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.

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