Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

Thinking about Egypt

For the moment the Egyptian Army has declared war on the Muslim Brotherhood (and, less effectually, vice versa). The great and the good in the West are not happy about this. Largely because they believed that the Arab Spring’s manifestation in Egypt lead to elections not a massacre. Why they believed this is anyone’s guess. Wishful thinking I suspect.

What they did not count on is that the Brotherhood has very little time for the norms of civil society which make elections possible. In particular, the clever people who run the State Department and the EU tried very hard to pretend that the MB was a political rather than religious movement. The Egyptians themselves were under no such misapprehension. And, perhaps more to the point, the Saudis knew damned well that the MB were an essentially Islamofascist outfit.

The West has had very limited leverage in Egypt simply because, all in, the Western aid budget is about 2.5 billion a year. The Egyptians needed 20 billion just to stay afloat. 

The only source which can write that sort of cheque is Saudi and the Gulf states and they were not going to put pen to paper until and unless the Brotherhood was crushed. Which is exactly what is happening. And the money is flowing.

I have little time for the Saudis but in this they are massively more competent than dimwits like John Kerry.

It is a mess. And it is quite likely to get worse before it gets any better. Given the rural base of the Brotherhood the prospects for civil war are significant. And given the hate driven religious ideology of the Brotherhood, the slaughter of the Copts cannot be ruled out.

The tragedy of the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular lies in the fact that Islam in its more vigorous forms is deeply incompatible with civil society.  The very idea of civil society is anathema to an interpretation of Islam which governs all human conduct. 

Unfortunately, that interpretation of Islam powers the Brotherhood. 

(Astute readers will note that a variation on that theme also powers Saudi Arabia – but no one would call Saudi either a democracy or a civil society.)

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While it is always delightful to see political Islam in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood take one in the eye the military coup does not really solve anything.

As Spengler pointed out two days ago, “Egypt needs about $20 billion a year in external subsidies; a smaller amount would forestall the worst effects of the economic crisis.”

The economics of Egypt have gone from awful to dire in the last ten years. Political Islam has pretty much destroyed the tourist industry which was, more or less, the only currency generator Egypt had. And the politics of subsidy – both food and fuel are heavily subsidized – mean that no one who hopes to get elected is going to inflict the pain necessary to turn the Egyptian economy around.

Spengler again, “Egypt remains a pre-modern society, with nearly 50% illiteracy, a 30% rate of consanguineal marriage, a 90% rate of female genital mutilation, and an un- or underemployment rate over 40%.”

Unfortunately, all of these are cultural rather than economic variables. Politically, from Nasser onwards, the Arab nationalist secularists were largely concerned with suppressing Islamic fundamentalism rather than offering alternatives to it. And, to that end, they were willing to largely ignore the rural and the poor in Egypt, silencing them with subsidy but offering very little else.

Various commentators have pointed to the weakness of Egyptian vivil institutions. The Army being the only relatively stable institution in the country. But, parallel to the Army, the Muslim Brotherhood provided what the government could not – hope.

Today’s coup is being celebrated. But it will solve nothing until and unless the Muslim Brotherhood’s institutional challenge is met with a deep commitment by the secularists to the creation of civil society.

Which is the best case scenario; the worst case is either a hight or low intensity, potentially three way, civil war between the displaced Brotherhood, the secularists (of all stripes) and the Army.

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