Old and weak-minded generals mistakenly fight the last war. Old and weak-minded analysts mistakenly fight the last revolution.
So it is that many conservatives — even many so-called experts — on Fox News and elsewhere, have been impugning the Egyptian revolution with comparisons to the Islamist takeover of Iran in 1979.
This is a wrongheaded and mistaken comparison. And it is causing too many conservatives to withhold their support for the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people.Are there Islamist elements in Egypt? Of course. There are Islamist elements in every Muslim country. But are they the dominant political element there? No.
Do most Egyptians support the Islamists? No.
Is the revolution in Egypt about an Islamist demand for theological purity and an exclusion from Egyptian society of Western influence? Absolutely not.
In fact, quite the opposite: most Egyptians see what we in the West have; and they realize that they have been cheated by their leaders. They realize that Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy has failed them and is woefully inadequate.
Egypt, then, has turned a decisive corner, and there is no going back. Mubarak is history. Egypt’s rising middle class is demanding greater political freedom and economic opportunity.
Mubarak long ago should have been instituting political reforms that allow for a more representative government. That he did not do so is why Egypt is now being rocked by violent protests.
And while Islamist elements may well try to take advantage of the Egyptian revolution, they face one almost insurmountable obstacle: the Egyptian military, a professional force and a nationally respected institution which views itself as the guardians of greater Egypt.
Indeed, the Egyptian military is not dominated by Islamists; and it will not allow Egypt to descend into total anarchy.
In fact, the Egyptian military will play a major role in Egypt’s next government, just as it has ever since the Mamluks of the Middle Ages.
In more recent times (1952), the Egyptian military’s “Free Officers Movement” led a coup d’état that overthrew the monarchy in order to establish a less corrupt and more representative government. One of the young officers involved in that movement: Anwar El Sadat.
Sadat, of course, would go on to become president of Egypt in 1970. And, in 1978, Sadat signed the historic Camp David Peace Accords with Israel.
Egypt’s 1952 revolution also outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that stood in violent opposition to Egypt’s new and overtly secular constitution.
In short, within the context of Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics, the Egyptian military is a progressive and modernizing force. And it has always played an important and welcomed role in Egyptian politics. And that role will now be strengthened in light of the political ferment now taking place there.
Democratization, after all, is a long and developing process which includes much more than just elections. Liberal democracy includes, as I mentioned in a piece for the Daily Caller, a whole infrastructure of institutions, customs, laws and societal arrangements which allow democracy to work and to flourish.
These institutions, customs, laws and societal arrangements will takes decades to develop in Egypt. This doesn’t mean that Egypt will have to wait decades to enjoy liberal democracy.
To the contrary: Egypt can and should begin to enjoy a more representative and participatory democracy immediately. But democracy as we know it in the West won’t exist in Egypt for quite some time.
The development of democracy in places such as Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Chile and El Salvador shows conclusively that democratic development is an evolutionary process, and not a revolutionary event (though a revolutionary event can help spur or ignite this evolutionary process).
So what should the United States do? Simple: work closely with the Egyptian military to help promote a peaceful transition to a more democratic form of government there.
Indeed, the last thing the United States should do is abandon Egypt in the same way that President Carter abandoned Iran in 1979. Carter’s abandonment of Iran led to the Islamist takeover there, which is something we don’t want to see happen, obviously, in Egypt.
The chances of an Islamist takeover in Egypt are very slim to begin with; but in a revolutionary situation, of course, anything is possible.
The Obama administration also should swallow its pride and begin to champion President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” which recognized that liberal democracy is the great alternative to repression and radicalism.
George W. Bush may have made many mistakes; but on the great issue of our time — liberty versus tyranny — our much-derided 43rd president was an heroic visionary. And conservatives who are running away from his legacy — and many are — ought to be ashamed of themselves.