Thursday, July 07, 2005

Beacon No. 50: Sun-Tzu on the Nile


I. On Quoting Sun

It's problematic for writers interested in business, diplomacy and military affairs to start by quoting Sun-Tzu, the apocryphal author of The Art of Warfare. It can seem lazy, the equivalent of a newspaper writer beginning a piece with a Webster's dictionary definition either for window dressing or to frame the rest of the piece.

At the risk of sounding like a restaurant reviewer, then, I'm still going to quote Sun on alliances:

The art of warfare is this: ... The best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; and the worst to assault walled cities.

I can't determine the outline of Al-Qa'ida's strategy, beyond its pipe dream that the world's billion Muslims suddenly rise up, throw off their shackles and smite the unbelievers.

They're doing pretty well on the rest of Sun's checklist, though, with this morning's London bombings (walled cities) and the ongoing call to jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq (soldiers).

II. Al Qa'ida and U.S. Alliances

Al-Qa'ida is also attacking the U.S. and the West through its alliances.

Arab governments have been reluctant to open diplomatic missions in Iraq, and those that have are basically doing the U.S. a favor. They have nothing to gain by opening missions in Baghdad and much to lose in domestic public opinion, which runs heavily against endorsing the U.S.-backed government in Iraq.

In this context, the kidnapping of Egypt's ambassador and coordinated attacks on the Pakistani and Bahraini ambassadors in Iraq are a big blow to fragile U.S. alliances with Arab governments.

The Pakistani ambassador, nobody's fool about his own safety, will reportedly withdraw to Islamabad. Bahrain's envoy Hassan al-Ansari was wounded in the hands and is in stable condition; he too will withdraw until the Iraq security situation is more stable.

This morning, there is news that Egyptian ambassador Ihab al-Sharif was murdered by his captors. This stunningly cruel move by al-Qa'ida will further stress the already rocky U.S.-Egyptian relationship.

III. Egypt Pressured on Elections

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has spent a lot of 2005 talking about Egyptian democracy, particularly in the face of September's presidential elections. The Secretary has been particularly vocal about the case of Ayman Noor, the al-Ghad [Tomorrow] Party leader.

Noor was just a prominent legislator with presidential aspirations when President Mubarak's government decided to go after him. In a single morning, an Egyptian al-Ghad official told myself and others this spring, Noor was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, arrested as he left the Parliament building in Cairo, handcuffed, beaten in public, then taken somewhere else in Cairo, chained to a fence, publicly beaten again, and hauled off to jail.

The government said Noor had ordered up fake signatures on a petition required for him to register as a presidential candidate. Noor denied the charges, but the government had a trump card: Noor's buddy Ayman Ismael Refai, who turned state's witness and said Noor ordered the forgeries.

Things looked grim for Noor's candidacy and for a first-ever competitive presidential election along the Nile. But suddenly last week, Refai recanted his previous statements, saying government thugs had threatened to harm his nieces if he didn't cooperate.

Its case torpedoed, the government has postponed Noor's trial until after the presidential elections, which is simultaneously good and bad for Egyptian democracy: Noor and his allies are freer to campaign but President Mubarak's party will likely use the cloud of indictment hanging over Noor's head against him.

IV. How Much Can Cairo Take?

The U.S. alliance with Egypt, which stretches back to the Camp David accords, is crucial. The U.S. is playing a delicate game with this leading Arab nation, demanding much (democratic elections pronto) and getting much (an Egyptian embassy in Baghdad, plus important help with the Palestinians on Israel's withdrawal from Gaza).

If al-Qa'ida is really concerned about striking at Western alliances with Egypt, it will apply further pressure, perhaps by attacking Egyptian diplomats in another country. It remains to be seen just how much pressure Cairo can take before it starts to pull back from its ambitions and obligations, beset as it is the U.S., al-Qa'ida, the domestic Muslim Brotherhood and its own citizens' demands for a greater say in politics.

1 comment:

dej2 said...

The underlying strategy of Al-Qa'ida is to unite it's "people" by attacking the United States. It's goal is not to convert Americans to Islam. By using the US as the "Evil Empire" they sacrifice relations ships with the west in order to bring together people that would normally be at each others throats with internal squabbles and/or civil war. (IMHO)

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