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Egypt and the Devil We Know

Ross Douthat has an excellent piece in the New York Times on the crisis in Egypt.  It is clear and short in its explanation of what the chaos in Egypt means to the United States and of the difficulties of international politics in general.  As Douthat explains:

The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don't like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don't meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all.  

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Discussions - 11 Comments

This opinion piece by an American conservative is sober.

Today I had a converstation with a political scientist interesed in Egpytian politics, one who had lived there for a while. Not a Muslim. On the basis of this conversation alone, I can say this: whatever we might say about the idiocies of American liberals on this, 95% of the things said about Egypt by typical American conservatives on the typical websites are either uninformed, outright stupid, or both.

According to this political scientist:

1) The MB (Muslim Brotherhood) is very very unlikely to win or even do well in elections. Its numbers are uncertain, and it is significantly divided between the elder and younger visions of its way forward.

2) There are plenty of leaders who were associated with the Mubarak regime who broke off from him in the past few years due to his emerging intentions to appoint his son as successor. Some of them will emerge as important figures--this fixation our media has with Baradei's importance is simplistic.

3) Egyptians do not really want a return to wars with Israel.

4) Contrary to the Stanley Kurtz arg. made on NRO, Egypt is far less tribal than most Arab states--Nasser deliberately broke down tribal loyalties. Kurtz is usually right about everything, but not on this.

5) Most of the signs so far really are encouraging.

Is this academic wrong? Perhaps about a few things. Perhaps getting on the ground reports, knowing other Egpyt experts, and having a love for the Egyptians themselves, tilts your perspective in ways. Perhaps.

And perhaps as Douthat says, no one can know in these fluid situations.

But the point is this: CONSERVATIVES, stop, shut up, and start LISTENING to second and third opinions from those who know the Egyptian scene. Do not assume that your little knowledge about revolutions past, the MB, and Islam is going to be able to guide you here. First principles, and FACTS about the situation.

Oh, and of course Mubarak is toast, and so our only choice is to try to find the "Lafayettes" in this revoultion and work with them.

Carl, yours is the first "good news" take I have read on Egypt, yet. I have been listening quite a bit -- well, reading quite a bit. The facts in the main areas of concern (i.e., who is going to end up leading Egypt and controlling the Suez) are not clear at this point. I am sure we are all willing and wanting your political scientist to be right. Otherwise, the news we are hearing sounds a little grim.

I'm afraid I didn't find Douthat's piece as persuasive as you.

His argument goes something like this: Mubarak's repressions radicalized Egyptian Muslims who, because of Mubarak's alliance with the US, then blew up the Twin Towers in retaliation. Ergo, it's our own fault.


How about this: After Sadat was assassinated by radical Muslims for brokering a separate peace with Israel, the radicals assumed control of Egypt and began again their ongoing jihad aganst Israel. The US was
drawn inevitably into the continuing conflict and radicalized Muslims blew up the Twin Towers in retaliation.

It's not only Douthat's list at the end that is all too neat and easy.

Carl, any links to detailed, thoughtful, informed and competing commentary that you recommend? How do you measure the different elements of Egyptian public opinion? Are there any available descriptions of the institutional vehicles (if any exist) and leadership figures for non-MB public opinion. Any good place for learning about the internal divisions within the Egyptian MB? I won't be getting to the library today or tomorrow or the next day, so is there any way for those of us who have to get our info the internet-type way to get better information than is available on the main news sites?

Here, Brett Stephens at the WSJ also thinks Egyptian moderates will win the day, as in Carl's basic assessment, except he doesn't think Mubarak is toast.

Being Hosni Mubarak means "the anarchy unleashed on Egyptian streets has played straight into your hands. The demonstrators want a freedom that looks like London or Washington. Your task is to remind them that it's more likely to look like Baghdad, circa 2006."

In other words, all the things that are worrying us are starting to worry Egyptians, too.

"You've thought these questions through, hence your offer to negotiate with the demonstrators—preferably interminably. In the meantime, passions will cool, cosmetic adjustments will be made and you'll plot your course to this summer's elections."

"it's more likely to look like Baghdad, circa 2006."
I read an article earlier today about how all the various countries are evacuating their citizens from Egypt right now, and it quipped that even the Iraqis are fleeing by the hundreds and the Iraqi prime minister's plane was utilized to help. "If the Iraqis are running, you know it's bad."

Are the Iranians going home, or the Palestinians? That might be something to watch for.

Pete, very quickly, some recommended blogs are: Arabist, Jonathan Wright, and abusilawa.

There is also a book published this December by a very informed guy on the democratization potentialties in various ME countries. Walid Phares, and the book's title should be gold for him: The Coming Revolution. Phares is a Fox News consultant.

For the similar ham-handed "realism" of our liberals on this, Leon Weiselier has a good piece today on TNR.

Two more that look good, especially the second.

The Moor Next Door

Abu Muqawama

Thank you, Carl.

Carl, thank you very much.

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