Only Revolutions

I’ve never written much about international politics. Apart from long ago wanting to work as a Diplomat for the Foreign Office, my sole experience of international diplomacy is taking part in a couple of model UN debates when I was 16. But then again, I write mainly about two things – defence, and history. And isn’t it pretty impossible to separate politics, defence and history? Each affects the other. And of course at the forefront of my thoughts are the events unfolding right now in Egypt.

History underpins what happens in international politics. Egypt has traditionally been a US bulwark against communism and then extremism in the Middle East, and Israel’s closest friend in the region (although admittedly that’s not saying much). Hence leaders such as Mubarak have been able to stay in power for a long time, and their abuses of power have been overlooked, as long as they present a front against Islamic extremism. Pan-Arabism also broadly unites the region, particularly against Israel. I didn’t realise just how many regimes in the Middle East are the same – so many leaders have been in power for donkey’s years, and in some cases their fathers before them. I guess once President’s become established in office, the longer they are there the harder they have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Whatever that is, its not democracy. And if people on the streets are tearing themselves apart, then there is no meaningful Government of leadership in any case – thats a vacuum, and out of vacuums comes uncertainty. Iraq post-Invasion taught us that.

Countless times we have read about the role of the Army. Egypt has a sizeable military – the third largest in the Middle East after Turkey and Iran - and if it wanted to wade in on the side of either Mubarak of the opposition, that would probably prove decisive. Yet the Army seems unwilling to take a side, and doesn’t even seem willing to separate the two factions. This is probably down to experience, as the Egyptian Army may not be skilled at riot control. Tellingly, it says something about a regime if the Army – usually a representative cross section of society – is not willing to back the President. The military’s role in politics is extremely delicate indeed. An Army can deliver a coup-de-grace to a failing regime, but then it strays into the territory of becoming a military dictatorship. But at the other end of the scale, if the Army cannot intervene internally, then its influence is effectively neutered. Imagine if the British Army had not been able to intervene in Northern Ireland… it would have been a laughing stock.

Hanging over all of these events are the outcomes of previous revolutions. The current upheaval in Egypt was prompted by a similar wave of protest in Tunisia. And we only have to look back to the downfall of Communism in 1989 and 1990 to see how a small protest in one state can provide a tipping point across the region. The downfall of Communism had its roots in the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980′s, and culminated in peaceful revolutions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The lesson from 1989 seems to be that once the people have turned against a regime and are on the streets, it’s in everyones interests for change to take place. History tells us that once the people are on the streets, you can either go on your own terms, or against your will.

Are we looking at a domino effect in the Middle East? Only time will tell. The only fear has to be what might come afterwards.

(oh, and apologies to Biffy Clyro for stealing their album title!)

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7 Comments

Filed under defence, News, politics, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Only Revolutions

  1. John Erickson

    The greatest fear I have is a “last stand” civil war. The army has been leaning towards the anti-Mubarak protesters, leaving them alone and trying their best to prevent attacks by the hired-thug and state-police pro-Mubarak mobs. If Mubarak decides he’s going to stay until September, it raises the real possibility of his forces fighting the army and anti-Mubarak forces, and there will be blood aplenty. There is also the disturbing spectre of anti-Semitism appearing. Journalists have been called “Jew” by the pro-Mubarak thugs during assaults. And while the older generations of Egyptians remember the bloodshed of 1967 and 1973, but the younger people don’t remember the wars with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular has spoken of “reviewing” (read: canceling) any treaties between Egypt and Israel. This could touch off another round of Arab-Israeli warfare leading to huge casualties, and the very real possibility of US and possibly European military forces. I know our country could do without another Middle Eastern military entanglement, and I doubt Europe wants such a mess, either. Let’s up that reason and calm heads rule the day, or Egypt may look more like Iran in 1979, rather than Eastern Europe in 1989.

  2. James Daly

    John we’re in no position to contribute anything to any peacekeeping in Egypt or anywhere else in the Middle East, thanks to the Strategic Defence and Security Review. You will know more about this than I do, but I doubt there is the will in the US to intervene in another Middle East state, and the Arab world will not want to get involved as they either have enough problems of their own to sort out, or will not want to appear divided in front of Israel.

    It’s a dangerous combination for sure. I don’t like the sound of the Muslim Brotherhood one bit. Most revolutions take one respected, wisened statesman to stand up and be counted. El Baradei?

    • John Erickson

      James- I wasn’t thinking quite so much of a full-blown military intervention (which neither of our countries wants OR needs following Iraq/Afghanistan), but more of a UN peace-keeping style of deployment. I agree that the Arab community won’t want to get involved, at least not the more moderate ones (or the ones like Tunisia going through the same revolutionary process), which raises the frightening possibility of an Islamic “volunteer” force (most likely Iranian) stepping in to assure “peaceful transition” – transition to extremist Sharia law, that is. While Baradei does seem to be the best choice, he does have some “history” with the Egyptian secret police and their Argentinian-style “disappearances”. I can’t think of anyone else with the experience and public image required. (I suppose they could try Omar Shariff – after all, we had Reagan and didn’t do TOO badly!) I’m less worried about their internal politics than the talk of canceling treaties with Israel. While I don’t foresee an Arab-Israeli war, I could see tensions rise between Egypt and Israel to the point that Israel decides it needs only one real threat, and turns around and bombs Iran’s nuke factories. The Iranians will, of course, blame the US, and the resulting rounds of terrorism that could follow will cause IMMENSE trouble in the West. I would feel better if there were an obvious champion for the reform cause in Egypt, but lacking that, we’ll just have to hope common sense wins out. (Yeah, I know that’s a forlorn hope!)

  3. John Erickson

    I must post an apology and retraction – I got the players in this little drama mixed up El Baradei was NOT, repeat NOT, associated with the secret police. He has dealt with the International Atomic Energy Agency – so my only complaint with him is lack of political experience in “country operations”. Suleiman, the current (newly-named Veep) was the person who has ties to the secret police. My sincere apologies for an idiotic mistake of epic proportions. I promise I will engage my brain next time BEFORE I start typing random sentences. Sorry!

    • James Daly

      I think El Baradei’s experience in an international platform should stand him in good stead. As such he has dealt with all of the big players, and of course as a Nobel Laureate he came out of the Iraq fiasco with a decent reputation. I would see a lack of experience in domestic politics as a good thing, as it means he isn’t tarnished with events of the past 30 years. The man who led the revolution in Czech in 1989, Vaclav Havel, was a Poet after all.

  4. x

    Is being a “diplomat for F&CO” the same as being “a diplomat for HMG” Sir Humphrey?

  5. Pingback: A Revolution by any other name is? « Tarheeltalker

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