On November 17, 1997, jihadists massacred a group of Swiss, British, and Japanese tourists enjoying the majestic sights of ancient Egyptian marvels at Luxor. The terrorists savagely butchered 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians with gunfire and knives. They mutilated many of their victims, especially the women, with machetes. They left a written statement in the body of a disemboweled victim. Counted among the victims was a five-year girl.
As the world emerges from the soporific haze of notions of Egyptian democracy, it is important to balance this idealism with a cold dose of realism. It is important to remember that Egypt is still in the midst of a region surrounded by and infested with both radical Sunni and Shia Islam.
It is also important to note that the Egyptians are not the only ones celebrating the revolution.
Hezbollah, the terrorist group and ruling party of Lebanon, issued a formal statement of congratulations to Egypt. In Hezbollah strongholds in southern Beirut, people set off fireworks and fired weapons in the air to celebrate. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian Foreign Minister said, “We congratulate the great nation of Egypt on this victory and we share their happiness.“
There is good reason for them to be optimistic. Egypt served as a stable bulwark against Islamic extremism. In one 2010 diplomatic cable, President Mubarak saw Iran as increasingly involved in attempting to destabilize the region:
“[Mubarak] now sees Tehran’s hand moving with ease throughout the region, ‘from the Gulf to Morocco.’ The immediate threat to Egypt comes from Iranian conspiracies with Hamas (which he sees as the ‘brother’ of his own most dangerous internal political threat, the Muslim Brotherhood) to stir up unrest in Gaza, but he is also concerned about Iranian machinations in Sudan and their efforts to create havoc elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon, and even the Sinai, via Hezbollah. While Tehran’s nuclear threat is also a cause for concern, Mubarak is more urgently seized with what he sees as the rise of Iranian surrogates (Hamas and Hezbollah) and Iranian attempts to dominate the Middle East.”
Egypt’s demographic crisis is another source for concern for whomever takes power. In a 2009 diplomatic cable from Cairo, President Mubarak complained that Egypt’s economy continued to suffer from the global economic crisis with Suez Canal revenues down 25 percent. He further lamented that exports, remittances, and tourism, were also down. He saw Egypt’s most serious internal problem as its “population growth at 1.3 million every year.”
Adding to these stresses were Egyptian expats who lost jobs abroad and returned to Egypt, swelling the ranks of the unemployed. 52.3% of Egypt’s population of 84.5 million is under the age of 25. Further aggravating these stresses was the increase in the price of food, particularly grain, the price of which increased 39% in 2010.
Hopefully the Egyptian military will be able to spearhead a stable transition. It will certainly have its hands full.