Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hosni Mubarak

Arab Spring Illusions Are Dead. Good.

The Obama administration reacted to the news that an Egyptian court has dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak with hardly a murmur of protest or even comment. Considering that from the beginning of the Arab Spring protests four years ago up through the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the administration was a font of opinions, advice, and admonitions for Cairo the change was remarkable. This earned the State Department a rebuke from the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the decision and urged a return to efforts to promote democracy in Egypt. But for once it is the administration, which has made so many mistakes, especially in the Middle East, that is right. The Times may be the last to know this, but the Arab Spring is over and it is necessary for everyone from left to right to admit that it is time recalibrate our expectations about Egypt and to focus on the more important fight against radical Islam rather than a futile quest for liberalization.

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The Obama administration reacted to the news that an Egyptian court has dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak with hardly a murmur of protest or even comment. Considering that from the beginning of the Arab Spring protests four years ago up through the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the administration was a font of opinions, advice, and admonitions for Cairo the change was remarkable. This earned the State Department a rebuke from the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the decision and urged a return to efforts to promote democracy in Egypt. But for once it is the administration, which has made so many mistakes, especially in the Middle East, that is right. The Times may be the last to know this, but the Arab Spring is over and it is necessary for everyone from left to right to admit that it is time recalibrate our expectations about Egypt and to focus on the more important fight against radical Islam rather than a futile quest for liberalization.

The protests throughout the Arab world raised hopes in the West that at last, that region was about to undergo a necessary transformation from dominance by authoritarians to one in which democracy, or at least the founding of democratic institutions, might offer the hope of a new era of freedom. The Mubarak regime was a corrupt military dictatorship that was ripe for overthrow and both liberals and neo-conservatives hoped this would lead to better things for Egypt.

But we were all wrong. Rather than leading to a chance for genuine democracy, what followed was an election that brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood. Its goals had nothing to do with liberalization, let alone accountability on the part of the government. After a year of misery that would have led, if unchecked, to a far worse dictatorship than that of Mubarak, the people of Egypt took to the streets for mass protests that dwarfed those that ended the old regime.

That led to the current government led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It has no interest in further investigations of the conduct of the Mubarak regime, especially its last days as protesters were murdered by the same troops that are now the bulwark of the new military regime. Indeed, Sisi’s government may already be guilty of far worse in its efforts to suppress the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

But while the Times and others who condemn the deplorable human-rights situation in Egypt are not wrong about the nature of the new regime, they are dead wrong on the question of whether the United States should be trying to do something to undermine Sisi, such as cutting U.S. aid to Cairo.

Whatever we may think of Sisi and the collapse of hopes for change in Egypt as well as the minimal success of other such efforts in the Arab and Muslim world, the last four years have shown that there are other, bigger problems to be dealt with first before Westerners should worry much about the absence of democracy in that region.

Unfortunately, there was never a real constituency of any size in Egypt for liberal democracy. The choices there were always going to be between a stable, if authoritarian military government and one run by Islamists. Had the latter prevailed, Egypt would not only have been less free than under the military but it would have helped further destabilize the region and aided the efforts of Islamist terror groups like Hamas, which was allied with the Brotherhood.

Sadly, the Obama administration’s inconsistent and ultimately feckless policies alienated both Sisi and the Egyptians who blame it for the rise of the Brotherhood. It will take a long time before the U.S. will win back their trust. But the key question facing the region is whether Islamist groups like ISIS will overrun regimes that while neither democratic nor free, at least represent a bulwark against the tide of extremism and violence. That makes it absolutely essential that the U.S. continue to support governments like that led by Sisi and to assist them in the general effort to combat the wave of Islamist extremism sweeping across the region.

Which also means that both liberals and neoconservatives alike must put aside their illusions as well as their hopes about democracy promotion in the Middle East. The war against Islamism must be fought and eventually won first before we will be able to return to that discussion about the Arab world, if then. Those who cannot grasp this reality are being obtuse, not principled.

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Hillary’s Flawed Hindsight on Mubarak

Hillary Clinton is dealing with the challenge of running for president while the failed foreign policy of the administration she served–as its chief diplomat, no less–is ongoing. But at least that gives her the opportunity to respond to events as they happen. Her memoir, by contrast, required her to record her pronouncements on events and hope they aren’t made irrelevant (or can be updated for the paperback edition).

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Hillary Clinton is dealing with the challenge of running for president while the failed foreign policy of the administration she served–as its chief diplomat, no less–is ongoing. But at least that gives her the opportunity to respond to events as they happen. Her memoir, by contrast, required her to record her pronouncements on events and hope they aren’t made irrelevant (or can be updated for the paperback edition).

This has made her book, according to pretty much every reviewer in the world, painfully, almost abusively boring. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting tidbits. One that has not received much attention is her discussion in the book of her disagreement with President Obama over how to handle Tahrir Square. When the crowds became impossible to ignore, the president called for Hosni Mubarak to step down. It put Obama on the side of the people in the streets instead of the ruthless dictator oppressing them–a lesson Obama may have learned from his experience turning his back on the Iranian people in 2009.

But it put him at odds with some in his own administration, Clinton among them. The former secretary of state portrays her side of the equation as realist, Obama’s as idealist, and claims Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon shared her concerns. She was, she said, “concerned that we not be seen as pushing a longtime partner out the door, leaving Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the region to an uncertain, dangerous future.”

Clinton then writes what may look in hindsight like prescience, but that view is flawed:

Historically, transitions from dictatorship to democracy are fraught with challenges and can easily go terribly wrong. In Iran in 1979, for example, extremists hijacked the broad-based popular revolution against the Shah and established a brutal theocracy. If something similar happened in Egypt, it would be a catastrophe, for the people of Egypt as well as for Israeli and U.S. interests.

Despite the size of the protests in Tahrir Square, they were largely leaderless, driven by social media and word of mouth rather than a coherent opposition movement. After years of one-party rule, Egypt’s protesters were ill prepared to contest open elections or build credible democratic institutions. By contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood, an eighty-year-old Islamist organization, was well positioned to fill a vacuum if the regime fell. Mubarak had driven the Brotherhood underground, but it had followers all over the country and a tightly organized power structure. The group had renounced violence and made some efforts to appear more moderate. But it was impossible to know how it would behave and what would happen if it gained control.

