Cairo Burning

Tonight Mubarak said, No, Not Yet.  The people in the square waved their shoes. What next? The shoes off in Tehran next Monday? Anyone guesses now.  The guessing’s free and cheap.  That’s what happens when the political cup runs dry and the leaves are tapped out for all to read.

In this February, few know what to make of the signs yet, in the region, every leader’s foe and every leader’s ally is checking the doors. Punditry is often the one-eyed man’s opportunity to be king for five minutes. But there are signs worth following. The kingdoms and states with most to fear fit a simple matrix. Each has been ruled by the same guard for two decades or more. None has tolerated serious opposition (just as those fighting for freedom now will be intolerant of opposition should they have power). Each nervous state has a large population of under thirty-somethings with unfulfilled ambitions and sense of being held back.  It is this sense of unsatisfied talent that is the strongest threat to regimes. It is a common sight throughout the region.

And, are we to believe that the Cairo cinders will be used to light revolutions in Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Mauritania, the other Gulf States – even Oman? It’s a frighteningly vulnerable list. It’s also largely concentrated in a region with oil. So called Western powers who believe they have client states in, say, the Gulf have failed to read the strategic tea leaves sufficiently well to make the gathering in the square unnecessary.  Instead, America, in spite of many warnings from its own people in the State Department, simply propped up its own self-interest.  It continues to do so, especially in the oil-rich gulf.

But we are all going to remember the date 2011 for a long time and, beware, this is only February. If the shoes and sandals come off in, say, Saudi Arabia, do we think the Americans and even their sometimes reluctant allies will be content with diplomatic calls to falling capitals in the desperate scramble to get on first-name terms with whomsoever takes over.

In Florida, where it rains, the US Central Command, has pinned up a fresh tactical, theatre and strategic plan. It may, just may, have to divert some of its forces and resources from Iraq to protect client states. But what happens if the sandals are loosened in Iraq?

2011 is barely started; yet to come are many uprisings in the name of democracy and equally scary, many roads to wars in the name of protection of interests. Until eighteen days ago, America at least would have said that Egypt was one of the hubs of that CenCom strategic plan.  The signs tonight: one of the wheels just fell off.

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