I’m happy to join in singing “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” as Mubarak leaves the stage, and reasonably proud of the U.S. role in showing him the door. President Obama’s statement laid proper stress on the success of nonviolent resistance in bringing down a tyranny; surely, the combination of determination. coordination, and restraint demonstrated by the insurgents ought to give everyone new hope about the prospects of forming a true republic in the most populous Arab nation.
Still, the future is murky. And the murkiness cannot be clarified without escaping the neocon Islamism-on-the-brain mindset that has so misled us since 9/11.
The following sentence from the New York Times news story on Mubarak’s fall typifies what seems to be a seriously confused view of the alternatives:
The United States, its Arab allies and Israel are now pondering whether the Egyptian military, which has vowed to hold free elections, will give way to a new era of democratic dynamism or to a perilous lurch into instability or Islamist rule.
Yes, those are three prominent possibilities. (Instability is always a good bet after a revolution.) But the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t seem to have either the votes or the shock troops needed to establish Islamist rule, and it would be foolish to underestimate the difficulty of quickly creating the institutions – coherent parties with real social bases under them, norms of democratic contention, honest and independent courts, trustworthy mass media – required to make a republic function.
Neither democratic flourishing nor Islamist domination seems to me as likely as the continuation of the effective rule of the military, under new constitutional forms and with a new figurehead. The Egyptian military, which has dominated Egyptian politics since the fall of King Farouk in 1952, played its hand skilfully this round, and I see no evidence that it has lost either its internal cohesion or its legitimacy with the Egyptian people.
Note that not all military-dominated outcomes are equally bad. A “Kemalist” government – civilian on the outside, military on the inside, aggressively secular, reasonably honest, modernizing both economically and socially (e.g., with respect to the status of women) – would fall far short of a flourishing democracy, but would beat the hell out of the previous half-century.
On the other hand, there is reason to fear that American foreign-policy/intelligence/military machine will, when push comes to shove, prefer the military-dominated option – with its promise of “stability” – over an attempt to create a true Egyptian Republic. The President’s instincts seem to be different, and I hope that – while of course taking advice from experts – he pushes back hard if the advice is to back a new tyranny.