Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2011


Talk to top U.S. officials here about how things are going in Egypt, and the gist of the answer reminds me of what Apollo XI astronaut Michael Collins told Mission Control while sailing over the Sea of Tranquility: “Listen, babe, everything is going just swimmingly.”

Talk to secular Egyptians about what they make of that sanguine point of view, and they’ll tell you the Americans are on the far side of the moon.

Soon after my arrival here, I am met by an Egyptian friend—I’ll call him Mahmoud—who is Muslim by birth but decidedly secular by choice. He looks shaken. The cabbie who had brought him to the hotel where I’m staying had brandished a pistol he claimed to have stolen from a police officer. The cabbie said he had recently fired the gun in the air to save a young woman from being raped.

Mahmoud has his doubts about the truthfulness of the cabbie’s story. He also thinks that levels of street crime in Cairo are no worse than before the revolution, when incidents of hooliganism and looting spiked to Baghdad-like levels. But there’s something different, too. “People are much more scared than they used to be,” he says. “And it comes from the fact that there’s no police. People understand there’s potential for a minor incident to turn into a major massacre. If someone goes nuts, everyone will go nuts.”

From the hotel we walk toward Tahrir Square, site of the massive protests that last month brought down Hosni Mubarak. Much was made at the time of the care the demonstrators had taken to tidy up the square, but now it’s back to its usual shambolic state. Much was made, too, of how the protests were a secular triumph in which the Muslim Brotherhood was left to the sidelines. But that judgment now looks in need of major revision.

Mahmoud points to a building facing the square where, until a few weeks ago, a giant banner demanded “80 Million Noes” to a package of constitutional amendments meant to pave the way toward parliamentary and presidential elections in just a few months time. The banner had been placed there by the secular groups at the heart of the protests, which have good reason to fear early elections. Early elections will only benefit well-organized and politically disciplined groups like the Brotherhood and the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which is really the party of the Egyptian military.

In the event, the ayes had it with a whopping 77%, despite a fevered turnout effort by “No” voters. “The West seems to be convinced that the revolution was led by secular democratic forces,” says Mahmoud. “Now that myth is shattered. Which means that either the old order”—by which he means the military regime—”stays in power, or we’re headed for Islamist dominance.”

From Tahrir Square, we walk past the burnt-out shell of the municipal tax office to meet up with some of Mahmoud’s friends. George (another pseudonym) is a twenty-something Coptic Christian from a middle-class family. His parents, who run a small factory in upper Egypt, see no future for him in the country, and they want him to emigrate. “Canada or Australia?” he asks me. I tell him the weather is better Down Under, but that he might be better off staying put and fighting for a better future for his country. He looks at me doubtfully.

Egypt’s Copts, some 15% of the population and the largest non-Muslim group anywhere in the Middle East, have good reasons to be worried. Though the protestors at Tahrir made a show of interfaith solidarity, the sense of fellowship is quickly returning to the poisonous pre-Tahrir norm. Earlier this month a Coptic church south of Cairo was burned to the ground, apparently on account of an objectionable Coptic-Muslim romance. The episode would seem almost farcical if it weren’t so commonplace in Egypt, and if it didn’t so often have fatal results.…

Ahmed, another friend of Mahmoud, stops by to say hello. A graphic designer, Ahmed got a coveted job at an ad agency two days before the protests began in Tahrir, was laid off just a few days later, and remains unemployed today. Though it’s now generally forgotten, the past seven years were economically good for Egypt thanks to the liberalizing program of former Prime Minister Ahmed Nafiz—a classic case, in hindsight, of revolutions being the product of rising expectations.

But now that’s in the past. Foreign investors are wary of Egypt, as are tourists, and the military junta currently ruling the state has embarked on a witch hunt against people who belonged to the “businessmen’s cabinet” that gave Egypt its fleeting years of growth but now serve as convenient bogeymen for a military eager to affirm its populist bona fides.

Later I return to the hotel to listen to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Ambassador Margaret Scobey deliver upbeat assessments about developments in the country. Who are you going to believe: Secular Egyptians themselves or the crew who, just a few weeks ago, was saying the Mubarak regime was in no danger of collapse?


