Breaking a Rule: The Devil on Egypt and the Middle East

January 29, 2011

I have tried during the last eight and a half years to restrict this blog to Venezuela and related subjects for the simple reason that this is not only the subject of the blog, but additionally because there are so many other significant and important subjects out there, that I did not want to distract attention from my main subject. Thus, I have tended to ignore in my writings, not in my mind or in my readings, other subjects, even when they had something to do with Venezuela.

I am breaking that rule today because of a personal story that made me follow Egyptian politics for the last ten years. Roughly ten years ago, give or take two years either way, well known investor Jim Rogers came through Caracas in his second drive around the world. (His first one was on a motorcycle). It was a very pleasant evening with Jim telling us about his recent experience around the world and asking us about Venezuela, trying to understand Chavez and the dynamics of our country.

At the end, he gave us a sort of overview of the world and he noted that he thought the Middle East was a powder keg and he worried most about Egypt, an explosion waiting to happen, whose impact would change the face of the Middle East forever. Egypt, he said, was the most worrisome, because unlike many of the other important countries in the region, it not only had the most ruthless dictatorship, but it was also the poorest country. His fear was that Egypt would explode and the impact would be felt all over the Middle East, toppling Governments everywhere, including places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Thus, I have kept up with the somewhat dysfunctional and complex politics of Egypt over the years.

But as the world watches Tunisia and Egypt asking for more freedom, it appears to me that the protesters in both Egypt and Tunisia, know clearly what they don’t want, their current or recently overthrow Governments, but don’t have a clear definition of what they want or where they will end if their protests are effective and succesful.

Because the truth is that while the movements leading the unrest are pro-democracy, freedom and pro-human rights, what lurks in the background is not only more of the same, another strong man looking to control the population, but one that embodies either the militaristic or the religious leader, if not both.

Remember that most of these countries have no democratic tradition and do have a strong religious influence, mostly fundamentalist ones. Thus, it would appear to me that few of these countries are on the road to a democratic Government. Perhaps something like a more benign Dictators will be more like it, but the religious factor clouds any prediction.

Perhaps the military will simply oust Mubarak and replacing him with a string of new military rulers that will promise more freedom, but not deliver it. Perhaps the democratic movement will manage to have the new rulers hold elections. But in the end, the winners of those elections will not be them and under the guise of of a democratic mandate, the people will continue to be repressed and dominated.

It is hard for me to see any other outcome. From what I have learned over the years, the region is sadly unlikely to move into more democracy and freedom. There is simply no tradition of that. Maybe all one can hope is that the new rulers truly strive to improve people’s lives, if only for fear that their stay in power will not be brief.

I hope I am wrong, but as I follow the events in Egypt in fascination, I can’t help but remember other examples where the people knew what they did not want and acted accordingly, only to get an equal or worse alternative.

For now, just remember you are watching history and no matter what the outcome, these historic events will likely change the Middle East region forever.

44 Responses to “Breaking a Rule: The Devil on Egypt and the Middle East”

  1. tan Says:

    Islamofascism will win the day in Egypt, not immediately but over the next couple of years, and then Egypt can step back a thousand years, like democratic Pakistan and pretend democracy Iran.
    Kepler, you oh so don’t know much, and reading Fisk and the Guardian would have a lot to do with that i guess.
    Islam is at war with the non islamic world, particularly the Christian part.
    Not your average Muslim mindyou, anymore than the average German pre WW2 was really anti Jewish or anti Slav. Hitler propagandized and worked many Germans up to level of hate and readiness to kill, and the mullahs and imams will, and are, doing the same with their flock, muslims, and with more success, as if that were needed, because they are religious leaders.

    One more thing, Kepler, you are dissing the VP of Egypt because he talks to Netanyahu. How exactly do you avoid war with those you disagree with unless you communicate with them. And that’s why the leaders of all the Arab countries talk with each other and with Israel, quietly, and with the U.S., and Russia etc.
    As to dirt poor Egypt, caught in a vise between present military tyranny and religious/fascistic wanna be tyranny, the future is grim.
    Hell, I’d even prefer to live in Venezuela, Chavez and all, than Egypt !

