(Pictured: The Muslim Brotherhood.)
It might suit such pundits as Blair, Bolton and Netanyahu to pretend that Egyptians are too uneducated and ignorant to be trusted with democracy, but I would put my money on the political literacy of the Egyptians en masse over Americans any day.
One cannot help but suspect that what they mean by “ignorant” is that they support the Palestinians. That is not to say that they necessarily want to rush to war, but certainly the unholy tradeoffs in enforcing the blockade on Gaza are deeply unpopular. The rising was certainly inspired by domestic concerns, economic and democratic, but the delegitimizing effect of pro-Israeli support for the regime should not be underestimated, not least inside the Army, which after all has fought Israel repeatedly.
That is not to say a future regime would declare war or rip up Camp David. Rather it would probably emulate Turkey, and maintain polite but chilly relations with Israel. Cairo will be less biddable, whether from Israel or the US. While Bolton, a deep harborer of grudges, reviles Mohamed El Baradei, it is worth remembering that the present government, along with him, and indeed putative rival Amr Al-Moussa, are all on the record as wanting Israel to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Who can oppose a call for democracy? Well, John Bolton, Peres and Netanyahu can, not to mention Tony Blair, who described Mubarak as “immensely courageous, and a force for good,” even as his mercenary thugs brought blood and mayhem to the streets of Cairo. And of course the time-expired President of Palestine, Mohamed Abbas.
The outright support of Netanyahu and his friends for the alleged stability of the Mubarak regime certainly tempers the enthusiasm of many others in the chattering classes in the US, for toppling the regime in Cairo, including the Obama administration. Ironically their various pronouncements in favor of Mubarak and his anointed deputy Omar Suleiman are very effective stakes through the heart of the regime.
However, Netanyahu, Peres and Blair are following a long tradition of American policy towards Egypt that has for long time been effectively amoral, with no ethical dimension at all. It did not care what happened to Egyptians as long their government did what it was told.
Consistently, from Sandy Berger and Clinton and even before, democracy has been sidelined as a US policy in the Arab world. Originally, any Arab regime that did not threaten Israel had a free pass for torture and repression, but after 9-11, Muslims, Arabs, terrorists all became blurred in the popular mind – and even in Washington policy-making circles.
So for Egypt, democracy would all be fine, if there weren’t a strong chance that the Muslim Brothers would be elected and at least share power. People who are quite happy to respect Catholic dominated Christian Democrats across Europe, rabbi-led parties in Israel, and dare one add, Evangelical dominated Republicans in the US, confess to frissons of fear at the thought that the Muslim Brotherhood will play a large part in a new reformed Egyptian administration.
Just as everybody knows that every Catholic is an inquisitor waiting with a box of matches next to the stake, viscerally, Americans know every Muslim is a terrorist. Fortunately, the images of the peaceful, articulate and passionate demonstrators in Tahrir Square belied that.
It is an ironic comment on consistently failed US policy that if Washington had not stopped the funding for the Aswan Dam under Nasser, the total of $35 billion in military aid, which began as a bribe to wean Cairo away from the Soviets, might have been unnecessary, let alone if the US had maintained its principles. Remember, back in 1956, the US had threatened to crash the currencies of its two biggest allies, Britain and France, and Israel if the three conspirators did not pull out from the Sinai they had just occupied.
Of course the US could withhold aid to Egypt if it elected a new government that was, shall we say, less amenable to Israeli wishes. However, since most of this money is immediately recycled to American weapons makers and does not impinge on ordinary citizens, it is hardly a potent threat to the nation. But if Obama is serious about democratization, he could mention the possibility of stopping the dollars flowing to the Egyptian high command who along with Mubarak, are the major beneficiaries of this largesse.
In fact, there is some doubt whether the bulk of the Army would actually obey orders to move against the demonstrators. Its popular legitimacy derives from its wars against invaders, which is somewhat challenged when the President is endorsed by those who most Egyptians, military and civilian see as the enemy. Perhaps the most potent images which demoralized the police and security forces and deprived them and the regime of legitimacy were the water cannons deployed against praying demonstrators.
The absence of the uniformed security forces and indeed their visible reluctance to stand their ground against demonstrators suggests that demoralization has already set in, while the unleashing of paid thugs that we have seen is reminiscent of the last days of the Indonesians in East Timor, Ceausescu in Romania and other crumbling regimes.
Indeed Mubarak might want to check over the reports of the downfall of the Romanian dictator, where it was the army that decided, under cover of popular protest, the best way to calm things down was to put him in front of kangaroo court and shoot him.
Obama cannot claim non-interference. Washington’s financial, military and diplomatic support for Mubarak are already an intervention. A clear signal that it was all ending could motivate the armed forces leaders to seek a Mubarak-free accommodation with the opposition and ensure an orderly transition to democracy.