Ryan Mauro
FrontPage Blog, March 25, 2011


On Saturday, March 19, the Egyptian people took part in their first vote since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Sadly, the results of the vote give an edge to the undemocratic and Islamist forces that seek to extinguish the democracy the voters thought they were making. Parliamentary elections could come as early as June and a presidential election in September, giving the more liberal voices little time to organize to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

Over three-fourths of voters supported the proposed amendments that included having elections before the writing of a constitution, limits on presidential emergency powers and a limit of two four-year terms for presidents. The Secretary-General of the Arab League and presidential frontrunner, Amr Moussa, voted against the amendments, as did more liberal secular parties and Coptic Christians that worry that holding elections in such a short period of time would play to the advantage of Mubarak’s party and the Islamists.…

A top Salafi sheikh named Mohamed Hussein Yaqoub praised the results of the vote, saying it was a victory for Islam. “That’s it. The country is ours,” he said. The Muslim Brotherhood predictably applauded the results as well, knowing it leaves minimal time for opponents to organize against them. The Wall Street Journal had reported that “political parties are sprouting like weeds,” raising the possibility that the younger and less conservative members of the Muslim Brotherhood could join other parties. This hopeful trend will now have very little time to culminate in a more encouraging political atmosphere. The Islamists and the NDP have organized for decades in Egypt and the holding of parliamentary elections as soon as June gives them a decisive opportunity to shape the future of the country.

“The main problem here is the next parliament will write the next Constitution. So then the fanatics and the Muslim Brotherhood will govern us for decades,” said Emad Gad of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The Muslim Brotherhood says its “Freedom and Justice Party” will be formally created in the coming weeks, though the chairman, Mohammed Katatni, tries to cast it as an independence party. The Brotherhood’s leadership admits creating it and Katanani is a senior Brotherhood member. This is a transparent attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of voters and the West. The group is also planning to begin a new satellite television program and various publications including a monthly newspaper. The secular parties besides NDP are simply outmatched.

This means that the parliament’s two strongest parties going into the parliamentary elections are the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the secular democratic forces without a strong voice. The scenario is not much better for the secular forces in the presidential election held later, as Ayman Nour seems unable to draw the kind of attention that Muhammad ElBaradei and Moussa can.…

Barry Rubin
Rubin Reports, March 11, 2011


It’s now official. The Egyptian presidential election will pit Amr Moussa against Muhammad ElBaradei. It’s hard to see a third candidate emerging with a real chance of being elected.…

In May 2007, here’s how al-Jazeera prophetically began its story on Amr Moussa: “Time magazine describes Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League as ‘perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab world’; others claim he is the only official most Egyptians would elect as president if they had the chance. It was his goal from day one.…”

Now, Moussa is openly pursuing this goal as a candidate to be president of Egypt. Here’s the beginning of his campaign. He’ll probably win. This is remarkable for two reasons. First, Moussa worked closely with deposed dictator Husni Mubarak for decades. He was clearly part of the old regime yet what distinguished him was his more outspoken anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel rhetoric.

Indeed, so clear was this factor that in 2000 a wildly popular song declared: “I Hate Israel…I love Amr Moussa….” Moussa knows well the uses of anti-American and anti-Israel demagoguery as a way to be popular in Egypt. If he wins the election he will owe his victory in large part to his harping on these themes. That could be a problem.

Moussa [also] represents the ideology supposedly thrown by the revolution into the dustbin of history: Arab nationalism. That is the doctrine that has ruled Egypt since 1952 and which has faced increasing rivalry from Islamism and moderate democratic reformism.…

Will anyone note the irony of a revolution against the regime picking a leading figure from that regime as president? And his distinction is not any love of democracy or moderation but a hatred of the democratic West and Israel.…


The following are excerpts from Barry Rubin’s April 5th article, entitled
Flash: American-Backed Egyptian “Moderate” Threatens War On Israel!


…Designated “moderate” and U.S.-backed Egyptian [presidential candidate] Muhammad ElBaradei has made a profoundly shocking statement that should change U.S. policy overnight, show how disastrous Obama Administration policy was, and mark the beginning of the coming electoral defeat for the [U.S] president.…

ElBaradei…said the following: “If Israel attacked Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime.” And he’s the moderate!

In other words: Despite repeated ridiculing of Israeli concerns, it is increasingly likely that the next Egyptian government will tear up the Egypt-Israel peace treaty [and] Egypt will be an ally of Hamas, a revolutionary Islamist terrorist group that openly calls for genocide against Jews and the wiping out of Israel.…

In his interview with Al-Watan,  ElBaradei also said: “In case of any future Israeli attack on Gaza—as the next president of Egypt—I will open the Rafah border crossing and will consider different ways to implement the joint Arab defense agreement.”

