Friday, February 4, 2011

Coup time?

There is a straightforward way out of the mess in Egypt: a military coup.

A coup would work. Egyptians like and admire their military, and would probably stand behind it if it tossed out Mubarak and crew. The United States would be totally cool with a coup as well. Traditionally, we get on well with military leaders of developing countries, and our arms merchants would be happy because their lucrative contracts supplying the Egyptian armed forces would not be interrupted. (By the way, foreign aid from the U.S. pays more than 80% of the cost.)

The leaders of the coup, of course, would be portrayed in the western press as a "transitional" government. Democracy could wait a while — maybe another thirty or forty years — and the arms shipments to keep the military in power would continue. Israel could breathe easy, since Egypt would continue to be bought.

The chief responsibility of the coup leaders would be to put an end to Mubarak era patronage and corruption, and create a new system of patronage and corruption that would better serve angry middle class youth. The peasantry must continue to receive its subsidized wheat, and a few more NGOs could be invited to drill wells and provide schooling for little girls, but not much else need be done for the poor. As long as they're eating, they'll stay quiet.

Yes, there will be elections — typical Arab world elections to put in place very cooperative legislators with very limited powers. Some members of Parliament can even represent the Muslim Brotherhood, which already is planning its own cooption. There will be no reason to find a place for Mohammed El Baradei. He's been in the news lately mostly because the western press already knows who he is, but he has no real power base in Egypt.

I know I swore off making predictions a while back but, frankly, I don't see a real alternative to a coup. It's vaguely conceivable that new Vice President Omar Suleiman could run a caretaker government until September, when the next elections are scheduled, but there are significant problems with that scenario.

  • While many seem to prefer Suleiman to Mubarak, he is part of the old regime.
  • There is not enough time for any of the anti-Mubarak forces to organize viable parties and candidates in time for the next election, with the single exception of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Neither Egypt not other potentially unstable Arab countries would be stabilized.
Given that the Egyptian military is the single most important component of the Egyptian economy, and that military leaders require stability to maintain profitability, it is hard to see how a military coup could be avoided, even if anybody (other than Mubarak's inner circle) actually wanted to avoid one.

So here comes the coup.

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