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Is Egypt Too Big to Fail?

Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13 presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.

It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his Salafist opponents.

Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future. Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing, and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.

Of course, once they are in power, they will not be able to deliver but, by then, it will be too late for ordinary Egyptians. Here, Iran’s Islamic Revolution provides a good analogy. A full ten percent of Iranians took part in the 1979 revolution. They were united in their opposition to the Shah, and read into Ayatollah Khomeini what they wanted. “We were promised an Islamic democracy,” one of my Iranian tutors explained to me when I lived in Isfahan, “but what we got was neither Islamic nor a democracy. By the time we figured this out, though, it was too late and we were already embroiled in war.”

There will be a day of reckoning for the Egyptian government as the country’s tourism sector flatlines and its foreign reserves evaporate. Bread is subsidized in Egypt, and the government will no longer be able to provide. The question for the West at that point will be whether Egypt deserves even more debt forgiveness and aid. The new Egyptian government might be noxious, its management irresponsible, and its positions extreme, but would the world face either a far more extreme Egypt or a failed state if the Egyptian economy collapses?

With one-in-three Middle Eastern Arabs living in Egypt’s narrow Nile River valley, there is a real case to be made that the chaos of state collapse must be averted at any cost. But, while failure would not be pretty, it is time the White House and Congress consider whether U.S. foreign assistance is an entitlement or a privilege. The foreign aid community would differ, but simply put, U.S. foreign aid should never be an entitlement. Egyptians should realize they are accountable for their governments’ actions. If their government leads them down the path to disaster, so be it.

Perhaps rather than subsidizing an Amr Moussa or Abul-Fotouh slow-motion train wreck and rewarding anti-American and anti-Israel incitement, American policymakers would be better off considering how to advance the principles upon which America was founded: freedom, liberty, tolerance, and individual rights.


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