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Edward Luttwak On Egypt, Mubarak, And Eight More Months For The Democratic Opposition To Organize
From The Wall Street Journal:
A Quick Mubarak Exit Is Too Risky
It is not often recalled that Hamas is the Gaza branch of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
The Obama administration, like much of the world, is not reacting to the situation in Egypt—a mostly rural country populated mainly by poor peasants. It is reacting to the media spectacle in the center of Cairo, in which huge but largely middle-class crowds have gathered to demand President Hosni Mubarak's removal.
Interestingly, the few journalists who speak colloquial Egyptian Arabic report that among the poor majority of the population—those who wear the traditional robe (djellaba) and depend on bread subsidized by the state—many still support Mr. Mubarak. They know that Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, and that part of it is paid for by U.S. aid. While market prices have increased by 17% since last October, the rationed bread of the poor remains very cheap.
Perhaps the impoverished—a quarter of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day—fear that a government more modern than Mr. Mubarak's paternalistic dictatorship will stop the current bread subsidy, or that a more Islamist government will not receive U.S. aid. Either way, many Egyptians have the prudence of the very poor. They cannot afford to take risks with the unknown—including a post-Mubarak government.
The Obama administration and the governments of Europe would be wise to follow their lead, but of course they cannot. Elite opinion in the West is almost unanimous in its certitudes: Mubarak must go now! Fears of an Islamist takeover are overblown, they argue. The opposition in the streets is "moderate," as is the Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely win at least a third of an immediate vote. It is not often recalled that Hamas is simply the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won power by election—and now refuses to hold more elections.
The Obama administration has, like the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, rejected Mr. Mubarak's promise to step down in eight months after nationwide elections in September. According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, President Obama phoned the Egyptian leader Tuesday evening and said, "The time for a transition has come, and that time is now."
That the crowd refuses to wait is emotionally understandable, but the U.S. and other well-meaning governments should be more patient. It takes at least eight months to organize a meaningful election. Waiting until September would allow parties other than the Muslim Brotherhood time to organize.
If Mr. Mubarak leaves now, the result is likely to be an anarchical or Islamist Egypt, or some of both until another dictatorship emerges. It is not by accident that from Morocco to India there is no democracy except for the one built by the U.S. in Iraq: Mainstream Islam, not just Islamism, rejects the legitimacy of democratic legislation that could contradict Shariah law.
The U.S. is widely seen as the chief interested power because until the current crisis it had taken the lead in supporting the Mubarak regime and before that the regime of Anwar Sadat.
But it is Europe that will suffer the greater consequences if the Mubarak regime is toppled and followed by the Muslim Brotherhood or anarchy. Aside from lost exports to Egypt, there will be lost domestic investments, not least in tourism (no more bikinis in Sharm El Sheikh with the Muslim Brotherhood in power), and more illegal immigrants trying to enter Europe.
As for Israel, it is likely to lose an ally in Egypt but unlikely to face a military threat any time soon: The U.S.-equipped Egyptian armed forces could not fight a war without U.S. supplies—and it would take at least $20 billion and 10 years to re-equip them with non-U.S. weapons.
In any event, Egyptian democrats should not be denied eight months to build viable opposition parties before the next election.