The Egyptian crisis probably will not end well for at least 10 years.
Eighty-two-year-old dictator Hosni Mubarak has a good chance of hanging onto power until his death, but even if he doesn’t last the year, there are too many despotic forces lined up against democracy and freedom in Egypt.
It sounded like a joke when Mubarak said he favored democracy and then he appointed a new cabinet for himself. Appointed officials, the Egyptians have plenty of. How about one or two elected officials, chosen by the people in free, fair and competitive elections?
Vice president. Mubarak last week even picked a vice president, a successor, which is something a dictator almost never does, for fear of showing a way to end his tyranny. That vice president, Omar Suleiman, is almost guaranteed the position of Egypt’s next dictator. And considering Suleiman is Egypt’s former chief of intelligence, there’s a good chance that once the riots calm, he’ll be arresting hundreds, if not thousands, of the riot leaders.
The alternatives to the Mubarak mob clinging to power are (A) a gathering of democratic forces to rewrite the Egyptian constitution and build the institutions of freedom and (B) a gathering of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist forces to transform Egypt into another Iran, but with a Sunni flavor.
Things might work out if Egypt goes for an (A)-(B) hybrid, and the Muslim Brotherhood agrees to the elections, that is, free and regular elections every four or five years. In one scenario, the Muslim Brotherhood would win the first election, but unable to improve Egypt’s standard of living, it would be voted out in the second election, in favor of a more secular political party.
Israel politics. The real wild card is what a Muslim Brotherhood government would do to Israel. If the Muslim Brotherhood were in charge and it faltered on the Egyptian economy, could it pull an election-eve stunt by attacking Israel? Unfortunately, even among a large number of Egypt’s democrats, Israel is fair game. Such an attack could buy Egyptian radicals a second term, and might even become a ruse to establish a permanent theocratic dictatorship.
As the American experience with Iraq (and the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, Germany and Russia) shows, it takes years to wring out antidemocratic habits from an old dictatorship. Some factions of society oppose dictatorship only as long as they’re not the dictators. Many activists don’t understand that democracy requires a tolerance of political foes.
Still in chains, Egypt hasn’t even begun to know what freedom demands. Liberation is not at hand.