A question of moderation

The recent controversy in Egypt over unfounded newspaper reports regarding the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has prompted people in the region and beyond to reflect on what post-Mubarak Egypt might look like.

The issue that is uppermost in the minds of the leaders and peoples of the Middle East obviously goes beyond the state of health of Mubarak per se and has more to do with the future of the political landscape in Egypt and how that future may impact other countries in the region. But first it should be determined whether the era of Mubarak is a personal one that will end with him, or whether his rule has become so institutionalized that it is safe to conclude that it will survive his physical or political lifespan.

As with his physical health, there are no signs that the political lifespan of Mubarak”s regime is under any immediate danger. He faces no significant threat from any political or religious faction in Egypt including the Muslim Brotherhood. Lest we forget, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has a long history of opposition to practically all governments in Egypt dating back to the King Farouk era.

What is more important in this context is the survival of moderation in Egypt with which Mubarak is so closely associated. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Arab Gulf countries have all served as the bedrock of moderate policy in the region for some time. They are, in other words, generally pro-West. If moderation in Egypt ends in the post-Mubarak era, then other moderate states in the region could come under threat as well.

Put in a regional context, the continuation of Mubarak”s moderate policies beyond his term in office will crucially affect the survival of moderate forces beyond the boundaries of Egypt. It is likely that moderation in one form or another will survive. After all, Egypt has enjoyed moderation over the past decades notwithstanding the era of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. When it came to the basics, the Nasser era was relatively moderate where it counts most for Egyptians, including on the religious dimension in Egyptian life.

Likewise, Jordan has in the past withstood all the trials and tribulations in the region and succeeded in maintaining moderation on both the national and regional fronts. There is every reason to expect Jordan to remain steadfast in its long-standing opposition to extremism on both fronts.

Still, the future for all moderate countries in the region may not be so clear as in the past. There are now new regional players, especially after the rise of Iranian hegemony. Tehran appears bent on making changes in the region and is busy concluding alliances with certain countries and movements in the Middle East. There is, in other words, a new ball game in the region and unless the moderate camp succeeds in checkmating the forces of extremism and radicalism, the future may not augur well.

What could determine the balance of power between the forces of moderation and the forces of radicalism is the resolution, or lack thereof, of the Palestinian question. In this respect, the survival of moderate Arab states lies in the hands of Israel. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be the major flashpoint in the politics of the Middle East. The lack of a just solution to this question is the one thing that unites moderates and radicals in frustration. It continues to feed anger and extremism, not only in Palestine, but in all the countries of the region, notably Iraq and Lebanon.

The future of moderation in the region is heavily dependent on the continued survival and success of moderation in Egypt, whether in the continuation of Mubarak”s policies or the elements that serve to justify his moderation, e.g., a negotiated and fair settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Investing in Egypt”s security and in the security of like-minded states would be an investment in the stability and security of the entire region as well.- Published 25/10/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Waleed Sadi is a former Jordanian ambassador to Turkey and the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He is currently a columnist for the Jordan Times and Al Rai newspapers.