The New Realities
So what is the matter with Egypt? Why cannot the above mess just keep on keeping on? A number of newer twists.
1) We are not so sure that Mubarak’s “it is us or the jihadists” is quite operative any more, given the defeat of jihadists in Iraq and the downward spiral in approval of bin Laden. In any case, there seems no Khomeini-like figure on the horizon in the radical Islamist Arab world. And to be one, there would have to be, as in Khomeini’s case in France, lots of Western appeasement and subsidies. After 9/11, not even a France wishes to embrace an Islamist and create another Khomeini. The result is that when Mubarak and Co. threaten us with the Muslim Brotherhood, we are not quite convinced, as in the past, that it will hijack the street as Khomeini once did. Thus in the last week we have gone from Biden’s Mubarak “not a dictator” to an “evolving,” finger-in-the-wind stance — in hopes that the Shah-Banisadr-Khomeini formula is not inevitable (yet in this regard, remember that 160,000 U.S. troops played quite a role in stopping the Iraq possible cycle of Saddam-Allawi-Zarqawi).
2) Iraq changed things, and in subtle and as of yet not easily fathomable fashion. When Reagan shouted at the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union most surely did not come down for four years. But when it did, in hindsight we can see that such symbolic confrontations, along with the military challenges, insidiously exposed and weakened the corrupt system. When Saddam was routed (had a Middle Eastern thug ever been put on trial?), and the insurrection mostly crushed, and a consensual government in power in Baghdad survived for seven years amid the most unlikely chances for survival, then the Middle East (as the Saudis rightly knew and double-dealed as a result) was not quite the same.
Iran is desperate to strangle a free Iraq, since its nearby free media has a tendency to encourage things like the 2009 uprising across the border. Yet to suggest that Bush unleashed in 2003 a revolutionary chain of events is heretical. In our twisted political calculus, Bush is demonic for speaking out for human rights and removing Saddam, Obama is progressive for ignoring human rights protestors in the streets of Khomeinist Iran.
3) I don’t particularly like Mubarak and will be glad to see him leave, but please spare us the condemnation that we “made” him. We did not. He is a reflection of the pathologies that were outlined above, and would have to be invented had he not existed. He could not have come to power without an underlining culture of tribalism, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, and statism. And he has less blood on his hands than did the once beloved “authentic” Nasser (whose use of poison gas in Yemen provided the revolutionary model for Saddam in Kurdistan and at the time bothered no one in Nasserite Egypt).
4) What’s next? “Finger-in-the-wind” diplomacy may work for a while, but it requires deftness that follows conditions on the street in a nanosecond to avoid appearing purely cynical (a skill beyond Hillary, Biden, and Obama). I think in this bad/worse choice scenario we might as well support supposedly democratic reformers, with the expectation that they could either fail in removing Mubarak or be nudged out by those far worse than Mubarak. Contrary to popular opinion, I think Bush was right to support elections in Gaza “one time” (only of course). The Gazans got what they wanted, we are done with them, and they have to live with the results, happy in their thuggish misery, with a prosperous Israel and better-off West Bank to remind them of their stupidity. All bad, but an honest bad and preferable to the lie that there were thousands of Jeffersonians in Gaza thwarted by the U.S.
So step back and watch it play out with encouragement for those who oppose both Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood— hoping for the best, expecting the worst.