Few Western observers predicted the scale of the recent military crackdown in Egypt, or the nation’s sudden lurch to something like civil war. The next question troubling policymakers is just how bad the violence will become, and history does give us some strong indicators about the near future. The resulting picture is alarming.
I begin with a useful principle: Egyptian state security is very good at counter-subversion, but not as good as it thinks it is. For decades, Egyptian officials have prided themselves on their ability to penetrate radical organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which for years has operated under constant surveillance. Unless the organization was so riddled with government informers and double agents, the Egyptian state would never have risked its recent decapitation attempt against the group and its leadership.
History, however, suggests that official activities are strictly limited in their usefulness. Time and again, state security has won dazzling victories against subversion, only to have the state’s enemies rebuild their infrastructures over the following years. Repeatedly, the Egyptian state has been wrong in its claims about the end of Islamist radicalism.
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