  2. loroferoz Says:

    “I aree with MO – the region will change forever with Islamic revolutions in many countries. This is what the world policeman is facing and will be able to do little about it.”

    That is what Europe, the U.S., and all the world that does not want to live under the most extreme and outlandish versions of Sharia will have to face. Specially, huge numbers of muslims and secular ex-muslims who will be subject to repression or even the death penalty. You too, dear Pygmalion, if you think yourself anything but an Islamic Fundamentalist.

    The very concept of world policeman is awfully wrong; but to count on such a monster to keep it busy is disingenuous and playing into the hands of the people interested in having the U.S.A. be a world policeman.

    It should be a matter of self-interest for most muslims to reject such tyranny. It should be impressed upon them that to have a personal life and be respected in the world, they should make religious observance strictly PRIVATE and dependent on individual CHOICE. Else they come out as dangerous fanatics; but the laugh is on them, who do the homework of real dangerous fanatics who give them a bad name, and who are out to oppress them first of all.

    Of course the Western World, and specially governments in the Western World will make the “interests” call, then wine and dine dictators that are not overtly and conspicuously hostile. These control a lot of money because they control their country top down and keep the fundamentalists at bay for the moment. Again, it is up to the citizens of the Western World to change this.

  3. firepigette Says:


    “Every idiot knows that not ALL Muslims are terrorists.”
    Well, aparently not a part of yourself, Firepigette. You are contradicting yourself in your statements. Never mind.”

    where have I said that all muslims are terrorists?


  4. Kepler Says:

    “Every idiot knows that not ALL Muslims are terrorists.”
    Well, aparently not a part of yourself, Firepigette. You are contradicting yourself in your statements. Never mind.
    I am saying US media sucks big time when it comes to foreign news and that has been the case for several decades now. It was the contrary 50, 60 years ago. Times change, even if you do not want it.

    If any nation thinks world solutions are to be taken so lightly as the US did in Afghanistan in the eighties, the UK and the US in Iran in the fifties, France many times in Africa in the last decades, Belgium in Rwanda and Burundi and Congo as well, you are looking for more trouble.

    It is not about acting “perfectly”. You cannot be acting very intelligently if you keep having trouble with a thug, you think he is the only one who is doing something wrong even if you are actually doing something else that is hurting his cousins and there is absolutely no need to do that something but the pressures of some third group that is manipulating you for some religious or commercial reasons. Just do your best.

    Killing thousands of innocent and calling that “collateral damage” all the time really doesn’t help. It is not about being “perfect”.

  5. A_Antonio Says:

    I am only says Western World cheer dictators that can do Business with then, we can take a dinner with them and in next room they have jailed and are torturing people. (China for example).

    Dictators (some are Arabic and Muslim) than can maintain business with Western World and can deal with “fundamentalist” are almost welcome, no matters the butcher they are. This is unethical; and this can be their sign of the decline of a civilization.

  6. firepigette Says:

    Sometimes when people try to be balanced and objective they end up defending the undefendable.

    Sometimes we have to take a strong stand, not from the position of claiming perfection, but from the point of view of being the best alternative, because if we don’t, more than likely we will end up with the worst case scenario.

    I for one have no reason to believe that the Germans are closer to the truth than any other group of people, and their track record in recent history doesn’t convince me one bit.

    The essential and important things to remember here are the following:

    1.We are witnessing a world wide Islamic radicalism that would like to impose on all of us and allies itself with any force, even when unethical, to obtain its goals.

    2. It is way hypocritical to be considering the side of a people whose views on women are that we are not deserving of the same rights as men.Those who can defend this under any circumstance, and do not fight WHOLE heartedly against this worldwide movement, do not deserve to be considered seriously.

    3. Every idiot knows that not ALL Muslims are terrorists.To repeat this is condescending, creates a straw man argument, and is wasting time.

