Egypt is fated to be the first domino. The revolution there will inevitably spread to all of the Middle East and North Africa. The question is: Will it be an Islamic fundamentalist revolution or a democratic one?
In the fifties, anti-communists latched onto the “domino theory” to elaborate their worries about the spread of global Marxism. President Dwight D. Eisenhower explained it at a press conference on April 7, 1954:
“Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”
While it was foolish to believe that the fall of a small country like Vietnam would affect larger and more stable nations like Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, or Malaya, the domino theory has a very direct relevance to what is transpiring now in Egypt.
There is a major danger that the Muslim Brotherhood will find its way into a successor coalition government. And, from there, it is indeed possible that the Brotherhood takes over, bringing an Iranian style fundamentalist Islamic regime to Egypt. The chances of even a popularly elected government embracing the Muslim Brotherhood would be very great. And a domino theory could eventuate.
Working in tandem with Iran, these two nations would then cast a giant shadow over the entire region. From Morocco to Iraq, there would be the threat of a genuine caliphate, realizing the most central goal of the Islamic fundamentalists.
Remember the populations involved. Egypt has 81 million people. Iran has 66 million. The next most populous nation in the region is Algeria at 35 million. The combined population of Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Aden, Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Yemen is 185 million. So Egypt and Iran have a population almost equal to that of these other nations combined. A fundamentalist Egypt allied with Iran would sweep the region.
Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Libya, and perhaps even Saudi Arabia would fall to Islamic extremists. Iraq, even with a US military presence, may not be far behind.
But this prospect is not inevitable. It can still be avoided by bold action from the Administration. President Obama must reach out to the Egyptian military and declare his support of their transitional efforts and demand that the Muslim brotherhood play no role in the government.
Turkey is the precedent. There, the secular tradition of independence from Islamic theocracy was first set in place by the great early twentieth century leader Kemal Ataturk. It has been enforced since by the Turkish military which always looms over the civilian government lest it move to close to a theocratic domination. Even when an Islamic Party won the past two elections, the military cautioned that it not become a theocracy and it has not done so.
Obama must use our leverage of $1.3 billion of military aid to get the Army in Egypt to play a similar role. And, most important, he must draw a line in the Egyptian sand: That he will withdraw the military aid if the Muslim Brotherhood is included in any government or coalition.
If Obama fails to do so, he will be responsible for the loss of Egypt and perhaps of the entire region – with all its oil – to forces directly hostile to the United States. Some doubt that Obama is sufficiently strong in defense of America’s interests. Some wonder if he has not divided loyalties. Some question if he has the strength to stand up to Muslim extremists. Now we will see.