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"Democracy in Egypt?" - Be Careful What You Wish For

By Gary Starr for the Neville Awards
Feb. 14, 2011

When our Constitution was finished Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government had been given to the people. "A republic" he replied, "if you can keep it."

The people of Egypt have pulled off a remarkable feat --- they have deposed, with the help of the military, a dictator who was robbing them blind and generally making life miserable for them. Hosni Mubarak was also our ally who fought the good fight against the jihadists, did a lot of our torture interrogation under the rendition program and kept the Muslim Brotherhood at bay.

Our Fraudinator-in-Chief and the clueless mainstream media are giving themselves high- fives all around: "We did it!! The world has changed. Egypt has changed. Democracy for everybody. It's a 1776 moment."

Unfortunately, revolutions generally occur in two stages. Here are three examples:

The Bolsheviks

In 1917 Czar Nicholas II abdicated his crown throwing Russia out of World War I. A weak democracy headed by Alexander Kerenksy formed in the spring of 1917. Unable to withstand pressure from Lenin's Bolsheviks the real revolution happened in October 1917 which lead to 70 years of Communist authoritarian rule and 20 million killed under Joseph Stalin.

The Nazis

After World War I Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm fled the country. A weak democracy, the Weimar Republic attempted to restore order to the defeated country. Under the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty Germany suffered runaway hyperinflation and massive unemployment setting the stage for the rise of the Nazis. Agitation by Communists and National Socialists vying for power further stretched the fabric of the weak civil society to the breaking point. At first Hitler was forced to share power but by 1933 he was Chancellor of Germany and the rest is history. To consolidate power Hitler first went after its own. Then the National Socialists (Nazis) purged (killed) the International Socialists (Communists). After that it was anyone who simply disagreed with Hitler. At least 10 million people were murdered by the Nazis.


In 1979 "President" Carter sold out the Shah of Iran paving the way for communist inspired "students" to topple the government. A weak democracy rose in the Shah's place but within a month the Ayatollahs were in charge. An Islamic Republic was declared, Sharia law put in place and we have had 30 years of repression, torture, and state funded international terrorism. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.

Is this the fate of Egypt? It's unclear at this time. For now the pro-western military is in charge. The old constitution is suspended, parliament dissolved and elections are promised for the fall.

But the unrest is spilling over the borders to Libya, Morroco, Algeria, Jordan and possibly Iran. In Iran this maybe a good thing because it could overthrow the Mullahs. If the Egyptians can hold things together and keep the Muslim Brotherhood fascists from taking power, and the other countries follow suit, the world may be spared a Muslim Caliphate. If not, and the Brotherhood gains power in Egypt, then we in the West are in for a long period of darkness. It will spread throughout the Middle East and probably into Europe, which has tolerated unfettered Muslim immigration for fifty years.

If the worst happens perhaps the words of Winston Churchill to the United States on October 16, 1938 might serve as a wakeup call:

"The stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out; but there is still time for those to whom freedom and parliamentary government mean something, to consult together."

From the Wall St. Journal:

Looking Into the Egyptian Crystal Ball
Will its new government come to resemble Pakistan? Indonesia? Turkey? Or something entirely different
FEBRUARY 14, 2011

So what's next for Egypt? When people talk about possible outcomes after the collapse of the Mubarak regime, they usually have other Muslim countries in mind. This crisis has been so unexpected that something familiar helps calm nerves. The comparisons are illuminating, as long as they don't blind us to the uniqueness of the moment.

Mentioned often, of course, is Iran, a brutal theocracy born in a 1979 popular revolution. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out on Friday, to his last day evoked the specter of an Islamist ascendancy to justify nearly 30 years of emergency rule.

An Egyptian Iran may also be the least plausible scenario. The Muslim Brotherhood is currently the best organized opposition force. Political freedom will surely empower religious groups and voices in Islamic countries. "Arab peasants," says one analyst from the Mideast, "don't vote against God." Yet Egypt's Sunni Islam doesn't have a clerical hierarchy like Iran's Shiite mullahs. The Brotherhood, an 82-year-old sight familiar to Egyptians, came late to this revolution. No Khomeinis emerged from Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The Islamists could yet be energized by Mr. Mubarak's downfall, particularly if the aspirations for a freer and better Egypt end up dashed. The opposition might then reorganize under Islamist, anti-American flags. Neither fueled this revolution. Egyptians demanded dignity and democracy, not Islam. Their weapons were the Tweet and the peaceful rally, not the terrorist suicide belt. In 18 days, the young people of Egypt changed the Arab world far more than Arafat or bin Laden ever did.

