How Tunisia and Egypt could affect us

If you’re not paying attention to the news from Tunisia and Egypt, you should be. The nature of America’s engagement in the Middle East, and the future of our allies there, may be changing before our eyes.

Whether for good or ill, we can’t yet know.

Credit: AJC staff / Source: World Book Encyclopedia

A look at the Arabic-speaking world (AJC staff / Source: World Book Encyclopedia)

The uprising in Tunisia began in December and culminated two weeks ago with Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for 23 years, and his family fleeing for exile. Remnants of the ruling cadre and some opposition leaders have since cobbled together an interim government to run the country until elections within a few months, as endorsed by the military.

The country’s future is in obvious flux, but its so-called Jasmine Revolution is already remarkable.

When I visited the capital city of Tunis on a reporting trip five years ago, I found many of the hallmarks of a dictatorship: huge, ubiquitous posters and billboards bearing Ben Ali’s image; uniformed and plainclothes state police who would quickly descend upon a Western journalist trying to interview locals on the sidewalk.

At the same time, Tunisian women had far more rights than is typical for Arab countries, and they were as likely to wear tight jeans and a tank top in public as to wear a burqa. (As my wife observed, however, women became much more scarce in public places as dusk approached.)

The people endured such contradictions — freedom in this part of life, but not that part — largely because the North African regime kept employment up and food prices down. When global conditions derailed that arrangement, the people derailed the regime.

Their example apparently has spread eastward to Egypt, which for decades was just as heavy on the state security apparatus but afforded people fewer civil rights.

Egypt under Hosni Mubarak may have been more prone to simmering popular unrest than was Ben Ali’s Tunisia. But that only led Mubarak to keep his boot firmly planted on Egyptians’ collective throat during his nearly 30-year reign. American financial support, it must be said, helped prop him up.

Credit: Nasser Nasser, AP

Protesting in downtown Cairo, Jan. 25, 2011 (AP Photo / Nasser Nasser)

Egyptians also were upset about their economic plight and, perhaps sensing an opening as Mubarak prepares to transfer power to his son, they have clashed violently this week with police, Tunisian and Egyptian flags in hand.

But experts see less chance of a successful democratic revolt in Egypt — and more risk, should people power somehow win, of a takeover by Islamic extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak’s most significant opposition.

That last bit is very worrisome. While the events in Tunisia are notable, what happens in Egypt could alter Mideast geopolitics dramatically.

Egypt’s stable relationship with Israel since the Camp David Accords has allowed the Israelis to focus on other threats. And when Israel tried to snuff out a growing threat from Hamas in the Gaza Strip two years ago, Egypt had an interest in Israeli success: Hamas is a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

An Islamist Egypt would change calculations in Israel. After all, Syria has just consolidated its de facto takeover of Lebanon via its militant, Iranian-supported proxy, Hezbollah — further endangering Israel.

An Islamist Egypt also would have no small effect on America’s other Sunni-majority allies (at least in name), Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The same goes for the Iraqis and the Turks.

And, so, it also would affect us.

It was in Cairo that Barack Obama made his initial overture to the Muslim world as president. What happens there now may commandeer the attention and energy not only of his presidency, but that of his successors for years to come.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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Note: This column for the AJC’s print edition draws on some material from one of my earlier blog posts.

61 comments Add your comment

John Ellison

January 26th, 2011
6:37 pm

Its time for the U.S. to stop supporting all dictatorships.

corry alamen

January 26th, 2011
6:41 pm

Is it that the same situation with Christian fundamentalists ? The same persona like Glenn Beck, Palin, Alabama governor etc..
Why don’t you mention their threats to the US ?
For too long, US has supported the tyrants in Egypts, Algeria, Jordan.. etc..
This situation will not last.. Boiling point has been reached..

Ben Charles

January 26th, 2011
7:02 pm

Perhaps we should fear more the continuing instability of the Zionists in Israel?

arnold

January 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

Should this one, with half a brain, be taken seriously? What does Rush, Beck, and Palin have to say about it? How about the intellectual Kyle Wingate?

Rafe Hollister

January 26th, 2011
7:26 pm

Kyle: Doesn’t having Obama in the Whitehouse give you great confidence that we will quickly and decisively decide our course of action/no action? Like Biden told us, you can count on those 3AM telephone calls. This is why we need Presidents with foreign policy experience, common sense, and world wide credibility.

