Thursday, June 28, 2012

We Don't Have a Side

Egypt is a tough problem:

The military and the Muslim Brotherhood are wrestling over how to share power in a country that for the time being has no sitting parliament, no permanent constitution and no clear path toward democracy after last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak, a long-time U.S. ally who banned and oppressed the Brotherhood.

As a result, current and former U.S. officials say, the United States faces a multidimensional diplomatic challenge. It must deal with everyone as it tries to sustain strategic cooperation with Egypt on its peace treaty with Israel and U.S. access to the Suez Canal, while advocating for democracy in a country whose dominant popular force is an Islamist party.

I can't get too worked up over President Obama's handling of the problem because I don't think that the solution was to condemn the Arab Spring and deny Egyptians the chance to vote, and instead rely on the army to put down Islamists. Many conservatives enjoy pounding President Obama over the Egyptian voters' desire to put Islamists in power.

The Arab Spring was the result of people living under despots who simultaneously repressed Islamist political movements while stoking Islamist feelings to bolster their own regimes. The longer the local rulers kept the lid on tight, the more the people looked to Islamists to save them from the despots. Supporting Mubarak in the face of the Arab Spring could only radicalize the people more as time went on so that when the government finally did fall, the replacements would be even more radicalized.

Remember that before the Arab Spring this strategy didn't prevented jihadis from attacking us. Remember 9/11?

In the end, we can't count on despots to control their own people. Even at the risk of short term problems, we have to hope that the people themselves will turn against jihadis. In Gaza, Hamas is no longer popular. Which is why Hamas won't allow free elections.

The problem's solution is not to deny Arabs the first vote but to work as hard as we can to make sure that regular and reasonably free elections take place after the first election. We have to work with all parties because we shouldn't have such a vested interest in any one party winning an election. I have some faith that if we can make sure future elections take place under rule of law, that the people will eventually stop making the worst choice possible. Or that radicals will be swamped my moderates over time as parties seek to maintain public support. We shouldn't have a "side" we need to win. The game itself has to be the objective.

And if the Egyptian people don't learn to elect good men and instead decide to be aggressively violent, at least there is no longer the excuse in the West that we shouldn't fight them because the people aren't responsible for what their despots do.

That clarity has some value, too.