by Alexander Maistrovoy (July 2013)
Military adventure is often the best option for a despotic regime undergoing fiasco
“The people crave destruction of Israel!” These were the slogans thousands of people came with to a massive demonstration in Al-Azhar Mosque – the spiritual bastion of “Muslim Brotherhood” in Egypt. However remarkable this event was, it was left unnoticed in the mass media. It was the first mass demonstration against Israel, organized by the “Muslim Brotherhood,” with Mohamed Morsi – the president of Egypt, as its representative.
Although the official reasons were the detention of Jerusalem Mufti in Israel and IDF airstrike in Syria, any other minor event could have been a valid motive.
Leaders of the “Muslim Brotherhood” never concealed their hatred towards Israel: Muhammad Badi called for a jihad against “Zionists”; Safwat Hegazi called to restore the “Caliphate” with Jerusalem as its capital, and Morsi, himself, named Jews “descendants of apes and pigs.” They were very careful until now. They didn’t rush to incite the rage of crowds even during the last Israeli operation in Gaza, in November 2012. The bombing of the secret base of the Assad’s regime, which Morsi criticized mercilessly, is hardly worthy of such an outburst of fury. What caused it then?
The current situation in Egypt is catastrophic. According to the February report of the Central Bank of Egypt the country's foreign exchange reserve amounted to 13.6 billion U.S. dollars, marking the lowest point of the fall (before Mubarak’s overthrow it was 36 billion dollars). Anarchy and the attacks of “jihadists” in the Sinai led to a sharp decline in tourism, thus tourism revenues and disruptions of gas supplies to Israel and Jordan – another source of foreign exchange earnings. Nearly half the population lives under poverty threshold, with two dollars a day for a person; Egyptians undergo regular shortages of water and electricity. The international credit rating of Egypt fell deep into “junk” status; foreign investors don’t want to invest in the economy. It is easier to manipulate the ignorant masses by religious demagoguery, in the wake of which the “Muslim brothers” came to power, than by the economy.
Egypt is shaken by mass protests. Judges refuse to obey the fundamentalists. The motorcade of Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil is attacked in the suburbs of Cairo, Giza. The army is called to regain the power forcefully. Egyptian Defense Minister, General Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi has rejected such an option, but even the mere discussion of such a scenario is a bad sign for the Muslim Brotherhood.
M?rsi is begging for handouts from the USA to Russia, to Qatar to Germany, but none of these countries is capable of feeding 90 million hungry mouths. The IMF is ready to provide credit of 4.8 billion dollars, but with conditional austerity measures: increasing taxes and reducing subsidies on bread.
It can lead to mass protests and the Muslim Brotherhood is not suicidal.
In this situation the regime does have options. The first one – a traditional one: to unleash the crowds’ resentment towards “Zionists,” thus to ease the pressure on their own government – a common practice used constantly and ubiquitously in the Arab world (even the ousted Mubarak used this tactic).
Conventional logic, however, claims that the Muslim Brothers will not dare to go to war with Israel. First of all, Egypt has a very slight chance of winning in today's high-tech war. Secondly, the annulment of the peace agreement could cause termination of supply of weapons from United States. And finally, war would lead to the closure of the Suez Canal (toll collection for goods carried through the canal is the main source of Egyptian income) and a complete end of tourism. The Qualified Industrial Zone (QIZ), which allows Egypt, in cooperation with Israel, the duty-free export of cotton to the US, would be inevitably closed down.
This is, once again, the conventional logic – a natural one for a man of the West. But there is a different logic – the logic of a despotic regime that has become a hostage to circumstances. This logic doesn’t exclude war; it sees it as the ultimate solution to all problems.
Egypt is likely to lose a direct confrontation with Israel; however war always mobilizes and unites the nation around its leader. It allows for neutralizing rebellious officers and opposition, imposing a state of emergency and harsh economic constraints. The regime will declare that “the country is in danger,” and the “belt-tightening” is a necessary measure provoked by “the machinations of the Zionists.” Opponents will turn in to “enemies of the Motherland.” Egypt will lose its revenues, but in the present situation of total economic collapse it wouldn’t matter. At the same time, Egyptians and Arabic world in all will see the Muslim Brothers as invincible fighters against “Zionists.”
Ultimately, any defeat won’t be as devastating as the one Nasser suffered in the Six Day War; and, nonetheless, he remained a national hero. Although in 1973 the Egyptian army was surrounded and a door to Cairo was wide open for the Israeli army, Egyptians considered this war as a victory.
Glory through martyrdom is gained at the cost of the suffering and impoverishment of the people, but who said that people didn’t want it? After World War II many Russians lived in humiliating poverty, however, they defended the greatness of the Soviet empire with its invasion to Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the ongoing and costly aid to Egypt and Syria, operations in Yemen, Angola and Mozambique, and the occupation of Afghanistan. “National pride” for many people is more important then material prosperity.
Now, who said that Egypt will be crushed? Morsi can quite reasonably expect that the U.S., Russia, the EU and the UN would not let Israel demolish the Egyptian army. The war will likely result in a tie, and a tie in the Arab world, as it was during the Second Lebanon campaign, will be considered as an unambiguous victory. Moreover, Egypt doesn’t have to declare war on Israel or even officially break the Camp David Accords. They can start with a mere placement of their troops in Sinai, under some pretext, or with military assistance to Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the “Muslim Brotherhood.”
Would all this trigger Israel into starting a war? Hardly. And this Israeli indecisiveness would mean an undeniable victory for Egypt, after which no one will dare to question the prestige of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Would it prompt the Obama administration to revise its relations with Egypt? Unlikely. Obama, Kerry and Hagel, by definition, are incapable of doing anything except calling for peace resolutions and closing backroom deals. Obama didn't do anything to save the American ambassador to Libya who was lynched by jihadists. Why would he mess up his relations with the great power of the Arab world due to “some” violation of Camp-David agreements? North Korea and Iran are an example of lexis used to communicate with a superpower.
In 1937, Germany was on the verge of economic bankruptcy, the Nazis were losing their popularity and Wehrmacht officers were anticipating the moment when they could overthrow the mad psychopath. They were waiting for the fortitude of the West, whereas the West hid behind the Maginot Line with its tail between its legs. After the occupation of the demilitarized zone of the River Rhine and of Czechoslovakia no one dared to question the strategic genius of the Fuhrer.
Military adventurism, in many cases is a winning card in the hands of totalitarian ideology, be it the Nazis, the Communists or Islamists. To paraphrase Churchill: “Choosing between glory and power they choose the glory and get power.”*
*”You were given the choice between war and dishonor – you chose dishonor and you will have war.”
Alexander Maistrovoy is an Israeli journalist.
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