Free Markets, Free People

History says Egypt will not end well

Trust me when I say I’d love to see the next government in Egypt be a democratic and modern one dedicated to freedom and liberty.  But I don’t find myself to be particularly cynical when I say I don’t think that will happen at all.

Let’s start with Richard Cohen’s points as a good foundation for why I believe that:

Egypt’s problems are immense. It has a population it cannot support, a standard of living that is stagnant and a self-image as leader of the (Sunni) Arab world that does not, really, correspond to reality. It also lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy. The next Egyptian government – or the one after – might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.

It not only lacks the civic and political institutions necessary for democracy, it has no history or tradition of democracy.  Given all of that, I’m constantly amazed by those who see what they choose to interpret as “people’s revolutions” in places like Egypt as precursors to a sunny day in the bright light of democracy and freedom.

David Larison points to something Jeane Kirkpatrick once said decades ago after Iran fell to the Ayatollahs.

Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government. Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain-because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.

Larison adds:

As legitimate as the grievances against the Egyptian government are, it is entirely possible that whatever comes after Mubarak and his allies could be dramatically worse. We seem to forget that political change can also be change significantly for the worse, and that empowering a dispossessed majority can lead to economic catastrophe, ethnic and/or religious violence, and contribute to an overall decline in the public’s welfare.

Exactly.  And for examples of the point, we once again turn to Jean Kirkpatrick:

In Iran and Nicaragua (as previously in Vietnam, Cuba, and China) Washington overestimated the political diversity of the opposition–especially the strength of “moderates” and “democrats” in the opposition movement; underestimated the strength and intransigence of radicals in the movement….

Many of us simply cannot see past the fact that history doesn’t much support the contention that something “good”, as in a government that will be good for its citizens and a friend to the US, will emerge in Egypt or countries like Egypt.  One of the results of oppression and repression are the withering and finally death of democratic institutions – if any even existed to begin with. 

And the promise of “free and open elections?”  As common and predictable as sunrise.   Free and open elections only guarantee you’ll see them once.  After that, you’re more likely to see Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Lebanon than you are Canada, the United States and the UK.

It is having those “free and open elections” the second time, and the third, and fourth, etc. that develop the institutions we’re talking about.   Holding an election after the overthrow of a government doesn’t make what follows a democracy anymore than writing a Constitution means anyone will live by it or uphold it.

Dictatorships in countries with no democratic traditions or institutions usually beget a dictatorship of a different form when the current strongman is overthrown.  And even if the revolution makes an attempt at democratic progress, it usually gets subverted and taken over by the country’s next oppressor as soon as he and his followers gather enough power.

Obviously everyone would like to believe there can be exceptions to the rule and certainly it would be in our, Israel and the region’s best interests if that’s the case in Egypt.  But that’s not what we should expect, and it damn sure isn’t that for we should be preparing.  Instead, it appears we’re in the middle of repeating our own disastrous history of dealing with such problems.  Here’s Kirkpatrick again, talking about Iran – see if you’re feeling a little déjà vu as you read it:

The emissary’s recommendations are presented in the context of a growing clamor for American disengagement on grounds that continued involvement confirms our status as an agent of imperialism, racism, and reaction; is inconsistent with support for human rights; alienates us from the “forces of democracy”; and threatens to put the U.S. once more on the side of history’s “losers.” This chorus is supplemented daily by interviews with returning missionaries and “reasonable” rebels.

As the situation worsens, the President assures the world that the U.S. desires only that the “people choose their own form of government”; he blocks delivery of all arms to the government and undertakes negotiations to establish a “broadly based” coalition headed by a “moderate” critic of the regime who, once elevated, will move quickly to seek a “political” settlement to the conflict.



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60 Responses to History says Egypt will not end well

  • Can’t imagine anything more inspiring, than people rising their heads against oppression. I am with you, brothers and sisters. All democracies in the world started with revolutions or civil wars.

    • I doubt anyone here wishes ill on the people in Egypt.  I certainly want the best for them, and that includes greater freedom, self-determination, and economic opportunity.  That is universal, for me.
      We all just fear for the consequences of poor choices, and the designs of evil people.  The history of revolutions is frought with elation and opportunity that turned to ashes and a worse condition for the people.

