Given their very nature and usually brutal consequences, it’s hard to find the silver-lining in any war or regional conflict. The new war in Yemen is no different: a humanitarian crisis will ensue, humans will die and be regarded as collateral damage, and there is really no real strategy or endgame that can be achieved there without a long and arduous boots-on-the-ground campaign. So, yeah, the Yemenis are going to continue being screwed by this war (which realistically didn’t start last week at all) no matter the outcome. There is no silver-lining for them. The same can’t be said regarding Egypt in my opinion. For me there are two positive developments that this war is forcing, even though I will be probably the only one seeing it this way.
1) This war ended Egypt’s continued contribution to the middle-east’s regional disintegration: There was an implicit understanding between the gulf and Egypt since june 30th; The gulf will aid Egypt economically and get it on its feet, in exchange for Egypt supporting the gulf militarily when it needs to. It’s a deal that should make sense on every level for the current government for two reasons: 1) It allows the government to delay the local implosion that the economic realities of our country predict its inevitability, and 2) It allows the military regime the chance to finance the upgrading of its weaponry and capabilities with the gulfies footing the bill with their “money like rice” budgets. The gulf has honoured its part of the deal thus far, and Egypt- with the exception of some rhetorical support here and there- really hasn’t. Why? Three main reasons:
i. The Egyptian military’s knows its place: By their very nature, the Egyptian military isn’t really comfortable with attempting to extend their forces outside of Egypt’s border. The History of the Nasser-era has shown that they suck at imperialism (all of their attempts for regional hegemony or over extending their power- Yemen, Palestine, Syria- has ended up in humiliating defeats and embarrassments), so they have grown content with controlling Egypt and only Egypt. Given Egypt’s instability, in their minds a soldier on the ground in Egypt doing nothing is better than a soldier fighting ISIS in either Iraq or Libya, even if they can afford to send him there without endangering their grip on the country. If it weren’t for that mentality, Egypt would’ve had half of its military in Libya “safe-guarding democracy” and resolving their energy crisis by getting paid in free-libyan oil.
ii. Upgrading capabilities forces the need for reforming the way the military operates: And this is a real problem. The Egyptian military boasts the fact that it’s the only real functioning institution in the Egyptian state, but knows that any real assessment will showcase that they also suffer to various degrees from the same ailments that plague the rest of egypt’s institutions: corruption, bloated-ness, inefficiency and outdated-ness. Any capabilities upgrade that isn’t merely about stockpiling new weapons in storage would require reforming the way the military operates to turn it into the modern efficient military that its allies need it to be. This means stirring a hornets nest in a very conservative institution that has always been resistant to change, and will have reverberations into the civilian actual state as well, since the military doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Despite the necessity of such reform, the military and the state are neither ready nor willing to start the process any time soon, which makes them unfit to carry on their part of the deal. This war and the subsequent conflicts will force their hand on this issue.
iii. The Egyptian regime over-estimates its intelligence: The Egyptian regime knows that Egypt is too important for the gulf to allow it to fail, and thinks it can get what it wants from the gulf without paying any real price or making the necessary sacrifices. It also uses the outdated 60’s handbook of international diplomacy- as evident by planning of the Putin visit, which they aimed to use to play off the US and failed because of reality- which is no longer the way the world operates (No one in the gulf is amused by the Putin visit or Sisi’s support of bashar). The Gulf’s response: we won’t let you fall, but we don’t need to get you up on your feet either, which is truly the message that the government received by the results of the economic conference.
All of these factors contributed to a doom scenario of regional disintegration where the local powers can’t resolve their issues to handle the region’s problem: a crisis would happen, and the gulf sans Qatar would be taking a position, and Qatar taking a second position, and Egypt taking a third position, and Morocco a fourth, and no one works together, giving international powers the pretext to step-in eventually, and weaken the regional powers’ influence. This scenario was just pre-empted by having Saudi launch this war. It was the region’s- and Egypt’s- “shit or get off the pot” moment and it empowered the gulf powers to lead the agenda openly according to their timetable. They would’ve probably much rather it was done with Egypt fronting this action, to bolster its image as the “regional leader” and continue the whole “as Egypt goes, so does the region” narrative instead of having it look like a supporting actor who wasn’t even involved in the initial strike, but they needed to act- for the lack of a better work- in a “decisive” manner and they did. This is not to say that they launched this war to get Egypt to stop “pussy-footing”, but it doesn’t hurt matters on that front either.
2) This War has highlighted just how outdated Egypt’s intelligentsia truly is: Egypt has a seriously misinformed public thanks to its official intelligentsia, which still spouts opinion and analysis that do not reflect the times we live in or Egypt’s geopolitical reality, because they too are relics from the 60’s and refuse to acknowledge that Egypt has a really excellent relationship with Israel, needs the US on its side and being friendly to Putin will realistically get it nowhere. Their simplistic narrative of conspiracies and having a foreign policy that closely resembles the actions of a teenage girl throwing tantrums instead of playing real-politik has been decimated by the complexities of the alliance in this strike.
How can they explain to their audience that Egypt is on the same side as the US, Qatar and Turkey, after the piles of Bullshit -that in no way reflects reality- that they have been spewing for months if not decades? How will they explain that in the real world countries shape policy solely upon interests and that there is no place for acting based upon dignity and emotions in international diplomacy? That, for example, Prince Tamim of Qatar is young and will stay in power for decades, and that for the sake of the region’s interest Egypt will have to reconcile publically with him sooner or later? Or that thumping our noses in the face of the US publically is ill-advised because Egypt can not really afford to lose its “strategic ally” privileges in the condition it is in? That you can disagree vehemently and even clash on issue, but you always have to maintain the guise of international friendship and cooperation because of…let’s say it all together…YOUR INTERNATIONAL AND STRATEGIC INTERESTS? Dear reader, can you believe that this is a new concept for the Egyptian intelligentsia and that no one mentions this or advocates it in our media? And that it’s 2015?
Look, am not happy that my Country is being pressured by external forces to do things it doesn’t want to do, especially going to War; no one who loves his country wants that. However, I do want to see Egypt address its state’s need for reform, to honour its agreements and to conduct its international affairs with maturity instead of empty grand-standing, which is all happening or will happen thanks to the clusterfrak called Yemen. It might be a stretch giving the price and implications that this war will have, but that’s way it’s called a silver-lining: it’s a semi-bright spot in an otherwise pile of really dark shit. That’s all.