I noticed a lot of television commentators wondering why no one predicted the unrest in Egypt. I’d just like to draw attention to the number 1 item in my New Year’s list of 2011 challenges for US foreign policy. While it is not exactly a prediction of what we are seeing today on our television sets, it lays out the outlines of the challenge as we are now experiencing it and suggests that corporate media is just listening to the wrong inside-the-beltway pundits if they weren’t hearing about these potentialities in the Egyptian scene before January 25.
‘ Egypt, after decades of being unproblematic for the US, may be on the verge of being a foreign policy challenge of some magnitude. President Hosni Mubarak is advanced in age and could pass from the scene soon. He is grooming his son, Jamal, to be his successor, but the wikileaks cables suggest that the powerful Egyptian military intelligence chief is not happy with this idea of dynastic succession. On the other hand, US cables also suggest that the Egyptian military is declining in power and modernity. Although the government successfully repressed its radicals during the past two decades, they are back in the streets again, as with today’s car-bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria, which killed 21. More serious challenges come from the Muslim Brotherhood,, which could do well in an election that was not rigged against them. Likewise, Egypt’s labor and middle class movements have shown themselves capable of mounting significant campaigns in recent years, deploying new communications tools such as facebook. A more democratic Egypt, like a more democratic Turkey, may not be willing to be complicit with Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Obama should not take Egypt for granted, but rather should have some subtle and culturally informed contingency plans if its politics abruptly opens up. Above all, the US must not stand in the way of democratization, even if that means greater Muslim fundamentalist influence in the state. ‘