Commentary

Ripple Effects of the Turmoil in Egypt

Middle East In Focus

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With the protests in Egypt showing no signs of abating, many regional governments are taking measures to head off any possibility of a spillover into their own countries.

In Jordan, news agencies report that “King Abdullah II has consulted various political strands in Jordan, hoping ‘to come closer to the demands of the people,’ ahead of further planned street protests.  Despite the introduction of new social measures, protests have been staged in Amman and other cities in the past two weeks against high prices and economic policy, with some demonstrators calling for a change of government.” According to Al Jazeera, on Tuesday the King gave in to those demands and sacked his government. Subsequently, he “asked an ex-army general to form a new government in the wake of streets protests over prices and reforms.”

However, the situation in Jordan seems to be less volatile than elsewhere. AFP reported that “Jordan’s powerful Islamists said they have started a dialogue with the state, saying that unlike the situation in Egypt, the opposition in the kingdom does not seek regime change. ‘A group of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) met on Sunday with Prime Minister Samir Rifai and gave him our demands in writing,’ according to Zaki Bani Rsheid, a member of the IAF’s executive council.”

In Syria, the country’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, suggested that Syria was in a better position than Egypt since it has no ties with Israel. However, the regime is not taking any chances. Haaretz writes that “Syrian President Bashar Assad says he will promote political reform in his country in the wake of popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.…Despite this, he doubted that he would move at the speed that the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt were demanding for their own countries, suggesting that some peoples were not ready for rapid reform.” However, Hugh Macleod cautions that “in the tea shops and internet cafes of Damascus, Syrians are asking what events in Egypt may mean for them.”

The developments in Tunisia and Egypt have had a profound effect in both Morocco and Yemen. In Yemen, activists calling for the “ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, have clashed with government supporters in Sanaa, the country's capital. Plainclothes police also attacked the demonstrators, who marched to the Egyptian embassy in Sanaa on Saturday chanting ‘Ali, leave leave.’” In response to the protests, Arab News reports that “Ali Abdullah Saleh announced a new package of incentives to the young Yemeni people. In an attempt to defuse the angry unemployed graduates, Saleh instructed the government to expand [the] social security network and adopt additional 500,000 needy families.”

Reports coming from Morocco, indicate that the government “is watching nervously as other North African countries erupt in revolt, with warnings even from within the royal family that it will probably not be spared. Morocco has not been touched, yet, by the violent protests that have ended the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, threaten Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and have shaken Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika. ‘But we mustn't be deceived, almost every authoritarian system will be affected by this wave of protest. Morocco will probably be no exception,’ Prince Moulay Hicham, a cousin of King Mohammed VI, warned in an interview published Monday.”

The events in Egypt have had repercussions beyond the regimes that fear for their survival. In Lebanon, Hezbollah “praised Monday protests in Egypt, as Egyptian protesters took to the streets for a seventh day and called for the resignation of their country’s president, Hosni Mubarak. Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, Sheikh Naeem Qassem, saluted the ‘resistant Egyptian people….We should salute the resistant and proud Egyptian people, who have set an example in rejecting normalization with Israel and in their continuous aspiration for freedom, independence and glory.’”

Similar sentiments were expressed by the Iranian president, but, as some point out, “Iran’s state-run television has maneuvered uncomfortably to cover the tumultuous events sweeping parts of the Arab world. It has shown Egyptian protesters chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is great — but edited out scenes of baton-wielding riot police cracking heads. Such footage would have resonated widely with the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who took to the streets with great hope in 2009. An analyst in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ‘Obviously, the regime doesn't want people to be inspired by the protests in the way that Egyptians were inspired by Tunisians. Batons hitting heads evoke certain memories.’”

The Turkish government, a staunch ally of Egypt, believes that Turkey-Egypt relations will survive the domestic turmoil. According to some Turkish experts, “Relations with Egypt are based not only on government contacts, but on strong cooperation between the people of both countries as well, stressing that bilateral ties will certainly weather the domestic challenges Cairo is facing. Turkish pundits underlined that Ankara was able to forecast the real need for domestic reforms in the Middle East and that its officials were stressing this need behind closed doors.”

However, some have criticized the Erdogan government for being unprepared for the events in Egypt. Semih Idiz, writing for Hurriyet Daily News, argues that “as developments continue to unfold at a dizzying pace in Egypt, it is clear that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration was, just like the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, caught completely unprepared for the events in that country. Should the unrest in Egypt spread to Sudan, and there are indications that it may, Turkey will undoubtedly be left with egg on its face. The dilemma for Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is that his vision of an influential Turkey in the Middle East is really contingent on the present status quo in the region.”

In the Palestinian Territories, senior Fatah officials commented, “We are looking at all the details, but we are not afraid that the developments will affect the Palestinian issue.” Shatha Yaish writes in Jordan Times, “Palestinians are transfixed by events in Egypt, wondering when the regime might fall and which Arab leader could be next. Revolt in the biggest nation in the Arab world has especially caught the attention of younger Palestinians, who are also keenly following developments online through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. ‘What is happening now in Arab countries is a natural thing,’ explains 20-year-old Mohammad Murrar. ‘The Arab people have risen up to offload decades of oppression and repression by dictatorial governments.’”

In Gaza, there is hope that events in Egypt will finally open up the border between Gaza and Egypt. The Qatari daily The National reports, “There is widespread optimism that an upheaval in Egypt could lead to better days in Gaza. From the creation of Israel in 1948 until the 1967 war, Gaza was under Egyptian administration and Gazans moved freely in Egypt. Many here remember fondly studying at Cairo's universities and working in the country. Some hope this situation might come back again.”

It is perhaps Egypt’s neighbor Israel, however, that seems to have the most to lose from the developments in Egypt. Some have expressed the view that “Barack Obama stabbed Mubarak in the back and has already turned his back on Israel once, and therefore we must ‘take a good look into the future. We must develop our foreign relations with the rising powers — India, with whom we already have military cooperation, and China. However, we must also focus on improving our complex relations with Europe.’”

This need to rethink strategic alliances comes from the realization that “in wake of Egyptian uprising, the Jewish state has been left without Mideastern allies…. The uprising in Egypt reinforces Israel’s strategic distress in the Middle East…. It started about two years ago, in the wake of the collapse of our strategic alliance with Turkey.” Some see Egypt replicating the Iranian model, fearing that “Cairo may turn Islamic and join forces with Iran. It would be enough to give some thought to the implications of the Shah’s fall in Iran in 1979 on current-day Israel in order to understand the disaster that may befall us as result of what is happening in Egypt right before our eyes.”

However, some envision a more hopeful scenario emerging from the current crisis in Egypt. In its editorial, Haaretz opines that “the revolution in Tunisia and the mass anti-government protests in Egypt demand a shift in the way Israel's leaders see the regional order and Israel's place in it. Instead of seeking refuge in the known and the familiar — the tired claims that ‘there's no one to talk to and no one to rely on’ — Israel's foreign policy must adapt itself to a reality in which the citizens of Arab states, and not just tyrants and their cronies, influence the trajectory of their countries' development. The time has come to start preparing for a new regional order. 


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.