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’’Mubarak Pressured by Domestic Dissent and Regional Challenges’’
At the start of the recent Israel-Lebanon conflict, Cairo criticized Hezbollah over its confrontation with Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak labeled Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers as an act of "adventurism," implying that Hezbollah’s moves were in response to an "Iranian agenda" rather than a Lebanese one. Mubarak remains concerned over the further growth of Iran’s power in
Wednesday, September 13,2006 00:00
by Dario Cristiani, PINR

At the start of the recent Israel-Lebanon conflict, Cairo criticized Hezbollah over its confrontation with Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak labeled Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers as an act of "adventurism," implying that Hezbollah’s moves were in response to an "Iranian agenda" rather than a Lebanese one. Mubarak remains concerned over the further growth of Iran’s power in the Middle East since Cairo considers the Persian, Shi’a country as a threat and competitor. This concern is shared by other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, because the rising of a Shi’a alliance led by Iran could destabilize the region and weaken their regimes.

Egypt perceived Hezbollah’s action as part of a wider project by Iran to increase its regional status and to challenge Egypt’s prominent role in the regional balance. This Iranian project was manifest in Iran’s attempt to play a deeper role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which Tehran is attempting to show itself as the Islamic power closest to the Palestinians, and manifest in Iran’s attempt at pursuing a controversial nuclear research program.

After Mubarak’s criticism of Hezbollah, he was condemned by many Arab commentators because of his failure to support Lebanon against Israel and his failure to influence the United States and Israel during the conflict. These same commentators pointed at Cairo’s past failure to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. They portrayed Egypt as a weak power and portrayed Hezbollah as a valiant organization withstanding an assault by one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

Cairo Reverses its Stance

Not long after the start of hostilities, Cairo began to change its tune. As Hezbollah’s popularity began to grow among Arabs, Mubarak recognized that his current policy of being critical toward Hezbollah was unpopular and was increasing resentment against his government. In his public speeches after this point, Mubarak accused Israel of violating international laws and of using disproportionate force against Lebanon. Moreover, he recognized that Hezbollah was a fundamental part of the Lebanese national political and social fabric.

As the Arab public increased their criticism of Egypt, Mubarak understood that the loss of domestic and regional support could further weaken his internal political position. During the months before the start of the conflict, for example, clashes in Egypt between the police and Muslim Brotherhood activists had placed strain on the regime. The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as a growing problem for Cairo. In the November 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood were able to win 20 percent of the seats, making them the largest opposition bloc. During the Israel-Lebanon conflict, some leaders of the movement called on Muslims to support Hezbollah and announced that the movement was recruiting about 10,000 activists to fight with the Lebanese against Israel.

Mubarak Faces Internal Tension

The Muslim Brotherhood is also struggling against the eventual inheritance of power in Egypt by Mubarak’s son, Gamal. Recently, some of the movement’s activists were arrested after they protested the participation of Gamal in an Egyptian delegation that left for Beirut in early August. They argued that Mubarak was preparing for the succession of his son by incorporating Gamal into the political scene.

Currently, Gamal is the deputy secretary of the National Democratic Party and is the chief of the policy committee, which is considered the most important organ within the presidential party. More than once, both Gamal and his father denied the possibility of a passage of power from father to son, but many analysts speculate that Mubarak is going down this route. Mubarak is trying to weaken the power of opposition groups that are capable of placing a controlled transition of power in doubt.

Such a strategy is also a message to the United States. Mubarak wants to demonstrate that the uprising of the radical Islamist threat within the country is true. Therefore, he wants to indicate to the United States that only a transition preserving continuity will be able to protect Egypt’s national stability, which is fundamental to the overall balance of the Middle East.

This strategy explains why Mubarak is quashing Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations. He wants to show clearly that the moderate speech of a few of the group’s leaders is just a mask hiding its more militant agenda. Since the last parliamentary election, the Muslim Brotherhood has spoke of human rights, the struggle against corruption and the need for democratic reforms; this public image works to present the organization as a moderate political player. The aim of Mubarak, however, is to demonstrate that this strategy is actually a way to hide their real intentions, which are to Islamize Egypt’s institutions and its society.

Moreover, Mubarak can use the threat of the growing regional role of Iran to present Egypt as a pillar that is part of a counterbalancing force against the rise of Shi’a influence in the region. In light of Egypt’s internal troubles and the rising role of Iran, Mubarak can indicate to Washington that the United States has a strong interest in preserving the Mubarak regime and guaranteeing a future transition of leadership that keeps power within the Mubarak family.

Conclusion

The strong economic aid of the United States to the Mubarak regime is fundamental to its survival, and the Egyptian president needs to continue to secure this aid. The United States is interested in the stability of Egypt for many reasons. Egypt controls the Suez Canal, a fundamental commercial and strategic shipping lane; it continues to play an important role in the Arab world, even though this role has been weakened by the latest regional crisis; and the risk of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt could destabilize the region, thus Washington prefers to sustain an authoritarian regime rather than a democracy in which Islamic forces control the levers of power. Mubarak will work to exploit these American interests in order to stifle any attempt by outside countries to resist the passage of power in Egypt to Gamal or to another Mubarak-appointed leader.

Report Drafted By:
Dario Cristiani


The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected] All comments should be directed to [email protected]

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