    • Simply untrue. In fact most of the democracies of Europe slowly transitioned from monarchies.

      However, most depsotisms did indeed begin with a revolution.

  • On March 4, 1797, officials of many governments cam to Congress Hall in Philadelphia, PA to see the succession of government from George Washington to John Adams.  Many on hand for that event came assuming that George Washington would not survive that day, as the turning over of power from one party to another was rarely, if ever, done by peaceful means.
    History shows that George Washington and John Adams both survived the day.

    • The founding fathers were- even with their flaws – products of the enlightenment, and fairly unique in history.  Radical Islam as it stands today is strictly a dark-age throwback.

      • I agree.  Even without the pernicious influence of Islam (radical or otherwise) in Egypt, I think that the crux is that they have little or no history or even a belief system that is really compatible with democracy or the freedoms that we hold dear.  This puts them squarely in the mainstream of the history of man, which, in the main, is one of bloody despotism.  It’s damned hard for people to say to themselves, “I don’t agree with him, but he has a right to do as he pleases so long as it doesn’t harm me or anybody else.” It’s even harder for them to say, “I don’t agree with him, and I’ll defend with my life his right to do what he pleases.” It’s bloody near miraculous for people to say, “I don’t agree with him, but I will allow him to rule over me unless and until power legally passes from him to somebody more agreeable.”

    • I would very much appreciate evidence that there was a common expectation among the foreign observers; that Washington and Adam or their supporters would throw down.

      • It’s part of the story that the US Park Service gives during the tour of Congress Hall (it’s just to the right of Independence Hall in the commonly use image).

  • My optimistic hope is that Egypt will turn out like Turkey.  My cynical and more realistic side says it’ll probably turn out like Iran.

    • The reason Turkey became Turkey is because of one man, Attaturk. He was a true leader, and a product of western enlightenment. He established a republican form of government and kept it secular (until recently).

      Without such a leader there is probably no chance of such an outcome.

  • Mulsim Brotherhood:  Prepare Egypt for war with Israel.

  • Washington overestimated the political diversity of the opposition–especially the strength of “moderates” and “democrats” in the opposition movement; underestimated the strength and intransigence of radicals in the movement….

    Oh, and the bloodthirsty ruthlessness of the radicals.  People who believe in democracy tend to be “nice”.  They die as a result when they come up against people who are willing to do what is expedient to gain power.
    Ironically, the most stabilizing force in Egypt appears to be their professional military.  With a great deal of luck, they will retain some hints of their British heritage, but that is a damn weak reed.
    Some idiot will come here to argue that this is a “transformational” time, young people, stagnant…blah, blah, blah.
    And that human nature is suspended.  Asinine jerk.

  • McQ may very well be right.  But, IMO, we ought to support the revolutionaries anyway.

    It’s a cliche to say that you can never achieve your goals if you don’t try, but it’s true.  Egypt is never become a democracy if it never holds free and open elections.  And it will never hold free and open elections if everyone is alway afraid that the elections will just lead to a different dictator.

    If McQ can point me to a country the has held “those “free and open elections” the second time, and the third, and fourth, etc. ” without ever holding the first free and open elections, I’d love to hear how.

    Until then, I am supporting holding the first free and open elections.  If that leads to a dictator instead of second free and open election, so be it.  Then I will be back to the position of supporting the first free and open elections, again.

    • I have no problem with holding the “first free and open election” nor do I hope it doesn’t happen – I’m saying the history isn’t good, the institutions and traditions necessary to make it work don’t exist and its unlikely and free and democratic country will result in an election.

      • OK.  I was interpreting the post to make a normative statement about the desirability of elections.  My apologies for the misinterpretation.

        I am somewhat more optimistic than you about the history, but your point is well taken.

  • Does it really matter if a country is democratic or dictatorial if its is still the same country with the same economic reality?    

    Economically Egypt is different to Iran.  Iran has oil, Egypt has none.  Egypt has the Suez Canal and a tourism industry, needs to be friendly to countries that ship lots or provide many tourists – America, China, Japan, India, EU.  Whilst Iran can afford to be belligerent (if the oil price is good enough), Egypt cannot. 

