Today marks the first anniversary of the revolution that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Oddly enough, many tears have been shed for the departed Mr. Mubarak—and not just tears from his military cronies, his business cronies, his family cronies, and the Israelis, who had gotten used to the devil they knew in Cairo. Turns out, plenty of Americans miss him too. Democracy is so messy.
Perhaps the pessimists are right; Eric Trager has spent an enormous amount of time in Egypt, and his take today is depressing. But I prefer Elliott Abrams’s more guarded optimism. He is right to remind us that if there’s anyone to blame for the Islamist/Salafist pickle we now find ourselves in, it is the lazy West, that always preferred the cozy simplicity of dealing with dictators than the wrangle of Arab democracy. The Mubarak/Qadhafi/Saleh/Assad regimes were not sustainable, but we preferred to ignore any rumbling and gabble about the peace process.
Are the Islamohysterics right? Will Egypt become like Afghanistan, a haven for the worst of Sunni Islam? Certainly, that could happen. But all this breast beating and Mubarak nostalgia begs the question: what did you expect? That the pharaonic Mubarak dynasty would last forever? That liberalization would spawn a dictatorship of the elite middle class? Forget it. Islamists have power at least in part because we have never concerned ourselves with the sustained nurturing of democracy in the Arab world. Whether they keep power will depend on how they govern, and they deserve a chance to do just that. If they fail by the standards of the revolution the Arab people started, then we can start worrying. But for the moment, be calm. Not all revolutions are velvet, not all transitions from tyranny are smooth. But that should not mean that we forever range ourselves on the side of dictatorship. Happy birthday, Egypt. At least for now.
This blog is a part of an Enterprise symposium, “Egyptian Revolution: One Year Later.”