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Associated Press/Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis

Behind the scenes

Egypt | The ideology of protesters may have little to do with who ends up in power

There is more to the demonstrations in Egypt than meets the eye. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets, but revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter.

After three decades of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's rule, a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces-from the moderate to the extreme-that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they maneuver from behind. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught, the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States, Israel, and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously, taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB's well-established social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis, however, elections are nowhere near assured. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping. . . .

The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt's generals today. Though long suppressed, an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt's modern military. The Egyptian military is, after all, a subset of the wider society, where there is a significant cross-section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. These elements are not politically active, otherwise those at the top would have purged them.

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But there remains a deep-seated fear among the military elite that the historic opening could well include a cabal of colonels looking to address a long-subdued grievance against the state, particularly its foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel. The midranking officers have the benefit of having the most direct interaction-and thus the strongest links-with their military subordinates, unlike the generals who command and observe from a politically dangerous distance. With enough support behind them, midranking officers could see their superiors as one and the same as Mubarak and his regime, and could use the current state of turmoil to steer Egypt's future.
Republished with permission of Stratfor.com.

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