Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Egypt : The Military Crackdown and the Threat of ISIS.

The fate of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt is bound up in Egypt's attempt to clamp down on the Doha based new station because it is seen as favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar after 2011 in rivalry with Saudi Arabia which supports the military state.

Washington, in turn, remains a stalwart ally of Saudi Arabia in its attempt to create a wall of Sunni Arab states in the Middle East to deter Iranian influence in the region. This is a goal broadly shared by the US which in 2013 accounted still for 17.2 % of its total crude oil imports.

General Sisi's crushing of dissent and imprisonment of political opponents is the unfortunate cost to be paid for 'stability' in Egypt as it faces the increased threat of radical Sunni jihadist violence from those angry about the coup against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

More ominously, an insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula has attracted radicalised jihadists from Syria fighting for groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and heeding the call from Al Qaeda and ISIS to go and take the battle to Egypt, the homeland of Al Qaida's leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

But the attempt by Sisi's regime to yoke Al Qaida together with the Muslim Brotherhood is as much about shoring up its own domestic legitimacy as it is about pleasing its Saudi sponsors who after the coup offered $5billion in aid to help support Egypt's tanking economy.

When President Morsi was in power, Saudi Arabia feared the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood could embolden Islamists at home. But it has been in competition with Qatar both in Egypt and in Syria where both powers have vied for political control over the anti-Assad Sunni militias.

The geopolitical energy dimension to this struggle for regional influence is that while both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a joint interest in overthrowing Assad, to prevent an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, they are at variance on Qatari attempts to build a gas pipeline from the Gulf which could circumvent Saudi Arabia.

Yet in competing for influence in Syria by backing the most effective Sunni jihadists on the ground and fracturing the unity of the Free Syrian Army, by 2013 Saudi Arabia and Qatar had enabled Al Qaida affiliated groups and ISIS to gain a strong foothold and for blowback into Egypt.

There are already jihadist organisations with connections to ISIS operating on the Sinai Peninsula which is said to be 'fertile ground' for the group to expand. Israeli-Egyptian cooperation to crush the jihadist insurgency in Sinai has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and surging support for the jihadists.

Washington's decision to release a $650m aid package to Egypt and continued military assistance, including Apache helicopters, is connected to the need to keep in check the threat of jihadist blowback caused by Syrian and Libyan conflicts and the military's coup and cack handed crackdown on Sinai.

Scores of civilans have continued to get killed in the cross fire in Sinai in villages said to be contain jihadist groups and Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with the use of torture centres, mass arrests and arbitrary imprisonment in a region where the government has made it difficult for journalist to enter.

Washington may not like the Egyptian states's imprisoning and suppression of journalism but it is a necessary consequence of the shoddy and failed foreign policies of its Gulf allies and which has contributed towards the havoc, mayhem and death spreading across the Middle East.

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