Free Markets, Free People

After Mubarak

It’s difficult to have any sympathy for Hosni Mubarak, or any other member of Egypt’s current ruling elite. Egypt has been ruled by a succession of authoritarian dictators since 1954, when Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of the Government in 1954, a dictatorship continued by Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, in turn. One always hopes that a popular movement to overthrow a dictaror will be followed by a flowering of democracy, but, sadly, that rarely happens, historically, and is even less likely to happen if Mubarak is toppled.

In all probability what will follow Mubarak in Egypt will be a government run by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their allies.  This means that Egypt’s most likely post-Mubarak government will be an Islamist, radical government, similar in many respects the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As Lawrence Wright points out in The Looming Tower, Mubarak’s jails have been an incubator for Islamist radicals. And why should we expect otherwise? The liberal, Western, Democratic states have been fairly supportive of Mubarak, and Sadat before him, ever since Sadat disavowed warfare as a method of destroying “the Zionist entity”, as Israel is generally known by the Arab states. Even among proponents of democratic reform inside Egypt, the support that the West has given Mubarak has made the West appear to be, at best, amoral, and, at worst, positively duplicitous. This has undercut the influence in the popular culture of Egyptian proponents of Western-style democracy.

As a result, it has been the Islamists who have seen their influence rise among the general population in recent years.  Indeed, the Islamist influence on Egyptian culture is immediately noticeable by looking at the following pictures posted a year ago by Pajamas Media. The pictures are of the graduating classes of Cairo University in 1978 and 2004.  Notice how the women are dressed.

Cairo University Graduating Class, 1978

Cairo University Graduating Class, 1978

Cairo University Graduating Class, 2004

Cairo University Graduating Class, 2004

The devolution from the modern era to a more conservative past is obvious.

The upshot of all this is that a post-Mubarak regime is likely to be undemocratic, Islamist, and hostile to the West in general, and the US–and, of course, Israel– in particular.  With Egypt having such a large population and corresponding cultural influence on the rest of the Arab world, there is much reason to believe that that a post-Mubarak Egypt will be the cause of a significantly less stable, and more troublesome environment in the Middle East.

Our policy failures in Egypt have been bi-partisan, and made for ostensibly the best of reasons, but their results seem likely to be disturbing. Still, it’s difficult to see what other choices were available to us.  Had we imposed too much pressure on the Mubarak regime to democratize, the end result would likely have been either a) much the same as we are facing now, or b) simply caused Mubarak to turn to China to replace the security and stabilization support provided by the West.  Sadly, the policy options we faced were those presented by the real world, and not the idealized world we might wish for. Although, one notes, had we forced Mubarak into the arms of the Chinese, we might have more acceptable moral support to offer the proponents of Egyptian democracy at the present moment.

Now, we don’t even have that.  The Egyptians are going to do whatever they’re going to do, and we have little choice but to sit by as passive observers.

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24 Responses to After Mubarak

  • I actually am optimistic that this (and subsequent revolutions throughout the Arab world) will move towards modernism, not conservatism or Islamic extremism.  My take: (posted Jan. 19, before the turmoil in Egypt broke out:

  • Some of the media is having a tough time with this.  They want to have sympathy for the protesters for multiple reasons.  But the recent ‘call for civility to silence dissent’ mantra has got them feeling a bit hypocritical.

  • Those pictures of the graduating class were incredibly disturbing.  A journey back to darkness.  I was listening to an interview with former UN Ambassador John Bolton.  He says to watch what the military does, not Mubarak.  I agree we pretty much have to sit and watch this from the sidelines.  Heaven help us if the Muslim Brotherhood comes out on top.

    • I’ve read very little that provides any optimism they will not…at least for a while.  The immediate aftermath of a revolution is pretty fluid, and if the MB get too oppressive, they may find the people on the street again.
      Time will tell.  Certainly Obama will have little or nothing to say about this.

  • A couple of interesting things about those Cairo University photos.

    In the ’78 photo, note the guy about halfway up on the left side with his back turned to the camera. I wonder who he is and where he is today.

    Also, are these graduating classes almost absurdly small, or what?

    The Muslim Brotherhood, if I’m recalling some of my reading correctly, had as its backbone Egyptian doctors (i.e., MDs). For some reason, the modern education of medical doctors produced an especially radical crop of Islamists.

    It would be interesting to know how many of the people in that ’78 class associated with Islamist sentiments and drove the culture in that direction.

    One of the worst signs coming out of Egypt has been the recent murderous assaults on the ancient Coptic Christian communities. That shows that a particularly vicious Islamist culture has been taking shape.

  • This is “Jimmy Carter Iran” redux.  (Just as TIME is trying their best to make Obama into Reagan, they missed by one President)
    Everybody hoped the new government would be better, but time has shown that “hoping is a fool’s errand.”

  • I’m praying the IDF is ready and Israeli intelligence is running on all cylinders, because they’re going to be caught in the worst strategic situation they’ve had in decades.

    I hope things don’t get ugly, but as always, I have very low expectations for the muslims behavior

  • It didn’t have to be this way.
    During the Bush years the US embassy in Cairo maintained a small fund to support groups promoting democratic reforms in Egypt, bypassing the Egyptian government. As I noted back in July, the Obama administration ended support for this fund.
    The Daily Telegraph — while failing spectacularly at making this context clear — reports that according to a WikiLeaked cable, one of the activists who has been arrested this week was sent to New York to meet with other pro-democracy activists. You have to read to the bottom of the story to notice that the embassy apprently ended regular contact with this dissident after 2009.
    Obama is the same friend of freedom abroad as he is here…

  • One more interesting sidenote on the two pictures.  Take a close look at both.  Besides the difference in total numbers, do you note any other major differences?  I see two – first the numbers of men versus women – in 1978 there seems to be an approximate 50/50 split but 2004 shows what is easily a majority of women.  Second – note the women’s head scarves in 2004 (all but about 8 or 9) versus not one single head scarff or head covering in 1978!  I would say these differences are significant, especially the latter.

    • Bahh. Erb is optimistic. Ignore the pictures. worrying about the scarves only shows ISLAMAPHOBIA.

  • Um, the people in the bottom photograph don’t look as “American” as the people in the top one. Hold the revolution! It’s going in the wrong direction!