Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Four Futures of Egypt

Looking into Egypt's coming years, I see no sign of Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia and certainly none of Lebanon.

Four other countries do loom though depending on the interactions between the key players on Egypt's political playground.

Briefly these players are: the army, the "Islamists", the "revolutionaries", the "liberals", Mubarak regime remnants and of course the 40 million or so Egyptians who belong to none of these teams. (Inverted commas indicate the caricaturish nature of these groupings).

I will purposefully ignore the 40 million spectators, because they do little more than cheer when a goal is scored or scream foul when the referee makes a poor call.

Here are the four countries Egypt may metamorphose into. They are in no particular order. Parallels may not be exact, but the form and flavour are clearly there.

Scenario 1: Islamists "win"

Should the MB led government manage to hunker down and ride the storm then align with the army and together either co-opt or "remove" the liberals, revolutionaries and old regime die-hards from the scene, we are likely moving in the direction of Pakistan.

That's where a quasi-Islamic government leads the country with the army, intelligence apparatus and security forces in tow. What little opposition exists, does so in silence and/or impotence. Presidents and prime ministers come and go but the general picture remains the same. While some may romanticise  the idea of an Islamic and nuclear Egypt, others may dread the collusion of army and semi-theocracy.

 2: MB et al wake up and smell the revolution. Revolutionaries wake up and smell reality.

It is also possible that the current spate of unrest will end up with no clear winner. This may lead to a moderation of all positions. The FJP could decide it is wiser and more profitable to reach out to other players. The liberals/revolutionaries could decide it is best to accept the fact that in any popular vote, the Islamists likely have the upper hand - having started grass-roots work decades ago. The army will most likely take a neutral position in such a situation assuming its most critical demands are met. Naturally this is the scenario least favoured by remnants of the old regime. A conciliation among current conflicting parties means they have no crack to place a wedge in. Should all these "ifs, coulds, mays and mights" come to life, we are likely moving in the direction of Turkey.

That is where a moderately Islamic, ostensibly secular government shares some power with the liberal secular Kemalist parties and both keep the army at bay.

Scenario 3: Revolutionaries "win"

Should the current turmoil lead to the overthrow of President Morsy by the revolutionaries, liberals and Mubarak's remnants through continuous demonstrations, large scale civil disobedience and low but consistent and rising levels of violence, Egypt may turn into the Algeria of yester-decade.

It is there that the Islamic Salvation Front party was leading first round parliamentary elections but was denied its impending win and democratic right to govern. "Les generalles d'Algerie", through the National Liberation Front, were neither neutral enough to stay off the pitch nor adventurous enough to stage a full-fledged military coup and decided to cancel further election rounds.

The disgruntled Islamists, having played by the rules only to have them changed halfway, waged a guerrilla war on the government and the army. The army and the various security forces fought back. This led to a decade of violence between the state and the Islamists with deaths on both sides totalling an estimated 2% of the population. For Egypt that translates to some 1.6 million dead.

Scenario 4: Nobody wins. Chaos. Army intervenes.

It is also possible that none of the previous scenarios will come into play. Perhaps the MB will not be able to weather the storm but the revolutionaries/liberals/Mubarakists will be unable to wrest power from them. Maybe neither side will moderate their position and explore the middle ground. Those yearning for a return to Mubarak's Egypt would love to see such a scenario unfold. Their interests would go unharmed, they will revive their pre-revolution situations and all's well that ends well. To push in this direction they could well foster continuous unrest on Egypt's streets, more bloodshed, more deterioration in the economic and security situations hoping that at some point, the army will yell: "Enough!"

Should that happen, it will not be for the first time since the January 25th revolution. Last time round, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was forced into a temporary caretaker governor position and decided to honour "temporary".

If the messiness continues they may intervene on a somewhat less short-term basis. Should that happen, we will be moving in the direction of rather familiar territory. The country we will most resemble in this scenario is geographically identical to ours, it has the same composition of political players, the same economic problems and the same history. The only difference is temporal. That country is Egypt 1952.

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