Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak is, in the estimation of most intelligence agencies, close to the end of his life. Eli Lake has a long and important story in today’s Washington Times on what is likely to happen next. You should read the whole story for the details, but the upshot is that Mubarak would clearly like his son Gamal Mubarak to inherit the country, but that opposition forces, have, in the person of former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradi, a credible leader campaigning to open the Egyptian political system. In other words, we’re at a hinge: The future of Egypt could be nepotistic dictatorship, or it could be a bloodless transition toward a nascent democracy.
This should hardly need spelling out, but it is very much in the interest of the United States that the political culture of Egypt be reformed. The current political culture — where grievances are expressed with bombs, not ballots — is the one that produced Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose most radical members in turn formed al-Qaeda. (The two organizations are now closely affiliated.) It is the political culture that produced Mohammed Atta, who led a team of hijackers to kill 2,976 civilians on American soil on September 11, 2001.
Orienting American policy toward encouraging democratic reform in Egypt ought to be a no-brainer. Mark Palmer, drawing on his experience as ambassador to Hungary in the 80s, has written passionately (in a book I reviewed for AmSpec in 2003) of the usefulness of turning embassies into ‘freedom houses,’ encouraging and aiding democrats within closed societies. (In his book he tells of bringing George H.W. Bush to meet Hungarian democracy activists in 1989. Secretary of State James Baker — a malign influence as usual — said at the time, “Mark, I know these are your friends, but they will never run this country.” They were, of course, running the country within a year.) So, at this crucial moment in Egyptian history, how is our embassy doing on this score? From the Washington Times story:
The Obama administration ended support for a small fund operated by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that supported groups promoting Egyptian democracy and that bypassed any clearance from the Egyptian government.
Of course. Like the Syrians I met in April, Egyptian democrats who deserve American support can’t count on it under this administration. And if Gamal Mubarak takes over and goes on to rule for decades through brutal repression, creating fertile ground for the sort of frustrations that drive young men to radicalism, and if more Americans die because of it… well, at least we didn’t try to “impose our values” like the oh-so-evil Bush administration would have done, right?