In fact we really did know how the Brotherhood would behave in power, but that should only strengthen Hillary’s perceived caution here. She recommended the president send an envoy to Mubarak with a few concessions: “an end to the country’s repressive emergency law that had been in effect since 1981, a pledge not to run in the elections already planned for September, and an agreement not to put forward his son Gamal as his successor.” None of this would have placated the opposition, but it didn’t matter: the envoy presented the proposal, and Mubarak wasn’t even listening. “Like so many autocrats before him,” Clinton writes of Mubarak, “he had come to view himself as inseparable from the state.”

And that is why Clinton’s proposal to keep Mubarak in place and buy time would have been doomed as well. Her assessment of the political organization of the Muslim Brotherhood is correct, but she’s wrong to think a minor delay in Mubarak’s ouster would have made a difference.

Political liberalism needs its own institutions to flourish. Egypt didn’t have the civil society infrastructure for democracy, and it would have taken years to build even a rudimentary foundation. That’s why Clinton’s own administration dropped the ball on Egypt and the Arab world in part by cutting funding for democracy promotion and civil society groups there. And it’s a mistake the Obama administration is intent on repeating. As Jamie Dettmer reports, Obama is not only seeking further cuts in democracy programs, but wants to remove important safeguards for civil society programs that it will fund. “This is turning the clock back to when the State Department would avoid funding civil society groups blacklisted by their governments,” the director of one D.C.-based nonprofit told Dettmer.

As Elliott Abrams wrote in this magazine in 2012, “I well remember a leading Egyptian liberal saying to me in 2003 that she did not favor free elections right then in Egypt; she favored them in a decade’s time if she and others had those 10 years to organize freely.” A free election right away meant a victory for either the Brotherhood or the regime. Which is what Hillary feared, and what happened.

But the real solution would have been to use America’s leverage over the army–the Egyptian army, remember, abandoned Mubarak when the time came–to open up the political system, gradually if necessary, to the liberals. It was already de facto open to Islamist organizing, which took place in the mosques.

Even if Mubarak announced some reforms to Tahrir Square, would they have believed him? He had liberalized, albeit only slightly, in the past only to tighten his grip again when the Americans’ backs were turned. The Mubarak regime was a recipe for perpetual oppression and was responsible, like it or not, for the simultaneous strengthening of the Brotherhood.

The “stability” mirage, for which Hillary argued, fooled a lot people–maybe even most. But it has now been exposed as the mirage it was. The administration’s policy needn’t have propped up an aging dictator for a few more months, it only needed to stop abandoning Egypt’s true democrats.

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Sisi’s Brotherhood Vow and the U.S.

Later this month, Egyptians will go to the polls to vote for a replacement for deposed President Mohamed Morsi, but there is little mystery about the result. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of the Egyptian military that toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government last summer after tens of millions of his countrymen took to the streets to call for a change, and the head of the interim authority that succeeded him, is certain to win the vote. With the party that won the elections that took place after the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 now banned, there is little doubt Sisi’s governing faction will prevail.

Sisi’s victory and the brutal suppression of the Brotherhood, which was highlighted by the handing out of more than 1,200 death sentences to its members in recent months, will be rightly seen as putting an end to any hope that the Arab Spring protests that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule would lead to anything better. Sisi’s government is in many respects a rerun of the old regime with the military firmly in control and any semblance of democracy an afterthought at best. All this will be seen as justification for a further downgrading of U.S. relations with the Egyptian government and more cuts in the more than $1 billion in aid that still flows to it. But though no one in the West should be cheering Sisi’s installation as the new rais neither should sensible observers be in mourning about his ascension. That is not because Sisi is someone who can be counted on to eventually encourage progress toward Egyptian democracy or that he is any more likely to do much of what is necessary to revive its crumbling economy. Sisi’s only virtue in the eyes of the West is the same one that recommends him as the better of all the available evils to most Egyptians: his vow to “finish” the Brotherhood if he is elected. Though, to this day, many Westerners still they think have a third choice in Egypt between a military dictatorship and an Islamist tyranny, that is a myth.

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Later this month, Egyptians will go to the polls to vote for a replacement for deposed President Mohamed Morsi, but there is little mystery about the result. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of the Egyptian military that toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government last summer after tens of millions of his countrymen took to the streets to call for a change, and the head of the interim authority that succeeded him, is certain to win the vote. With the party that won the elections that took place after the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 now banned, there is little doubt Sisi’s governing faction will prevail.

Sisi’s victory and the brutal suppression of the Brotherhood, which was highlighted by the handing out of more than 1,200 death sentences to its members in recent months, will be rightly seen as putting an end to any hope that the Arab Spring protests that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule would lead to anything better. Sisi’s government is in many respects a rerun of the old regime with the military firmly in control and any semblance of democracy an afterthought at best. All this will be seen as justification for a further downgrading of U.S. relations with the Egyptian government and more cuts in the more than $1 billion in aid that still flows to it. But though no one in the West should be cheering Sisi’s installation as the new rais neither should sensible observers be in mourning about his ascension. That is not because Sisi is someone who can be counted on to eventually encourage progress toward Egyptian democracy or that he is any more likely to do much of what is necessary to revive its crumbling economy. Sisi’s only virtue in the eyes of the West is the same one that recommends him as the better of all the available evils to most Egyptians: his vow to “finish” the Brotherhood if he is elected. Though, to this day, many Westerners still they think have a third choice in Egypt between a military dictatorship and an Islamist tyranny, that is a myth.

Sisi’s election campaign has done nothing to alter his image as a slightly less refined but perhaps slightly less corrupt version of Mubarak. Just as Mubarak pandered to the virulent anti-Semitism that rages in Egypt while still preserving the peace treaty with Israel, Sisi is playing the same game by promising to revise the pact and doing nothing to improve relations with the Jewish state. If anything, by the time he is done, Sisi may make many Egyptians long for the more easygoing tyranny of the man who succeeded Anwar Sadat as he has taken his “mandate” from the anti-Brotherhood street demonstrations as an excuse for the kind of brutal rule that makes his government one of the most repressive in a region where dictatorships are a dime a dozen.

