabia preserves the balance of power in the Middle East against Iranian influence. In Syria, it was the fear of Iran propping up its ally Assad, when set against having a Shia government in Baghdad, which has led to Saudi Arabia backing Wahhabi militias in a proxy war.

Saudi Arabia is a vital supplier of oil to the West and locked into a strategic partnership in which billions of pounds worth of arms deals bring profit for Britain's aerospace industries. Along with Qatar and other Gulf states fearing Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia is a major investor in Britain.

All of this is not mentioned by Garton Ash. Yet these basic facts are essential in understanding the geopolitical stakes in the civil war in Syria and why the only way of securing a ceasefire, which would  involve Iran and not making Assad's departure a precondition to negotiations, is unlikely to happen.

Garton Ash knows diplomacy that involves Iran is vital but just asserts 'it's simply not happening, nor likely to happen any time soon' and that politics is 'blocked' for reasons that seemingly have nothing to do with Western interests or its heavy dependency upon oil from Saudi Arabia. 

Garton Ash goes on to claim,
'The record of western military intervention in this region is disastrous. Yet the notion that not intervening in any way, militarily or otherwise, is always the most moral option simply does not stand honest scrutiny.' 
Yet if Garton Ash had scrutinised the West's actual intervention in Syria and its wider context in effectively backing those states funding Sunni fundamentalists, he would see that this was not a moral option but based very much on a cynical realpolitik to preserve oil and arms interest.

Why the US will not call the Egyptian Coup a Coup.

The Egyptian police's killing of 82 protesters in Cairo who were demanding the the deposed President Morsi be reinstated, has led to accusations of Western hypocrisy for not calling the coup a coup or condemning it forthrightly as they should have been doing.

This is seen as standing in contrast to when Britain and the US lambasted Assad in Syria for crushing opponents in 2011 with his military and thus precipitating a civil war. Typical was Nabila Ramdani's column in The Observer yesterday,(The Arab spring is being stifled by the force of arms.)
'The grotesque murders of ordinary Egyptians by their own military says everything about the non-progress of the Arab spring.. ..Tahrir Square came to symbolise the fleeting glories of the Arab spring...world leaders such as Barack Obama endlessly pledged to stop dictators "killing their own people".' 
The fact is that the 'Arab Spring' of 2011 took Washington by surprise no less than the coup and the military takeover of June 3 2013. Obama was content enough to allow Mubarrak to rule provided he looked after US interests, glad to see him be removed peacefully and satisfied enough with Morsi being president.

Instead of bewailing US foreign policies for their supposed inconsistencies, it is better to understand that Washington is less bothered with democracy so much than with stability. If democracy serves stability in Egypt, then the US would support that. So, at present, Washington is hoping that the 'new transition' suceeds.

Clearly it is highly improbable that a military takeover and the use of force to quell pro-Morsi protesters is not going to radicalise those Islamists who were always wary of the MB embracing the ballot box was a waste of time. To a certain extent, the army can then benefit from posing as a 'force for order'.

Moreover, a great number of Egyptians themselves clearly welcomed the coup as protecting the 'Arab Spring'. The army could only act because it knew that Sisi would have popular support. That was nothing to do with Washington and there is no evidence the US authorised them to act.

It is strange that Nabila Ramdani expected the situation to somehow be different. The US funds the Egyptian army to an annual tune of $1.3 bn to uphold Egypt as a bulwark of Western geostrategic interests, especially its pacific relations with Israel and the rich Gulf states that provide the West with oil.

That economic overdependence upon oil from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf has not changed since the growing involvement of the US there and in Egypt and its determination to prevent another oil price shock such as that of 1973. Egypt is a strategic oil transit state with pipelines heading West and the Suez Canal.

In Libya, the West obviously welcomed the popular armed uprising against Gaddafi's regime. Western politicians invoked Gaddafi's threat to destroy the opposition in Benghazi as a pretext to justify providing air support and determine an outcome that was suited to its interests.

Britain and France in particular were prepared to intervene to remove the dictator because, de facto, he no longer could preserve stability in an oil rich land.  Yet, as usual, the idea a military intervention to hasten regime change would create stability was an illusion.30,000 have died since the war ended.

The fact that the British PM David Cameron is not condemning the coup while he was prepared to protect civilians in Libya is because it was in what he believed to be both Libya's and Britain's best interests. Again why Nabila Ramdani expects Britain not to act to protect its perceived energy security interests is odd.

Moral outrage from critics of Western foreign policy is as boring and predictable as politicians trotting out humanitarian concern as a way of rationalising their interventions both to themselves and to a public that demands cheap oil but does not like the idea of wars to ensure that.

Countries such as the US and Britain need start to take overdependence upon oil from the Middle East itself as a national security issue. Pretending they can reorder the region to will when the autocratic regimes they once backed crumble by then switching to backing democracy is a recipe for disaster.

Western foreign policies are based on an inconsistent devotion to being greedy for resources and feeling guilty about the necessary consequences that stem from a history of incessant interference in the affairs of Middle Eastern nations, a recipe for disaster that could drag down Western powers along with it.

The Egyptian Coup : Causes and Consequences

The Egyptian military coup of July 3 was a turning point in the history of the Arab revolts. However, the 'Arab Spring' of 2011 was, to use AJP Taylor's phrase' on Germany in 1848, more generally the point where Arab history 'reached its turning point and failed to turn'.

The Egyptian 'deep state' that developed under post colonial dictatorships and the dominance of the army was not really affected by the Egyptian uprising. It was a 'people power' demonstration; there was never a revolution against the deep state and so no actual revolution as in Iran in 1979.

Essentially, what has happened is that the old elites allowed Mubarak to fall in order to appease popular opinion and to try to introduce a measure of controlled democratic representation. That was in continuity with rather more limited experiments in that direction in the 1990s and 2000s.

Set against the background of the disintegrating economy and food crisis, one brought about by a lethal combination of longer term climate changes and demographic pressures, the Egyptian army was able to protect the deep state by allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to take responsibility for the worsening chaos.

A trap was set for the Muslim Brotherhood in having the Supreme Court declare electoral regularities in their seats as a pretext to dissolve the Egyptian Parliament in June 2012.  That was two weeks before an election between a Mubarak era PM and Morsi to vote president who would be the only democratic representative.

That benefited the deep state as it meant that either an old regime appointee would be elected or else a leader without experience who would prove too weak to challenge vested interests. Morsi approved IMF austerity measures and the torture and beatings in Egyptian prisons were not stopped. Nothing changed.

Army grandees such as General Sisi have taken a gamble on a coup because there was mass popular support to be rid of Morsi from those who believed his presidency was leading towards Egypt becoming ungovernable and descending into further economic chaos.

In addition, Salafi jihadists were causing havoc in North Sinai along with Bedouins. The Muslim Brotherhood were portrayed as a danger to Egypt's 'stability' by beings allegedly indulgent towards Islamist terrorists. That has seemed to threaten the basis of the settlement agreed in 1979 between Egypt and Israel.

General Sisi also knew he could execute a coup because the US would be hardly likely to withdraw the $1.3bn it provides to the Egyptian army to provide 'stability' and protect its geostrategic interests. These include preserving peace on the Israeli borders, oil and gas pipelines against attack and the Suez Canal.

The obvious flaw in this plan is that the coup is likely to ensure that Islamist radicals are more likely to resort to terrorism because they can be sure that more alienated and unemployed young men will see the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood as a sign that only armed resistance can remove the corrupt elites.

