Scary: What Egyptians Really Think

Barry Rubin makes a convincing case that, when it comes to places like Egypt, there are much, much worse outcomes than the survival of a dictator like Mubarak:

…pessimism may not be what people want to hear [about Egypt] — and it certainly isn’t what they are hearing from “experts” and mass media — but policymakers and publics better start thinking seriously along such lines.

Consider recent precedents in this regard:

1. Iranian revolution, 1978-1979: Mass protests by a wide coalition against dictatorship. Result? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now president.

2. Beirut Spring: Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druze unite against Syrian control. Moderate government gains power. Result? Hezbollah is now running Lebanon.

3. Palestinians have free elections: Voters protest against corrupt regime. Result? Hamas is now running the Gaza Strip.

4. Algeria holds free elections: Voters back moderate Islamist group. Result? Military coup; Islamists turn (or reveal their true thinking) radical; tens of thousands of people killed.

But what do Egyptians really think? According to a recent Pew poll, they are extremely radical even in comparison to Jordan or Lebanon. When asked whether they preferred “Islamists” or “modernizers,” the score was 59% to 27% in favor of the Islamists. In addition, 20 percent said they liked al-Qaeda; 30 percent, Hezbollah; 49 percent, Hamas. And this was at a time that their government daily propagandized against these groups.

How about religious views? Egyptian Muslims said the following: 82 percent want adulterers punished with stoning; 77 percent want robbers to be whipped and have their hands amputated; 84 percent favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

In a democracy, of course, these views are going to be expressed by how people vote. Even if Egypt does not have an Islamist government, it might well end up with a radical regime that caters to these attitudes and incites violence abroad.

There are reasons not to expect Egypt to turn into a moderate, stable, and democratic state: There are few forces favoring this outcome; the rebellion has no organization; Egypt doesn’t have the resources to raise living standards and distribute wealth; extremist ideologies are deeply held and widely spread.

There are basically three possibilities for the outcome:

First, the establishment and army stick together, get rid of Mubarak, but preserve the regime. The changes put in charge a former Air Force commander (the same job Mubarak once held) and the intelligence chief. The elite stays united, toughs it out, does a skillful combination of coopting and repressing the demonstrations, and offering some populist reforms. The old regime continues. In that case, it is only a minor adjustment.

Disgusted with the Mubaraks — Hosni’s stubborn refusal to step down; his son Gamal’s disgraceful cowardice, showing he fully deserved his insulting nickname “the boy” — the regime throws them overboard.

Second, the elite loses its nerve and fragments, in part demoralized by a lack of Western — especially U.S. — support. The Muslim Brotherhood throws its full weight behind the rebellion. Soldiers refuse to fire at or join the opposition. Eventually, a radical regime emerges, with the Muslim Brotherhood as either ruler or power behind the throne. Remember that the “moderate democratic” leaders have been largely radical and willing to work with the Brotherhood. In that case, it is a fundamental transformation.

The new regime turns against the West, tears up the peace treaty with Israel (in practice if not formally), and joins hands with Hamas. Iranian influence isn’t important with this regime, but that will be small comfort as it launches its own subversive efforts and even goes to war against Israel at some point in the future. This will be the biggest disaster for the region and the West since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. And in some ways it will be worse.

Third and least likely, neither side backs down bringing bloody civil war.

Absolutely critical here is the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision. Should it be cautious or decide that the moment for revolution has arrived? The choice is not clear because if it picks wrong it could be destroyed. Have no doubt, though, that the Brotherhood is the only non-government group with disciplined followers, real organization, and mass support. In an election where it was harassed, repressed, and cheated — thus undercounting its support — the Brotherhood officially received 20 percent of the vote.

The regime’s survival is by no means impossible, but if that is going to happen it is going to have to mobilize quickly. Meanwhile, the same U.S. policymakers who stood by as enemy Iran crushed democratic protestors is pushing too hard on a friendly Egyptian regime to make big concessions.

… with the inert roused it might be the entire Western position in the Middle East that is swept away, and one dictatorship might be replaced by — unimaginable today — a worse one. I hope this analysis is wrong; I fear that it is accurate.

Also Roger Kimball:

…Are those rock-throwing multitudes in Egypt the “voice of democracy”?

Maybe. But who or what is the demos, the people?

The largest opposition group in Egypt — as in many Arab countries — is the Muslim Brotherhood. Officially, the group, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna (the grandfather of Muslim confidence man Tariq Ramadan), is banned in Egypt. No matter. It is nonetheless the “world’s most influential Islamist movement.” No one knows exactly how many members it has in Egypt. The number is certainly in the millions.