In the next breath after Iran comes Pakistan, with its cast of weak parties and bickering civilians. Egypt has both, only in infancy. Yet the point about the Pakistani model—hardly a reassuring phrase—is the outsized role of the military. America has armed both countries, cultivating dominant institutions for broader regional strategic reasons. In Egypt, the military was bribed, essentially, to leave Israel alone. So the brass burrowed deep into the economy, controlling by some estimates a third of it. They were willing to dump the Mubarak clan, but they won't as easily surrender their huge economic and political interests. To get them to cede ground to a government beyond their control may require the partial dismantling of the military, the glue that today holds Egypt together.

Hence the Pakistan route. The Pakistani military, no stranger to repression, in the best of times allows an immature democracy with a free press and competitive elections. Picture Egypt dominated by the army with a smattering of parties and populist leaders in the mix. If this produces Pakistani-style results—political instability, deep social fractures, a frustrated and ill-educated young populace and financial insolvency—it might bring a rising tide of Islamism from below, the other unappealing feature of today's Pakistan.

"Pakistan plus" is Indonesia. After the 1998 downfall of the Suharto regime and the 1999 East Timor crisis, the powerful military kept its paws in business but receded from the political scene. Islamist parties won votes but never control over government. With time, secular parties matured and the economy opened up. Corruption remains widespread. Egypt, many think, would be so lucky. The ruling military's decision yesterday to disband parliament, suspend the constitution and hold elections for a new civilian government in six months may suggest a desire to take the Indonesian path.

The best case is Turkey, the most vibrant Muslim democracy and modern free-market economy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads a reformed Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), respects democratic niceties, except in some of his attitudes to a free press. The government has embraced business-friendly policies. Inflation is in single digits and growth in double digits, in a mirror reversal of Turkey's economic fortunes before the AKP came to power in 2002.

The military had dominated for decades, but as Turkey became a more open society the generals were politically neutered. Relations with the West soured, particularly with Israel. Jerusalem and some realists yearn for the previous version of Turkey, shabby and corrupt but reliably pro-Western. Most Turks don't. A Muslim world remade in Turkey's current image would be a better and less dangerous place.

The catch? Turkey is sui generis. The secular nature of the state was built on 80-plus years of mild Kemalist authoritarianism, enforced by the military. Strong growth and open trade routes, particularly into Europe, plugged Turkey into the global economy and brought to life what scholar Vali Nasr, now an official at the State Department, calls the "new Muslim middle class." This economic pluralism offers the best guarantee that its politics and society stay pluralistic.

Egypt shares little of Turkey's history or advantages. Tunisia, where this winter of Arab uprisings began, may find it easier to go the Turkey route with its larger secular middle class and a military not as enmeshed with the previous regime as in Egypt.

There are other places you don't hear mentioned. How about the new democracies of Eastern Europe? Look at Albania (seriously). Once a hermetic backwater modeled on North Korea, Albania joined NATO in 2009. Its desire for EU membership gives shape and succor to internal reforms. Egypt won't join either club, but it can respond to proper reform incentives. The U.S. and Europe ought to think about offering aid and other goodies that keep Egypt's future rulers on the long road to liberal democracy.

The next Egypt may take elements of all these models. Alternatively, the outcome will be as exceptional as the last three weeks. The few prominent figures thrown up by the demonstrators, like Google executive Wael Ghonim, want to bring Egypt into the 21st century. Mubarak goon squads, arrests of dissidents and crackdowns on journalists couldn't break the will of this new generation. Their resilience hopefully has forged a new Egyptian identity and unifying experience for the hard days ahead.

From Pakistan to Turkey, all these cases have one thing in common: The more successful are the most democratic and economically vibrant. As the Obama administration struggles to shape its response to events and help midwife a new Egypt, those are the goals that trump all others.

Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.
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