Egypt: Steady As She Goes

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Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has announced that President Hosni Mubarak was stepping down from the office of president of the republic “and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country.” In other words, the Army has taken over. This is the least bad outcome on offer right now, and certainly not the one suggested by President Obama, Vice President Biden, or the Department of State over the past few days.

The scenario announced by Suleiman is exactly what I had in mind when writing, last Monday, that “it is to be hoped that Egypt’s political class and military officers will prevent [the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory] regardless of Obama’s expectations and advice.” The political class and military officers have concluded that Mubarak is a liability, but perhaps more significantly they have concluded that the advice coming from Washington is insanity that must be resisted. They need look no further than yesterday’s declaration by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, that the Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular” and has “eschewed violence.” With the likes of Clapper making decisions in Washington, the responsible people in Cairo know that they are on their own.

The Army brought down King Farouk, a year short of six decades ago, and it has never left the stage since then. It is competent to pacify the crowds, reestablish normality, and manage the transition. That transition should result in a model of managed democracy—perhaps not unlike Janos Kadar’s Hungary—that will change the nomenklatura but not the essence of the regime. Over the next few months there will be all kinds of reforms and there will be elections, all right, but there will be no chaotic free-for-all from which only some seriously bad people would profit.

The Egyptian Army is a neo-Kemalist institution, well aware that its Turkish counterpart—once powerful and even constitutionally unassailable—has been neutered by democratically elected hard-line Islamists, to the thundering applause of an enfeebled and degenerate West. It will not allow the same thing in Cairo. There will be peace on the Nile, or else there will be blood, but there will be no “democracy” of the kind that serves the ends of those who want to use it as a tool of instituting Sharia.

Obama’s current advocacy of immediate democratic transformation of Egypt indicated the extent to which he shares the same ideological roots with his predecessor. “We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won,” President George W. Bush declared in 2005, and establishing peace and democracy throughout the greater Middle East was the key:

Some who call themselves “realists” question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality… If that region is abandoned to dictators and terrorists, it will be a constant source of violence and alarm… [but] if that region grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorist movement will lose its sponsors, lose its recruits, and lose the festering grievances that keep terrorists in business.

This is utter nonsense, of course. Democratic transformation of the Middle East, as it is today, is unattainable in practice and undesirable in principle. In practical terms, the United States is heartily disliked throughout the Muslim world, more so than at any time in living memory. Whatever America wishes, the locals will want more of the opposite. Whoever its candidate or political force of American choice, the “Street” will reject them the moment it becomes aware of the connection. In principle, instead of the degenerate and scared royal kleptocrats, Usama’s followers would run Saudi Arabia. And yes, the Muslim Brotherhood would turn Egypt into an Islamic Republic. The scenario is being played out in Turkey as we speak. In Algeria immediately, Morocco after a while, the survival of moderate and pro-Western regimes would be undermined. Obama’s desire that the Middle East grows in democracy would benefit those who would never thank him for making their rise to power possible.

“Democracy” is not feasible outside of the framework of ideas that sustain it. These ideas, in the case of the West, are rooted back into the history of the polis of Greece, the Scriptures, the heresy of the Enlightenment, the notion of liberty, of individual responsibility resulting from the existence of individual free will, of collective creativity embodied in the rendering of classical symphonies and the launching of space missions.

When we see the first Egyptian space shuttle return safely to base, we’ll know that the Army may well risk a genuinely free election.

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