Saturday, January 29, 2011



The people's revolt in Egypt, which has cost over a hundred lives since January 25, is showing signs of taking an anti-US turn.

2. ""Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman; we're sick of Americans." So shouted the protesters in the Tahir (Liberation) Square of Cairo on January 29. The reference was to Omar Suleiman, the head of the Military Intelligence, whom President Hosni Mubarak appointed as the Vice-President on January 29, in a desperate move to ensure the continued loyalty of the Army to him.

3. The Army has till now remained loyal to Mubarak. All the fatalities were reported to have been caused in clashes between the protesters and the riot police, which comes under the Ministry of the Interior. Mubarak seems to be hoping to save his tottering regime by projecting the riot police as the fall guy. This is unlikely to work and could prove dangerous by creating large-scale desertions from the riot police. The riot police and the Army have roughly equal strength---about 3000,000 plus. If there are large-scale desertions from the riot police, the Army may find it very difficult to control the resulting situation.

4.The US is in a quandary. The administration of President Barack Obama has as badly mis-judged the gathering storm in Egypt before the riots broke out as the administration of then President Jimmy Carter had mis-judged the gathering storm in Teheran in 1978 before the fall of the Shah of Iran. Wishful-thinking by Governmental and non-governmental analysts in the US that the Shah would somehow be able to control the situatuion contributed to a strategic disaster in Iran, with the Shia revolutionaries under Ayatollah Khomeni capturing power, the consequences of which on the strategic scenario in the region are being felt even today.

5. Similar wishful-thinking by Governmental and non-Governmental analysts in Washington DC and a similar miscalculation are inexorably leading to a situation where the people's anger, which was initially against the Mubarak regime, is turning against the US Government for continuing to support it. The strategic consequences of the emerging anger against the US will be unpredictable and the Obama Administration will find its attention increasingly distracted from the Af-Pak region. "All the way with Mubarak" is no longer a workable option. "Jettison Mubarak" could be an option, but the dilemma for the US is "Who After Mubarak?"

6. It cannot be someone associated with the Mubarak regime. It has to be a new face from amongst the growing crowds demonstrating in the streets.Even though the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is playing a behind-the-scene role in keeping the protests alive and aggravating, one has not heard of any slogans calling for power to the MB. In a situation where nobody is a leader and yet everybody is a leader, it is difficult to assess who is going to ultimately emerge as the leader to take over power.

7. The US placed so much faith in the stability and durability of the Shah of Iran that it failed to diversify its political contacts in Iran. When the Shah ultimately fell, the US suddenly found itself without any influence in Teheran and without any insights about Ayatollah Khomeni and his aides.

8. Similarly, it had such pathetic faith in the stability and durability of Mubarak that it has failed to diversify its contacts and influence in Cairo. The result: It has no contacts and friends in the people who are in the forefront of the revolt.

9.The policy and operational disasters of the Carter Administration in Iran contributed to the failure of Carter to get re-elected for a second term. Will history repeat itself? Will policy and operational disasters in Egypt contribute to a similar failure of Obama to get re-elected next year? Obama has to keep his fingers crossed. ( 30-1-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies. E-mail: )


Eagleeye47 said...

Would not fully agree on the assumption / observation that the army is with Mubarak. It is playing mostly neutral & will be with the people it seems. With +ve indication they will come out openly against the current regime soon.

Change is here to happen maybe in few days things will be clear. If US does not act smartly their situation will be that of in Iran. I'm sure they will not be so dumb this time & read the writing on the wall. Though I have little faith in their reading the situation.

Hummingbird said...

The first sentence may please be read as - "As usual an excellent post".

The word "excellent" got deleted while editing.


Hummingbird said...


I read with interest your excellent post on Egypt.

I agree with you on the comparison between the situation in Iran (when Shah of Iran was thrown out) and the developing situation in Egypt where the current President, Mr Mubarak might be thrown out.

I am not a foreign policy (or) security expert. For that matter, I am not an expert in anything (aam aadmi, would be a more appropriate term to describe myself).

