Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
On Twitter: GlennKesslerWP  |  Contact: factchecker@washpost.com  |  RSS
Posted at 5:26 PM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Three scenarios for the Egyptian end game

By Glenn Kessler

As the Egyptian political crisis grows more violent and uncertain, analysts have begun to turn to historical parallels for answers. Will an Islamist movement or a new strong man -- or both -- emerge to seize control, in an eerie repeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution? Or will Egypt's secular tradition and powerful military allow for a messy transition to democracy, as happened in Indonesia in 1998? Or will it be something in between, such as the initial outcome of the Romanian revolution of 1989?

Even in the age of Twitter, the final result will probably not be known for weeks. It took four months for the shah of Iran to leave his country after the shooting of demonstrators led to popular outrage. In Egypt, no real move to democracy can be assured until several changes in law and the constitution are enacted. The next presidential election is now scheduled for September, but a careful process of reform would be needed to ensure a transition to democracy.

Among the key changes required: altering Article 76 of the constitution, which imposes onerous requirements that effectively prevent any opposition candidate from running for the presidency; lifting the emergency law that empowers the security services to detain without charge anyone deemed a threat to the state; reinstating judicial supervision of elections, including the presence of judges at every polling station; and making sure the machinery of the state (such as television) is in the hands of more neutral people than the ruling party.

Those reforms, of course, would not ensure a result that is beneficial to U.S. interests. Drawing from history, here are the three possible scenarios most discussed by analysts.

The Iranian outcome

Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today, was an anchor of U.S. power in the Middle East who maintained relations with Israel. He was socially progressive, with a largely secular approach. But when he was ousted in a popular revolution, a theocratic clique led by the long-exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power and smothered a movement originally led by students and moderates. Moreover, the outcome was deeply damaging to the United States, with Iran the major backer of anti-Israeli militants in the region.

The parallel is imperfect -- there is no Egyptian spiritual or religious leader living in Paris awaiting a triumphant return to Cairo -- but some experts are concerned about the possibility of an Egyptian Islamist movement grabbing the reins of the uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been an illegal but semi-tolerated force in Egyptian politics.

Mubarak clamped down on moderate opposition forces and used the Muslim Brotherhood as a foil to fend off Western demands for greater freedoms. "If they do gain control, it's going to be almost impossible for the people to take it back," says former State Department official Leslie Gelb, referring to the Brotherhood. Ian Johnson, a journalist who has written on the movement, quoted its former leader as saying he "still wants to impose Islamic law, or sharia, in Egypt, but says he would do so slowly, building up support at the grassroots level rather than imposing it from above, as was done in Iran."

Others discount the Muslim Brotherhood's strength, however. Anthropologist Scott Atran says the Brotherhood can only count on 100,000 adherents out of population of over 80 million.

The Indonesian outcome

In 1998, President Suharto's 32 years of authoritarian rule came to an end. He was another long-time U.S. ally whose departure was deeply feared in the White House. But in the end, the world's most populous Muslim country made a messy and long transition to democracy -- and remained a key partner of the United States.

Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points to Indonesia's experience as a more likely scenario for Egypt than the Iranian outcome, though he warns the path will still be difficult. But there are similarities between Egypt and Indonesia: a relatively secular tradition, a strong military that has (thus far) refused to repress protesters, and an uprising led by a mix of youth and civic society.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch also believes the Indonesia scenario is more likely than an Iranian outcome because the restoration of political freedom in Egypt would empower more moderate political forces to emerge, just as in Indonesia, with the military possibly helping to provide stability during the transition.

The Romanian outcome

Romanian revolutionaries overthrew a dictator in 1989 -- and killed him -- but within months the military and Communist elite had engineered their survival, with the designated president, a former ally of the dictator, winning 85 percent of the vote in a May 1990 election

Egypt's security services -- army, paramilitary, National Guard and the like -- are about 1 million strong. It is quite possible that the country's ruling elite will slowly squeeze the life out of the opposition by making Mubarak a transitional figurehead and enacting a few cosmetic reforms that give the illusion of change. State control of the media would not be lifted and elections would still be manipulated to ensure the election of a president beholden to the current power structure.

What saved Romania in the end was that it wanted to become a member of NATO and the European Union, and so eventually a more democratic system of government emerged. But such incentives are not currently available for Egypt.

Follow The Fact Checker on Twitter @GlennKesslerWP

By Glenn Kessler  | February 3, 2011; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Middle East, issue context  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: McConnell's claims of wide backing for health-care repeal
Next: Obama in Cairo: Bold or timid?

