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Rage Like An Egyptian

We're coming up on two weeks of unrest in Egypt, and I'm getting the feeling that we're getting close to the breaking point. Fairly soon, I think, Mubarak will either crack down decisively on the dissenters, or step down.

I've been very tentative about the whole situation, refusing to whole-heartedly endorse the anti-Mubarak movement. This has led to some of The Usual Suspects to accuse me of backing Mubarak against a nascent democratic revolution.

This, naturally, pisses me off. I've spent way too many years stating my own opinions to need anyone -- especially those people -- to try to tell me what I think.

The mess in Egypt has me troubled, but also ambivalent. I really don't have a side here.

On the one hand, the protesters are trying to get rid of a dictator -- the default form of government in a Muslim nation. Mubarak has been in power for over 30 years, and it's been my rule of thumb that anyone who holds power in a nation for more than a decade is most likely not a result of a democratic process. And make no mistake, Mubarak is no "benevolent despot," but has kept the reins of power through the standard tyrannical means. So yeah, he should go.

On the other hand, as far as dictators go, Mubarak is fairly small potatoes. He's no Kim Jung Il, no Saddam Hussein, no Fidel Castro. (Well, he might be kind of close to Castro.) He's certainly no Stalin or Hilter. When a lot of dictators tend to have expansionist ambitions, Mubarak has been a stabilizing presence in the region.

Plus, there's the factor that popular uprisings in Muslim nations -- even those in the name of "democracy" -- tend to end very poorly. Iran's revolution started out that way, and look where we are now 30-odd years later. Hamas took over Gaza in a free and democratic election. Hezbollah is now the main power in Lebanon, partly through free and fair democratic elections (combined with a tendency among those who get in their way to blow up). The largest opposition group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that assassinated Mubarak's predecessor (and wounded him in the attack) and is the spiritual and metaphorical father of Hamas, Al Qaeda, and numerous other terrorist groups.

So, what the hell should the US do?

There's one factor about the protests that gives me a suggestion for the best course we should follow, and that's a case of a dog not barking in the night.

In all the protests we've seen so far, there has been one element that has not been seen. One element that is almost always present in mass demonstrations in the Muslim world is absent in this case -- and I find that very encouraging.

There is no blatant anti-Americanism on display.

No shouts of "Death To America," no burning of American flags, no denunciations of America The Great Satan and the West.

Yeah, there's a strong anti-Israeli element in the protests, and a lot of the protesters aren't that fond of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, but that's pretty much to be expected. There's no typical anti-Americanism on display here, and I'm liking that.

I think that the US has two choices here (well, technically three). We can go all in and back one side or the other to the hilt, almost to the point of direct intervention. We can pick one side and give them full diplomatic and logistical and material support, throwing our full weight behind one side or another and fuly ally and identify with either Mubarak or the protesters.

Or, even better, take as much of a "hands off" approach to the whole thing. Just step back and let the Egyptians work it out among themselves.

The reasoning is simple: right now, the Egyptians aren't that interested in what the US says or does. If we start meddling in a half-assed way, then we draw attention to the fact that we spent decades buddying up to Mubarak (pissing off the protesters) and then abandoned him in his our of need (pissing off Mubarak). It's a lose-lose scenario. The only way to actively turn that around would to step in at this critical juncture and decisively help one side or another to prevail.

Which runs the risk of backing the losing side, and thoroughly alienating the winner.

Plus, we must take into account President Obama. So far, his foreign policy can be best summed up as "kiss up to our enemies and piss off our friends." The current trend seems to be to punish those who've helped us in the past, possibly as an extension of Obama's self-determined role to be the "anti-Bush." That means that those nations that helped him are seen as "pro-Bush," and therefore anti-Obama.

Further, the one defining element of Obama's foreign policy has been  to reject anything that might be seen as aggressive or forceful. If he were to threaten to intervene in Egypt, no one would take him seriously. (Unlike Bush, who had actually carried out those types of declarations.) He simply doesn't have it in him to order and sustain such an action.

So, no, the only realistic option for the US here is "hands off." We should avoid coming down too firmly for either side, recognize that this is a matter for Egypt to work out on its own, and prepare to make nice with whichever side prevails.

Because, let's face it -- with Obama as president, we really don't have any better options.


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Comments (15)

I agree. Let them sort thi... (Below threshold)

I agree. Let them sort things out. That whole area is about to explode, and no one knows for sure where the pieces fall. What also is encouraging is that in most of the demonstrations, the call is for freedom and democracy. We can always hoope that means our type, but who knows? We need to keep our mouths shut, it should be clear by now, meddling is not the answer.

One thing I think you forgo... (Below threshold)
James H:

One thing I think you forgot -- Mubarak has been a staunch US ally for decades. That has to count for something in assessing our response.

I actually think we're taking about the right approach right now: Initial support for Mubarak, but working to help the factions reach an accommodation that reflects the Egyptian people's will.

As far as Islamists in this revolution ... I have no idea what's going to happen. It's probably a safe bet that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a factor in Egypt's new government. But even as far as Islamists go, there are some factions that favor all-out war against the US, some factions that want war to get the US out of hte Middle East, and some that just dislike the US.

"He simply doesn't have it ... (Below threshold)

"He simply doesn't have it in him to order and sustain such an action."

That would require Barry to make a 'decision'. Barry doesn't make decisions, Barry votes "Present!".

Just ask the Russians.

