Foreseeing Egypt’s Unrest

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. ‘

10 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Will we, the rabble who have been making helpful comments on Facebook and similar be safe to enter Egypt again?

  2. .
    You, sir, are too modest.
    While the contours, texture and shading were a surprise, you pretty much nailed the basics.
    .

  3. With no disrespect intended towards your own level of insight, I, frankly, doubt the honesty of every last individual who claims both to know what they’re talking about and that an uprising was unforeseeable. Those two points just don’t fly together. Even an absolute rube let loose in Egypt for a period of months could have come back with a better assessment of the explosive potential there than what many seem willing to admit to these days.

    • I think you overestimate the human capacity for insight. This uprising, or something like it, was almost inevitable, but the timing certainly was not. If you look at other uprisings you’ll see they generally caught everyone by surprise. Think of it this way: if the uprising could have been predicted, it would have been quashed by the people who had an interest in maintaining the status quo, not the least of which is the U.S. If the whole world misses something it is, pretty much by definition, difficult to find.

  4. For those wondering why the Egyptian revolution was not predicted, I strongly recommend reading The Black Swan. Predictions of what is perceived as highly improbable are never forecast by the Very Important People because it falls outside the model.

  5. It does now look like Obama has again capitulated or as it more and more appears, never had control in the first place. His Own Secretary of State as well as His special Diplomat sent to convince Mabarak to hang tight tells Me Who really is in charge. Glen Greenwald, in His column Yesterday should have given You a clue that the Mubarak supporters are running the show. Obama’s Envoy is on Mubarak’s payroll and We have Shades of Torture supporter, Dick Cheney’ still expressing His disdain of Democracy. Once again We take a win out of the possible and vote for a sure loser. How dumb is that?

  6. Impressive …

    instead of spending billions on the security apparatus they should put you on a retainer…

    nobody listens to academics of course.. they all have their heads in the ivory tower :)

  7. I agree that you called it nicely. And on academics — I remember a discussion with a Middle-East specialist colleague on roughly 9-13-2001, or thereabouts. I vividly remember the remark he made, that Hosni Mubarak was probably absolutely delighted, and would now be able to hang on for another decade. He meant that Americans would now be guaranteed to support his crackdown on any opposition.
    But nobody could have foreseen — because after all, actual expertise has that well-known liberal bias.

  8. “Obama should not take Egypt for granted, but rather should have some subtle and culturally informed contingency plans if its politics abruptly opens up. ”

    Yeah, Omar Suleiman. How subtle.

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