If developments in Egypt have so far gone as well as one could hope, future
prospects remain unclear. The exciting part is over; now come the
Let’s start with three pieces of good news: Hosni Mubarak,
Egypt’s strongman, who appeared on the brink of fomenting disaster, fortunately
resigned. The Islamists, who would push Egypt in the direction of Iran, had
little role in recent events, and remain far from power. And the military, which
has ruled Egypt from behind-thescenes since 1952, is the institution best
equipped to adapt the government to the protesters’ demands.
Now, for the
problems. The military represents the lesser problem. In charge for six decades,
it has made a mess of things. Tarek Osman, an Egyptian writer, eloquently
demonstrates in a new book, Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak
precipitously Egypt’s standing has declined.
Whatever index one chooses,
from standard of living to soft-power influence, Egypt today it lags behind its
monarchical predecessor. Osman contrasts the worldly Cairo of the 1950s to the
“crowded, classic Third World city” of today. He also despairs at how the
country “that was a beacon of tranquility... has turned into the Middle East’s
most productive breeding ground of aggression.”
The Muslim Brotherhood
represents the larger problem. Founded in 1928, the world’s leading Islamist
organization has long avoided confrontation with the government, and shies from
revealing its ambition to carry out an Islamic revolution. Iran’s President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad articulated this hope for it when he claimed that due to
developments in Egypt, “a new Middle East is emerging, without the Zionist
regime and US interference.”
In a bitter appraisal, Mubarak focused on
this same danger: “We see the democracy the United States spearheaded in Iran
and with Hamas, in Gaza, and that’s the fate of the Middle
East...extremism and radical Islam.”
FOR ITS part, the US
administration naïvely expressed no such concerns. Barack Obama downplayed the
threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it but “one faction in Egypt,” while
his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, actually praised it as “a
very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence” and
pursues “a betterment of the political order in Egypt.”
points to a US policy in deep disarray.
In June 2009, during a would-be
revolution against a hostile regime in Iran, the Obama administration stayed
mum, hoping thereby to win Tehran’s goodwill. But with Mubarak, a friendly
dictator, under assault, it effectively adopted George W.
impatient “freedom agenda” and supported the opposition.
encourages street demonstrators only against our own side.
pressure, steady and gradual, recognizing that the democratization process
implies a vast transformation of society over not months but decades, is needed
to open the system.
What next for Egypt, and will the Muslim Brotherhood
take over? Something remarkable, unpredictable and unprecedented took place in
recent weeks. A leaderless mass movement galvanized large numbers of ordinary
citizens, as in Tunisia days earlier. It did not rage against foreigners,
scapegoat minorities nor endorse a radical ideology; instead, it demanded
accountability, liberty and prosperity. Reports reaching me from Cairo suggest a
historic turn toward patriotism, inclusion, secularism and personal
FOR CONFIRMATION, consider two polls: A 2008 study by
Lisa Blaydes and Drew Linzer found 60 percent of Egyptians hold Islamist views.
But a Pechter Middle East Poll last week found only 15% of Cairenes and
Alexandrians “approve” of the Muslim Brotherhood, and about 1% support the idea
of a Brotherhood president.
Another indicator of this seismic change: The
Brotherhood, in retreat, has played down its political ambitions, with Yusuf
al-Qaradawi going to far as to declare that preserving Egyptians’ freedom is
more important than implementing Islamic law.
No one can say at this
early date where this revolution in attitudes came from or where it will
eventually lead, but it is today’s happy reality. The military leadership now
bears the weighty responsibility of shepherding it to fruition.
in particular bear close watching – Vice President Omar Suleiman, Defense
Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Hafez Enan.
shall soon see whether the military leadership has learned and matured, and if
it realizes that continuing to pursue its selfish interests will only lead to
The writer (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle
East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of
Stanford University. He has lived in Egypt for three years.