Friday, June 29, 2012

Middle East theater of the absurd

Middle East theater of the absurd

Boaz Bismuth

Mohammed Morsi, the representative of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, took the presidential seat on Monday — the same seat that served deposed President Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. A mere two years ago, this crazy scenario could have been a scene in the theater of the absurd. But Egypt has proven that reality can surpass the imagination. Now we are left with the hope that this play does not turn into a tragedy.

Following the Islamists' big election victory in the parliament, it was clear that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate would win the presidential election. By the same token, it is clear today that Egypt's army and the brotherhood are on a collision course. The celebrations will soon come to an end and Morsi, together with his new government, will have to find employment and food for the destitute Egyptian population. It will not be easy. But the brotherhood will have to supply the goods, the same goods they were so good at promising when they were in the streets — in the opposition.

Hopefully the new Egyptian government will be able to surmount the difficult economic challenges it will face. A failure to do so will undoubtedly reignite the people's rage, and this rage can be directed outward if needed, with Israel being a very logical and effective target for the brotherhood to direct it to.

In the theater of the absurd, the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power under the auspices of the military and with the U.S.'s blessing. The Obama administration allowed this play to be staged in Egypt in 2012. Israel, for now, is part of the audience, but it will likely take on an active role at some point in the future; the question is which character Israel will play.

Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and tomorrow, it seems, Libya too, are all voting green. The heads of these parties have adopted a more moderate tone in recent years, giving them a dignified facade and even opening a channel of communication with Washington. But several important questions still remain unanswered: Will Egypt follow the Iranian model where the clerics not only stole the revolution but also the elections? Or will the Egyptian youth — who staged the revolution — be wise enough to act as watchdogs against a dictatorial regime?

In addition, the geopolitical implications of Egypt's revolution are not yet clear. New coalitions will likely emerge in the region. Though Morsi has denied calling for closer ties with Iran (as was suggested by Iran's Fars news agency), there is no guarantee that it won't happen. But even if it does happen, Shiite Iran would clash with Sunni Egypt.

An Islamist regime is not necessarily bad for citizens — Turkey's economic growth is a testament to that. On the other hand, the Iranian case demonstrates that an Islamist regime can be very bad for the country. For Israel, however, it is bad in either case. Too bad this isn't just a play in the theater of the absurd, because then we could just laugh at the sight of Morsi taking the president's seat.