    4. If Muslims do not want to be considered terrorists then they must fight equally hard against world wide Muslim fanatics….because if not then they are part of the problem

  7. loroferoz Says:

    We would automatically cheer for the Revolutionaries who topple a dictator and for the freedom fighters who expel a colonial power. We would automatically cheer for Castro, for Mugabe, for Khomeini, for Nasser, for Robespierre and Danton…

    I, wanting to know what will become of the average citizen and caring for this person, and being wary of grand schemes, will hold my breath to see if any new government that comes out of Revolution is about a philosophy of “live and let live”. Foreigners and nationals both, at home and abroad.

    Roy: You imply that Islamofascism is not an altogether unaccurate moniker for Islamic Fundamentalism… I think, however that it will lose much of its bite once petroleum is no longer used widely for energy generation and transportation.

  8. A_Antonio Says:

    Kepler, 100 % agree with your last comment, some times the hypocrite of the Western World is to make sick their own people, some looks like Tunisia and Egypt were authoritarian regimes from only few days ago.

  9. Kepler Says:


    I have made many errors of judgement, but not that one. And let me tell you why. When I started to get the news about the terrorist attacks on 11 September a German colleague asked me: what now? I said: war, a long war. I then started to ask myself those terrorists did it then and so: why did they do this? And I thought about the possible answers.

    What I saw in the English world and to a lesser extent here was that people rejected asking that why. They said: “those guys did it because they hate us/because they are evil/because they are envious of us”.
    Well, evil they certainly were and are. Still, you don’t dismiss further study of the reasons with something as serious as this.

    I heard many times how the US specialists stressed the importance of killing Osama Bin Laden. I have nothing against getting rid of the guy, but one thing was clear to me: that was a minor point. They do not think like the Nazis did or like people around the Japanese emperor did or something like that.

    If we want to tackle that problem, we need to have a good understanding their set of mind. That does not mean we become like them. That does not mean that we will develop some sort of Stockolm-like complex. But it will mean we may discover, among very bad things about them, some uncomfortable issues about our side as well.

    I won’t go much into those of theirs. We can talk about the differences of their religion and so on, and I know there are much bigger problems with their religion than with others, I know how it differs from the start.

    I won’t go into that. I will go into those things on our side.
    One of them is precisely the unconditional support to very nasty dictators…for decades now. I wrote something about that in my blog, but I recommend you to go to Robert Fisk’s big book on that. Scholl-Latour, a German who is conservative, friend of Helmut Kohl and all, has also written extensively on this, but unfortunatelly in German or French.

    I heard once about an attack on a US mission in Nuristan where several US soldiers died. The news sender (I think it was BBC) did not mention anything further, but I thought: I have heard the place (Kadesh).
    I googled a bit and found the report about another big attack a year earlier and then a report from United Nations about the region.

    That report from United Nations was really very telling. A big percentage of girls die when they have their first menstruation. They are anemic. Illiteracy is among the highest in Afghanistan (over 95% illiterate).

    And that after so many billions spent there. And those who profit are mostly contractors, both from Afghanistan and the West. And they become a world in themselves, the Dogs of War.

    I have seen pictures and films of Afghanistan 50 years ago. It was a much better place.

    The USA and others got some priorities and the priorities were “fight communism at all cost”. And so they did.

    As I mentioned earlier: I read months about the many civilians who have died because of US bombings in Yemen. I read about that in the German news, en passant. I then watched a short programme about that on TV. You don’t get that in CNN and much less in other programmes. Hell, you don’t get that in “lefty, liberal” BBC. You had to wait to the Wikileaks…and then only the few read about those leaks in the English press.

    I also see the grievances about the ethnic cleansing taking place now in the West Jordan. I see how the Muslims and Arabs in general feel about that. Sometimes they do that in a very irrational way. Still, that irrational way is not much more irrational, even if sometimes more lethal, than the way in which the US administration supports the government of Israel since 1973 no-matter-what, in ways it does not support any other country.
    It is visceral, it is like Christmass…and it does have to do with that religious closeness, even among agnostic people.

