A Philosopher's Blog

The Egyptian Dilemma

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 31, 2011
President George W. Bush and Egyptian Presiden...
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As Egypt suffers through its latest time of turmoil, the United States faces a challenging dilemma. On one horn, there is the choice to stay mainly on the side of the current government. Given that Mubarak has been a consistent ally and opposed to radical Islamic groups, this option has significant appeal. If the current regime holds the day, then staying clearly on that side would cement the alliance even more. On the downside, backing a restrictive regime against a popular uprising is somewhat inconsistent with the values America professes and is not without the obvious risks.

On the other horn, there is the choice to push against the current regime in favor of the opposition. On the positive side, this could allow the United States to be on good terms with whoever replaces Mubarak’s regime (assuming it falls). On the minus side, this would be harmful to our relationship with Mubarak (assuming he wins) and could also backfire on the United States. To be specific, not supporting Mubarak could contribute to his fall and the winners that emerge might not have any real gratitude.

Between the horns is what seems to be the safer course-say vague things about our ally Mubarak and vague pleasantries about the “will of the people” and “democracy.” On the plus side, this commits us to none of the sides and thus avoids much of the impact of backing the wrong horse. On the minus side, such non-commitment means that the winners will not owe us and we will also have less impact out the outcome

What, then, should we do?

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18 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on January 31, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Do what we can to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from taking control…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 31, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      Invasion is an option. We’ve had lots of practice recently.

      By some expert accounts, the Botherhood is fundamental but non-radical and willing to engage in democracy. As such, we might be able to live with them just as we live with American fundamentalists.

      • magus71 said, on February 1, 2011 at 4:13 am


        The Muslim Brotherhood is at the roots of al-qaeda. The group sprang from the writings of a man named Sayid Qutb, an intellectual fundamentalist in the 50s and 60s. He was executed by the Egyptian government for plotting to assassinate several government officials. I’ve explained to people around here that Egypt is the root of fundamentalism, not Saudi. But the libs like to talk about Saudi so they can make America look bad for getting Saudi oil. Even though we get more oil from Canada than Saudi….I digress.


        One of his premier students was Ayman Zawahiri, another fundamentalist intellectual and second in command of al-qaeda.

        Qutb is considered the founding father of modern islamic radicalism.

        The reason that the Brotherhood appears non-radical is because Egypt was forced to become a police state in order to control them, just as Saudi Arabia was forced to control the Wahhabists. The Brotherhood has been fairly peaceful because of overwhelming Egyptian military power, not because they like flowers sticking out of the ends of their AK-47s.

        Islamic leaders are constantly having to do a balancing act between appeasing the fundamentalists and doing what’s best for their economy and welfare of the people. Witness Pakistan, where Islamists assassinated the previous Prime Minister, and then recently a governor who spoke against blasphemy laws. The leaders can never become too westernized because they face death by terrorists, but they can’t really become full islamists either, because those types of countries cannot compete in the international markets (or have not yet proven they can) and because the Islamic extremists would kill them and take power even if the leaders try to appease.

        The Clash of Civilizations is just hitting its stride. It’ll prove much worse then anything even a liberal could fear from American fundamentalists. Read my previous posts about how words don’t always describe reality accurtaely. These fundamentalists are on a whole different level–and there’s millions of them.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2011 at 11:42 am

          True, there was a past connection between the two groups. However, it is important to look at more recent history. After all, we used to have working relations with some interesting folks in Afghanistan.

          The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be a moderate group (at least by the standards of the Middle East). They renounced violence, have been highly criticized by radical groups, have participated in the democratic process in Egypt (such as it is) and seem to be rational actors.

          We need to be careful in our assessment. On the one hand, we have to be on guard against the possibility that our decades of support for a dictator has radicalized some of the population and they might take power and be against us. On the other hand, we need to be on guard against demonizing the Brotherhood and pushing them into radicalism. We obviously can work with fundamental Islamic groups-after all, the Saudis are supposed to be our good buddies.

