Egypt: Outcome may differ from aspirations of protesters
Graham Allison weighs potential alternative futures for Egypt in an assessment of the potential implications for the United States in the turmoil engulfing its largest Arab ally.
In a contribution to a virtual panel of experts on The Mark, a Canadian online forum, Allison says the aspirations of those taking part in such uprisings don’t always dictate the outcome. Just think of the Iranian and Russian revolutions.
Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, says it is highly unlikely that any successor government in Egypt would seek to disrupt the flow of oil to the United States. However, other events in the region might do so, especially if the revolts prove contagious and spread to countries such as Saudi Arabia.
He also argues that in the short run, most new Egyptian governments would be likely to retain good relations with Israel, noting, “A new Egyptian government of any stripe will not want to take on an additional problem that would lead to greater tensions with its neighbor and threaten to cut the flow of U.S. aid.” Over time, however, an Egyptian government that more authentically reflects the attitudes of the population will likely be less aligned with the US and more hostile to Israel. A recent Pew poll found that 31% of Egyptians saw a struggle taking place between modernizers and fundamentalists — and nearly 60% of those identified with the latter.
Excerpts from Allison’s updated analysis follow. The full commentary is available here.
“The fundamental fact about the future is that it is uncertain. Looking forward, the best way to think about the next year is to consider alternative futures. One possibility is that Mubarak and the current regime will survive. This is unlikely, with only a five-to-ten-per-cent chance of that occurring.
A second possibility is that a transitional process will take place, resulting in an emerging, effective democratic government. This second alternative is the most hopeful, but not the most likely scenario.
Another scenario features a tumultuous process in which a more or less participatory and democratic system emerges. If this scenario were to play out, I would bet on the most organized groups emerging as leaders. In this case, the most organized group is the military, which means that we would see the emergence of a military-dominated regime with a civilian face. That would be a good outcome as far as the U.S. is concerned. A variation of that scenario is the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood could step up to take control of the government, an outcome that would present its own opportunities and risks.
The key takeaway is that future developments are uncertain, and that it is entirely possible to describe an outcome that looks more like Iran – though I don’t think such an outcome is likely. Think about Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris until the Iranian revolution, Lenin going home to Russia in a single-carriage train. True, those situations were quite different from what is happening now. But history reminds us that outcomes are often quite different from the ones people anticipate – and the aspirations that have spurred a revolution have been poor predictors of the outcomes that actually occur.”