    Before 1968 no one in the Western world would have questioned that settling people in the West Bank and removing others would be absolutely criminal. To this day United Nations does not recognize those settlements. Still, lots of people in the US and some in Britain call those areas now “disputed territories” and shun the word “occupied land”.

    And they go in for arguments that have to do with a book written by some hardliners trying to strengthen the religious caste 2600 years ago in Jerusalem. And the Israelis keep increasing their 1948-borders and they keep talking about “concessions”

    You should read about the state of the prisons during the Shah time…the very Shah who was dining with Carter and who was told by Carter he was a friend.

    And so on.

    Before you support one group or the other, you need to think 20 steps ahead and you need to know the qualities of said group not only to get rid of your current enemy.

  10. Roy Says:

    There are not many time when you will see me confess to a major error in judgement. This is one. Ten years ago, I dismissed the rising tide of Islamic Fundamentalism as merely the ¨death throes of a dying culture¨. I predicted that after a generation, of this nonsense, rationality would prevail, and Western Secular Liberalism would be embraced once again in the Middle East. I was wrong.

    Let me repeat: I was DEAD WRONG. Islamic Fundamentalism is a social and political movement that has legs. One of the side affects of western style Capitalism, is that in creating great wealth, it accrues to people in accordance with their abilities and accentuates the inequalities of human beings. Isamic Fundamentalism is very good at using this to recruit masses of followers from the among those who feel they deserve more and want ¨equality¨. The Islamists offer a message of ¨brotherhood and equality¨ that is very compelling.

    So, those who cherish Western Liberal and Secular Democracy are going to have to recognize that the phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism and its dream of an entire world under Sharia (Islamic Law) is not going to die out all by itself. It is going to keep growing in world stature and power until its enemies finally unite, name it for the threat that it is, and confront it, culturally, politically, and militarily.

  11. maria gonzalez Says:

    To MO and all others, thank you for your comments. I really don’t know much about the Middle East, so I learned reading this post.

    I just hope that the destruction of museums is not great… because it is ironic that they will be destroying part of their history.

  12. Kepler Says:

    As one guy wrote in the comments, Bibi apparently wants Israel to remain “the only democracy in the Middle East”

  13. Kepler Says:

    And notorious Omar Suleimen is in permanent contact with Israel’s defence and Mossad.


    I don’t like Islamism one bit. Still, I wonder: is every Islamist for you a terrorist?

  14. Yngvar Says:

    If Iraq can become a democracy, so can Egypt.

  15. Pygmalion Says:

    I aree with MO – the region will change forever with Islamic revolutions in many countries. This is what the world policeman is facing and will be able to do little about it.

  16. Maria Says:

    “EL Baradei is supposedly sponsored by Iran. As head of the IAEA he was shown to be totally incompetent.

    Today the Muslim Brotherhood (worse than Taliban) has agreed to back Baradei.”

    Every terrorist group will try to get a foothold in those countrie:

    “AP Interview: Islamist leader returns to Tunisia
    TUNIS, Tunisia – The leader of a long-outlawed Tunisian Islamist party returned home Sunday after two decades in exile, telling The Associated Press in his first interview on arrival that his views are moderate and that his Westward-looking country has nothing to fear.

    Rachid Ghanouchi and about 70 other exiled members of Ennahdha, or Renaissance, flew home from Britain two weeks after autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power by violent protests. At the airport, thousands of people welcomed him, cheering, shouting “God is great!” and drowning out his attempt to address the crowd with a megaphone.”

  17. Bizzbe Says:

    Hogu Chavez could find a donkey willing to carry him to safety. No donkey would go that low.

  18. geronl Says:

    EL Baradei is supposedly sponsored by Iran. As head of the IAEA he was shown to be totally incompetent.

    Today the Muslim Brotherhood (worse than Taliban) has agreed to back Baradei.

  19. LD Says:

    No, Hugo is still there (now in CAVIMs area), supposedly he could’t fly due to weather, and the highway was not sure enough I think… Or maybe he did not want to go there until it was calm.

  20. geronl Says:

    Awaitng moderation? huh?

  21. geronl Says:


    There are rumors online that Hugo has abandoned his post and fled the country (ala Egypt-Tunisia)

    I WISH.

