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Egypt

31 Jan 2011

Having lived there for six years in the 90’s and having just visited last Spring, I am very concerned about the unrest in Egypt.  I expect that the official estimates of 100 dead are low.   And it is not over yet.  I am, perhaps over-optimistically, hoping and praying for a peaceful transition to a more democratic, more free, and more evenly prosperous country.

The demonstrations, the boiling-over anger at Mubarak – and even the violence and the looting – are understandable given the corruption, the gulf between rich and poor, the lack of a voice, and the fear (of the human-rights-abusing secret police) people have been living under for decades.  But, I believe that American foreign policy, to some extent, has also contributed to this public explosion of discontent and anger.  The US government has a history of supporting oppressive regimes based pretty much on self-interest – the old “he might be a SOB, but he’s our SOB” attitude.  In the past it has been based on fighting the communists or securing affordable oil, but now it seems the new justification for propping up undemocratic and oppressive regimes is the “threat” of extremist Islamic regimes.  (It is easy to over-play this threat by playing on the fear and anger already present in some segments of society.)   See, for example, the comments of some conservative, Republican political figures:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48405.html

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/01/28/amb-john-bolton-democracy-coming-eygpt/

I would not want to totally discount the possibility of extremist Islamic regimes coming to power, but the factors that determine how likely that would be are complex.  In any case, that is a separate (though related) argument from the question of whether supporting repressive “friendly” regimes is the best way to prevent the rise of extremist regimes.  In the following article another conservative Republican, Elliot Abrams, argues against Bolton, Santorum, and Huckabee.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012803144_pf.html

While, from what I have read, I would strongly disagree with Abrams on almost every issue – especially his thoughts and positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict, I would agree with a lot of his analysis of the current situation in Egypt as expressed in this article:

Mubarak took the same tack for three decades. Ruling under an endless emergency law, he has crushed the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived underground and in the mosques. Mubarak in effect created a two-party system – his ruling National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood – and then defended the lack of democracy by saying a free election would bring the Islamists to power.

Of course, neither he nor we can know for sure what Egyptians really think; last fall’s parliamentary election was even more corrupt than the one in 2005. And sometimes the results of a first free election will find the moderates so poorly organized that extreme groups can eke out a victory… But we do know for sure that regimes that make moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely. Rule by emergency decree long enough, and you end up creating a genuine emergency. And Egypt has one now.

He also quoted George W. Bush, “In the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”  Abrams also asked, “And will our own government learn that dictatorships are never truly stable? For beneath the calm surface enforced by myriad security forces, the pressure for change only grows – and it may grow in extreme and violent forms when real debate and political competition are denied.”  We need to be very careful and “long-term thoughtful” about who we support and how we do it.

However, I want to come back to what has happened / is happening to the people of Egypt.  As I said, I am hoping and praying for a peaceful transition to a more democratic, more free, and more evenly prosperous country.  I would love to see this kind of a country for my Muslim and Christian friends (and others) in Egypt.

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