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Robert Kaplan’s Analysis Of Egypt

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HH: Joined now by Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center For A New American Security in Washington, D.C., a national correspondent for The Atlantic, the author of the magnificent new book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean And The Future Of American Power, about which we have talked before and will again in the future. But today, we’re talking Egypt. Robert Kaplan, welcome back to the program.

RK: It’s my pleasure to be here, Hugh.

HH: I read your piece at Foreign Policy over the weekend. Would you summarize for the audience how you’re viewing the upheavals in Egypt?

RK: Yeah, first of all, I think the longer Mubarak stays in power, the bigger the possibility that these demonstrations will turn anti-American. So far, they have not. They have been about tyranny, dignity, justice, unemployment. They’ve been about universal values. They have not been overtly anti-American. They haven’t been anti-Israeli. They haven’t been about the Palestinians. This is the big, new thing. It’s Arab peoples turning against their own regime rather then outside enemies. But if Mubarak hangs in power, and really tries to hang on and on, I think there’s a possibility that this could turn. That’s why I hope what we’re doing is we’re standing up for a democratic dialogue, and we’re quietly trying to ease him out without saying that directly. I also think that the comparisons between what we see in Egypt now and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran are superficial. There are big differences. In Egypt, you do not have a charismatic Islamic leader coming back from abroad to take control of the protest movement. In Egypt, you do not have a leader, Mubarak, who is so dependent upon the United States as the Shah was in Iran. Remember in Iran, we went from the most pro-American regime in the region to the most anti-American regime in the region. The revolution turned foreign policy in Iran 180 degrees. That’s not likely to happen in Egypt.

HH: Now Israel has instructed its diplomats overnight, Robert Kaplan, to remind their host countries in Europe, and especially in the United States, it appears, from Ha’aretz, that stability is the most important issue. They’ve had peace for thirty years with Egypt. And it’s clear that Israel is afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt. What level of fear ought they to have at this moment?

RK: Well first of all, the Egyptian military gets over a billion dollars in aid, I believe, from the U.S. every year. We have a very close military security relationship with Egypt. The Israelis have a reasonable military security relationship with Egypt. I don’t think the Egyptian military is going to want to give up one billion dollars each year in aid. I think what’s likely to happen is, or the best case scenario, it’s even a really good possibility scenario, is that the army will control the country, and elections will happen in about six or seven months hence. And the elections will throw up like a mélange of people, of secular opposition people, the Muslim Brotherhood, and they will be somewhat to the left of the current Mubarak regime. But they will not be so far anti-American, Anti-Israeli as was the Iranian regime. And meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Egyptian military will continue to work with the Americans and the Israelis.

HH: Now Hamas, of course, won the election – one man, one vote, one time. And women have lost their rights, and there aren’t any Christians in Gaza, and 10% of Egypt is Copt. Can the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed, in your view, in the American view, to participate in a government?

RK: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s inevitable. First of all, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the Shiite clergy. They’re not as ideological, they’re not as austere, they’re not as theoretical in their anti-Westernism. They’ll be…it’s impossible to keep them out of a new government, because they are the most organized force in Egyptian society outside of the Mubarak regime itself. Keep in mind that unlike Tunisia, the middle class in Egypt is relatively smaller and less politically confident, so that you have a vast underclass, not just the shantytowns, but the lower working classes where the Muslim Brotherhood has a real following. I think, you know, rather than see Iran, what really may be a more careful comparison is with Turkey, where you could have a Turkish situation emerge in two senses. In one sense, you could get a semi-Islamic government that wouldn’t be too hostile to the West. On the other hand, you could have a kind of military civilian condominium, like Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, where the elected government ran domestic policy, and the military ran national security policy.

HH: But of course in Turkey, we have seen the fundamentalist political party make a concerted, and now a largely successful effort to draw the power of the military down to almost nothing, so that now we have an Islamist state.

RK: Yeah, well, this took a long time. Remember, this took, remember, in Turkey, you have a government, Hugh, that has, that’s overseen economic growth by 10% a year, that has an absolute majority in parliament, has been in power now for eight years. And it took them all of eight years to whittle down the power of the military with all those advantages. An Egyptian government is going to be divided. It’s going to be weak. It’s going to be new at this. It’s not going to have any experience. I think it’s going to have a much harder time whittling down the power of the military.

HH: Okay, you have written extensively on Jordan and Syria in one of your earlier books, so I’m wondering if you see the Tunisian-Egyptian convulsion gathering in Jordan and possibility even Syria, the police state?

RK: Well, it’s…there have already been big demonstrations in Jordan in the past two weeks, Hugh. And Syrian president Bashir Assad gave an interview today to the Wall Street Journal, or yesterday, where he said that he was going to open up the political process in Syria. Look, each country is different. In Jordan, we have a lot to lose. I mean, the King shuffles governments all the time. The late King Hussein would get rid of governments when there was popular unrest over food subsidies. That’s not a problem. But we absolutely need the King to remain in power in Jordan, because he represents the most enlightened, pro-Western regime you will ever get in Jordan. Whereas we have a lot to lose in Jordan, we have almost nothing to lose in Syria. So if Syria were to have uprisings or unrest, of they were to move towards a more democratic, or a more, I would say, less authoritarian system, we might actually benefit.

HH: Last question, Robert Kaplan. Do you have a odds on Mubarak staying in your mind? Have you got something that you think…

RK: Look, you know, to have guesstimates on a fast-moving situation is a fool’s game, but I’ll jump into it anyway. My feeling is he’s going to be gone soon. That’s my feeling, and I hope he is. I think it will be a better for America’s position in the Middle East if he’s gone sooner rather than later.

HH: Robert Kaplan, author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean And The Future Of American Power, thank you.

End of interview.


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