The unrest in Egypt has moved quickly from merely threatening Mubarak’s iron-fisted regime to inevitable change. As sure as events in the Middle East can be, Egypt is surely headed for a new government. Thirty-one years of Mubarak’s brutal police state has led to forty-two percent of the country living in extreme poverty. A despot who feeds the wealthy and starves everyone else has pounded the middle class, essential to any stable social and political system, into near nonexistence. The unemployment rate for those aged thirty and under is approaching a depressing ninety percent.
Mubarak came to power when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Sadat’s death plunged the country into a state of emergency that Mubarak never saw fit to relinquish. The special powers granted to Mubarak and his security forces concentrated power in the hands of a few. Concentrated power is always a toxic and irresistible force. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Franklin understood this well. That’s why they built into the United States Constitution checks and balances to prevent any one person or group of persons from achieving a concentrated power base. Just as the ring of power of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy proved to be more than any individual, no matter how well intentioned, could resist so is unrestrained political power in the hands of any one person.
Will Mubarak’s autocratic, oppressive form of government fall? If so, what kind of leader and what form of government will take its place? Will it ultimately bring something better for the people of Egypt? The answer obviously lies in the form of government that comes next. As of this writing, an unholy alliance between the secular, political forces of former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood appears poised to fill the power vacuum should Mubarak lose his grip
The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by some in the West to be a nonviolent group that long ago renounced jihad as a viable vehicle of gaining power or exercising authority. Just last week, ElBaradei gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he defended the Muslim Brotherhood from Western criticism. “We should stop demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood,” ElBaradei said. “They have not committed any acts of violence in five decades. They too want change. If we want democracy and freedom, we have to include them instead of marginalizing them.”
Yet in November of 2010 Muhammad Badi, the new leader of the Brotherhood delivered a radical sermon that was designed to incite hatred against the West. Badi declared the U.S. to be easy to defeat through violence and cited as evidence the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and inability to gain a clear victory in Afghanistan. These are not exactly the words of a leader who has abandoned the way of jihad for a kinder, gentler approach to government.
If Mubarak decides to heed the call of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to facilitate an orderly transition of power what will that power be transitioned to? It will likely be a theocracy constructed after the model of Iran. The scenario in Egypt today is chillingly similar to the situation that existed in Iran when Islamic extremist took power after the Iranian revolution of 1979. The Shaw of Iran was a heartless dictator who oppressed his people with his security forces and engaged in behavior that ultimately led to his downfall. Then President Jimmy Carter supported the Islamic Revolution believing democratic reforms would usher in a new, free Iran. One might like to ask former President Carter how that is working out for him.
Without doubt, there are forces in Egypt longing for true democratic reforms that would guarantee free, open elections and leaders who are truly accountable to the people. But most analysts agree those forces are too small and too isolated to win the day. It is much more likely that Egypt will ultimately fall into the hands of theocrats, whose reign will make the autocratic abuses of Mubarak look like an enlightened republic. With unrest fomenting in Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia and Jordan it is hard to resist the temptation to see the events in Egypt as part of the broader picture of an orchestrated, radical, anti-American Muslim uprising that could immediately threaten Israel and ultimately Europe and the U.S.
What role, if any, does the Obama Administration play in this Middle Eastern drama? To be fair, it should be said that President Obama has pretty much followed the same policy of his predecessors when it comes to Egypt. Because Mubarak was willing to honor the treaty Sadat signed with Israel and to help in the war against terror by keeping the lid on extremists in Egypt, President Obama joined presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush in helping prop up the Egyptian government.
However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that this uprising in Egypt and to the same extent in at least four other Muslim countries allied with the U.S. was likely fueled by a perception of weakness in President Obama’s leadership. The President’s willingness to treat Israel as just another ally in the Middle East and his propensity for bowing, both physically and politically to Americas’ enemies has certainly emboldened them to take action. It is not too late for the Obama Administration to see what is happening in the Middle East. It is an uprising against moderate Islam in favor of the radicals. But I fear the President is destined to follow Carter’s example abdicating our leadership and as a result, leaving the world a more dangerous place.