Henry

January 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

i agree with john’s comment, over the years the u.s. has supported to many dictators, and in the end it always hurt us

tar and feathers party

January 26th, 2011
7:32 pm

The sooner the world is rid of israel, the better!

sleestak

January 26th, 2011
7:37 pm

The sooner israel Nuke’s mecca the better!

tar and feathers party

January 26th, 2011
7:51 pm

Agreed sleestak, and vice versa, get rid of both of them!

C Andeson

January 26th, 2011
7:53 pm

Democracy is not the best form of govenment till you see the alternatives.

rocko

January 26th, 2011
8:26 pm

isreal or arabs are not the problem, it’s those who think they are blessed by god and carry out action that aganist humanity. All people who harm any people in the name of what ever will pay for their actions in this world or the one to come. …..as for what is happening in egypt, who cares the egyptians must forge their own future not one set by others, as it was in history always.

when ever an egyptian says “they are old people, so they don’t need change”….he is saying we cowards and don’t need self determination………….

The revoalution aganist dictatorship/ kingships started in tunis, algeria chould be next or Yemen…to all other nations. all governments who are not accountable to their people should go…

one thing that amazes me is how many in the west don’t wish arab states enjoy acountable government much like those they have in europe and usa and canada…etc….
this is what new york times called what happened in Tunis….
One Small Revolution – NYTimes.com

I wish good for all people….not just those like me…

Fed Up

January 26th, 2011
8:45 pm

My question is….With our economy in the toilet, why are we supporting everyone but ourselves? If we pulled the trillions back from practically every troubled country in the world, we would not have a debt crisis.

And leave Israel alone. What have they every done to you? Did they bomb you and kill your neighbors? All they want is to live peacefully. Let it be.

OMAR

January 26th, 2011
8:57 pm

WAR! DESTRUCTION! GREED! POWER! RELIGION! AND SUFFERING!
SINCE WHEN IS THIS WORLD ABOUT PEACE! RESPECT! A HELPING HAND! GIVING! OR LOVE????
FOR I AM ON THIS WORLD.. BUT! I AINT FROM THIS WORLD! GLORY TO YOU JESUS!! FORGIVE THIS WORLD, CAUSE FOR THEY DONT KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING. AMEN!

killerj

January 26th, 2011
9:18 pm

Man,can you imagine if America stopped the corn feed?

Metro Coach

January 26th, 2011
10:28 pm

corey-You are an idiot. To all the Israel haters, you think peace would just magically appear if Israel ceased to exist? How blind do you have to be not to see that the same crazy terrorists who attacked us in 2001 have been threatening Israel since the 50s. Israel’s not the problem, never has been; the problem is and continues to be radical Islam and the supposed moderate Muslims who refuse to take a stand against it.

Citizen of the World

January 26th, 2011
10:41 pm

In all honesty, this revolution is about Egypt and only Egypt. The Egyptian people have spoken: Mubarak sucks and he just needs to go.
I understand the US being a puppet to Israel and all, but siding with a tyrant? Because, maybe, and probably unlikely that the “Muslim Brotherhood” will take over? That’s a bunch of crap.
If the Muslim Brotherhood had organized this, they would have had quadruple the protesters, and Mubarak would have seriously fled the country by now.

Citizen of the World

January 26th, 2011
10:47 pm

Oh dear, let’s not get started on how the state of Israel really came to be…
Jews have always been prosecuted throughout history, so after the holocaust, which was the doing of a European country, Europe just decided to place the left-over Jews in Palestine.
I mean, I can really imagine how people in Palestine would be upset… Wouldn’t you?
I mean, it’s nothing against Jews. It really isn’t it. It’s the fact that all of a sudden, a new nation is being created within this tiny little strip of land– without asking permission even.
I mean, imagine how we feel when we get uninvited guests… let alone if they decide to set up camp and take over most of the house…
I really wanted to say that to put things in perspective.

From Egypt

January 26th, 2011
10:49 pm

Don’t worry, islamists will not take power, they don’t spread among people as propaganda tried to show, myself as an egyptian don’t want them in power and I am certain that they’ll not..
Greetings!!

