Where is Egypt leading the Middle East and the Mediterranean economy?

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC (second from right), went to Cairo where she notably met with Nabil Elaraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and Mounir Abdel Nour, Secretary General of the "New Wafd" political party (not pictured). The Vice-President then met with Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt (first from right), and Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs (third from right). (EC Audiovisual Services).

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC (second from right), went to Cairo where she notably met with Nabil Elaraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and Mounir Abdel Nour, Secretary General of the “New Wafd” political party (not pictured). The Vice-President then met with Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt (first from right), and Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs (third from right). (EC Audiovisual Services).

There is no doubt that the Egyptian experiment of democratic political and economic transformation of the country by the Muslim Brotherhood has failed in every respect and the West recognised it. No wonder why no western government or the UN termed the intervention of the Egyptian army and the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi, as a ‘coup’. The UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon avoided the term ‘coup’ in favour of the more conciliatory ‘army intervention’.

Post Arab spring era

The problems and the evident failure of Muslim rulers in managing the post Arab spring era’s difficult political and economic environment became evident first in Tunisia. Not to forget that it was this last country started the Arab uprising that toppled the old style autocratic regimes. Autocrats like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi had become the caricature remnants of the old secular Nasserite nationalists and self-determination seeking army idealists. This pattern was standard in the Middle East from the 1950s till the 1970s. However secular army officer revolutions didn’t reach the oil rich Gulf kingdoms, because they were effectively protected by Western armed forces.

Different patterns

Of course the pattern differs largely. Developments in Libya and Syria are similar, with minority autocrat rule being the main characteristic. In Iraq deadly internal developments were interrupted by the military intervention of the US, while Egypt and Tunisia follow the same path with a time lag, the first after the second. The reason is that in Tunisia there is a much larger part of the population with characteristics of a secular Mediterranean country. Unfortunately in Egypt even the Christian Coptic minority cannot be termed as a secular population.

What about Turkey?

Turkey is a case of its own. It’s the heir of the Ottoman Empire which started disintegrating early in the 19th Century. The secular army revolution was accomplished in the early 20th Century under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Then the army regime had the time luxury to evolve to today’s parliamentary democracy. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the 25th and current Prime Minister of Turkey, in office since 2003 fought and won the battle with the generals, under the banner of democracy, during the last five years. In this battle he needed both the backing of the secular and the Islamist parts of the country’s population.

Unfortunately the Islamist part doesn’t care much about further democratic transformation and has actually come in direct antithesis with the westernised citizens in Istanbul, the Aegean shores and the other big cities of the country. This became apparent not only during the harsh police and army suppression of the recent wave of protests in many parts of the country. It was there since Erdoğan played on the Middle East table his Muslim card sprinkled with trails of democratic dust. This was evident from the very close, even personal relations, between the Turkish Premier and Mohamed Morsi.

Now what?

Now the complete failure of Morsi to deliver even remotely an Erdoğan like transformation of his country, brought in the political scene again the generals as the only reliable solution in Egypt. The problem is whether this time the Egyptian army will find the stamina and the biding material to possibly fight against a large part of the country’s population, as Bashar Hafez al-Assad, the President of Syria, is doing now and lately rather successfully.

No doubt that the outcome of the current developments in Egypt will have repercussions all over the Middle East, from the oil rich Gulf countries to Istanbul. Not to forget that the European Union depends greatly on its energy provisions and trade routes through and from this region, while the US oil dependency is rather reciding. It’s not only the Suez Canal which is crucial to Europe but also the Gulf kingdoms and the East Mediterranean countries, that may be implicated in future developments.

Egypt is considered as the ‘Political Academy’ of the Arab world and in many respects it is. Cairo is the reference point on the map for the entire region, extending from South East Turkey, Syria and Iraq and through North Africa reaching the Atlantic Ocean. The obvious repercussions to the EU will be mainly economic, in a period when the north Mediterranean Eurozone countries are going through a long period of crisis.

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