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Understanding Egypt: Is Trouble a Contagion?

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Editor’s note: The Blaze is featuring some guest posts to help our readers gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Egypt.  This post is by veteran journalist Bill Tucker.

As protestors in Egypt continue to push for the ouster of Mubarak, a chilling warning comes from the opposition saying Israel has a peace agreement with Mubarak, not Egypt.  That’s not the ranting of some protester in the street; that appeal to radical Islamists is from Mohamed Elbaradei, the man many in the international community have put their money on as the emerging leader of the opposition and a possible option to Mubarak should peace come to shove.

But rather than being the voice of calm, Elbradei’s words seem calculated to undermine whatever stability remains in Egypt and the region…. and stability is already in very short supply in North Africa and the Middle East.

A recently published piece, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies underscores the cause for concern. He notes that while the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia stem from largely political and ideological dissatisfaction, they cannot be separated from religious, ethnic, sectarian and tribal tensions. So, while the anger in Egypt comes from a lack of food and economic desperation there is a religious opportunity to be seized.  The Muslim Brotherhood has been quick to realize this and move to exploit it.  The Brotherhood seems to understand the wisdom of never letting a good crisis go to waste.

For those hoping Egypt and Tunisia are just anomalies in that part of the world, a new Gallup report may not only dash those hopes… it may cause many to lose sleep.  The survey points to some of the reasons for the anger in those countries.  It shows a sharp decline in the percentage of people in Egypt and Tunisia who see themselves as “thriving”.  The survey is designed to measure how people feel about their lives and their prospects for their future. It’s a measure that goes beyond simply economics.  There are three choices: thriving, suffering or struggling based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.

Given the current state of affairs in those countries, the result isn’t surprising. What is alarming though, is that in fifteen countries in the Middle East and North African region surveyed by Gallup only two have more than fifty percent of their population describing themselves as “thriving”.  Those two countries are the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The rest of the region would appear ripe for unrest.  Cordesman notes in his commentary published February 3 that, “ Egypt and Tunisia are also warnings that far more needs to be done to measure the quality and effectiveness of governance. So, however, are countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan and many.”  That’s a long list.

How improbable is it that we could see the anger spread?  Ask leaders in Jordan or Yemen.  Both of those countries were hit with protests stemming from poor economic conditions.  Tom Doyle, who runs the ministry E3 Partners notes that moderate, secular Muslims far out number radicals within Islam, but still he worries that,  "In times of desperation, people put back and retreat and get more established into their religion, so we have seen secular, moderate Muslims switch in just a minute when things were on the line."

Whether a retreat to a more conservative sect means a radicalization is far from certain.  We do know in Egypt that the uprisings have emboldened the more radical Muslims and those radicals have not hesitated to move to the front of the opposition. We also know that Iran would welcome a change in leadership, as Mubarak has not warmly embraced the leadership in Iran.  What happens next in Egypt could possibly set the stage of a warming of relations with Iran. Such a development would have profound implications for not only the region but also the world.

There are people who argue, convincingly, that Iran is a caliphate disguising itself as a Republic. It is an interesting debate. If Egypt’s radicals succeed in their goal of returning the country to Sharia law, we could witness the rebirth of a greater caliphate by nature of alliance and geography.  Is this a certainty? No. But out of crisis comes opportunity and as we saw in Iran in their revolution and as we are seeing in Egypt, radical Islamists are ready to seize the moment.

For Bill Tucker’s bio click here.

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