Like you, Jay, I was accuse... (Below threshold)

Like you, Jay, I was accused of being against democracy (by our intellectually superior Canadian troll), if it didn't pass my "smell test". Simply because I expressed concern for the possible outcome of elections in Egypt. And we have every reason to be concerned about it.

Mixed feelings are perfectly understandable. There's not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it though.

One thing I think you fo... (Below threshold)

One thing I think you forgot -- Mubarak has been a staunch US ally for decades. That has to count for something in assessing our response.

Normally, you'd be right, James. But you're forgetting -- this is Obama we're talking about. This is what people expect from him.

So no, not really that much of a downside. Hell, this might be the one time we can get away with it.


A long time mid-eaast arab ... (Below threshold)
Don L:

A long time mid-eaast arab "expert" on EWTN refers to The Muslim Brotherhood as the mothership of all terrorist groups including the nice guys that took down the WTC. He states that it is the oldest and has been sewing seed of discontent against the west and pushing jihad for decades. I believe what he says.
We are on the verge of be duped big time by the jihadists and their friend on our left.

To add on tidbit;he doesn't... (Below threshold)
Don L:

To add on tidbit;he doesn't care at all for Mubarak (big long time persecutor of the Coptic Christians) but he says that he is by far the lesser of two evils.

Push comes to shove, it's t... (Below threshold)

Push comes to shove, it's the Egyptian Army that will make the final decision. Been that way since the Brits got kicked out.

I suspect that the Egyptian... (Below threshold)

I suspect that the Egyptians who consider themselves secular and are participating in this will find themselves sorry they embraced the MB once the real change takes place. It happened in Iran, and it will happen in Egypt- unless the Army is unified enough to prevent it.

Jay Tea,Nice post,... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Jay Tea,

Nice post, even if I disagree with your concluding argument. Overall, I think you raise some good points. I do think I understand why you came to that conclusion, and I think you provide a good discussion that illustrates why this situation is anything but clear cut.

Still, when it comes down to it, I really do think we need to take a clear stance here and come out in vocal support of democracy and political freedom. And while the events in Egypt are difficult to read, I think it is pretty clear that there are secular components (a good number) that are calling for freedom and democratic change (as another comment on this thread already pointed out). If nothing else, we should be supporting those efforts and sentiments.

If we truly want to encourage reform in the middle east, then we'll have to actually support democratic movements when they arise. Expressing any support for Mubarak's repressive government is, IMO, a clear step backward. Time to move away from the foreign policy pattern of supporting convenient dictators.

Anyway, that's my take.

I agree with Jay; step b... (Below threshold)
gaius piconius:

I agree with Jay; step back and let them work it out themselves. The disingenuous working of the oriental mind certainly confuses us, but it also confuses them, and that's how, collectively, arabs create for themselves such ugly, backward societies. But, once they show their hand, make the nesessary adjustment...then deal... decisively... with the results. Keep a simple plan is the basic rule when faced with complex and fluid matters, and this certainly applies when dealing from personal confusion.

In this second point,Jay, I totally disagree; there may be no surface anti-Americanism on parade in Cairo, but it's there, and but one 'call to prays' away. Don't get too comfortable on that perch.

Epador, <a href="http://www... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:
There are no "democracy" de... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

There are no "democracy" demonstrators. There is no democratic tradition in Egypt, nor the institutions necessary for democracy to survive (independent judiciary, private property, the right to contract and to enforce contracts through the courts, etc.). Only a fool thinks democracy will descend like a snow white dove upon the Nile.

The exact parallel is 1979 in Iran. There, too, there were "middle class" and "secular students" among the islamist demonstrators against an autocratic US ally. Then, too, we had a weak and spineless President who sent mixed signals. "Democracy" won out - Hallelujah!

How's that working out for ya so far?

Note that in Egypt, 90% of women suffer from genital mutilation as young girls. Mubarak, his wife, and his government have been the strongest voices against this barbaric practice, even outright outlawing it in 2007 - a ban the evil butchers routinely ignore. So if you're for "the people" in Egypt, you are for the torture of young girls as their genitalia is mutilated ritually, without any anesthesia.

Maybe you didn't realize that's the side you are taking when you support the demonstrators. Now you do. So, what side are you on?

One encouraging element in ... (Below threshold)

One encouraging element in all of this is that the army has not cracked down on the protesters.

Any government will rise or fall at the pleasure of the Egyptian army. Right now, the army is composed of many leaders trained in the U.S. and in support of democratic ideas.

This is not Iran.

Mr Addison,"There ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Mr Addison,

"There are no "democracy" demonstrators."

Democracy does refer to a specific system of governance, but it also means "political or social equality" in a general sense. The protests are against a regime that has been highly repressive for decades. These people are protesting in the name of political freedom and reform--are you denying that?

"So if you're for "the people" in Egypt, you are for the torture of young girls as their genitalia is mutilated ritually, without any anesthesia."

That's a pretty lame argument, Jim. But that was a nice try. Let me ask you this, Jim: How do you feel about the repression, poverty, inequality, violence, fraud, and corruption brought about by Mubarak and his government? Granted, FGM is certainly an issue (public health, women's rights, etc), but are you arguing that we should simply ignore Mubarak's histories and actions when it comes to human rights because of his stance on this issue? Really? Do you think that a lack of political freedom helps the situation? Do you think that a repressive police state is going to foster the conditions for other social and economic changes?






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