View Full Version : After the Fall of the Pharaoh

06-15-2011, 04:37 PM
Since I’m heading to Egypt soon I thought I’d ask for a briefing from my old friend and colleague Lee Smith, author of the brilliant book The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, which is required reading for everyone who wants to understand the Middle East. He lived for some time in Cairo and understands that country’s history and politics better than most.

MJT: You’ve spent a lot of time in Egypt and even lived in Cairo for a while. What’s your sense about where the country is heading now that Hosni Mubarak has been removed from power?

Lee Smith: I am not sure that anyone knows where Egypt is going right now. It seems the predominant fear in Western policy circles, and perhaps in much of Egypt and the rest of the region as well, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take power. But if the Brotherhood is as politically savvy as many argue, I’m not so sure they are eager right now to take ownership of a country that has no money to buy the food it needs to feed 83 million people. Saudi Arabia pledged $4 billion which, even if they keep their promise as they sometimes do not, is not going to go very far when Egypt needs billions just for food subsidies.

The Obama administration’s $1 billion in debt relief and another billion in loans and grants is not going to cover the bill either. Since the uprising, Egypt has been hemorrhaging cash with steep drops in the tourism industry and the flight of all that foreign investment that came into the country with Gamal Mubarak and his crew.

Some analysts, like Martin Kramer, argue convincingly that the Egyptians are going to have to use the country’s instability to raise money; instead of a stable, or static, Egypt like the one that Mubarak held together as an authoritarian regime, the new regime is going to need to present an Egypt on the verge of catastrophe and spinning out of the US orbit—unless Washington foots the bill.