Just when Hillary Clinton thought it was safe to make up stories about Syria getting new helicopters from Russia, meant as a hint that the United States and NATO might start thinking again about a no-fly zone in Syria, Egypt blows up in her face.
Not that President Obama and the administration should do anything about Egypt. There, too, the best policy is stay out.
The crisis in Egypt, provoked by a court ruling on both the upcoming presidential election and the parliamentary election earlier this year, is a serious one. In an irony of ironies, Egypt’s so-called constitutional court made a ruling based on what is essentially a defunct constitution. It ruled that the parliamentary elections held earlier this year, which gave the Muslim Brotherhood and its reactionary allies a majority, was illegal. And it gave a thumbs-up to the presidential candidacy of Ahmed Shafik, a holdover from the era of Hosni Mubarak, who was the lone remaining opponent of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. Thing is, the new parliament, the president, and a bizarrely designed commission were supposed to draw up a brand-new, post-Mubarak constitution. Now, everything is up in the air.
Parliament may or may not agree to disband and hold new elections. If they resist, it will set up a dual-power contest between the old-line military and the court, on one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood–controlled parliament, on the other. If they do disband, it could lead to utter chaos. Meanwhile, the presidential election may or may not be held. The anti-Mubarak forces, led by secular, socialist, Nasserist and nationalist Egyptians, are divided, and neither Shafiq nor Morsi are palatable alternatives. It’s a complete mess. And the Muslim Brotherhood is implying street violence if things don’t go its way. As David Ignatius, who interviewed the Muslim Brotherhood’s power-broker, Khairat el-Shater, writes in the Post:
“The coming revolution may be less peaceful and more violent” than the one that toppled Mubarak, Shater predicted. “It may be difficult to control the streets.… Some parties, not the Muslim Brotherhood, may resort to further violence and extremism.… When people find that the door to peaceful change is closed, it is an invitation to violence.”
Egypt could conceivably fall into civil war, one that could mirror the one in Syria. (For that matter, Iraq, too, could devolve into civil war, especially if Iran strengthens its grip on Baghdad as it loses influence in Syria.)
There’s nothing that the United States can do about any of this, except to use its good offices to seek peaceful solutions in all three cases. In Syria, the shrill denunciations of President Assad have egged on violent rebels and made things much worse. Let’s hope the United States stays out of the area, except for its diplomats.