What is also missing from the Sisi regime is even the occasional lip service about freedom that Mubarak would utter as part of his efforts to maintain good relations with his American patrons. President Obama’s decision to back Mubarak’s ouster and his subsequent efforts to maintain good relations with the Brotherhood government undermined any good will even with the Egyptian military that has thrived on U.S. aid. Sisi’s statement last week that the U.S. had sought at the last minute to keep Morsi in power or to at least delay the coup—a request that Sisi contemptuously refused—signaled just how little the Egyptian leader thought of Obama and that he believes that most of his countrymen share his opinion. U.S. influence in Egypt is at a low point despite the leverage that the aid ought to provide.

But despite all this, Americans should resist the temptation to damn Sisi and cut him off without a U.S. penny. For all of his bluster, Sisi still probably prefers a relationship with the U.S. to any of the alternatives, none of which will match Washington’s cash contributions to Cairo. Though Obama has seemed more interested in offending allies in the Middle East than helping them, Egypt remains the most populous Arab country and a linchpin of any U.S. strategy for influence in the region. More to the point, as much as Sisi’s methods may be distasteful, his promise that the Brotherhood will never get a chance at power is one that Americans as well as Egyptians should hope he fulfills.

Though many Americans still labor under the delusion that the Brotherhood might have been moderating its Islamist stance rather than seeking to create a theocracy, Egyptians know better. The Brotherhood’s year in power was a wake-up call for a country that had voted the Islamists into power because they were the only organized opposition to Mubarak. The fact that more Egyptians demonstrated to oust Morsi—a man who had actually won his office in an election—than Mubarak should have tipped Obama off to the error he made by embracing the Brotherhood.

Last year many feared that driving the Brotherhood underground would make it even more dangerous, but the evidence of the last several months shows that though it is by no means finished yet, its lack of support among the Egyptian people makes any attempt at an Islamist insurgency a doubtful prospect. Sisi’s genius lies in his understanding of this fact. His decision to use this opportunity to wipe out the Islamists—a difficult task but one toward which he has been making progress—shows a genuine strategic vision that the Americans who are chiding him for brutality lack.

In a war against Islamists, Sisi understands there are only two options: victory or defeat. How he wins that victory will win him no friends. But the consequences of the fulfillment of his vow will help isolate the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza, solidify the treaty with Israel, and ensure that Islamists will never be able to seize control of Cairo and with it the region. That’s good news for the United States and its friends, even though few in Washington will be honest or wise enough to admit it.

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Is Now the Time to Punish Egypt?

An experts’ Working Group on Egypt comprised of serious and, indeed, quite distinguished foreign-policy practitioners have released an open letter to President Obama advising a tougher line toward Egypt’s provisional government. They write:

The idea that there will be a trade-off between democracy and stability in Egypt is false. A realistic assessment of what is happening in Egypt—a massive crackdown on members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mounting repression of peaceful critics of the coup, societal polarization and troubling vigilante violence, persistent demonstrations, escalating militant attacks on police and military targets—shows that repressive, security-dominated rule will not produce long-, medium-, or even short-term stability. Especially since the events of 2011, the populace is more mobilized, more involved in politics, and more divided than ever. In these circumstances, pluralistic democratic institutions, and an opportunity for freedom of speech and assembly, will be necessary to allow citizens to struggle peacefully to resolve those divisions through compromise and democratic decision-making.

They also suggest that U.S. assistance be contingent on Egypt “end[ing] the broad security and media campaign against those who peacefully oppose the actions of the interim government and the military, releas[ing] the thousands of opposition group members, supporters, and activists now detained on questionable charges and with disregard for their due-process rights, and allow[ing] all citizens not implicated in violence to participate fully in political life,” as well as Egyptian authorities ending the use of live ammunition against protestors, a cessation of repression against peaceful dissidents, and the dropping of investigations into young activists, former parliamentarians, journalists, and academics, as well as an end to the media campaigns fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.

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An experts’ Working Group on Egypt comprised of serious and, indeed, quite distinguished foreign-policy practitioners have released an open letter to President Obama advising a tougher line toward Egypt’s provisional government. They write:

The idea that there will be a trade-off between democracy and stability in Egypt is false. A realistic assessment of what is happening in Egypt—a massive crackdown on members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, mounting repression of peaceful critics of the coup, societal polarization and troubling vigilante violence, persistent demonstrations, escalating militant attacks on police and military targets—shows that repressive, security-dominated rule will not produce long-, medium-, or even short-term stability. Especially since the events of 2011, the populace is more mobilized, more involved in politics, and more divided than ever. In these circumstances, pluralistic democratic institutions, and an opportunity for freedom of speech and assembly, will be necessary to allow citizens to struggle peacefully to resolve those divisions through compromise and democratic decision-making.

They also suggest that U.S. assistance be contingent on Egypt “end[ing] the broad security and media campaign against those who peacefully oppose the actions of the interim government and the military, releas[ing] the thousands of opposition group members, supporters, and activists now detained on questionable charges and with disregard for their due-process rights, and allow[ing] all citizens not implicated in violence to participate fully in political life,” as well as Egyptian authorities ending the use of live ammunition against protestors, a cessation of repression against peaceful dissidents, and the dropping of investigations into young activists, former parliamentarians, journalists, and academics, as well as an end to the media campaigns fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.

It’s hard to argue with some of the recommendations, although why such recommendations should be limited to Egypt is another question. After all, while Egyptian incitement against the United States is acute, this was also the case under Hosni Mubarak. It is a fact of life in the Palestinian Authority and in Turkey and in Jordan. Perhaps it is time simply to make state incitement a factor more broadly in U.S. aid, which should never be considered an entitlement.

There is a logical problem in calling for a cessation of investigations into activists—whether they are young or not should be beside the point—and then calling on full participation for citizens not implicated in violence. As U.S. authorities know from investigating terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not enough to catch the person carrying a bomb; it is far more important to uproot the network of the person who is carrying that explosive, and that requires extensive investigation.

In the run-up to the Iraq war and then during the time of the Coalition Provisional Authority, there was a constant debate—though many policymakers did not see it in such terms—between those who believed democracy in the process should trump democracy in the end result, versus those who prioritized democracy in the end result.

