Mubarak's pyramid scheme
Photo: AP

Egypt’s pyramid scheme

Op-ed: Like any good pyramid scheme, Mubarak’s weak regime looked sturdy from afar

Riveted by the populist uprising now raging on the streets of the Arab world, one can't help being astonished by the events taking place in Egypt, the largest Arab state in the world. Until very recently, Egypt was considered by most Western political analysts as a dependable ally under Mubarak. But with events overrunning this narrative, Egypt stands at the brink of a new era in its governance. Whatever direction this popular revolt goes, the West can no longer ignore the fact that there’s a naked emperor in Cairo, nor pretend that the Arab masses are not relevant to the diplomatic equation.


What is clear to all sensible observers is that the reality of these nations (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) is that they are extremely vulnerable to public pressure; in today’s globalized world the precarious nature of these dictatorships are even more threatened. Astonishing as these events in Cairo have been to most, they should not be a surprise to everyone.


Like any good pyramid scheme, from afar Mubarak’s dictatorship looked sturdy, strong, and at times, well established. But as with any Ponzi scheme a closer look, and the tests of time and stress, have revealed a flimsy house of cards. In the land of the pyramids, where the greatest Ponzi scheme ever orchestrated is being unmasked in front of our eyes, the irony is unmistakable. And the biggest victims in this scheme's collapse are America and Israel.


On paper alone, the US has provided Mubarak with $60 billion in foreign assistance. Israel, on the other hand, forked over the Sinai, an invaluable strategic asset, in order to forge a supposedly enduring peace. But it is on the diplomatic front that both nations invested an incredible amount of political capital in their relationship with Mubarak, providing countless benefits in order to woo him to support the peace process and other initiatives of the West's drive to engage the Arab world. The list goes on, and as the uprising’s death toll rises, and the flames on Cairo's street burn with greater intensity, the jig is up and Israel and the West are scrambling.


Invest in stronger navy  

Embarrassed by the implications of Egypt’s growing popular unrest, the unease of these western democracies’ collaboration with Arab dictators - generations of Western statesmen flouting democratic principles in order to gain some influence in the Middle East - the West is forced to come to terms with a policy of detente.


For Israel the current turn of events paints a bleak picture on an already dark canvas. With Turkey now solidly in the Islamic camp, Egypt’s transformation can only further isolate a lonely Israel. Mubarak may have not been a stalwart ally but he was a dependable partner for Israel’s plans in the region. But with Egypt's very possible shift away from the West, Israel’s strategic positioning hasn’t been this weak since the War of Independence.


Whether Mubarak survives the present uprising or not, the writing is on the wall: the regime’s days are numbered, and it’s time for Netanyahu and Obama to begin doing damage control. This starts with an honest accounting of what is at stake, and what must be done to minimize losses. On Israel’s side of the ledger, the country gained 30 years of quiet, but this can in no way substitute for what it stands to lose from an Islamicized Egypt on it southern border. Israel must immediately start reorganizing its diplomatic and military priorities.


In the short term Israel should revitalize the "periphery strategy" it began in the 1960s and 1970s. (Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has begun this already in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.) Israel must also invest in a stronger navy to check Turkey in the north - and now a possible new threat in the south.


But in the long term, Israel must circumvent shadowy dictatorships and initiate creative public diplomacy that engages the Arab street, the real power in the Middle East. Though this strategy does not provide the flashy photo-ops that can help win domestic elections, it is a strategy rooted in principle and a reliable approach to the growing problem of Arab dictators who are quickly going out of fashion.



פרסום ראשון: 02.03.11, 01:03
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