Think about what that means! Muslim Brotherhood and other volunteers will flood into Gaza to fight the Jews. Arms from Iran and Syria will pour into the Gaza Strip including longer-range missiles, landed openly at Egyptian ports. And that “joint Arab defense agreement”? That means Egypt would consult with Syria and other Arab states about joining the war, spreading it throughout the region.

Thank you, President Obama!…

Obviously President Obama and his administration…are not responsible for the Egyptian revolution. But there is a long list of factors that do make it their fault: they rushed the process of change; made it inevitable by demanding that the revolution succeed; acted so that it included the entire regime and not just Mubarak personally; preemptively approved the Muslim Brotherhood as a government party, didn’t press the regime for guarantees to Israel; made the new rulers feel that they can get away with anything; among other things.

Then there are the broader mistakes made previously: acting so weak that it emboldened radicals and makes everyone assume that the United States can’t or won’t do anything to enforce its interests; pressed Israel to minimize sanctions on the Hamas regime; gave several hundred million dollars to the Gaza Strip; defined only al-Qaida as an enemy and all other radical Islamists as moderates-in-training; coddled rather than confronted Syria and—to a lesser extent—Iran; distanced itself from Israel; among other things.

What will it take for the United States and Europe to realize that they have uncorked the bottle and let out the genie? How’s this sound as an election slogan: Obama got taken for a ride, millions died?

(Barry Rubin is the director of the Israel-based Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of The Middle East Review of International Affairs. Mr Rubin will be a guest speaker at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research’s June 15, 2011 Gala.)


Edward Cody
Washington Post, March 30, 2011


Whatever new government emerges from the uprising in Tahrir Square, Egypt’s relations with Israel and the United States are likely to become more difficult in the months ahead with an infusion of Arab nationalism and skepticism about Egypt’s landmark peace treaty with Israel.

Many of those who helped oust President Hosni Mubarak, including secular democracy activists and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, say the 32-year-old treaty should…be submitted to the Egyptian people for approval, through a new parliament scheduled to be elected in September and then perhaps in a public referendum.

The desire to reconsider the treaty marks a clear difference with the policy of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which soon after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 departure declared that Egypt would respect all its international commitments, including the treaty with Israel. The open-ended declaration, reportedly made at U.S. urging, was designed to reassure Israel, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had warned that his nation faced uncharted dangers in the months ahead because of the revolts across the Arab world.

Much about Egypt’s policy toward Israel will be determined by the relationships that emerge between the military and the civilian government due to be elected later this year, which is expected to include representatives of many of the groups that brought down Mubarak.

“There was no real end to the war with Israel, just a truce,” said Shadi Mohammed, a 26-year-old leader of the April 6 Movement that helped promote the Tahrir Square demonstrations. “That’s just my personal opinion, but there are a lot of people who think like I do.”

Mohammed Maher, a Muslim Brotherhood activist helping organize for the parliamentary vote, said that if his group gains influence through the elections, Egypt is likely to pursue closer ties with Gaza, opening border crossings and promoting trade as a way to undermine the Israeli blockade. The Brotherhood traditionally has focused on Gaza because the territory’s ruling Palestinian group, the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

Shady Ghazali Harb, a 32-year-old surgeon in the Democratic Front Party who supports Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. nuclear agency chief, also advocated stronger action to relieve besieged Palestinians in Gaza. “The environment there is inhuman,” he said. These goals for Gaza would mark a sharp change from the way Israel and Egypt have done business in recent years.

Mubarak, eager to maintain economic and military aid from the United States, cooperated closely with Israel in Gaza security matters, including attempts to halt arms and other smuggling along the border. The Egyptian intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, was a trusted intermediary between the Israeli government and Palestinian militant groups. Suleiman is long gone, having dropped out of sight along with Mubarak.

“Mubarak believed the door to the United States was through Israel,” said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a founding member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs and a former member of parliament who lectures at the American University in Cairo. “But that is no more.…” Makram-Ebeid, who sits on the protesters’ Council of Trustees of the Revolution, suggested treaty provisions limiting the number of Egyptian soldiers stationed along the Gaza border should be reviewed. But the main difference in Egyptian foreign policy is likely to be a demand for respect, she said, adding that many Egyptians felt humiliated by what she described as servile willingness by Mubarak to do what he was told by Washington.

“No more of the headmaster telling us what to do.…” she said.