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Egypt's Military Brings Back Old Regime as US Goals Collapse in Failure


The New York Times ran a really important article on Egypt this morning that makes a few things very clear:

First, the military is moving to re-establish the old regime in Egypt, including the systematic use of economic incentives to hold civilian and military elites in place. Called “corruption” by those not included, it is really a kind of feudalism: the rulers distribute offices and perks in exchange for loyalty and support. “General Tohamy…was the quintessential Mubarak man, the handpicked guardian of the system of corruption and impunity that was a central grievance of the revolution of January 2011. And his swift and silent return, the critics say, signals a restoration of the old order after the military takeover.”

Second, there is little or no US influence over Egypt’s direction. The real power in Egypt today is the same as it has been for sixty years: the military. And the military is seeking a military solution to its Brotherhood problems.

Third, Egypt’s liberal democrats are irrelevant to the power struggle. As it has been for the past sixty years, it is the Brotherhood versus the army. The army has never lacked willingness to crack down on the Brotherhood, and it now seeks to repeat the kind of decisive victories it has won in all previous confrontations. Nobody should have any doubt what this entails: rape, murder and torture have been effective anti-Brotherhood tools for a long time. The US and the West more generally have no power to do anything about this.

The core problem facing the military now is whether the old system can work in difficult conditions. It wasn’t generating enough wealth and growth to keep enough people happy in the late Mubarak era, even though growth wasn’t bad. Now with tourists and investors shunning Egypt, performance will be worse. Meanwhile there is a certain tendency toward entropic collapse in regimes built on influence peddling and the politicization of economic life. Over time they have a tendency to become even more corrupt and less effective. While the military has been able to win internal power struggles for sixty years, it hasn’t been able to modernize or develop the country. We seem to be headed for more of the same.

Beyond the Egyptian military, the big winners here are Israel, which has a reliable ally against Hamas and has new confidence that its cold peace with Egypt will stick, and the Saudis, who have a reliable ally in Cairo again and who have demonstrated their ability to frustrate the US, the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey in the most important Arab country. That our two closest allies in the Middle East have just cooperated to defeat America’s policy in the region should give everyone pause. Here, as elsewhere, America’s greatest strength comes from its networks of allies. While with them we often can’t do everything we wish (because their interests aren’t exactly the same as ours, and because even with allies there are sharp limits on our power), without them we often can’t do much at all. The complete and utter failure of American policy in Egypt from the fall of Mubarak to the present day is a textbook illustration of what can happen when we go it alone.

[Image: An Egyptian woman kisses a poster of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as she arrives into Tahrir Square to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war on October 6, 2013 in the capital Cairo. Egypt braced for rival demonstrations called by supporters and opponents of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi during the anniversary’s festivities. Courtesy KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

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  • Anthony

    WRM more than textbook example of result of going it alone, current Egypt reflects enduring nature of exclusive political and economic institutions – changing factions do not change institutional arrangements and exclusive legacy (and yes entropy results). Now, how are interests going forward are reshaped remains open…

  • qet

    Let’s not forget the brain trust that is the nation’s current foreign policy directorate, who attempt to refute reality with doctoral dissertations. This gem of Power’s will no doubt lead future historians to rank her with Talleyrand and Bismarck: “Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work.”
    The only thing missing from this statement is the word “praxis.” Sheesh.

  • wigwag

    A President with a brain in his head would be increasing American financial and military support for the Egyptian Generals not reducing that support. Unfortunately we don’t have a President with a brain in his head

  • Corlyss

    In ordinary times, Egyptian stability would be more important than anything else going on in the region. Thanks to Dear Leader’s cosmic ineptitude, so much has gone wrong in the region that even if Egypt were stable, I don’t think it would do much to improve the regional situation. However, an unstable Egypt can do a lot to increase the dangers in the region. Kudos to the military for realizing the risk to their nation at least, and doing something about it. I don’t care what they do to the Muslim Brotherhood, and neither should our foreign policy establishment. The enemy of our enemy is our friend.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This is all the fault of the incompetent and weak Obama, he alienated our allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, and practically murdered Mubarak in favor of the Terrorist supporting Muslim Brotherhood. Brilliant they call him, when the evidence is all on the other side of the ledger.

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