>Jonathan Schanzer’s Take on the Egyptian Uprising

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This past fall one of our guest for a Shabbat Scholar Dinner was Jonathan Schanzer.   Jonathan is a Middle East analyst and vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, the only book on the market that chronicles the Palestinian civil war. His Web site offers some good insight into what takes place in the Middle East and I wanted to share his two most recent posts with all of you. Among the paragraphs of particular note…

Interestingly, the Arab leadership that may be next to go is the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The release by al-Jazeera of documents revealing that the PA was prepared to make certain concessions to Israel have sparked anger across the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, where the more radical Hamas holds power. As one Palestinian analyst noted, the streets of the West Bank have been largely quiet, but it may only be a matter of time before Palestinians make known their revulsion at their leadership. In what appears to be a pre-emptive step, the PA announced it will hold local council elections “as soon as possible.” The PA has not held elections since 1996, and the move seems inextricably tied to the unrest through the region.

How Far Will Egypt Tumult Spread? 

by Jonathan Schanzer

Politico February 1, 2011

Immediately after the fall of Tunisia’s 23-year dictator, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, analysts warned of a domino effect across the Arab world. Would-be democrats in other Arab countries reasoned that if a small country like Tunisia could topple its dictator, perhaps the strategy could be replicated in larger Arab states.

In the days following Ben Ali’s flight to Saudi Arabia on January 14, several brave souls did the unthinkable and immolated themselves to protest their regimes. Their goal was to set off the same reaction that took place in Tunisia, stemming from the shock and rage surrounding the plight of Mohammed Bouazizi, the rural street peddler who set himself alight after authorities shut down his produce stand — his only livelihood. Since then, there have been four self-immolations in Algeria, at least nine in Egypt, one in Mauritania, one in Saudi Arabia, and another report of one in Tunisia.

None of these incidents started the chain reaction that took place in Tunisia, but Arab protesters are still trying to replicate the Tunisian model of regime change. Egypt appears closest, with protests against the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak now in their eighth straight day. The estimated 300,000 protestors who have flocked to the streets today have made clear that they seek nothing less than an end to the regime. Indeed, Mubarak’s announcement that he will not seek reelection in September 2011, coupled with promises of liberalization, may not be enough to placate them.

The media is now awash with reports that Jordan may be next. On Tuesday, after three straight Friday protests, King Abdullah II sacked his entire cabinet. The King is now in dialogue with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, operating under the Islamic Action Front, about political and economic reforms. While such measures are long overdue in Jordan, the cabinet shake-up smacks of a last-ditch effort to salvage legitimacy, and follows identical but unsuccessful moves by Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. For now, however, Jordan appears to be stable.

Rumors are now circulating that protests may be on the way in Syria. A “day of rage” is set for Saturday. But it’s hard to imagine that the Syrian population will rise up, as the country is an absolute police state. Indeed, one Syrian analyst suggests to me that the calls to protest may simply be a trap set by the regime to identify and root out dissidents.

A more troublesome spot is Yemen, where more than 3,000 protesters came out in the country’s south on Monday, demanding a change in leadership. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has been in power since 1978. At 32 years, his term has outlasted those of both Mubarak (30 years) and Ben Ali (23 years). While protests have gone on for much of the past week, the regime does not appear to be in imminent danger.

Interestingly, the Arab leadership that may be next to go is the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The release by al-Jazeera of documents revealing that the PA was prepared to make certain concessions to Israel have sparked anger across the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, where the more radical Hamas holds power. As one Palestinian analyst noted, the streets of the West Bank have been largely quiet, but it may only be a matter of time before Palestinians make known their revulsion at their leadership. In what appears to be a pre-emptive step, the PA announced it will hold local council elections “as soon as possible.” The PA has not held elections since 1996, and the move seems inextricably tied to the unrest through the region.

The importance of Egypt, however, cannot be overstated. Cairo is the capital of the Arab world. If Mubarak’s regime crumbles, it could lead to contagion, and more chaos to follow.





Mubarak Won’t Run Again–What’s the Effect?



Hosni Mubarak’s announcement sparked immediate outrage from the Egyptian protestors, who have stated repeatedly over the last several days that they seek nothing less than his ouster.

President Obama made the right call in urging Mubarak not to seek reelection, but he may have inadvertently made the situation more dangerous. If Mubarak serves out his term and elections take place in September – seven months from now – it will be almost a surefire recipe for the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is the only party that has the financing, infrastructure and ability to mobilize. Egypt’s other opposition parties are in shambles, having been suffocated by the Mubarak regime for decades. Seven months is not enough time for them to prepare to compete in elections.

But things don’t have to go that way. The president can still ask Mubarak to step aside and allow for the creation of a transitional caretaker government, backed by the military, which can maintain order on the streets, create a safe political space, and then guide the nation to democracy. The caretaker government would preside over a period during which the Egyptian people can draft a new constitution – not just amend it, as Mubarak suggested in his speech – and prepare for genuinely fair elections.

The longer this transition period lasts – within reason – the stronger the opposition parties can become. This would mitigate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that reject democratic principles, without completely excluding them from the political process.

Former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed El Baradei backs this plan, and so does the constellation of reform factions that tapped him to speak in its name. But ElBaradei himself would not need to lead the cabinet. Newly-installed vice president Omar Suleiman (or another known quantity) could also do so.

But the key to this is the Egyptian military. It has earned the trust of the people. Indeed, it has not fired a shot on the protestors. If it can preside over this process, it can guarantee that the power of the transitional leader is kept in check, so a peaceful democratic process can unfold.

Yes, this plan carries risks. But so does inaction. If Mr. Obama accepts Mubarak’s plan and allows elections to take place in September, the Muslim Brotherhood will be poised to fill the vacuum. This could result in two equally miserable scenarios: the rise of a Muslim Brotherhood government, or new strong man tapped by the West to bring it down.


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