I hate to say “I told you so,” but I did in fact express a whole lot of worry that our ally Egypt would slide toward an Islamist takeover after Mubarak’s fall. And here we are. Stanley Kurtz:
The young, secular protesters in Tahrir Square have been badly outmaneuvered in a three-way contest between themselves, the ruling military council, and the country’s rising Islamists. The optimistic view of the revolution held that Egypt’s Islamists were artificially propped up by their status as the only available outlet for anti-regime sentiment. Supposedly, the Islamists were destined to decline as a raft of newly empowered democratic parties sparked the enthusiasm of the public.
The truth was the opposite. Once government suppression of the Islamists was lifted, they were legitimized and empowered. The military regime struck up an informal alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, as defense against the students’ desire to strip the military of its business interests and power. The Obama administration’s openly expressed willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood — implicitly refusing to hold American aid hostage to keeping the Islamists in check — removed the last potential obstacle to an Islamist renaissance. The result was the recent immense demonstration in which, not only the Muslim Brotherhood but a wide array of even harder-line Islamists turned on the badly outnumbered students, demanding an end to secularism and a fully Islamic state.
There’s more in the post, and it’s all worth a read. Mubarak is set to go on trial whilst being held in an iron cage in the courtroom. That spectacle might say whatever is Arabic for “sic semper tyrannis,” but for the fact that the region is still overrun with tyrants, and the fact that the Islamists who now have the upper hand are likely to impose their own brand of tyranny given the chance. What it will really say is, it’s very dangerous to be an American ally — the Obama administration dumped Mubarak all too swiftly, while turning a blind eye to protests against Syria’s Assad. Which dictator has been worse for his people? Which was the American ally, dumped at the first sign of trouble? And which sits there caged facing the Islamist mob?
What many hoped for in Egypt was a trajectory along the lines of what we have seen in Iraq since 2003. But absent the force of American arms to make that happen, Egypt was never likely to go the liberal democratic route. Its secular forces remain too weak, and its Islamists, too organized and determined. Iraq has been bumpy enough; now imagine it without more than a hundred thousand Americans sticking around to beat down the enemies of civilization.
The best we can hope for in the short term now is for Egypt to become another Turkey: A mildly Islamist state, mildly hostile to us and the modern world but pragmatic enough not to go completely insane. Worst case is we get Iran Mark 2. And even Turkey may be headed in that direction more swiftly than we think.