Comments

None of the above scenarios is valid. This is because the young people who are forcing the change are very sophisticated and would not be fooled to accept anything less than a new constitution and a real democracy. They are the youth of the internet who are aware of other nations experience. All other scenaios took-place in the pre-internt world.

Posted by: motaleb54 | February 3, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

None of the above scenarios will play out. The regime has decided it will use whatever force necessary to crush the demonstrators off the streets, hospitalizing journalists, women, children, you name it. They do not seem to be anticipating that they will become a pariah state.

Either the protesters will decide to storm the palace tomorrow and drag Mubarak out into the streets, with hundreds of lives lost, or they will be rounded up, severely beaten by regime thugs, and sent off to prison to rot, if not killed.

Posted by: Nissl | February 3, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Two things that make the Egyptian scenario different from those that preceded it:

1. In the age of Twitter, information is MUCH harder to suppress. Even the Iranian regime had to resort to very hardline tactics in 2009 and may yet be forced to adopt more democratic reforms.

2. The ability of either side to play the "Israel card" to justify repression or distract the population with military adventures can never be underestimated. Today, the Egyptian authorities used fanciful "Israeli spies" as an excuse for the clampdown on journalists (ironically, including Al Jazeera) in Cairo.

I am hopeful, if apprehensive. Even those who believe Israel and the US were better off with the ancien regime must accept that the world is changing and either help shape it to their preference or be buried in the avalanche.

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 3, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Two things that make the Egyptian scenario different from those that preceded it:

1. In the age of Twitter, information is MUCH harder to suppress. Even the Iranian regime had to resort to very hardline tactics in 2009 and may yet be forced to adopt more democratic reforms.

2. The ability of either side to play the "Israel card" to justify repression or distract the population with military adventures can never be underestimated. Today, the Egyptian authorities used fanciful "Israeli spies" as an excuse for the clampdown on journalists (ironically, including Al Jazeera) in Cairo.

I am hopeful, if apprehensive. Even those who believe Israel and the US were better off with the ancien regime must accept that the world is changing and either help shape it to their preference or be buried in the avalanche.

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 3, 2011 6:24 PM | Report abuse

One option not mentioned: A caliphate, an regional theocracy including Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Somilia ect, ect, ect.

The minimising/exaltation of the Muslim Brotherhood by the MSM is either ignorant on their part or they are complicit.

The "Brotherhood" has spawned the benevolent group Hamas. Other alumni of the Brotherhood include Osama bin Laden and Kalid Shiek Mohammed- you know them from the 9-11 terror attacks- you may remember them.

I am curious why the brotherhood was invited to America and were guests at the White House in 2009. They are (or were) considered a terrorist group.

Also, On August 31, 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood-associated “Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations” (CCMO) will brought 25-30 Muslim leaders of 20 national Muslim groups to attend a special workshop presented by the White House and U.S. Government agencies (Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services etc.) to provide the groups “funding, government assistance and resources.”

Oh, we are funding them. I get it now. Is it any surprise Obama has embraced the Brotherhood as one of those with a new role in Egypt? It almost seems planned.

http://bigpeace.com/cbrim/2010/08/29/coming-august-31-direct-access-stimulus-grants-for-the-muslim-brotherhood/

Posted by: snowy2 | February 3, 2011 6:57 PM | Report abuse

If the pro-democracy forces are serious about freeing their country from the dictator, they need to develop a plan to capture and immediately execute on the spot Mubarak's police.

Posted by: jjedif | February 3, 2011 7:08 PM | Report abuse

If the pro-democracy forces are serious about freeing their country from the dictator, they need to develop a plan to capture and immediately execute on the spot Mubarak's police.

Posted by: jjedif | February 3, 2011 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, you left out another very possible outcome--that is another Tiananmen Square. If the Egyptian army throws its power behind the Mubarak faction, then the cost in lives will skyrocket as the president and his people hold on to power.

Let's hope this scenario is not the one that plays out.

David McGee
Virginia

Posted by: dhmcgee | February 3, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

All you "the youth will change the world""we cannot be suppressed"..."the young people...age of twitter, internet" are a bunch of fools. Despots come and go whether its Hosni or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like things "really" changed for the better in Iran. The shah would have been much better for us and the Iranians. You can transition from a facist like Hosni to democracy BUT you NEVER leave the thumb of Islamic fundamentalists like the brotherhood. When the brotherhood like the Iranians /Hamas/Hez take over , all you starry eyed liberals will see reality. What happened to the "young people" and the "freedom seekers" in Iran ? they got crushed like fleas and you liberal dreamers did nothing because you could do nothing. Amazing how you welcome these fools in just to get yr own faces slapped down.

