We have heard from several pundits- mostly conservative- how the crisis in Egypt is Obama’s 3 A.M. phone call, and more importantly, that he has done a poor job in answering that call. I think that is incorrect and to judge Obama’s handling of Egypt in this environment a bit premature. Obama could not have failed to answer the 3 A.M. call from Egypt because the Egypt call was at about 6 A.M.- Tunisia was the 3 A.M. call and Obama slept right through it.
Tunisia, which was an economically based uprising that morphed into a socio-political revolution, has touched off a series of similar powder kegs throughout the Middle East. Algeria, Jordan, and Sudan have all had similar rioting but Egypt is the most pronounced because it is the largest country (population of 80-85 million) in the Middle East and it receives approximately $3 billion in aid, half of which is in military aid, from the United States.
National Public Radio and a host of other liberal media outlets praised the uprising and ouster of Tunisian President Zayn al-Abidin bin Ali, but they have been particularly absent on the potential threat now looming in Tunisia- Islam. Bin Ali was many things, but probably chief among those was his staunch anti-Islamic positions. When bin Ali took power, it was in the midst of Islamic terrorism from a group called the Islamic Tendency Movement, or Hizb al-Nahdah, which was convicted of carrying out several bombings targeting tourists in 1987. The group, also known as the Renaissance Party, was led by a man named Rashid al-Ghannushi, who denies having anything to do with the attacks. Well, long story short, Ghannushi was released from prison and exiled from Tunisia in 1988 following a general amnesty issued by new Tunisian President bin Ali, but was convicted in abtensia of trying to kill bin Ali and establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Tunisia. Well, he’s back in Tunisia following bin Ali’s departure from office. Ghannushi claims to be a more “progressive” Islamist, meaning he is against the formation of an Islamic Caliphate, he is pro-democracy and sees a productive role for women in society. To listen to a snippet of his philosophy is to hear socialist tendencies based on the Quran versus Marx (I’ve alluded to the socialist tendencies of Islam before).
He’s not so much what I’m worried about, however, I am worried about groups like Hizb al-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, a pan-Arab Islamist organization and one with a presence in about 40 nations. This is an organization that is well organized, globally positioned, and is adamantly anti-Israel and anti-West. They’re also a splinter group from the Muslim Brotherhood, which brings us back to Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood is another pan-Arab, Islamist organization that works towards reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate and instituting Sharia Law. The Brotherhood brought us wonderful scholars like Sayyid Qutb, who wrote Milestones, a primary treatise used by Islamic terrorist organizations. Many Brotherhood members are professors in Arab universities, where they can more easily influence younger generations (I know I’ve seen this strategy before…) and many jihadist ideologues- to include Osama bin Laden- credit Brotherhood teachings. The Brotherhood claims to be a non-violent organization, however, the teachings and splinter affiliations, to which the Brotherhood remains in contact with, challenge this position. But accepting that they are non-violent, as an opposition political actor- they are still very much anti-West and anti-Israel. Based on their statements, we can expect the collapse of the Camp David Accords, which has maintained peace between Egypt and Israel for the last 30 years. We can also expect to see Hamas greatly strengthened as a Brotherhood controlled Egypt will remove barriers of aid and arms to the Gaza Strip. What’s worse, there are several other dominoes that could fall- all based largely on the poor economies of the region, but could easily be hijacked for socio-political objectives- in the region, to include Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen. We could potentially see most of North Africa collapse and fall under the influence of pan-Islamist organizations. This was something thought inconceivable about three weeks ago.
Which brings back to the abject failure of the Administration to address the Tunisian crisis. It is one thing to allow the Arab street to vociferously protest the avarice and corruption of their political elites, however, not addressing the issue and waiting for it to infect other states in the region suffering similar economic conditions is a gross miscalculation. What is particularly frustrating is that this is literally de ja vu. For all the failings of the Shah, he stabilized a country that was seen as a key strategic ally in the region. But Carter didn’t like the Shah, and undermined his efforts to put down the growing unrest. One premise behind this was Carter’s belief that the “progressive” actors resisting the Shah would still remain ally’s of the West. What Carter failed to see was the Islamist factions of Khomeini rise into power, and then their purge of the “progressives”. Socio-economic uprisings in Islamic countries go bad. They always have, and likely always will, because the “progressive” factions supported by liberals here in the U.S. are easily co-opted and destroyed by Islamist groups who can produce rhetoric that is eerily similar but backed by Allah, not the people. Because Obama did not step in early, perhaps with the United Nations (is this not the very thing it was designed to deal with?), or a more aggressive State Department, the Administration is now being forced to react to events on the ground. And similar to Carter, Obama is letting his ideology get in the way of what is best for this nation.
I have no love for Hosni Mubarak, nor do I enjoy the fact that we send Egypt some $3 billion in aid- as mandated by the Israeli-Egypt peace treaty put together by Carter. But I recognize that bad things can happen when a hot-headed population whipped into a frenzy begins to make policy changes for the nation based on emotion. Obama’s failure to cool the situation and work in structured change with the leaders- using carrots and sticks- has allowed the situation to get out of control.
We are well past 3 A.M. at this point.