France, Greece and Egypt vote in second round elections today and tomorrow and none of these polls should leave the rest of the world indifferent. A parliamentary majority in France for Socialist President Francois Hollande will enable him to enact social reforms desired by the French 99%. It will also strengthen his position vis a vis German Chancellor Angela Merkel in their dual over whether to give greater weight to austerity or growth within the Euro zone.
However, the extent to which Hollande will be able to implement his reforms will also depend on the outcome of the Greek parliamentary election, which will determine whether Greece negotiates less painful austerity measures that will enable it to remain in the Eurozone, accepts the draconian measures imposed upon it by the IMF and the European Central Bank in order to remain in the Eurozone, or decides to abandon the Euro and go it alone. The first two alternatives would be extremely painful for the Greek people, the third could render moot the dispute between Merkel and Hollande, as it might lead to the death of the common currency that was intended to further integrate a continent wracked by three wars in less than a century.
This context is fraught with a dual irony, unspoken but lost on no one. Germany was the aggressor in those three European wars, the last of which was launched partly with the stated goal of fulfilling Napoleon’s dream of a European Empire. Though defeated in the latter two conflicts, Germany rose to become the most dynamic European country, now expected to bail out those hardest hit by the global financial crisis. This state of affairs prompts two further considerations: the first is Europe’s failure, in the decades leading up to the introduction of the Euro, to fully unite under a federal system, and the second is the fact that conditions for World War Two were created when after the First World War Germany was saddled with enormous reparations that led to hyperinflation and paved the way for the rise of Hitler. That hyperinflation of eighty years ago is constantly evoked as the reason for Germany’s insistence on austerity, obfuscating the possibility that the collapse of the Euro, in the most bitter of ironies, could once again turn the countries of an insufficiently united Europe against each other.
Then there is the fact that the Euro is the world’s second reserve currency. The end of the Eurozone would have cascading repercussions on international finance, hastening the day when the BRIC countries, led by Russia and China, will cease to use the dollar in international transactions.
Moving on now to Egypt, notwithstanding its first truly ‘democratic’ elections, a powerful military has worked to overcome last year’s popular revolution in favor of a new strongman. Three days before the presidential runoff, the Supreme Court ruled that Mubarak’s last Prime Minister could stay in the race, flouting the rule that barred members of the old regime from running. Adding insult to injury, it dissolved the recently elected parliament under another rule which it let stand. Should efforts to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate fail, he would be deprived of the parliamentary majority won just a few months ago. Whoever the new Egyptian president is, he will rule without stated duties, without a constitution and at first, without a parliament.
The failure of the Egyptian Revolution will have two external consequences. It will signal to the remaining Middle East dictatorships that the Arab Spring can be halted, and it will remove a potential threat to Israel constituted by the widely shared anti-Israeli sentiments of its people that former Presidents have kept in check. Today a high-ranking Israeli official speaking on RT admitted that Egypt, on Israel’s southern border, constitutes a far graver threat than relatively far away Iran. In recent months, other high-ranking Israeli figures have warned against attacking Iran, even as the government increased its threat to do so because of that country’s support for Syria, its northern neighbor that is facing armed opposition. The end of the Egyptian revolution, combined with a deterioration in the Syrian situation, will allow Israel to once again focus on it project to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
It is difficult to believe that the United States and Israel have been standing on the sidelines since the start of the Arab Spring in late 2010. If Wikileaks manages to continue its work notwithstanding the probable extradition to the United States of Julian Assange to face charges of terrorism, the international community will eventually learn of their respective roles, but given the increasing speed with which events unfold, it will not have the leisure to wait for the historical narrative to be revealed.
The Security Council could soon be confronted with a situation that is eerily reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as relations between Washington and Moscow veer toward a new standoff. In response to a strident accusation by Hillary Clinton that it was supplying arms to Syria, Russia this week stated that helicopters destined for Syria are refurbished machines repaired under a previous contract. Today it denied reports that a ship is carrying weapons and troops toit naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus. The Cuban Missile Crisis was sparked when U.S. reconnaissance planes photographed the construction of underground missile sites being built by the Soviet Union along Cuba’s coast in retaliation for the stationing of American missiles in Turkey and Italy. The thirteen day standoff between Nikita Khruschev and John F. Kennedy ended with the Soviets repatriating their missiles and the U.S. agreeing not to invade Cuba. However, the current situation is very different: the U.S. has openly touted completion of contingency plans to invade Syria, and there is no quid pro quo that the Russians could offer in return for American backtracking. The two sides can only move forward toward confrontation.
These are just the most obvious stakes in this week-end’s elections, far from American shores, but crucial to a world in which it can still do much harm.