    Even if the Muslim Brotherhood do takeover anything unfriendly they do is going to have direct economic consequences.  The mob that calls for the destruction of Israel still needs its bread. 

    • Three words:

      Great. Leap. Forward.

      People do stupid, self-destructive things.  So do governments.  We have recent historical examples of nations killing off millions OF THEIR OWN PEOPLE in the name of ideology.  Why on earth do you think that a similar ideological impetus wouldn’t lead another country to be belligerent – to threaten or even attempt to kill off millions of people – and to hell with “economic consequences”?

      Back before World War I, there was a book by an Englishman, Norman Angell, called The Great Illusion.  He thesis was that a general war in Europe was impossible because the European economies were so interconnected that a war would ruin things even for non-belligerants, and nobody was stupid enough to cause an economic catastrophe over the relatively petty differences that existed between the powers.  In short there was no point in going to war:

      The fight for ideals can no longer take the form of fight between nations, because the lines of division on moral questions are within the nations themselves and intersect the political frontiers. There is no modern State which is completely Catholic or Protestant, or liberal or autocratic, or aristocratic or democratic, or socialist or individualist; the moral and spiritual struggles of the modern world go on between citizens of the same State in unconscious intellectual cooperation with corresponding groups in other states, not between the public powers of rival States.

      Norman Angell
      The Great Illusion (1910)

      About 16 million dead later…

      • Friedman’s claim that no two countries that have McDonalds had ever fought a war lasted a few years too.

    • According to your theory then the Democrats would never have saddled us with a horrible and unworkable Obamacare law because it is ruinous to our economy. Or any of their other stupid economic nostrums for that matter.

      Folly is folly, and humans have an unlimited capacity for it.

  • You seem to wonder after all of this where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition are. CNN’s anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must be important to the future of Egypt. Hardly! Outside of Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man that has spent less than 30 days in the past year in Egypt and hardly any time in the past 20 years is a nobody. It is entirely insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise. The opposition you wonder? Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood we are discussing groups that can each claim less than 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders they are entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical young generation that has suddenly been transformed that is the real question here.

  • Well, McQ, I wish you’d had this wisdom before the Iraq war.   These are similar arguments to those made by me and others that the Iraq war would not end well.   People even called me a racist for “saying Arabs can’t run a democracy.”  Modernism and enlightenment values were adopted in the West only over centuries, and really only the British and US did it gradually with a minimal amount of bloodshed.

    • Hmmm….  What is the difference between THIS situation, and Iraq?  Do you assert they are the same?
      I didn’t see anyone saying that “Arabs can’t run a democracy”.  Point that out in McQ’s post.
      I’d say you are a racist.
      I thought the Enlightenment (from the Reformation) came from the wonderfulness of Islamic scholars…???  Somebody is confused here…  (It ain’t me)

      • You sure sound confused.  Iraq is, like Egypt, a post-Ottoman corrupt state.  It’s chances for stable democracy are likely less than Egypts because it has oil (oil enhances corruption and creates an incentive to hold power) and ethnic divisions.  The delusional optimism of the neo-conservatives in 2002 and 2003 makes the supposed optimism of people now about Egypt look minor.  I never said McQ said Arabs can’t run a democracy.
        Islamic rationalism helped spark the enlightenment by bringing ideas and Aristotle to a Naples born scholar and cleric, Thomas Aquinas.  After considerable controversy, the Roman Catholic church embraced Aquinas focus on reason and Aristotle, leading ultimately to the of the dominance of a more other-worldly Augustinian theology.  Islamic rationalism claimed the Koran was not an eternal aspect of God, it came from man, and it should be interpreted to fit the times.   It used logic and reason to make these calls (hence the ‘rationalism’ claim).
        As Aquinas’ ideas spread, the Italian renaissance was spurred by information coming from Spain — as the Italians got more information from the Muslim world, then more advanced and tolerant than the Christian world.  In the crusades when the Christians took Jerusalem they said “convert or die.”  When the Muslims retook it, they did not seek revenge, and in fact honored Mohammad’s command that Jews and Christians be given special respect (they did have to pay a higher tax).