If Egypt descended into chaos, it is likely that global jihadists could find a foothold just as they have in Syria. Arms are awash in neighbouring Libya and many jihadists went from Libya to fight in Syria and could also enter the fray in Egypt. This would pose severe threats to world peace.

Egypt is the largest and most influential Arab nation and its collapse would trigger off collapse elsewhere. Yet the move towards a democratic transition in Egypt is bound to be stalled by the coup because it is impossible to see when elections could be held in conditions of anarchy and violence on the streets. 

Events in Egypt may well now spill beyond a turning point at which the course of history did not turn. It , and the entire Middle East, could be heading beyond the point of no return towards violence and civil war which will shake the foundations of the entire global order.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Egypt: The General Will is the Will of the General.

General Abdel-Fatah Sisi is trying to exploit his popular role in getting rid of Morsi by calling on protesters to demonstrate a show of strength against both the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorists as though both are necessarily the same and one. That is useful in justifying greater military authority after the terror attack in Mansoura

The reason is that Sisi is no doubt trying to capitalise from the sort of popular revulsion that met the Luxor terrorist attacks of 1997 and forced the Muslim Brotherhood to detach itself from the more radical Islamists who were prepared to use violence.

Essentially, what has happened since 2011 is a power game between the Mubarak era elites and the Muslim Brotherhood. Those in Egypt wanting parliamentary democracy were no more impressed by the Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to control Egypt than they were of the old elites trying to cling on.

Hence Tarek Shalaby, an Egyptian advocate of democratic reform comments,

"We want Morsi to go on trial – but not only him, we want him in a cage with Sisi, Tantawi [Sisi's predecessor as army chief] and Mubarak's men too. The problem is that we're being cornered into thinking we need to support the army in cracking down on the Islamists. But we're against this bipolar situation where we're forced to take sides, one against the other. We're with the revolution – against both Scaf [the supreme council of the armed forces] and the Brotherhood."
Evidently, the opposition to Morsi was divided between a variety of secular democrats, Muslim democrats who are not Islamists, Nasserists, liberal, socialists who wanted to propel the revolution towards a full democratic conclusion.

After all, it must be remembered that the Egyptian Parliament was dissolved after the Supreme Court decided that the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for electoral irregularities in elections. That happened in June 2012 just two weeks before the presidential elections began.

That only gave Egyptians the choice between Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and a candidate who had been the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak. That was hardly a choice and in the absence of any elected representatives in a constituent assembly it was inevitable that anger would boil over this year.

However, it is arguable whether the uprising in 2011 was, in fact, a revolution in the first place for either the army or Muslim Brotherhood to seek to 'steal' Is the interim government going to be able to agree on a new constitution that satisfies those wanting to complete the movement away from dictatorship ?

In Egypt it seems that democracy is still viewed in majoritarian terms or 'the will of the people' where one party of set of interests can appeal to 'the people' on the street. This shows an unsophisticated view of democracy where the general will can become the will of the general.

The interim government has only until February 2014 to have secured a new constitution that will satisfy Egyptians before general elections but it is difficult to see how it can be easily consented to as legitimate given that Egypt is polarised between those who hold to Islamist democracy and others to liberal democracy.

It is quite possible the old elites and army will attempt what leaders since 1952 have done in Egypt which is to try to offer something to the Islamists by enshrining an certain interpretation of Islam in the constitution and trying to bribe and coopt certain Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It can divide and rule that way.

In reality, apart from social networking and 'people power' in the street nothing much has changed in Egypt since 2011. Only the economy lurching from bad to worse and a brief botched attempt at democracy being hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and then thrown out by the army to popular acclaim.

The only thing that has changed is that most Egyptians have had a taste of 'people power' and expectations are higher than before without the capacity of any new government to be able to deliver basic economic security. In such a situation the prospect of violence and civil conflict remains.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Zizek: How to Use Theory to Avoid Looking at Facts.

Zizek has written an LRB article on global protests and revolt entitled 'Trouble in Paradise'. It appeared on 18 July and did not consider the obvious fact that on July 2 the army gave a 48 hour ultimatum to Morsi that proceeded to turn into what it widely regarded as a military coup d'etat by July 4.

Zizek is rather like other radical theorists and revolutionary enthusiasts who seem to have remained silent about how the military takeover has affected the revolution. Chomsky has said nothing on this major development either because it is clearly popular in Egypt and this provides problems for positioning himself

Basically, these thinkers seem to be hedging their bets as they cannot be seen to back a military coup, regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as reactionary and having failed to deliver any real change and do not want to be seen as not backing the will of the people in the streets.

Zizek is in a pickle now because he has consistently and mechanically wrote off any attempt to separate the Islamist concept of radical change from the secular ones in Egypt. Back in 2011 he declared,
'The uprising was universal: it was immediately possible for all of us around the world to identify with it, to recognise what it was about, without any need for cultural analysis of the features of Egyptian society.'
Nothing has dimmed that enthusiasm for dismissing reality. Nor the fact Egyptian society is deeply divided culturally between protesters on the streets who support the Muslim Brotherhood and those who radical secularists who regard it as counter revolutionary.

The fallback option now in 2013 is to switch attention away from these awkward facts and repeat the theory that those who insist that the Egyptian revolt did reflect Egypt's particular history are effectively being the dreaded reactionaries.

So Zizek writes,
'In 2011, when protests were erupting across Europe and the Middle East, many insisted that they shouldn’t be treated as instances of a single global movement.'
' It is easy to see how such a particularisation of protest appeals to defenders of the status quo: there is no threat against the global order as such, just a series of separate local problems.'
Still there is no attempt to look at the obvious fact that in Egypt the street fights between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and those wanting him out was used by the army as a pretext to intervene on the side of those against Morsi to boot out an elected president.
'The general rule is that when a revolt against an oppressive half-democratic regime begins, as with the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilise large crowds with slogans – for democracy, against corruption etc. But we are soon faced with more difficult choices.'
True, such as what challenge is posed by the fact that many in Egypt clearly think the revolution has been saved by the intervention of the military whereas others who went on the streets two years before are now back on them fuming that their revolution has been stolen from them.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Playing with Fire : The Syrian Crisis and " The Options on the Table"

The response to the Syrian Civil War in Washington and London seems to vacillate from the tough talk about 'all options being on the table' and claims that neither power will send arms to the Syrian opposition. Cameron indicated on the BBC that Britain would not now supply the "rebels" with weapons.

As with anything Cameron says, it is 'Public Diplomacy' ( i.e. propaganda ) designed to try to reassure the pubic that Britain is not doing anything as irresponsible as arming the 'wrong' elements in the Syrian opposition. Nor has Cameron actually denied that the opposition will, in fact, be armed.

What Cameron said was this,
“What we should be doing is working with international partners to help the millions of Syrians who want to have a free democratic Syria, who want to see that country have some chance of success.”
“We’re not intervening by supplying weapons, but I think we can with partners to strengthen those parts of the Syrian opposition that really do represent the Syrian people.”
The strategic partners that Britain has with regards Syria are Turkey and Qatar, which have been funding and aiding Syrian Muslim Brotherhood insurgents, and Saudi Arabia which has been backing Wahhabi jihadists as a proxy against Assad, the Lebanese Hizbollah and, by extension, its main Gulf rival in Iran.

Cameron only states that Britain is not supplying the opposition with weapons and not that it is not working with its strategic partners in the Middle East to funnel weapons into the favoured opposition militias. The claim of "stalemate" means essentially that there will be no diplomatic attempt to get a ceasefire.

