You may have noticed that I don’t update this site much any more — that’s because I’m doing most of my writing on these matters on TIME.com and at the National, and doing my blogging on Facebook and Twitter (follow: @TonyKaron ) I’m not going to update this often, so follow me on those platforms. But for the record, a few of my recent Egypt pieces:
The revolt that appears to have fatally undermined President Hosni Mubarak’s prospects for remaining in power is a domestic affair — Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand change because of economic despair and political tyranny, not the regime’s close relationship with Israel and the U.S. But having tolerated and abetted Mubarak’s repressive rule for three decades precisely because of his utility to U.S. strategy on issues ranging from Israel to Iran, Washington could be deprived of a key Arab ally with his fall from power.
…the Egyptian rebellion may stand as the ultimate negation of the Bush Administration’s “moderates vs. radicals” approach to the region: Mubarak’s ouster might be a loss for the moderate camp, but it won’t necessarily translate into a gain for the radicals. Instead, it marks a new assertiveness by an Arab public looking to take charge of its own affairs, rather than have them determined by international power struggles. Even that, however, suggests turbulent times ahead for American Middle East policies that have little support on Egypt’s streets.
On Saturday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked a guest on his show how al Qa’eda fitted into events in Egypt. The question itself was reminiscent of Larry King a few years back asking Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to explain yoga….
…Democracy movements are attractive to Washington when they target a regime such as Iran’s, but in allied autocracies, they’re a problem. There’s no way for Egypt to be democratic and exclude the Islamists from political participation. The same is true for most other parts of the Arab world — a lesson the U.S. ought to have learned in Iraq, where Islamists have dominated all the democratically elected governments that followed Saddam Hussein’s ouster. But when the Islamists of Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006, held under pressure from Washington, the Bush Administration literally did a 180-degree turn on the question of Palestinian democracy…
Explaining why the U.S. continues to support Mubarak, the State Department’s Crowley on Thursday told al-Jazeera that “Egypt is an anchor of stability in the Middle East … It’s made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that’s important; we think that’s a model that the region should adopt.”
The problem for Washington is that Arab electorates are unlikely to agree. The democratically elected Iraqi government, for example, despite its dependence on U.S. support, has stated its refusal to normalize relations with Israel. A democratic Egypt, whether led by the Muslim Brotherhood or any other opposition party, is unlikely to go to war with Israel given the vast imbalance in military capability, but they’re even less likely to accept normal ties given the present condition of the Palestinians. And the most secular liberal activists in Egypt reject with contempt the argument that regional stability can come at the expense of their right to choose their government.
The Administration is caught in a bind, but it’s more strategic than just moral: Supporting tyrants loathed by their own people but willing to do Washington’s bidding in international matters is a decades-old U.S. tradition in the Middle East, as well as in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The problem with Mubarak is not simply that his methods are at odds with professed U.S. values; it’s that his brittle autocracy appears to have entered a period of terminal decline, with the U.S. potentially on the wrong side of history.
And for old time’s sake, a piece wrote in 2003 on Egypt and Bush’s ‘democracy agenda’
…Democracy in the Middle East and nearby Muslim lands would almost certainly restrain cooperation with the U.S. war on terror. Just look at what happened in Turkey on the eve of the Iraq war: Washington had simply assumed that Ankara would jump into line once the U.S. was on the march to war — after all, the country had been effectively ruled since World War II by generals closely aligned with Washington. But Turkey is far more democratic today, and when it was left up to the elected parliament to choose, the U.S. request to invade Iraq from Turkish territory was declined. And it’s a safe bet that if Jordan and Saudi Arabia had put the matter of their own cooperation with the Iraq invasion to a freely elected legislature, the response would have been the same as Turkey’s….
…The biggest test of the seriousness of President Bush’s commitment to promote democracy will come in Egypt, which is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2005. Egypt is especially vulnerable to U.S. pressure as the recipient of around $2 billion annually in U.S. aid, as its reward for making peace with Israel in 1979. “The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East,” Bush intoned. But if Egypt were a democracy, it’s far from certain that it would still a peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt is a good illustration of President Bush’s point that the absence of channels for democratic political participation in Arab states has helped foster terrorism, which has eventually been exported. Osama Bin Laden may be Saudi, but most of the top-tier al-Qaeda leadership at the time of 9/11 were veterans of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that turned to terrorism in response to the Sadat regime’s peace treaty with Israel, and found hundreds of willing recruits in Egypt’s middle class and in its officer corps. The Brotherhood, of course, is a far more moderate Islamist entity than Jihad, originating in early 20th agitation against British colonial rule. It enjoys a strong, some say dominant, presence among Cairo’s professional classes, and has eschewed violence. Although its activities are formally banned and it is precluded from contesting parliamentary elections, Egypt analysts suggest it may nonetheless be the dominant opposition force in Egyptian society. The impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on Egyptian public opinion has also seen a growing alignment in the views of the Brotherhood and more traditionally liberal democratic opposition groups, around the questions of democracy and sovereignty. Today, the overarching criticism of the Mubarak regime is that it is more responsive to Washington than to its own citizenry, and the internal demand for democratic reform is linked with opposition to, rather than support for U.S. policies….