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Dr Musa A Keilani: Questions over generals’ role in political system
February 26, 2011
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The collapse of the regime of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was something Israel — and indeed many in the region and beyond — expected not to happen. They believed that the regime would unleash the strong police and security forces, including the military, against the pro-democracy protesters. They thought the protest would be over in a matter of hours, given the record of the Egyptian police and security forces of being merciless and ruthless.

Well, it did not happen that way. Mubarak hung on for 18 days before accepting the inevitable and stepping down in an ignoble exit for a man who ruled Egypt with an iron first for 30 years. In mid-January, Tunisian strongman Zine Al Abidine Ben Al was forced to flee his country. And now, perhaps by press time, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi might have realised that he could not hope to win when he wages war on his own people and it is time for him to give up power. Who knows, a fate worse than Ben Ali and Mubarak might be waiting for Qadhafi.

The upheavals in three Arab countries would have profound impacts on the region and the country to be watched closely is Egypt, the most populous member of the Arab League.

Now that Mubarak, who held fast to his country’s commitment to peace with Israel, is ousted, the Jewish state is anxiously looking for signs of post-Mubarak Egypt will behave.

The Israelis were relieved that the military generals took charge of Egypt after Mubarak quit because Israel could always speak the language of the generals and do business with them. Indeed, the generals of Egypt sent the Israelis a positive message that they would continue to respect the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace agreement.

Since then, however, the signals were not to Israel’s like. The first came when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces allowed Yusuf Al Qaradawi, the Sunni preacher and Mubarak foe who used to live in exile in Qatar, to return and lead a victory assembly in Tahrir Square on Feb.1.

He called for an Arab and Muslim march on Al Aqsa Mosque in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem. He also urged the Egyptian authorities to open the Egyptian-Gaza Strip border the Palestinian Hamas.

For Israel, Qaradawi is a bitter enemy since he has justified suicide bombings against Israelis. Since he seems to have established a good relationship with the ruling generals, Israel is worried he would use his newfound freedom in Egypt against the Jewish state.

Another negative signal for Israel came when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces permitted two Iranian war ships to sail through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

It was the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution that an Iranian warship passed through the Suez.

Israel called it an Iranian provocation. In private, some analysts said the Egyptian military was signalling an end to Mubarak’s policy of shunning Iran.

Yet another “bad” signal for Israel came when the generals permitted the Muslim Brotherhood to organise demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after refusing a similar privilege to other opposition groups.

Arguably, the Brotherhood is the most well-organised movement in Egypt (as indeed in all countries). It has a moderate agenda that has prompted American officials to believe that it might not be a bad idea to involve the group in the political transition process in the country.

That does not jell with Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has raised concerned that a Brotherhood presence in the corridors of political power will cast clouds on the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

The interpretation of the generals’ handling of the Brotherhood is that they wanted to dilute the role of other opposition groups in the anti-Mubarak revolt and also send a message to the US that Muslim “fundamentalists” could take power if the transition process if rushed.

Obviously, the generals, who are mandated with supervising the post-Mubarak political transition, are not limiting their role to that process. They have their own politics and they are playing it. That raises concerns as to how fair they would be in restructuring the Egyptian political system and how far they would be committed to their pledge of a peaceful transfer of power in six months.

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