Often I feel that US is caught between two conflicting objectives - one hand, to support democracies / democratic movements and the other is to safeguard its own strategic interests.

Dictators (or) dictatorial regimes are willing to be tools of USA and thus eases the work pressure on USA. While this works to some extent, very soon the evil role of such dictatorial regimes present a harsh reality in terms of repression, human rights violations, lack of freedom, crony capitalism, corruption etc. This turns the people against such regimes and very soon the anger of people turns against the US (as ultimate supporters as also beneficiaries of such regimes).

I guess, this was what happened in Iran, when people threw the Shahs out (and alongwith them the USA too) and likely to happen in Middle East countries.

From the point of view of USA, it would be extremely difficult (though not impossible) to build bridges with opposition when a favourable regime is in place.

As regards the question, "Who After Mubarak?", one name that comes up is that of Mr Mohamed ElBaradei (well known internationally). Sadly, the perception of USA in popular minds is low and even Mohamed ElBaradei called the U.S. position on the Egyptian crisis a disappointment. (Source: "Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei accuses U.S. of dropping the ball" - Link -

The USA has historically jettisoned people once their utility is over. A possible scenerio would be the army & police deserting Mr Mubarak and supporting someone from outside who won't destablise their pre-eminent position (and money generating capacity). Maybe the USA would also work towards the end - if it concludes that Mr Mubarak would become a liability.

While extreme 'right' or extreme 'left' would not be acceptable, someone 'in-between' acceptable to USA, Egyptian army & police can get to power in Egypt, provided Mr Mubarak loses nerve and flees.

The bigger challenge would be how to manage the post-change period in terms of impact on the Middle East's other regimes and how it would impact Israel / Iran and the consequences on world peace (including on India).

Strangely, while every democratic country would support democracy (in some form, atleast), freedom of expression, rule of law etc... there is a fear of the unknown. What if such a democracy leads to a religious fundamentalist party capturing power? What will they do after capturing power? To that extent, 'status quo' is preferable. Even as they support democratic movements, I guess, heart of hearts, they might be praying that somehow Mr Mubarak (or other Arab rulers) hangs on. There is a safety in dealing with a known person - more so when he is weakened and is dependent upon you (USA) for support.


- Dilip.!/rvdilip

Esoteric said...

While its been my view Mubarak will survive this crisis,even if Gamal loses his chance of being next President and that Nov 10' elections were rigged by NDP ie Mubarak to deny MB any hope of getting power through seats in the parliament...but the events are showing Mubarak is weaker than otherwise thought.

The protests are being carefully managed by MB.

US has invested in Egyptian forces and it might pay off now.Eventually,Mubarak has taken extreme positions recently so that he brings down the 'give' on his part when it comes to the crunch.

This is the crunch.If Mubarak manages to cut a deal with ElBaradei,then MB would have no option but to fall in line.

There is still hope..after all most optimistic projections also do not give MB more than 35% of the vote..if new elections were announced.Fingers crossed.

Esoteric said...

As for Obama,will it take Egypt to deny him a second term?

Has he not made enough domestic and foreign policy blunders?

There is only one way Obama is coming back for a second term -electronic voting machines!

Akshaya Handa said...

The Times of India today has reported that as per Wikileaks, the US has funded the ongoing stir. If this is true, the US may not be without options as it may seem.

Another interesting development is that Stratfor has reported that the Hamas personnel have been moving in from West Bank to support this stir and specially the Muslim Brotherhood.

It seems that at some level within the stir, there is a leadership struggle going on between the Islamist groups and the groups supported by the West.While only time would tell as to who gains ascendancy in the post Mubarak era, the time taken for the new leadership to emerge would be critical as it would allow enough Hamas members to reach and support the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand an early collapse of the Mubarak regime could lead to the coronation of ElBaradei - who as the ex chief of IAEA has some support of the West and is not really besotted to the Muslim Brotherhood.