I had planned to spend most of yesterday, Sunday, working in the garden, particularly harvesting and culling our plums. I have three trees: two standard purple, and one golden blush Japanese hybrid. But it got hot, I got most of the work done, and I couldn’t help but read the Sunday papers. And doing so, I couldn’t help but notice how right-on-the-spot several of the articles were pertaining to subjects I have written about lately. The first several of these are about Egypt; the rest I will talk about in follow up posts as the day goes on.
As regards Egypt, both the New York Times’ and the Washington Post’s main stories corroborated and detailed the gist of what I have been saying over the past week or two: the military is negotiating the results of the presidential election. It is trying to work a deal in a situation where it holds most, but not all, of the leverage. The NYT article is better because it reviews the background of a SCAF-MB deal from some months ago that both sides have violated, leaving both even less trusting of the other side than usual. But the NYT article seems to imply that, if the military can assure itself a constitutional order that will protect its prerogatives, and in particular grant it permanent amnesty from any legal proceedings, it would be willing to step aside for genuine civilian rule. I am skeptical of this line of argument.
According to both articles, the election results were to be announced Sunday—and they were. It should go almost without saying that the announcement of the winner of the presidential election constituted nothing definitive. It merely marks the end of the next stage of the beginning of the pushing and shoving and maneuvering that are likely to go on for many months to come in Egypt. Mohammed Morsi and his colleagues made some sort of deal with the SCAF, which doesn’t rule out future parallel efforts at betrayal. It probably guarantees them under the circumstances, since Morsi’s victory is as hollow as the SCAF has been able to make it over the past few weeks (which is very hollow indeed). The way things stand now, Morsi is supreme over the façade of the Egyptian state, but the SCAF rules the “deep state.” This resembles in some ways the situation in Turkey from the mid-1920s all the way into the 1990s (not that Egyptians deliberately modeled the current mess after the Turkish experience). Thus arrangements like this can last a long time—or not. Time will tell.
The NYT also carried an article yesterday on the latest in the political situation in Libya, which is also tilting Islamward. Indeed, if the Libyan transitional authorities can ever get it together to have a real election (and that’s far from clear), the chances are that Islamists will win it. That’s Islamists, plural. There are many flavors of Islamists in Libya—some willing to abide by democratic protocols if it suits their interests, and others who think of such protocols as a form of heresy. Libya may in time be a candidate for significant civil violence among and between various Islamist groups. That would be something a little different from what we’ve become used to seeing. Today’s papers report the extradition of an old regime prime minister from Tunisia back to Libya. That guy is in real trouble.
And there is a link here, from Libya, to the situation in Egypt. The notion that democracy could take root quickly and firmly in Arab countries persuaded many a year and a half go that this would dampen the appeal of radical Islam. Why fiddle around with terrorism, the idea was, when we can get rid of these bastard governments through pro-democratic mass action? Well, now that the Egyptian military has deeply undermined whatever hope there was for the democratic process in Egypt, now that the reform movement in Bahrain is on its bloody heels, now that Libya is such a complete mess, now that Yemen is fighting a low-level civil war despite a presidential transition, now that even Tunisia is a mixed bag, and so on, the power of protest movements to diminish the appeal of radicalism must be reassessed both inside and outside the region. This reassessment should not take long: It was a false hope based on a wild long shot from the start.
The WP carried an interesting article yesterday by Karen de Young, emphasizing the general sense among policy experts both in and outside of the administration, Democrats and Republicans alike, as to how little leverage the United States has over events in Egypt. This corresponds exactly to my commentary on Friday, which elicited doubt and criticism from certain readers. But it is true nonetheless. I think this article by Ms. de Young may be the only front section Post item I have seen in years with which I have absolutely zero quarrel. I tried my best to find a nit to pick, but I just couldn’t do it.