Friday, February 11, 2011

The Lessons of Cairo

Obama, America, And Egypt's Liberal Revolt | The New Republic
TNR's most recent editorial about the upheaval in Egypt says it all.  It begins with the words:
The spread of democracy around the world is a natural American aspiration, but sometimes the sincerity of that aspiration is tested by the disruptions of democratization. The astonishing events in Egypt are such a test. They are so thrilling in their purpose and so unclear in their outcome. They provoke exhilaration and anxiety. But they demonstrate to a new generation that the democratic longing is itself one of history’s most powerful causes. And, for the United States, they make clear that the spread of democracy is not only a matter of morality, but also a matter of strategy.
And its conclusion is very much on target:
Now, the hard question. What if, in promoting democracy in the Arab world, we find ourselves acquiescing in the inclusion of Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the new arrangements? Would this not be both a moral and a strategic disaster? A number of commentators have waved away the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, arguing that the group is not actually as radical as everyone thinks. Whatever the evolution of the movement since the hideousness of Hassan Al Banna, it strikes us as glib to dismiss the worry about its participation in an Egyptian government. It is true that a majority of Egyptians and a majority of the protesters do not want the Islamists in power; but the 30 percent of the electorate that the Muslim Brotherhood commands is not trivial. We are supposed to be reassured because the Brotherhood opposes Al Qaeda. Good for them-but what about women’s rights? Religious freedom? The treaty with Israel?
And yet we are where we are. Mubarak is over. He was not overthrown by the Islamists. And the Islamists owe what social power they possess to him and his asphyxiation of his society. So we find ourselves at one of those historical moments that bring to mind Frost’s adage that “the best way out is always through.”
We recognize that liberal democracies do not spring up overnight. Where decades of cruel autocracy have devastated civil society, diplomatic skill will be required for the pangs of transition. But this diplomacy must be based on the recognition that the breakthrough of the liberal democratic temper in Egypt is not only a crisis for the United States, but also an opportunity. Cairo has taken its place alongside Budapest and Prague as one of the modern capitals of liberal revolt. Now we must do everything we can to keep this liberal revolt liberal.
Even if it were possible to do so support for the region's stability over and against the Egyptian people will not in the end serve our interests. We may worry about Islamists gaining power, and I most certainly do, but the old regime is now gone, so we have only one choice and that is to support and nurture democracy. We must hope and pray and work that this democracy hues to the values we hold dear, namely standing against terrorism, allied with America and for peace with Israel.

And of course read Leon Wieseltier's article about what the Egyptian revolution means for Israel:  With Our Eyes Wide Open.

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