Commentary Magazine


The Arab Spring Has Gone Straight to Winter

So much for the revolution. While those of us who believe that democracy and freedom are things that all people value and deserve still believe that promoting those values is always America’s duty, the skeptics about the prospects for genuine change in Egypt appear to be vindicated by recent events. As the New York Times reports today, the post-Mubarak era has created a tacit alliance of sorts between the military and the Islamist extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Egyptian Army is definitely running the country, they have allowed the Brotherhood a great deal of influence. As the Times writes:

In these early stages, there is growing evidence of the Brotherhood’s rise and the overpowering force of Islam. When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.

The young and largely secular protesters whose courage and determination brought down Mubarak are nowhere to be seen in terms of influence on events. The army is even promulgating regulations that will ban public protests, essentially ensuring that there will be no repeat of the demonstrations that undid the old regime.

Even worse is the fact that the army, with support from the Islamists, is pushing for quick elections with a ballot for a parliament that will write a new constitution prior to September, followed almost immediately by a vote for a new president. This race to the polls will gave a huge advantage to the well-organized Brotherhood as well as the establishment New Democracy Party that dominated under Mubarak, and which will probably have the imprimatur of the army. Secular and pro-democracy parties will be put at a severe disadvantage. As the experience of “one man, one vote, one time” has shown time and again in the Third World, the mere holding of an election should not be confused with the promotion of genuine democracy.

The implications of this development are discouraging for democracy advocates but they do reflect the intractable and corrupt power of both the Egyptian armed forces and the Brotherhood. While it would be foolish to think the United States or the West can alter events to suit our own beliefs, this is not a moment for President Obama to be silent about the way things are going. While some in the White House may be comforted by the continuing power of the Egyptian Army, which is certainly a force for stability if not freedom, the promulgation of yet another tyrannical government, this time with a more overt Islamist tinge, is not in America’s interests and will not promote regional stability in the long run. Egypt’s generals need to be warned that by getting in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood they run the danger of losing the massive U.S. aid package that keeps their armies in ready cash and equipment.

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