The Middle East in the Hands of Egypt

From NYTimes:

“After so many years of political stagnation, we were left with choices between the bad and the worse,” said Fadel Shallak, a Lebanese writer and a former government minister. “Now there’s something happening in the Arab world. A collective voice is being heard again.”

The unrest is indeed grassroots but it is not the sort of movement that wants to mimic Western democracies, but wants out of the tyrannies they are now experiencing. These shifts could change the global international relations in significant ways.

The changes may have deep repercussions for the United States. Mouin Rabbani, an analyst in Jordan, said economic frustrations mirrored resentment at governments perceived as agents of the United States and its allies. In fact, a more democratic Arab world, given recent polling, is likely to be much more hostile to American policy.

But the preoccupation now is internal….

And this is not Islam vs. the West, but it is the recovery of a common Arab heritage and identity. But what happens in Egypt will determine the immediate future of the Middle East’s pervasive unrest.

For the first time in a generation, it is not religion, nor the adventures of a single leader, nor wars with Israel that have energized the region. Across Egypt and the Middle East, a somewhat nostalgic notion of a common Arab identity, intersecting with a visceral sense of what amounts to a decent life, is driving protests that have bound the region in a sense of a shared destiny.

“The experience of Tunisia will remain the guiding light for Egypt and may be so for people in Yemen, Sudan and the rest of the Arab world looking for change, with a readiness to accept risk, especially given that even the worst possibilities are better than the status quo,” Talal Salman, the editor of Al Safir, wrote on Friday.

A chant in Egypt put it more bluntly, playing on the longstanding chants of Islamists that “Islam is the solution.” “Tunisia,” they shouted, “is the solution.”

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  • John M

    It is fascinating to watch this unfold.

  • Robin

    Scot, I think your take on Egypt might be a little more rosy than is warranted.

    “Recovery of a common Arab heritage”…from everything I have read this push for recovery of a common Arab heritage is being spearheaded by the muslim brotherhood, whose declared aim is a return to strict sharia-type law…as best as I can tell this is also the primary group responsible for the genocide in Darfur as well.

    The muslim brotherhood’s view of return to a common Arab culture involves strict theocratic rule, and often the execution of non-muslims. This transition period should be a nervous time for Egyptian non-muslims.

  • Scot McKnight

    Robin, the entire post is a summary of that person’s article and I summed up this piece because I’m not sure what to think of Egypt’s uprising. What I read about the Muslim Brotherhood, though, is that it is a non-violent, but more traditional, approach to Islam. Is that right?

  • Robin


    I am by no means an Arab expert, but from what I can tell the Muslim Brotherhood is the “peaceful” front group/springboard for lots of hard-line terrorist organizations.

    Most notably, Hamas was founded by Muslim Brotherhood members, and Al Qaeda and Hamas still have extensive financial and personal ties to the brotherhood.

    The nearest parallel is to say that the brotherhood is to terrorist organizations what the citizens councils in the segregated south were to the KKK. They are the legitimate public face that shares money and finances with the violent, hidden face.

    As far as the brotherhood’s official plans for non-muslims, it seems the only official brotherhood policies are a head tax for infidels and a ban on non-muslim government service…so let’s hope that they stick to official policies.

  • Jeremy

    So far, what I’m reading is that MB is playing catch-up and trying to ride on the coattails of a non-Islamist uprising. They’re a power to watch, for sure, but not a guiding hand by any means. Many of the key opposition leaders, such as Mohamed ElBaradei, are not Islamists and I haven’t seen any clerics flexing new-found muscle. Also, the materials being circulated at the moment are very clearly not religiously motivated.

    One thing is pretty certain though. A new, democratically elected government, whether Islamic or secular, will probably not be very friendly towards the US for a while. We tend to be on the outs when our propped-up tin pot dictators get toppled or we back the wrong horse. It doesn’t help that “Made in the USA” is printed on all of the tear gas canisters being used at the moment.