By Paul Goble
Many analysts have speculated that the events in Egypt, especially in the wake of the revolutionary events in Tunisia, will have affect other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, but few have considered the ways in which these events may have an impact further afield, including on the Russian Federation.
But in an essay posted on the CaucasusTimes.com portal, Sergey Markedonov, one of Russia’s leading specialists on the North Caucasus, argues that “the Egyptian factor” is likely to have a significant impact on the evolution of events in that region, albeit in ways that many do not now suspect (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20744).
That factor, the Russian analyst suggests, is likely to prove “particularly important” as far as the North Caucasus is concerned, as, Markedonov continues, “the terrorist attack on Domodedovo [Airport] demonstrates.” That is because an attack on that facility is an attack not only on Russian officialdom but on citizens of other countries.
If terrorist actions in the North Caucasus have become so common as to be part of the background noise, the attack on Domodedovo is something that could not be ignored, Markedonov says. “The goal of such an action is obvious.” On the one hand, it is intended to show Russia’s inability to hold the 2014 Olympics and the 2018 Football Championship.
But on the other hand – and Markedonov’s language suggests that he views this as the more important factor at least relative to the Egyptian events – the attack on Domodedovo is intended to show to the world that “the Caucasus jihad” has gone over to a general attack and that it has “the forces and resources needed to do every more.”
Like his predecessors Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has pursued a policy of modernization that has required him to take from Western sources many ideas an approaches, a borrowing that has made Egypt a more important power but only at the cost of exacerbating problems in Egyptian society.
“The social-economic transformations [his policies have entailed ] have violated the traditional foundations of Eastern society,” a transgression that has led to “a fundamentalist reaction to innovations and to withdraw into its difference and ‘uniqueness’” and thus reject everything Western.
From that, Markedonov continues, “Islamism is growing.” And despite Mubarak’s repressive regime, Egypt remains “one of the most serious centers of the jihadist movement,” something that means that those who are part of that movement elsewhere will attend to with utmost seriousness.
That is all the more so because, the Russian analyst continues, “Egyptian Islamists support without reservation the supporters of analogous transformations in other Muslim countries and hope for the construction or more precisely the revival of a unified Islamic state, the khalifate.”
And, Markedonov continues, “although for them the chief enemies are the United States, Israel and the secular Egyptian government, they also have negative feelings about Russia.” It is worth remembering that “about 40 percent of the Arab volunteers in the Afghan war agains thte Soviet Union were from Egypt.”
Now, he continues, “the Egyptian Islamists accuse Russia not of communist atheism but of suppressing ‘brothers in the faith’ in Chechnya, Daghestan, and the North Caucasus in general.” And to that end, the Egyptian supporters of “’pure Islam’” provide “serious” support to their fellows in the North Caucasus.
Many of the ideologues of the North Caucasus Islamists trace their ideas back to the Egyptian ideologist Said Kutb (1906-1966) who elaborated the doctrine of “jahilia,” according to which “true Muslims must struggle not only with ‘godless communism’ or ‘mercantile capitalism’ but also inside Muslim countries where the principles of the faith are distorted.”
In fact, to this day, Islamists in the North Caucasus consider Kutb, who was executed by the Egyptian secular powers to be “one of the martyrs.”
What is happening in Egypt now, Markedonov notes, is not the world of the Islamist element alone. It is a far broader phenomenon. But that very fact may have negative consequences for Russian power in the North Caucasus because as he points out “mass uprisings not infrequently throw overboard moderates” as events develop.
Since it intervened in Chechnya in 1994, Moscow has sought to limit the adverse reaction in the Arab world. It has succeeded in part, but if things change in a major way in Egypt, Russian calculations in this regard may have to be changed, especially if events in Egypt lead to changes elsewhere.
At the very least, “the fall of such a secular fortress as Egypt,” Markedonov concludes, “would create not a few new problems for Moscow” especially because Islamists in the North Caucasus will be watching what is taking place and drawing their own conclusions about what they can and should do next.