THIS IS THE TEXT OF MY LATEST BLOG FOR THE COURIER TIMES.
We are informed by our President that, “Egypt deserves better" than her current state of turmoil. Perhaps Egyptians will put down their weapons, listen attentively to his heart-felt words and submit to his community organizational skill. Then again, they may reflect that their doings are literally none of his business. I suspect the latter is the case.
Everywhere we are invited to consider what is to be done about Egypt. The casual assumption that we and our government have a compelling interest in the internal affairs of other countries goes almost unquestioned. Along with this, is the determination that if bad things happen overseas it is because we failed to live up to our ideals. It’s easy to see how this mentality came to be.
The Second World War convinced a generation of Americans that if we weren’t involved in world affairs, tyrants would continually threaten our freedoms. That same generation defeated Fascism, only to find the world now needed to be saved all over again from our erstwhile allies, World Communism. We finally saw them off in 1989. A new century is upon us and we are still patrolling the globe. Now I suppose we are hoping to defeat the threat of World Jihadism. At least that’s what we’re told. Sometimes It’s hard to tell.
So now comes the Egyptian question. I suggest we take a deep breath and consider a few factors before we do anything at all.
First, let’s consider a bit of History. Why precisely were we involved in Egypt at all? Egypt is the second highest recipient of our military aid in the world. During the Cold War we wooed over Egyptian heads of state against their other sugar daddy, the USSR. We also wanted to hammer together some sort of peace between Egypt and The highest recipient of our military aid, Israel. Nothing succeeds like bribery, and a cold peace held across the Sinai. The Egyptian governments of the day were as frightened of Muslim fundamentalism as we are, so they help with the fight against Jihadis. After the fall of World Communist idiocy, we kept up the payments and the relationship, in effect, paying the Egyptians and Israelis not to fight with each other. We’re still doing it.
But history moves on and all the weaknesses that were incipient in Egypt have matured. The Egypt that came out of the British colonial orbit and flexed its muscles with Soviet help is no more. The Egyptian economy which was once driven by a cosmopolitan population of Jews, Greeks, Copts, Armenians etc. fizzzled due to Nasser’s nationalism and decades of interference. Westernized Egyptians found other places to live and do businesses. The only institutions within the country that hold respect are the army and the universities. At the same time a populist Muslim movement against the real and perceived inequities inherent in military rule grew. The same sort of movements grew in other secular Middle Eastern countries. Despite all the blather from the Neo-cons, these are not radical movements, just fundamentally Muslim ones. To our Western way of thinking, they are disturbing. But in Muslim countries they are just the distillation of what simple people think of as traditional social organization. To us they are backward. And in fact, they are. But we delude ourselves in mistaking organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood for anything other than manifestations of rural, uneducated Muslim backwardness. They are not evil, just primative. They are also the inevitable result of a society in which about 40% of the population is illiterate and in which university graduates have to leave the country of their birth to find employment. Poor Egyptians complain about the poverty of their country while have very large families, another Muslim cultural foible.
So what are Americans to do? I think minding our own business is the beginning of wisdom here. Obama couldn’t resist giving a speech a few years ago which seemed to give encouragement to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Muslim populist movements in the area. The Brotherhood duly won, made a mess of things, and have been thrown out by the army. At one time or another we have backed, or were perceived to have backed, both sides. So whatever we do now will be remembered with bitterness by the losers. The winners will remember that we were not always entirely on their side.
Ultimately, we are not responsible for how the Egyptians organize or disorganize their society. If the Army manages to win, our own left politicians will take the side of the protesters in the streets, no matter how illiberal they are. If the Brotherhood types win, the Neo-cons will advocate harsh measures so as to help Israel. Ordinary Americans will be befuddled.
Finally, what is at stake? Egypt presents two challenges to her region. First is the fate of the Suez Canal. The Canal is in many ways more important to the rest of us than Egypt herself. It simply must remain open for the sake of international commerce. Second is the status of the Egyptian population. Continued turmoil will result in massive refugee surges. These inevitably will threaten Europe, already fighting to retain her Western identity amid waves of non-European migrants. So my final thought is that Egypt is Europe’s problem far more than our own. They need to treat the patient with patience and palliative care until Egypt’s fever subsides.