        • Switzerland has ethnic divisions. Norway has oil. Explain why they aren’t autocracies.
          Iraq’s ethnic divisions and oil wealth might even help it become a more stable – each group must negotiate and create coalitions to ensure fair access to the oil revenue.
          I do think Egypt could become democratic after the fall of Mubarak. I think McQ is just pointing out there might be some hidden dangers, much like there were hidden dangers in Iraq.
          Note that Mubarak never invaded his neighbors, used WMDs on his enemies, foreign and domestic, and did not defy the UN for a decade. His regime did not fund suicided bombers and actually helps keep weapons out of Gaza. Yeah, he’s an SOB, but sort of a moderate SOB.
          Note that Nasser did invade his neighbors, both Israel and Yemen. They even used poison gas in Yemen.
          Anyone know how strong Egypt’s conventional forces are now?

        • What a series of crocks of shit.

        • I like the new emphasis on historical scholarship, Scott. Given the deficits of the postmodern faculty lounge you must be drawing crowds of one or two to hear your impromptu lectures on “the past.”

          A couple of corrections…

          Egypt can hardly be called a “Post-Ottoman state” since it was essentially free of Ottoman domination by 1805 and was ruled by the same dynasty until 1952, when the current regime’s line began.

          Aquinas, as his name suggests, was not “Naples born.” He was born in Aquino.

          Also, you’ll note that while medieval Christianity received some of their Aristotle via Islamic scholars, they did not likewise receive Islam. What this phenomenon demonstrates is that philosophy and science translate across cultural barriers, the chief barrier in this case being the difference between Christianity and Islam.

          A look at the subsequent development of the two civilizations is instructive. Perhaps your updated Islamophilia will see you taking up residence in the Islamic world. Maybe the Russian-speaking side of your family could help set you up in one of the Central Asia republics. Get your foot in the door for the coming renaissance there.

          Also, there was no “delusional optimism” on the part of neoconservatives in 2003. There was a war, followed by a process, a very distinct process, that provided an organized way for Iraq to become a reasonably modern civil society, even as it faced potential civil war (with some very active elements of same across the Sunni-Shi’a divide) as well as a somewhat complex terror-insurgency, with internal and external players. I recall that througout that process, you ceaselessly disparaged the formation of political parties, the serial votes on interim governments, the new constitution, the first elections under the consitution, and the efforts to form a government after the election. All of this happening on the fly, so to speak, while your favorite faction, the car bombers, became the political party that you applauded. You’ve turned your nose up at every single success, including the Surge, and said, “See, I told you so,” after every exploding car bomb. You’re a party man, Scott, tried and true. A Party of Death man.

          Iraq was a very difficult puzzle that is now arranged, after only eight years, to have a good shot at moving forward. Many of the things you stupidly ignore about Iraqi society (the intermarriage between the major factions, the fact that the Shi’a are Arabs, not Persians, for instance) are well-known to real scholars like Fouad Ajami (Johns Hopkins).

          Finally, Iraq has been given a shot at a reasonably modern society through the communication to it, from the West, of the same universal values explored in Aristotle, some of which made it to the West via Islamic scholars. So, you see, these universals are indeed exportable, importable, and they get around.

        • Iraq and Egypt may, at some level, be equivalent, but that old claim of “blood for oil” does hold some truth.  Iraq at least has the means to support itself, but Egypt will be a “basket case,” under either a democracy or otherwise.  Japan and Germany had the pieces to do it even better than Iraq (and they said democracy would never work in Japan).  Meanwhile a present day “basket case” like Zimbabwe, has the resources to not be a basket case, but has the worst possible government.
          Egypt is neither Iraq or Zimbabwe.  It is merely slightly better than a 4th World country.  Going to war with a “basket case” is equivalent, in a business sense, to mergering with a company that is losing money … any businessman would say .. why bother ?  Frankly, Egypt has no where to go, other than it’s present status, except to become a belligerent.  And we all know what the world needs now is love, sweet love ….

