>– Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s Foremost Arabist and Ex-Boss of KGB/SVR, Reflects on Egyptian Turmoil, Cautions “Social Revolutions Not A Thing of the Past”
– Israel Faces Strategic Disaster as USA’s Crypto-Muslim President Prepares to Hand Egypt over to Islamic Extremists
– 5,000 Criminals Escape in Massive Prison Breaks Last Weekend, Hamas and Hezbollah Terrorists among Escapees
– Tunisia’s Interim Interior Minister Accuses Security Services of Fomenting New Unrest to Thwart Transition to Democracy
– Jordan’s King Abdullah II Capitulates to Muslim Brotherhood and Leftists, Fires Prime Minister, Implements Reforms
– President Assad Alleges Country “Immune” to Unrest, Next Day Syrian Branch of Muslim Brotherhood Promises Civil Disobedience
– Algerian Opposition Plans More Anti-Government Rallies, Demands Ouster of National Liberation Front President Bouteflika
Pictured above: Backdropped by the Egyptian Museum, Cairo’s Tahrir Square on February 3. Note the rows of many devout Muslims praying.
Over the past 10 days, more than 300 Egyptians have been killed in fighting between anti-government protesters and security forces and also between pro- and anti-government forces. In the midst of President Hosni Mubarak’s attempts to cling to power, the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in the future of Egypt has entered the international media spotlight.
On Wednesday, thousands of supporters and opponents of Mubarak clashed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which is near the headquarters of the long-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Mounted on horses and camels, some wielding whips, pro-Mubarak militants stormed barricades set up by oppositionists. The next day, army tanks and soldiers finally cleared away pro-government rioters and positioned themselves between the attackers and protesters seeking Mubarak’s ouster. The clash followed a call by the army for protesters to return home, prompting the latter to accuse state security of employing thugs to break up the barricades.
The new head of government promptly made an unprecedented apology for the assault by regime backers. Appointed this past weekend, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the assault on the anti-Mubarak protesters was likely organized and promised to investigate who was behind it. Shafiq is a former air force commander and lately president of Egypt Air. Observing the political turmoil from Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admonished: “If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.”
On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, chief architect of the new Union for the Mediterranean, urged a speedy political transition “to respond to the desire for change and renewal forcefully expressed by the population.” Sarkozy has come under criticism for appearing to support the regime of Tunisian dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled in mass protests last month.
Internet service was restored throughout Egypt, having been cut off for days by the government. State television reported an easing of a nationwide curfew and declared that parliament was suspended until the results of last year’s contested elections were revised.
Adding uncertainty to the political turmoil were several prison breaks that occurred over the weekend, as a result of some police officers abandoning their posts. Last Sunday, a total of 5,000 inmates escaped from a penitentiary in Faiyum Governorate, located about 130 kilometers southwest of Cairo. A top prison official holding the rank of general was killed in the incident. Among the escapees in Faiyum were members of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the political party/terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.
On the same day, at the Wadi Natrun prison north of Cairo, incarcerated members of Hezbollah fled after guards abandoned their posts. In April 2010, a Cairo court sentenced 26 people, including members of the Lebanese political party/militia, in connection with a plot to carry out terrorist attacks against the Suez Canal and resorts on the Sinai Peninsula. Four were sentenced in absentia.
This week, the Muslim Brotherhood reiterated its demands for the president’s departure and the end of the Socialist International-affiliated NDP regime. On the organization’s website the Brotherhood urged Egyptians to resist pro-government militants and “stand in one trench against the ruling autocratic regime.” On Tuesday, Mubarak vowed to complete his present term, which expires in September, but promised that he would not stand for re-election. Despite opposition demands, the Egyptian dictator refuses to leave the country.
On Thursday, Kremlin-run Novosti reported that “Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood movement has unveiled its plans to scrap a peace treaty with Israel if it comes to power, a deputy leader said in the interview with NHK TV.” Speaking to the Japanese media, Rashad al-Bayoumi announced: “After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel.” Egypt was the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel and sign a peace agreement with the Israeli government in 1979.
Since January 25, the Muslim Brotherhood has participated in the mass anti-government rallies in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities, prompting some political analysts to speculate about the Islamist organization’s role in a post-Mubarak government. The Brotherhood has in fact publicly declared its intention to join pro-Iranian opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei in a government of national unity following the next presidential election, slated for September.
This week, various news agencies diligently ferreted out the US government’s real stance regarding Egypt’s expected transition to democracy. Not surprisingly, the administration of crypto-Muslim US President Barack Hussein Obama is prepared to hand Egypt over to radical Islamic and pro-Iranian forces. According to the Israeli media, citing The New York Times, “Obama believes that the Muslim Brotherhood should participate in the political process in Egypt.” Online business magazine Globes, noting the White House’s disappointment with Mubarak’s decision to postpone his departure until September, continues:
The option to approach the Muslim Brotherhood came during a meeting of over a dozen foreign policy experts at the White House on Monday [January 31]. The meeting, led by deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Benjamin Rhodes, and two other National Security Council officials, Daniel Shapiro and Samantha Power, examined unrest in the region, and the potential for the protests to spread.
The New York Times quotes participants as saying that White House staff members said that Mr. Obama believed that Egyptian politics needed to encompass ‘non-secular’ parties: diplomatic-speak for the Muslim Brotherhood.
In keeping with Obama’s position, the US State Department has acknowledged that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition party, may play a role in Egypt’s transition from autocracy if the group agrees to a peaceful, democratic process. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denied that US officials in Cairo or Washington have spoken to Brotherhood representatives. However, he conceded that the Brotherhood is “a fact of life in Egypt.” The Brotherhood won 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, but lost every one in last year’s poll, partly provoking the current unrest.
