The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Readers' mail

I regularly get questions via the contact form — here's two I got today I will try to briefly answer.

S.T. writes:

I am just wondering why activists, political analysts and independednt journalists such as yourself have not commented on the frequent reports in the mainstream US and British media with respect to the alleged role of the US in the Egyptian uprising.

As an outside observer, and writer (I am British), the most striking thing to me is the stark silence of the young, educated, middle-class Egyptian activists, journalists and bloggers alike who have been part of the uprisings on this matter.

Neither has there been any commentry on Al-Baradei's link with the International Crisis group (ICG) and the funding of the April 6 movement.

Would be great to see your thoughts an analysis.

I did not mention it because I am part of that conspiracy. Just kidding (even though I worked for ICG!) The reason no one talks about it is because it's patently ridiculous and rather insulting to all the Egyptians who participated in the revolution. The document cited as evidence relate that a 6 April activist (who I believe is now a former member, since they didn't like that he was so pro-American) briefed US officials and was given a paid trip to attend a "summit" (note the use of ominous quotation marks in the Telegraph story). So what? US diplomats have discreetly met with Egyptian activists and politicians for years. The alleged plan this activist refers to (which is ultra-secret but available "on the internet" as the diplomat who wrote the Wikileaks memo wrily noted) is fantasy. I myself had an imaginary plan to remove Mubarak, it involved using rogue Mossad sharks genetically modified for amphibious attack abilities, to attack him at his Sharm al-Sheikh residence. The idea that the US carefully planned or backed an uprising concocted by April 6, Ayman Nour, the Muslim Brothers and a few bloggers is ludicrous on the surface. Can't believe the Telegraph ran with that — they should stick to (un)covering Liz Hurley.

The New York Times report, saying that Obama commissioned a Presidential Study Directive on potential unrest in the Arab world and focusing on Egypt, is more interesting. It shows they're not asleep on the job in Washington and foresaw troubled times ahead for Egypt, particularly as Mubarak's health waned and the succession crisis / Gamal Mubarak Project was coming to a head. Most experts knew this would be a problematic time. But it doesn't mean they weren't caught offguard by January 25 or planned it. It's what powerful governments do: they plan contingencies for different eventualities.

As for ElBaradei's presence on the board of ICG — so what? He's a Nobel Prize winning international statesman. It's not like ICG controls world events. They're not the Illuminati.

It's important to give Egyptians their dues. They made this revolution happen, bottom-up. There was no plan to make it happen, just a slow build-up of grassroots activism and frustration with the regime. 

J. writes:

I love your blog and was into it long before the revolutions!

Can you possibly write something on your blog which tries to explain why Egypt could not get involved in the Libyan revolution and uprising when you get a chance?

I have been racking my own brains over this for weeks. Obviously it could have avoided any Western intervention and avoided all the potential condemnation which so far has been reasonably minimal.

Secondly Egypt as well as Tunisia probably/definitely inspired the Libyans and you are right next door.  

I can understand that after Egyptians had what was essentially a peaceful revolution through unarmed means they would not necessarily want to get involved in someone else's more violent version. Of course you have so many internal things to develop now and sort out as well. I guess it could have the effect of unsettling and disturbing everything you have achieved so far in Egypt

However it is considered that the Egyptian Army is easily strong and able enough to topple Gadaffi and I guess it could have happened very quickly. Now we are instead faced with a long protracted battle which he himself might even win without the terrible spectre of much more Western intervention aka Iraq/Afghanistan.

Surely the last solutions would not be what most Egyptians would want in the future, right next door?

What do/did most Egyptians think about this?

Thanks. There are three main reasons Egypt is keeping a low profile in Libya:


  1. There are hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers who remain in Libya and the Egyptian government doesn't want them used as hostages.
  2. Egypt is focused on its internal situation at the moment, and the military is very risk-averse. An adventure in Libya would be a lot more difficult than you make it out to be (it's a large country, the supply lines alone would be a headache for a military that hasn't fought a war since 1973.)
  3. It might be more involved than we are led to believe, if reports that Egyptian special forces are giving training to the Libyan rebels are true. And even if they aren't, it's reasonable to expect that Egypt is playing a discreet role, communicating with the Qadhafi regime and perhaps playing a role in negotiations.


As for what Egyptians think, from what I can tell they are divided on the issue of international intervention, like most people, and more absorbed by post-revolution domestic politics to worry too much about Libya.