Embracing the Rise of a Democratic Egypt
Previously published on Feb 6, 2011
It is no accident the Middle East now faces a wave of democratic uprisings while it certainly is no surprise that the democratic West finds itself in an extremely tenuous position in the final days of the Mubarak regime. Ironically, democracy is seen as a contagion to fear in the Middle East thanks to our fragile global economy, which is inherently susceptible to the negative aspects of events from all over the world, especially following the Great Recession, and a history of short-sighted foreign policy decisions made by Western governments that favored regimes over People. Pushing beyond our fears, the United States and the rest of the West must embrace a democratic Egypt and help it become an example of stable democratic reform that other non-democratic Middle Eastern, as well as African, Asian, and Latin American, nations can look to for inspiration.
Unfortunately, democracy will not always yield outcomes that favor the interests of Western governments. There is undoubtedly a strong possibility of such a result when it comes to the Middle East where Western influence has yielded many liabilities, including the attention of religious extremists. The strong probability that even moderate Middle Eastern democracies will have governments heavily rooted in Islamic principles adds to this fear while mass poverty means countries like Egypt will be socialist democracies for, at least, some time to come. Of course, just the fear of extremists hijacking governments all over the region has pushed even the US to support dictatorships and suppressive socialist agendas over the democratic process. Although it is important to recognize the possibility exists that Islamic extremists or other anti-Western groups might rise to power, democracy is the only answer when a People calls for it.
Because we bet on a steady hand over our democratic principles, US and European leaders have little credibility in the eyes of pro-democracy Egyptian protesters. As seen in Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East, building democracy is a difficult undertaking, which fails too often, so Egypt could use the expertise of stable, long-time democratic successes, such as those found in the West. There is much to do in Egypt, including rewriting the Constitution and building an actual political system, so it very much needs some close, effective allies. While the US may not be able to engage whatever new Egyptian government forms with the same closeness we had with the Mubarak government, trusted Western figures might be tapped to help guide the process while democratic African leaders, as well as leaders from Middle Eastern countries like Turkey or perhaps Pakistan, may represent a more palatable option.
Fortunately, the Obama Administration was wise enough to incrementally embrace the democratic movement in Egypt before the total collapse of the Mubarak government. Though it stumbled at first, the Obama Administration managed to rather successfully show support for the Egyptian People before it eventually called for an immediate transition away from the Dictator. That said, many political divisions within Egypt will likely not look too kindly on the US for our support of Hosni Mubarak, but the Obama Administration's handling of the situation will help persuade the next Egyptian government that we can potentially be close allies. So long as the Egyptian military honors its pledge not to fire on peaceful protesters and violence stays at a minimum, America's billion plus dollar annual donation to the Mubarak regime should not be so damning and the West should have some room to prove its support of the Egyptian People.
If the democratic process ultimately does not lead to a government, which reflects the interests of America, it would be prudent for the US to withdraw military and economic, though not humanitarian, aid. It is not, however, acceptable for the United States and other Western governments to disengage from the new government or undermine Egyptian democracy. Egyptian democracy is for the Egyptian People, not the International Community. Then again, it would be wise of the Egyptian People to seek the political assistance of successful democracies as it moves forward with its transition. Egypt must have democracy, much like any other Middle Eastern, African, Asian, or South American country calling for change, because its People demand it. No matter what form Egyptian democracy takes or what leaders come to power, the International Community from now on must support the democratic process throughout the Middle East instead of undermining it for our immediate interests.