The bloody suppression of an anti-government protest by Coptic Christians yesterday that left two dozen dead is more proof the fall of the Mubarak regime was not the harbinger of a more pluralistic or democratic Egypt.
Though anti-Christian violence is far from unusual in Egypt, the fact police appear to have joined Muslim mobs in attacking the Copts may be yet another sign of the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists on the government’s decision-making process. Like the sack of Israel’s embassy last month by a mob that was allowed to run riot while the police looked on, this incident illustrates the further breakdown of what was already a dysfunctional society under the previous government. It also highlights the need for the United States to make it clear to the generals they are skating on thin ice when it comes to the continued flow of massive American aid they have come to depend on.
To its credit, the Obama administration issued a statement today expressing concern about the violence in Egypt and calling upon Cairo to respect the rights of religious minorities. The military government has already learned they have nothing to gain if they listen to Obama and little to lose if they don’t. Having come into office apologizing to the Muslim world and ignoring the need to promote human rights and democracy there — since this was seen as something associated with the Bush administration — American influence is minimal.
Lamenting the fall of a corrupt dictator like Mubarak is a waste of time. What the West needs to happen in Egypt is not a return to an unsustainable status quo that was bound to be overthrown. Nor is it possible at this point to try and install a liberal regime in a country where support for genuine democracy and pluralism, not to mention peace with Israel, is minimal.
But for all of the well-founded worry about the direction of the country this latest bloodshed has reinforced, it is still possible for the West to point out to the current regime it has a lot to lose if it allows the forces of intolerance to run amuck. It may be the best we can hope for in Egypt is the continuation of a military dictatorship that understands it is in its interests to keep Islamists in check. If so, then it is incumbent upon Secretary of State Clinton and the rest of the Obama foreign policy team to forget their obsession with Israel and the Palestinians and focus on keeping Egypt from sliding into chaos.