Billy Burger

January 27th, 2011
12:34 am

If there are people who are teaching others to blow themselvs up from youth, christian, islam, or any other religion.
I dont care who it is, they are going to get their message across! Most people will, out off fear,
bend over backwards to save what relative life they have. It takes heroes to find hate speach, and
stomp it out, at the source. Go to your mosqe, your church, your organization and slap down any
tyrant who takes hate on their tounge, out of fear of the unknown.

let freedom ring

January 27th, 2011
12:49 am

This just goes to show that no matter how oppressive, when the people of a country are fed up, their voices will be heard. As Americans, we have seen this first-hand in our own revolution. The best we can do is support the people, they live there and know better then we do. Maybe this is the start of something grand in the Mid East. The end of regimes, brutality, and tyranny! That is of course as long as we don’t get into bed with another dictator cuz it suits us. Peace and love to my Egyptian brothers and sisters.

REVOLUTION-no more dictatorships....

January 27th, 2011
2:49 am

Everyone in the world deserves to live in PEACE, LOVE and RESPECT…

FREEDOM .. to choose gov’t, to choose life, to choose religion, to support each other…

*****its time to end the abuse and greed around the world… *****

Chester

January 27th, 2011
3:30 am

The problem is that the “fear” of Islamist Egypt has been used an excuse for propping up dictatorial regimes in the Middle East to suppress their people. For too long there, the US paints a false dichotomy between secular tyrants or radical Islamic extremists. What the Egyptian protesters want is neither, they want democracy and freedom. Something that the “West” also happen to have.

DeborahinAthens

January 27th, 2011
6:49 am

If the United States truly supports the rights of people to decide whom they want to be their leaders (otherwise known as a democracy), then who are we to tell them that they have chosen the wrong leaders? We can’t have it both ways. One reason we are so hated around the world is because of our hypocrisy. Our dollars have supported incredibly harsh regimes because it was in OUR best interest. I don’t think we should be giving money to any country. Look at the billions we are throwing down the rat hole that is Pakistan. We need to get out of the Middle East, let them fight to the death. Whoever and whatever political system wins, so be it. All the more important for us to figure out how to free ourselves from Middle East oil. Then we will have no dog in the fight.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

January 27th, 2011
7:10 am

Good morning all. Tunisia and Iran and Lebanon and now Afghanistan have all enjoyed a recent (i.e., within living memory) taste of freedom, and that may be enough to provoke good change over the long run. Lebanon and Egypt and the Palestinians have never enjoyed meaningful freedom, and thus will be vulnerable to the call of the Islamists. Pakistan is an unlit Molotov cocktail. Turkey, despite its long history of freedom, begins to look vulnerable – perhaps the people are now too lazy to defend their freedom. Syria no longer shows promise of freedom. Libya is a puzzle, but a blessedly-quiet one. Only Iraq and Israel seem both stable and free.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
7:59 am

corry alamen

January 26th, 2011
6:41 pm

You are such a small little person. I look forward to the USA supporting Mubarak, his son and all other dictators the keep these Islambs down in the gutter…where they belong.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
8:01 am

“I really wanted to say that to put things in perspective.”

LOL…well you failed miserably.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
8:04 am

“The sooner israel Nuke’s mecca the better!”

Absolutely!! These primitives and islambs only understand one thing and thats violence. Our cowards in washington will not allow an all out assault and that fine. We just bribe, use, persuade, Israel to do it for us. Keep both feet on the neck of the islambs!!!

jt

January 27th, 2011
8:06 am

Another American puppet bites the dust.

One REAL American capitalist could do more for peace than a thousand Fedral government goons.

Somewhere along the line, America swapped the culture of ability(cool cars, big TVs, great music), with the culture of pull(Washington DC, diplomacy at gun-point instead of trade).

We now will reap what we sowed.

It is NOT just in Egypt and Tunesia that people are fighting back at Washington. When will we do so?

Brad

January 27th, 2011
8:39 am

It’s all about the oil, baby. Americans are only too happy to trade the rights of foreign citizens for cheap gasoline.

Spot, thanks for sharing your truly enlightened foreign policy views.

carlosgvv

January 27th, 2011
9:03 am

How long will it take the powers that be to realize that, with the exception of Israel, there are NO middle east countries who are our friends. They have been and will continue to hurt us anyway they can while using our foolish naive efforts at friendship to decieve us.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
9:04 am

“It’s all about the oil, baby. Americans are only too happy to trade the rights of foreign citizens for cheap gasoline.”

You are darn right its about oil. At least Im willing to admit it unlike those of you who scream “NO BLOOD FOR OIL” and continue driving around in your SUV, and making purchases from mercantile establishment who goods are delivered via OIL GUZZLING trucks, trains etc.