This explains why in Washington military experts such as General Martin Dempsey are being called in to discuss the military options which involve continuing to work covertly with insurgent groups via the CIA or to establish no fly zones or, ominously, even to use kinetic strikes.

So despite all the reassurances that the US and UK will not supply weapons, the possibility of a disastrous attempt at intervening militarily is actually being pondered as under no circumstances would they allow Iran to win in Syria. This is why they are still worried about Assad becoming stronger.

Fears in the US about Iran's regional power have only grown with a Shia government under Maliki in Iraq allowing its airspace to be used by Iran to shuttle weapons to Damascus as well as the paramilitary Quds Force. Iraqi volunteers have also been joining Hizbollah to fight the Sunni militias.

So the potential for war exists no less than it did a moth ago when Hague got the EU to lift the embargo on supplying weapons to Syrian opposition groups that are still absurdly termed 'rebels' .The attempt to talk tough cannot alter the outcome of either the civil war on the ground nor persuade Russia to stop favouring Assad.

What this sabre ratting in Washington can do is to ramp up the pressure to act in order to defend the US and UK's global 'credibility'' .Clinton and Hague's bad diplomacy prepared the way in insisting 'Assad Must Go' from the outset. Hague remains determined to remove Assad as his prestige depends on it.

For the fear of not 'losing face' in the Middle East and thus emboldening Iran is bound to become a recurring one. John McCain obviously wants to portray Obama as weak and dithering. Hague is itching to exploit his supposed diplomatic victory with the EU over the embargo to prove himself 'right'.

The geopolitical situation is too volatile for this sort of posturing. With Israel having been claimed to used Turkish airbases for a strike to knock out Syrian anti-ship cruise missiles, on July 5, the danger is that Iran will see Turkey as a greater threat to its security.

As historian Mark Almond put it,
“It [Turkey] could be a conduit for a potential air strike into Iran through its own aspects. It would be much more difficult for the Iranians to detect something coming from Israel..Even if the Israelis have plans to strike at Iran from a completely different direction the risk is that the Turks will be held responsible and Turkey could be drawn into a conflict.”
The terrifying part of any potential conflict between Turkey and Iran is that Turkey is a NATO member and Article 5 is clear that any attack on a member state is construed as an attack on all. The failure of the US and UK to try to involve Iran in diplomacy over Syria could mean the potential collision of these powers over it is growing.

Empty Posturing : Chomsky and Zizek.

'What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing....Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying'. Noam Chomsky on Zizek

'I remember when he defended this demonisation of Khmer Rouge. And he wrote a couple of texts claiming: “no this is western propaganda. Khmer Rouge are not as horrible as that.” And when later he was compelled to admit that Khmer Rouge were not the nicest guys in the universe and so on, his defence was quite shocking for me. It was that “no, with the data that we had at that point, I was right. At that point we didn’t yet know enough, so… you know” but I totally reject this line of reasoning'. Slavoj Zizek on Chomsky.

A spat between Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek has apparently broken out. Though of almost no importance to most people-and Chomsky has not really argued with Zizek but merely dismissed him as not having anything of importance to say-those who regard them as gurus do seem to think it is important.

However, both Chomsky and Zizek have something in common: they attempt as intellectuals to reach a broad audience by providing those disillusioned with the way the world is with a way to rationalise global problems as mostly, if not wholly, the fault of the West. By realising this, 'we' can change the world for better.

Even so, Chomsky's books are always interesting for those too lazy to glean the facts and interpret them for themselves in the manner Chomsky does. To a point he does teach scepticism and how to challenge received opinions in the media ( or 'public diplomacy' ) especially in relation to foreign policy.

However, it is not really necessary to read more than a few of Chomsky's books. He repeats the same ideas about US Imperialism and the supposedly unmentionable horrors it perpetuates as being justified by the power of money, mandarins and the media in a way that seem rather commonplace now.

At least, that is the thrust of Zizek's challenge when he writes of Chomsky ( or 'critiques' him ) thus,
'His idea is today that cynicism of those in power is so open that we don't need any critique of ideology, you reach automatically between the lines, everything is cynically openly admitted, we just have to bring out the facts of people. Like ‘this company is profiting in Iraq’'
So basically Chomsky is a bit boring these days. For one such as Zizek, who wants to bandy about Theory and enthuse people-especially youth-towards a revolution, Chomsky seems to satisfy a market for smug know-it-alls whilst only Zizek can truly energise them.

The Stance on Egypt.

Indeed, it is noticeable that Chomsky has not yet taken a stance on the recent military takeover in Egypt as it is unclear what US policy is because Washington has no idea how to respond. Many radical leftists have backed the military takeover as a means to facilitate the ongoing unfinished secular revolution.

Chomsky lauded the Arab Spring of 2011 against Mubarak and pointed out he had been backed by the US and Britain. Neither of them have yet had any opinion of the military takeover of July 2013 because it does not fit the usual narrative that the US is to blame for suppressing a true revolution.

In fact, opinion is still divided as to whether the military takeover has snuffed out the revolution or is a stage in its unfolding or whether the military takeover is a coup or not. Maybe it is both. As for Zizek given how sanguine he was about the Arab Revolutions, the silence now may reflect the fact he got in wrong back then.

For in 2011 Zizek offered nothing of interest on Egypt either apart from the usual parochial European ideological perspectives about the 'revolution' conforming to a universal pattern that otherwise bored consumers could buy into. They could get excited about a revolution abroad applying to their own dull societies.
'The uprising was universal: it was immediately possible for all of us around the world to identify with it, to recognise what it was about, without any need for cultural analysis of the features of Egyptian society'.
That exalted claim has since been completely discredited by the course of events in Egypt. The uprising was particular to Egypt and its society has tended towards becoming more polarised in cultural terms by those wanting a secular version of revolution against a rival Islamist led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Given that Chomsky has always been sympathetic to direct democracy and popular will in the developing world when it is directed against US backed governments that denied it, as was the case in Egypt before 2011, it seems curious that he too has no opinion on it as Washington itself is not explicitly taking sides.

Chomsky, Zizek and Cambodia.

Of course, Chomsky has no obligation to state an opinion on the military takeover in Egypt. It could be argued that he is waiting for the facts to come out before he declares his viewpoint upon it. And it is on that basis that Zizek attacked Chomsky for his position on the Khmer Rouge in the 1970.

It's more interesting that both Chomsky and Zizek have tended to view the Khmer Rouge according to their propaganda use. Unlike Chomsky, who first played down Khmer Rouge atrocities only to emphasise them  more later when the US cynically backed Pol Pot after 1979 as a counter to the Vietnamese, Zizek has in the past been more positive.
“The Khmer Rouge were, in a way, not radical enough: while they took the abstract negation of the past to the limit, they did not invent any new form of collectivity.”
Whether the victims of Pol Pot's slave state thought the Khmer Rouge was a bit unenthusiastic about its revolutionary Year Zero project does not seem to have been factored in to this 'analysis'. And Zizek then thinks he has the moral high ground in accusing Chomsky of being wrong with regards Pol Pot.

The reason for that is it provides Zizek with a means to 'critique' the contradictions in Chomsky the better to advance himself as the Lodestar of True Revolution over his rival. To Zizek, Chomsky's lumbering attempts to get the facts led him to only change his mind when the facts of Pot Pot's mass killing came out.'
For example, concerning Stalinism. The point is not that you have to know, you have to photo evidence of Gulag or whatever. My God you just have to listen to the public discourse of Stalinism, of Khmer Rouge, to get it that something terrifyingly pathological is going on there'.
Clearly, people do need to know the facts about the Gulag and the actual history of the Khmer Rouge as well as taking in the nature of the pathological 'public discourse'. Yet to both Zizek and Chomsky the main issue has always been to fit the facts to the prescriptions of a creed of revolutionary hope for Westerners.

