The U.S. seems to be viewing the conflicts in Egypt and Syria as us-vs.-them, but the situation isn’t so simple.
A member of the Muslim Brotherhood shouts slogans in support of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi at a rally in Cairo. Photo: Reuters
The next few years will be disastrous for the Middle East. For Egypt, the anti-Mubarak revolution and attack on the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to result in a long period of chaos and perhaps organized civil war. The recent attacks on protestors are likely to prompt jihadists from Libya and elsewhere in North Africa, including Al Qaeda in the Maghreb to go to Egypt - the Sinai Peninsula in particular - in much greater numbers than before.
If the most radical elements within the Muslim Brotherhood reject the organization’s non-violent pursuit of Sharia law, they could join the jihadists, which would result in civil war. This is a very likely, if not the most likely, scenario.
Another possible scenario is that after the death of hundreds of members in the name of non-violence, the Muslim Brotherhood will turn violent, using arms smuggled in through Egypt’s fairly porous borders, which would also result in civil war.
What can the U.S. and Russia do to improve the situation and prevent further escalation in the region? Should they intervene or stand aside? This question is somewhat irrelevant since I do not think there is anything that either Russia or the U.S. can do that will produce much good.
The U.S. can stop supporting the military financially, which may make it harder for the military to maintain weapons, but will also increase the likelihood of a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood or jihadists. Russia, for its part, will likely take a hands-off position, perhaps giving lip service to some peace initiatives.
The ongoing turmoil in Egypt is further evidence that the Muslim world is in a revolutionary situation dominated by two different but interconnected elements: the global Islamist revolutionary movement, represented by such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb-e-Islami, on the one hand, and the global jihadi revolutionary alliance consisting of numerous groups such as Al Qaeda, on the other.
The jihadist movement has official affiliates in the Maghreb, Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq, and allies or associates like the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Russia's Caucasus Emirate mujahedin, and the Waziristan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, and Uighur-Chinese Turkistan Islamic Party.
This is the late 20th and 21st centuries' religious Islamic, post-modern version of a global totalitarian revolutionary movement akin to the emergence of totalitarian communism and fascism (nationalist communism) in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Unfortunately, today’s great powers have not dealt with this problem any better than the great powers of the past did in relation to the fascist and communist challenge.
In that earlier time, elements in the West delayed a proper response to the threats of fascism and communism by supporting one side over the other, rather than aggressively opposing both and preparing appropriate defenses.
The U.S. and its allies are making the same mistake today with Islamic revolutionary and jihadist movements. The U.S. has forgotten how to make alliances with authoritarian regimes in order to defeat totalitarianism. The reality of both global politics and human nature is that sometimes you need to get into bed with some nasty people in order to defeat nastier people.
Pakistani protesters support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. Photo: Reuters
Russia has a very serious interest in ensuring that jihadists do not come to power or get their hands on chemical weapons in Syria, because one of the leading figures in the Syrian opposition's jihadi forces is an ethnic Chechen and there are hundreds of North Caucasus mujahedin from Chechnya, Dagestan and elsewhere fighting alongside Al Qaeda forces in Syria.
It’s not unthinkable that some of these Caucasus fighters would return to Russia following fighting in Syria, perhaps with chemical weapons at their disposal. Other jihadis with the same means could turn on Israel and the West.
The U.S. and Russia both have much at stake in the Egyptian and Syrian conflicts – which should encourage them to work together to find a solution to the crises.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.