Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Libya goes to the wall... Bahrain's Crown Prince finds some space for dialogue for now. Yemen blames 'contagion'

I didn't have much to say on the swath of protests across the Middle East & North Africa. I'm sure you are all getting news from the 24/7 news cycle media reports, as they are legion.

Today, 2 Libyan pilots defected to Malta with their mirage jets after being ordered to bomb protesters. Gadhafi has tried to get around the problem of Army unreliability when ordered to open fire on their own unarmed citizens by using imported African mercenaries, who are indiscriminately killing protesters. It's looking like once again a nation will be looking to its Military to rescue them from demagoguery. Internet and local communications have been cut significantly. His Ambassadors world-wide are starting to disown the regime. It looks like a messy end for Gadhafi that will almost certainly be ended with either a real coup or a civil war. He's taking it to the mattresses.

But all this is being commented upon by people who know a lot more than me about such things.

See this: Rock the Casbah

The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the Casbah way

As soon as the shareef was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the shareef was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed...

The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah
The shareef don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah

Rock on.

So, what is the implication for Oman? A topic I am somewhat acquainted with in parts.
Well, on initial assessment, not too much. Oman has a high GDP per person at PPP*: US$23.3k. The Sultan is still held in the highest regard, and receives a Lèse majesté more by popular acclimation and support than enforcement. Oil revenue per person is also high and Government finances are excellent. There is huge scope in the short term for fiscal support. Cultural suppression is low, as long as everyone remains polite. Corruption is nowhere near the levels reported elsewhere in our region.

So far the revolts have not occurred only in countries with a low GDP per person. Wealth per se is not a defense. While Tunisia: $8.6k* and Egypt: $5.9k do have low wealth, Bahrain: $24k and Libya: $18.7k are in a range that includes Oman. Inequality can be as much an issue as averages, and Oman is not exactly fully egalitarian, it must be said. Also our HC production per person is declining, even though we were saved of late by the higher prices, so this has shielded the economy. Oil prices seldom stay high. [* PPP = purchasing power parity]

Unemployment is a big worry. Oman has a load of youth unemployment and under-employment already, with more coming at an increasing rate. With half the population under 20, this is unsustainable. 'Idle hands' and all that.

Plus the Shura and other moves towards ... 'institutional bodies populated by voting', have been toothless. There are no political parties allowed in Oman. The Shura can only review and comment - there is little real authority over legislation, and the body is not staffed with enough civil servants to enable more robust investigations to be developed independently of the all powerful Ministries. The country is effectively administered, day to day & strategically, by a select group of circles centered firmly upon His Majesty. Delegation of power has been difficult to attain. Even now it appears, too many common sense decisions have to be settled directly by HM's advisors or even HM himself. Real economic reform is still based upon centralised planning and infrastructure projects. The oligarchs are left to run the rest of the economy, which is based predominantly on 2 things: hydrocarbons and businesses with a large imported workforce (construction, tourism and retail/importing).

What if 'the contagion', as Yemen's President called all this silly protesting stuff, mutates and spreads to say, the region's imported working populations?... Hmmmm. After all, this is why China is rather worried right now. That would be a concern.

So overall, I'd be surprised to see problems in Oman right now. Maybe a few minor protests (as we've seen), which is cool. (although, anyone considering what would have been considered a 'minor protest' a few weeks ago would be pretty silly to organise one in the next few weeks if they really want to be polite and considered.)

Fiscal policy will probably be loosened further. Welfare benefits expanded. And all will be OK. Probably. Oman will actually gain a lot strategically just by remaining sane, safe and calm. There's probably no better base in the region right now.

But there remain those same long term underlying problems in Oman - unemployment, foreign labour, slowing GDP growth and inequality (of wealth and opportunity). Freedoms remain patchy. Restrictions on civil society and the media are very high. There is limited public political discourse on matters of Government policy or Ministry effectiveness.

Oman will hopefully take to heart the lesson of a 'near miss' this time, and will be even more mindful to accelerate reforms while they can. But the imperative must be clear.

The center cannot hold...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt protestors enable continued rule by the Military, and Iranian irregular verbs


They left it to the last minute, but last Friday morning, Egypt's military eventually acted to ensure they didn't get put where they did not want be - in the position of either (1) allowing mob rule in Cairo, or (2) turning their firepower onto their own civilians.

