Sunday, February 6, 2011

A More Open Egypt That Is Also More Critical of Israel and America

A Jewish-American Middle East advisor, Aaron David Miller, writes about why even a fairly moderate democratic Egypt will prove to be a problem for both Israel and America, and why the Obama administration is probably not very anxious to move too fast in that direction:
The inevitable hardening of Egyptian attitudes will not just constitute an Israeli problem but will pose significant concerns for Israel's major ally: the United States. The old devil's bargain in which Washington relied on Cairo for support in its war and peacemaking policies, in exchange for giving Egypt a pass on how it is governed, is probably dead. And perhaps it's just as well. The Egyptian people deserve better, and that deal didn't produce a peaceful, stable and secure Middle East, anyway - just look around.

For Egyptians, who hunger for freedom and better governance, democracy will probably secure a brighter future. For America, Egyptian democracy, however welcome in principle, will significantly narrow the political space in which U.S. administrations operate in the region. On any number of fronts, a more representative Egypt will be far less forgiving and supportive of Washington. On U.S. efforts to contain Iran, on the Middle East peace process, on the battle against terrorism and Islamic radicalism - especially if Egypt's own Islamists are part of the new governing structure - there is a great deal of uncertainty about how much cooperation we can expect.

The irony is that the challenges a new Egypt will pose to America and Israel won't come from the worst-case scenarios imagined by frantic policymakers and intelligence analysts - an extremist Muslim takeover, an abrogation of peace treaties, the closing of the Suez Canal - but from the very values of participatory government and free speech that free societies so cherish. In a more open Egypt, diverse voices reflecting Islamist currents and secular nationalists will be louder. And by definition, these voices will be more critical of America and Israel.

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