Reports of His Death Are Greatly Exaggerated: Mubarak Recovers as Egypt’s Democracy Falters
Hosni Mubarak was sent to jail yesterday. Again. If you’re thinking either “wasn’t he already in jail?” or “didn’t he die a few weeks ago?” you could be forgiven. The conflicting reports coming out of Egypt on the state of Mubarak’s health had led many in the media to reprint the now clearly false claim that Mubarak was “clinically dead” after suffering a series of strokes while in prison. Some went so far as to speculate that he had died days earlier, and that the Egyptian authorities were covering it up to prevent disruptive public outbursts of joy and/or anger. Images of him taken through the bars of a cell as he lays in a hospital bed (almost as if in repose), his eyes shielded by dark glasses, only fueled this speculation.
His re-imprisonment confirms that he remains alive, but his poor health is becoming an increasingly apt and ironic metaphor for the state of Egyptian democracy. Already in an attenuated state from the year of military rule following the downfall of Mubarak, it was dealt a body blow when, fearing the impending election of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, the military dissolved the democratically elected and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament. Shortly thereafter they sharply curtailed the powers and responsibilities of the presidency, before handing over the neutered office to their political opponents and celebrating themselves for magnanimously preserving Egyptian democracy. Of course, with no parliament and a president who has no clear ability to legislate, Egyptian democracy is “clinically dead.”
Almost as worrying as the perilous state of democracy in the Arab world’s most populous country is the reaction of some Americans to this development. Many in the conservative blogosphere have expressed support for the SCAF, arguing that if the electorates of states like Egypt are hostile to the United States, we should throw our support to more friendly non-democratic elements in government. The circuitousness and irony of this “strategy” should be plain, but in this ultra-realpolitik mindset, anything that fails to enhance U.S. power in the immediate-term (not short, but immediate) is idealistic “Kumbaya” mumbo-jumbo.
From a political perspective, this makes the Arab Spring a lose-lose for the Obama Administration. When revolutions fail, the administration takes heat for supporting non-democratic revolutions that that replace dictators with new dictators (and not necessarily friendlier ones). When revolutions succeed, they bring to power political parties that roughly represent the will of the electorate, which in most cases is some form of moderate Islamic party, like Ennahda in Tunisia, or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the president is/will be accused of appeasement, and of sacrificing concrete American interest in favor of abstract ideals.
The irony, of course, is that the foreign policy of the most recent Republican presidency was entirely characterized by the deference of pragmatism to idealism. The last-justification-standing for the Iraq war was that the Iraqis wanted democracy, and that it was the responsibility of the United States to give it to them, delivered by tank if necessary.
To some extent, this represents a conflict within the GOP between the Donald Rumsfeld “democracy at the barrel of a gun” neocon camp, and the Ron Paul “pull back the troops and seal the borders” isolationist camp. But many GOP figures seem to straddle both camps. John Bolton, for instance, a dyed-in-the-wool neocon, has decried the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt, warning that they will seize the Suez Canal and sever ties with Israel, while comparing them to Hamas, Hezbollah, and, of course, the Nazis.
This creates a paradoxical mentality that dictates that the United States should support Arab democracy when it requires a $3 trillion invasion, but suppress it when it costs us almost nothing. But perhaps it doesn’t matter: right now, the Arab world doesn’t need American help to suppress its democracies.
Nathan Kohlenberg is Truman’s Policy Fellow.
(Photo credit: AP)