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Dec 9, 2011 | 14:47 GMT

8 mins read

Agenda: With George Friedman on the Egyptian Elections

Official figures show that the Islamist bloc has won about 60 percent of the vote in the first stage of Egypt's complex election process. But Stratfor CEO George Friedman does not think the military will give up power easily. VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Colin: In the first stage of Egypt's complex electoral system we now have the reality that the Islamist bloc has the running, winning about 60 percent of the vote. Of course, there are two main parties — and different factions within this bloc — but Egypt's military rulers have already signaled they don't think the next parliament will be representative enough to oversee the drawing up of a new constitution. Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George, an interesting outcome. George: The most interesting thing that came out of this election is the fact that the Western media's candidate for power in Egypt really lost, which were the secular democrats. So think of Egypt right now as having three blocs — the Nasserites, who are secular and military and who run the government; the Islamists, who are divided into various factions and hardly united; and the secular democrats, or those who wanted a European-style constitutional democracy who have really lost. So the Arab Spring, as we call it, really has changed. The Arab Spring has changed from the idea that what we're seeing now is the emergence of Western-style democracies to the idea that out of the democratic process is going to either come a more Islamist government or the continuation of the military government. Colin: Yes, well, STRATFOR has always been doubtful about the so-called Arab Spring, but this is not an outcome sought by the street protesters nor is it what the U.S. wanted. But both must now have to live with it, haven't they? George: Well in the first place, the street protesters did not represent all of Egypt. They were a few hundred thousand. It was a very large crowd and they represented some elements of Egypt, but Egypt is a huge country of 80 million and there was no way that that crowd represented them. So the idea that that crowd spoke for Egypt, as was frequently said, was fairly preposterous. I think the issue now really is whether the democratic process will continue — which I think it will — and what it will yield, which I think will be a very complex mixed Islamist government. And second, whether that government will be allowed to rule Egypt or whether the military will continue its historic role since 1952 of being the dominant modernizing and controlling force in Egypt. Right now I am still betting very much on the military holding power. They will yield in terms of democratic form but whether they are ever going to concede the ministries — or whether they are going to concede them easily — is really, in my mind, questionable. Colin: But presumably the military will have to make some moves to adapt to the new reality and make some concessions? George: Well they have made a huge concession — they held an election. The idea that they are going to go so far as to actually give those elected power is, I think, a rather dubious assumption. So what they did was allow political parties and they allowed the political parties to be elected. They may allow some degree of power to the emergent government. But that's quite a ways down the road there, several elections will be held before that takes place. But you have to remember that the military in Egypt does not see itself as illegitimate, it doesn't see itself as Pinochet was viewed in Chile or as military dictatorships were viewed in Argentina. It was the military that staged the revolution against the monarchy that was subservient to the British. It was the military that saved Egypt from imperialism, that's the way they look at it. It was the military that created some of the modern institutions. And many people, not just in the military but in Egypt, look to the military as guaranteeing both the secular nature of the country and its stability because there is a long history — more than a 50-year history — of that being the case. So I think the Western tendency to look at a military government as inherently illegitimate really fails to understand Egyptian history. But at the same time history moves on but not easily, not cleanly and usually not peacefully. Colin: Egypt has had the benefit of large swathes of U.S. aid, $2 billion a year since 1979, and much of it military aid I think. Will this continue? George: That, of course, is a major question and we have to remember that the origin of that aid — Anwar Sadat, who had been the heir of Nasser's pro-Soviet regime — was prepared both to break with the Soviet Union by denying them bases in Alexandria and air bases in the Nile Delta and to make peace with Israel. The United States was willing to pay for both of those, but particularly willing to pay for the expulsion of the Soviet Union from Egypt. That's what we have been paying it for. One thing we get from that is a high degree of control of the Egyptian military, in a sense that a good part of the military is funded by the United States and a good part of the military is maintained by American technicians. One of the things that everyobody is concerned about is the Islamists becoming aggressive militarily. It's very hard to do that if the United States doesn't want them to do that, so long as the United States is doing the funding and so long as the military is being supported by American technicians and contractors. The bottom line is that U.S. military aid is substantial. It was not a gift, we got a great deal for it. And now it's one way to keep a country of 80 million people — the largest Arab country in the world — under control regardless of what kind of government it gets. Colin: So far the Muslim Brotherhood has indicated it won't tear up the peace treaty with Israel, so presumably so long as this holds the aid will continue. George: I think the aid from the United States would continue. I'm not sure the aid would end simply if the treaty were suspended or violated. The real issue between Israel and Egypt would be an attempt by Egypt to reoccupy the Sinai Peninsula, which is a buffer zone between the two. I think that the aid question is really second to wondering where the Muslim Brotherhood will finally wind up. I think it's a mistake to look at its current condition and assume that it is its permanent condition. I suspect we will see many fissures inside of the Muslim Brotherhood and many different strands emerge very much in conflict with each other. And this is the real reason that in the end the military may hold power — the opposition to the military, the alternative to the military, is incapable of governing because of their fragmentation. Colin: There's some evidence, at least, that the Islamic bloc — particularly the Muslim Brotherhood — did well because of the economic promises they made in areas like health and welfare. But can they keep these promises? George: Well, shockingly, somebody might make an election promise they can't keep. Of course they can't keep them. And of course some people voted for them for that reason. And as they fail to keep the promises they will get less popular, others will get more popular, and so on and so forth. But after over 50 years of a military government, the transition to a civilian government — even if that takes place — is going to take a long time. In these crowds there are very few people who have ever served in government or have ever administered in anything. That was in the hands of the military and the civilian bureaucracy that it controlled. This political process, even if it finally winds up ending up in some sort of true civilian control — not symbolic control, but true civilian control — even if you go to that point, it is going to take a long time. Colin: George Friedman. And that's Agenda for this week, until the next time. Thanks for giving us your time. Goodbye.
Agenda: With George Friedman on the Egyptian Elections
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