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Talking Egypt With Stratfor’s Reva Bhalla

Saturday, August 17, 2013

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HH: Its Hugh Hewitt, America. Thank you for listening. When the subject is GO politics, I usually try and track down my friend Robert Kaplan. He’s was unavailable today but he said you really need to talk to Reva Bhalla who is the Vice President of Global Analysis at Stratford and I’m so pleased to welcome Ms. Bhalla to the program. Welcome, it’s great to have you on.

 

RB: Thanks for having me.

 

HH: What should we do in Egypt? We being the United States.

 

RB: Well, I think actually this crisis has exposed what little the US can do at this point. This is a crisis that’s taking a life of its own. And at the core the US has a strategic interest in making sure that the military does not lose its credibility and can hold itself together as the only institution that can stabilize the state and maintain the peace treaty with Israel. And so while publicly the United States is going to engage and will have to engage in a lot of condemnations against the military, and is going to be concerned about the military over reaching in this crackdown, there really isn’t much it can do to influence the military’s behavior.

 

HH: Reva, last week General Sisi who is considered to be the power at this moment in Egypt, whether or not he runs for President, has been telegraphing a great deal of upset with the United States for its lukewarm support of the counter coup. Ought we to be being paying attention to General Sisi’s distress at this?

 

RB: Well, of course, the Egyptian regime is going to want to have all the foreign support it can get. It is not going to get the enthusiastic support from the United States that it’s seeking. Again, the US is going to be okay with the situation so long as the military maintains control. Now that is still a bit crutch because as we can see, the political turmoil is going to continue and the military could stretch itself thin. At the same time, this regime is going to have other foreign supporters particularly in the Gulf, so Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, they are very happy to see the Muslim brotherhood suppressed because that organization threatens to raise similar Islamist political movements in their countries, and so they are giving aide to the regimes and that aide is going to be very critical for the regime to survive.

 

HH: Reva Bhalla, I’ve made the argument a couple of times, I’ll make it to Ambassador Bolton next hour, that Hezbollah and its leader Nasrallah do not enjoy the esteem of American political elites. We understand them quite rightly to be terrorists, but we do not understand them the Muslim brotherhood in that light. In fact, a lot of Americans wander around who haven’t read The Looming Tower or anything and think they are sort of like the Red Crescent. Where did that spring up? Do they just have better PR than Hezbollah?

 

RB: Well, you know, there are some similarities, some differences. The Muslim brotherhood for much of its history has maintained a non-violent approach. They would very patiently wait for their political opening. Whenever I was in Cairo during the Mubarak era, I was always completely astounded by how patient these Muslim brotherhood members were. They would be going from safe house to safe house, regularly being thrown in jail, but they would say, just wait we will get our chance. They got that chance, now it’s gone and they’ve been doubly crushed now. So, I think the big question moving forward is the likelihood that elements of the Muslim brotherhood will radicalize. At this point, they don’t have as much to lose and that’s where you start to see that line between this jihadist presence, Salafist presence in Egypt and the Muslim brotherhood start to blur.

 

HH: Now it’s interesting that you say that may start to radicalize. In Lawrence Wright’s incredible book The Looming Tower he quotes Qutb and Bana at length and they’ve always been radical, but they’ve never taken up arms in an attempt to overthrow the government. So, they may not have been as violent in the past as they are now. The question is do you believe they have the sorts of cash of arms and weaponry that Hezbollah has and that which the Iranian insurgents had following the invasion of Iraq by America in 2003?

 

RB: No, nowhere near that. So the Egyptian military has been keeping very close track of the brotherhood. Also remember that Hamas is a junior organization to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, and so they engage in a lot of operations in the Sinai Peninsula to uproot some weapons caches and things like that, but they don’t have the freedom of action that other groups do, particularly not in this sort of [inaudible] situation that gave rise to very sophisticated militant groups in Iraq and in Lebanon where you really have an artificial state where Hezbollah is one of the most important political actors there. So, very, very different situations there. I think any level of militancy we’re going to see in Egypt will be at this sort of, right now we’re at this mob violence level. We’re going to watch to see if that evolves into more sophisticated tactics, but overall, it’s going to be pretty low level on the whole.

 

HH: Reva Bhalla, you are too young to remember the demonstrations that toppled the Shah in late 70s and the Shah’s police simply would not use force. Do you expect the brotherhood to attempt to mount that level of public outcry and to facedown the military, or is this now into the suppression mode?

 

RB: I think the brotherhood will try to resist. Already we’re seeing the brotherhood try to re-engage in sit-in protests and they are not going to take this lying down so there will be more resistance. There will be more clashes. There will be attempts to arm themselves, to barricade themselves. And again this is where the military has to be very worried about a crisis of legitimacy, because it wanted to crack down but still have popular support while the posed President Morsi could still be the public scapegoat, but the structural problems in Egypt remain. You still have huge economic issues. You’ve got the government struggling to provide basic food and services to the people and that’s where ironically the brotherhood performed very well while in the opposition. They have a very expensive grassroots network that was able to reach the people where the state couldn’t. And so that will be interesting to watch to see if the brotherhood can make that kind of comeback, but again because the brotherhood got that taste of power and it’s been completely eliminated at this point, I think we will see [inaudible] radicalize. We will see that political resistance turn into a more violent resistance.

 

HH: One minute, two questions. El Barhadi quit, the significance of that and how high do you think the death toll could go over the next few days?

 

RB: The personalities don’t matter as much. Barhadi was one personality who really has to struggle to boost his own credibility so, you know, you’re going to see a bunch of new figures come in. In fact, we’ve already seen the military backed regime come in and replace a bunch a different governors across the country. At least 19 of those governors are now military generals so in fact we are seeing the re-imposition of the military regime. Elections, schedules are completely in question now because you don’t want, you won’t see the military want to risk the chance that the brotherhood making a come back and popular support and starting from square one all over again.

 

HH: Reva Bhalla, great to make your acquaintance, Vice President of Global Analysis at Stratford, a fine analysis and I thank you for it. I’ll be right back, America, on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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