Friday, June 29, 2012

Should we care about Egypt's ruler?

As students of international relations, should we really care about Egypt's new president? Not that much. Because hardly a change in domestic politics of a country shifts its foreign policy orientation. If we are to observe a slight change in foreign policy of Egypt, it is not because it has a new president but because powerful waves of dynamic changes in international politics had pushed Egypt to elect a new president that will be competent in dealing with challenges of the current period. This argument is made not to downplay the power of people that shook Egypt last year but to emphasize what made them to flock into streets.

1979 revolution in Iran is an oft-cited example by those who claim that changes in domestic politics directly affect foreign policy. Then pro-Western Iran made a U-turn in 1979 in foreign policy after Islamists grabbed power in Tehran. But a short glance over events in the region reveals that in fact Iran’s stark departure from its previous position in the region is not because it had an Islamist leader. While Iran was Israel’s and U.S. ally, Egypt and Syria had cool relations with the U.S. and were at war with Israel. It made sense for Iran to side with Israel and the U.S. as long as Arabs were in the other camp. But when Egypt abandoned Syria and changed its orientation with Camp David Accords in 1978, Iran also switched its side and stood by Syria. This change was facilitated by the advent of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.

Assassination of Anwar Sadat after the Egyptian president’s disengagement with Israel is also a good example of how international politics directly affects domestic politics. But assassination of Sadat was not a smart move because his successor had made life hell for the Muslim Brotherhood for 30 years.

Leaders add personal flavor to foreign policy only in cases when they have a luxury to do so. Egypt will be unable to translate its already weak economy into military buildup and the army will continue to have a powerful say in the country’s foreign policy. For the U.S., stability in Egypt is important because Suez Canal is a strategic point where over 2 million barrels of mostly Gulf oil are transported to Western markets every day. This is almost equal to Saudi's Arabia's daily oil output. For this reason, the U.S. will stand by any Egyptian president as long as the president does not seek adventures in the Suez.

More than 17,000 ships pass through the Suez Canal every year, of which 25 percent is oil and gas. When Egypt recovers from the revolution and becomes stronger than it needs, we can then talk about how domestic politics affects its foreign policy decisions. Too much power always carries the risk of abuse. As long as Egypt is weak, new president will have little discretion to drive his country's foreign policy to a direction he wants.


Power struggle in Egypt

Putting foreign policy aside, it is also fun to see an Egyptian president with beard. Egyptians deserve plaudits for their brave struggle in the past year to elevate their country from a league of authoritarian nations to a place it deserves.

Egypt is a troubled country with very powerful military playing as a subject in politics. It will be no easy task to sideline the army despite president-elect Mohamed Morsi’s defiance in Tahrir on Friday. It is odd to observe that Turkey is both an inspiration for masses longing for democracy and for generals trying to establish their tutelage in the political system. Turkey is a NATO member country and has commitments to limit the role of military in politics as part of its membership talks with the European Union. It has a coup-era constitution that was drafted by junta after 1980 military coup and despite 10-year tenure of partly progressive ruling AK Party, the constitution seems firmly in place.

In 2003, shortly after the conservative AK Party came to power, Turkish military issued a strongly-worded statement that was considered as a blunt interference into democracy. Even in 2007, shortly before AK Party’s second term, military issued a statement on its web-site Turks call a “post-modern coup.” Democratization has taken a quite long time to take hold in Turkey.

But what makes me upbeat about Egypt is how fast developments take place there. What happened in Egypt in the past year would take 20 Turkey-years in Ankara. No doubt it will be extremely painful to watch power struggle between civilian politicians and the military but it makes me optimistic to anticipate that it will take not as long as it took Turkey to consolidate its democracy today. It took 66 years for Turkey to partly consolidate its democracy by limiting very powerful military establishment. I’m sure it will be faster in Egypt.

1 comment:

  1. Well analysed perspective.
    But apprehensions of more radicals amongst the Islamists driving the post revolution establishment taking course to demagoguery will remain......