When President Mubarak opted on the Thursday night to announce he was actually still staying, it was to the surprise of everyone: protesters, CIA, President Obama, CNN, and especially, the Generals.

So, at the same time that many of the Egyptian Army's own Majors, Colonels and squaddies were joining the crowd to protest, the Generals finally opted for Option (3):

Coup d'État

"The coup is the most frequently attempted method of changing government, and the most successful." Edward N. Luttwak

Meanwhile, it's rubber bullets in Bahrain, and more protests in Yemen, Algeria and Iran. How Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can both praise the Egyptian protesters while killing and tear-gassing his own protesters is almost too ironic for words. (I guess it's one of those pesky Persian irregular verbs: they have freedom of speech, you have protesters, I have a seditious rioting mob...)

Here is a view on the recent events in Tahrir Square different to that portrayed in the media, from one of Muscat Confidential's favourite Foreign Affairs analysts: George Friedman of STRATFOR.


Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality
February 14, 2011 | 0048 GMT

By George Friedman

On Feb. 11, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. A military council was named to govern in his place. On Feb. 11-12, the crowds that had gathered in Tahrir Square celebrated Mubarak’s fall and the triumph of democracy in Egypt. On Feb. 13, the military council abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament, promising a new constitution to be ratified by a referendum and stating that the military would rule for six months, or until the military decides it’s ready to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power. This isn’t incompatible with democratic reform. Organizing elections, political parties and candidates is not something that can be done quickly. If the military is sincere in its intentions, it will have to do these things. The problem is that if the military is insincere it will do exactly the same things. Six months is a long time, passions can subside and promises can be forgotten.

At this point, we simply don’t know what will happen. We do know what has happened. Mubarak is out of office, the military regime remains intact and it is stronger than ever. This is not surprising, given what STRATFOR has said about recent events in Egypt, but the reality of what has happened in the last 72 hours and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed.

Certainly, there was a large crowd concentrated in a square in Cairo, and there were demonstrations in other cities. But the crowd was limited. It never got to be more than 300,000 people or so in Tahrir Square, and while that’s a lot of people, it is nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 1989 risings in Eastern Europe or the 1979 revolution in Iran. Those were massive social convulsions in which millions came out onto the streets. The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city.

In a genuine revolution, the police and military cannot contain the crowds. In Egypt, the military chose not to confront the demonstrators, not because the military itself was split, but because it agreed with the demonstrators’ core demand: getting rid of Mubarak. And since the military was the essence of the Egyptian regime, it is odd to consider this a revolution.

Mubarak and the Regime

The crowd in Cairo, as telegenic as it was, was the backdrop to the drama, not the main feature. The main drama began months ago when it became apparent that Mubarak intended to make his reform-minded 47-year-old son, Gamal, lacking in military service, president of Egypt. This represented a direct challenge to the regime. In a way, Mubarak was the one trying to overthrow the regime.

The Egyptian regime was founded in a coup led by Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser and modeled after that of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, basing it on the military. It was intended to be a secular regime with democratic elements, but it would be guaranteed and ultimately controlled by the military. Nasser believed that the military was the most modern and progressive element of Egyptian society and that it had to be given the responsibility and power to modernize Egypt.

While Nasser took off his uniform, the military remained the bulwark of the regime. Each successive president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, while formally elected in elections of varying dubiousness, was an officer in the Egyptian military who had removed his uniform when he entered political life.

Mubarak’s decision to name his son represented a direct challenge to the Egyptian regime. Gamal Mubarak was not a career military officer, nor was he linked to the military’s high command, which had been the real power in the regime. Mubarak’s desire to have his son succeed him appalled and enraged the Egyptian military, the defender of the regime. If he were to be appointed, then the military regime would be replaced by, in essence, a hereditary monarchy — what had ruled Egypt before the military. Large segments of the military had been maneuvering to block Mubarak’s ambitions and, with increasing intensity, wanted to see Mubarak step down in order to pave the way for an orderly succession using the elections scheduled for September, elections designed to affirm the regime by selecting a figure acceptable to the senior military men. Mubarak’s insistence on Gamal and his unwillingness to step down created a crisis for the regime. The military feared the regime could not survive Mubarak’s ambitions.

