Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are Elections Over in Egypt?

The outcome of Egypt's first round of elections is disappointing but not terribly shocking. Islamists are dominant. The key, I believe, is to help design a system where Islamist dominance can be checked by future honest elections.

But we have a problem with that goal as the Egyptians meet with us here:

The Egyptian delegation hopes to meet with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon. It will also hold talks on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will soon consider a new request for aid to Egypt's military, which now runs about $1.3 billion per year, one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Egyptian visit comes after Egypt's military-led authorities pounced on non-governmental organizations, including several funded by the U.S. government, and slapped travel bans on six American staffers including a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former congressman.

The Egyptians are being awfully aggressive toward us. Which may actually be an improvement over the initial anti-Israel statements coming out of Egypt. Now, Egyptians seem to be having second thoughts about tearing up a peace treaty with a country capable and willing of tearing them up. In that light, America is a safer target of a two-minute hate because we aren't likely to react to the bluster. Many countries paint us as the looming threat because in the end it is safe to tweak us to rally domestic support without worrying that we'll live up to their hostile image they've painted of us.

But we have a lot to talk about with this delegation. Bluster should stop. And if it doesn't stop, it should at least be no more than bluster. Pharaoh needs to let our people go or the plague of no money or weapons could descend on them. Thirty years after Egypt switched from Soviet to American support, Egypt is still rebuilding their military. Russia won't pay to rearm Egypt if the Egyptians decide to screw us and lose our support. Maybe China would pay. But so far they seem unwilling to pay for Pakistan's allegiance when India looms over Tibet. And Egypt would lose the ability to maintain their American equipment and could look forward to more decades of rebuilding.

We can't just bully the Egyptians. Our money and arms don't provide us with the ability to just tell them what to do. Egypt might decide pride is more important than money and arms. They'd be wrong in the long run, but in the short run they'd feel pretty good. And we'd have the problem of losing Egypt and maybe even losing military use of the Suez Canal (from either a closure or as a result of a foolish war with Israel that leads to Israeli tanks sitting on the east bank of the canal) when the Persian Gulf is heating up again.

Our goal right now must to be to shield the NGOs in Egypt who are our best hope of building a system of elections that are fair enough to check the extreme ambitions of the Islamists by allowing Egyptian voters to audit the results of the Islamists' first term of office.