As regards a catastrophe such as Cambodia in the 1970s, there is something callous and slightly sinister about seizing on the nature of Pol Pot's regime to make partisan polemical points as opposed to understanding how a complex variety of factors allowed such a calamity to occur.

It also should be said that one important factor behind the Khymer Rouge was the influence of violent radical Western revolutionary ideas of the same kidney that Zizek is offering. Indeed, along with another theorist, Alain Badiou,  Zizek extols the emancipatory terror of Mao's Cultural Revolution.

At least Chomsky has never actively lauded totalitarian regimes as opposed to simply regarding them as a distraction from the question at hand; that citizens in a Western democracy are confronted by the need to do something about the 'imperialism' of their states.

Even so, while Chomsky clearly never supported Pol Pot he did seek to discredit eyewitness reports and journalism on the ground from those such as Francois Ponchard. Chomsky's propaganda was demolished with precision by Bruce Sharp in Averaging Wrong Answers:Noam Chomsky and the Cambodia Controversy.

If there is anything to be learned from these sorts of 'intellectual' poses it is this-if revolutions, revolts and uprisings are deemed to be good or bad only depending on whether the US supports or opposes them, then what Chomsky has to say or not is of little importance.

That is why it is curious that so many look up to him as some sort of infallible guru. The same is true of Zizek. It is easier to criticise Zizek because he spouts jargon. It is harder to criticise Chomsky because it is interpreted as always just a means of defending the credibility of the US establishment.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Second Coming of Revolution or a Third Coup ?

The question of the whether the Second Egyptian Uprising is part of an unfinished democratic revolution or a coup that destroyed a democratically elected government has to take into consideration if there ever was a revolution in the first place or a popular overthrow of a dictator coopted by the Egyptian military.

Many were not very satisfied with having the choice in the presidential elections of 2012 between an ex-military figure, Ahmed Shafik , a leftover from the Mubarak regime who hot 48.27% of the vote compared to Morsi's 51.73% from a turnout of 43.4%.

As for any new elections,as promised by the transitional government, it is quite possible the Muslim Brotherhood would boycott them if it gets held as promised next year. They became very unpopular with Egyptians. If they did participate they may well lose.

The elections set by the interim president for February 2014 are parliamentary ones as there has not been an election since late 2011 and parliament was dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court on 12 June 2012 just two days before the presidential elections that Morsi went on to win began.

One reason Morsi is deeply unpopular is that he tried to use presidential decree to challenge the constitution and push it in a direction more suitable for the Islamists and proceeded to rule without there being a parliament at a time of growing economic chaos and collapse.

It could be that the army and the judiciary, consisting of Mubarak era appointees, were content for Morsi to step into power in order to let him make a mess of his rule set against the fact parliament was dissolved on the basis that there had been electoral irregularities in MB seats.

From the perspective of the anti-Morsi street demonstrators and groups wanting to push the revolution forward from 2011, the need is for a new constitution and new parliamentary elections. The scale of trust being placed in the army looks as though it could have been misplaced.

The Egyptian military leaders most likely know that if elections are held in February 2014 the Muslim Brotherhood will not win a majority of seats. Maybe this was part of the plan. SCAF has overseen the entire 'transition' process from the fall of Mubarak to the present so there was no real 'revolution' in the first place.

The Muslim Brotherhood called the dissolution of parliament a coup but it also stalled the progress of the democratic revolution rival parties had called for. So the second coup of  2013 is a part of second revolution to those who wanted a new constitution. But the second coup might really have been the third one.

After all, the revolt against Mubarak in 2011 was essentially  coopted and presided over by the military. It was a way of getting rid of a discredited dictator the better to coalition a new regime that would represent better the 'will of the people' while serving to prop up the machinery of government inherited from Mubarak.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Down But Not Out.

'Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates dipped into their oil revenues this week to stump up a cool $12bn (£8bn) to bail out cash-strapped Egypt – a swift reward for the army's removal of President Mohamed Morsi and the stunning blow to his Muslim Brotherhood.'
( Ian Black, Egypt's overthrow of Morsi creates uncertainty for Islamists everywhere, The Guardian 12 July 2013
 "I am convinced that we are seeing the twilight of the Islamic revival not only in Egypt but across the Arab world..For a while it was the only alternative to secular dictatorship. That was the conventional wisdom for 30 years. It no longer is." - Hani Shukrullah.
The demise of Islamism as a force in Egyptian politics is greatly exaggerated. The two questions are really these; whether the new government can reverse the economic chaos and, ominously, the prospects of worsening food shortages and whether it can do so rapidly enough to placate those on the streets.

The bleak reality is that if the new government cannot ensure food security then it faces increased anger in the cities will be exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood. Hunger will drive the poorer elements of Egyptian society to support the removal of the government and fights against rival protesters.

On Negotiations with the New Government .

The Guardian states,
'Brotherhood officials had denied they were negotiating with a military regime that has arrested several key members since Morsi's fall, and issued warrants for hundreds more.'
The whole point of the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy of calling on its supporters to 'rise up' is to get them into the streets and keep up the pressure on the new transitional government to regard it as a force in Egyptian politics. there is nothing much the MB can do as it cannot challenge the army.

As the new de facto government lacks legitimacy among the MB's supporters, who belong mostly to the poorer classes, struggling small tradesmen and university graduates shut out of Egypt's political and economic life, the tactic will be to position itself for any failure by the government to alleviate poverty.

If the technocratic government of Hazem Beblawy fails to deliver some improvement in the economic situation and stave off a potentialy disastrous food shortage, the Muslim Brotherhood can move centre stage again. Hence the move already to get pro-Morsi supporters protesting in Tahrir Square.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not going to collapse as a political force. It has managed to survive repression under Mubarak for years because it acted as political organisation and charity organisation providing welfare to the burgeoning population of rural migrants in the cities who failed to benefit from IMF approved policies.

The most ominous part of the Egyptian crisis is that if the economic policies of the technocratic government fail then the political turmoil will be protracted and the economy will shrink even further. With investors and tourists staying away the inflow of hard currency is dwindling and wheat imports cannot be afforded.

The Muslim Brotherhood are aware that the new government will inherit a crisis. A former Musri government minister Bassem Ouda has claimed the state had just 500,000 tonnes of imported wheat left whereas the country normally imports around 10 million tonnes a year.

The new technocratic government faces an appalling task of feeding a population that is already exceeding the carrying capacity of the environment in Egypt and creating a large pool of unemployed young men without opportunities who could well turn to jihadism. Egypt is already vastly overpopulated.

Syria: Proxy War and Battleground in a Global Jihad

On whether the US, UK and France will directly arm the Free Syria Army, not only is the more 'extreme' wing fragmenting and going over to militant jihadist splinter groups but the foreign fighters, seeing Syria as a national battleground in a global jihad, are in fierce combat with the FSA.
'Months of uneasy calm between jihadists and the mainstream Syrian opposition spilled into fierce fighting in Aleppo on Saturday, days after a senior Free Syria army commander was assassinated by a jihadi group...The fighting was in Bustan al-Qasr in the south-east of the divided city.
The battle underscored the fast-splintering nature of the Syrian opposition, which made sweeping military gains across much of northern Syria last year, but has been unable to advance from its key strongholds in Aleppo and elsewhere since January.'
The danger is that the US, UK and France will try to use any advance in Al Qaida inspired jihadists as even more of a pretext to arm the 'right' rebels in order to prevent 'another Afghanistan' on the borders of Turkey. Arming the insurgents would, however, be more likely to create just that.

