Posts Tagged Egypt

Is Egypt the Anti-Iran?

For at least 3 decades now, the US has chosen stability over democracy with regard to Egypt.  With two million in Tahrir Square in Cairo today, it’s rapidly becoming clear that the current government cannot sustain itself.  Rachel Maddow opened her show last night with an interesting take on the legitimacy of Mubarak’s government, pointing out that it’s implausible to claim that Egypt’s government has a decent claim to democratic legitimacy.  Egypt – like Saudi Arabia – has been a sizable island of political stability in an unstable region.  That said, Mubarak’s regime has a less than stellar record on things like civil liberties.  It’s more a matter of better a kind of bad guy than instability and beter a kind of bad guy who’s our friend than an Iranian style regime that hates us.

So we find ourselves in a problematic position. 

Ed Kilgore observed:

To put it simply, a “bad” outcome in Egypt–whether it’s Mubarak surviving by savage repression, a civil war, or some sort of inherently unviable Kerensky-like successor government likely to give way to something worse–would blow up the Middle East in unpredictable ways, and could well plunge much of the entire planet into a second phase of global recession. The impact on oil prices alone of extended instability in the country that controls the Suez Canal could bring back to Americans a relic of the 1970s that has been all but forgotten: “stagflation,” the maddening, policy-paralyzing coexistence of powerful price inflation and high unemployment. So in a very real sense, Egypt could make pretty much irrelevant many of the domestic policy arguments Americans were having before the first demonstration in Cairo.

It’s tempting to turn on the tube and simply cheer for the unquestioned good guys in the Egyptian drama, the pro-democracy forces, and shake our heads in dismay at the apparent defensiveness and sometimes even cluelessness of administration officials. If Egypt transitions more or less seamlessly into a peaceful, secular multi-party democracy then it may well be time for some serious progressive soul-searching about our past complicity in the previous regime’s outrages. But this is not a television show, and the consequences of a false step by the Obama administration for regional peace and domestic prosperity–not to mention the democratic aspirations of the people of Egypt and the Middle East–are a lot more important than current ratings of its behavior in front of the cameras.

JP Green offered this insight:

Neither political party has much to gain by engaging in “Who lost Egypt?” finger-pointing, since both parties have demonstrated a high tolerance for Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship for 27 years. Such are the realpolitik considerations of mideast diplomacy.[snip]

It’s highly unlikely that the uprising in Egypt will do much to directly influence voters in the U.S. to support one party or the other. But the protests in Egypt do provide a timely reminder that the days when subsidizing repressive dictatorships were a sound investment are coming to a close. We need a new grand strategy to win respect, instead of fear, in the strife-torn nations of the middle east, and Democrats should lead the way.

All of which is interesting and deserves deeper consideration.  I find myself, however, pondering the odd parallels between Egypt and Iran. 

HuffPo published a piece arguing that Egypt is not Iran:

Many wonder why this isn’t an Islamic Revolution, and are audibly breathing a sigh of relief that it isn’t — assuming that somehow Egypt would follow Iran’s rather unique trajectory in 1979 and thereafter.

So why isn’t Egypt’s revolution an Islamic one? And what sets Tunisia and Egypt apart from Iran? Due to the quickly shifting nature of events, I’ve recorded four reasons why Egypt’s uprising isn’t an explicitly Islamic one.

  1. The political Islamism that ended up triumphing in Iran was a much more authoritarian interpretation of Islam.
  2.  Iran’s Islamist opposition to the Shah was shaped by the peculiarities of Shi’a Islam and Iranian history.
  3. People who study Iran know how vexed the relationship is, and has been, between Persian cultural identity and Islam.
  4. Egypt’s revolution doesn’t have to be Islamic because Islam isn’t at the heart of the problem on the ground.

For obvious reasons, I find those four things comforting.  Egypt becoming an Iranian style theocracy is the last thing the world needs.  But the transition from dictatorship to democracy is rarely smooth.  Iran transitioned from one dictatorship to another.  Egypt, for the four reasons above, might have better luck.

For the sake of the Egyptian people, I hope so.


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