The Siren of Stability

Watching hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrate their victory yesterday was profoundly uplifting. Many open questions remain.  But, for the moment, it’s worth pausing to simply celebrate the drive for human dignity.

Unsurprisingly, polls suggest that Americans support the Egyptian protesters.   But I’d guess that this support is “thin” in the sense that it’s a reflexive support for “democracy” without a deep understanding of the underlying context — or the directions in which a new democracy might turn.  As such, it may prove fickle and prone to reversal.

No doubt, the United States can’t prioritize the democratic aspirations of all peoples at the expense of all of our other interests.  The world is too complex for such a simplistic formulation.  But, one lesson seems inescapable: the lure of a “stable” autocratic ally is a dangerous fantasy.

Over the last three decades, the United States has provided roughly $60 billion in aid (especially of the military variety) to the corrupt Egyptian regime, all in the name of “American interests.” I fear that the new Egypt will ultimately see less support from the U.S. government. We should advocate just the opposite: increased support would likely be a worthy downpayment on an increasingly prosperous, stable, and authentically moderate Egypt.

As if on cue, apologists for George W. Bush have seemed eager to connect Egypt’s democratic uprising to the “process” that Bush’s invasion “sparked” in Iraq.  (Perhaps “process” in the sense that grinding a cow into tiny bits yields “processed” hamburger.)  Really?  Do you really want to go there?

The neocons’ argument is baffling – not just because it’s a laughable idea, but also because it highlights a very unflattering comparison.  At this point, the cost of the Iraq War is as follows: roughly $3 trillion, 4,750 Americans killed, 32,000 Americans wounded, at least one hundred thousand Iraqis killed, and invaluable American global influence squandered.  And the much-heralded Iraqi “successes” are shaky, at best.  By contrast, the Egyptian people are on the threshold of establishing a far more democratic system (for all of its complications) after a few weeks of protest and far less loss of life.

At the same time, the Fox News crew is stoking fears that Egypt will become “a Muslim state under Shariah law.” (Never mind the contradiction between claiming credit for “sparking” democracy but simultaneously suggesting that a possible electoral outcome would be illegitimate.) In his trademark tone, Sean Hannity asks us “Have America’s enemies already won?”

How can I put this delicately? Not everything is about America (or you), Sean. Believe it or not, when we go to sleep at night, the world keeps turning. Honest. In fact, there are people who don’t even think about their politics in terms of Fox’s perpetual War on Terror. I know, I know: that really complicates things. Sorry.

Lots could go wrong in the coming days and weeks in Egypt.  And most of that is out of our hands.  But, hopefully, we’ll start worrying a little bit less about whether the Egyptian people are on our side and start thinking a little bit more about whether we are on their side.


  1. lisa s says:

    hey andrew.
    i watch 2 minutes of SH last night and was sickened. it amazes me that he can take such a hopeful and encouraging moment and spin it into a wheel of death for americans.

    of course lots could go wrong. but lots could also go right and i for one am striving to look on the optimistic side of things.

    how amazing to see a whole nation of people feel for the first time in ages that what they do and say really can make a difference. we need that kind of revolution on our own soil – a revolution against apathy and believing the insane hate speech that many are spewing.

  2. Michael Carl Budd says:

    Rightly said about the fickle nature of American support for this movement. When Americans hear about the the overthrow of a dictator by democratic forces, they’re all about it. When they’re reminded that a democratic Egypt may, for example, mean increased pressure for a more equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some Americans will be less gung ho. My hope is for a democratic, secular, and prosperous Egypt.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Bravo, Andrew. Let’s hope with their limited opportunity to organize behind them Egyptians with moderate secular views can unite to form a better government than the one we were propping up. That would truly be revolutionary.

  4. Alan M. Solomon says:

    Being in Southern Africa since Jan. 28 (South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia), the excitement here among people we speak to is palpable. One man, a native Zambian (North Rodesian), commented that the old guard is dying, or being removed, often after about 30 years of rule, and that a hopeful, new dawn is taking place. Whether it be the end of apartheid, or a democratic revolution as in Egypt, there is hope and a cautious optimism that the lives of people will significantly improve. And, it has nothing to do with our foreign policies – more to do with an educated, mostly secular younger generation that is so well connected by blogs like this one – Facebook, Twitter, email.

    I find all the comments about the right in the States, being here in Africa now for these last few weeks, to be ludicrous and “navel-gazing”. We have little or nothing to say about how this unfolds, just like the French had no impact on our struggle against England to form our own country, though they did choose to support us.

  5. Frieda says:

    Thanks for a nuanced analysis, Andrew. I haven’t been following the rightwing assessments of the situation (no TV), but you’re right, the events about Egypt are about Egypt, not the US. I’m with Carolyn — I hope the Egyptians will forge secular government. They have a real challenge ahead.

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