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Egypt's Army Flails About As Middle East Implodes

The army is having difficulty finding a firm footing in the post-Muslim Brotherhood Egypt. Having lifted a nation-wide state of emergency more than a week ago, a rising tide of political assassinations, bombings, and general discontent has Egypt’s rulers flailing about and resorting to some of the same tactics that earned President Hosni Mubarak the enmity of the people. The New York Times:

“They have kept alive the idea of ‘enemies of the nation’ and the war on terror — the only glue keeping the bits and pieces together,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University of Cairo, speaking of the interim government. “For any ruling alliance to be stable, it cannot depend on force or coercion. They lack any kind of ideological shield, except being against the Brotherhood.”

“They are not delivering,” Ms. Mahdi added, “and they will keep facing the dissent.”

The military regime in Egypt faces three enemies. There are the Islamists—a mix of angry supporters of the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood government and more radical types. There is the storm of economic problems that confront the country that fuel public anger against any government. And there is the endemic corruption and inefficiency of both the Egyptian state and the private sector that for decades has prospered more through political cronyism and payoffs than through real capitalism.

The combination is deadly. The political violence and instability keeps foreign investment and tourism at bay. The absence of investment and tourist income worsens the economic problem and increases public dissatisfaction with the government, helping the rebels. And the poor health of both the state and the private sector leadership just makes everything worse.

The military has faced rebellions and terrorists before and managed to restore some stability and growth, but this time the challenges are harder. With the Obama Administration washing its hands of the region as much as it can, with Europe strung out by recession and divisions at home, and with the Saudis increasingly preoccupied with the Iranian threat, Egypt isn’t getting the attention or help it would have had in earlier decades.

The old Arab order continues to melt down and so far, nothing viable has emerged to replace it. The whole world should be watching what happens in Egypt. The military regime does not have clean hands and it has only ugly solutions to offer, but if the military fails, then Egypt’s downward spiral is likely to continue. That will further destabilize an arab world that increasingly seems less threatened by radicalism than by a general breakdown of social order and coherence.

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