A superficial reading of events in Egypt gives great reason for sympathy toward the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, Mohamed Morsi won a democratic election but the Egyptian military ousted him before he could serve out his full term. The real situation is more complex: Morsi dispensed with democratic checks and balances shortly after taking power and, in November 2012, sought to place himself and his decrees above judicial review. Behind the scenes, the Brotherhood also worked to coordinate with terrorist groups like Hamas and, perhaps in the Sinai, even some al-Qaeda-affiliated groups which had taken root.

While the initial Tahrir Square protests had targeted first Egypt’s interior minister and, as the Mubarak regime bungled its response, ultimately Mubarak himself, Morsi’s dictatorial tendencies had antagonized the broad swatch of the Egyptian public to the point that when the military acted—after Morsi ignored their calls to compromise—they moved in.

Morsi is gone, and much of the Muslim Brotherhood is underground. They should be. In the year they wielded real power rather than simply the rhetorical power of opposition they demonstrated that they had lied not only to Western diplomats and journalists but also their own members. They had not evolved, either in ideology or structure, and so young Egyptians who had flocked to them seeking an alternative to the corrupt and dictatorial Mubarak discovered that their input was not welcome, and that they were expected only to listen and obey.

In addition, the Egyptian constitution that Morsi imposed—also in a less-than-democratic fashion by claiming he would not abandon autocratic powers until it passed—was noxious toward women, minorities, and others.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could prove to be as corrosive a figure toward democracy as was Morsi. It is unclear whether he is prepared to reverse the crony capitalism that was the hallmark of the Mubarak regime or whether he will cut deals with the army in exchange for their continued support. Rather than simply shout into the wind and try to turn back time, however, it would be far more productive to focus on the transition moving forward. It is not productive for the United States to focus its diplomatic pressure on restoring power to a movement like the Muslim Brotherhood that is as hostile to the United States as it is to democracy. Rather than restore American credibility in the region, the continued floundering support for the Muslim Brotherhood is antagonizing the few allies the United States has left in the region, from the United Arab Emirates to Morocco.

Democracy is important, and for too long successive administrations and almost everyone in the State Department treated it as a throwaway line rather than something to really prioritize. Rather than treat the provisional government and all that comes after it as illegitimate, U.S. pressure would be far better spent ensuring that elections are free and fair, not only on election day but in the campaign that precedes it. At the same time, it is long past time that the United States recognizes that there are two faces to the Muslim Brotherhood: That which it presents to diplomats and journalists, and that by which it operates. A choice between democracy in the process or democracy as a result may seem unfortunate to make, but reality intrudes. Faced with such a decision, democracy as the result should be the ultimate goal. It is unfortunate that the signatories of the Egypt Working Group letter seem not to think so.

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The Problem of the Middle East’s First Sons

The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

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The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Moammar Gaddafi had Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, held by the new Libyan government and wanted by the International Criminal Court; and Hosni Mubarak had Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, both awaiting trial on various corruption charges (despite being acquitted in one case last week). Ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s eldest son Bafil is facing trial in Great Britain for defrauding investment partners in Iraqi Kurdistan, while younger son Qubad is neck deep in the family business. Iraqi Kurdish regional president Masud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour is, in theory, the intelligence chief for the autonomous Kurdish government. In practice, according to conversations with human-rights monitors, he uses his position and the security forces he has under his control to ensure businessmen understand that he and his family should get a piece of the pie. When Masud Barzani’s second son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million gambling in one of Dubai’s illegal casinos, the Kurdish leader quickly cut short an official visit and left the United Arab Emirates. The pattern continues: Iraqis resent the involvement of Ahmad Maliki, the son of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in businesses which benefit from his father’s position. Such business dealings and relationships go without saying in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with the exception, of course, of Oman whose ruler Sultan Qaboos is unmarried and has no children.

It is true that such a pattern is not limited to the Middle East. While his father Kofi Annan was secretary-general of the United Nations, Kojo Annan sought to profit from UN deals. And both Africa’s dictatorships and its nascent democracies also see sons of presidents and rulers seeking to cash in on their fathers’ positions.

It may be fashionable to look the other way and pretend such corruption does not occur. Western universities go farther and happily welcome donations of questionable money to honor dictatorial dynasties. But building false images of such countries does no favors, nor does it reflect well on a new generation of rulers that they encourage their sons to accumulate as much money as possible rather than distinguish themselves as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals.

Erdoğan has been fond of describing Turkey as a democracy and bragging for more than a decade about the reforms he claims to have implemented. If attorneys are allowed to question Bilal Erdoğan and, if warranted, force him to face justice as a man equal to any Turk or Kurd in Turkey, then he should be congratulated for standing on principle. If he wants his son to stand above justice, however, then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirms the notion that Turkey is no democracy and  he himself is little more than yet one more self-important Middle Eastern potentate.

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Israel Is Not a Single-Issue Country

One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

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One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

Having presided over Oslo’s signing, Clinton was perhaps uniquely invested in the Oslo process. Yet his attitude is far from unique. After Israel’s new government took office in March, for instance, a Hungarian journalist called me with a burning question: How could Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid party possibly sit in the same government as Naftali Bennett’s right-of-center Bayit Yehudi? I explained that despite their differences on the peace process, Lapid and Bennett have similar views on many domestic issues, and since the peace process had at that point been frozen for four years and showed no signs of thawing, the election was mainly about Israel’s many serious domestic problems. To which he replied, “But how can they sit together when they disagree about the peace process?” After several iterations of this, we both gave up in despair.

A comedy writer could probably make a good sketch of the scene, but there’s nothing funny about it. The failure to grasp that Israelis have concerns other than the peace process is a major reason why so many diplomats and pundits consistently misread Israel. Even worse, this attitude has undermined pro-Israel sentiment worldwide by reducing Israel from a complicated, multifaceted country to a one-dimensional caricature. For who can have sympathy or affection for a caricature?

The truth is that Israel can live without peace if necessary; it’s done so successfully for 65 years now. But it can’t live without a functioning economy, decent schools, adequate health care and all the other things that distinguish successful states from failed ones. And Israelis, because they live here, never have the luxury of forgetting that for long.

Non-Israelis, in contrast, won’t suffer if Israel has failing schools or high unemployment, so it’s easy to overlook these issues. But nobody who cares about Israel should do so. For by treating Israel as a single-issue country, they are helping to reduce it to a caricature that’s all too easy to hate.

