Thursday 21st June 2012
By Elizabeth Matsangou
The year 2011 belonged to the ‘Arab Spring’-the year of revolution, social uprising and political change in the Middle East. Protests fuelled by social media and a discontented population led to the expulsion of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the collapse of his regime. The interim government which filled the political void was the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamist organisation in Egypt and the most influential of its kind in the region. Upcoming elections will dictate the next chapter of the country’s history, dependent upon which party is elected to govern for the first fixed term in Egyptian politics. In the event that the Muslim Brotherhood is given a long- standing position of legitimacy and authority, the effect would be momentous not only for Egypt itself but the entire region.
If the Muslim Brotherhood remains in power it would set a precedent for like-minded parties in the region which may also be elected to rule. The possibility of that occurring is strong as Arab nations often imitate each other’s political and economic models with social movements that spread throughout the region irrespective of state borders. Being the political and cultural hub of the Arab world, Egypt enjoys a considerable sphere of influence and is often used as a benchmark for other Arab leaders and social groups. In the event that the nucleus state of the region permanently instates the Muslim Brotherhood, there may very well be a domino effect transpiring until the whole region is dominated by Islamist regimes. If the state responsible for paving the way for global integration becomes permanently radicalised, the Middle East would become increasingly isolated from the rest of the world-politically, economically and technologically. As the region shifts further from its Western ties it would naturally forge a closer alliance with Iran, augment the nuclear threat and increased resentment for the West would result in further extremism and a disparity from the democratic model on the national level.
Despite the recent revolution, autocratic regimes may resume in the Middle East with the grass roots of society as impoverished and constrained as ever. An Islamist mentality would infiltrate all levels of society, meaning that human rights violations would not only worsen in incidence but also in severity. Equal rights and the freedom of expression would be denied and replaced with repression and the consolidation of strict codes of conduct and harsh punishments. As the region is disconnected from the rest of the world, news reporting would become increasingly inaccurate and governmental transparency within the international community will be nullified.
Integration with the West has given Egypt a notable presence on the international stage; acting as the geographic and ideological bridge between continents and the region’s intermediary is an embedded aspect of Egyptian political identity and foreign policy behaviour. Of particular significance is Egypt’s integral role in the Middle East Peace process, responsible for facilitating communication and negotiations in this hotspot for conflict. However, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power and an inevitably closer alliance with Iran, it would be unlikely that the peace process could continue to rely upon the positive influence of Egypt. A Pro-Palestinian, anti- Israeli sentiment would permeate negotiations and exacerbate the cleavage between these two groups. With the previous stronghold for peace becoming increasingly biased, neighbouring states would follow suit and any progression in recent years for Israeli regional integration would unravel, increasing the incidence of attacks and enhancing hostility with Israel’s allies, namely the West.
An Islamist, pivotal player would most likely redirect regional foreign policy inwards, increasingly isolating the Middle East from the rest of the world, (with the possible exception of the emerging superpowers), which will have severe macroeconomic and microeconomic consequences. The concentration of trade within the Middle East would shrink state economies with a deep negative impact to state infrastructure and levels of poverty. Trade is the foundation for integration; limiting it would have unprecedented political ramifications on a global scale, owing to an economic landscape which is comprised of an interdependent network of states and regions. If an entire region is removed from this interlocked web of economies the result would be financially damaging for all players and would cement a hostile political environment within the international sphere.