The idea that the Egyptian military will or can reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood, or vice-versa, is entirely unrealistic. For all its faults, the Egyptian military, in fighting jihad, is our best current choice.
If you believe that a quick and smooth transition to democracy in the Arab world is realistic, this editorial is not for you.
We can only summon hardheaded realism to assess what’s best for the West and for Egypt, given the military crackdown in Egypt.
Yes, of course, it would be wonderful if democratic practices and values, from free elections to free speech to a culture of political pluralism, were to come to the Arab world quickly and smoothly.
It is not realistic.
Check Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia — no democracy there.
Given the extremely unrealistic prospects for a quick — or even a moderately paced — transition to democracy in the Arab world, the US is making the wrong moves in regard to Egypt.
Democracy will not emerge there as a result of a lecture from President Obama, a cut-off of American aid or a condemnation by the Muslim Brotherhood.
If Israel and Saudi Arabia agree on something, something’s up.
These two countries never agree on a thing, but right now both countries agree on Egypt. Both say that the best course is to back the Egyptian military, or, to put it in reverse, to prevent the emergence of an Islamic state in Egypt.
Yes, the alternatives in Egypt are unpalatable — a military crackdown on the Islamists or an Islamist crackdown on everyone else. The least unpalatable of the alternatives is to support the Egyptian military at this time.
To launch a heartfelt plea to the current and past rulers of Egypt for balance, for respecting the democratic process that brought the Islamists to power, for encouraging the Islamists to moderate their demands and the military to moderate its crackdown — that is, to make the compromises common in democracies — is to talk to oneself. Political compromise? It is not built into the political experience of the Arab world in general and of Egypt in particular.
In 1952, Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the generals who ruled Egypt since its independence. No democracy ensued. Nasser was a dictator. Anwar Sadat succeeded Nasser, made peace with Israel — and was promptly assassinated. Sadat was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, also a dictator, for three decades. He was overthrown in 2011, only to be followed by military rule, then by the elected authoritarian, incompetent and corrupt government of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt doesn’t get democracy.
Against the background of Egypt’s political history, President Obama’s plea to the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to make nice with the military, and vice-versa, is astigmatic.
Israel, living in and well accustomed to the “neighborhood” of the Middle East, says: The military in Egypt is stopping the largest Arab country from becoming a terrorist redoubt. Be thankful.
Saudi Arabia, living in the same area, says the same thing.
No one likes the Egyptian military’s murderous crackdown. The loss of 900 lives is a tragedy beyond words. The alternative?
• More planners of 9/11-type terrorist attacks;
• More saboteurs of peace with Israel;
• More arms smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula;
• More support for Hamas;
• More encouragement for al Qaida.
• More attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt (one of the responses of the Muslim Brotherhood to the military crackdown);
• More poverty and economic backwardness in Egypt.
To be sure, there are always prices to pay for supporting military rulers such as the current ones in Egypt. Unpalatable as the choices in Egypt may be, the US can only work with the realistic alternatives. The expectation that the military can reconcile with the Islamists is nothing but a projection of the American reality onto a qualitatively different political canvas. The options in Egypt are limited; the prospects for advancement are likewise limited. The fact that the military in Egypt is against Islamist terrorism and extremism is the best we’ll get right now. And that’s not a small thing.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News