This is the key point to understand. There is a critical distinction between the regime and Hosni Mubarak. The regime consisted — and consists — of complex institutions centered on the military but also including the civilian bureaucracy controlled by the military. Hosni Mubarak was the leader of the regime, successor to Nasser and Sadat, who over time came to distinguish his interests from those of the regime. He was increasingly seen as a threat to the regime, and the regime turned on him.

The demonstrators never called for the downfall of the regime. They demanded that Mubarak step aside. This was the same demand that was being made by many if not most officers in the military months before the crowds gathered in the streets. The military did not like the spectacle of the crowds, which is not the way the military likes to handle political matters. At the same time, paradoxically, the military welcomed the demonstrations, since they created a crisis that put the question of Mubarak’s future on the table. They gave the military an opportunity to save the regime and preserve its own interests.

The Egyptian military is opaque. It isn’t clear who was reluctant to act and who was eager. We would guess that the people who now make up the ruling military council were reluctant to act. They were of the same generation as Hosni Mubarak, owed their careers to him and were his friends. Younger officers, who had joined the military after 1973 and had trained with the Americans rather than the Soviets, were the likely agitators for blocking Mubarak’s selection of Gamal as his heir, but there were also senior officers publicly expressing reservations. Who was on what side is a guess. What is known is that many in the military opposed Gamal, would not push the issue to a coup, and then staged a coup designed to save the regime after the demonstrations in Cairo were under way.

That is the point. What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime. When it became clear Feb. 10 that Mubarak would not voluntarily step down, the military staged what amounted to a coup to force his resignation. Once he was forced out of office, the military took over the existing regime by creating a military council and taking control of critical ministries. The regime was always centered on the military. What happened on Feb. 11 was that the military took direct control.

Again, as a guess, the older officers, friends of Mubarak, found themselves under pressure from other officers and the United States to act. They finally did, taking the major positions for themselves. The demonstrations were the backdrop for this drama and the justification for the military’s actions, but they were not a revolution in the streets. It was a military coup designed to preserve a military-dominated regime. And that was what the crowds were demanding as well.

Coup and Revolution

We now face the question of whether the coup will turn into a revolution. The demonstrators demanded — and the military has agreed to hold — genuinely democratic elections and to stop repression. It is not clear that the new leaders mean what they have said or were simply saying it to get the crowds to go home. But there are deeper problems in the democratization of Egypt. First, Mubarak’s repression had wrecked civil society. The formation of coherent political parties able to find and run candidates will take a while. Second, the military is deeply enmeshed in running the country. Backing them out of that position, with the best will in the world, will require time. The military bought time Feb. 13, but it is not clear that six months is enough time, and it is not clear that, in the end, the military will want to leave the position it has held for more than half a century.

Of course, there is the feeling, as there was in 2009 with the Tehran demonstrations, that something unheard of has taken place, as U.S. President Barack Obama has implied. It is said to have something to do with Twitter and Facebook. We should recall that, in our time, genuine revolutions that destroyed regimes took place in 1989 and 1979, the latter even before there were PCs. Indeed, such revolutions go back to the 18th century. None of them required smartphones, and all of them were more thorough and profound than what has happened in Egypt so far. This revolution will not be “Twitterized.” The largest number of protesters arrived in Tahrir Square after the Internet was completely shut down.

The new government has promised to honor all foreign commitments, which obviously include the most controversial one in Egypt, the treaty with Israel. During the celebrations the evening of Feb. 11 and morning of Feb. 12, the two chants were about democracy and Palestine. While the regime committed itself to maintaining the treaty with Israel, the crowds in the square seemed to have other thoughts, not yet clearly defined. But then, it is not clear that the demonstrators in the square represent the wishes of 80 million Egyptians. For all the chatter about the Egyptian people demanding democracy, the fact is that hardly anyone participated in the demonstrations, relative to the number of Egyptians there are, and no one really knows how the Egyptian people would vote on this issue.

The Egyptian government is hardly in a position to confront Israel, even if it wanted to. The Egyptian army has mostly American equipment and cannot function if the Americans don’t provide spare parts or contractors to maintain that equipment. There is no Soviet Union vying to replace the United States today. Re-equipping and training a military the size of Egypt’s is measured in decades, not weeks. Egypt is not going to war any time soon. But then the new rulers have declared that all prior treaties — such as with Israel — will remain in effect.

