So the Egyptian military has dumped Hosni Mubarak and taken over. The people of Egypt are ecstatic, but this is far from over. Egypt is, for the moment, ruled by a junta; it’s incumbent on the US to work toward real reform of the system.
Abe Greenwald smartly pointed out this morning that Mubarak actually did us a favor yesterday:
[When] the Egyptian president lashed out against “foreign interventions or dictations,” he clarified for the Egyptian people that the United States was not on his side, but theirs – something the Obama administration proved incapable of doing.
Whether Mubarak goes today or in September, he is going. One of the few opportunities for America to affect positively what happens afterward rests in Washington’s ability to establish itself as an ally of Egyptian democrats. Those who warn that siding against Mubarak will only empower the Muslim Brotherhood miss an important tactical consideration. If the majority of protesting Egyptians see that the U.S. is on their side, they will be less likely to throw in with the Brotherhood. It is the suspicion of America as the dictator’s ally that will pave the way to widespread radicalization.
Military aid to the tune of billions over the decades has bought the US some leverage with the Egyptian Army. Now is the time to use that leverage to push toward the opening of Egyptian society. Make no mistake: An Egyptian government that reflects the will of its people is likely to be worse for America’s short term interests than Mubarak was. But Mubarak was terrible for America’s long term interests; his society was a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism, including some of the 9/11 hijackers. That sort of society won’t change overnight. But President Obama struck more or less the right note this afternoon in calling on the military to usher in democracy. Pushing for a free election this year will be the easy part, though. Making sure it’s not the last free election will be the hard part.