Rajaram Muthukrishnan
Egypt’s Hobson’s choice
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

CRI commentator Prasanna has rightly determined the underlying currents behind what is happening across Arabia. It is important to remember that given the dictatorial nature of the regimes, and the lack of a clear nuclei for coalescing of dissent, a vacuum is created.

Time and again, the call of a radical change and reverting to an Islamic golden age remains the only force that still offers a natural rallying point. The case of Iran or Lebanon are pertinent to note here.

The one common thread, be it Algeria or Iran, Lebanon or Turkey or even in Indonesia, the authoratarian regimes have always found a sustainable opposition in an Islam based rallying point. One cannot ignore this and go by the sound bytes that some of the visibly westernised elite and middle classes say now. For the concept of taquiya is as old as the Prophet himself.

One cannot discount this and the Muslim Brotherhood, as  rightly pointed out in Prasanna’s post, stems from the very cradle of salafist thought. That they have chosen to bide their time indicates that they have learned lessons from the past and will not repeat what the Iranians did with the west. Egypt does not have the luxury of oil and is dependant on many things from the west.

They may also wait in the wings and hope to ride on a popular wave of being the only non-establishment rallying point of any reckoning. It is imperative for the western powers to make a call and be decisive. In the case of Algeria, a popular demand for Islamic state was crushed and a dictator was installed and supported for so long. That was decades ago. The clout of the US as a sole super power was at its peak then and they could get away with it.

How things have changed. The US still remains, by far the most influential power in the region, and wields considerable influence. But it is hemmed in by what essentially to them a Hobson’s choice – Let the democratic aspirations of the people be unchecked and face the rise of Islamic theocracy-based regimes in these countries or try and manuover a regime that keeps the establisment in power and the islamic forces at bay. Whatever choice they make, it is going to cost them dearly.

They have to necessarily settle between two set of trade offs. Either way the cost to the US and the western powers along with the sole democracy in the region, Israel, are going to pay a price.

Ultimately, at least in the case of Egypt, the future will depend on the kind of legacy that Egyptians choose to identify with. The ancient Egypt, that was a civilization of great achievements or the more current vintage one that came to them from the peninsular deserts of Arabia with the advent of Islam. It is a choice that the world will have to wait and watch.

Meanwhile, the distant stirrings in the far away deserts will have far reaching impacts across the world incuding our neighbourhood. Forthe storm that is brewing in the distant deserts has even those powerful elite in Zhongnanhai suffering sleepless nights.

For India it represents an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. It calls for having a national stategic vision that encompasses not just an economic attainment of GDP goals and a few false prestige positions of little effect and importance.

Do we have that vision and do we have a leadership that can respond to the call of our times? Unfortunately, all that one can percieve is a general policy of drift.

(Rajaram Muthukrishnan a strategic thinker and  friend of CRI)