The end looms for Egyptian autocrat

There’s been considerable consternation over the past week about how the United States should respond to the growing unrest in Egypt.

Increasingly, however, it appears there’s little we can do. Hundreds of thousands of people in one of the world’s oldest civilizations are taking things into their own hands. They don’t care whether the U.S. secretary of state urges calm. The days appear numbered for the iron-fisted regime of Hosni Mubarak.

If the result of this uprising is a new democracy in Egypt, it could prove a long-term benefit, not only for the United States, but for the entire Middle East.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to be anxious. There is a quite reasonable fear that the Egyptian revolution could end with an anti-American, anti-Western Islamist regime in power, along the lines of what occurred in Iran.

And even a truly democratic outcome is unlikely to result in an Egyptian leader who is as closely tied to the United States as Mubarak has been.

But, to date at least, the demonstrations in Cairo haven’t been marked by “Death to the Great Satan!” signs or overt, anti-American sentiment. Nor has there been a predominately religious undertone to the unrest.

To be sure, the Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed opposition group, is an Islamic force to be reckoned with in Egypt. But some experts say it is not in the same category as al-Qaida or even Hamas when it comes to promoting violence or demonizing the West.

In fact, it was reported by one Israeli news source Monday that the Muslim Brotherhood is working with secular moderate Mohammed ElBaradei — the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency — to form a coalition government that would replace Mubarak’s.

Also, while Mubarak’s 30-year tenure as leader of Egypt has been marred by the repression of his own people, it may have had serious negative repercussions for this country, as well.

According to a column in Monday’s New York Times, author Lawrence Wright suggests that Mubarak’s policies of imprisonment, torture and exile of Islamic leaders helped create al-Qaida, and indirectly led to the 9/11 attacks here.

That’s speculative, of course. But this much is evident: America’s long history of attempting to prop up repressive despots in other nations because they are seen as allies of this country has backfired on many occasions. From Cuba to Vietnam to Iran to Nicaragua, the result has often been revolution and new regimes that are distinctly antagonistic toward this country.

That could yet occur in Egypt. But it’s also possible a true democracy will take root in that ancient country, one that may be more independent of the United States than Mubarak’s government has been, but not actively antagonistic. Such a democracy could also become a beacon to citizens of other Middle Eastern countries, eager to rid themselves of oppressive autocrats.

Unless we are prepared to use military force or covert action in support of Mubarak — both terrible ideas, in our view — there is little we can do now. The future is in the hands of Egypt’s citizens.


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