  22. Kepler Says:


    Al-Baradei has nothing to hide, as far as I know. I mean all those groups would be against a pluralistic Egypt with a mind of its own and a voice about what is happening around.
    Right now there is actual ethnic cleaning in the West Bank. Mubarak has said nothing about that. Imagine a government that were not Islamic, not authoritarian but also more independent of foreign powers.
    I hope Al-Baradei can form some pluralistic movement, but I know everyone out there is against that. Egypt is a proxy.

  23. LD Says:

    Thanks Khyber for your post! I do think that the chance of a real arab democracy is real and it would be a very good thing for the egyptians, the region and the world. I think it’s time for the “western” to show the speak of democracy is more than speak only.

  24. A_Antonio Says:

    Kepler, Can you elaborate more about your last comment?
    I check Al-Baradei info in internet and He has good CV and a Novel Price.
    What does he hide?

  25. Khyber Says:

    I understand the skeptisism, really I do. I mean arabs, of which my family is, and I am, have historicly not done well, but democracies have come about before in arabic countries. So the no history of democracy is false.

    What they have done with those democracies has been disappointing however.

    That said you seem to ignore the fact that the modern age makes most of those old theories of needing a history of democracy to become a democracy or needing to take a certain route to democracy outdated in my opinion.

    Internet, the very medium you use allows the transfer of ideas far easier then in the past. Egypt, while suffering with poverty is a nation that is both well read and well educated. Indeed arabic culture tends to prioritize learning and education. Just because fundamentalism has grown in power due to the funding by foriegn powers worried about the success of nationalism and the threat that possess on their oil demands, and by the ruling parties, most of which have been placed and funded by foreign powers, does not mean that fundamentalism or military dictators is the natural course of arab nations and arab mindset.

    I am more worries about foreign involvement to take advantage of an instable country or to place something that is more stable to their intrests then I am about muslim fundamentalism or a dictatorship being what the people of egypt want. I speak to several students, mostly medical students that are in egypt, and they are fighting for a democracy that protects individual and minority rights.

  26. Kepler Says:

    I pray for the impossible: the Mubarak regime, Israel’s hard-lines and radical Islam would all be against someone like Al-Baradei taking power in Egypt.

  27. Nedsram2000 Says:

    I see a replay of Iran after the revolution. I disagree with some of the other comments regarding the elimination of one regime without having an idea what could replace it. There is little hope in saying that anything must be better than an existing regime – sometimes its not. What we could see is an enlargement of a radical Islamist bloc.

  28. LD Says:

    I’m going OT again, but where is Chávez? CAVIM explodes an he is nowhere?
    In an (unrelated) topic, Aristide is in Cuba…

  29. LD Says:

    I’m looking Al Jeezera and for me, the demonstrators are absolutely not extremists. I have seen more violence in a lot of more “civilized” countries. I’m quite optimistic, that it will end good. Think of it, the majority of those people are young people, who knows a lot more of the world than they parents did, thanks to the internet, among others. They want a job and a life. They are angry too, because of Mubarak putting the internet down. Are those people going to be worse than the Taliban? No way!

  30. torres Says:

    m_astera: “It really doesn’t matter so much under what system of government or ideology a society is organized; what matters is the intent of those in power.”

    Not quite. If the system is designed to take into account the high probability of this kind of person vying for the top positions, it should work well despite them. The problem with current systems is that they are designed for a saner, more well-intended bunch leading the pack. Big mistake.

  31. bruni Says:

    I too hvae been holding my breath. The most clear example of what you say is Iran: people wanted to get rid of the Shah and they got islamic fundamentalists….

  32. RF Says:

    Results for Egypt
    Pew Research Center
    Public Opinion Poll in Islamic Countries

    39% hezbolla 49% hammas 20%% alqaeda

    Roughly speaking, one-fifth of Egyptians applaud the most extreme Islamist terrorist group, while around one-third back revolutionary Islamists abroad. This doesn’t tell us what proportion of Egyptians want an Islamist government at home, but it is an indicator. Remember that not only is Egypt solidly Sunni but the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the leaders of Islamism in Egypt, don’t like Hezbollah because it is a Shia group.