The plan to arm Sunni Islamists, whether 'moderate or 'extreme', is worse than useless and the only way forward is to bring Iran into diplomatic negotiations instead of asserting as a precondition the demand that Assad must step down.It simply is not realistic and can only only prolong the bloodshed.

The West needs to drop the neo-Cold War style poses against Iran merely to please Saudi Arabia and Israel. The chaos in Syria could spread into Lebanon and Iraq and ultimately even blowback into Jordan and Saudi Arabia itself. Then the strategic interests it wants to uphold at any cost will be destroyed anyway.

It is also ominous that Al Qaida in Syria is acting as a recruiting base for UK born jihadists.
'Al-Qaida elements fighting with rebels in Syria constitute the most serious terrorist threat to Britain, and if they were to get their hands on Syria's chemical weapons the consequences could be catastrophic, according to British spymasters.'
The latest annual report of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) claims that "Al Qaida linked elements" are trying to gain chemical weapons. If so, that would surely mean that the safest course of action is not to arm the Sunni insurgents but to engage in diplomacy with assad.
"There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against western targets. Large numbers of radicalised individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe."
The question is why the government has seemingly allowed that to happen and is not using their surveillance apparatus to arrest these people. If it does not know who these jihadists are and cannot arrest them then the British government needs to drop its insane plans to arm Sunni insurgents.

The risk of blowback will affect all those in the region from Turkey and Saudi Arabia who backed Sunni fundamentalists in accordance with shoddy realpolitik calculations and fear of Iran. That includes he US and UK and it now must promote peace negotiations that include Iran and do not insist 'Assad must go'.

This is yet another example of how Britain's strategic 'lethal embrace' of Saudi Arabia and overdependence upon oil is mortally endangering the securiry of Britain and its population. Greater terrorism is the price to be paid for a high octane lifestyle and we need to grasp that fact urgently..

Friday, 12 July 2013

On the Danger of Arming the Syrian Opposition

On the possibility of the US and UK arming the Sunni insurgents in Syria fighting against President Assad's regime, Ahmad Samih Khalidi in the Guardian has written,
'The Syrian crisis is transforming the entire Arab Mashriq, encompassing Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and potentially Israel/Palestine into one vast arena for what is now a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam. Any external intervention bears the risk of an open-ended engagement'.
True, but the problem from the British perspective is that William Hague is arguing that intervention is necessary to support 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in order to prevent them joining Al Qaida and so maintain an opposition to Assad's Shia regime. The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly, the shoddy realpolitik in which the lynchpin of Britain's strategic interests remains Saudi Arabia, a country with a large market for Britain's arms industry that supplies the West with oil and hosts US military bases. The KSA's main Gulf rival is Iran and so Britain effectively has to back Sunni militias in Syria against Shia.

The second is ideological. Hague is a messianic neoconservative with delusions of grandeur. He regards, as do most in Cameron's government, Iran as an 'existential enemy' and portray it in neo-Cold War terms. That can be seen in Michael Gove's propaganda tract Celsius 7/7 when he declares,
'The Iranian Revolution of 1979, like the French Revolution of 1789, was a moment that grew into a model. Islamist dreams of power before 1979 had been desert mirages; after 1979 Islamism had a mountain fortress....Iran's experience stands as a template for Islamist advance'. ( page 28).
Hague, like Gove, believes that Islamism consists of 'one seamless totalitarian threat', a convenient oversimplification that provides a rationale for any form of intervention. This is true whether, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, invading Iraq, or 'tilting the balance' against Assad in Syria by backing 'moderate' insurgents.

Khalidi is is correct to emphasise that,
'..the west, despite its long experience in the Middle East, remains profoundly alien to the region's most deep-rooted forces of religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe and clan, and seemingly incapable of grasping their complexity.'
But ultimately, the West has a 'lethal embrace' of Saudi Arabia, a dysfunctional regime that is far more responsible for funding terrorism and Islamism that Tehran and, unlike Iran, has no semblance of a democracy or even the chance of moving towards one.

Yet Britain and the US have as their ultimate New Great Game plan the aim of 'regime change' in Iran by whatever means they can. Iran is a problem because it has had an independent foreign policy that prevents Western control over the oil and gas both of the Middle East and Central Asia.

That is precisely why the obvious diplomatic need to negotiate with Iran at the Geneva Conference is simply not on the table. Britain's government, mirroring the more extreme neoconservative view of Iran shown by the belligerent John McCain, is at one with Obama on this: Iran is the enemy to be defeated and rolled back.

The danger now is that the US and Britain will push further for arming the 'right' Sunni insurgents against Assad to check Iranian influence and Hizbollah ( referred crudely to as 'terrorists' ). They will see Al Qaida's influence as a pretext to shore up Sunni opposition, especially as the Muslim Brotherhood is in disarray in Egypt.

William Hague and his "Diplomacy".

Historian Dominic Sandbrook wrote of William Hague and his readiness to arm the Syrian insurgents,,
'Given the country's combustible religious mix, as well as its strategic location, the war-torn Arab republic now represents the most dangerous fault line on the planet. ...What Mr Hague thinks he will achieve in Syria is beyond me.
Even so, the rebels' bloodthirsty tactics and links to Islamic extremism are a long way from the democratic Middle Eastern ideal that our Foreign Secretary claims to be promoting'.
Sandbrook even thinks that Hague harbour delusions of grandeur. But it is not surprising. Hague , in reality, is engaged less in real diplomacy. Britain has only the choice to advocate a policy that may be acceptable to Washington and works within that framework.

This is known as 'public diplomacy' . It depends on trying to present before the audience-i.e. the British people and the world-reasons why intervention by the US and UK is necessary from Assad is a brutal dictator to allegations of chemical weapons. And there are no real debates in Parliament

Foreign policy under Hague is thus a pretence. Essentially he is dreaming of being William Pitt as though he were in a position to make fine speeches about committing Britain to action abroad in a time when the decision about whether Britain is to engage in the world or not is largely obsolete.

Hague was pushing for lifting the EU arms embargo in order to make it look as though he was taking the initiative-as he was-on behalf of Britain. But Hague's job is anticipate any US foreign policy line, make it seem as an independent British one and justify it. Feeling that vicarious sense of global power can lead to delusion.

Yet the problem with Sandbrook's view is it underestimates the geopolitical factors and increasingly desperate strategies to ensure energy security that are drawing the Western powers into potential catastrophe in the Middle East. Sandbrook claims a form of imperialist thinking is still prevanent at the FO,
'The truth, I fear, is that Mr Hague - presumably in thrall to his officials - has gone native. Like so many foreign secretaries before him, he has fallen victim to the temptations of his office.'
Of course, as Sandbrook indicates,  Hague has not changed that much at all. He was a fervent supporter of the Iraq War, ' liberal intervention' and the notion of reordering the Middle East as if Britain really can determine events in Syria and instigate 'regime change'.

Yet it that foreign policy has been so risky depends on far more than just the culture of the FO.Unfortunately, the bleak fact is that Britain's unstable rentier and debt fuelled finance economy increasingly depends upon extending ever greater control the oil and gas of the Gulf region over and against any potential threat to it.

