Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Political Outcome of Egyptian Revolution Could Have Grave Implications for the U.S. and Israel

How outcome in Egypt could affect the United States

Wed Feb 2, 2:29 pm ET
By Steve Clemons

The turmoil in Egypt is intensifying and the outcome of the increasingly bloody demonstrations remains unclear. Anti-government protesters and pro-government supporters are clashing in the streets of Cairo, and the Egyptian military is ordering everybody to go home. Meanwhile, the United States is condemning the violence and urging President Hosni Mubarak to move faster in loosening his 30-year grip on the country.

The strife in Egypt inevitably will have an impact on the United States. Here is a look at what Americans might expect:

Could the turmoil in Egypt affect the U.S. economy?

It already has, mainly because of what happens to oil prices when global tensions rise. Oil prices have been increasing in the past two weeks, and have topped $100. This will raise some prices and retard a portion of our economic growth. The ongoing uncertainty in Egypt has increased risk premiums on shipping insurance, and that drives up the cost of oil and gas imports as well as other cargo. And it's not just Egypt in turmoil but much of the Middle East. A zone of instability that Washington thought was fairly stable has erupted — all near some of the world's most important oil and gas reserves.

Secondly, unrest in Egypt has elevated anxiety about the continued operation of the Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline, which connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The Suez Canal is a critical transit "choke point" between the Mediterranean and the Middle East and Asia for petroleum products and other types of cargo. Although there have not been indications that either of these choke points have been targeted, it remains a possibility.

Could the US military get sucked in?

That's unlikely. There is no direct threat to the United States from the current protests and the U.S. military is stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Moreover, the United States does not want to appear to be interfering with the democratic aspirations of protestors in Egypt, especially at such a critical time. Any serious foreign military intervention would be catastrophic and generate significant blowback.

An important role that U.S. military has played, however, has been urging restraint for its counterparts in Egypt. The Egyptian and American militaries closely coordinate and have strong working relations. American advice to show restraint seems largely to have been accepted by the Egyptian military so far.

How will it affect the U.S. role and influence in the Middle East?

The ultimate impact will depend largely on how the situation in Egypt plays out, but if there is significant political transition in Egypt, the steps Obama takes now behind the scenes will be known and remembered by the next regime and the Egyptian people. America can easily get on the wrong side of change and needs to be cautious.

The United States relies on Egypt to cooperate on a huge range of issues — from assisting with American military logistical and supply operations in Middle East, to counterterrorism, to freedom of navigation and the seas, to Arab-Israeli peace. All of these interests of the United States could be affected positively or negatively by what comes next in Egypt.

Mubarak's close relationship with the United States at the expense of Egyptian popular sentiments on a host of foreign policy issues means that Egypt could go the way of Turkey — still a U.S. ally but with a much more independent foreign policy..

The United States will likely have to deal with a significant realignment of its military, political, and economic influence in the Middle East. American influence in the region and its social contract with key stakeholders in the Middle East may need to be "re-visioned" with a new strategy replacing the many decades-old one the United States has followed.

How will it affect our policy on Iran? Iraq?

A democratic Egypt could enhance U.S. efforts to minimize Iran's influence in the region in the same way that Turkey's popularity has come at Iran's expense. A democratic Egypt and a democratic Iraq would mean that the two most powerful Arab countries will now have representative governments. The impact on the region could be profound.

But there are risks as well. A new political order in Egypt also may contain significant elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political party that has received significant support from Iran and has related networks operating in many states throughout the region. The United States has been regrettably slow in engaging and interacting with the responsible factions of the Muslim Brotherhood.

How might developments in Egypt affect Israel and the Middle East peace process?

Mubarak has sided with U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including in supporting the status quo in Gaza, promotion of anti-Hamas policies, and emphasis on peace talks (even when they haven't worked). A democratic Egypt will likely still support the Camp David Peace Accords but not the status quo in Gaza or Palestinian disunity.

This may complicate the situation in Israel but open new opportunities to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians. Only Egypt and Jordan (among Middle East and Muslim states) have peace with Israel. Since signing the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978, Egypt has received $35 billion in U.S. military and economic aid, second only to Israel. Egypt has played the role of America's Arab interlocutor in the peace process. Egypt also helps represent U.S. interests in negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.

What about possible political fallout in Washington, D.C.?

Depending on the outcome, the question can be posed, "Who Lost Egypt?" by some who try to paint the Obama administration as without a strategy to deal with the trends now erupting.

If the political outcome in Egypt turns out to be highly negative for Israel, there will be serious political echo effects in American politics.

Given that we are seeing a pattern of protest in many vulnerable nations throughout the Arab world, the Obama administration will be expected to roll out a new strategy of engagement that protects America's interests — particularly its energy sector interests — while at the same time standing behind the universal rights of people around the world to assemble and call for political reform. This will be tough for an administration that has many economic and political constraints at the moment. New visions and new engagement cost money and that is in short supply given the rising American debt.

Steve Clemons is founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He also is publisher of The Washington Note.

Egypt fallout could last for years: Netanyahu

(AFP) JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned on Wednesday that the massive anti-government uprising sweeping through Egypt could destabilise the region "for many years."

Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament that there would be a battle in Egypt between those who favoured democracy and those who wanted to enforce an Iranian-style radical Islamist system.

"There are two worlds, two halves, two views -- that of the free world and that of the radical world," Netanyahu said. "Which one will prevail in Egypt? The answer is crucial to the future of Egypt, the future of the region and for us here in Israel."

The Israeli premier, one of the few international leaders to back Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said he was sure that if the forces of the free world prevailed in Egypt, they would also uphold the peace with Israel.

"But my friends we are not there yet," Netanyahu said.

"It is possible that there will not be a resolution between these forces for a long time, there will be instability and uncertainty that continues for many years."