    • Ah, Scott, you’ve changed your position again. You were all gung ho yesterday, leaving that old 20th century behind, peering deep into the history of Islam, blah, blah. Now, you’re back to your old riff about how nothing can work.

      Here is the order of things: The U.S. did not remove Saddam Hussein’s regime so that it could establish democracy in Iraq. It removed Saddam Hussein’s regime because he was a dangerous psychopath, with an established record of tyranny and violence, who was no longer tolerable in the context of the advance in asymmetrical warfare represented by 9/11. Once he was removed, the plan was to establish a reasonable civil society with a reasonable democratic process, and that is what we did. There is as yet no final outcome for Iraq. It is still working with its own restored sovereignty and its competing factions, but on balance much has been accomplished. I only wish we had an administration that could be trusted with the work done so far.

      Your hyperactivity about the wonderful transition in Egypt comes with another set of platitudes swimming around in your head. You’re not a serious person, Scott.

    • In accordance with his warm new priorities, democracy was the fourth of Obama’s five themes is his speech in Cairo in 2009, the one called “A New Beginning.” When he finally got around to it, he introduced it this way: “I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed on one nation by any other.” Or: the United States will no longer bother you about how you are living. He then proceeded to a fine little sermon about the virtues of government “through consent, not coercion,” but said nothing about the political conditions in Egypt. The Cairo speech did not discomfit the Mubarak regime. I imagine that many of Obama’s listeners in Cairo that day are on the streets of Cairo today, and some of them attacked the American Embassy.

      • Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.”

        It’s just like Obama to praise the process, but offer no solutions.

        • I note former Secretary of State James Baker praised Obama’s response.   He’s getting high marks from actual foreign policy experts left and right.  Partisan pundits are all over the place on the right.   I’m glad we got a President with calm decision making rather than the guy picked a VP that wasn’t veeted, and then suspended his campaign before not suspending it when the economic crisis hit.  Erratic behavior is definitely not called for here, Obama is, as the Secretary of State to President Bush when Communism fell noted, doing very well.

          • So Jim Baker offering a formal nod from that wing of the foreign policy establishment sets off one of your canned spiels. How unexpected.

          • Actually, we got a POTUS who was never veeted. The MSM ignored the fact that Obama wasn’t qualified, and went after Palin instead.

            So far, Obama has been a foreign policy clusterf*ck, from his efforts to secure the Olympics for sh*tcago to his AGW policy and everything else he’s touched. Glad to see you are still defending him.

          • Martin, obviously Baker is pretty smart if he says something Erb can use to defend The Won. Aside from that, not so much . . .

          • Good point, Don. In fact the MSM continues to examine Palin just as it continues to not examine Obama. If some Lefty came out with a book on Palin, detailing her hockey mom impertinences and her questionable skills as a hunter, the manhole covers would be blowing off at MSNBC. Meanwhile, no one wants to pay attention to Stanley Kurtz’s ‘Radical-in-Chief,’ which details the actual politics and attending deceptions of the actual President of the United States.

          • Right, instead of a poorly vetted VP, we got an extremely phony, unvetted, untried, inexpereienced guy who looked good, had the proper amount or mellinin in his skin to assuage left over guilt, and could read from a teleprompter.

            yes, much better.

    • I don’t think that Bruce was putting forth the idea that Arab peoples are somehow incapable of managing a free and representative government.  I think he’s acknowledging that the situation in Egypt is more likely to produce a new dictator than a democratic regime.  The pieces aren’t in place for democratic reform.  the pieces do seem to be in place for Islamist forces to move in and take control of the government, or for some sort of power grab that does not lead to free and open elections.

  • You know, the thing about other countries is that they’re full of foreigners, people who think a bit like you do but not the same, people with their own histories, priorities and ways of doing things.
    Of course it’s true that Egypt after Naguib, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak isn’t exactly set up for democracy. What’s the problem with this? A tyrant may be about to be deposed and already you’re worried that what comes after may be much worse? Worse for whom? Might it not be that you simply cannot abide the notion of political change in foreign countries, controlled by those foreigners with their strange ideas?

    • Uh, no … any other dumb questions?