The US and Britain need stable or falling oil prices to boost up the economy when faced with the slowing rates of economic growth. Yet the competition of China and India ensures that peaking oil supplies and increased demand will challenge this. China now has the financial power to challenge the West in the Middle East.

The drive to intervene in Syria is part of the fallout from the Iraq War as the crisis has spiralled into a regional one because Iraq has now a Shia majority regime under Maliki that has leaned closer to Tehran. Iranian arms have flowed through Iraq en route to Hizbollah in Syria and as have Shia recruits to support them and Assad.

As a consequence, Saudi Arabia is now faced with a potential Shia axis of power stretching from Iran across to the Mediterranean where Iran would be able to pump gas out to via a pipeline should it be able to defeat the Sunni 'rebels'. So it is pouring money into Wahhabi militias in Syria. The Taliban is also a beneficiary.

The situation is incredibly dangerous. British 'statesmen' from Blair to Hague are either too mediocre to understand precisely how dangerous the crisis is or else, it has to be said, they know the geopolitical risks and their delusions are bordering on a form of insane recklessness.

US Foreign Policy in Egypt.

'America's primary concern, as always, is how best to preserve its interests in the region. Calling a coup a coup would legally bind the US to withdraw $1.5bn in aid to the army – and it's the army, whose chief attended America's top military academy, that keeps the US and its regional ally Israel happy'. ( Rachel Shabi , In Egypt, Barack Obama's approach is like that of a spread better. July 10 2013 ).
The US is 'hedging its bets' on events in Egypt in order to minimise the geopolitical risks in the Middle East that would result from Egypt descending into civil conflict. The current 'cold peace' between Israel and Egypt is based on the strategic need for a stable and continued supply of oil from the Gulf region.

This arrangement dates back to the aftermath of the Fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and the crisis caused by the oil price shock on the West. The continued prosperity of high octane Western consumer economies has been premised on preserving relatively stable and cheap oil supplies.

The excessive shift in the 1980s from production to service based economies in the US and UK has led to the need for dampen down the in built inflationary pressures of a narrowly based debt financed capitalism through securing access to oil and cementing strategic military alliances with the Gulf States.

As worldwide industrialisation proceeds apace in the emergence of economic super states such as China and India, the assumption that the US cannot necessarily depend on falling or stable oil prices to shore up economic growth has meant greater involvement in the internal affairs of the states of the Middle East.

The defence of the US-Egypt alliance through funding the Egyptian military is primarily a policy to ensure that there can be no instability in the most populous of the Arab nations that would destabilise the region. If Egypt collapsed ino civil war it would potentially draw in other regional powers as in Syria.

The policy is based on the assumption that if Egypt can make a transition to a democracy with no potential for instability, ,as was not clear under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, then the US and the region will benefit. This assumption, however, looks increasingly doubtful when set against longer term trends.

Egypt faces a growing crisis that any new government following the army's military takeover is going to find it difficult to resolve and, given the scale of the popular opposition to both Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood regime and its overthrow, it is not clear that time is on it side in lessening the dangerous food shortage.

A potentially lethal combination of climate change, overpopulation and peak oil has led in recent years to Egypt becoming the world's largest importer of wheat. Social chaos has only been averted by half of that wheat being used to subsidise bread for the poor.

The events of the last month in Egypt cannot be seen to be a consequence only of US foreign policy hypocrisy and mistakes. It the longer term consequence of having propped up dictatorship for far too long and having retarded the Egyptian economy via the IMF's funding of a dysfunctional economic model.

Will Egypt Descend into Civil War ?

The potential for civil war in Egypt depends on whether radical Islamists could possibly put up an armed revolt and what access to weapons they have. There are no signs that any junior officers in the army are prepared to defect to the rival Islamist 'revolution' against which the military takeover was directed.

The BBC reports ( Is Egypt heading for holy war? June 9 2013 )
'Security in Egypt has deteriorated dramatically since the overthrow of the dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but compared with Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen there are still relatively few firearms in private hands'.
On the streets of Cairo supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood staging rallies are only armed with bamboo sticks. But the cult of martyrdom is being stoked up with the Muslim Brotherhood calling for "an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks".

The overthrow of Morsi has also stunned Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip which had reason to believe that border restrictions in Sinai would be relaxed. According the one retired general, the military takeover was a reaction to the deteriorating security situation there.

Weapons are smuggled in and out of the Gaza Strip into Sinai through networks of underground tunnels. If the security situation deteriorates in Egypt, with a still chaotic Libya awash with weapons on its border after Gaddafi's fall, Hamas could feel even more panicky and hemmed in after being expelled from Syria.

How Hamas would react is difficut to see but it has been severely set back by not only by the military takeover in Egypt. Earlier in 2013 Hamas severed its alliance with Hizbollah for siding with its Shia ally Assad it its battle against Sunni insurgents. Tehran has stopped its $20 million subsidy to Gaza and supply of rockets.

It is interesting to consider what effect Hamas would have on a future Egyptian government as regards Iranian backing because with the Syrian Civil War raging on it is difficult to see how Washington and London would react to any new diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran.

After all, the US and UK have already stated they are prepared to arm Syrian insurgents against Assad as part of of a strategy to roll back Iranian influence, a major concern of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait which are willing to invest billions of dollars in the new technocratic government that has replaced Morsi.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Should the US cut aid to Egypt's military rulers?.

Whether or not it the US should cut financial support for Egypt's military government it is not going to do so. While the interim regime is trying to cobble together a coalition of new civilian leaders to ensure what it regards as a stable and managed transition to democracy, the US will not regard it as a coup.

In fact, the Egyptian army has been at pains to emphasise that the military takeover is a transitional one and not a reversion to military rule or a dictatorship. That is precisely why the US has shown no indication that it will cut funding as the continuation of funding is seen to be conditional on a transition to democracy.

The obvious problem with this strategy is there is no guarantee between now and the next elections set for February 2014 that the Muslim Brotherhood will not keep up resistance to what it regards as an illegitimate usurper state. Their only elected leader was deposed after a year in office and 80 years of struggle.

Even worse is that this potential for instability is set background of precipitous economic collapse and a polarisation of Egyptian society into those for and against the military takeover or coup. It seems unlikely that the IMF is going to guarantee loans unless the government imposed an austerity programme.

It is hard to see that the problems connected with Egypt's worsening poverty, diminishing resources, overpopulation, colossal debts and difficulty in paying for the vital resources including food can be resolved no matter who is in power. And the collapse into chaos of Egypt would potentially destabilise the entire Middle East.

Egypt has a pivotal role in preserving the balance of power and strategic interests in the Gulf region-in particular the control over the oil that has been increasingly essential for the growth of the global economies from the 1970s onwards. If this settlement were to unravel this could lead to a major global crisis.

Responses to the Second Egyptian Uprising on the Radical Left

An odd fact about the response in Britain to events in Egypt is that radical anti-imperialists do not know how to react to this military takeover or else have come down in support of it despite the fact the Muslim Brotherhood was elected with 51% of the vote.

Neither John Pilger nor Tariq Ali, always cocksure in their opinions, have 'taken a stance' because they probably cannot yet portray the US as responsible and because the revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood is popular in Egypt. In fact, they rarely have an opinion on these sort of events unless the US is somehow involved.