  2. A.Mittleman said, on January 31, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    While I realize the “Green Revolution” in Iran was different, some of the hazards still apply. The actions of the United States in the Middle East during the Cold War have not been forgotten and it would not be a stretch to be able to unite people against perceived US intervention in ME affair, especially as the long-term sustaining of these protests are necessary for “victory”.

    Given such circumstances, I’d say that a soft touch is the better option.

  3. A J MacDonald Jr said, on January 31, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    We should do the right thing: support the democratic people’s movement over against Mubarak.

    • magus71 said, on February 1, 2011 at 4:14 am

      There is no real democratic movement. And democracy is not a cure-all.

      • Asur said, on February 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm

        Well, the real benefit of democracy from a neutral standpoint is that it pushes countries to be driven more by selfishness than ideology — and selfishness is good; it’s rational, hence self-interest is easier to work into common-interest.

        The problem with things driven more by ideology than practical concerns is that they’ll willingly hurt themselves to ‘stay true’ to what they believe, which is dangerous for everyone involved.

        So, I do think that democracy is a kind of cure-all; I wish every country in the world were one.

        • magus71 said, on February 2, 2011 at 4:14 am

          There’s nothing to prevent a democracy from putting the same corrupt, inept and violent people in power that other system’s emplaced with military coups.

          Afghanistan is a democracy. You should come see how well it works.

          Democracy is a reward for doing the right things and it works when the cultural meme is right. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t give a crap what John Locke thought, even when they try to put the band-aid of free elections on the gaping wound. America did.

          The biggest thing I see wrong with democracies that don’t really work well is a lack of consequences for corruption and other bad behavior. It mostly comes down to rule of law, not free elections. As much as our American culture hate the idea of kings and queens, there have been good ones that rules successful countries. It came down to everyone being subject to the law.

          • Asur said, on February 2, 2011 at 9:34 pm

            Point taken, though I ascribe to functional definitions; Afghanistan isn’t a democracy if its democratic process is corrupt or nonexistent.

            I guess you could have a democracy of religious zealots, which would then function as a theocracy in all but name…the difference between that and an authoritarian theocracy is that you can’t get rid of the latter without a degree of violence — there’s no built-in process to resolve internal dissent.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

        There seems to be a democratic current, but we won’t know for sure for a while.

        No, democracy is not a cure all. But democracy is good, right?

        • magus71 said, on February 5, 2011 at 1:57 am

          Yes democracy is good, but not the only good. Non-democratic countries basically cannot keep up with the democratic ones. But they have to crawl before they walk. The growth to democracy must be organic. And it needs a lot of things to go right before it works well. An entire populace needs a social contract that they adhere to. In many areas, the mere idea of right and wrong are not enough; you need a monoloply on violence. Like child rearing: A child does not do right because he wants to be moral, not until he has faced sufficient consequences for his actions. Later on he becomes introspective enough and builds inner motivations for doing right, not only outward restraints on his behavior.

          I actually believe that autocratic rule works better when it comes to stabilizing absolute chaos. I know I’m walking on eggshells here, but I believe it.

  4. magus71 said, on February 1, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Let it burn itself out.

  5. Atlanta Roofing HQ said, on February 2, 2011 at 1:30 am

    I’ve been wondering about that: a crippled snow-bound East Coast metroplex and a crippled toppling dictator in the Middle East would, it seems to me, be an excellent time to take out Iran’s nuclear capability, should a neighbor of Egypt be so inclined, which I think one, in particular, is.

  6. T. J. Babson said, on April 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Muslim Brotherhood takes control. This was not hard to predict.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic movement and the founder of Hamas, has set up a network of political parties around the country that eclipse the following of the middle class activists that overthrew the regime. On the extreme fringe of the Brotherhood, Islamic groups linked to al-Qeada are organising from the mosques to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the dictatorship.


  7. WTP said, on July 1, 2013 at 11:49 am

    “We are very critical of the Obama administration because they have been supporting the Brotherhood like no one has ever supported them,” Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, a 24-year-old member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Youth Coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday afternoon during a telephone interview from Cairo.


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