In 1962, the United States placed nuclear missiles in Turkey and directed them towards Moscow. In response, the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. That was the moment Cold War risked turning “hot.” For 13 days, the world held its breath as a nuclear conflict threatened to break out any second. Even though the standoff is commonly known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is not actually about Cuba and certainly not about Turkey. It was simply each of the world’s two superpowers reminding the other that it is not to be tampered with, especially since it came right after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, orchestrated by the Kennedy administration against the Cuban regime. Cuba was the party that benefited most in this confrontation; the concluding agreement between Kennedy and Khrushchev included a pledge, on the part of the United States, never to attempt invading Cuba again and Castro emerged from the crisis stronger and more popular than ever.
Years have passed, one of the two belligerents has become the world’s sole superpower and the other is disintegrating. As the United States made sure it religiously, and more vigorously, resumed its muscle-flexing strategy, Russia was desperately struggling for a role that would restore if only a fraction of its past glory. The Arab Spring made that slightly possible, yet Russia started with a major miscalculation when it condoned the killing of Syrian revolutionaries in support of the only ally it had left in the region. The unpredictability of the Syrian conflict, and the possibility of the Tartus naval base falling into rebel hands, forced Russia into a recalculation that involved looking for an alternative in case of the fall of the Syrian regime. The urgency of this rerouting process increased as the stakes got higher with the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and with the United States no longer ruling out military intervention in Syria.
Turning to Egypt
The timing couldn’t have been more ideal for the events in Egypt to unfold the way they did. As the United States slammed the interim Egyptian government for the forceful dispersion of Islamist sit-ins, threatened to suspend aid to Egypt and insisted on calling the June 30 protests a military coup, Russians, no fools for sure, rushed in. Not only did Russian president Vladimir Putin declare solidarity with the “revolution” and make no secret of his resentment of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he also announced his country’s readiness to conduct military exercises with Egypt immediately following the United States cancellation of Operation Bright Star, a 33-year-old tradition that constituted one of the most powerful manifestations of Egyptian-American strategic alliance.
Like Cuba, Egypt is a medium through which Russia can assert its influence in the region and, most importantly, embarrass the United States. Russia is not only proving that the United States is taking the wrong side, but is also rubbing a whole lot of salt into the unhealed wound of September 11. The United States waged war on Afghanistan in the hope of eliminating Islamist extremism, which it actually strengthened with its invasion of Iraq and its indifference on Syria not to mention its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Conversely, the domestic anti-terrorism campaign launched by Russian authorities following the Belsan school hostage crisis and the Moscow metro bombings succeeded in eradicating Islamic militancy in its hotbed, Chechnya. One can imagine the look on Putin’s face when the culprits in the Boston Marathon bombings turned out to be Chechen. Russia, therefore, hopes to be Egypt’s mentor as far as combating terrorism is concerned and is willing to provide the Egyptian government with logistic and military assistance towards that end so that the Russian model would eventually prove more effective and definitely less costly, on both the human and the financial levels, than its American counterpart and would underscore the United States’ role in nurturing the very terrorism of which it eventually becomes a victim. Soviet era scores can be settled in the meantime as the United States can be reminded of its support for Osama Bin Laden and Afghan fighters in its attempt to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam.
Getting closer to Egypt also paves the way for rapprochement with other major powers in the region like Saudi Arabia, which has openly defied the United States through declaring full support for Egypt’s war on terrorism and pointing out the danger the Muslim Brotherhood posed to Egypt and all its neighboring countries. Rapprochement can also be attempted with the rest of Gulf nations, with the exception of course of Qatar which had supported Islamist rule in Egypt since the very beginning and is still doing so through its scandalously biased media outlets. Forging such alliances would also allow Russia to get back at Turkey, a staunch supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, for jeopardizing its interests in Syria through its support for Syrian rebels. Russia might even start distancing itself from Syria and Iran in return for bringing back memories of the good old days of the Nasser era when the political clout of the Soviet Union was an eternal nuisance for the United States.
Would Egypt benefit?
Egypt would undoubtedly benefit from this seeming revival of the Cold War and the subsequent change in the balance of power,for while it is let down by a staggering giant, it is being rescued by a growing midget. But divided Egypt is not Communist Cuba because the latter had already been a close ally of the Soviet Union when the crisis took place and, therefore, had nothing to lose and everything to gain while the former is struggling for its political independence which cannot be achieved through replacing one form of subordination with another or through regressing to the client state era. Egypt is also in no position to become the venue of a proxy war between the United States and Russia and in which each of the two countries would only fight for its own interests with little, if any, attention to those of the country onto which they project their rivalry. It is also important to note that while in Cuba the United States supported a group of Miami-based Cuban exiles, who carried out the Bay of Pigs Invasion and whose threat was immediately eradicated by Castro’s regime, it is currently supporting a group that is based in Egypt and whose supporters constitute part of Egyptian society. Internal strife is, hence, bound to intensify if each of the two countries decides to support one group of Egyptians against another and if each of those groups accepts this support and acts upon it.
It is in Egypt’s best interest to forge new alliances and to break away from the unipolar world order whenever possible, provided it is not dragged into fighting other people’s battles. By Egypt I do not just mean the government, but also the people who are now too vulnerable and too willing to create super-heroes. In fact, in one of the recent pro-revolution marches, pictures of Putin did make a first appearance as the man, whose human rights and democracy record is far from admirable, suddenly turned into a modern-day Guevara. Quite an alarming start I would say!