Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak’s decision on the night of February 10, 2011, to hand over some of the powers of the Presidency to Vice-Pres. Omar Suleiman can only be seen as part of a “phased withdrawal” of the present Government — and system of government — in the face of public protests.
It seems likely that the unrest and protests will not diminish unless the Army was to take an active rôle in suppressing the street protests, and it seems unlikely that will occur. On the contrary, the Armed Forces, under Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy Soliman, have to some degree treated with the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brothers), while Vice-Pres. Suleiman has in recent days antagonized the Brothers to the point of fueling confrontation.
The Armed Forces of Egypt have always been reluctant to be used to suppress domestic civil unrest, but it is clear that the military has been striving for a rôle in a post-military government structure; indeed, the Ikhwan could not afford to come to power without neutering the Army.
It remained possible, however, that the military itself could broker a situation to have a military coup (against what has been essentially a military Government), and remove Pres. Mubarak and Vice-Pres. Suleiman, and install an interim Government which could in some way “accommodate” the Ikhwan without surrendering all the power.
The military would then have the mission of creating a viable administration and calming the population without allowing an Islamist take-over.
Nonetheless, by late February 10, 2011, the Islamists under Ikhwan and other foreign Islamist leadership retained significant momentum in the process. Ultimately, if this momentum translates into an Ikhwan success in seizing the Government, the influence of Iran would be enhanced throughout the Middle East and Africa, increasing its access into the Mediterranean, at the expense of the NATO states. This would be the case because the Ikhwan would essentially inherit an Egypt without funds or power, whereas Iran has considerable strategic reach and, comparatively, more funding.
So the process is now becoming possible — despite attempts by current Vice-Pres. Suleiman and Defense Minister Tantawy, each in their own ways, to temporize and create delays in the removal of the Egyptian military from its position of power in Egypt — enabling the construction of a loose bloc of states with Iran and Turkey dominant, and Syria and Egypt subordinate.
Tunisia, Algeria, and Lebanon — each undergoing political upheaval — must be influenced by the transformation of reality in the Mediterranean.
Counterbalancing all of this, the rapid growth of an Israeli-Greek bloc, including the strategically impotent Cyprus, provides a link into NATO of which Jordan and Saudi Arabia must avail themselves. Other regional states in the Mediterranean see their fortunes change, especially given that the overall presence of the Islamist bloc will act as a deterrent to external investment in the whole region, but most vulnerable in all of this will be Morocco.
The fate of the societies of Christians and Jews in the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea region — in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Cyprus, Greece, and Lebanon in particular — now becomes critically threatened. In particular, Egypt’s Christian population, which is now claimed to be at around 10 percent of the total but which in reality has been (and probably remains) larger, is likely to be severely compromised as Islamists gain political ascendancy over the traditionally moderate Egyptian Muslim society.
Despite the overwhelming tide of change which began in the region in recent years, the US and British governments still have failed to understand that Turkey is no longer an ally, and now is more firmly aligned with Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and Iran.
The US, nonetheless, has major defense equipment supply programs with Egypt and Turkey, and the US still maintains tactical nuclear weapons under nominal US control in Turkey. Despite the reality that Turkey has ceased to be an ally of NATO, or the US, Washington and London have done nothing to restrict the use by Turkey of US weapons, many of which are deployed in violation of US law in Northern Cyprus.
Turkey and Egypt share technology on the maintenance of US-build Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft, and are likely to cooperate on this when the US is eventually forced to cut off weapons sales to both states.
The US Department of State has, for the past few weeks, been gathering in its teams and advisers to formulate US policy in a “post-Mubarak” Middle East. It is unclear whether this State Department thinking — which is by no means yet formulated — accords with either the thinking or the gut reaction of Pres. Barack Obama and Vice-Pres. Joe Biden, who have literally fueled the expectations of protestors in Tunisia and Egypt.
As a result, even if the Egyptian Armed Forces were able to stabilize the situation, and to retain control of the major levers of governance, the US posture in the region would be badly damaged: the Egyptian military sees itself as having been betrayed by the US through this episode.
Analysis by Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
(c) 2011 International Strategic Studies Association, www.StrategicStudies.org