Monday, April 13, 2009

Egypt's Hizballah paranoia

Things aren't looking too rosy for old Hosni Mubarak.

Once the gem of the Arab world, Mubarak has turned the great Egypt into an embarrassment.

Boasting a large population, and receiving more than US$2billion in US aid on an annual basis, Egypt should be leading the Arabs on every level. But it isn't.

The vast majority live below the poverty line, and are hungry and restless. Falling into line with most Arab dictators, Mubarak has splashed his extraordinary wealth on resorts, villas, palaces and an extensive security service that is effectively keeping 80 million Egyptians from storming the Presidential Palace.

The infrastructure is crumbling, and to cut even further at the heart of Egyptian pride, the country's natural gas deposits are being sold to arch rival Israel at a lower-than-market rate. Freedom is nonexistent, torture and kidnappings are rampant, and the Egyptian people are struggling to put food on their plates. The country's middle class has dwindled.

To compare with another Arab dictator, such as Saddam Hussein, Mubarak is among the worst. For all his shortcomings, Saddam invested in the country's infrastructure, and had developed Iraq long before Dubai's first skyscraper. The Iraqi tyrant also ensured a healthy middle class kept the economy afloat, most of which currently reside in Syria and Jordan awaiting their return. Of course, Saddam wasn't perfect, his treatment of Shi'ites and Kurds was abhorrent, but Iraq was, economically to say the least, a healthy state before his wild adventures brought the world crashing down upon him. Certainly, Iraq's growing wealth, economically and militarily, was worrisome for all around it. Fortunately for Iraq's alarmed neighbours, Israel had a buddy named the US, who successfully lured Saddam into Kuwait and destroyed him.

Mubarak, on the other hand, has showed no interest in developing Egypt's economy nor investing in its people.

On the regional level, Egypt has gone from discreetly co-operating with Israel to taking public photo shots with Israeli leaders. Its public support of Israel against Lebanon in 2006, and again against the Palestinians earlier in the year riled the Arab public. Hizballah, Syria and Iran took advantage, and made sure every angry finger in the Arab and Muslim world was pointed squarely at Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and other angry dissenters in the country, took to the streets and joined the chorus of condemnation of Egypt's suffocation of Gaza.

Mubarak, suddenly, felt paranoid. I noted in a lengthy feature piece during the Gaza War that public condemnation between Arab leaders is rare. Hizballah's criticism of Mubarak during the war not only highlighted a change in dynamics, but also signalled a dangerous intent ... Iran's eyes are on Egypt. Well, at least that's what Mubarak currently fears.

So when Egypt's intelligence successfully captured Hizballah operatives, it was quick to point out Iran's grand scheme to subject Arab Sunnis to Shi'ite domination as a justification for its alliance with the country most Arab Sunnis hate ... Israel.

But Arab operators are everywhere in the Middle East, including those of non-state actors. Fatah, for example, was caught out spying on Saudi Arabia and Jordan on behalf of the US when Hamas took over its police compound in the Gaza counter-coup. It would be fair to say that Hizballah has been operating networks in fellow Arab countries for years, and most Arab regimes are aware of it.

Hizballah even has operatives in Israel, which prove useful during times of conflict when these cells provide the Shia movement with intelligence on IDF positions. Certainly, that was the case in 2006.

Egypt's capture of Hizballah operatives, and its public parade, is more a PR stunt to take the heat off its back re Gaza. Nasrallah didn't seem too concerned when he confirmed the capture over the weekend, calmly stating that Hizballah was providing arms to Hamas, has been doing so for a while, and will continue to do so.

However, the need of Egypt to parade this capture speaks volumes of its paranoia and insecurity. Mubarak knows he sits atop a boiling Egyptian bubble waiting to burst. He fears an Iranian-style and provoked revolution. No doubt, the Egyptian people are capable of it and are perhaps pondering means to depose of their highly detested leader.

Mubarak also knows that his succession plan to pass the presidency to his son, Gamal Mubarak, is a vulnerable point that can be exposed by his foes, domestic and regional. His succession plans have caused much anger in Egypt, and a persisting fear that Mubarak's rivals may attempt a coup are mounting.

The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt stated during the Gaza War that they have no issue with Iran proselytising Shi'ite Islam. In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement, has now cemented its links with Iran.

Is Hizballah trying to destablise Egypt? No, I don't think so, and I believe the Egyptians know that too. What bothers Mubarak, however, is that Hizballah can destabilise Egypt, and have the team already placed on Mubarak's turf, awaiting the orders.

2 comments:

bodyontheline said...

so happy you posted this. i have been annoyed all day with the discussion about this from egyptians (well, one egyptian blogger in particular) on twitter all day.

Jouj said...

I find your commentary very interesting. Your last point however, I think is not really valid, in other words, that Egyptians do not believe that Hezbollah does not want to destabilize Egypt. I guess bodyontheline must be referring to Wael Abbas' non-stop tweeting on the matter. For him, the Gaza assault, and the Hezbollah operative capture are a disaster for Egypt, because they create more problems for a country already drowning in its own internal crisis, problems that he prefers not to have to deal with.