Monday, January 28, 2013

The New Pharaoh Same As the Old Pharaoh

I'm actually a bit comforted that Egyptians are rioting against their Islamist government.

Egyptians aren't happy with arbitrary rule by their government:

A man was shot dead on Monday in a fifth day of violence in Egypt that has killed 50 people and prompted the Islamist president to declare a state of emergency in an attempt to end a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world's biggest nation.

Emergency rule announced by President Mohamed Mursi on Sunday covers the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. The army has already been deployed in two of those cities and cabinet approved a measure to let soldiers arrest civilians.

Will the troops fire on protesters? When Mubarak was in power, the generals were unwilling to issue those orders, in part because they weren't sure if their young soldiers would obey. What about now in defense of an Islamist government?

If the alternative is a quiet "stability" of sullen acceptance of Islamist rule, I'm fine with unrest in Egypt.

The Islamists may yet win this fight, but it is good to know that not everyone is content to be misruled by a different set of thugs.

If even resistance that fails means that there will be future resistance, one day the hopes of the Arab Spring might be realized even in Egypt.

UPDATE: Egypt's hopes for a post-autocratic life closer to democracy than despotism may be dashed. But it is too soon to simply write them off:

Egypt's Arab Spring revolution abounds with destructive ambitions and cruel ironies. But to label Egypt's revolution a failure, just two short years into a process involving drastic political change, is an act of extraordinary haste.

I think it is folly to say we should have stood by Mubarak to crush the opposition. His poor health alone would have made that a bad choice. And siding with him would have made us complicit in his autocracy. When he lost, our position would have been worse than it is now.

The outcome is still uncertain. Which means we must work the problem. That's the way the world works. You just hope your solution to the last problem makes the problems that flow from it less problematic.

I haven't jumped on the delivery of Abrams tanks and F-16s to Egypt. We're trying to maintain influence with an institution that might hold off collapse. And which should be a block to Islamist totalitarian rule. So I wouldn't halt our Camp David aid package. That has always been a bribe to not make war on Israel. They are keeping that pledge so keep spending that money. It is well worth the cost.

We can certainly use our influence on other sources of money to pressure Egypt into establishing a reasonably free system that allows reasonably free elections. If that is good enough for Chicago it should be good enough for Egypt.

Plus, we have time. It would take a decade of intense effort for Egypt to train their military to the point where it could take on Israel. Those new tanks and planes would be destroyed in a conventional war with Israel. The Egyptian military knows that. I doubt we even provide Egypt with enough ammunition to wage a large war for very long. I suspect we've provided ammunition sufficient to have taken on Khadaffi's Libya or Sudan.

And just who would pay for that decade of intense rearmament? If the Egyptians, who are still rearming with Western weapons after breaking ties with the Soviet Union 35 years ago, how long would it take to reequip with non-US weapons if we don't cooperate with spare parts and ammunition?

Given the Islamist tendencies, I just don't count it as a defeat that Egypt hasn't slumped into quiet acceptance of Morsi's rule. I know there is a tendency to equate "quiet" with "stability" but that just isn't so. Nostalgia for Mubarak makes exactly that mistake. His country was anything but stable even if it didn't make our evening news.