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Immaturity Over Realpolitik for Obama

An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

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An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

It should be conceded that the release of Mubarak at the very moment that it is struggling to maintain support in the West is, at the very least, bad optics for the new government. Mubarak has been held more or less at the behest of the Brotherhood government in the last year after some of the court cases against him collapsed, but the legal details don’t cancel out the fact that there is little doubt that he was a dictator who ordered the death of many opponents. In his defense, the idea that the Islamist totalitarians of the Brotherhood or the military have any standing to judge him is absurd. But keeping in jail and out of sight would have been the smart thing to do.

In fact his release may be a signal that coup leader Gen. Sisi and his regime have lost any hope of winning over Obama and the Europeans and are prepared to rely on the Saudis (who have promised to make good on any aid money withheld by the United States) or to shop for new friends abroad such as the Russians rather than bend to America’s feckless demands.

The president’s stand might have some coherence if it were part of a coherent worldview. But, of course, Obama had already discarded the Bush pro-democracy agenda when he took office as a neo-conservative heresy that needed to be replaced by a more realist approach. Yet now that he is faced with the necessity to put his realistic principles to the test in order to protect a vital Arab country from falling into the hands of Islamists or, worse yet, joining Syria as Vladimir Putin’s allies, the president has discovered a new interest in democracy.

The president had already displayed his contempt for the cause of Egyptian freedom during the year he embraced Morsi, so to pose now as its defender when to do so will be seen by Egyptians as sympathy for a movement most despise is more than hypocritical. Even Mubarak’s release does not offset the fact that what is at stake in Egypt is an effort to ensure that a despotic Islamist movement never gets another chance to rule. Having been offered a chance to choose between demonstrating a grasp of American interests and an immature response, the president has chosen the latter. Given the possibly serious consequences of such a decision, this may be something that Obama’s successors will be dealing with for many years to come. 

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Morsi’s Defiant, Confrontational Speech

If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

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If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

Today, speaking from an office ringed by tanks, Morsi sounded a lot like his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. In fact the only difference between the two appeared to be the backdrop they used for their televised addresses—red for Morsi, blue for Mubarak. Morsi was positively Mubarak-like in blaming the protests on “infiltrators” funded by unnamed third parties—it must be counted as considerable restraint on his part not to come right out and blame the perfidious Zionists. When he vowed that those guilty of violence “will not escape punishment” it sounded like a veiled threat against the opposition; certainly it is hard to imagine him jailing Muslim Brothers who have attacked secular opposition activists or Coptic Christians.

Indeed the menacing tone of his remarks did much to undermine the message of unity that was contained in his call for a dialogue with the opposition. For such talks to be fruitful, Morsi will have to acknowledge that the opposition is not motivated by a desire to undermine Egypt or bring back the old regime—but rather that the opposition is as concerned about the country’s welfare as he is. That, however, would require a monumental intellectual and moral leap that only a few heroes, such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi, have been able to make. Most of those who have spent long periods of time in underground organizations plotting against the state emerge bitter and ruthless and determined not to allow anyone else to oust them from power as they ousted the previous incumbent. Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong are the ultimate 20th-century examples. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq is a much lesser and less malign example: he is not a mass murderer but he has a conspiratorial, winner-take-all outlook which leads him to persecute political opponents such as the Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Unfortunately for Egypt’s future, Morsi, alas, fits more closely into the Maliki mindset than in the Mandela-Havel-Suu Kyi mold.

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U.S. Should Stand with Egypt’s Democrats

With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

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With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

The encouraging news of recent days is that the political opposition is not going quietly—it is protesting not only in the streets but with some newspapers suspending publication temporarily, judges speaking out, and even some of Morsi’s own aides resigning in protest. It is far from clear where these clashes are heading: are we seeing another Egyptian revolution or (more likely) protests that will be put down?

Whatever the case, the U.S. position is clear–or ought to be: We must stand with the democrats in Egypt by insisting on checks and balances in the political system and more moderate rule from Morsi. So far President Obama has been extremely cautious in making his views clear. This is not necessarily wrong—speaking out in public can make it harder to apply private pressure to Morsi. But whatever tactics he chooses to employ, Obama cannot simply sit by and allow the Egyptian revolution to be undermined. With our billions of dollars of military and economic aid to Egypt, the U.S. has an important say in what happens. Doing nothing isn’t an option—that signals support for the status quo. Obama must use what leverage he has to press Morsi to create a more liberal government, not a new dictatorship.

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U.S. Policy Toward Egypt Shouldn’t Revert to Mubarak-Era Form

In the third presidential debate, President Obama highlighted his administration’s policy toward Egypt to buttress his foreign policy legacy. He said: “In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.” But in fact at the time, the latter statement wasn’t true, and by now the former appears to have evaporated as well. In June, months before Obama bragged about Egyptians’ opinion of the U.S., Pew released the findings of its poll on global attitudes toward America. It found that opinion of the U.S. in the age of Obama had returned to its low point, and that Egyptians overwhelmingly, according to Pew, wanted Obama to be a one-term president.

It is unlikely that with the president’s virtual silence over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab those numbers will improve much. In the latest of several days of protesting, Egyptians chanted at Morsi: “Shave your beard, show your disgrace, you will find that you have Mubarak’s face!” Funny, yes–but it shouldn’t be disregarded as a joke. In fact, as the realist approach to the region lay in ruins around the Middle East, the Obama administration may be making the very same blunders in pursuit of the mirage of stability in the desert.

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In the third presidential debate, President Obama highlighted his administration’s policy toward Egypt to buttress his foreign policy legacy. He said: “In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.” But in fact at the time, the latter statement wasn’t true, and by now the former appears to have evaporated as well. In June, months before Obama bragged about Egyptians’ opinion of the U.S., Pew released the findings of its poll on global attitudes toward America. It found that opinion of the U.S. in the age of Obama had returned to its low point, and that Egyptians overwhelmingly, according to Pew, wanted Obama to be a one-term president.

It is unlikely that with the president’s virtual silence over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab those numbers will improve much. In the latest of several days of protesting, Egyptians chanted at Morsi: “Shave your beard, show your disgrace, you will find that you have Mubarak’s face!” Funny, yes–but it shouldn’t be disregarded as a joke. In fact, as the realist approach to the region lay in ruins around the Middle East, the Obama administration may be making the very same blunders in pursuit of the mirage of stability in the desert.

