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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


New Developments in Egypt

Since the Arab spring, it was painfully obvious that the revolution was all about exchanging a dictator for a far worse extreme Islamist regime with big ambitions. I had warned people that Shariah will be the law of the land and that the former constitution granting the freedom of religion, equality and women’s rights would soon be a thing of the past. 

On February 11, 2011, addressing the success of Egypt’s revolution, which he himself enthusiastically supported, President Barack Obama stood in the Grand Foyer of the White House and triumphantly declared, “The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.” I was afraid that the statement would become true and that Egypt would never be the same…but for the worse.

About two weeks ago, Egyptian President Morsi appeared on Egyptian television and shocked the nation, issuing a presidential decree effectively banning all challenges to his decrees, laws and decisions. The decree stated: “The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution.” “The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.” The country’s constitution was repealed and a new constitution would be written.

Since Morsi’s declaration, Egypt has experienced a new wave of protests. The protests groups contain a high concentration of women, moderates, Coptic Christians and minority groups, who know what is coming.   Former U.S. diplomat Jamie Rubin said Morsi's edict "brings to mind all the fears that people in that part of the world have had about the Muslim Brotherhood when it comes to democracy."

The Morsi regime has responded with a heavy hand to criticism it has received in the press. On December 4th, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against government restrictions and the ban on the freedom of expression in the draft constitution.

Mohamed El Baradei, an opponent of Morsi during the elections, accused the president of establishing himself as “a new pharaoh.”

On November 27th, a CNN reporter had interviewed protester about the developments in their government. One protester responded, “Weren't things in Egypt supposed to be different now?” The economy is still staggering, the police are still clashing with protestors and the people have fewer freedoms than before.

The big winner of the Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood sweepstakes, however, is the relations with Turkey.

Egyptian Ambassador in Ankara Abderahman Salaheldin said, "the bilateral relations between Egypt and Turkey boomed in the aftermath of the revolution."

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have developed close ties with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In fact, it appears that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has modeled itself after Turkey’s Islamist political party.  

Playing off the title of Turkey’s ruling Islamist political party, “The Justice and Development Party,” the Muslim Brotherhood ironically named its political party “The Freedom and Justice Party.” UN’s Palmer Report cites the new strategic cooperation agreements Ergodan plans to sign with Cairo.  

Egypt and Turkey are considering plans to lift visa restrictions and recently completed joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey has offered a host of measures to bolster Egypt’s economy, including a $2 billion aid package. There is even talk of Turkey’s helping Egypt to restore its Ottoman-era buildings, according to Tim Arango of the NY Times.

Over the past 10 years, Turkey’s Erdogan has systematically dismantled the most well-established secular form of government in the Middle East, while establishing and guaranteeing his own power for many more years to come – all in the name of “democracy.” Morsi is attempting to make the same changes, but over the course of a few months. For many Egyptians, this transformation is too extreme and too fast.

Erdogan’s ambitions have caused many to believe that he is seeking a leadership role beyond Turkey, throughout the whole region. At the annual convention of Mr. Erdogan’s party in Ankara, the capital, a few weeks ago offered a portrait of a realigned Middle East with Turkey at the helm. Mr. Morsi said at the gathering, “We offer our gratefulness for the support that the Turkish people and its administration has extended and will extend to us in the future.” To a standing ovation, Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, declared of Mr. Erdogan: “You are not only a Turkish leader. You are, now, also a leader of the world of Islam.”

In a recent interview with Russia Today, Syrian President Basshar al-Assad said of Erdogan, “He personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottoman and he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman Empire under a new umbrella. In his heart he thinks he is a caliph.”

In mid September, Erdogan was received at Cairo’s airport to a ‘rapturous reception’. Using a sound system, Erdogan spoke to the crowds in Arabic, saying, "Salaam aleikum, Egypt and Turkey are one. Peace to the Egyptian people."  The crowds responded with shouts of; "Egypt and Turkey will together become an Islamic Caliphate".

But he was given a more reserved reception by officials of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose old guard do not share the admiration of the group's younger generation for the Turkish leader.  "We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future," said Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party.

Will the new found cooperation between Egypt and Turkey last? I think it will be short lived. Although Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is finding support and guidance from Turkey, I do not think Egypt will be content to live under the shadow of Turkey.

Paul J. Sullivan, a Middle East security expert at Georgetown University, does not believe that Egypt will accept Turkish dominance of the region, “There is within the Egyptian psyche that belief that Egypt should be the leader of the region,”  The Turks are not Arabs and should not take the mantle of responsibility for the Arab world. 

With the ascendancy of Turkey in the north and Egypt’s new role as an emerging player, could we see two competing influences in the region? Is there a coming show down between Egypt and Turkey? I think yes.  When two countries with big ambitions for regional dominance exist, sooner or later they will collide.

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