    Let’s look at two other indicators of attitudes: Islamism versus “modernizers” and attitudes toward Islamic punishments. The first point of interest in terms of the great ideological battle is that large proportions of people in these countries deny that such a struggle even exists! Only 31 percent in Egypt acknowledge that there is a struggle. Those who said that such a struggle does exist took the following sides: Egypt, 59-27 Islamists-modernizers.

    Finally there is the attitude toward Islamic punishments. Again, the outcome in Egypt is very revealing. In Egypt, 82 percent want stoning for those who commit adultery; 77 percent would like to see whippings and hands cut off for robbery; and 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

  33. Old Time Says:

    For a list of the world’s worse leaders see last year’s July/August issue of the magazine Foreign Policy. They list Mubarak as number 15. Chavez comes in as number 17. Raul Castro is number 21. If you guessed Kim Jong Il was first you were right.

  34. Antonio Says:

    At least the French got Napoleon as a result of their revolution. Cuba got two grandsons-of-Galicia that destroyed their country like Napoleon did, but without any of the glory. What will Venezuela get after the current dictatorship?

  35. Groucho Marxist Says:

    “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” — Alan Moore, “V for Vendetta”

    “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” — Marx (Groucho, not Karl)

  36. moctavio Says:

    My post is about what I think will unfortunately happening. Of course I am on the side of those that want freedom and democracy, I just think there are others playing against them and the end result will not be much better. In some sense, it is a problem of false idols, reminds me of those that thought Chavez was a democrat and voted for him. This case is even worse, as there is no clear leader that they want, they just want Mubarak out.

  37. Roger Says:

    Democracy has a slim chance in the middle east which is why many will settle for the religious option with its Sharia law. As we have seen in Venezuela you can’t have democracy without Rule of Law. Note Venezuela’s position on the bottom of the pile in this link

  38. bjohns15 Says:


    Despite no tradition in democracy/religious influence, what else would you have the Egyptian people do?

    Freedom requires taking a risk, no?

  39. moctavio Says:

    I agree, just noting there are other groups fishing for power who may be much bigger and powerful than those seeking democracy, I hear too many people naively thinking this will end in democracy. European examples did not have the religious element and some of them had lost earlier fights for democracy like Hungary and the Checks.

  40. jeffry house Says:

    There are many examples of “the crowd” overthrowing a dictator and ending up with something better. I have friends who participated in the overthrow of Ceauceascu in Romania, for example, where the present is not great, but one thousand times better than before.

    Similar crowd actions were crucial in Yugoslavia under Milosevic and in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

    The French Revolution of 1789 eventually came to fruition, too.

    Maybe the Muslim Brother hood will take power in Egypt, and maybe they won’t. If I were Egyptian, I’d take the risk, because if everyone fears the worst alternative, nothing can ever change for the better.

  41. geronl Says:


    Control freaks, petty tyrants, bureaucrats with “ideas” are pretty much the only people who ever seek political power.

    Thats a huge part of the problem.

  42. geronl Says:

    It will not be benign if the Muslim Brotherhood gets into power.

    They will make the Taliban look like a kindergarten class.

  43. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Miguel Octavio, News Watcher. News Watcher said: Breaking a Rule: The Devil on Egypt and the Middle East #tcot #p2 #news […]

  44. m_astera Says:

    I guess everyone might as well get used to seeing me write this over and over: As long as sociopaths are not recognized, positively identified, and prevented from attaining positions of power, nothing in this world will change. The charismatic and charming sociopath, who can and will say anything and do anything to achieve poser, will in most cases win out over those with a conscience and a sense of compassion.

    It really doesn’t matter so much under what system of government or ideology a society is organized; what matters is the intent of those in power.

    I would submit that what the Egyptians don’t want is the same thing that the Tunisians and Saudis and Yemenis and Jordanians don’t want: Another government controlled by sociopaths who only care about their own power and enrichment.

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