I am far from an expert on Egypt. I only began studying the Middle East a couple of years ago, and my countries of interest are Syria and the UAE. So while I’ve read a few things about Egypt prior to the current protests, I’m not claiming my thoughts are of special insight or interest–rather, I think the issue is of special interest, and so I invite others to join me in thinking about Egypt. Your thoughts in addition to or in rebuttal of mine are invited.
1. My initial thought about the protests was that I would be a lot happier if Egypt hadn’t just recently had a wave of anti-Christian violence. Replacing Mubarak with an Islamic state would not be a good outcome. But of course Egypt also had a stunningly large group of Muslims act as human shields for Christian churches, and it seems that the leaders–or at least instigators–of these protests are predominantly nominally Muslim secularists, and a substantial number of Coptic Christians are joining them. That makes me considerably less pessimistic about what might be the consequences if the protests are ultimately successful.
2. We’re far from knowing the outcome. The protesters are explicitly claiming to have been inspired by the “successful” protests of Tunisia, but of course we don’t know the ultimate outcome in Tunisia yet.
3. So far the military is refusing to intervene and military leaders have stated that the protesters demands are legitimate. Keeping the military on the sidelines is of key importance–whether they crush the protests or overthrow the government, their involvement in anything but preventing outright violence would be a bad step. Is the military taking a principled stance, or are they wary of offending the U.S., a crucial supporter for them, financially, technologically, and for training? What happens if Mubarak sacks, or tries to, the military leadership to replace them with hardliners?
4. Israel’s nervous–big surprise. They should be. While a democratic secular government in Egypt could potentially be the best for Israel, they currently have a pretty stable relationship with Egypt, including a successful 30 year old peace agreement. Israel hasn’t survived by hoping changes work to their advantage–they want the certainty of stability.
5. The U.S. isn’t helping by trying to back Mohammed ElBaradei. We can encourage peaceful change and democracy without trying to impose a leader on another country–that kind of mucking about with Muslim countries has not yet served our long-term interests. Obama and Clinton are not acting any worse than prior presidents would have in this situation, but they’re not acting noticeably better, either.
6. If Tunisia and Egypt develop relatively stable democratic regimes, it will be a perfect mockery of George W. Bush’s claim that we could forcibly bring democracy to Iraq and have it become the first domino in a democratic cascade. Neither Tunisians nor Egyptians are giving any indication that Iraq’s situation has been their inspiration. A few years back a friend of mind defended the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it has to come from outside. I was persuaded then that he was wrong, and events since have done nothing to change my mind.