by Vice Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom
The unrest in Egypt in recent days shouldn't surprise anyone. I recently wrote about the expected failure of the "democratic military coup" and the danger of a deterioration into civil war and chaos. Former President Mohammed Morsi's ouster after three days of demonstrations was no doubt a military coup -- there is no other way to define it. To avoid global condemnation, the Egyptian military, led by Col. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, appointed an interim civilian president to set up a government to lead the country, write a constitution and prepare for general elections. These were accepted by the Americans and Europeans as positive steps and the U.S. refrained from calling Morsi's overthrow a coup so it could keep sending the Egyptian military aid.
Sissi's plan appeared successful at first, but he didn't take into account the response of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the most recent elections in the country. After overcoming the initial shock of Morsi's ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood realized that while a military coup had taken place, it didn't include arrests and the use of force against demonstrators. So the Brotherhood took to the streets and its protests have been gathering force and in increasing in violence. The use of military force against pro-Morsi demonstrators this past weekend came very late, and the high number of casualties plays right into the Brotherhood's hands.
The violence in Egypt took place against the backdrop of renewed protests in Tunisia, ongoing internal strife in Libya and the civil war in Syria. An overview of everything taking place around us leaves little room for optimism. The Middle East continues to be tossed about by the struggle between extremist groups that seek to establish Islamist states and moderate groups that seek democracy. The Muslim world, which is divided, to say the least, is watching the events as some countries and groups interfere in them. Many in the Muslim world, including al-Qaida support the idea of turning Egypt into a Shariah state, which would put the largest Arab nation under Islamic governance.
The situation in Egypt may therefore have implications for other countries in the region. Turkey is the Middle Eastern country that most resembles Egypt and the electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's rise to power gave Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the feeling that his model of Western-friendly "democratic" Islamic rule could also take hold in other countries. The Egyptian military's ouster of Morsi and the subsequent unrest has put pressure on Erdogan, leading him to criticize the Western world for its lack of response to the violence in Egypt, which Erdogan has characterized as a "massacre" by the Egyptian military. The success of the military and democratic forces in Egypt could encourage protests in Turkey that might lead to Erdogan's downfall. On the other hand, if the Muslim Brotherhood turns the table and regains power in Egypt, Erdogan's strength will grow.
Egyptian military leaders likely understand the situation they face and will try to stabilize things by applying force against the Muslim Brotherhood via widespread arrests and limits on the freedom to protest. It is not certain at the current time that Egyptian military members will always act in accordance with the dictates of their commanders and it is possible that the application of force could spin out of Sissi's control. If that's the case, a bloody civil war will break out in Egypt, and the result of such a conflict is tough to forecast.
There is no doubt that this is a sensitive and challenging period for Israel as the Middle East undergoes a series of quick and unpredictable shocks. This instability requires Israel's political and military leaders to watch events alertly and be ready to respond to any development.
Vice Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom
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