From Egypt to Syria to Jordan, relics of the post-Ottoman Middle East are struggling for relevancy amid a rising Islamist tide. Whether Nasserite or monarchist, the models that have defined this region over the past century are either being altered significantly or headed for obsolescence.
In Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi publicly stood his ground in a press conference Thursday. He offered no concessions, but announced that a meeting with his opponents would be held Saturday to seek out a deal. While it may appear on the surface that Morsi is the ultimate arbiter of how this crisis over the Egyptian Constitution plays out, the events of the past week may have done more to expose the military's indispensability to the state than to highlight the Muslim Brotherhood's authority.
What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.
The military waited for days until riots escalated at the presidential palace before it sent in the Republican Guard on Thursday to restore calm. In carefully timing its intervention, the military exposed how the Muslim Brotherhood's admittedly significant street power does not amount to the kind of power needed to control the street.
The Islamist civilian government had little choice but to engage the military in negotiations to defuse the crisis. The bargaining that takes place over these next few days will reveal how neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the military has the ability to act unilaterally. Gone are the days that the military could silence the Islamists through jail sentences, and still distant are the days when the Islamists can hope to bring the military under their control. Some serious tweaking to the post-Mubarak Nasserite model is in order.
In Syria, rebels were closing in on Damascus while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Russian counterpart Thursday to discuss how to avoid a chemical weapons disaster in Syria following the departure of President Bashar al Assad. From the point of view of Moscow, a beneficiary of the embattled Alawite regime, maintaining as much of the state machinery as possible (including a prominent role for the minority Alawites) is the best path forward to stabilize Syria and at the same time ensure a strong Russian stake in the Levant. The only adjustment that needs to be made to the system, as far as Russia is concerned, is the removal of the al Assad clan through some sort of amnesty deal. The United States and Turkey are also trying to avoid a level of state collapse that would draw them into a military campaign in Syria, but are looking for a larger share of power for Syria’s Sunni majority that would limit Iranian influence and (to Turkey’s benefit) embolden the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. In other words, possible adjustments to the Syrian military republic model remain under debate and may even be well beyond the control of the negotiators in question.
In Jordan, the Hashemite kingdom is struggling to avoid concessions that will empower an already-emboldened Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition that is now openly calling for the downfall of the monarchy. Jordanian King Abdullah II spent Thursday on a visit to the West Bank to demonstrate his support for Fatah leader and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the latter's U.N. bid for Palestinian recognition. This visit embodies the obsolescence of the post-Ottoman era. The U.N. bid notwithstanding, Fatah and the secular left of the Nasserite era have long lost their credibility in the Palestinian arena. Hamas and its Islamist allies are meanwhile making strides with the regional rise of the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of fraying ancient regimes. In the latest Gaza crisis, Abbas could not even attempt to claim to speak on behalf of Gaza in trying to defuse the conflict. Yet Abbas and Abdullah continue to visit each other on a regular basis, unaware or perhaps deliberately blind to the idea that they are now relics of another time.