As the school year begins, I find myself thinking more and more about what is in store for Egypt. The country is seeming more and more stable everyday, but looks can certainly betray reality. That is what worries me about home.
With Libya in the West imploding, Sudan showing signs of crumbling under the strain of national division, Israel and Hamas at slugging it out, and Syria and Iraq increasingly unraveled by the wave of victories of the Islamic State, the Middle East sure doesn’t look good. Egypt is in the middle of that turmoil, and with an army too involved in politics and economics that many pundits have warned it increasingly looks more like monopolizing company than an army, the country doesn’t seem to have the tools to survive.
The Egyptian military seemed to step aside from politics and allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to narrowly win an election against one of Mubarak’s cronies. This was a welcome sign for some Egyptians. But the Army also, perhaps intentionally, hardly provided the backing it has traditionally offered the government. The MB seemed to need to run the show on their own. For instance, there was no talk of the Army providing transportation to combat workers’ strikes like it is doing now. The Army has actively involved itself with providing food, quelling of protests and a great many other functions that it performs now that General El-Sisi, former Field Marshall and Head of the Armed Forces, is in power. The Army provided this backing of the government before the Muslim Brotherhood stepped in, and after El-Sisi took over, but it critically left the Brotherhood alone to the ferocious voices of the Egyptian public.
With the Army occupying itself with a Nile-long list of problems it needs to deal with internally, is it prepared to deal with IS shall it ever make its way to Egypt?
Before we talk about the Egyptian Military’s level of preparedness, let’s talk about the fact that IS might already be here. A few weeks ago, four civilians were found beheaded in the Sinai by Islamists who left behind the black flag of Al-Qaeda. Reuters reports that the perpetrators aren’t “believed to be linked to Islamic State insurgents,” a calming note at first. The problem with these fighters is that they are happy to carry out IS-like crimes without necessarily being under the IS umbrella, foreshadowing a the day that IS arrives in Egypt, it will have plenty of backing among extremist factions of the marginalized communities in the Sinai and other parts of Egypt.
The aforementioned case of extremism isn’t the only one, Egypt’s Army has been the target of several attacks lately. Egypt isn’t as restful as foreigners might think. There certainly is a growing sense of dissatisfaction in the nation. With blackouts emphasizing Egypt’s energy and fiscal problems, a growing rate of unemployment highlighting Egypt’s stagnant economy, and a disgruntled populace wary of lack of security, I am not confident Egypt is safe.
Before the US’s withdrawal from Iraq, thoughts of hardline Islamists with advanced equipment stirring trouble in Egypt hardly existed. Now that the US has removed its boots from the ground, the region is suddenly without a powerhouse to protect against rise of insurgents. Additionally, let’s remember that an Al-Qaeda-like organization doesn’t have to be linked to Al-Qaeda, or an IS-like organization doesn’t have to be linked directly to IS. Extremist Islam is an idea, call it Al-Qaeda, IS or Jabhat Al-Nusra. With arms floating around in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sinai, it isn’t hard for your average aspiring Jihadist to get his hand on a AK-47, or mount a 50-cal thing on a pick-up truck. The general collapse of several governments in the Middle East has allowed the spread of arms all over the place, and now the US has to contend with that as it finds its support of fighters in Syria has come to haunt its other interests in the region. One of those interests is Egypt.
Egypt’s stability has always been very high on the list, as the regions largest country, strongest army, and lid on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.