Military Matters in Cairo

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Michael Rubin is no stranger to The Corner. A former Pentagon official, the resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute is a good sounding board for all things Middle East. Given the unrest in Egypt, he takes some questions from National Review Online.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Who is in charge of Egypt?

Michael RUBIN: The army remains firmly in charge. Specifically, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.


LOPEZ: Does yesterday’s resignation surprise you?

RUBIN: No. Mohamed ElBaradei has always been more of a posturing and a political gadfly than a serious politician. He has failed repeatedly to do well at the ballot box, and so he’s going to pivot repeatedly in order to try to cultivate foreign support to make up for the domestic support he lacks.


LOPEZ:  Is there any hope for the Copts if the Muslim Brotherhood has power?

RUBIN: Absolutely none. It says a lot that when the army upsets the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood reacts by targeting the Christians. But it’s not just the Egyptian Christians that need to worry: It’s also the Syrian Christians who face slaughter should the Syrian opposition win, and the Turkish Christians who face an increasingly repressive regime at home.


LOPEZ: Is there a real democracy movement in  Egypt? Can there be going forward?

RUBIN: There is real aspiration among some ordinary people, but there is no real democrat or liberal among the Egyptian political class right now. The military is interested in preserving their own business interests, and the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated how uninterested in democracy they really were when ousted president Muhammad Morsi promptly voided all of his promises for compromise and collective government as soon as he won power. I think Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian-American sociologist, was right when he said almost a decade ago that in Egypt there are autocrats and theocrats and that they are mirror images of each other. Both will attack any more liberal force that tries to emerge in between.


LOPEZ: Can the U.S. help the situation? How much has it hurt?

RUBIN: First, it’s important to recognize this isn’t about the United States and we have precious little leverage in Egypt. We should abandon the nonsensical pap that filled John Kerry’s statement yesterday. This isn’t a battle about compromise or dialogue; both sides have staked out mutually exclusive positions. They are not going to compromise. In such a situation, we should pick our side. If we lose, we’ll be no worse off than we are right now. I would suggest that when it comes to U.S. interests — security of the Suez Canal and the Arab-Israeli peace treaty — our side is with Gen. Sisi’s transitional government. That he has outlined a transition to a new elected government also suggests that he provides the best opportunity for getting Egyptian reforms back on track.


LOPEZ: : What’s the best case scenario?

RUBIN: That the military defeats the Islamists and drives them underground. It’s important to roll back the Muslim Brotherhood: In Egypt, with Hamas, in Syria, and in Turkey. That will do more for the future of the Middle East than anything else we can do. But, no matter what happens, we are looking at economic failure in Egypt and years of insurgency. The Muslim Brotherhood isn’t going to disappear fully.