    • A tyrant may be about to be deposed and already you’re worried that what comes after may be much worse?

      Well.   Yes. Change, sadly, is morally neutral.  It is a process.  It was “change” to throw off the autocratic rule of the Czar for Lenin’s Bolsheviks. It’s difficult to argue that the Russian people benefited in either the long or short term.  In the case of Egypt, much of the anti-Mubarak faction is composed of Islamic fundamentalists.

      Worse for whom?

      Well, you know, women, who tend to be stoned for adultery when they get forcibly raped. Or Christians, like the Coptics, who might have the temerity to say that they don’t believe in Islam. Or, really, anyone who might want free speech and stuff.

      Might it not be that you simply cannot abide the notion of political change in foreign countries, controlled by those foreigners with their strange ideas?

      Or it might be I don’t think that replacing one set of dictators for another advances any useful purpose.

      I wish I lived where you did.  It must be great to watch the yellow sun rise above the candy mountains, and gleam brightly on the pink unicorns cavorting in the emerald fields.

      Sadly, I have to live in the real world, where anti-authoritarian revolutions have historically devolved into replacing one set of despots with another.

      History is really interesting, by the way.  You should read some.

    • I was going to reply to your smug and self righteous snide post, but Dale Franks said it all quite well. You should apologize to all of us for your smarmy tone before you post again.

    • Of course it’s true that Egypt after Naguib, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak isn’t exactly set up for democracy. What’s the problem with this?

      A people ready for democracy wouldn’t have had a list of leaders like that, frankly.

      A tyrant may be about to be deposed and already you’re worried that what comes after may be much worse? Worse for whom?

      Worse for everyone, really, except whatever faction ends up holding power. The likely result will probably either be military control and more or less status quo, or Muslim Brotherhood control and nasty results for woman, coptics, Israel, the US, Arab democracy, etc.

  • It is not democracy we are selling but representative government.  The Greeks proved democracy fails two millennia ago.  The European social democracies are an imperfect example – though it may compare better to egypt. European countries are far less diverse than the US. Stronger shared cultural bonds make more “democratic” forms of government more workable, but also make the government more likely to be oppressive to those outside that shared cultural identity. All the checks and balances and complexities of American government are necessary to manage diversity. But significant diversity fosters stability and freedom.
    Egypt has alot going for it as well as alot going against it. One of the other problems throughout the region is that repressive regimes have effectively destroyed much of the organized opposition. There are few established opposition leaders ready to move in.
    What we are seeing with respect to the Egyptian military is encouraging. They are organised and independent. They do not seem to want political power – thus far, but they are also not a tool of political power. Presumably if they are not going to defend Mubarik they are not going to be a tool of the muslim brotherhood either.  That could make a big difference.

  • Just a reminder to everyone…Ayman Al-Zawahiri joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 14. I wonder why he hasn’t weighed in on the issue of Mubarak yet.

  • So you’re worried that whatever comes next might retard women’s rights in Egypt.

    A 2010 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights ranked Egypt 125th out of 134 countries, based on reports by international rights organizations.

    Now I concede that an actively Islamist government could make things even worse than they already are.

    Just not much.

    Meanwhile if there is change there is also the possibility that things could get better. The largely secular nature of the protests is promising, because it suggests are broader underlying set of grievances than typically lead to the ascension to power of religious nuts.

    But at the heart of it, there is uncertainty. And it’s honestly a bit pointless to fret about this. It’s an internal matter and, in due course, there may be change of some sort in the way Egypt is run. You’ll just have to trust those dang furiners and Muslims and Copts and whatnot who live there and seem to think they run the place. They’ll sort it out, I expect.

    • Hopefully in a rather more genteel fashion than, oh, the Khmer Rouge sorted things out in Cambodia, or the Taliban sorted things out in A-stan, or the communists sorted things out in China, or the bolsheviks sorted things out in Russia.

      But you’re right: there’s no sense in fretting about it.  I mean, really: what is Egypt?  Except for the Suez Canal and the potential to get involved in a war with (nuclear-armed) Israel, that is.  Oh, and the potential to become another state sponsor of terrorism.  Nooothing to worry about.  Move along, move along.