What Was Achieved?

Therefore, we face this reality. The Egyptian regime is still there, still controlled by old generals. They are committed to the same foreign policy as the man they forced out of office. They have promised democracy, but it is not clear that they mean it. If they mean it, it is not clear how they would do it, certainly not in a timeframe of a few months. Indeed, this means that the crowds may re-emerge demanding more rapid democratization, depending on who organized the crowds in the first place and what their intentions are now.

It is not that nothing happened in Egypt, and it is not that it isn’t important. It is simply that what happened was not what the media portrayed but a much more complex process, most of it not viewable on TV. Certainly, there was nothing unprecedented in what was achieved or how it was achieved. It is not even clear what was achieved. Nor is it clear that anything that has happened changes Egyptian foreign or domestic policy. It is not even clear that those policies could be changed in practical terms regardless of intent.

The week began with an old soldier running Egypt. It ended with different old soldiers running Egypt with even more formal power than Mubarak had. This has caused worldwide shock and awe. We were killjoys in 2009, when we said the Iranians revolution wasn’t going anywhere. We do not want to be killjoys now, since everyone is so excited and happy. But we should point out that, in spite of the crowds, nothing much has really happened yet in Egypt. It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but it hasn’t yet.

An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation.

Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

US State Dept Report on exploitative treatment of Foreign expat contract workers in USA's Middle East Embassies - Muscat comes out relatively well.

An interesting recent report by the The Middle East Regional Office (MERO) of the US State Deptartment's Office of Inspector General (OIG) was released last week, titled:

Performance Evaluation of Department of State Contracts to Assess the Risk of Trafficking in Persons Violations in Four States in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
Report Number MERO-I-11-06, January 2011

The Muscat US Embassy's gardening and cleaning contractors come out of the report relatively well. In fact, Muscat has the best paid cleaners and gardeners in the GCC, getting 140 rials a month (around US$363.63), the minimum wage for Omani's. There is no official minimum wage for Indian workers in Oman, but its unofficially it's a pitiful 60 rials per month for a 6 day week(US140). Here's the table from the report.

The UAE, Kuwait and Saudi all look terrible, paying less than US$6 per day.

Of course, that's what many Omani and Expat families pay their maids in Oman.

And pity the Sri Lankan gardeners in Saudi - almost half that.

The Embassy in Muscat also had a 'best practice' in the report when the Omani contractor - as per usual - was illegally keeping their passports, they got them access by installing a safe...

...Gardeners in Muscat, Oman were able to access their passports after the GSO requested that the contractor provide a small, secure safe in offices adjacent to workers’ housing. Janitors at Embassy Muscat also reported they signed a release allowing the contractor to hold their passports with the written understanding that they could retrieve them at any time. ...

Worryingly, most workers had paid large sums to agents to bring them to the Middle East. Most workers end up working for more than a year to repay these amounts, usually borrowed at high interest rates. Also, Muscat's workers had about the smallest living space: just 37.5 sq ft each (a space of just 1m x 3.5m). However, it was clean and had a cafeteria at least.

In Muscat, the gardeners bunk in a large work camp adjacent to the contractor’s administrative offices. Although personal space is very limited around workers’ bunks, OIG observed ample and regularly maintained common areas for recreation and dining. For example, the sanitary central kitchen shown in Figure 8 (see previous page) is staffed by the contractor and serves meals to 350 workers. The kitchen has a 48-seat adjoining cafeteria and includes several safety and hygiene features.
The gardening contract for Embassy Muscat includes a letter of assurance from the contractor stating it will provide to each worker basic and overtime minimum wages (set by the workers’ countries of origin), food, accommodation, medical care, and paid leave every 2 years. Line-by-line cost comparison worksheets detail how each worker’s salary and benefits will be adjusted under a renewed contract. Contract deliverables include attestations from foreign embassies that all labor agreements are legitimate, labor rights policy certification from the Omani Government, and a requirement that employees individually present their passports upon starting the job as evidence that they have not been coerced.

You can even read the declassified 2010 'report card' on the performance of the Muscat US Embassy by the OIG here. The Ambassador got an A, by the way, doing "an excellent job in advancing U.S. interests in Oman and strengthening this important bilateral relationship."

