Loose Cannon: You say you want a revolution?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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Written by Greg Beneteau

There has been much discussion about the role the Western world should be playing in events unfolding in the Middle East.

With protests raging in Egypt against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, supporters of democratic reform say Canada and the United States should leverage their influence in pressuring Mubarak to follow the example of fellow strongman Ben Ali, the former President of Tunisia, and step aside.

U.S President Barack Obama made a point of noting in his State of the Union Address last week that the U.S supported the democratic aspirations of Tunisians, as it “supports the democratic aspirations of all people.” However, he stopped short of calling on Mubarak, a long-time ally of the West, to resign. (Although 81-year-old Mubarak recently announced he would not seek re-election in September.)

While activists called the U.S and Canadian stance hypocritical, the fact is that revolutions can be messy and complicated if not done right. An orderly transition of power by Mubarak might not satisfy protesters’ demands, but it is preferable to the power vacuum that might be left if the President’s 30-year rule abruptly came to an end.

The problem is that Egypt, as Daily Show host John Stewart quipped, “sits atop one of the region’s largest reserves of untapped Islamist rage.”

Most people would assume that Stewart was jokingly referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist group and a prominent (albeit banned) player in Egyptian politics. If he was, he would only be half right.

Many political observers on Middle Eastern affairs assert that the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist organization, is greatly misunderstood by the Western world. Although conservative in its goals – the Brotherhood aims to create an Islamic state with a strict interpretation of sharia law as a foundation for its legal system– the group formally renounced violence in the 1970’s, despite brutal campaigns by Egypt and other Middle Eastern states to suppress it.

Notably, the United States has avoided coming to the Brotherhood’s defence in the post-9/11 world, accepting Egypt’s somewhat tenuous claims that it is a terrorist organization.

That may prove to be a costly mistake, as the Muslim Brotherhood has instead formed alliances with other regional powers, including the Iranian government and Hamas. The Islamic group’s relationship with Israel is also particularly cool – the Brotherhood makes a notable exception to its non-violence rule by supporting militants in the Gaza Strip.

Whether the U.S could expect a Brotherhood-run Egypt to oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions or support efforts to crack down on legitimate terrorist threats like Al Qaeda is anyone’s guess. There are even worries Egypt may become another Iran, with extremist elements hijacking the democratization process in order to form a theocracy.

Yet if Mubarak is to fall, having the Muslim Brotherhood take to helm would actually be a best-case scenario. With readers captivated by stories of protesters taking to the streets and looters threatening the King Tut exhibit, they might have overlooked the collapse of the Egyptian prison system.

Reports that thousands of prisoners broke free from facilities in and around Cairo is an alarming development that will need to be watched closely in the coming weeks.

The Egyptian security apparatus can be pretty unspecific about who it considers “security threats” (read: political prisoners) but it is a safe bet that at least some of the escaped inmates are genuine extremists. The release (or escape) of organizing militants has happened before in countries like Yemen and Somalia, leading to the establishment of terrorist safe havens in the region. A similar situation in Egypt could destabilize the country and benefit no one.

At this point, it seems like Mubarak’s time is up, but the power vacuum that remains is full of uncertainty. Taking a wait-and-see approach on what happens next might not be the right side of history but it sure beats rushing head-first into the unknown.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: blackcloud on Feb 4, 2011 @ 2:20pm

    Yikes, that was an embarrassingly superficial analysis.

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