Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on What the Upcoming Egyptian Presidential Elections Really Tell Us About the Arab Main Street

Neoconservative worrywarts repeatedly caution that we should not lull ourselves into believing that a post-Arab Spring Egypt will be a hospitable place for liberal democracy. They argue that the forces of Islamist extremism are alive and well and might eventually replace Mubarak’s odious dictatorship with an ever more odious Islamist theocracy. They point to the big wins that the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed in the parliamentary elections last December as evidence for their views.

But Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dakmia examines the run up to the presidential elections in Egypt in her morning column at The Daily and suggests that neocon worries might be overblown. The Egyptians, she notes:

are engaged in a complicated and delicate balancing act, using the Islamists to check the military and vice versa. They are intuitively acting on Lord Acton’s maxim that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and are using the upcoming [presidential] elections to divide power among the country’s major — though problematic — political players.

Whether they’ll ultimately succeed, Allah only knows. But if they fail and pave the way for something odious like a theocracy or a military dictatorship, it’ll be despite — not because of — their true desires. Trying to understand their entire struggle from the narrow standpoint of whether they want sharia law both cheapens and oversimplifies the epic events unfolding on the ground.

Read the whole thing here.

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  • Almanian...still||

    So, how'd that Arab Spring work out for everyone? Oh - we don't know?

    Well, there you go - work in progress.

  • R C Dean||

    I'm supposed to be encouraged that the military and the radical islamists are duking it out for control of Egypt?

    The idea that there is a silent majority cleverly setting the islamists and the military against each other would be much more convincing if the islamists weren't winning elections.

  • ||

    Exactly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't think it's supposed to be reassuring that the last two big guys standing are the Islamists and the military. However, if it is a democratic election, and what the various candidates are saying accurately shows what the big players think the people want--and what the people apparently want is moderation in all things?

    Then there may be cause for optimism, there, yes.

    I can't tell you how popular the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was with the people of Iran, but if installing that Islamic theocracy did enjoy wide support, then it should be reassuring if the people of Egypt do not support their theocratic parties that way.

    It should be really well noted, too, that sharia means different things to different people. When Hammurabi and Moses wrote down things like "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth", that was a merciful alternative to what was passing for justice at the time. That meant, "Let the punishment fit the crime".

    If the Mubarak government was torturing people for the crime of opposing the government, that wasn't sharia. When you hear Muslims saying they want sharia, a lot of times, that's the kind of thing they're talking about. They don't want whatever it was Mubarak and Co. were basing their rule on, they want sharia instead.

    To some extent, sharia is what they're talking about when they're talking about God-given natural rights.

  • Mike M.||

    Give me a break with this gobbledygook you're trying to peddle. I was born on a Wednesday, but I wasn't born yesterday.

  • Ken Shultz||

    What's gobbledygook?

    Sharia?

    There isn't anything hard to understand about any of that.

  • Paul.||

    However, if it is a democratic election, and what the various candidates are saying accurately shows what the big players think the people want--and what the people apparently want is moderation in all things?

    A little Islamist theocracy, a little Military Junta, and a little bit of democracy-- in that the people get to choose who runs the Islamist theocracy and/or the Military Junta?

    I'm sold. Sprintime for Arabs is here!

  • Ken Shultz||

    The trick will be to see whether they ever get to vote again after this.

    The Islamists have been touting fair elections for a long time--back when Mubarak was in office. Now that they're in power, we'll see how they feel about it.

    It would be wrong to expect them not to have the same sort of problems we had, too. They haven't even gotten to the part where someone tries to implement the Alien and Sedition Acts yet.

    80 years after our revolution, our choice was mostly between religious fanatics in the North or slavers in the South, too. Don't get me wrong, Egypt could still go to hell.

    We didn't come out of our struggle without some big screw ups. We could have screwed up worse than we did, but we did some things okay. My guess is that they'll make mistakes like we did, but they'll muddle through like the rest of us.

  • Paul.||

    The trick will be to see whether they ever get to vote again after this.

    Would it matter? Remember, Iran is a thriving democracy.

    80 years after our revolution, our choice was mostly between religious fanatics in the North or slavers in the South, too. Don't get me wrong, Egypt could still go to hell.

    Democracy is ugly, which is why you usually try to create a republic with a document or some such thing that spells out clear and specific limits to the power of both the government and the democracy.

    We didn't come out of our struggle without some big screw ups.

    Let's hope the Arabs don't create a document with a commerce clause. If they do, they're straight up fucked.

  • ||

    COMMERCE CLAUSE SMASH!!!

  • Ken Shultz||

    I was thinking more in terms of Alien and Sedition Acts, the Dred Scott decision, the treatment of Native Americans, not to mention internment camps and Jim Crow...

    We've made some big mistakes over the years. Egypt will make mistakes, too. Maybe some even worse than the commerce clause.

  • ||

    That's why democracy is a shitty way to run a country. I mean, Iran still holds elections, but damn if anyone other than whoever the mullahs pick is going to be their president.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, thank Dog our mullahs--in both parties--are relatively benign.

  • NotSure||

    Whatever happens in Egypt it should be none of Americas business.

  • o3||

    it damn sure is in israel...which, in turn, morphs it into our business.

  • Mike M.||

    Ugh, there are seriously Reasonoids still pushing this B.S. regarding hope about the "Arab Spring"

    Give it up Mrs. Dalmia; even the lefties realize they've been played for a bunch of fools. You're reminding me of the degenerate gambler who's down big, but still thinks he's going to get it all back if he just plays a little longer.

