Egypt's complex rebellion is rushing toward revolution. For the near-term, how the Egyptian military promotes, thwarts, and/or negotiates the inevitable redistribution of power among individuals and factions within the country is the most critical issue. Even if the current president, Hosni Mubarak, survives, his personal authority will be drastically diminished.
In a replay of Tunisia's popular revolt, Egypt's generals have seen their troops openly sympathize with the demonstrators' grievances and demands, and removing Mubarak is the demonstrators' angriest demand.
Promising to protect rather than fire on peaceful demonstrators signals that the military wants to act as a stabilizing national institution. If the generals and admirals unite behind Mubarak (he insists on serving through this fall's elections) or opt to support a new leader (whether civilian or military, with military far preferable), the difficult and painful process of addressing popular demands for reform may avoid anarchy and wholesale bloodshed. Should disputes among senior officers crack the consensus and the military factionalize, however, civil unrest could become ruinous civil war, which would only benefit Militant Islamist organizations.
How the military manages (or mangles) the near-term directly affects the answer to the long-term question that revolt in a predominantly Muslim state eventually confronts: What type of Muslim religious party or faction will emerge as a major force in Egyptian politics? Will it be Islamist or Militant Islamist?
There is a significant difference. Turkey's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has had demonstrated success in a democratic secular politics and at least claims it remains committed to Turkey's secular structure. There are reasons to be wary of the AKP, but it exists -- and it is a sworn enemy of al-Qaida. In Tunisia, moderate Islamists also pledge to support democracy.
Egypt has its moderates, but it is also the home turf of some of the world's most vicious militant Islamists. Al-Qaida's second in command, Aymen al Zawahiri, is Egyptian, as was author Said Qutb, the intellectual godfather of al-Qaida. The Egyptian government executed Qutb in 1966.
A book published last year by the Naval Institute Press titled "Militant Islamist Ideology" (note the capital M) analyzes the differences between Islamists and Militant Islamists. Its author, Yousef Aboul-Enein (who happens to be a U.S. Navy officer), says the use of "violent means" to achieve and impose "ideological goals" cleanly splits the Militant Islamist from Islamists.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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