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Agenda: With George Friedman on Egypt

MIN READFeb 5, 2011 | 00:43 GMT

Media, particularly television, portray the Egyptian uprising as crowd-led, but it's the country's military that is now pressing for change, sooner rather than later. STRATFOR founder George Friedman discusses the prospects with Colin Chapman. Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy. Colin: It's the crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square that have captured the world's television screens, but the force now pushing President Hosni Mubarak out is his own lieutenants — the military. Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George, once the crowds had billed Friday as the "Day of Departure," it was inevitable that he wouldn't go then. What's your latest assessment? George: Certainly, that was the last day he was going to choose to leave, if he left, but this really isn't, and has never been, about the crowds vs. Mubarak. This has been about the military and Mubarak. The military, as we spoke before, very much looked at Mubarak, at the age of 82, was someone who very much had to start planning his succession, Mubarak had chosen his son, Gamal, to succeed him, and this was completely unacceptable to most in the military. They wanted him to go, and when these demonstrations started, they started pressing him. Mubarak now has a problem, and this is what's really holding things up. The first, of course, is psychological. After 25 years, he doesn't want to leave office under a shadow, but Mubarak, his son and his other relationships and confidants have made a great deal of money over the years, and one of the charges against him from crowds and others was that they made it through corruption. If I were Mubarak, one of the issues that I would be talking about is not only making certain that I personally am protected from prosecution as well as my son, but also trying to make certain that the wealth they've accumulated is protected. It's very hard for the military to give him those kinds of assurances, and so he is holding out because he has some very serious issues to hold out for. He has offered to leave by September, but I think that part of that package would be some sort of ironclad guarantee that after leaving, he would not be faced, as Pinoche was, with prosecution and, above all, that the wealth would remain in place. Colin: Presumably, the army wouldn't want him to hold on until September, though? George: The army is enormously more powerful and popular than the demonstrators. One of the things we heard this week is that many of the people who have not joined the demonstrations are frustrated by the lack of food, ATMs not working, and so on. Time works in various ways, because the longer these demonstrations go on without growing dramatically, the more they may peter out. But again, the demonstrations are the background to the real negotiations. The demonstrators have focused on the personal future of Hosni Mubarak. In general, they have not challenged the regime that Nasser founded with Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak — all military men — at the helm. That may come later, but that's not the issue. The military, of course, wants to move this to closure as quickly as possible, and I think, ultimately, that Mubarak wants to move it to closure at this point. He said, and I think he was quite sincere, that he's tired of this. But there are issues that have to be solved — how do you make these guarantees that I, if I were Mubarak, would be demanding? How can the army give these guarantees and retain their credibility? And I think this is what is hanging everything up. I think this is what the Americans, who have been in contact with the Egyptian military, I suspect that that is part of the area that they're trying to offer some sort of mediation and negotiation and support. Colin: As you say, we've heard a lot from the Americans, particularly from the White House, but little from the Israelis. Understandably, they've kept very quiet, but they have a very powerful security service. What is STRATFOR's take on what's happening in Jerusalem? George: Well, Jerusalem is shocked that an 82-year-old man may leave power, which is rather interesting. Obviously, as everyone knew he was leaving power, as anyone in Egypt knew, he was not popular, and there has been an uprising. Now, what the Egyptians are truly afraid of is that the outcome of this uprising will be the cancellation of the peace treaty that was signed at Camp David in 1978. The Israelis worry about Hezbollah, they worry about Hamas, these are trivial threats compared to Egypt. Israel is secure existentially unless Egypt is in the fray. One could imagine a war in which Egypt and Syria would attack Israel, as they did in 1973, and there would be an intifada at the same time. These are events that threaten Israel tremendously. It has to be remembered that can happen very quickly. The Egyptian army is not as well-organized as it might be, and the weapons it has are almost all American. The United States can control the Egyptian army by controlling the flow of spare parts and of contracting firms to maintain their aircraft and tanks, so it's going to be quite a while before Egypt can pose a direct military threat to Israel, and that is the time for the Israelis to make some decisions. But if the Egyptians show that, in due course, they will come back into the fray, then Israel's strategic position potentially changes. The kind of issues they were concerned about — settlements in the West Bank — become secondary. Dealing with Egypt, one way or the other, becomes a new primary national concern, and I don't think the Israelis were ready for this sort of world. Colin: One of the big ifs, of course, is the Muslim Brotherhood. What do we know of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership? Have the fears of what would happen if they gained more influence in Egypt been exaggerated? George: They are one faction, they are not the dominant faction. There's a lot of people here who tend to see radical Islam behind everything that happens in this region. Certainly, they are interested in this, they are excited by the possibilities it opens up, but they had been under huge pressure from the Mubarak regime. They have been battered, and they represent the minority view. Egypt has been a secular country for a very long time, not just the leadership but in the public as well. The majority of the demonstrators appear to be secularists and democrats, not what the Muslim Brotherhood is. So the only thing we've heard from the Muslim Brotherhood is a tendency to want to take part in this general uprising, not to want to dominate it. Colin: George Friedman, STRATFOR's founder. And, that's Agenda for this week, but we have deep analysis on the unfolding events in Egypt on our website. I'm Colin Chapman; thanks for listening today.
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