Now What?

Now What?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Time was that whenever there was a problem in the world everyone turned to America to see what it would say and what it would do.  As has been evident even moreso since the advent of the Arab Spring, the United States is as helpless as everyone else in solving crises; according to some this all over the world and according to others only in resolving non-western problems. This was obvious with the takedown of Mubarak in Egypt, the civil war against Assad in Syria, and now with the overthrow of democratically elected Government of Muhammad Morsi in Egypt.

The tragedy in human lives shows that the repressive regime of Mubarak is now being trumped by the forces which overthrew Morsi.  The Egyptian President indeed was democratically elected, but he did not expand his circle or suggest a willingness to liberalize his Muslim Brotherhood ideology.  Many in Egypt and throughout the world ultimately believed he was creating a strictly fundamentalist regime to Egypt.

While those opposed to Morsi sought to remove him through protest, ultimately the military opted to assume control of the country before they too would become fractured. The military has only one modus operandi: force. This was threatened and finally exploited over the past few days in the bloodbath which killed hundreds of protesters in Cairo and throughout the country as they banished democracy for the foreseeable future in the name of stability and the removal of religious fundamentalism.

This tragedy could bring a period of stability back to Egypt, if the military—within this 30 day period of emergency rule—demonstrates an indication of wanting to return, even gradually, to democratic rule. Unfortunately, this possibility is unlikely. As a result the U.S., Israel, and the West face a predicament as they watch the largest country in the Middle East explode into a possible civil war.

Unlike Syria, the military in Egypt also has great economic power controlling directly or indirectly according to some, 40% of the economy.  Too many families eat from the Army to dismiss the power of the new military leadership or protest its takeover. The question which needs to be answered most critically is whether it will be bad for democracy, bad for Islamists, bad for the West, and bad for Israel.

It would be the height of ultimate irony if the Egyptian military would become the force to create a liberal democracy in Egypt at the expense and the rejection of fundamentalist Islam. Egypt needs to travel a long way before that scenario can emerge, but clearly the Muslim Brotherhood was not an answer satisfactory to the military forces.

It is clear that the United States and President Obama have no ideas, nothing to offer, no suggestions, no leverage, and no constructive solutions. They urge an end to violence and bloodshed; they seek a settlement and return to the status quo ante; they voice their pain at the suffering; but no one wants to listen. The West is in a major confrontation with the Muslim world and seems at a loss as to how to comprehend why no one wants to accept Western norms and solve problems the way “we” do.

Cancelling the U.S.-Egypt war games is an appropriate move, but somewhat minor in the scheme of things. Cutting U.S. military assistance will have no immediate effect, but it might well do some good as time passes. Beyond that, even more than in the case of Syria, the U.S. needs to move very slowly and carefully. The economic powers in the Gulf have yet to be heard from and the Syria-Hezbollah-Iraq-Iran civil war rages on virtually unaffected.

For Israel, their main concern is a defensive one. It needs to avoid being drawn into someone else’s fight. Israel must not become the distraction which could galvanize hostile action from the bitter forces fighting internally throughout the Arab world.

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