When you begin living off the land, making your own clothes, riding your bike etc then I will take you seriously. Until such opinions are no better than those of a court jester or Obama (same thing).

And You’re Welcome.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
9:07 am

All you pseudo do-gooders and molly coddlers with your new fangled deceptions disguising yourselves as worthy martyrs are just putty in the hands of the eletists.

Brad

January 27th, 2011
9:11 am

Spot, I was being facetious. Suggesting or supporting the bombing of Mecca is childish.

Lee Greenwood

January 27th, 2011
9:16 am

“And Im proud to be an Ameican
where atleast I know Im clean

And if we need to bribe and steal
we have the Is-rael-i

And I’ll gladly stand up
for the oil and defend it everyday

Cuz there aint no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA!!!”

ALLAH AKBAR DAMNIT!!

tar and feathers party

January 27th, 2011
9:20 am

If you folks only knew how much American wealth has been diverted to israel over the decades, you would be singing a different song. But you cannot know, because that information is now considered a State Secret in America. Seems some reporters were publishing information about the trillions of our tax dollars that have been diverted to Israel, so Congress passed a law making information about the “Israeli Appropriation” a state secret. The amount diverted is a significant fraction of the social security trust fund, you know, the non negotiable debt that is supposed to pay our social security retirement over the next couple decades. This year we will need 45 billion of those dollars, and more each and every year for the next 20 plus years.

Peter

January 27th, 2011
9:46 am

Hey …..Here Spot …….with this comment……

You are darn right its about oil. At least Im willing to admit it unlike those of you who scream “NO BLOOD FOR OIL” and continue driving around in your SUV, and making purchases from mercantile establishment who goods are delivered via OIL GUZZLING trucks, trains etc.

Are you saying we go to War for Oil ?

UIC

January 27th, 2011
9:56 am

I think we all know where these regimes get the resources to stay in power? Look around your house at all the items that say, “Made in Iran” or “Made in Saudi Arabia” or “Made in Egypt” or “Made in Russia” etc., etc.” The answer is, you need to look in your gas tank. And to add insult to injury, we sell them the technology to pump the oil out. It’s tough to say we do not support these autocratic regimes when we buy more of their oil than any other country. To Kyle’s credit, he did write that Saudi Arabia was an ally in name only (don’t forget that 15 of the 19 people on the 9/11 planes were from Saudi Arabia and last I heard, a child is not born hating (fill in the blank) Westerners, Christians, Americans, etc……it’s learned behavior and our “ally” indoctrinates their citizens with hatred.) But, as long as we won’t change our ways, it’s somewhat hypocritical to complain about these autocratic governments.

And, Here Spot, while you’re a big enough person to admit that “You are darn right its about oil. At least Im willing to admit it,” Also admit that in addition to being OK with “trade(ing) the rights of foreign citizens for cheap gasoline,” you’re also willing to trade the lives of American soldiers for cheap gasoline. You sound like a “43” person…well there is a reason that he invaded Iraq and not North Korea and it had nothing to do with WMD or human right or any other reason we were given. It was about oil.

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
10:01 am

“Are you saying we go to War for Oil ?”

Im thinking we already have and I think I already stated such.

retired early

January 27th, 2011
10:02 am

Deborahinathens

Thanks for blogging for me…

wallbanger

January 27th, 2011
10:33 am

Given the mess we are in as a country, we would do well to simply pull our troops out of the rest of the world, and bring them home and put them on our borders. Let those in the mideast sort it out amongst themselves–to the victor goes the spoils. For oil, we drill in Anwar and the gulf. If we weren’t such officious intermeddlers maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t hate us so much.

The Right Brothers

January 27th, 2011
10:34 am

How big of a tax cut will we need in order to generate enough revenues to fund an invasion of these threats?

joe

January 27th, 2011
11:08 am

@ corry…Christian fundamentalists don’t pose the US any problems, nor do they want to fly planes into buildings, bomb subways or cut the heads off of journalists…so your fears of C.F. aren’t justified in comparison.

jconservative

January 27th, 2011
11:15 am

“Europe just decided to place the left-over Jews in Palestine.”

This statement is facually incorrect. The Brits attempted to keep the Jews out of Palestine.

@@

January 27th, 2011
11:36 am

Kyle, I’ll drag these over here if you don’t mind. I posted them at jay’s and all the left-wingers left. jay had to open a new thread in his attempt to get them engaged again.

