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Egyptians Aren't Reading This

Egypt's ruling class is circling the drain. President Mubarak has shut down the internet and cell phones and ordered the military to crack down on democratic reform protestors. Just a few minutes ago, Mubarak asked his government to resign and promised to appoint a new government within a few hours. Perhaps one of the fundamental problems with Mubarak is his ability to dissolve and reassemble governments at a whim.

Egypt joins Tunisia in facing public revolt over corruption at the highest levels. Is it coincidence that these nations are considered the most pro-American in the region, whereas anti-American countries such as Iran have thus far entirely failed to achieve political reform?

Obama's distance on this matter is understandable - Mubarak has been friendly toward the U.S., but his democratic credentials are suspect, at least. On the other hand, the democratic reformers could easily be usurped by the military or Islamic radicals if control of the government is up for grabs. Any formal endorsement of a specific outcome would embroil America far too deeply into Egyptians affairs.

UPDATE: While cautioning demonstrators to avoid violence, Obama has pretty clearly taken their side in the reform movement - without, however, advocating their greatest demand: the resignation of Mubarak. This speech was a pretty hardy and commendable pro-democracy speech for Obama.

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Discussions - 12 Comments

I fear the worst of possible outcomes in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries with despotic regimes. While much of the unrest is based in the desire for basic rights and freedoms, when the corrupt leadership suddenly disappears the only groups that is likely to have the organization and means to take over are the hard-line Islamists.

I fear that instead of a wave of Democracy sweeping over North Africa and Southwest Asia, we will see a series of hardline and ultimately corrupt Islamic takeovers just like we've followed for decades in Iran. It does not bode well for a stable political or economic situation in that part of the world.

I lay the blame for this on Western diplomacy, with the desire for short term favors far outweighing the need to push hard for Democratic reforms. The blame probably goes back past even Reagan, and would include every American administration since.

And the end game? If Egypt goes, my own guess is that Saudi Arabia will not be very far behind. Just think about what that means... an anti-Western, anti-Israel state with more money than you can imagine at their disposal, and no qualms about supporting violent action against their perceived enemies.

I think it's all going to get really ugly, and the West can only pray that the violence is mostly contained within the region.

I agree with DaveK that we probably won't see a "wave" of democracy as a result of these protests/insurrections. The Islamic world hasn't really come to grips with what representative government means, nor do they exhibit the tolerance needed to respect real religious and cultural diversity.

Having said this, I doubt Saudi Arabia will fall any time soon. It is the opposite of Egypt (which is populous and poor) -- few people but LOTS of money, and the Muslim holy land to boot. And I might add that no one really cares about Egypt and Tunisia (in terms of the global economy). Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are entirely different matters.

Will Mubarak survive this? It's anyone's guess. It depends on how much real organization underlies these protests.

Two leading alternatives to Mubarak: Muslim Brotherhood and an anti-American specialist in nukes. How grim can this get?.

If Egypt is followed by Jordan, Yemen, Albania, too, that could be more grim. They don't top control of the Suez, though.

Don't think for a minute that the Saudis, just because they have money, are immune from all this. The regime there is quite repressive, and a large undercurrent of dislike exists for the Royal Family and their scandalous ways.

Too many things in the country just barely function, and far too many youths are unmarried and jobless, with no good prospects of correcting either situation. Because there is a lot of money, the problems get glossed over, but the resentment is still there in a sizable portion of the population.

Like the rest of the Arab world, the Saudi National Guard is very much "of the people" and would probably end up siding with the populace in the event of an uprising. There are lots of very hard-line islamists in the Kingdom, and there is little doubt about where their sympathies lie.

If things even begin to go bad in the Kingdom, I expect very sudden and dramatic collapse... I think virtually all of the Royal Family would evacuate into exile, leaving a power vacuum that boggles the imagination. The few royals who stay, either because they couldn't get transport out, or who naively think they can tough it out will have a very rude awakening. Think of the French Revolution and how that worked out for the aristocracy.

DaveK, of course you are right. The Saudi money does make a difference, though, softens the situation. Folks used to say that when the oil ran out, so would the Saud family. You may be right and the family will have to run out sooner.

How many Congressional staffers do you suppose are busy this weekend writing legislation to drill in the ANWR?

No, Saudi Arabia will not fold. It has 25 million people (compared to Egypt's 80 million), an 80% of them live in cities (compared to Egypt's 40%). Infant mortality is almost twice as high in Egypt, an oft-used measure of real poverty.

The Saudis buy a lot of "good will" with all that money, and on top of all that, they are sitting on the world's largest oil reserves (I think Venezuela is lying). We won't ALLOW Saudi Arabia to fall into chaos, and they know that, and we know they know it, and their people know it as well.

Were that not enough, no one in the Muslim world wants the Haz disturbed. They have tolerated, and will continue to tolerate, this regime to insure the accessibility of the holy lands and the stability/safety of the annual pilgrimages. Moreover, the Saudis are not backsliding infidels like Mubarak or Saddam Hussein -- they have kept their Islamic street cred (at least with most non-radicals).

Nope, I would be very surprised to see such things in Saudi Arabia. If it starts, it will be shut down quite quickly.

Of course, I meant "the Haj."

I agree with Redwald; while there may be some protests in the Kingdom, I truly do not believe that they will escalate towards anywhere near the scale of the protests in the other Arab nations-- one reason being that the Saudi dictator openly calls himself King and does not masquerade as a republican president. And, as Redwald said, conservative religious elements won't move against the monarchy because they tend to keep Islamist law pretty well in Saudi Arabia.

I really do hope that my fears about Saudi Arabia are proved wrong.

Nobody thought that the Shah would fall, either.

DaveK, remembering the situation of the Shah is exactly why I do not totally discount what you write about Saudi Arabia. The US didn't see that coming and maybe no one did. We had Iranian friends, in the US studying industrial design at Pratt Inst., who were telling us in 1974-76 that the Shah was too harsh and insisting that he would need to open up the nation to democracy. It was something "everyone" in Iran knew, according to them. The Shah certainly never paraded himself as a republican. "Shah" does not mean "President" in Farsi. Our friends were not by any stretch predicting Khomeini and the Revolutionary Guard would take power. They thought the common people wanted a free society. They were wrong.

The Shah was widely hated and seen as a complete puppet of the West. Moreover, he was a secular ruler in every sense of the word and came to power under questionable circumstances. None of this is true of the Saudi royal house. They started the country (indeed, there would be no Saudi Arabia without the house of Saud), and they are a massive ruling body with networks throughout the Kingdom. For every Saudi prince who is secular/corrupt there is another financing jihad. There very amorphousness is their best insurance.

Given the much higher living standards in SA, I think they'll be able to hold the lid on. Most of the population lives on the Haj, and who wants to upset the apple cart? I also think Jordan will be OK.

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