Thursday, February 10, 2011


"If Egypt develops into a stable democracy, this can turn peace with Israel from an act of raison d’état into a reality based on common values. This would, of course, require a much more flexible approach from the Israeli government regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. Given a truly democratic development in Egypt, one can imagine successful internal pressure in Israel in that direction".

Shlomo Avnieri, "Egypt without a Pharaohs portends a storm," The Financial Times, 7 February 2011, in

"The temptation to try to cover up their all-too-obvious sins of corruption and mis-government by some dramatic performance satisying---although only temporarily---the emotions
of the mob has always been difficult for them to resist."

Sir Ralph Stevenson (British Ambassador in Cairo) to Herbert Morrison (British Foreign Secretary), 16 October 1951, in F.O. 371/90144/JE1051/365, PRO, Kew.

"In the following process we shall concentrate on the high politics of the politicians who mattered. Back-benchers and party opinion will appear off-stage as malignant or beneficent forces with unknown natures and unpredictable wills....Issues of substance, except about the party system, will be considered so far as solutions, or failure to provide solutions, affected the standing of the governments of politicians concerned. Europe, Russia, Ireland, India and the Empire will be treated in the way politicians treated them - as incidents in the history of what was taken to be the central domestic problem. This procedure will be followed because the first context in which high politics was played was the context in which politicians reacted to one another. The political system consisted of fifty or sixty politicians in conscious tension with one another."

Maurice Cowling, "Introduction: The Character of High Politics," in The Impact of Labour, 1920-1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics.
(1970), pp.3-4.

With the upheaval in Cairo continuing for the third week running, there has been some comments in the Anglo-American press and public sphere about the possibilities of the future foreign policy of a post-Mubark Egypt. Much of this commentary, while cogent, and well informed, seems to be oblivious to the likely future political dynamics, of a post-Mubarak Egypt, especially one that features differing political parties and or groupings struggling for power with each other. Nota bene: in such a situation the party to watch per se is not merely the Muslim Brotherhood. It is all of the contending factions. Au fond by virtue of the factum (or likely factum), that it will be quite a long time before any Egyptian government resolves Egypt's socioeconomic problems, there will be enormous temptation, for all parties, especially those either out of power, or on the margins of power, to employ for political advantage, anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and arguments. The fact of the rationality or not of such slogans are irrelevant in that particular context. What counts as that maitre of modern British political history, the late, great, Maurice Cowling shows is that above everything else, is whether or not such slogans give those who employ them a demonstrable political advantage over their more 'rational' and 'responsible' opponents, in or out of government. For instances from 20th century Egyptian history, one need only recall the long (and to the British maddening) political hysterics offered by the Wafd party in particular from 1919 to 1952. In which the overriding concerning of the party hierarchy was not the 'rationality' or not of any particular policy, but whether or not said policy paid political dividends vis-`a-vis their political opponents. Similarly, in the context of a possibly similar, 'revolutionary' era, that of Persia in 1979, the entire modus operandi of the so-called 'hostage crisis', was dependent upon it serving as a means of completely undermining the 'moderate' elements in the post-Monarchical Persia, by the radicals around Ayatollah Khomeini. Something which the coup de tete, which was the hostage crisis served admirably well indeed.

What one may ask can the West and the United States in particular do to steer Egyptian political tendencies, especially as they relate to foreign policy goals, along a moderate and sensible path? One is tempted to say: nothing much. However, that would be a gross and inaccurate exaggeration. In point of fact, the Americans, without in any way overtly meddling or becoming close to any particular faction or group in post-Mubarak Egypt, can endeavor to offer as much economic and other material assistance as possible. Something which one presumes that the new government will welcome with open arms. Similarly, any friendly advice and persuasion that the United States government can offer to the Netanyahu government, to moderate its policies vis-`a-vis the Palestinians can only make the situation much less fraught and likely to become a political football. Otherwise the possibilities are not exactly the friendliest or the most optimistic in nature.


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