  • Mike M.||

    By the way, regarding that opening line about the "neoconservative worrywarts", I could have sworn that this whole notion of paving the way for Jeffersonian democracy and enlightenment in the Arab world was a neoconservative idea to begin with. Wasn't that one of the justifications given for the Iraq War?

  • Ken Shultz||

    We didn't invade Egypt. For that matter, we didn't invade Libya, either.

    What we did during the Arab Spring was mostly pragmatic.

    I opposed the Iraq War, and the neoconservative philosophy behind it as understood by most people. I supported our involvement in Libya on pragmatic grounds(not committing any US troops on the ground was a stroke of pragmatic genius).

    We didn't start or win the Libyan Revolution any more than the French started or won the American Revolution.

    We did even less in Egypt. Whether the Egyptian people overthrew their vile dictator wasn't our call--that was a decision made by the Egyptian people whether we wanted it or not. Why anyone would compare Egypt to our decision to get rid of Saddam Hussein--regardless of what the Iraqi people wanted--is beyond me.

  • DJF||

    "For that matter, we didn't invade Libya, either"

    Our bombs invaded Libya.

  • Paul.||

    It only counts if Slim Pickins is riding it on the way down.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's a big difference.

    Because we didn't invade Libya, we're not responsible for what happens there in the aftermath.

    Not having troops on the ground, that's why Libya cost less than a percentage point of what Iraq cost us.

    ...and not having any American casualties because we didn't have any troops on the ground? That's a big bonus.

    That's part of the reason why, once we put boots on the ground, it becomes so hard to get them out again. Nobody wants the Americans who died to have died for nothing. So, once an American dies in combat, we tend to dig in our heels--until it's an unmitigated success?

    Unmitigated successes don't happen very often.

    Having a troops on the ground by way of an invasion and NOT having troops on the ground--that's a big difference.

  • Mike M.||

    We would never have won our revolution without French support as quickly or easily as we did, and the disparate eastern Libyan tribal peoples (many of whom are Islamist extremists and highly sympathetic to Al Qaeda) would never have defeated Ghadafi without the west bombing the living crap out of him.

    Even if Jeffersonian democracy and western enlightenment liberalism take root in Egypt (which is about as likely as me sprouting wings and flying away), the neoconservatives will naturally claim that it is a vindication of their decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and "liberate" the Iraqi people. Whether or not all of these revolutions that have happened in these last couple of years would still have happened when they did even if we hadn't taken out Hussein is something none of us can possibly know for certain. But in reality, every rational person knows that removing Hussein and these other awful dictators has turned out to be an even bigger disaster. All we have done is strengthen the hand of the Iranian regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all the other Islamist bad actors over there.

    Anyway, the people who believe that there's no hope for the Arabs are generally paleoconservatives, not neoconservatives. Ms. Dalmia is confusing her labels.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's not clear whether the Libyans would have won on their own.

    As it is, they weren't alone on the ground either. It wasn't really well publicized at the time, but the people who led all of the ground assaults were the Qatari military.

    They led the assault on Tripoli. They organized the ground troops. They paid for all the hardware. Would the Libyan people have won without the U.S.?

    Maybe. Maybe the British and French would have helped enough without us. Anyway, the Libyans would have had a MUCH harder time without the Qataris.

    Still, the Libyan Revolution was won by the Libyans. They rose up against their dictator as best they could; they went out on the streets and demanded Qaddafi leave--even when they knew they were going to get shot at by snipers. They did what they had to do to win international support, and they should be congratulated for their accomplishment.

    We have our heroes of the American Revolution, but we remember Lafayette, too. I hope the Libyans remember our contribution, but I hope they find themselves a George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, too.

    Incidentally, we should find some kind of Statue of Liberty sort of thing to commemorate our contribution sort of like the French did. They don't like statues/idols so much, but we could think of something abstract.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The neoconservatives will naturally claim that it is a vindication of their decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and "liberate" the Iraqi people.

    Who cares what the neocons claim?

    I claim that if we had waited on Iraq, the revolution that's come to Syria would have come to Iraq as well. If we had waited, who knows what might have happened? If we'd gone then, with the no-fly zone in tact, then instead of the U.S. against the Iraqi people, it would have been Iraqi people with American support against Saddam Hussein.

    That's always way better.

    Whether or not all of these revolutions that have happened in these last couple of years would still have happened when they did even if we hadn't taken out Hussein is something none of us can possibly know for certain.

    1) Conditions in Iraq were so deplorable...that the rest of the Arab world wanted to emulate Iraq?

    That's absurd.

    2) Food inflation was what put the revolutionaries over the top. That would have been the cause, eventually, regardless.

  • Paul.||

    And most people in the West, after jubilantly watching the Arab Spring's amazing revolutions last year, wanted to believe them.

    But now we can see that these Islamic groups are taking us for fools.

    Who's this "us"?

  • Paul.||

    If that is so, how do you explain the speech Shater gave in Alexandria last year in which he disparaged the whole idea of Western democracy and its social conventions, calling them the enemy of Islam - including the concept of elections, even though he is now running in one. Voting for your leader, he said, is un-Islamic.

    And on this point, I totally agree with him. It is un-islamic to have democracy. Because everything you need in society is clearly spelled out in the Quoran. And the Islamists don't really swing with that "living document" shit the way we do here. They're kind of "originalists" that way.

  • han||

    But Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dakmia examines the run up to the presidential elections in Egypt in her morning column at The Daily and suggests that neocon worries might be overblown. The Egyptians, she notes:

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