The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be on its way to an election victory and majority representation in Egypt’s parliament, a body which will have as its primary task the drafting of a new constitution for the most populous Arab country. This has created much concern in Israel, and not without reason. Many Israelis and some Americans criticize the American willingness to allow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to fall. While the United States cannot afford to be seen to abandon allies in the manner that Jimmy Carter cast aside the Shah, the analogy does not hold with Mubarak. Mubarak might not have been the Muslim Brotherhood, but he was hardly the staunch ally that hagiographers depict. In 2009, Egypt voted with the United States at the United Nations with less frequency than did Burma, Cuba, Somalia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Mubarak undercut the new Iraqi government after 2003, and while he kept the Suez Canal open, this had everything to do with Cairo’s self-interest and little to do with winning Washington’s favor. Certainly, Mubarak maintained Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, but that was an event which predated Mubarak. Regardless, octogenarian dictators are seldom stable pillars upon which to ensure lasting security.
Would we be better off had we sought pre-emptive reform in Egypt? Certainly, as more liberal parties might have been better organized. President George W. Bush might have been sincere in his freedom agenda rhetoric, but either National Security Advisor turned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice never believed it, or she was simply too unskilled to enforce the policy against a recalcitrant diplomatic corps. Sending ambassadors like Frank Ricciardone to Egypt was hemlock for reformers.