Since the protests began last week, Israel has stressed its focus is to preserve regional stability and its peaceful relations with Egypt, with which it signed a treaty in 1979.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday that Mubarak's announced decision to step down when his term ends in September was not a matter for immediate Israeli military concern.

"Without doubt the Mubarak era is over, something is beginning that does not resemble what went before," he told Israel's Channel Two television.

"It's very hard to see what will be, it is part of a deep change which has far-ranging implications, but not immediate operational implications," he said.

Netanyahu had on Monday raised the spectre of an Iranian-style regime led by Islamic extremists arising out of the chaos sweeping through Egypt.

But Netanyahu has come under fire for failing to support the pro-democracy protests in Egypt. Israel has long prided itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Netanyahu's speech appeared to be an attempt to deflect some of the criticism, telling parliament that "an Egypt that adopts democratic reforms is a source of hope to the world and to us."

But he also urged his critics to "be realistic and see the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be."

Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel after four wars, initiating three decades of quiet on Israel's southern border.

Since then Cairo, under Mubarak, has played a key role in mediating between Israel and the rest of the Arab world and the Palestinians in particular.

Netanyahu has held frequent meetings with Mubarak since coming to office in 2009, more than any other world leader.

Israel Tense as Egypt Slides Into Power Vacuum

Sarah Wildman
Foreign Policy Correspondent
Posted: 02/2/11

Around the world, in the corridors of power and on the streets, the word is everywhere: Egypt. But perhaps nowhere is that word uttered with more trepidation, more grim uncertainty, and more mortal stress than in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israeli leaders are concerned about preserving the 30-year cold peace with Egypt, signed by Hosni Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar El-Sadat, the leader who paid for that treaty with his life. They are concerned about what the dissolution of Egypt's government means for the future of the peace process. As Egypt's immediate neighbors to the north, Israelis are panicked that Egypt's slide into a power vacuum can only bode ill.

All that unease has meant that, unlike the marvel and wonder and undercurrent of admiration the Egyptian protestors have garnered from Western journalists, Israeli newspapers have been anxious and introspective. "Can Israel only broker peace with dictators?" asked one headline in Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily newspaper. Other headlines range from the woeful – "We're on our own" -- to the accusatory: "Obama's betrayal of Mubarak" and "A bullet in the back from Uncle Sam."

As one anonymous Israeli official told the Washington Post, where the rest of the world sees the events as comparable to Eastern Europe in 1989, Israelis see "Teheran 1979."

In other words: the potential for an Islamist foe of Israel to rise up looms large. Said Udi Segal, diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Channel 2 news, speaking on NPR Tuesday, "People [in Israel] were surprised by how quickly the U.S. stepped down from supporting Mubarak. [They fear] it is sending the wrong signal to other leaders in the region . . . that are not exactly Jeffersonian democracies." Many Israelis see this not as democracy in action, he continued, but "as riots." He, too, compared the situation to Iran. "We want to be on the right side," he said, "and, of course we share the view that everyone could enjoy freedom and democracy, but the problem is what will happen in between" the time Mubarak steps down and his successor appears.

With murmurs of regional unrest rumbling from around the Near East, coupled with a Hezbollah-backed leader in Lebanon, the fear is not surprising. The first public statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a demand to the international community that Egypt be pressed to maintain the peace with Israel.

It's a stance that has been criticized by commentators around the world. As Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, wrote Tuesday in Foreign Policy:"The lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the pro-Israel community is an understandable if regrettable phenomenon. Israel is a strong status quo power in the region and Israel's establishment considers the rule of Western-oriented dictators (especially those with strong ties to U.S. aid and the U.S. military) to have served Israel's interests. President Mubarak has been a key facilitator of Israel's agenda in the region -- partly due to his support for the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty but primarily centered around his maintenance of a 'go-nowhere' peace process which helps shield Israel from international criticism while giving Egypt the appearance of being a useful ally to the U.S."

As though to deflect those who have begun to whisper that Israel would prefer to preserve an undemocratic, dictatorial status quo, after days of round-the-clock cabinet meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu finally spoke out Wednesday, on the Knesset floor, echoing sentiments of American leaders.

"All those who value freedom are inspired by the calls for democratic reforms in Egypt," Netanyahu intoned. "An Egypt that will adopt these reforms will be a source of hope for the world. As much as the foundations for democracy are stronger, the foundations for peace are stronger."

Aaron David Miller, the public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who served as an adviser to both Republicans and Democrats in the region, explained Wednesday morning on a conference call with reporters that democratic reforms may be a long time in coming – and in the meantime the region remains in flux. "This is not one regime change for another, nor is this a revolution," Miller said. "This is a multi-year or even a generational project" for change, he said.

And that means Israel is looking south, with dread. "I think Israelis will be united regardless of political views," said Miller. "This will be a glass -- not only half-empty -- but probably almost completely empty. Most Israelis will profess to see the virtues of democratic changes, and they have prided selves on being the only democracy in the region."

Despite paying lip service to belief in democracy, Israelis have great "misgivings," he explained. "The neighborhood has changed and the entire paradigm of what they have viewed as the southern anchor of security and political role in the region is in the process of becoming undone." The peace treaty with Egypt has prevented a two-front war since 1979, he said. And for that Israelis have been grateful. Egypt has also played a strong, stabilizing role in the mechanisms of the peace process.

On the peace process itself -- despite a call from Thomas Friedman to restart the talks -- Miller pronounced them moribund. "On the peace process, I am negative," said Miller, echoing an opinion he had expressed well before Cairo exploded. "The peace process, let alone any agreement on Jerusalem, security, borders, was in deep freeze before these events, and resurrecting this process now will be excruciatingly difficult and painful . . . almost inconceivable."

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