Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The Twitter revolution in Egypt feels it was sold out:

Egyptian police clashed with anti-government protesters for a fifth day in central Cairo Wednesday as a rights group raised the overall death toll from the ongoing unrest to at least 38. The United Nations strongly condemned what it called the use of excessive force by security forces.

The clashes resumed despite a promise by Egypt's military ruler to speed up a presidential election to the first half of next year, a concession swiftly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square. The military previously floated late next year or early 2013 as the likely date for the vote, the last step in the process of transferring power to a civilian government.

Parliamentary elections are in just a week. One would hope that the participation of Islamists in these clashes (even though the Moslem Brotherhood is trying to stay out) would be a chance for voters to remember just how badly they can expect jihadis to act when in power. Isn't Iran a reminder? Shoot, just being reminded of what jihadis can do when they get violent should be a lesson. Remember Iraq's insurgencies and terror campaigns?

But you never can tell. This is why we need to stay involved to make sure that there really is a transition to regular and free elections. Otherwise, the first election could just be a means to ratify the next dictatorship. The people on the streets fear that means the military that ousted Mubarak in the name of the first protest movement gets that job. I worry more that the jihadis take the slot.

The Occupy Cairo movement was fun, but the real work is in setting up rule of law and then governing under those restrictions on power. That can't be done on Twitter. If Egyptians can't learn from Iran and Iraq, maybe Egyptians can learn from the fiasco that our own Occupy types created when they got even local power.

Or maybe Syria truly explodes to provide a more timely and closer reminder.

From the start of the Egyptian crisis I said we had to stay involved to win. Ousting Mubarak was just a chance to win--not a win itself. We'd have to be doing it quietly to do it effectively, so I can't say we are failing. Even involvement doesn't guarantee success. But don't believe that our alternative to what we are seeing now was quiet--if tough--stability under Mubarak had we backed him in the first crisis of their Arab Spring. Even if Mubarak had survived, the people would have seethed under his rule, resented our role in propping him up, and given the Islamists more credibility when the crisis of succession kicked off when Mubarak tried to hand off power to his son.

Egypt was a boiling pot with the lid held down tightly. No matter what we did, it was going to be a problem. And no matter what we do, it could still turn out badly. Given that what we need to do to influence the path Egypt takes must be done quietly, I can't even say whether we are botching this or doing our best in difficult circumstances.

Egypt has been horribly screwed up for a long time and there is only so much we can do. the Egyptians have been gypped and they know it. If we "lose" Egypt, I won't blame President Obama for failing to figure out how to make up for horrible Egyptian decisions over many decades. And don't blame President Bush, either. Remember that he was pushing Egypt to reform until proponents of foreign policy "realism" forced him after 2005 to back off that democracy project that so many ridiculed. I'm not saying it would have worked given the long history of poor decisions made by Egyptians. I'm just saying that Bush knew that something had to be done because doing nothing didn't mean the pot wasn't boiling unseen beneath that lid.

And hey, even if things go really badly in Egypt, we at least had a good run after flipping Egypt during a crucial time during the Cold War. You never really solve your foreign policy problems. You just hope to do well enough until the next big one comes along.