Posted by: snapplecat07 | February 3, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

"The next presidential election is now scheduled for September, but a careful process of reform would be needed to ensure a transition to democracy.

Among the key changes required: altering Article 76 of the constitution, which imposes onerous requirements that effectively prevent any opposition candidate from running for the presidency; lifting the emergency law that empowers the security services to detain without charge anyone deemed a threat to the state; reinstating judicial supervision of elections, including the presence of judges at every polling station; and making sure the machinery of the state (such as television) is in the hands of more neutral people than the ruling party."

There's nothing stopping Mubarak from making these changes now. He might even be able to hang around until Sept. if he does.

Posted by: newageblues | February 3, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

End game option 4:

7 point 62

full metal jacket.

Make it so!

Posted by: WillSeattle | February 3, 2011 7:44 PM | Report abuse

A Pakistani outcome is a possibility.
Army will be in the background allowing different factions to participitate in governance.

Posted by: mohammadakhan | February 3, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

There is also the distinct possibility of a variance on the most recent examples of "democratic reform" in muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan; where a weak central government supported by the U.S. effectively acts as a mayoral structure in the capital, pays empty lip service to American interests, and accepts as much aid as they can get while allowing the rest of the country to descend into anarchy.

The best short term outcome would be a coup d'etat by the Egyptian military, with elections scheduled at the end of the year to allow enough time for the various political factions to formulate and strengthen their respective agendas.

Posted by: EddietheInfidel | February 3, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Mubarak will put down the uprising like Iran did last year. Next leader will be another military dictator.

Posted by: Doctor_Evil | February 3, 2011 8:25 PM | Report abuse

I would postulate a fourth outcome:

The Tiananmen outcome:

The same year Ceausescu was being deposed in Romania, pro-democracy protests also erupted in China at Tienanmen Square in Beijing. After a period of peaceful protest, the Chinese government sent the police and military in to seal off the area. They then placed the protesters under arrest and fired on the demonstrators, killing upwards from 400 people. The government went on to arrest opposition leaders with many dying in captivity.

If Mubarak is brutal enough, he could see it through. But the follow-up would have to be much more repressive than what he has done in the past.

Posted by: kgblankinship1 | February 3, 2011 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to popular belief history does not repeat itself. Each of the scenarios mentioned in this article was sui generis and the in Egypt will have little or no relation to any of them. The use of historical analogies of this sort is a low and foolish game.

Posted by: mmurray2 | February 3, 2011 9:18 PM | Report abuse

"the Brotherhood can only count on 100,000 adherents out of population of over 80 million."....

..."The organized minority can beat the disorganized majority every time".....Lenin

Iran-on-the-Nile seems most probable in the end.

Posted by: georgedixon1 | February 3, 2011 9:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm confused. Kessler says, "The outcome (in Iran) was deeply damaging to the United States, with Iran the major backer of anti-Israeli militants in the region." Why would something that may be bad for Israel be called "deeply damaging to the United States"?

Posted by: LeeM2 | February 4, 2011 12:38 AM | Report abuse

let egypt have it's change...
but if this change leads to attacks against other nations...
nuke cairo...
don't even think about it...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 4, 2011 5:43 AM | Report abuse

I think it is doubtful that Egypt will conform to any journalistic formula, just to please the Western press pundits.

Egypt has millions of desperately poor people, but they also have millions of educated, westernized, relatively affluent Arabs. It is this second group that will determine Egypt's future, and they can see for themselves the results of past revolutions around the Muslim world. Of those, Indonesia offers the most promise, and Iran offers the least.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has more social capital than political. Even if they have a agenda, it is doubtful that they can implement it against the majority of Egyptians, because they are watched globally. They have a legitimate right to a voice in Egyptian politics, and the right to try to earn the trust of the Egyptian people. We must see how effective they are in this endeavor, but ultimately the decision will be an Egyptian one.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | February 4, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I think it is doubtful that Egypt will conform to any journalistic formula, just to please the Western press pundits.

Egypt has millions of desperately poor people, but they also have millions of educated, westernized, relatively affluent Arabs. It is this second group that will determine Egypt's future, and they can see for themselves the results of past revolutions around the Muslim world. Of those, Indonesia offers the most promise, and Iran offers the least.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has more social capital than political. Even if they have a agenda, it is doubtful that they can implement it against the majority of Egyptians, because they are watched globally. They have a legitimate right to a voice in Egyptian politics, and the right to try to earn the trust of the Egyptian people. We must see how effective they are in this endeavor, but ultimately the decision will be an Egyptian one.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | February 4, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company