04 February 2011

Democracy for Egypt -- but not for the Brotherhood?

Had people like Charles Krauthammer had their way back in 2009, the crowds protesting against the alleged theft of the Iranian presidential election could not have removed their country's government quickly enough. In Egypt, on the other hand, Krauthammer in particular says go slow. The situation there is too volatile for his comfort, because a party he dislikes might end up in power. That would be the Muslim Brotherhood, which Krauthammer portrays, implicitly, as a conspiracy to seize absolute power by any means necessary. The Republican media in the U.S. has been accusing the Brotherhood of "hijacking" the protests for at least a week now, though Republican politicians are apparently divided over what should happen in Egypt. Senator McCain, for instance, is mainly concerned with getting President Mubarak to quit the country as soon as possible, while fellow partisans, including some assumed to be running for President of the United States, accuse the Obama administration of insufficiently supporting Mubarak. Opinion seems more firmly set against change among the opinionators than among elected officials. That's not surprising, since fearmongering is the opinionators' only real job, while politicians sometimes recall that they have better things to do.

Krauthammer is afraid that an election victory by the Muslim Brotherhood would be a reprise of the classic Third World political scenario: "one man, one vote, one time." On no other evidence than that the Brothers have "organization," "discipline," and "widespread support," and that they are, in his estimate, "radical Islamists," Krauthammer assumes that, once in power, they'll never allow themselves to be voted out.

How, then, to ensure that Egypt will actually enjoy democracy? Krauthammer recommends a military coup.

The Egyptian military, on the other hand, is the most stable and important institution in the country. It is Western-oriented and rightly suspicious of the Brotherhood. And it is widely respected, carrying the prestige of the 1952 Free Officers Movement that overthrew the monarchy and the 1973 October War that restored Egyptian pride along with the Sinai.
The military is the best vehicle for guiding the country to free elections over the coming months. Whether it does so with Mubarak at the top, or with Vice President Omar Suleiman or perhaps with some technocrat who arouses no ire among the demonstrators, matters not to us. If the army calculates that sacrificing Mubarak (through exile) will satisfy the opposition and end the unrest, so be it.

How would the Egyptian military guide the country to free elections? The best-case scenario, according to Krauthammer, would require "a period of stability during which secularists and other democratic elements of civil society can organize themselves for the coming elections and prevail." In other words, if there's a chance of the Brotherhood winning a quick election, then the election must be delayed until the good guys can get organized enough to overcome whatever head start the Brotherhood may be presumed to enjoy. It isn't hard to read between the lines; what Krauthammer is actually saying is that the Brothers must be prevented from winning an election. The military must either delay the election until such time when they feel certain, for whatever reason, that the Brotherhood would lose, or else they must simply exclude the Brotherhood from the ballot. I don't think Krauthammer would object to the latter option. The viability and desirability of it is implicit in every word of his column. He takes some hope from assurances that the Brothers have no more than 30% public support, which I suppose is why he's willing even to imagine an actual election, but given his opinion of the Brotherhood, I assume that the more popular they prove to be, the less willing he'd be to see an election take place.

Krauthammer writes that Americans' "paramount moral and strategic interest in Egypt is real democracy in which power does not devolve to those who believe in one man, one vote, one time. That would be Egypt's fate should the Muslim Brotherhood prevail." Let's condense this to get to essentials: "U.S. strategic interests demand that the Brotherhood not prevail." Call me naive, but the idea that my country has a strategic interest in any other country's elections, and should treat any country differently depending on who wins an election, is contemptible. That idea probably has a lot to do with why there seem to be "anti-American" parties in foreign elections in the first place. How would Krauthammer feel if any foreigner suggested that the U.S. military seize power here rather than let a Republican win the next Presidential election? I'm sure he'd sneer at the comparison and the presumption of "moral equivalence," but shouldn't equivalence be the essence of morality? If you think so, treat Egypt and all its parties accordingly.


Crhymethinc said...

Apparently, what too many Americans mean when they talk about establishing "democracy" in a foreign sovereign state is actually establishing an "American-friendly" government, if necessary a puppet government.

Tor Hershman said...