Monday, November 7, 2011

More on army control of Egypt

No sooner does Barry Rubin do an article on how the last chance for civilization in the Middle East is the army than he writes another one, focusing on Egypt.  He starts out:
This is of tremendous importance. Only hours ago I wrote about how the Egyptian military felt forced by circumstances to play a bigger, longer political role in order to stem anarchy and prevent Egypt from becoming an Islamist state. Now there’s more evidence of that happening.
In an editorial that reflects also the Obama administration’s position, the Washington Post explained that the army having political power is bad and civilian rule is good:
The generals’ justification for their proposed decree will sound familiar to any student of the Mubarak regime: They claim to be protecting the country from Islamic fundamentalists, who appear likely to capture a plurality of seats in parliament.
I understand this point and the value of electoral democracy. But let’s review recent history.
The Carter administration refused to back the shah of Iran (a bad dictator) and helped bring us Islamist Iran (a worse dictatorship by far). In Turkey the European Union, on similar principles, helped destroy the military’s influence and ushered in an era when an Islamist regime acts increasingly like a dictatorship. The Bush administration insisted that Hamas participate in free elections among the Palestinians, leading to its victory, seizure of power in the Gaza Strip, one war so far, and — while its prospects were already dim –certainty that the peace process wouldn’t make any progress.
The Post even admits, “In fact some Egyptian secular parties unwisely encouraged the supra-constitutional articles in the hope they would guarantee civil liberties and a secular state.” Maybe those people in Egypt, who are genuine moderates who want democracy, know better than those in Washington.
And, excuse me, but haven’t these same people in the Western establishment been telling us that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate (wrong), doesn’t want power (wrong), and can’t win (wrong again)?
We have here a political, philosophical, and strategic issue of the greatest importance: If an electoral system is likely to be unstable and lead to a repressive government in a country unprepared for such a system, are limits acceptable to prevent war, bloodshed, and dictatorship?
A classic problem from the Cold War: what do you do after you've succeeded in getting people out from under dictatorial rule and into free elections, they then vote to put themselves under dictatorial rule? Yes, democracy can be a bad thing if it leads to such barbarity as shar'ia law.

Rubin argues against:
[...] a — if you’ll excuse the expression — mindless obsession with elections and a belief in the essential goodness of people who say they want to cut off your head, but a serious evaluation of the possibilities.
Should the United States have supported the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956 rather than seeing him as the great hope for a “third force”? Yes.
Should U.S. policy have been to help ensure a smooth and somewhat incomplete transition in Iran in 1979 or Egypt in January 2011 rather than back revolution by inaction (in Iran) or support (in Egypt)? Again, yes.
Should the Obama administration have been working to subvert Iran and Syria since the day it took office? Once more, yes.
If a traditional State Department type policy was directing things under a more traditional Democratic or Republican president, U.S. policy would be privately backing the military against the radical nationalists and Islamists in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, trying to work out some mix of democracy and controls. Under the current president, however, the U.S. government thinks it is taking the side of the people.
Unfortunately, the people most likely to benefit are very bad and bloody ones. Nowadays, if policymakers don’t think outside the box in this regard their interests are likely to be buried six feet deep inside of it.
Read the whole thing.

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