An anonymous official at the US embassy in Egypt acknowledged that Ambassador Margaret Scobey had spoken to a “large number of people,” including former United Nations nuclear watchdog chief El Baradei. “Embassy has been in touched with a large number of people, but I don’t know all the names for sure. However, Muslim Brotherhood—no.”
Located at the intersection of the Asian and African continents, Egypt is a key ally of the USA and Israel. Until 1991 Egypt was armed principally by the Soviet Union. Since the so-called demise of communism, however, the Mubarak regime has turned to the USA for $1 billion in military aid each year. Cairo has used these funds to buy tanks, F-16 fighter jets, Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, and other weapons systems. Foreign policy analysts warn that “US military and intelligence agencies would lose vital air, land and sea assets if Egypt falls into the hands of radical Islamists, as Iran did in 1979.”
Ken Allard, a retired US Army colonel and military analyst, predicts: “Let me count the ways. They are our biggest strategic partner in the Middle East. At that point, you’ve lost your biggest Arab partner. Geostrategically, the mind boggles.” The US Navy would not be able to navigate the Egyptian-run Suez Canal, which reduces sailing time for Atlantic-based carriers groups going from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The US Air Force would probably lose overflight rights into the Middle East, while the US Army would lose a partner in building the M1A1 tank.
“If we lose Egypt to the Brotherhood, it is absolutely devastating,” fretted former US Representative Peter Hoekstra, who led the House Select Committee on Intelligence. “The Egyptians are a key stabilizing force for us throughout the Middle East.” During a 2009 visit to Cairo, US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates stated: “Our military has benefited from the interactions with the Egyptian armed forces—one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises.”
The Obama White House has been courting the Muslim Brotherhood for some time. In January 2010, Washington lifted a ban preventing Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan from entering the USA. Ramadan, an Egyptian then living in Switzerland, is a leading member of Europe’s Muslim Brotherhood branch and the grandson of the movement’s founder Hassan al-Banna.
Russia has waded cautiously into Egypt’s political turmoil, but nevertheless directed subtle warnings toward the USA and Israel not to interfere in the country’s domestic crisis. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that Egypt remains Russia’s strategic partner, minimizing Mubarak’s alliance with the USA:
Egypt is our strategic partner and a key country in the Middle East region. That it why we are not indifferent to what is happening there and are interested in Egypt being a stable, prosperous and democratic state and want today’s socio-economic and political problems to be peacefully solved as soon as possible.
We do not consider it useful to produce any recipes from outside or deliver ultimatums – it is political forces in Egypt who should speak out.
On Tuesday, the aging Yevgeny Primakov, a trained Arabist who was formerly head of the Soviet KGB but currently presides over the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce, noted the absence of overt Islamic slogans in the Egyptian protests. However, he asserted that it is erroneous to believe that social revolutions are “a thing of the past.” Primakov’s full comments were published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily:
We have concentrated in our analysis quite fairly on radical Islamism, which has been gaining strength in the Muslim world, and we have somewhat overlooked “traditional” roots of social revolutionary explosions. Generally, we have erroneously assumed that revolutions, which sweep away conservative and authoritarian regimes, are a thing of the past, including in developing countries. The situation in Tunisia and Egypt show that we are wrong.
Having focused on the dangers of extremist Islamism, we have underestimated the influence of modernization, primarily on advanced Muslim states, in terms of their socio-cultural development. Spontaneity backed by chatting on the Internet and via mobile phones played a role in the revolutionary movement that shook Tunisia and then Egypt.
There were no Islamic slogans in demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, even through the Muslim Brotherhood has rather strong positions in Egypt.
It is a sign of serious importance. But it gives no guarantee that the Islamists will not try to ride the revolutionary wave. The Muslim Brotherhood did so during the revolutionary events in Egypt in 1952-1953.
Whatever concessions it makes to faux rightist conspiracy theories, the New American exposes the role of the Communist Party of Egypt in the present revolutionary convulsions by quoting the party website:
Hundreds of patriotic and democratic forces and cadres of our Party in the Cairo district of Abidin and in other places in the capital as well as other demonstrations in Port Said and Alexandria against the inheritance of power to Gamal Mubarak, or an extension for Hosni Mubarak…
Our party has participated in the demonstration raising banners of the Communist Party Banners to fly the red in the field of Abdeen and confirm the position of the Communist Party of rejection of this system.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood is threatening civil disobedience against the socialist dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Riyadh Al Saqfa, warned the Ba’athist regime to “learn from what happened in Tunisia.” He rumbled: “If the [Syrian] reimge continues to ignore the views of the people and corruption and discrimination continues, we will incite the people to demand their rights until this reaches the point of civil disobedience.” A statement released by the organization demanded that the Ba’athist party remove Article VIII of the constitution, which enshrines single-party rule, terminate all emergency and martial laws, release all political prisoners, and ameliorate the country’s poverty.
This ultimatum from the Syrian section of the Muslim Brotherhood comes one day after Assad proudly declared in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that his country is “immune” to the unrest gripping the Arab world.
In Jordan this week, King Abdullah II capitulated to demands from the Islamic Action Front, the national branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and leftist parties to dismiss the government and implement political reforms. In Algeria, oppositionists plan a large anti-government demonstration for February 12 with the intent of ousting National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and ending a state of emergency that began when the Algerian Civil War erupted 19 years ago.
In Tunisia, where the revolutionary wave began, the new interior minister accused members of the security services of instigating further unrest to block efforts to establish democracy following the ouster of Ben Ali. Farhat Rajhi also announced the detention of his predecessor, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who led the crackdown in December and January against protesters seeking to end Ben Ali’s 23-year rule.