Two and a half years after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, Egypt is once again in the throes of a revolution. Fueled by daily grievances and indignities, millions of Egyptians successfully dislodged a cadre of callow and incompetent leaders who repeatedly elevated ideology over good governance and sound macroeconomic planning. The fact that the military played the role of the deus ex machina sets an unwelcome precedent, but the generals will perhaps be forgiven if they act as power-brokers, not power-usurpers.
If past is prologue, the world’s most populous Arab nation will almost certainly re-calibrate politics in the Middle East writ large. When a young colonel in the Egyptian army ousted King Farouk in 1952, he triggered a wave of pan-Arab nationalism and set the stage for the Suez crisis and for the overthrow of monarchies from Baghdad to Sana’a to Tripoli. Lacking the clairvoyance to make any such long-term predictions, here are some likely short-term effects:
While the price of US crude jumped to a 14-month high and hovered above $100 per barrel in the immediate aftermath of the coup, any spikes are likely to be short-lived. Trepidation about regional instability weighs more heavily on traders’ minds than the events unfolding in Egypt per se. Although Egypt is the largest non-OPEC oil producer in Africa, the Suez Canal and the SUMED pipeline are of far greater consequence, and analysts (including one of my colleagues, Michael Rubin) are confident that both will remain operational.
On balance, the news from Egypt has probably been received with no small amount of schadenfreude in Damascus: only weeks ago, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo severed diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime and publicly backed a no-fly zone. And the optics of a Sunni-dominated Islamist bloc outplayed by a secular-minded military are bound to please Assad, who hailed the overthrow of Mr. Morsi as the end of “political Islam.”
Realpolitik is the comeback kid in this story. Although theoretically bound by law to suspend aid to governments whose democratically elected heads of state have been toppled in coups, the Obama administration is waffling. In typical prevaricating fashion, the executive branch is calling for a review of US aid policies without so much as a mealy-mouthed threat of cancellation.
Turkey and the other 1848-ers
Those hoping for a replication of Tahrir in Taksim are likely to be disappointed. Mass mobilizations struggle against entropy unless they control the media and the military. And in Turkey, the AKP under Erdogan’s leadership has muzzled the former and curbed the power of the latter. Throw in a disorganized opposition and the cause of the protestors looks quixotic. Nonetheless, the denouement of the summer of middle class discontent may look radically different in Brazil, Indonesia, or Bulgaria.
Israel & Palestine
Morsi’s departure represents a significant setback for Hamas, and may strengthen Fatah’s resolve to nudge its rival toward reconciliation. Yet Hamas’ loss of a sympathetic ally will give little comfort to Israel. A recrudescence of violence in the Sinai and renewed instability in Egypt could presage greater security challenges.