Sunday, January 30, 2011

Facing the Unknown in Egypt

From Ross Douthat, at New York Times, "The Devil We Know":

As the world ponders the fate of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak, Americans should ponder this: It’s quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing.

This is true even though Mubarak’s regime has been a steadfast U.S. ally, a partner in our counterterrorism efforts and a foe of Islamic radicalism. Or, more aptly, it’s true because his regime has been all of these things.

In “The Looming Tower,” his history of Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright raises the possibility that “America’s tragedy on September 11 was born in the prisons of Egypt.” By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalize and internationalize his country’s Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, and arguably the real brains behind Al Qaeda — out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad.

At the same time, Mubarak’s relationship with Washington has offered constant vindication for the jihadi worldview. Under his rule, Egypt received more American dollars than any country besides Israel. For many young Egyptians, restless amid political and economic stagnation, it’s been a short leap from hating their dictator to hating his patrons in the United States. One of the men who made this leap was an architecture student named Mohamed Atta, who was at the cockpit when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.

These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak’s potential overthrow, and the end to America’s decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern politics is never quite that easy. The United States supported Mubarak for so long because of two interrelated fears: the fear of another Khomeini and the fear of another Nasser. Both anxieties remain entirely legitimate today.


Douthat is right to say that, in the end, the Egyptians have the last word on what government is right for them. But looking at the clip above, with the "we have to destroy Israel" sentiment, it's gonna be a rocky road ahead.

And here's an exit question. Do you think the signatories of this "
Open Letter to President Barack Obama" are saying the same thing?

In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy. On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.

A number of prominent communists are signatories. And for the left, this is an anti-colonial revolution with explicitly anti-Zionist goals attached to it. (I'll scour around for more, but you'll get a chill reading some posts at Mondweiss. For example, "This revolution ‘undoubtedly means the end of Israel as a Jewish state’.")

That's frightening. Still, there's obviously no turning back on revolutionary change. The trick is to manage it. The goal is a reasonably secular interim government committed to democracy.
Expect updates ....


Jim Mahoney said...

Israel and the Palestinians have missed opportunities to settle their differences, but for one side or the other the settlement was not sufficient. Now the milieu within which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has festered is changing and in ways that are difficult to predict.

So be it.