Thursday, February 10, 2011

A New Era of Arab Democracy?

Multiple reports this morning that the Egyptian army has hunkered down in long meetings with Hosni Mubarak, and that he will announce his resignation in a few hours. (Even the CIA is saying so.)

Does this mean an instant transition to democracy there?  Not necessarily.  The Egyptian military has a lot invested in the outcome of all this.  The NY Times now reports:

Egypt’s armed forces on Thursday announced that they had begun to take "necessary measures to protect the nation and support the legitimate demands of the people,” a step that suggested the military intends to take a commanding role in administering the strife-torn nation. . . .

Officials in Mr. Mubarak’s government have been warning for several days that protesters faced a choice between negotiating in earnest with the government on Constitutional changes or having the military step in to guard against a descend into political chaos. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit seemed to add a further ominous tone to those comments today, telling Al Arabiya television,

“If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step which would lead to a very dangerous situation.”

The protesters want democracy headed by a civilian government; the military may have other ideas.  The next day or two may tell a huge story.

But if you want a blueprint of how the US and the West ought to be approaching the possible advent of democracy in Egypt, you could do worse than to consult this brief essay by Amjad Atalah and Daniel Levy at The National Interest website:

Here are three ways to begin to reassert a foreign policy for the Middle East consistent with American values and interests:

First, support free, fair, open and inclusive elections, respect the results and emphasize civilian over military supremacy in decision-making and governance.

Second, embrace those who embrace political values consistent with our own. When millions of people are in the street demanding change, the US government must side with demands for freedom. Preferably this will be an American position even prior to the breakdown of the old order. Besides increasing U.S. credibility with the masses of young people who are destined to become tomorrow’s leaders, it also lends seriousness to American protestations when pro-democracy activists come under threat. The U.S. should reconsider the balance in aid to the region between civilian needs versus military hardware and training shifting emphasis away from the latter.

Finally, apply a common standard to Israel and Arab states alike. Ideally, deliver on freedom and equality for Palestinians alongside Jewish-Israelis. At a minimum, distance the U.S. from the occupation and discriminatory practices pursued by Israel, and embrace that part of Israeli society which shares American values. Israel’s security within the 1967 borders is a legitimate U.S. concern but the cost of America supporting, or facilitating, occupation and inequality will become unsustainably burdensome in an era of Arab democracy.

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