Friday, February 04, 2011

The Army Will Determine The Fate Of Egypt's Pro-Democracy Movement

Barring a development that we don't need, this will be my last post on Egypt and the second wave of the Arab liberation movement for a week or so while I work on my next book at the mountain retreat. While I am confident that the blogosphere will survive my absence, I fear for the protesters manning the barricades in Cairo. Underlying that fear is this cold reality: At this stage of the game, the fate of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt rests with the army.

President Mubarak has shown his thuggish and unrepentant hand in a way that would make the late Shah of Iran proud: Make token concessions to appease his allies, sic his loyalists on the protesters with rocks, chains and guns, and then up the orgy of state-sanctioned violence by cracking down on the protesters to "restore" calm.

Egypt hands tell us the army is deeply revered while the police, which act as Mubarak's security apparatus, are deeply feared. Some of the army units deployed in Cairo and other major cities are, at the least, not openly hostile to the protesters, while there is anecdotal evidence that in some cases army units have sought to protect the protesters against pro-government goons. But on the whole the army still appears to be standing with its commander in chief.

Those Egypt hands also tell us that there are innumerable back channel communications going on between Washington and Cairo and some concern the military's role in the end game.

Marc Lynch, one of the most astute of those hands, writes that the message to the military must be unambiguous: Mubarak has forcefully ignored the advice of President Obama and other Western leaders. If he continues to do so, Egypt will be isolated, and an isolated Egypt cannot survive. Oh, and the American military can no longer partner with a pariah state.

In early 2003, Iraq was a pariah state. By the end of 2011, the last U.S. troops will have pulled out, leaving Iraq to its own devices and demons. What the troops will leave behind is not a pretty picture, according to an unsurprising new report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The situation in Iraq is at a critical juncture," concludes the report. "Terrorist and insurgent groups are less active but still adept, the Iraqi army continues to develop but is not yet capable of deterring regional actors, and strong ethnic tensions remain along Iraq’s disputed internal boundaries. Although a government has finally been formed, it remains to be seen how cohesive and stable it will be."

The U.S. military has done the best it can considering that the invasion was a fool's mission from the jump. Any divergence from the withdrawal timetable would be a waste of resources -- and more American lives.

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images

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