`Egyptian uprising portends fundamental change in Mideast’

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Saturday, February 12, 2011

WASHINGTON - The non-violent Egyptian revolution bringing the Mubarak era to an end may trigger fundamental changes in the Middle East with some experts even predicting the end of the America era in the region.

“Washington will have to navigate a tricky course between backing democracy and protecting its interests in the region,” suggested Washington think-tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt portends fundamental change throughout the Middle East and the end of the American era in the region,” CFR’s Steven Cook said.

A change in Egypt’s government has also raised regional fears, the think-tank suggested. “In Iran, Egypt’s unrest has stoked tensions between hardliners and the opposition movement.”

Israel is fearful that the fall of Mubarak, who maintained the cold peace forged between the two countries by then president Anwar Sadat, could mean the rise of “a new Iran” across the border, Aluf Benn wrote in Foreign Affairs.

For now, CFR President Richard Haass says Egypt’s deep challenges remain: “We’re still talking about a political transition”, he told a CFR media conference call.

“Basic questions of pace, sequencing, legal questions, political questions are all out there. The economic challenges as a result of today will, if anything, probably grow slightly greater.”

Some experts also questioned the latest turn of events and the military’s role going forward.

Stratfor think tank analysis argues a military takeover could parallel the events of 1952, when the Free Officers Movement led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, later president of Egypt, overthrew the monarchy. Egypt’s presidents since then have all come from the military.

While the army has tried to present itself as a neutral force so far in the protests, it has also been “calling the shots” during the arrests and intimidation that have accompanied the protests, writes Daniel Williams of Human Rights Watch.

One outcome for Egypt’s future, he says, could be “Mubarak-ism without Mubarak, with military overseers preserving the old system under a new guise”.

Critics like CFR’s Leslie H. Gelb say the Muslim Brotherhood could be “calamitous” for US security. Others, including CFR’s Ed Husain, argue that “the Brotherhood in Egypt are open to being shaped by partners, critics, and political reality”.

CFR’s Elliott Abrams says in ForeignPolicy.com that it’s time for the US “to bury the unreal, failed ‘realism’ of those who have long thought that dictators brought stability. What we have seen is that the stability they bring — for years or even decades — carries with it a curse”.

James Carafano of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation said “the situation in Egypt will likely remain dynamic for weeks, months, or even years ahead”.

“Furthermore, the Middle East may not have seen the last of historic transformation,” he said suggesting strong leadership from the US is more important than ever.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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