Optimism in Egypt Justified?


It is really remarkable how one man’s self immolation in Tunisia is sparking such revolt not only in his country, but in Yemen, Jordan, and of course Egypt.  The whole world is tuned into the Egyptian protest in particular because it is a relatively moderate Islamic state.  Egypt plays a role in bridging a diplomatic gap between the Middle East and the rest of the world.

The general consensus is that any government in Egypt led by someone other than Hosni Mubarak would be more radical and less of a stabilizing force in the world.  That seems like a reasonable assumption.  I don’t know any Egyptians personally, but when I look at some polls taken about their majority view on the Western world, the obvious prediction is that in a new government the US will lose one of their few allies in the region.

I am far from an expert, and this post is more about a positive attitude than credible analysis, but one could make a case that the obvious prediction is wrong.  Here are some possible mitigating factors:

  • Let’s face it… the cooperation from Egypt we currently face is heavily influenced by billions of dollars in aid the U.S. provides to them.  The new government will be under significant pressure to improve conditions for a massive portion of the population that lives on $2 or less per day.  The last thing a new government will want to do is to make things worse with reduced humanitarian aid.  In addition, they will not want to weaken the military in the country, which remains a respected neutral entity, with reduced military aid.  I suspect the U.S. will offer to continue its foreign aid in exchange for continued cooperation.  I don’t think think any other economic powers will step in with their own aid for competing influence.
  • The polls that show such sour attitudes against The West are taken from a populace after a 30 year period under oppression under a despotic ruler who controlled all media and wasted no chance to indoctrinate his subjects.  Would a new government really allow for free press and free exchange of ideas, and could that significantly change the attitude of the populace?  I don’t know, neither of these things may happen.  However, we saw that the introduction of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter probably helped spark an unprecedented revolt against a government that survived completely unchallenged for thirty years.  When the cold war ended, new freedoms tempered much anti Western feelings in the old Communist Block.  Of course, an immediate shift in attitude is a very rosy scenario.  The alternative is that a radical faction in Egypt could take control, turn their backs on any foreign aid bribery (which is really what it is.)  Such a regime would oppress the population in order to keep control.

So there it is, an optimistic case by another uninformed blogger based on insufficient analysis and lots of wishful thinking.  It certainly would be nice to see one or more democratic transitions in the Middle East bring about human rights advances while at the same time diffusing tensions in the area.

Having said that, I think those blindly cheering a revolution by anyone should consider the negative side as well.  A revolution is only positive when the new government is better than the old.  Of course, there is lots that could improve in a post Hosni Mubarak government.  Lots could get worse too.

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