In other news, another oil tanker was hijacked "off the coast of Oman" (although please note by this they mean 350 MILES off the coast!). Calling this off the Omani coast is pretty unfair. It makes Oman look like a hotbed of piracy. The coast of India is probably closer.

Perhaps the Iranian/Omani joint navel exercises in the Gulf of Oman could be more usefully deployed a bit further East?

Just a suggestion chaps.

Iran and Oman hold joint military drills
Tehran Times Political Desk

TEHRAN – Iran and Oman started joint war games in the Sea of Oman on Wednesday.

Four fleets of warships, three jet fighters and a costal helicopter from Oman and four fleets of warships from Iran were used during the war game. Members of the two countries’ joint military committees were present at the event.

The goal of the war game is to increase the level of regional cooperation between the two countries and share experience.

The two countries are scheduled to hold such military exercises in Iran and Oman’s waters every year.

The third joint war game will be held in Iran’s waters during the next Iranian calendar’s year (starting on March 21)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

All eyes on Egypt... As Mubarak tries an Iranian solution.

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, including some riding horses and camels and wielding whips, march towards anti-Mubarak protesters (Nabil/AP)

As plain clothes security forces and hired thugs 'pro-Mubarak' supporters start throwing petrol bombs from roof tops onto protesters trapped below them in Cairo's Tahrir square, charging the demonstrators on camels and horses wirelding clubs, and beating up reporters, Egypt is clearly going to get worse as Mubarak sticks with the iron fist approach, while being carefully watched by the Egyptian Military.

At least reports say the internet and mobile networks in Egypt were turned back on today. Maybe this was only to enable communication with the anti-demonstrators.

As CNN just reported:
...There were immediate suspicions that the pro-Mubarak demonstrators were not simply average citizens standing up for the man who has led Egypt for three decades -- suspicions that proved at least partly founded.

As battles raged between the two sides, some pro-Mubarak protesters were captured by his opponents. Some were terrified to be caught and begged for their lives, screaming that the government had paid them to come out and protest.

Others turned out to be carrying what seemed to be police identification, though they were dressed in plain clothes. An Interior Ministry spokesman denied on state-run television that police identification cards had been confiscated from demonstrators. He said if they had been, they were were stolen or fake.

State television reporting Wednesday did not always match CNN's own observations of what was happening in Tahrir Square. Several CNN journalists heard from pro-Mubarak demonstrators that they worked for the government. Staff from the national petrochemical company said they had been ordered to come and protest.

"These (pro-Mubarak) protests were organized by the government and the ruling National Democratic Party," analyst Kamal Zakher told CNN. The government mustered government workers and lawmakers whose seats are threatened, he said.

"They were ordered to go out today. They are well organized and that is suspicious -- especially the use of camels and horses. These are abnormal techniques to demonstrate," he said, referring to the shocking charge of about 50 or 60 mounted men through Tahrir in the middle of the afternoon.

It seems Egypt's regime is trying to use the recent (and successful) Iranian response to the protests rather than the Tunisian one: brute force, violence, murder, arrests & fear. And it seems the Military are (at the moment) letting them do so, or at least watching as the regime digs itself a bigger hole. If things keep going this way, I'd put my money on a coup d'état by 'The Colonels' or even the Generals to bring order and protect their own interests...

Meanwhile, here's a reprint of STRATFORs excellent analysis from a couple of days ago, along with a short history lesson of Egypt's recent past, and the implications for the rest of us.

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report | STRATFOR
January 30, 2011

It is not at all clear what will happen in the Egyptian revolution. It is not a surprise that this is happening. Hosni Mubarak has been president for more than a quarter of a century, ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He is old and has been ill. No one expected him to live much longer, and his apparent plan, which was that he would be replaced by his son Gamal, was not going to happen even though it was a possibility a year ago. There was no one, save his closest business associates, who wanted to see Mubarak’s succession plans happen. As his father weakened, Gamal’s succession became even less likely. Mubarak’s failure to design a credible succession plan guaranteed instability on his death. Since everyone knew that there would be instability on his death, there were obviously those who saw little advantage to acting before he died. Who these people were and what they wanted is the issue.

