Politics of a revolt

According to the latest disclosures from WikiLeaks, in a remarkable display of unemotional national interest, the United States agreed to supply details of every Trident nuclear missile they had given the British to the Russians as a bargaining chip for the America-Russia Arms Control Treaty that US President Barack Obama will sign soon. The fact that the Americans also spied on British foreign ministers for gossip on their personal lives is par for the course. All intelligence agencies do this to all their friends.

The recent upheaval in Egypt has also seen another example of American real politics in action. For three decades, President Hosni Mubarak was the presiding deity in Egypt — he was plied with more than $1 billion annually, and democracy and freedom of speech or economic development were never serious issues. In fact, economic dependence helped American farmers — Egypt was the world’s largest importer of wheat, and they bought most of it from the US, and its armed forces were totally dependent on US largesse and weaponry. Yet almost overnight, Mr Mubarak became persona non grata in Washington as the US prepared for a change in the leadership in Cairo. Not so long ago it was Cairo from where Mr Obama made his famous speech to the Muslim, essentially Arab, world in 2009. Mr Mubarak’s possible fate should be a stark reminder to all dictators, allies, friends and wannabes that when a major power acts, it does so only in its perceived national interest. This is not a value judgment but a reiteration of fact.
The apparent suddenness of the uprising in Tunisia followed by Egypt does leave a few unanswered questions. Undoubtedly, there were genuine grievances — both economic and political — that the average person faced along with a repressive regime. But any movement of the nature seen on the streets of Egypt’s major cities requires a leadership to guide the movement, co-ordination, organisation and funds to sustain it for some length of time because there is no “best before” date in such cases. The next question is whether there was a failure of intelligence or intent or was this ignored both in Cairo and Washington for different reasons.
Initially the impression was that the Mubarak regime was going to follow the Rangoon 1988 model to try and suppress the movement. The Burma generals had first withdrawn the police, then a mysterious jail break at Rangoon’s largest jail, Insein, took place followed by looting and lawlessness, followed by an Army shootout to suppress the movement. A similar attempt to discredit the movement in Cairo did not succeed partly because quite early into the movement the non-resident Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was para-dropped into Cairo as the chosen leader of the movement — and as an acceptable alternative to Mr Mubarak. The Burma junta did not have to deal with Facebook, Twitter and cellphones. The only TV channel they had to contend with was BBC. The movement in Egypt gives the impression of being a largely urban affair — wherever TV could reach and not in small towns like Aswan, Luxor or in the villages.
Considerable credit is being given to social network sites for the spontaneity of the uprising. There has been enough Egyptian activity on the Internet for members of the US Senate to ask if the US Intelligence failed to notice that a revolution was taking place in cyberspace. The April 6 Youth Movement which gave a call for a “Day of Anger” on January 25 was actually set up on Facebook on April 6, 2008, and the Kifaya (Enough) Movement, associated with Egypt’s largest Opposition party, the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), which backs Mr Baradei’s National Association for Change coalition, was set up in 2004. Thus the organisational levers existed when the anti-Mubarak movement was launched and the Ikhwan will be relevant in any future democratic dispensation in Cairo. Social network sites may help bring down a government or launch a movement but they cannot govern.
Recent commentaries from the US suggest an attempt to portray the Ikhwan as a moderate force. But this discourse is similar to the good/moderate Taliban discourse in the Afghan context — it ignores Ikhwan’s essentially radical and violent creed. And in any case, future inevitability of having to deal with such groups defines this new discourse. A decline in terrorist incidents does not mean the movement is dead for they may merely be lying low; nor does an increase in incidents indicate that the government is losing. Nevertheless, there is far too much at stake for Europe and America in the region from the Maghreb to the Caucasus to let it slip away from its dominance.
The Ikhwan has taken advantage of Western beliefs in democracy and liberalism for its demonstrations and Western technology of the Internet and cellphones to organise the demonstrations. There is no need to establish ownership of the movement because any association with the movement would frighten away the West and the movement may well die. The Ikhwan probably assesses its opportunity to establish ownership of the government and that will possibly come in September by when Mr Mubarak would have gone. It therefore feels it is prudent to keep a low profile and just use the momentum till then. Meanwhile, it will make all the right and responsible statements about honouring past treaties.
Whatever happens in or by September, the region is not going to be the same. Israel, with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon, would be watching events in Egypt most closely to see if the Brotherhood emerges stronger. Jordan and Syria too seem restless, Iraq remains unsettled and the Yemeni President’s future is uncertain at a time when the country faces an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgency. The Saudis may feel somewhat reassured that it is the Ikhwan which may have a future role in Egypt and not Al Qaeda. The Iranians would be both apprehensive about the emergence of a regime dominated by a radical Sunni organisation and triumphant about the decline of US influence. The Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei in one of his rare appearances at the Friday prayers supported the Egyptians’ fight for dignity and honour while describing Mr Mubarak as a “servant” of the US. He described the developments as a “real earthquake”, rather like Hillary Clinton calling these a “perfect storm”.
It is still early days and no one has ever had a perfect storm. Come September and we may know better.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/56617" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-6ab656b671be3f19c9c693f89bd927d6" value="form-6ab656b671be3f19c9c693f89bd927d6" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="80362467" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://call.nlpcaptcha.in/js/captcha.js" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.