Of course, the pursuit of stability is reasonable enough. But what we’ve learned from the last few years is that stability purchased by selling out the rights and freedoms of the people of the Arab world presents not only as a moral problem, but also as one of efficacy. So-called realists disregard the dignity of the oppressed as mere idealism, but this practice just plain fails at its objective: Arab police states provided the illusion of stability, but in effect undermined it.

This was certainly Mubarak’s approach. While the political dominance of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is not exactly a welcome development, to say the least, it was made nearly inevitable by Mubarak’s policy of suppressing any and all political organization he could. Only the Brotherhood’s Islamism, kept alive underground and in the mosques, and long preceding Egypt’s current political establishment, was able to withstand the regime’s tyranny.

The other institution that was and remains strong is Egypt’s military. The Brotherhood allied with the military to hold early elections before the non-Islamist movements could coalesce into a more serious rival, and they were rewarded by Morsi. As the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Egyptian military is given virtual autonomy, with a defense minister appointed from within its ranks and a budget determined by a national security council rather than by parliament.”

The Post continues:

The deeper problem is that Mr. Morsi’s government appears content to steamroll, rather than seek accommodation with, secular opponents. While his spokesmen say they recognize that some of the protesters are peaceful members of the movement that overthrew Mr. Mubarak, they claim that the crowds contain paid thugs and provocateurs.

Obama shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to defend the rights Egyptians finally thought they had within their grasp out of fear of upsetting a stable balance; it isn’t there. Nor should Obama worry about the perception that he would be insulting the Egyptian people’s religious sensibilities; Morsi’s reputation as “Mubarak with a beard” is an indication that many Egyptians believe Morsi has hijacked and abused their faith as a means to subjugate them and collect power for himself. And with regard to his popularity, Obama doesn’t have much to lose there either; as Pew showed, Egyptians don’t think much of him–and he’s not giving them a reason to reconsider.

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Want a Mubarak Rerun? Be Careful What You Wish For.

For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

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For the past year, many in the United States and Israel have mourned the toppling of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Many of the same people who lamented his fall were quick to point out he was a corrupt despot who turned his country’s treaty with Israel into a “cold peace.” But once it became clear the main beneficiaries of the Arab Spring protests would not be the tiny faction of Egyptian liberals but the Muslim Brotherhood, the demise of a man who was once rightly derided for never losing an opportunity to make mischief at Israel’s expense was treated as a calamity. Yet, with today’s decision by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the parliament that was elected in the aftermath of the change in regime, those who longed for a Mubarak rerun may get their wish. Let’s see if they like the result any better than the Brotherhood’s power grab via elections.

As Michael wrote earlier today, the Egyptian military may be seeking to emulate the example of Algeria, where in 1991 an election victory by Islamists was overturned by the government, leading to a long and bloody civil war. If, as he points out, that means a conflict that will prevent the Brotherhood from attaining total power in Cairo, it may be worth the chaos and suffering that will ensue from the court’s decision. But those hoping presidential candidate Ahmid Shafik, a Mubarak-era retread, in combination with the Egyptian military will put down the Brotherhood, should be careful what they wish for. As awful as the prospect of the election of an Brotherhood president along with the deposed parliament might be, Israelis should be extremely wary about the possibility of a civil war taking place next door in Egypt.

The problem for the West is that there are no good alternatives. In an ideal world, Mubarak would have been replaced by a genuine democracy whose leaders were not intent on turning the most populous Arab country into an Islamist fief. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The myth of the Arab Spring being a Facebook or Twitter revolution was always bunk. Egypt’s streets are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the only real organized party in Egypt that can stand up to the remnants of the old regime. The army is rightly wary of the Brotherhood and fears that, at best, an Islamist-led government will emulate Turkey’s path in which the military loses power and a gradual path to religious despotism is set in motion.

Unfortunately, the idea that there can be a return to Mubarak’s authoritarian rule without the now comatose former leader is also a myth. Now that the democratic genie that has unleashed the Brotherhood has been let out of the bottle, the only way to put it back in is with the brute force that the Egyptian Army was clearly unwilling to use last year as Mubarak fell. If they do crack down and the Islamist mob resists, the result may make Assad’s massacres in Syria look like family picnics. No one can know what would follow the enactment of such a scenario. But if the best case is a repeat of the Algerian nightmare, the impact on Israel and the rest of the Middle East will be considerable.

Israel’s border with Egypt is enough of a problem now. If the Nile Valley becomes a war zone of some kind, the spillover into Gaza and other countries will make the whole region more dangerous and threaten the stability of other regimes, especially the shaky Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.

Such a scenario is enough to make a democratic transition to a Muslim Brotherhood government that would have had to make an uneasy alliance with the military to some extent look like an attractive alternative.

Despite the unfair criticism President Obama has gotten on the issue, it was never true that the United States could have saved Mubarak. If anything, the United States has even less leverage now. Those who have been carping about the loss of Mubarak need to pipe down and watch with the rest of us as we see which of the unpleasant possibilities for Egypt becomes reality.

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George W. Bush and the Freedom Agenda

President Bush returned to Washington earlier this week to mark the opening of the “Freedom Collection” at the Bush Institute in Dallas. At the event, President Bush gave a speech that was turned into an op-ed  for the Wall Street Journal that’s worth reading.

President Bush offered a sophisticated critique of (among other things) the so-called Arab Spring. “The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle,” the former president said. Years of transition can be difficult. He acknowledged that there is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. But Bush pointed out that there is an inbuilt crisis in tyrannies, which is that they are illegitimate and, eventually, citizens rise up against them. Regardless of their culture, people don’t want to be subject to repression, violence, and the lash of the whip.

Egypt is a good example. Whatever one thinks about the short, medium, and long-term prospects there – and there are certainly reasons for concern —  the revolution itself was organic. America didn’t provoke the uprising and, until the 11th hour, we stood with Hosni Mubarak. We were essentially bystanders to events there. Mubarak did not take the necessary steps for reform and liberation when he could  — and in the end, he was consumed by the resentments and hatreds he helped to create.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, then, tectonic plates are shifting, whether we like it or not. What does that mean for American policy? Read More

President Bush returned to Washington earlier this week to mark the opening of the “Freedom Collection” at the Bush Institute in Dallas. At the event, President Bush gave a speech that was turned into an op-ed  for the Wall Street Journal that’s worth reading.

