Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Ha'aretz has an article about Mubarak's warnings to the U.S. not to attack Iraq. But note what's important about his statements: (1) U.S.-Egyptian relations are strong and good, and strategically critical, and will not be changed. (2) America is doing everything it can to try to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In other words, Mubarak thinks his position is strong and that the dominant ideas that have governed Egyptian thinking since Sadat kicked out the Soviets remain in place. This is in marked contrast to Saudi Arabia, where the leadership shows every sign that it views its own position as precarious, or Syria, which appears to be governed by either a moron or a lunatic or both.
I hate to constantly be saying nice things about Egypt, because it's a nasty, corrupt authoritarian country. But it is a fact that Egypt has acted forcefully to repress militant Islamist groups on its territory, which is not the case for other American allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is also a fact that Egypt's government has made no threats against Israel throughout the Oslo war. Indeed, Mubarak has repeatedly reiterated that Egypt has no intention of or interest in conflict with Israel. And while he has been forceful in criticizing the Israeli government and Sharon personally, he has been consistent in calling for both sides to stop fighting and return to the negotiating table. The Egyptian government's official posture has certainly not been pro-Israel, but is probably in par with, say, Canada's, and probably better than Sweden's or Belgium's, which is pretty good for an Arab state. And it is also a fact - too infrequently commented upon - that Egypt has one of the most legitimate regimes in the region, in that Nasser's coup was widely and deeply popular, and no one questions that the current government is Nasser's legitimate heir.
I've compared Egypt to Mexico in the past, and I still think the comparison is apt. Nasser's coup put Egypt in the vanguard of post-war anti-European and anti-colonial revolutionary states. Mexico's revolution did much the same for that country. Both states have strong national identities that stretch back for centuries; neither is a post-colonial patchwork. Both states have been one-party dictatorships since their respective revolutions, with endemic problems of corruption and state violence; both have been devastated by socialist and autarchic economic ideas; and both have become increasingly oriented towards and dependent on the United States. Mexico's economic and cultural interchange with the United States resulted in the emergence of a new, democratic, middle-class, pro-American force to rise within the country, politically embodied in the PAN, which captured power from the PRI for the first time since the Mexican Revolution in the last Presidential elections. Egypt has not undergone a similar change, both because of the failures of its leadership, the distance from America's cultural influence, and the over-emphasis on military might that is a regional malady. Nonetheless, Egypt remains the best - indeed, the only - hope for democratization in the Arab world. The United States was right to press for the release of Saa Eddin Ibrahim precisely because there is hope for that country, and the hope resides in men like him, patriots unafraid to seek freedom for their countrymen, not from foreign phantoms but from domestic tyranny.