I make it a habit to know what I’m talking about before I publish something on this site. (quiet in the peanut gallery) So imagine my chagrin when there’s an extended news cycle covering a topic I have insufficient knowledge of. Late this January, there were reports of riots and unrest in Egypt, but they weren’t gaining a huge amount of traction at first. By Friday the 28th (on the U.S. calendar), Egyptian President Honsi Mubarak fired his cabinet, and the story had all the traction it needed to be given the “24 hour treatment” on the cable news networks.
And of course when this happens the internet is suddenly flooded with armchair foreign policy makers. The same people that watch football 100 hours a year and can’t accurately guess who’s going to win their division are the same ones that watch 30 minutes of news about Egypt and take passionate stances on twitter about what role the U.S. should play there. …I understand that comparison is clumsy at best, but the kernel of the point that I’m trying to make there holds true.
I’m going to do everyone a favor and not take an inflexible stance on what we should do there, but I am going to take a stand on some questions that we should ask. Or at least some thoughts we should keep in mind while deciding what the best course of action is.
First off, I’d like to know more about who is protesting and what they are protesting for. From what I’ve gathered, it’s not as if we’re dealing with one faction that has clearly defined goals. Many of the protestors seem united in ousting President Honsi Mubarak, but I haven’t heard what they would like to do once he’s gone. Do they just want to have someone else take Mubarak’s job? Or do they want to scrap the entire government and start over? If so, what do they have in mind? A secular government? A Muslim government? How will they decide? Let’s be generous here and say that the protestors are completely benevolent AND capable of creating a new government for themselves. How are they planning to decide on this government? And what law will the country be under while they decide? A constitution ain’t some term paper you can pull out of your, well you get the idea… It’s going to take time to draft, ratify, and implement. What happens to the people of Egypt while those things are being decided?
Now here’s where I will take a stand. I’ve seen a large number of people say that the Egyptians should be free to decide what they want to do (to include becoming a Muslim state in the vein of Iran). On one hand, I see the reason in that. But I come back to the process. How is that decision really being made? Will Egyptians end up trading one “dictatorship” for another? Also… while everyone that has seen a map knows that Egypt as a Muslim state is bad news for Israel, there’s another question you should ask. What happens to the 10% of the their population that’s Christian? I was laughed at for implying that a Muslim Egypt could be a genocidal Egypt, but given their population and neighbors, I see opportunities for abuse. I’m not saying that will happen, but we’d be foolish to just hope that it does not. I can respect libertarian views (and have many myself), but “oops” isn’t a foreign policy. It is sometimes prudent to try and shape an outcome no matter how opposed you are to doing just that. And even if Egypt as a state does not persecute Christians and Jews, it is not hard to believe that they might turn a blind eye to groups that do. Just as Pakistan has been a staging ground for terrorist groups to do harm in India and Afghanistan, Egypt could play a similar role if left completely unchallenged or unchecked.
Ultimately, it would be nice to see Egypt’s people democratically elect their own government, but this isn’t Dancing With the Stars. When overhauling the mechanics of a civilization, you don’t just run with whatever the phone lines tell you. I want to see Egyptians take charge of their collective destiny, but I strongly advise caution: It’s simply not wise to recognize a “new” country based on a straw poll.
I have a hunch that this week is gonna be a big, fat data bomb (old tone?) in regards to the “Egypt situation”. So I’m going to post this piece, get some sleep, wake up and see what new information we have. Then I’m going to continue researching what led up to this. In the meantime, you might see me on twitter in what amounts to an “online bar room discussion” on these events. I welcome your engagement, but rest-be-sure, this arm chair pundit isn’t ready to passionately defend any stance just yet. Except the one where we continue to ask the right questions.