Shamus Cooke in Counterpunch has no such doubts. In   How Egypt Killed Political Islam July 8 2013 he extols the military takeover as part of an ongoing process in glowingly optimistic terms.
"The rebirth of the Egyptian revolution ushered in the death of the first Muslim Brotherhood government. But some near-sighted analysts limit the events of Egypt to a military coup. Yes, the military is desperately trying to stay relevant — given the enormous initiative of the Egyptian masses — but the generals realize their own limitations in this context better than anybody. This wasn’t a mere re-shuffling at the top of society, but a flood from the bottom".
It seems Western radicals are set to get themselves into all sorts of contortions trying to frame events in Egypt. Ali and Pilger cannot yet pin the blame exclusively on the US nor can they merely portray the protesters as tools of imperial control without annoying their radical fan base.

Cooke is a radical anti-imperialist and revolutionary socialist who is against the old system under Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. As such he is quite content to justify the overthrow of Morsi's regime in accordance with the dictates of permanent revolution.
"Political legitimacy — especially in times of revolution — must be earned, not assumed. Revolutionary legitimacy comes from taking bold actions to satisfy the political demands of the people: jobs, housing, public services, etc. A “democracy” that represents only Egypt’s upper crust as the Muslim Brotherhood government did, cannot emerge from a revolution and maintain itself; it was destroyed by a higher form of revolutionary democracy".
Given that revolutionary socialists are backing the 'second revolution' against political Islam it will be very interesting to see how Pilger and Ali are going to try and spin these events. They are always itching to pontificate on most uprisings. They remain curiously silent on this one.

Mt Cooke has no doubts about this revolution, however, and goes on to opine gleefully,
"What did the Brotherhood do with the corrupt state they inherited? They tried to adapt; they flirted with the Egyptian military, coddled up to the security services, and seduced the dictatorship’s primary backer, the United States. They shielded all the Mubarak criminals from facing justice.
The Brotherhood’s foreign policy was also the same as Mubarak’s, favoring Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, and favoring the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels against the Syrian government, while increasingly adopting an anti-Iran agenda. A primary financial backer of the Muslim Brotherhood government was the oil-rich monarchy of Qatar (a U.S. puppet government), who helped steer the foreign policy of the Egyptian government".
There will be lots of frantic polemicising, framing and reframing of the 'correct line' to take on the 'second revolution' depending on changing circumstances. But it seems that a number of radical anti-imperialists see Morsi's removal as a signpost on the way to true revolution. Or, as Cooke puts it,
"The Egyptian people have now had the experience of political Islam and have discarded it, in the same way a tank deals with a speed bump".

The Prospect of Civil War in Egypt

'War consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known'-Thomas Hobbes.

It is possible that the military responded to the Muslim Brotherhood protesters outside the Cairo barracks, killing 51 people, because some in the crowd were armed and wanted to provoke or panic the army into shooting. Or else some were determined to give the Muslim Brothers a 'whiff of grapeshot'.

The military takeover was bound to be resisted by the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and these killings can only intensify the the sense of martyrdom that has been used to mobilise them; it has put a seal of blood on the cause and will commit the Muslim Brotherhood to continue advocating their people to 'rise up'.

The broad competing power blocs in Egypt now trying to pose as the legitimate heirs to the 2011 'revolution'-both the Muslim Brotherhood and those who supported its removal-have deep antagonistic roots that go back to the divisions caused by Sadat's 'open door' reforms of the economy in the 1970s.

After 1973 and Israel's victory in another Arab-Israeli War, Sadat had moved towards making Egypt more closely dependent on the US instead of the USSR in order to fund its military and economy. The IMF became involved and its deficit reduction conditions for aid led to food prices being raised.

The economic conditions were created, along with rapid urbanisation and growing populations, for the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood to represent the poorer Egyptians who migrated to Cairo and the struggling traders shut out of mainstream economic life by the control exercised by Westernised elites.

Set against that the way the Muslim Brotherhood had been repressed by Nasser after he came to power the 1952 with their help, the theme of the betrayal of the umma by illegitimate usurpers and fake Muslims has been a consistent one that has now been given added edge.

The irony is that President Morsi had accepted the close relationship with the US especially on foreign policy and he was never in a position to challenge the army's position. Neither were the army not anti-Islamist Egyptians prepared to give him time to preside over more economic uncertainty and decay.

For decades the economic model proscribed by the the US and the IMF has not made for social stability nor an economy not dependent upon an entrenched elite and bureaucracy from using aid to bolster their own interests. Infant industries have failed to compete against allowing Western technological imports.

Now in 2013 there seems to prospect of Egypt being able to move away from a failing economy at the very time when its political chaos is deterring investment and the IMF is imposing condition on aid that involve austerity measures such as the cutting of fuel subsidies and raising sales tax on goods.

Despite the fact Morsi backed these measures to get IMF aid, the collapsing economy is interpreted through 'culture wars' as Muslim Brotherhood supporters see the entire problem in Egypt as being the fact that evil corrupt pagans have monopolised the system for themselves.

The Muslim Brotherhood for a long time has preached that by Islamising society more it can create the conditions upon which true virtue will flourish and corruption in the way aid is administered banished and  the spread to real wealth to believers assured.

For his supporters Morsi's removal is an attack on those hopes and his restoration a precondition for any alleviation of their poverty and economic deprivation. For those who supported his removal it was seen as a precondition of any chance to revive tourism, push for open democracy and restore the economy.

The factors driving civil conflict are based on deep rooted intractable divisions. Both sides are claiming that the revolution has been perverted or stolen from them and both regard the other as counter-revolutionaries prepared to use force and terrorise the other. So now, perhaps, only power and force can decide the outcome.

The question is really whether radical Islamists could possibly put up an armed revolt and what access to weapons they have. There are no signs that any in the army are prepared to defect to the rival 'revolution' against which the coup was directed-both in the name of preserving the gains of 2011 against dictatorship.

Would the US Back a Military Coup in Egypt ?

Some are already suggesting the US is  involved in the coup but just cannot publicly support it and has been hypocritically keeping its distance from it.Many would like the believe that the US had done because that would simplify their interpretation of events.

Even so, there is still no evidence do that the US has any interests in instigating a coup. Obviously the US cannot publicly support the military takeover as that would be technically illegal and it would have difficulties justifying the $1.3 bn it funds the Egyptian military with.

But that it not the same as being active in backing a coup and plotting with the Egyptian military to overthrow Morsi, something that was not clearly in the interests of the US. Morsi was prepared to accept the IMF plans for the economy and US policy on Syria.

On the other hand, Morsi's pan-Islamist rhetoric was hugely unpopular with the Egyptian military. Not least the intention to relax border restrictions on the Gaza Strip which military figures claimed would endanger security in Sinai and allow pro-Morsi terrorists to enter Egypt.

Given that the US has funded the Egyptian military to preserve the nation as an 'anchor of stability' in the Middle East-in particular its peace treaties with Israel which date back to the end of the 1973 war-it has no interest in being seen to be either for or against the army's actions.

For a start, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders during the 48 hour period they were given by the military to step down started to try and frame the action as though there might have been US backing. In the event of being overthrown they could then mobilise anti-American sentiments.

Even so, unless there is evidence the US actually did explicity give backing to a coup, the conclusion has to be that events simply caught the US and UK off guard. Before the coup the main focus of both powers was on Syria. And Blair has his own self serving reasons for his views.

Ultimately, the US will most likely give tacit de facto support to the Egyptian military's action as and when 'stability' is restored and some semblence of democracy reintroduced. But the Muslim Brotherhood has every interest in protracting the crisis so that looks unlikely.

But it seems obvious that the US did not want to be put in this position at a time when it was considering arming the Sunni insurgents in Syria to fight against the pro-Iranian Alawi regime of Assad. One important group in that struggle is led by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and backed by Turkey.

