Those of us who lived through the Vietnam War are familiar with the term “domino effect.”
The term was applied to the spread of communism in Asia. First China, then Korea, then Vietnam, then Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. This was one of the reasons given for the U.S. war in Vietnam.
The term has been resurrected in regard to events in the Middle East. A college graduate in Tunisia, frustrated with lack of employment and bureaucratic licensing processes, took his life by self-immolation, as the Buddhist monks did in their protests against the South Vietnamese government. That singular event started the current domino effect. The Tunisian autocracy fell. The 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt just ended. There is unrest in Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. We are not sure when and how it will end.
All of the affected governments, with the exception of Syria (which some pundits put on the watch list), have been allied with the United States. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Muslim states with peace treaties with Israel.
We know Islamist organizations are developing a larger footprint and increasing their influence in the region.
In once-secular Turkey, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 46.6 percent of the popular vote in the 2007 elections. Both the Turkish president and prime minister are from the AKP. Under that party’s leadership, Turkey’s relations with the West have cooled and its once warm relations with Israel have chilled.
Also, prior to Tunisia’s upheaval, Hizbullah took political control of the government of faction-ridden Lebanon.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which drew much attention during the Egyptian uprising, is also present in Syria and just last week announced it was forming a political party in Saudi Arabia; Hamas, in Gaza, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
In the domino region, Algeria has three Islamic political parties. Bahrain has six. Egypt has one in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood; Turkey, three in addition to the AKP; Lebanon, one in addition to Hizbullah; Iran has two; Iraq, 13; and Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen each have one.
These parties are not unlike the Western Christian Democratic parties which seek to apply Christian principles to public policy. Islamic parties seek to promote Islam.
One of the favorite questions being asked by domino observers is whether Egypt is Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989. The consensus media answer is Berlin.
As in Iran in 1979, a United States president sought to get an autocratic ally to remove himself from office in light of popular protests. In 1979, we knew that the removal of the Shah would lead to the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian revolution, with its sideshow of American diplomatic hostages, went through a phase where it looked as if there would be a secular, democratic government. This government was short-lived and replaced by today’s Islamic theocracy.
There is concern Egypt will follow this pattern, with the Muslim Brotherhood — the largest political movement not associated with the Mubarak administration — taking power as Khomeini supporters did in Iran, and, incidentally, as Hizbullah recently did in Lebanon.
The Obama administration is aware of this and is laying down cover for this possibility. In the midst of the Egyptian turmoil, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Muslim Brotherhood participation in a post-Mubarak government would be acceptable. And, in congressional testimony, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the Brotherhood is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence” and “has pursued social ends.” Clapper’s remarks were the subject of so much incredulity that a clarification had to be issued.
Other long-term regional allies are concerned about the administration’s handling of the situation in Egypt, thinking that they could be next if politically expedient.
During his first around-the-world trip, President Obama took a deep bow before Saudi King Abdullah. This was considered by many to be a sign of obsequiousness. But when it was clear that the administration was pushing Mubarak under the bus, the king told the president in a personal telephone call to back off and not humiliate Mubarak. Apparently, Abdullah does not have juice with Obama.
We are now in a wait-and-see period. We know that power in Egypt is in the hands of the military. On Sunday, the military council announced elections will be held by next September. Will this be enough time for nascent political parties, other than the Muslim Brotherhood, to build true campaign organizations?
The military also announced the dissolution of Parliament and suspension of the Egyptian constitution. With no legislature and no constitution, it seems that the military will be ruling by edict. This sounds like the imposition of martial law.
Egypt has been called the leader of the Arab world. Which way will it, and the rest of the Arab world, go?