Yet another Middle Eastern despot reliant on American support is in danger of falling. That’s just about all we know regarding the current situation in Egypt. What the future holds is anyone’s guess. The short version of analysis is best penned by Shaun Kenney:
I truly hope this is a democratic revolution, and that if so, the revolution succeeds rather than is stifled (as it was in Iran). If this is nothing more than a mere coup by the Muslim Brotherhood, then I hope it is crushed mercilessly.
The question becomes: what kind of revolution will this be in Egypt? One that empowers the people (see Central Europe)? One that further imprisons them (see Iran)? Or one that fails (see Communist China)? I’m in no position to answer just yet. I can, however, make some observations, FWIW.
Just about every largely Muslim nation has three large factions within it: democrats, secularists, and Wahhabists (in the case of non-Arab Iran, it’s Khomeinists). If one is the majority, it usually calls the tune (Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia, democrats in Iraq and Indonesia, and secularists in 20th-Century Turkey, for example). Elsewhere, the secularists (my term) tend to be the elites (although the other two groups will have some elite leadership) while the other two compete for support of the masses.
How the secularists react tends to drive events. In Pakistan, secularist Musharraf tried to win over the Wahhabists and freeze out the democrats, until it became clear to him that the Wahhabists would strengthen and he would weaken under that scenario. So he took a chance and tried reaching out to the democrats. Unfortunately, there was too much bad blood, and to this day in Pakistan neither the Wahhabists nor the democrats can command majority support – unless they do what is still unthinkable and reach out to Musharraf’s faction.
In Egypt, by contrast, Hosni Mubarak ruthlessly cracked down on both while insisting to each that he was their only protection against the other. The closest authoritarian model to Mubarak was the Shah of Iran, who managed to pull it off for 25 years. Eventually in Iran, Khomeinists and democrats decided it was better to knock out the secularist and argue over the future later.
Mubarak is actually 5 years beyond the Shah in longevity, but he, too, may be past his sell-by date. What we do not know yet is whether the democrats or the Wahhabists will take charge. As of Monday afternoon, the Wahhabists (known as the Muslim Brotherhood) seem to have the upper hand. They’ve already reached out to Mohammed El Baradei, who has an international reputation as head of the IAEA during the mullahs’ pre-Stuxnet drive for nuclear weaponry.
If that doesn’t reassure you, you’re ahead of the curve.
There are prominent democrats in Egypt, Ayman Nour among them, who can truly lead Egypt to a brighter future. We should do what we can to give them the upper hand.