Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Now, Egypt?

Egypt’s problems are economic, not political.

That might explain why so much of the debate over the military takeover of the Egyptian government concerns the restoration of democracy. Given the opportunity to obscure the issues, politicians and pundits have risen to the occasion.

The Egyptian people have largely supported the military take-over of the government and apparently support the military’s suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, they were starving. The country was running out of food. It was running out of energy. It was running out of currency reserves. It’s easy to stand on gauzy principles when you have enough to eat. When you don’t, your priorities change.

If you ask why the young men of Egypt and much of the Middle East are so willing to fight and die for a cause, the answer has more to do with the economy than politics.

David Goldman explains:

Today’s Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims have grim future prospects. The world economy has left them behind, and they cannot catch up. Egypt was at the threshold of starvation and economic collapse when the military intervened, bringing in subsidies from the Gulf monarchies. The young men of the Middle East have less to lose, perhaps, than any generation in any country in modern times. As we observe in Syria, large numbers of them will fight to the death.

While we applaud the Obama administration for not jumping on the bandwagon calling for the suspension of all aid to Egypt, the Middle East is still suffering from the administration’s general ineptitude. After all, our government has been trying to persuade the Egyptian generals to include the Brotherhood in a new government.

Evidently, it is not going to happen. More evidently, it is not desirable.

Goldman reports the bad news:

America’s credibility in the Middle East, thanks to the delusions of both parties, is broken, and it cannot be repaired within the time frame required to forestall the next stage of violence. Egypt’s military and its Saudi backers are aghast at American stupidity. Israel is frustrated by America’s inability to understand that Egypt’s military is committed to upholding the peace treaty with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood wants war. Both Israel and the Gulf States observe the utter fecklessness of Washington’s efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Andrew McCarthy recommends, as he often has, that we cease trying to understand events in Egypt through our own values.

In his words:

But to break Spring Fever, we must finally stop projecting our values on other cultures as if they were “universal,” to borrow the U.N.’s supercilious claim. The Muslim Middle East is part of a different civilization and does not share our core beliefs. Adherent to supremacist Islam, it rejects equality under the law (the rights of non-Muslims are inferior to those of Muslims, and those of women to those of men). In Muslim countries, religious minorities are systematically oppressed and persecuted. The sovereign is deemed to be Allah, acting through the Muslim ruler or caliph. There are no “constituents” to “represent”; the people are subjects who owe the caliph obedience and whose only legitimate expectation of the caliph is his fidelity to sharia.

McCarthy is saying that as long as the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the political process there will be no democracy and no freedom. Surely, there will be no economic freedom.

Writing in The New York Times, Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan also recommends that our government change course on Egypt. He wants us to give up the notion that we should respect the results of the election that made Mohamed Morsi president. True stability is more important than empty democratic gestures:

Rather than cajoling Cairo to hold elections and threatening to suspend aid if it does not, Washington should press the current leadership to adhere to clear standards of responsible governance, including ending the violence and political repression, restoring the basic functions of the state, facilitating economic recovery, countering militant extremists and keeping the peace with Israel. At this fragile moment in Egypt’s political awakening, the performance of its government will be a more important determinant of its legitimacy and durability than whether it won an election.

Clearly, the key is economic recovery.

Can Egypt’s military rules engineer an economic recovery? Can they bring free enterprise to the country and provide a better future for the young people of Egypt.

One has good reason to be doubtful.

In many ways, the question involves Israel. It’s not about relations with Israel or respect for a peace treaty. The more important point is whether Egypt can initiate economic reforms that would in any way resemble the example that Israel has set.

For decades now Muslims throughout the Middle East have blamed their failures on Israel. This has required them to reject any and all reforms that would make their nations more like the Jewish state. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular would rather starve the Egyptian people than do business with Israel. Or worse, to become more like Israel.

While we see democracy as an ideal, Egyptians are more likely to see it as the Israeli way. While we see free enterprise as the road to prosperity, Egyptians are more likely to associate it with Israel.

For now, Egypt’s new military rulers have been working with Israel to tamp down the terrorist presence in Sinai.

Israel and Egypt are quietly cooperating to quell Islamist militants along their border, Western officials say, a sensitive relationship illuminated by a deadly Israeli drone strike late last week inside Egyptian territory.

Israel's intervention in the Sinai Peninsula—which Egyptian officials denied, and which Israeli officials neither confirmed nor denied—would be the clearest manifestation of the high-level interaction between Israeli and Egyptian military and intelligence chiefs, according to the Western officials. Such cooperation between the U.S. allies has increased since last month's ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, these officials say.

Perhaps it’s a marriage of convenience, a political arrangement, but surely it is better than the situation the prevailed before the “coup.”


Sam L. said...

I can't say that Republican policies are/were better, but "letting them be" sure seems to have worked better. The Dems, of course, know what is right for anyone and everyone, even though they are usually wrong.

Lastango said...

"Israel is frustrated by America’s inability to understand that Egypt’s military is committed to upholding the peace treaty with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood wants war. Both Israel and the Gulf States observe the utter fecklessness of Washington’s efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons program."

There is more than one America. The America that backs the Islamists and sides against Israel (that is, our governing class and coastal elites) doesn't have a comprehension problem. It wants Israel to continually give ground, and ultimately to fail. It's policies aimed at achieving those goals are conscious and deliberate, not dimwitted errors due to an intellectual failure. When we realize that, we see how misguided it is to think we can somehow educate America's elites toward a different perspective. They already have all the information -- it's just that they choose to work in the service of their own agendas. They are morally bankrupt, not intellectually deficient.

Lastango said...

Pat Buchanan has a summary worth reading:

(I suggest avoiding the reader comments though... utter crap.)

Dennis said...

Until these people get tired of killing each other there will be no solution. Our, the WEST, interference, as stated before, only perpetuates further violence. One group or the other has to win decisively.
It would seem that large segments of the Egyptian populations have little problem dealing with Israel and we should make the most of it. They had done it before.
Being like Israel is much like being "white" or "educated" to some in this country. The more we can assist in changing that attitude, both in this country and in Egypt, the better it serves our interests and theirs.
If one can help Egypt to succeed in the Middle East the more they will affect other countries in that area.
I believe that Egypt is the key to ameliorating much of what happens in the Middle East. What we should strive for is a friend and an ally, not a mirror image of ourselves. We have our own problems to solve. Most of all we need to let them solve their problems.