Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Mubarak Understood Egypt Better Than Western ‘Experts’

July 10, 2013 9:19 am 0 comments

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Photo: Presidenza della Repubblica.

Just two-and-a-half years ago, advocates of “the Arab Spring” argued it would bring democracy to the Middle East and end terrorism’s attraction in the Muslim world. Large demonstrations, especially in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, filled Western television screens, and our media reported excitedly that the Internet-age demonstrators used Facebook and Twitter. The fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, in power for three decades, embodied the widely accepted narrative that ousting authoritarian regimes was easy, costless and unambiguously positive.

But not all street demonstrators are Jeffersonian democrats, not all users of social media are Thoreau-style idealists, and not all post-authoritarian regimes are better than what they replace. Remember Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, where he defined “Conservative” as “a statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.”

The Arab Spring stemmed largely from political and economic factors embedded in the region, not from the actions of outside powers. Nonetheless, in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama’s month-long equivocation about Egypt’s direction, followed at last by supporting Mubarak’s ouster, undoubtedly had negative consequences in Egypt and throughout the region. Loyalty and upholding commitments are valuable commodities in international affairs, even if the regime involved doesn’t meet our standards of democratic purity. But loyalty works both ways, and the impression Obama created was that America expected it from its allies, but wasn’t prepared to extend it in return. We will pay for that perception as a fair-weather friend.

Obviously, Mubarak was no Jeffersonian democrat. The former commander of Egypt’s air force, he became Anwar Sadat’s vice president, and then president when the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Sadat for concluding the Camp David peace accord with Israel. Mubarak led a violent crackdown against the Brotherhood, watched it warily for 30 years, and warned the West that if his government fell, the Brotherhood would inevitably take power. Western cognoscenti scoffed at Mubarak’s prediction, calling it just a convenient excuse for repressing the Brotherhood and other dissidents threatening the ultimate authority of the military, which controlled Egypt since King Farouk’s 1952 overthrow.

Mubarak, it transpires, understood his country better than the Western know-it-alls. When Obama abandoned Mubarak, the military did too, having already lost confidence in him because his wife and son, Gamal, were scheming to install Gamal as his successor. Gamal utterly lacked his father’s military credentials, and Pharaonic succession in the 21st century proved to be as unpopular with the generals as with Egypt’s population generally.

The military had little desire to govern openly, so it did what “the Arab Spring” professed to want: move to “democracy” by holding elections. Having overthrown Mubarak, however, the street protesters had no coherent, operational roadmap. Only after the political process was launched did they and their Western allies begin to realize they were moving inexorably toward electoral victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical Islamicists. Indeed, in what foreign observers characterized as generally free and fair elections, the Islamicists won almost three-quarters of the seats in Egypt’s two houses of parliament, and the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi narrowly won the presidency over a Mubarak-era figure. It was surprising not that Morsi’s win was narrow, but that a symbol of the supposedly hated Mubarak era did so well.

In office for a year, Morsi’s supporters rewrote Egypt’s constitution to try to lock the Brotherhood into power permanently, while ignoring a sinking economy that went into free fall. This combination of economic ruin and the blind pursuit of an Islamicist state brought demonstrators back into Egypt’s streets, even though many of them might well support an Islamicist agenda once the economy improved and more competent leadership emerged. It was disagreement over priorities, not love of democracy, which inspired many Tahrir Square demonstrators this summer.

So, Egypt’s military overthrew a second government in two years (this one popularly elected), and launched a process to schedule elections (again) and rewrite the constitution (again). This time, we are told (again), it will work out.

Plainly, however, democracy is more than just holding elections and counting votes. As John Stuart Mill wrote in Representative Government, a people have to be “willing to receive” such government, they have to “be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation,” and “they should be willing and able to fulfil the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.” Egypt and most other Arab Spring countries have simply not yet achieved these conditions. This is no criticism of a region or a people. Europe did not exactly cover itself with democratic glory in much of the 20th century, and today in Russia we see a country sliding out of a brief season of democracy back into authoritarianism.

The lesson for America is to give priority to its national interests, not abstract democratic theory. Most importantly, Egypt’s adherence to Camp David is the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy and Israel’s security, and Mubarak never wavered in his commitment to the treaty. In the 2012 Egyptian elections, by contrast, Mohammed Morsi was not alone in questioning Camp David’s legitimacy. Even secular politicians attacked its central element, “land for peace,” implying that withdrawal could ultimately be an option.

Moreover, keeping the Suez Canal open is critical to the world economy. An unstable Egypt inevitably raises international fears that terrorists or saboteurs will obstruct the canal, with potentially devastating consequences. Global oil-price increases last week underlined this fundamental geopolitical reality.

We should insist on Egypt meeting its international commitments, and worry less about second-guessing what could be a lengthy transition to representative government. That does not mean abandoning America’s commitment to its own ideals, or ceasing to insist that any Egyptian government respect individual rights, such as those of religious minorities such as Coptic Christians. But it also means remembering our own fundamental priorities in the Middle East, and having a more realistic understanding both of Egypt’s basic circumstances and our ability to influence Egypt’s domestic politics than we have displayed since the Arab Spring began.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

This article was originally published by the Ottawa Citizen.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    A delegation of 35 Jewish fashion industry mavens from around the world will travel to Israel later this month to “discover the chic side” of the country, 5 Town Jewish Times reported. The eight-day tour, organized by the Maryland-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, will include visits to key fashion sites and meetings with some of the country’s top fashion designers, merchandisers and marketers. Participants will also attend a JWRP Fashion Week event in Tel Aviv. JWRP said the trip is […]

    Read more →