When I saw the headline for this article—”Egypt analysts warn of new political crisis brewing”—I clicked on it because I actually thought for a moment that it meant there was a new crisis brewing in Egypt.
But of course, it’s the same old crisis, building up again after what might have seemed to the casual observor to be a brief lull. Actually, this crisis has been going on for nearly a century. It is the leitmotif of Egyptian politics, and it can be roughly summarized as: will the Islamists or the military control the country?
I’m not an “Egypt analyst.” I’m not any sort of Egypt expert at all. But even a brief look at modern Egyptian history will tell you about the longevity and ubiquity of the struggle. And so it took no special insight on my part to predict, as soon as I heard the first rumblings about the revolution in Egypt, that the Muslim Brotherhood would be the likely beneficiaries.
As Khalil Al-Anani, described in the article as “a Middle East expert at Durham University,” says: “This is the beginning of another phase of the fight over the future of Egypt.” This phase is a very exciting one for the Muslim Brotherhood, no doubt. Banned by Mubarek, they get the last laugh—or at least, the most recent one:
“It would be the first time the Muslim Brotherhood ascended to the highest office in the land anywhere in the Arab world,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center, a think tank in Qatar. “This would be a major (and) symbolic victory for Islamist groups across the region.”
The Obama administration appears ambivalent about the Muslim Brotherhood, which has espoused virulent anti-American rhetoric throughout the years.
I’m not sure on what that statement about Obama’s ambivalence is based. In terms of action, he appears to have done a lot to encourage the Brotherhood’s ascendence and little or nothing to discourage it. And he has a history of friendliness to the group; for example:
Obama’s first attempt at outreach to Muslims came when he chose the head of a Muslim Brotherhood-linked group that had been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case to give a prayer during his inauguration ceremonies…Obama specifically invited representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his notorious speech to the Islamic world in Cairo in June 2009…
Of course, Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place in Egypt, because—as in so many other third world countries—the choices there are among types of oppression. Even a neocon like me is well aware that revolution and democracy in such countries can lead to tyranny (look at Iran, if you need an example) if it is not accompanied by guarantees of human rights and liberty (see this for Bolton’s suggestions on how that might be accomplished in Egypt).
The neocon endeavor has often been ridiculed as naively promoting democracy no matter what the consequences, and/or as devoted to military endeavors to do so. But as I’ve tried to explain in many articles listed under the category “neocons” on the right sidebar, that’s a caricature that ignores the neocon caution about democracy vs. liberal democracy, and the neocon preference for non-military means. Here’s more from Bolton (and Jeanne Kirkpatrick) on the subject:
Advocating democracy and actually building it are two radically different things. Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which first brought her to the attention of prospective presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, deftly skewered Jimmy Carter’s handling of two earlier regime crises, which may have uneasy parallels with what is transpiring in Egypt. Kirkpatrick’s characteristic honesty made famous the argument that pro-Western authoritarian governments had at least the potential for a gradual transformation to democracy, something no repressive communist government had ever done. But Kirkpatrick’s thesis was more profound than simply a Cold War polemic; she explained eloquently why proclaiming support for democratic ideals in no way guaranteed implementing them successfully. Her case studies were the Shah’s government in Iran and the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, replaced, respectively by ayatollahs in Tehran and Sandinistas in Managua. We thus moved from two authoritarian, pro-US regimes to two even more authoritarian, anti-US regimes, partially thanks to Carter’s bungling. The lesson was plain.
Kirkpatrick quoted approvingly from John Stuart Mill’s magisterial essay, “Considerations on Representative Government”, in which Mill described three preconditions for such governments to succeed: “One, that the people should be willing to receive it; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.” Americans have their own version of this insight, a perhaps apocryphal tale occurring in Philadelphia after the secret, closed-session drafting of the Constitution in 1787. As the story goes, a woman approached Ben Franklin on the street and said, “Well, Doctor, what have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin reportedly replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Today’s world is filled with failed efforts at democratisation…
There is no evidence I can see that Obama knows any of this—or that if he does, he cares or sympathizes.
[ADDENDUM: Here's some more evidence that the Obama administration seems to be interested in furthering the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood:
he Obama administration warned Egypt's military leaders on Monday to speedily hand over power or risk losing billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid to the country.
As Egypt's Islamist candidate claimed victory in a presidential run-off, Pentagon and State Department officials expressed concern with a last-minute decree by Egypt's ruling military council giving itself sweeping authority to maintain its grip on power and subordinate the nominal head of state. The move followed last week's dissolution of parliament by an Egyptian court.
"This is a critical moment in Egypt, and the world is watching closely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military's hold on power."
And I'm perplexed by this piece by Max Boot. He makes sanguine statements about things we cannot possibly know (and which seem to me to be wishful thinking), such as these:
The best bet in the long run for weakening Brotherhood authority would be to allow it to rule...As long as a Brotherhood government must face voters in the future, popular sentiment will act as a check on its illiberal tendencies...
To those like me who would say "have you ever heard of Iran?," Boot would undoubtedly reply: oh, this time it's different. And perhaps it is, but I see no special reason to suppose that. Boot also writes that the Egyptian people "plainly long for Western-style democracy and not an Iranian-style theocracy or a sclerotic police state." My response is, "so did the Iranian people, and look what it got them," and "how do you know what the Egyptian people actually long for?"]