Liberals and conservatives alike are celebrating the possible advance of democracy in Egypt. The Mubarak regime is reeling, his heirs apparent have fled the country and images of “people power” are filling television screens worldwide. Excited rumors of the police and military taking the side of the protesters against the regime are being reported as dreams of a Western secular democracy on the Nile fire the imagination of humanists everywhere. However, this excitement is every bit as ill-conceived as the neoconservative adventures that brought democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. And seeing that Egypt lacks a military occupying force, it is unlikely that the establishment of a democratic government in Cairo will end as well as the foundation of the corrupt puppet regimes in Baghdad and Kabul have to date.
On a related note, NRO interviews someone who knows considerably more about Egypt than I do, but reaches similar conclusions:
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why all this optimism in the media vis-à-vis Egypt? Why do you believe it’s so wrong?
Barry Rubin: Everybody likes the idea of the oppressed and repressed masses rising up against a dictatorship. Both conservatives and liberals find this appealing. And because America is a democratic country and the current wisdom is that everyone all over the world is alike, the assumption is that Egyptians want to have civil rights and freedom. This is reinforced by the Bush-era support for democratic change in the Middle East based on the idea that the dictatorships have indoctrinated the people to be anti-American. That view is true as far as it goes, but one reason why the dictatorships have pushed the political line they do is precisely because they know it will be popular.
But what if this bipartisan preconception is wrong? What if the most likely alternatives are either an Arab-nationalist dictatorship or an Islamist dictatorship? First, the moderate democratic forces are weak, disorganized, and few in number compared with their two rivals. Second, in Egypt especially, many of the “moderate democrats” are quite extremist, even if they are leftist or radical-nationalist rather than Islamist in doctrine.
We also have some precedents: Iran’s revolution (Islamism); Palestinian elections (Hamas); Lebanese democracy (Hezbollah); Algerian free elections (bloody civil war); Turkish democracy (Islamist regime at present). This pattern cannot be ignored, there are reasons for it.
The reason one must assume a problematic outcome isn’t because the pattern exists, but because there is no alternative pattern of Western-friendly democratic outcomes in the Middle East to which one can point.