Worry about the Army instead of the MB. Reuel Marc Gerecht with more of some of the best insights from anyone during the past week on Egypt,
President Obama appears to be abandoning the pro-authoritarian, status-quo realism that had defined his administration’s policy toward the Middle East. The June 12, 2009, electoral earthquake in Tehran barely shook the White House (the diplomatic effort to stop the mullahs’ quest for nuclear weapons trumped whatever pro-democracy empathy President Obama may have felt for the Iranian demonstrators). But Tahrir Square may have finally broken the hold that Washington’s authoritarian-tolerant liberal foreign-policy establishment (think the pro-Mubarak emissary Frank Wisner) had on the president. Bill Burns, Middle Eastern dictators’ favorite diplomat at the State Department, may still be number three at Foggy Bottom, but it’s a good guess that he will no longer be making quips about how U.S. foreign policy aims to turn “Putin into our [Russian] Mubarak.” (The idea actually now has a certain appeal.)
Contrary to so much chic leftist chatter, the United States still has an important role to play in Egypt’s democratic transition. We still possess considerable financial leverage on Egypt’s military; we should not hesitate to use it if the army doesn’t immediately end the draconian police-state emergency regulations and soon establish a transitional government whose membership includes prominent nonmilitary men. A transitional government should be open to all—including members of the Muslim Brotherhood—and must have real authority. That government, not the military, should set the calendar for new elections and decide whether Egypt’s current constitution can be revised or is better chucked into the trash bin. (Probably the latter.)
As President Obama may know now, the most difficult time for his administration lies in the months ahead, when the Egyptian Army will test to see how much autocracy (and wealth) it can keep in its hands. There will surely be an enormous temptation in Washington, on both the left and right, to side with the army for a “slow” transition or even a “restrictive democracy,” where the Muslim Brothers are excluded from parliament. Much of Washington, like most in the European Union, wants to support democracy in Egypt, but a democracy that follows the exact same policies as Mubarak’s dictatorship.