What is the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood? To make the Koran the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.”

What is the means by which the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to achieve this goal? Jihad — a “grand jihad,” as one document puts it, which seeks to destroy Western civilization “from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

Particulars? In Egypt, since the Muslim Brotherhood is banned, supporters “run for office as independents.” It preaches “social justice,” “the eradication of poverty and corruption,” “political freedom” — important caveat — “to the extent allowed by the laws of Islam.”

What is happening in Egypt?…

The “unrest” (a polite word for “riots”) we are seeing in Egypt is certainly “popular” unrest. We are supposed to be in favor of unrest when it is “popular,” aren’t we?

Again, I would suggest that we take a look at the nature and composition of the populace before offering a definitive opinion about that…

An unhappy truth: in this imperfect world, we are often faced with a choice between something bad and something worse…

And the always insightful David Warren:

…In Egypt…the “dog that does not bark” is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Mubarak regime fears them much more than it fears the children of the middle classes, whom it is patiently tear-gassing in places like Cairo’s media-visible Tahrir Square. In a sense, those demonstrators are “yesterday’s people” — descended from the secular nationalists of another generation, before the siren of “Islamism” began wailing.

They are the sort of people with whom we can identify in the West. They dreamed, they dream, of what we would recognize as an “open society,” with peaceful multi-party elections, and all the trappings of constitutional democracy: freedom of speech, religion, and so forth; security of person and property, under uncorrupted secular laws. Whether or not the individual demonstrator can articulate his full list of demands, he knows they pertain to a “normal country,” where the standard for “normal” is essentially European.

It is almost impossible to assign good numbers to factions in the Middle East, even in a country outwardly as “advanced” as Egypt. Estimates, for instance, of the number of Christians range from less than five to more than 16 million. And while the Egyptian census gives more reliable information on the distribution of income and formal schooling, it would be harder to guess at the size of the “middle class.” For a hint: illiterates outnumber university graduates about three-to-one, according to the last official census.

From what I can make out, in Egypt and elsewhere, the people on the streets are the “accredited” — the bourgeoisie. They are the ones who could most benefit from western-style constitutional government and would suffer most if the government falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are, in terms of “class,” the same people who have revolted in Iran — haplessly against the Islamist regime of the ayatollahs.

We’d like to think they are simply “the people,” and I should admit that on a couple of occasions I have fallen into this conceit myself. The rhetoric of the Bush administration took them in this way, fondly hoping that with the passage of time, “modern” attitudes would keep spreading, as they once did in Europe, and have done more recently in countries of the Pacific Rim. The “neo-conservatives” sincerely believed that once constitutional democracy is implanted, it will grow, until it can be sustained by habit. India, “the world’s largest democracy,” is the standard example of this sort of miracle.

By contrast, the Obama administration has no idea what is happening or what it is doing, and Hillary Clinton is actually overrated as a secretary of state.

This means that American influence — potentially decisive until quite recently — can now be fully discounted. Washington does not know whether it should support Mubarak or abandon him; it will therefore mutter meaningless platitudes. The vast sums of U.S. aid that sustain the Egyptian state will continue flowing. Mubarak thus knows that it is entirely between him and his people.

I tend to look at the world more darkly than the “neo-conservatives” did.

While I recognize that support for “democracy and freedom” is substantial, within each Arab national society — that the middle class is not a nothing; that each economy depends on it — I doubt this “faction” can prevail. Worse, I think we are watching its final, hopeless bid for power.

The key fact, in Egypt (paralleled in Yemen and elsewhere), is that the Muslim Brotherhood has not declared itself. The Islamists could put vastly more people on the street. They could subvert the loyalties of policemen and soldiers, who already resent the moneyed middle class. They could generate just enough heat to make large districts of Cairo and Alexandria, now simmering, boil over.

But instead, they are playing neutral, watching those policemen and soldiers put the demonstrators down, while most of Egypt remains quiescent.

For this is not their revolution, and for the moment they are content to watch the autocratic regime, and its frustrated middle class, weaken each other. Their moment will come when Mubarak totters.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has effectively taken over, and the same middle classes who briefly prevailed in the Cedar Revolution of 2005 are on the streets to express their displeasure. But Hezbollah has the guns, and the will to power. Lebanon is finished as an “open society.”

And those who feel hopeful about the outcome in Egypt should explain just what they are hoping for.

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