      Ragspierre hit the nail on the head: I think that we all want the best outcome for Egypt.  But, given the history of the country and the region, I think it’s reasonable (and not ipso facto racist) to have a teensy-weensy suspicion that it won’t.

    • Uh, yeah, they will – no one is suggesting otherwise. We’re just commenting on what we think that will look like. No one is “fretting” or believes anything else about the fact that Egyptians will decide the outcome.

  • Harun, comparing Switzerland with Iraq is odd.  One is a western country that gradually developed a stable democracy, the other is a former Ottoman possession that’s been riveted with authoritarianism and violence.  Oil usually makes it more likely that you’ll get an authoritarian regime; oil tends to hinder democratic development.  Iraq will be lucky to avoid civil war.  Al-Sadr is back, the best result will probably be that the Sunni leaders will control their region, the Kurds will continue to operate pretty autonomously, and the Shi’ites will at least in part adhere to the elected government.   For now, though, Iraq is riddled with corruption, the democratic institutions don’t function, and the government has little authority.
    Mubarak, to be sure, was a dictator who knew that if he played our game, we’d support him, and he could rule with ruthless oppression against his own people.  That worked in the past.  Al Jazeera is helping Arabs see the truth of their situation, and with half the population under 23 a massively large youth is brushing aside the old order.   The foreign policy elite are used to Egypt of twenty years ago, and aren’t quite comprehending what this means for the entire region.  Another mistake is that people too quickly leap to a comparison to Iran (my blog today “Egypt is not Iran” deals with that).  I do think democracy is possible in Egypt, there are best and worst case scenarios, and a lot depends on the choices made by various actors in the coming weeks and years.  A worst case scenario is the Muslim Brotherhood bringing a radical regime to power that wants to destroy Israel.  The best case is that this creates an impetus to peace in Palestine and a wave of democratization in the mideast to start truly modernizing the political systems.   Almost certainly, the result will be somewhere between the best and worst case scenarios.

    • I had to check twice to see if that was you, Scott, or your doppelganger Ott.

      He coughs up your hairballs with a much more fluid style, and he uses paragraphs.

    • A worst case scenario is the Muslim Brotherhood bringing a radical regime to power that wants to destroy Israel.

      The point most of us here are making is that such a worst case scenario is indeed possible in Egypt. Sure, there are differences between Egypt and Iran, but that hardly rules out such an outcome. Yes, there are differences between Egypt and Iran but however much you wish to discount the similarities, they exist and Egypt could go Islamist as Iran did in 1979. The young moderns supported 1979 Iran Revolution — see “Reading Lolita in Tehran” — and that did not turn out well.

      Al Jazeera is helping Arabs see the truth of their situation, and with half the population under 23 a massively large youth is brushing aside the old order.

      I have no idea what you are talking about here. Link? I don’t recall Al-Jazeera being a reliable purveyor of truth, and the polls of Muslim youth I’ve seen suggest that they are more radical than their parents, which contradicts your point about modernization
      The best case is that this creates an impetus to peace in Palestine and a wave of democratization in the mideast to start truly modernizing the political systems.

      t seems odd that on one hand you label neocon hopes for democratization in the ME as delusional, while indulging the same hopes yourself.

      We all want to see more democracy in the Middle East but the problem with Palestine is not a lack of democracy but the hatred of Israel and the refusal to live with Israel.

      • I don’t think that I’m telling you anything new, huxley, when I say that the first of two thing everyone needs to know about Scott is that he almost never knows what he is talking about. The second thing might be less familiar: He doesn’t care whether he knows anything or not. Most important is that he keep talking and move the narratives along. So, when you see the multiple personalities, one still arguing that Iraq is the worst foreign policy failure in U.S. history and that democracy is a rare form of government that cannot be grafted onto a strange place like Iraq, while the other argues that people in the streets of Cairo is for Egypt the beginning of a new 21st century wave of reform and democracy that will even help the Palestinians see the rainbow, you’re watching a debased human being hanging off the pretensions of being a professional. Exhilerating, no, to see something that belongs in some sort of textbook as an example of something very unfortunate?