Let’s begin by considering the regime. In 1952, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a military coup that displaced the Egyptian monarchy, civilian officers in the military, and British influence in Egypt. Nasser created a government based on military power as the major stabilizing and progressive force in Egypt. His revolution was secular and socialist. In short, it was a statist regime dominated by the military. On Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat replaced him. On Sadat’s assassination, Hosni Mubarak replaced him. Both of these men came from the military as Nasser did. However their foreign policy might have differed from Nasser’s, the regime remained intact.

Mubarak’s Opponents
The demands for Mubarak’s resignation come from many quarters, including from members of the regime — particularly the military — who regard Mubarak’s unwillingness to permit them to dictate the succession as endangering the regime. For some of them, the demonstrations represent both a threat and opportunity. Obviously, the demonstrations might get out of hand and destroy the regime. On the other hand, the demonstrations might be enough to force Mubarak to resign, allow a replacement — for example, Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence who Mubarak recently appointed vice president — and thereby save the regime. This is not to say that they fomented the demonstrations, but some must have seen the demonstrations as an opportunity.

This is particularly the case in the sense that the demonstrators are deeply divided among themselves and thus far do not appear to have been able to generate the type of mass movement that toppled the Shah of Iran’s regime in 1979. More important, the demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual, and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. Beyond that, there is a deep divide in the opposition.

Western media has read the uprising as a demand for Western-style liberal democracy. Many certainly are demanding that. What is not clear is that this is moving Egypt’s peasants, workers and merchant class to rise en masse. Their interests have far more to do with the state of the Egyptian economy than with the principles of liberal democracy. As in Iran in 2009, the democratic revolution, if focused on democrats, cannot triumph unless it generates broader support.

The other element in this uprising is the Muslim Brotherhood. The consensus of most observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood at this point is no longer a radical movement and is too weak to influence the revolution. This may be possible, but it is not obvious. The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands, many of which have been quiet under Mubarak’s repression. It is not clear who will emerge if Mubarak falls. It is certainly not clear that they are weaker than the democratic demonstrators. It is a mistake to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood’s caution with weakness. Another way to look at them is that they have bided their time and toned down their real views, waiting for the kind of moment provided by Mubarak’s succession. I would suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood has more potential influence among the Egyptian masses than the Western-oriented demonstrators or Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is emerging as their leader.

There is, of course, the usual discussion of what U.S. President Barack Obama’s view is, or what the Europeans think, or what the Iranians are up to. All of them undoubtedly have thoughts and even plans. In my view, trying to shape the political dynamics of a country like Egypt from Iran or the United States is futile, and believing that what is happening in Egypt is the result of their conspiracies is nonsense. A lot of people care what is happening there, and a lot of people are saying all sorts of things and even spending money on spies and Twitter. Egypt’s regime can be influenced in this way, but a revolution really doesn’t depend on what the European Union or Tehran says.

There are four outcomes possible. First, the regime might survive. Mubarak might stabilize the situation, or more likely, another senior military official would replace him after a decent interval. Another possibility under the scenario of the regime’s survival is that there may be a coup of the colonels, as we discussed yesterday. A second possibility is that the demonstrators might force elections in which ElBaradei or someone like him could be elected and Egypt might overthrow the statist model built by Nasser and proceed on the path of democracy. The third possibility is that the demonstrators force elections, which the Muslim Brotherhood could win and move forward with an Islamist-oriented agenda. The fourth possibility is that Egypt will sink into political chaos. The most likely path to this would be elections that result in political gridlock in which a viable candidate cannot be elected. If I were forced to choose, I would bet on the regime stabilizing itself and Mubarak leaving because of the relative weakness and division of the demonstrators. But that’s a guess and not a forecast.

Geopolitical Significance
Whatever happens matters a great deal to Egyptians. But only some of these outcomes are significant to the world. Among radical Islamists, the prospect of a radicalized Egypt represents a new lease on life. For Iran, such an outcome would be less pleasing. Iran is now the emerging center of radical Islamism; it would not welcome competition from Egypt, though it may be content with an Islamist Egypt that acts as an Iranian ally (something that would not be easy to ensure).

For the United States, an Islamist Egypt would be a strategic catastrophe. Egypt is the center of gravity in the Arab world. This would not only change the dynamic of the Arab world, it would reverse U.S. strategy since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Sadat’s decision to reverse his alliance with the Soviets and form an alliance with the United States undermined the Soviet position in the Mediterranean and in the Arab world and strengthened the United States immeasurably. The support of Egyptian intelligence after 9/11 was critical in blocking and undermining al Qaeda. Were Egypt to stop that cooperation or become hostile, the U.S. strategy would be severely undermined.