Stratfor is analyzing whether Egypt’s protests mirror those during the Iranian Revolution (not the last one, the BIG ONE) where Western media (liberal) were convinced that it was the people who were revolting. Turned out it was the Ayatollah Khomeini using english speaking leftists to gain power. Some of those protesters ended up in the U.S., teaching at Harvard. Stratfor also doesn’t think the present regime is in jeopardy at this time. Who knows?
——————————————

Tidbits of my own:

While one opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, called on Egyptians to take part in these protests, the Muslim Brotherhood has been more ambivalent.

To worry or not to worry….?

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, ElBaradei said “I want to get people away from the idea that Iran will be a threat from tomorrow…

REALLY?

‘Israel is the number one threat to the Middle East given the nuclear arms it possesses,’ ElBaradei was quoted as saying.”

REALLY?

I never trusted ElBaradei. Was ecstatic when he resigned as Director General of the IAEA.
——————————————-

DAMN!

Egyptian diplomat and Former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed el Baradei (R) and Saad Alkatani (L) member of Muslim brotherhood and member of Egyptian Parliament talk to reporters during el Baradei’s visit of the Muslim Brotherhood office in Cairo, Egypt, 05 June 2010. According to media reports, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s main opposition group announced on 03 June their backing to an eventual candidacy of el Baradei in the next Egyptian presidential elections in 2011

I’ve never paid much attention to the MB. They’re kinda quiet.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been active in the US since the 1960s. Its stated goals have included propagating Islam and creating havens for Muslims in the US, and integrating Muslims. A main strategy has been dawah or Islamic renewal and outreach. In the 1960s, groups such as U.S. military personnel, prison inmates and African-Americans were specifically targeted for dawah. The goal of the Muslim Brotherhood in the USA is

The process of settlement [of Islam in the United States] is a “Civilization-Jihadist” process with all the word means. The Ikhwan must understand that all their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” their miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who choose to slack.

‘Ya never know!!!!

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
12:13 pm

Mohamed ElBaradei.

I never cared much for that guy…Ali Baba.

tar and feathers party

January 27th, 2011
12:21 pm

jconservative – Too bad the Brits failed to keep the Jews out of Palestine, since local Jews and Arabs lived in peace in Palestine before the invasion of Palestine by European Jews. If the Jews had come slowly to Palestine, and purchased their place in the local system, it could have been different.

Jefferson

January 27th, 2011
1:23 pm

Sounds like the red sea pedestrians should as they say in Roadhouse — “BE NICE”

Here Spot

January 27th, 2011
1:38 pm

Hosni needs to break out the water cannon, machine guns and squelch this little rebellion.

q1

January 27th, 2011
1:48 pm

As ususual, with a little bit of surfing the net, I have an answer. The way that what is happening in Egypt may affect the U.S. is the upsetting of power. Egypt is at peace with Israel. Israel has problems with radical Muslim elements, Israel deals with it effectively. Egypt likes this stability. If Murbarak were overthrown the new power may join Muslim radical elements in Gaza and Lebanon. Compounding the problem is Tunisia under military control. The middle east may be in enornomous upheaval effcting stability, and thusly oil exports to the U.S. which we are always in desperate need of, even though we know the oil money goes to those that have more than a dislike for us.
The solution, there is always a solution, stop using oil, tomorrow morning, get up and say, I will not use one more drop of gas, so that the money ends up in the greedy middle east pockets, now DO IT. We are counting on YOU.

luangtom

January 27th, 2011
1:56 pm

These current affairs in the Mideast are just a foretaste of what can happen here in the not so distant future. Look at Great Britain, where social services are threatened, college tuitions get axed and taxes are not keeping up. Look at France, Greece, and Spain, where national deficits are getting too large to operate the country efficiently. Riots and demonstrations in the streets of all are occurring. How soon before it happens here?

Military budgets that place personnel in over 175 different countries need to be scaled back to pay for domestic budgets for our citizens. Why is the US placing its troops in countries we are not wanted in all in the name of “democracy”, when we see our own rights falling? Shore up Social Security, shore up Medicare and Medicaid, fund Obamacare instead of taxing citizens even more or fining them for not having insurance, as is planned under Obamacare.

If we do not do something soon in the USA, our streets will be filled with citizens just like those of Egypt, Tunisia, Greece and Ireland and all of the rest that are on the brink………wise up, America, we will be next.