        And all of it handled with the flair of an inflated rubber clown with sand in its base.

        • Martin: I don’t get it either. Erb seems to be a textbook case of a liberal who is certain he possesses the moral and intellectual high ground, while blinded to important aspects of reality by his smug dogmatism.

          Me, I’m wondering where all these millions of sophisticated young Muslims, sipping their lattes, reading Averroes, and critiquing the sadly backward aspects of Islam, might be. They don’t show up on my radar.

          To the extent that they exist, I imagine that they are the secularized Muslims I mentioned earlier, who have some fondness for their heritage but don’t really believe and therefore their views on Islam have little weight with real Muslims.

          • He’s a textbook case alright.

            The problem for moderate Muslims is that expressing their point of view can result in getting killed. I’ve actually known a lot of Muslims, most of them immigrants, and I have a sense that they were aware of the potential call back to the flock, even if they indulged themselves in various Western freedoms. I can’t say how any of them would have reacted to a call from radical Islam, because I think that’s a very difficult thing to discern in someone. I found most of them to be like other people, with the exception of one bunch (who lived in an apartment on the same floor in my NYC building) who were somewhat paranoid.

            There are probably many layers in the many Muslim countries and probably a lot of people who are moderate enough to think “could you please give me a break with this radical Islam,” but fear speaking out.

            Bernard Lewis says that you cannot believe the polls, because in the Muslim world people simply won’t trust the people asking the questions. They’ll give what they believe is the safest answer.

            If there is some reassurance that the most severe religious factions won’t get hold of the reins of power, then there can be safe access to moderation. But that still scratches the surface of the overall condition of Islam, which is another subject.

          • Martin: Good points. Clearly there are many varieties and layers to the world Muslim community. I know there are moderates who fear to speak out. I know there are moderates in America and Europe who are quietly cooperating with authorities to squelch terrorist plots with a fair amount of success, and thank God for that.
            But it’s going on ten years since 9-11 and I’ve given up on the search for moderate Muslims who are reforming Islam. I don’t think they exist. The figures that do rise to attention like Reza Aslan (an Erb favorite) almost always turn out to be apologists whitewashing Islam or fringe types like Irshad Manji, a lesbian Muslim whose main impact on orthodox Islam is to excite her co-religionists to death threats.

            Everything changes, but I don’t see much possibility for the reform of Islam. As Muslim populations age and Arab oil runs out, the Muslim world may lose power and subside into the secondary impotence again. Or the forces of modernization may lure its young people in huge numbers to abandon Islam. Or its radical elements may succeed in sparking cataclysmic war with the West in which hundreds of millions of Muslims will be killed and Mecca turned to glass. (I really really do not want to see this third possibility.)

            Once I assumed that Islam would reform as Christianity did and things would work out. But I have studied it too long and watched what has happened since 9-11. If such reform were possible in this century, I think we would have seen the green shoots of it by now, but we haven’t. To the extent Islam is changing, it is going the other way — towards Islamism.

  • I can see that Israel could have concerns. They’re looking at a longtime ally in turmoil. They’ll live with it, having actively destabilized some of their other neighbors in the past with little adverse effect.

    As for Suez, and the idea that the canal might be a political and diplomatic football, that ship sailed long ago. Egypt blockaded the canal for eight years after the Six Day War. Tankers just went the long way around, via the Cape.

    No, the chief consequences of the current unrest will be felt by the Egyptian people. It seems frankly unlikely that the demonstrators’ aspirations for a western-style democracy can be achieved, simply because the country has little of the support apparatus to support democratic rule, but I counsel against pessimism. This could be the start of something good. And things could hardly get much worse for Egypt than under Mubarak, even if he did serve American interests quite well for a long time.

    • Very glib.

      And things can always get worse, for Egypt, for the region, and for the world. That’s the point of paying attention to what happened in Iran. The Shah was the worst thing in the world, what could go wrong deposing him, the people were rising, change was good, and, voila, there’s Khoemeni and now, thirty years latter, his successors among the mullahs, and their nutty front man Ahmadinejad, the nuclear program, and three decsdes of outsourcing terrorism.