President Hosni Mubarak has been the autocratic ruler of the Arab Republic of Egypt since October 14th, 1981 when he rose to power after former President Anwar El Sadat’s assassination on October 6th of that same year. Since 1975, the United States has provided more than $28 billion in aid to Egypt and, in the current situation, one has to question the stability of a government entrenched in chaos, not to mention the wisdom of propping up a regime that so finely toed the line between stability and dictatorship. President Mubarak is a former Commander of the Egyptian Air Force, certainly trained to remain calm in the midst of disorder, however considering Egypt’s current situation one has to ask whether Mubarak can stay in power facing such widespread protest. Or, perhaps more appropriately, should he?
The situation in Egypt is not an isolated incident. In fact, just last month we saw the protests in Tunisia against former President Ben Ali who took office in November 1987 after forcing the former president to flee the country and resign. Besides the commonality of the tenure of President Mubarak and that of former Tunisia President Ben Ali, the legacy of these two men expose the deep cultural and economic divides that continue to tear apart their respective countries. To the north and east of Tunisia lies another country in chaos: Albania. Albania is also suffering through a wave of protests against its ruling government, as is the country of Jordan located just north and east of Egypt. These are grave situations which share a common theme — people are searching for freedoms and a more perfect government that attempts to solve the issues of joblessness, poverty and inflation, all devoid of the corruption that seems to plague quasi-dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Albania and Jordan.
Considering that many deem Tunisia to be the spark that has elevated countries like Egypt to a state of widespread protest, it’s important to understand that Egypt has a much different relationship with the United States than that of Tunisia. Egypt’s Suez Canal is instrumental in the United States’ consumption of oil and its efforts in the Global War on Terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt is also the only Israeli ally in the Middle East, due to a decades long peace agreement which, unlike the agreements which pop up between Israel and the Palestinians seemingly whenever an American president needs a photo opportunity, actually has lasted through the years and through regime changes in Israel. Because Egypt remains a Middle East ally of Israel, despite his faults it is pertinent to keep President Mubarak in place, realizing that if indeed his government were to fall to the political opposition such as that of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian-Israeli relations would be devastated. That is perhaps why Washington and Israel has taken such a “silent” stance on the Egyptian situation.
Admittedly, I myself am torn. On the one hand you have an autocratic ruler whose distaste for true democracy has been nothing short of courted by every U.S. President since Mubarak’s rise to power in 1981.Then, on the other hand, you have a man whose powerful government which has ruled under emergency law has been a rather consistent voice of stability in a zone of regional chaos, and the consideration that such a commanding asset would not easily be replaced. The question is an ethical one: do you allow for a man whose reign in government has been highlighted by corruption and undemocratic domestic operations, or do you help the Egyptian protesters in their quest for a new government?
Considering how the power vacuum following the 1979 revolution in Iran turned out, I believe the biggest apprehension to replacing Mubarak’s government is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly getting involved in the situation. The Muslim Brotherhood has been around since 1928, when it was founded by a school teacher in Egypt and his transnational body. Under President Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was ruthlessly repressed. Its connections with Hamas are horrifying, and now its entrance into the Egyptian protests are a variable into the equation of Egypt’s stability. If the Muslim Brotherhood were to come to power in Egypt, it would be a devastating defeat for Israel and that of freedom seeking Egyptians. Israel would have to concentrate its efforts away from its domestic Palestinian threat but westward towards an apparent hostile Muslim Brotherhood.
If President Mubarak is able to quell the protests and regain the sentiment of control, the Muslim Brotherhood would once again be forced to stand as a peaceable opposition party, as opposed to its current role of agitator in the protests. The mass majority of the protesters are not protesting in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, they are protesting against Mubarak’s government that has done little to solve high instances of youth unemployment and rocketing food prices along with an urge for a democratic Egypt. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is not an organization that will allow a crisis to go to waste, and if the Muslim Brotherhood is able to provide concrete or at least perceivable solutions to the problems Egypt faces, Mubarak‘s government would face perhaps its biggest opposition yet. Furthermore, if the Muslim Brotherhood chooses to use the current situation as a way of being swept to power, the brilliancy of Washington and Israel staying mum on the situation would be disputed if not detestable.
I am fearful that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which operate under the guise of peaceful opposition, would cause similar protests like in Egypt and Tunisia to occur worldwide in a quest to institute Sharia Law. I am not advocating for U.S. force in Egypt and I do appreciate many Egyptians’ quest for a more democratic government — however, the choice comes down to choosing between the lesser of two evils. President Mubarak is no democratic ruler. In fact, it was only in 2005 that he has allowed opposition to run against him, and even the electoral system itself is built to benefit his reign. In order for President Mubarak to stay in power, he must avoid squashing the protester’s efforts but rather institute more democratic reforms and truly address the concerns of his people. President Mubarak was wise in dissolving his cabinet but he is missing the mark when it comes to electoral reform.
In a perfect world I would support the Egyptian people’s quest for democracy; however I fear there is nothing democratic about a takeover in government, especially if it means the Muslim Brotherhood rising to power. If the Egyptians were able to instill a democratic system to replace their current republic I would be able to appreciate ones rise to the presidency but, sadly, today I see Egypt failing victim to the cries of reform only to be bludgeoned with the reality of Sharia Law.
Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic about the whole situation but I do believe that without President Mubarak in control, there is little to stop Islamic radicals from rising to power in Egypt. This would be a threat to every democracy worldwide. I fear that, as the situation unravels, so does the real chance for democracy in Egypt.
Jesse Civello is a senior at Cheltenham High School, which boasts Benjamin Netanyahu as one of its most prominent graduates. Jesse will–wisely–be attending Auburn University in the fall.