Democracy in Egypt
There seems to be cause for optimism that Hosni Mubarak might be pushed aside in favor of a transitional government. The Post reported Saturday:
A group of about 30 Egyptian intellectuals, writers, business leaders and legal experts has met with Vice President Omar Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq in recent days. Members of the group have demanded that Mubarak turn over his authority to Suleiman, who would use it to manage a transition to democracy while Mubarak remains as a figurehead president until new elections.
"It's basically a face-saving solution," said Amr Hamzawy, research director for the Carnegie Middle East Center and one of the participants. Suleiman and Shafiq have been receptive, he said, and there have been "encouraging signs" from Mubarak.
As many of us noted, Egypt is not China, and the moment of greatest peril for a Tiananmen-type slaughter -- Friday -- seems to have passed.
It is worth noting that conservatives in the United States have not been of one mind. Part of this is institutional and part is philosophical.
It is understandable, for example, that in moments of high international tension Republican members of Congress choose largely to defer to the White House. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are exceptions to the rule, ever ready to chide, cajole and rebuke the administration for its missteps. But most Republican members of Congress are slow to speak out on foreign policy issues, especially in a case where the outcome is far from certain. By contrast, a number of potential 2012 Republican candidates (e.g. Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee) have been more vocal and critical of the president. That's not surprising for those who want to replace him.
But there is also a philosophical divide. On one hand you have those proponents in favor of what has become known as the Bush freedom agenda. They see repressive regimes as inherently unstable. As I have argued here at Right Turn, America for both ideological and practical reasons must be on the side of democracy, human rights and those willing to throw off the shackles of oppression, be they in Iran, Egypt or Tunisia.
But even those on the right who are in favor of a forward-leaning foreign policy are wary of a post-Mubarak world. He's the devil we know, and the prospect of a government, if not controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, then influenced by it, is enough to justify, in their minds, sticking with the aging despot.
The latter group of conservatives, I would argue, has it wrong. Mubarak is going one way or the other, and unless we attempt to influence the direction and speed of the transition, we and Egypt could well end up with the worst of all words (e.g. another oppressive totalitarian, an Islamic state).
Reuel Marc Gerecht's must-read piece in the Weekly Standard observes that Mubarak's days are numbered, his reign unsustainable:
Hosni Mubarak and the other presidents-for-life, kings, and emirs of the Middle East have the bad luck to rule when the democratic wave has finally arrived. They have the bad luck to rule in an age when even Islamists are wrestling with the challenge and seductiveness of representative government.
And while we should not deceive ourselves about the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, neither should we pretend that Mubarak can maintain his grip or control the forces, secular and otherwise, that have now reached a boiling point. So the best we can do, Gerecht argues, is to help Egypt migrate into an era of "real intellectual competition--the starting point for healthy evolution.." He explains that democratic system with a parliament (providing "the decisive forum for great ethical debates"), rather than a decrepit regime is the best way to contain the Muslim Brotherhood:
The Brotherhood will have to survive constant competition from Egypt's liberals and secular nationalists, who have an older history in the country than the Islamists. They will have to survive the competition of devout Muslims who bristle at the Brotherhood's heavy-handedness. We should not assume that devout Muslims will be less subject to faction than their secular brethren. It's possible that the Muslim Brotherhood could pull off a military coup, but it seems unlikely. Their paramilitary forces are pathetic compared with the Egyptian Army, which has so far not shown itself, even in the lower ranks, to be blindly enamored of the Brotherhood. The organization would likely confront an enormous social, and quite possibly a military, backlash if it attempted to abort free elections once they got going.
Democratizing Egypt could change the face of the Middle East. Political evolution could start. No doubt the American and Israeli embrace of Mubarak's detested dictatorship will carry a price, perhaps a stiff price, in a democratic Egypt. It is the cost of our having sought to build stability on an authoritarian illusion. But for Mubarak's regime, or a military successor, to hold on would be a catastrophe for the United States. All of the cancers of the region--especially Islamic militancy--would get worse.
And, as Gerecht notes, we are not without a "trump card" -- the threat of a cut off in military aid.
It is this sort of sober assessment -- Mubarak is going, let's shape what follows -- that has begun to affect the Israeli government's assessment. And it will and should affect conservatives in the U.S. Whether motivated by the belief in the right of all souls to aspire to freedom or the steely-eyed calculation that Mubarak's political demise is inevitable, we now have the opportunity to shape events. We did not depose Mubarak; a national uprising is doing that. So whatever may have been the desires of "realists" infatuated with the "stability" of a dictator, we are past that now. As in so many situations Winston Chruchill had it right: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." No, Egypt is not Britain, but is there a better option?
Posted by: sandyv | February 6, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cavalier4 | February 6, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: adam62 | February 6, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ludvikus | February 6, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kenhe | February 6, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 6, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Captain_Universe | February 6, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nvjma | February 6, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 9:36 AM | Report abuse