President Bush offered a sophisticated critique of (among other things) the so-called Arab Spring. “The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle,” the former president said. Years of transition can be difficult. He acknowledged that there is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. But Bush pointed out that there is an inbuilt crisis in tyrannies, which is that they are illegitimate and, eventually, citizens rise up against them. Regardless of their culture, people don’t want to be subject to repression, violence, and the lash of the whip.

Egypt is a good example. Whatever one thinks about the short, medium, and long-term prospects there – and there are certainly reasons for concern —  the revolution itself was organic. America didn’t provoke the uprising and, until the 11th hour, we stood with Hosni Mubarak. We were essentially bystanders to events there. Mubarak did not take the necessary steps for reform and liberation when he could  — and in the end, he was consumed by the resentments and hatreds he helped to create.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, then, tectonic plates are shifting, whether we like it or not. What does that mean for American policy?

According to America’s 43rd president:

As Americans, our goal should be to help reformers turn the end of tyranny into durable, accountable civic structures. Emerging democracies need strong constitutions, political parties committed to pluralism, and free elections. Free societies depend upon the rule of law and property rights, and they require hopeful economies, drawn into open world markets.

This work will require patience, creativity and active American leadership. It will involve the strengthening of civil society—with a particular emphasis on the role of women. It will require a consistent defense of religious liberty. It will mean the encouragement of development, education and health, as well as trade and foreign investment. There will certainly be setbacks. But if America does not support the advance of democratic institutions and values, who will?

It’s important to bear in mind that the United States’ transition to freedom was hardly smooth. Nearly a century after our liberation from Great Britain we fought what the historian Daniel J. Boorstin called “probably the bloodiest civil war of the 19th century and perhaps even of all modern history.” It was, he said, “the great trauma of our national life.” With the Civil War on our record, we might want to show a bit of patience toward those who are emerging from broken and pathologized societies.

To be clear: the overthrow of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes does not always end well. One form of tyranny can give way to another. As Bush said in his speech, “Freedom is a powerful force.  But it does not advance on wheels of historical inevitability. And it is history that proves this point. The American Revolution of 1776 produced George Washington, who embodied the democratic habits of a new nation. The French Revolution of 1789 eventually produced Napoleon, who set out to conquer Europe. The outcome of a freedom revolution is determined by human choices and the creation of durable democratic traditions.”

To return to the here and now: Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi could be much worse than Egypt under Mubarak. But the revolution came. We couldn’t have stopped it even if we wanted to. The pertinent question is whether the United States has either the interest or the capacity to help shape the outcome there and elsewhere in the Muslim world in ways that strengthen civil society and advance genuine human liberty; in ways that bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, one might say.

Once upon a time, the United States had a president – several presidents, in fact – who cared about such things. Today, it’s not at all clear that we do.

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Paying the Price in Egypt and Iran

I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

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I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

Needless to say, I do not condone this anti-Americanism, but I can understand it–just as I can understand why so many American governments found it prudent to back the Shah and Mubarak. The regime which succeeded the Shah makes his rule seem paradisiacal by comparison; the same might yet be said of whatever regime emerges in Egypt, which will be dominated by Islamists. Perhaps there was no “third way” possible (to evoke that Cold War phrase), but we should have at least tried harder to find it by pushing our dictatorial allies to reform and providing support to moderate opposition elements.

We didn’t do that in the case of Egypt and Iran and are now paying the price. It is not too late in the case of other regional allies such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We need to push them to liberalize, or else we can expect more hostage crises and show trials in our future.

 

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Saying No to Pharoah

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he’s fed up and wants to resign, but he “cannot for fear of the country falling into chaos.”

Now, who do you suppose is responsible for that? Perhaps the same person who is responsible for eliminating democratic opposition in Egypt and who has insisted, for 30 years now, that the choice the United States faces is either supporting the dictator Mubarak or the ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As chaos spreads in Egypt, we shouldn’t forget, even for a moment, that Hosni Mubarak created the conditions for it. That, more than anything else, is what the people of Egypt are rebelling against. They are saying “no” to pharaoh.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he’s fed up and wants to resign, but he “cannot for fear of the country falling into chaos.”

Now, who do you suppose is responsible for that? Perhaps the same person who is responsible for eliminating democratic opposition in Egypt and who has insisted, for 30 years now, that the choice the United States faces is either supporting the dictator Mubarak or the ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As chaos spreads in Egypt, we shouldn’t forget, even for a moment, that Hosni Mubarak created the conditions for it. That, more than anything else, is what the people of Egypt are rebelling against. They are saying “no” to pharaoh.

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Egypt Needs Liberalism

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

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Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators Attack Reporters

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

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In Egypt, We Cannot Afford to Repeat Past Mistakes

I fully understand the dangers of what is happening in Egypt. I am as apprehensive as anyone about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting current events to gain power. I am fully aware of how Hosni Mubarak has been a useful ally in many ways. Yet, when I watch pro-government thugs attacking peaceful protesters, I am rooting wholeheartedly for the protesters and against the thugs. I imagine most Americans are, indeed most people around the world — a few Realpolitikers excepted.

The attacks in downtown Cairo, which have left many bleeding and some no doubt dead, are the dying gasp of a discredited regime. This is no Tiananmen Square — this is not the army being unleashed to use decisive force to crush the demonstrations. Instead, it is a motley collection of thugs and mercenaries: many no doubt secret policemen or other government functionaries, others rented for the day for a few bucks. The army’s role seems to be limited to that of a bystander, which is alarming in and of itself. Previously, the army had appeared to be on the side of the people. Now, following Mubarak’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in September — an announcement that did not preclude a Mubarak crony like Omar Suleiman or even the dictator’s son Gamal from running in a rigged vote — the army appears to be up for grabs. Earlier today an army spokesman called on the demonstrators to disperse, but troops are not enforcing that edict. No doubt the army generals are sniffing the wind to figure out which way to go now. Just as clearly, the people of Egypt are demanding an end to the Mubarak regime — now, not in the fall.

