Friday, January 28, 2011

Fire In Cairo

Drudge is highlighting this story in the UK Telegraph, which claims that the mass street protests in Egypt are the fruition of a "secret" US plan to support a democratic opposition movement that would overthrow the Mubarak regime in 2011. Well, it is 2011...

The American Embassy in Cairo helped a young dissident attend a US-sponsored summit for activists in New York, while working to keep his identity secret from Egyptian state police.

On his return to Cairo in December 2008, the activist told US diplomats that an alliance of opposition groups had drawn up a plan to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak and install a democratic government in 2011.

He has already been arrested by Egyptian security in connection with the demonstrations and his identity is being protected by The Daily Telegraph.

The crisis in Egypt follows the toppling of Tunisian president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, who fled the country after widespread protests forced him from office.

The disclosures, contained in previously secret US diplomatic dispatches released by the WikiLeaks website, show American officials pressed the Egyptian government to release other dissidents who had been detained by the police.

The source? Why Wiki-leaks, of course!

The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”

It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.

Ambassador Scobey questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed. However, the documents showed that the activist had been approached by US diplomats and received extensive support for his pro-democracy campaign from officials in Washington. The embassy helped the campaigner attend a “summit” for youth activists in New York, which was organised by the US State Department.

That's the story, anyway. Do I believe it? Well, I don't know. On the one hand, it's the sort of "Uncle Sam's hidden hand" conspiracy theory much beloved on the Arab Street. It's also the sort of "We can control world-shaking events in the Middle East from our desks at Foggy Bottom/CIA Headquarters" story that America's establishment loves, too. If there are two groups whose worldviews I simply don't find credible, it's the Arab Street and the State Department/CIA. So I think this deserves all of the grains of salt in the world.

Still, if it is true, why in the world would America target Hosni Mubarak for the Shah treatment? Egypt's the most populous country in the Middle East. The obvious successor to Mubarak would be the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with spiritual ties to al-Qaeda. Egypt also controls access through the Suez Canal, and shares a long border with Israel. A destabilized, or radicalized, Egypt would promptly become a disruptive force to be reckoned with. Mubarak may be a son of a bitch. He may not quite be our son of a bitch. But, he's a predictable son of a bitch. A US plan to get rid of Mubarak, when there are so many others in the Middle East who richly deserve to precede him into exile, would not seem to be a display of "smart power."

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