More generally Western policy in the Middle East is in total disarray at present. The idea Washington has or can have total control over events there is a comforting myth believed in by fervent believers in US imperialism and its staunchest critics alike. There is no evidence for it.

Why the US Cannot Call a Coup a Coup .

"We have had a long relationship with Egypt and the Egyptian people and it would not be wise to abruptly change our assistance programme.. ..The smart policy is to review this matter...There is not a simple or easy answer here"- Jay Carney, US spokesman.
The US is clearly hamstrung on the military takeover ( i.e coup ) because it cannot be seen to be be backing the army against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when it is backing the Sunni insurgents in their struggle against President Assad's Alawi Shia regime in Syria.

In Syria the Muslim Brotherhood has been a major component of the armed opposition to Assad backed by Turkey, a NATO nation, and the removal of Morsi has deprived them of one of its most significant backers and ideological support from its original homeland.

It would be absurd for the US to openly back the army takeover as its erstwhile enemy Assad has claimed "What is happening in Egypt is the fall of what is known as political Islam..whoever uses religion for political aims, or to benefit some and not others, will fall".

Despite the predictable claims that the CIA just must have been behind the coup ( without any evidence ) there was absolutely no interest the US could have had in either backing one or even being seen to back on. It has taken the US by surprise and it has no idea how to react.

In fact, only Tony Blair has openly criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and advocated working with the new government, something that clearly has more to do with his obsession with the idea that 'inactivity' is a policy choice with consequences too ( mostly due to his role in the invasion of Iraq ).

The US is probably hoping that the killing of 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters cannot lead to a reaction strong enough to pose serious resistance to the military's position in Egypt which it secures through its funding. If some radicals resort to terrorism, then the US can justify that subsidy.

If, however, if the calls by the Muslim Brotherhood leaders to 'rise up' go beyond street protest, leading to further provocations and heavy handed military responses, the potential for serious civil conflict will grow and this is bound to call into question the wisdom of giving arms to the Syrian insurgents.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tony Blair and Egypt.

Tony Blair's ideas on Syria and Egypt and the Middle East generally are interesting in that they have tended to be largely about maintaining his position as a 'great statesman' and to fit in with his attempt to safeguard his 'legacy' over the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.

Given the scale of the catastrophe in Iraq and the recent resurgence of sectarian conflict there, Blair has continually sought to frame events in Syria and now Egypt through the lens of an 'extremism' versus 'stability' paradigm in which both are defined according purely to propaganda need.

As Blair opines today in The Observer,
'The events that led to the Egyptian army's removal of President Mohamed Morsi confronted the military with a simple choice: intervention or chaos. Seventeen million people on the streets are not the same as an election. But it as an awesome manifestation of power'.
Blair's 'thinking' usually boils down to a series of binary choices in which the alternative is 'unthinkable'. This was quite clear in his approach to the decision to invade Iraq where he kept repeating the line that 'inaction is an option' and, therefore, his decision to act was 'right'.

Actually, in Egypt the military takeover was not a 'simple choice' because it could force the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to give up the ballot box in favour of armed struggle. There is no room in Blair's worldview for subtlety. Nor are his pronouncements, supporting what many see as a coup, at all diplomatic.

The idea that to overthrow an elected president with 51% of the vote by force was 'a simple choice' is curiously contradicted later when Blair offers another timeless gem of political wisdom-"We have to take decisions for the long term because short term there are no simple solutions". 

Given that Blair is manifestly supporting a coup, given that he thinks the Egyptian army should retain control until it decides the economy is sufficiently strong for the army to decide to tolerate democracy again. that acts as a ringing endorsement for authoritarianism.

After all, Blair has quite obviously hinted that the military takeover is a decision for the 'long term' . As a Special Envoy for the Middle East Quartet, Blair could prove an embarrassment for the US and UK governments. They have said as little as possible about the army's action through fear of being seen to back a coup

Indeed, the US funds the Egyptian army to a tune of $1.5bn, something that is technically illegal, and does not want to be seen as meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state to suppress democracy should events spiral out of control as Muslim Brotherhood supporters get more irate about their president being toppled.

For Blair interventions that are deemed to uphold 'stability' ( as his too from Afghanistan to Iraq were ceaselessly presented ) are the opposite of those interventions by chaotic 'extremists'. That is useful if the blame for the carnage in Iraq is to be shifted away from the decision to invade that unleashed it.

That is why Blair writes,
'...when we contemplate the worst that can happen, we realise that it is unacceptable.We could end up with effective partition of the country, with a poor Sunni state to the east, shut out from the sea and the nation's wealth, and run by extremists.Lebanon would be totally destabilised; Iraq further destabilise'.
Just as the progress to democracy in Iraq was hindered by 'extremists', Blair is trying portray the intervention by Hizbollah and Iran in Syria in the same oversimplified light while failing to mention that Sunni Islamist insurgents fighting against Assad include the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood !

So Blair's call for more 'intervention' in Syria to support the anti-Assad Sunni insurgents is obviously contradicted by him having just supported what many would see as a coup to get rid of the the Muslim Brotherhood, the erstwhile allies of those he's demanded be backed in Syria.

Moreover, the stupidity of the supposed advocacy of tough minded 'realpolitik' now is quite obvious when it is considered that one reason Iran is able to aid the Shia is because Maliki's Shia regime in Baghdad sympathetic to Tehran and allowing Iraqi airspace to be used for arms to be shipped to prop up Assad.

And this geopolitical fact is one longer term consequence of the invasion of Iraq in empowering Iran and the Shia majority via their Islamist parties, something to be swept aside by Blair by the selective deployment of the word 'extremism', a rhetorical trick used also by the current Foreign Minister William Hague.

As "analysis" Blair's is next to useless. As a supposed diplomat, Blair's intervention here is even rather damaging because a Special Envoy for the West he is almost explicitly suggesting he'd rather there was military rule to preserve order until such a time as the economy improved as democracy can be allowed again.

After all, Blair does not seem to be impressed even by the secular opposition to the dictator Mubarak
'I remember an early conversation with some young Egyptians shortly after President Mubarak's downfall. They believed that, with democracy, problems would be solved. When I probed on the right economic policy for Egypt, they simply said that it would all be fine because now they had democracy it was well to the old left of anything that had a chance of working'.
Blair is officially titled a Special Envoy but he comes across as more of a Special Pleader for Western interests first and foremost over that of a considerable number of people of the Middle East. As with Britain itself 'the people' are to be listened to only when their aspirations coincide with what he decides is 'right'.
 'I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge'.
If that means a coup by the Egyptian military, so be it. It may well be what Blair wants and many, including the Egyptian protesters, were right about the incompetence and creeping Islamisation agenda of the Morsi government. Yet Blair is supposed to be a diplomat brining a 'peace process' to the Middle East.

The Middle East is a complicated region. Blair is not intelligent or knowledgeable enough to understand it or play a constructive part in its affairs. It is far more complicated that Northern Ireland. Blair should be dropped as Special Envoy where he can only do more harm and inflame opinion.

Everything Blair does and everything he writes seems to be more about Him and His Role in History. The man is quite clearly haunted by his role in the catastrophe in Iraq and needs to keep rationalising the decision to invade both to himself and before others.

Even on the grounds of Blair's supposed expertise in 'public diplomacy',his interventions are unhelpful and foolish, an attempt to present himself as 'decisive' as opposed to both current incumbents in the White House and Downing Street. Blair still seems to be deluded that he has some sort of power to shape events.