Concerning the Rebellion in Egypt

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 7 months ago

Just a few days ago I sent the following note to a friend:

NRO is panning Mubarak’s admin, and most commentators I read are ready for something new in Egypt.

But listen to my concern.  I know that he is a dictator, and has in fact been hard on Christians in Egypt, except Coptic Christians as long as they don’t proselytize Muslims.  To be sure, I have no love for Mubarak.  I really don’t.

But … remember our history.  Ayman al-Zawahiri came from Egypt as well as Sayyid Qutb, father of modern jihad.

But they both stayed behind bars.  Mubarak, if he hasn’t done anything else, has certainly clamped down on radical jihadism in Egypt, maintaining his own rulership, to be sure, but you know the saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The most recent riots have also seen a lot of Muslim on Christian violence while shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were heard.  There is a tempest brewing, and I’m not so sure that it’s all good.

What will the next ruler bring?

There are a host of crackpot theories and commentaries out on what is causing this and what to do about it.  Michael Sheuer – who is always quick to throw Israel under the bus as if that would make the Muslim world love us – is also equally quick to point to Operation Iraqi Freedom as a cause for instability in the region.  If there is a culprit having to do with OIF, it pertains not to the campaign per se, but to our lack of vision in prosecuting it as the regional war that it is (including regime change in Iran).  But Michael Sheuer’s views on OIF are shortsighted.

I won’t weigh in on causes.  This is a complex region with complex actors.  Regarding our stance, I find myself in agreement with John Bolton who demurs from the rosy views (“We aren’t entering the Age of Aquarius in Egypt”), and Michael Ledeen.

And what about us?  We are supposed to be the revolutionaries, and we must support democratic revolution against tyranny.  But we must not support phony democrats, and for the president to say “Egypt’s destiny will be determined by the Egyptian people,” or “everyone wants to be free” is silly and dangerous.  Egypt’s destiny will be determined by a fight among Egyptian people, some of whom wish to be free and others who wish to install a tyranny worse than Mubarak’s.  That’s the opposite of freedom.  Think about the free elections in Gaza that brought the Hamas killers to power.  For that matter, think about Khomeini, viewed at the time as a progressive democrat by many of the leading intellectual and political lights of the West, from Foucault to Andrew Young.

We should have been pressuring the friendly tyrants in the Middle East to liberalize their polities lo these many years.  We should have done it in the shah’s Iran, and in Mubarak’s Egypt, and in Ben Ali’s Tunisia.  It is possible to move peacefully from dictatorship to democracy (think Taiwan.  Think Chile.  Think South Africa).  But we didn’t, in part because of the racist stereotype that goes under the label “the Arab street,” according to which the Arab masses are motivated above all by an unrelenting rage at Israel for its oppression of the beloved Palestinians.  That myth went along with another:  the belief that the culture of the Arab world (sometimes expanded to “the culture of the Muslim world”) was totally resistant to democracy.  The tumult has nothing to do with Palestine/Israel and even a blind bat can see hundreds of thousands of Arabs fighting for democracy, as have their fellow Muslims in Iran.

We shoulda, coulda done better all along.  But here we are.  It’s quite clear that Obama is totally bamboozled.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is already eyeballing a piece of the pie, and their cousins in Jordan have threatened every Arabic nation who supports the U.S. with the same sort of rebellion.  We’re in a dangerous time, and the framework for it has been under construction for quite a while.

The administration cannot be blamed for the failings of previous administrations, and there are plenty – from the failure to press for regime change in Iran, to throwing money all over the Middle East without commensurate demands not only for pro-democracy reforms, but for hard action against the Muslim Brotherhood.

But of the more current and obviously ridiculous failures is bowing and kowtowing to every tin pot dictator on earth in an attempt to talk our way to foreign policy success.  The final and most egregious failure has to do with the diminution of the CIA and human intelligence assets and resources.  The CIA was eviscerated under Clinton, built back only slightly under Bush, and now interests itself in things like anthropogenic global warming.

Educated action would have required prior preparation, an understanding of the hazardous waters in which many billions of the world’s people swim.  We can’t save the Mubarak regime, and it isn’t a good idea to try.  But with the proper planning we could have been ready for events like this one, with knowledge of the main actors within the Egyptian Army and intelligence communities, a close relationship with them, and enough leverage to make a difference in the final outcome.

As it is, Ledeen is right.  The Obama administration looks like a deer in the headlights.  The Middle East is ready to rock and roll.  Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine are trouble spots, and will likely only become more unstable.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration hasn’t been invited to the dance.

What will happen to a nuclear Pakistan when the Tehrik-i-Taliban seize control of nuclear weapons or cause the regime to collapse?



  • http://biophilic.blogspot.com Burk

    Hi, Captain’s Journal-

    Thanks for some very interesting comments. You seem overly pessimistic, though. Do you see some Ayatolla Khomeini in the wings, longed for by the people of Egypt? I really don’t. The Muslim Brotherhood is there, but has little more broad sympathy than Mubarak does. Mubarak stayed in power largely out of the relatively popular logic that keeping the Brotherhood down required his police state and continued emergency rule, etc. But the mass of Egyptians are fed up- with both of them. Both are defanged.

    Our job is to push for the broadest possible reforms and democracy. That is how we can prevent this revolution being hijacked by extremists as has happened so often in history, with the Russian revolution being the prime example. Supporting an interim administration by Baradei would be a good start, if that has such broad support.

    With respect to Obama, his sentiments are not unclear at all. But American foreign policy is like an aircraft carrier- slow to change and turn. He has to be wary of pissing off every single other state we deal with in the region, (whether we want to or not), not to mention taking account of the chance that Mubarak might survive. So he has to be careful. We don’t run these countries, and the more closely we seem to be involved, the worse the outcome will be.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    But I’m saying something completely different than what you’re saying. We’ll see if my pessimistic forecast holds. I hope not.

    But fundamentally, Obama would have had to come into his administration with a different world view in order to be ready for this exigency. We are ill-prepared for this simply because of the lack of adequate preparation for the last thirty years, and certainly, certainly, for the last two.

    I’m not saying that Obama must be cautious, or be more assertive, or do this or that or the other. What I’m saying is that his actions over the last two years makes it now to where nothing he says or does will make any difference. He is irrelevant.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Happy, Clappy Democracy in Egypt


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This article is filed under the category(s) Egypt,Obama Administration and was published January 30th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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