The great loser would be Israel. Israel’s national security has rested on its treaty with Egypt, signed by Menachem Begin with much criticism by the Israeli right. The demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula not only protected Israel’s southern front, it meant that the survival of Israel was no longer at stake. Israel fought three wars (1948, 1967 and 1973) where its very existence was at issue. The threat was always from Egypt, and without Egypt in the mix, no coalition of powers could threaten Israel (excluding the now-distant possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons). In all of the wars Israel fought after its treaty with Egypt (the 1982 and 2006 wars in Lebanon) Israeli interests, but not survival, were at stake.

If Egypt were to abrogate the Camp David Accords and over time reconstruct its military into an effective force, the existential threat to Israel that existed before the treaty was signed would re-emerge. This would not happen quickly, but Israel would have to deal with two realities. The first is that the Israeli military is not nearly large enough or strong enough to occupy and control Egypt. The second is that the development of Egypt’s military would impose substantial costs on Israel and limit its room for maneuver.

There is thus a scenario that would potentially strengthen the radical Islamists while putting the United States, Israel, and potentially even Iran at a disadvantage, all for different reasons. That scenario emerges only if two things happen. First, the Muslim Brotherhood must become a dominant political force in Egypt. Second, they must turn out to be more radical than most observers currently believe they are — or they must, with power, evolve into something more radical.

If the advocates for democracy win, and if they elect someone like ElBaradei, it is unlikely that this scenario would take place. The pro-Western democratic faction is primarily concerned with domestic issues, are themselves secular and would not want to return to the wartime state prior to Camp David, because that would simply strengthen the military. If they win power, the geopolitical arrangements would remain unchanged.

Similarly, the geopolitical arrangements would remain in place if the military regime retained power — save for one scenario. If it was decided that the regime’s unpopularity could be mitigated by assuming a more anti-Western and anti-Israeli policy — in other words, if the regime decided to play the Islamist card, the situation could evolve as a Muslim Brotherhood government would. Indeed, as hard as it is to imagine, there could be an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood designed to stabilize the regime. Stranger things have happened.

When we look at the political dynamic of Egypt, and try to imagine its connection to the international system, we can see that there are several scenarios under which certain political outcomes would have profound effects on the way the world works. That should not be surprising. When Egypt was a pro-Soviet Nasserite state, the world was a very different place than it had been before Nasser. When Sadat changed his foreign policy the world changed with it. If the Sadat foreign policy changes, the world changes again. Egypt is one of those countries whose internal politics matter to more than its own citizens.

Most of the outcomes I envision leave Egypt pretty much where it is. But not all. The situation is, as they say, in doubt, and the outcome is not trivial.

Reproduced with permission from STRATFOR

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

UAE's Omani Spies arrested: official news of arrests released by ONA, denied by UAE

As noted in comments on the previous post, Oman's Official news agency ONA issued the following short press release yesterday about busting a ring of UAE spys (also reported here on Muscat Confidential in November last year when at the time it was gossiped that the spys' target was the new port of Duqm):

Official Security Source/ Spy Network Unveils
Muscat, Jan 30 (ONA) --- An official security source has announced that as a result of the sincere efforts exerted by the faithful sons of this country, the security apparatuses have discovered a spy network affiliated to the State Security Service in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) targeting the regime in Oman and the mechanism of the governmental and military work. The convicted will be presented before the trial according to the procedures followed in this regard.

May Allah the Almighty protect His Majesty the Sultan and our beloved country against all harms.
--- Ends/AH/KH

The UAE responded that it was all news to them, using the classic Shaggy 'it wasn't me' defence. The story was quickly repeated by the wire services and BBC Middle East etc.

In an totally unconfirmed rumour, I'm told the Omani arrested allegedly include:
the ex-head of the air force (left the post about two years ago)
the head of internal security [!!?? UD]
HM's personal driver

If the above list is true, that's HUGE news: the Oman's Head of ISS a UAE spy?? Surely not.

As an interesting aside, an anon commenter on the earlier post on this topic suggested that the tip off leading to the arrests came from the Iranians...