The United States, a nation born in a liberal revolution, has no choice but to stand with the people. In many ways, this is a continuation of the same battle fought in the streets of Europe in 1848 and 1989: the quest of a people yearning for freedom against the representatives of a corrupt and entrenched ruling oligarchy. America’s role, as the champion of liberty, should be to usher Mubarak out of power as quickly and painlessly as possible in order to avert further bloodshed and to make it harder for malign elements to take advantage of the disorder for their own nefarious purposes. We did not do enough to aid democrats in Russia in 1917 or in Iran in 1979; in both cases, we stuck with a discredited ancien regime until it was too late and reacted too slowly to revolutionary upheavals. Let us not repeat that mistake in Egypt.

I fully understand the dangers of what is happening in Egypt. I am as apprehensive as anyone about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting current events to gain power. I am fully aware of how Hosni Mubarak has been a useful ally in many ways. Yet, when I watch pro-government thugs attacking peaceful protesters, I am rooting wholeheartedly for the protesters and against the thugs. I imagine most Americans are, indeed most people around the world — a few Realpolitikers excepted.

The attacks in downtown Cairo, which have left many bleeding and some no doubt dead, are the dying gasp of a discredited regime. This is no Tiananmen Square — this is not the army being unleashed to use decisive force to crush the demonstrations. Instead, it is a motley collection of thugs and mercenaries: many no doubt secret policemen or other government functionaries, others rented for the day for a few bucks. The army’s role seems to be limited to that of a bystander, which is alarming in and of itself. Previously, the army had appeared to be on the side of the people. Now, following Mubarak’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in September — an announcement that did not preclude a Mubarak crony like Omar Suleiman or even the dictator’s son Gamal from running in a rigged vote — the army appears to be up for grabs. Earlier today an army spokesman called on the demonstrators to disperse, but troops are not enforcing that edict. No doubt the army generals are sniffing the wind to figure out which way to go now. Just as clearly, the people of Egypt are demanding an end to the Mubarak regime — now, not in the fall.

The United States, a nation born in a liberal revolution, has no choice but to stand with the people. In many ways, this is a continuation of the same battle fought in the streets of Europe in 1848 and 1989: the quest of a people yearning for freedom against the representatives of a corrupt and entrenched ruling oligarchy. America’s role, as the champion of liberty, should be to usher Mubarak out of power as quickly and painlessly as possible in order to avert further bloodshed and to make it harder for malign elements to take advantage of the disorder for their own nefarious purposes. We did not do enough to aid democrats in Russia in 1917 or in Iran in 1979; in both cases, we stuck with a discredited ancien regime until it was too late and reacted too slowly to revolutionary upheavals. Let us not repeat that mistake in Egypt.

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What Drove the Pro-Government Forces into Cairo’s Streets

On the face of it, it makes no sense. For a week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak allowed anti-government protesters to go unchallenged by his supporters, virtually taking over Cairo’s streets as his loyal army watched. Yesterday, Mubarak made a huge concession to his opponents by pledging not to “run” for re-election to Egypt’s presidency this fall, though that move did not appease his critics. Then this morning, the world awoke to the sight of a massive pro-Mubarak force moving into Cairo to challenge the anti-government forces. Why, many of us are asking, would Mubarak wait so long to unleash his backers? Why would he do so after already making it clear he wanted to avoid violence and had then promised to leave office?

While it is difficult to know exactly what is going on there, it may be that Mubarak’s announcement is exactly what set off this counter-demonstration.

While we tend to think of the Mubarak government as a matter of a small elite, it takes a great many people to run even an autocracy like Egypt. The president’s National Democratic Party may be neither national in scope nor even remotely democratic, but it is a very large entity, and the government bureaucracy that it controls is huge. While Egypt is a poor country with many millions living in abject poverty, and with even most university graduates lacking jobs, those who benefit from the ruling party’s largesse make up a considerable number of people.

Perhaps Mubarak is pulling the strings of these counter-protests, but it is by no means unlikely that those who run the governing party and its rank and file were panicked by his announcement yesterday and decided to act to pre-empt a change in government before it is too late. Though most Egyptians may be thrilled by the prospect of a regime change, the not inconsiderable minority that lives off that regime sees this as a threat to their livelihoods if not their lives. They may well prefer that blood run in the streets of their capital than be forced out of their government jobs. Mubarak and his family have the option of leaving the country and living in a comfortable exile; his supporters do not. So it is understandable, if regrettable, that they would resort to street violence rather than simply accept the likelihood that they will soon be out of a job and perhaps joining the hundreds of thousands of homeless living in Cairo’s cemeteries.

On the face of it, it makes no sense. For a week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak allowed anti-government protesters to go unchallenged by his supporters, virtually taking over Cairo’s streets as his loyal army watched. Yesterday, Mubarak made a huge concession to his opponents by pledging not to “run” for re-election to Egypt’s presidency this fall, though that move did not appease his critics. Then this morning, the world awoke to the sight of a massive pro-Mubarak force moving into Cairo to challenge the anti-government forces. Why, many of us are asking, would Mubarak wait so long to unleash his backers? Why would he do so after already making it clear he wanted to avoid violence and had then promised to leave office?

While it is difficult to know exactly what is going on there, it may be that Mubarak’s announcement is exactly what set off this counter-demonstration.

While we tend to think of the Mubarak government as a matter of a small elite, it takes a great many people to run even an autocracy like Egypt. The president’s National Democratic Party may be neither national in scope nor even remotely democratic, but it is a very large entity, and the government bureaucracy that it controls is huge. While Egypt is a poor country with many millions living in abject poverty, and with even most university graduates lacking jobs, those who benefit from the ruling party’s largesse make up a considerable number of people.

Perhaps Mubarak is pulling the strings of these counter-protests, but it is by no means unlikely that those who run the governing party and its rank and file were panicked by his announcement yesterday and decided to act to pre-empt a change in government before it is too late. Though most Egyptians may be thrilled by the prospect of a regime change, the not inconsiderable minority that lives off that regime sees this as a threat to their livelihoods if not their lives. They may well prefer that blood run in the streets of their capital than be forced out of their government jobs. Mubarak and his family have the option of leaving the country and living in a comfortable exile; his supporters do not. So it is understandable, if regrettable, that they would resort to street violence rather than simply accept the likelihood that they will soon be out of a job and perhaps joining the hundreds of thousands of homeless living in Cairo’s cemeteries.

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Palestinian Authority Announces ‘Surprise’ Elections

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

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Could an Unstable Egypt Bring Israel and the U.S. Closer?

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

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