Arab Spring? Egypt is on the brink

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

An Egyp­tian re­ported af­ter wit­ness­ing 80 prisoners, some armed with ma­chetes and guns, break out of a jail in Cairo that “the po­lice are afraid.”

It was one of many such jail­breaks in the past three months. Crime, an un­wel­come weed in the gar­den of the Arab Spring, has pro­lif­er­ated in the months since the Mubarak regime was driven from power. Egypt to­day is plagued by sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, kid­nap­ping, and hooli­gan­ism.

The po­lice, who kept or­der through bru­tal­ity and in­tim­i­da­tion dur­ing the Mubarak era, are now too cowed to act.

At a soc­cer match be­tween the Egyp­tian and Tu­nisian teams, re­ports The New York Times, a ref­eree’s call on be­half of the Tu­nisians led to a riot. Spec­ta­tors rushed the field, at­tack­ing the ref­eree and the vis­it­ing team. Two play­ers were sent to the hos­pi­tal.

Crit­ics of Amer­i­can pol­icy in the Mid­dle East have of­ten con­demned our tra­di­tional sup­port for “sta­bil­ity.” Amer­ica’s sole concern, they said, was for the re­li­able flow of oil.

To se­cure the juice for our SUVs, we were will­ing to over­look atro­cious hu­man rights abuses, re­pres­sion, and eco- nomic back­ward­ness in the re­gion.

This wasn’t just a left­ist cri­tique. For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, an­nounc­ing his de­par­ture from that ap­proach, told a Lon­don au­di­ence in 2003 that “In the past, (we) have been will­ing to make a bar­gain to tol­er­ate op­pres­sion for the sake of sta­bil­ity . . . Yet this bar­gain did not bring sta­bil­ity or make us safe. It merely bought time while prob­lems fes­tered and ide­olo­gies of vi­o­lence took hold. . .”

In that spirit, many for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials cheered the up­ris­ings in the Arab world. They ar­gued, not with­out some plau­si­bil­ity, that the free­dom agenda ad­vanced by Pres­i­dent Bush was bear­ing fruit and that the U.S. must, at all costs, as­so­ciate it­self with the peo­ple’s thirst for free­dom and dig­nity and not with the re­pres­sive, dis­cred­ited regimes.

But to be a con­ser­va­tive is to re­sist ro­man­ti­cism. A key con- ser­va­tive in­sight, dat­ing to Ed­mund Burke (“Good or­der is the foun­da­tion of all things”), cau­tions that chaos is the en­emy of lib­erty, jus­tice, and pros­per­ity. The rule of law, prop­erty rights, re­spect for the rights of mi­nori­ties, and an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary do not spring fully formed from pop­u­lar up­ris­ings.

Ad­di­tion­ally, not all re­pres­sive regimes are cre­ated equal. In the Mus­lim world, the worst regimes, Syria, Iran, Libya, have been those most hos­tile to the U.S. It is pre­cisely be­cause the lead­ers of the Egypt and Tu­nisia (no Democrats ad­mit­tedly) were un­will­ing to en­gage in the kind of sav­age crack­downs on their peo­ple un­der­taken by the bar­bar­ians (see above) that they were de­posed.

Post-Mubarak Egypt is a re­minder of the dan­gers of chaos. Dur­ing the Tahrir Square demon­stra­tions in Fe­bru­ary, re­li­gious dif­fer­ences were pa­pered over. “We are all one: Mus­lims and Chris­tians are one,” demon­stra­tors chanted. That spirit hasn’t lasted even a sea­son. In the course of the past few weeks, re­peated clashes have erupted be­tween Copts and Mus­lims in Egypt.

Two enor­mous Cop­tic churches have been torched, and dozens of peo­ple have been killed and wounded in street bat­tles.

A Mus­lim crowd es­ti­mated at 15,000, armed with Molo­tov cock­tails, clubs, and guns, at­tacked a much smaller group of

Not all re­pres­sive regimes are cre­ated equal. In the Mus­lim world, the worst regimes, Syria, Iran, Libya, have been those most hos­tile to the U.S.

Copts who were demon­strat­ing out­side a Cairo TV sta­tion. The po­lice were ab­sent as usual. The vi­o­lence was be­lat­edly halted by the army.

In­tra-Mus­lim vi­o­lence has erupted as well.

Salafists have at­tacked Sufi mosques and shrines, as well as Cop­tic churches, and the small Shi­ite com­mu­nity has suf­fered vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion.

The Mus­lim Brother­hood, which had spo­ken sooth­ingly of its will­ing­ness to let oth­ers lead dur­ing the Tahrir Square days, has now alarmed sec­u­lar­ists and Copts by sug­gest­ing that Is­lamic law in the land of the pharaohs is the goal af­ter all.

Of the 24,000 prisoners who es­caped dur­ing the up­ris­ing against Mubarak, 8,400 are still at large, along with 6,600 weapons stolen from gov­ern­ment ar­mories.

Re­la­tions be­tween Egypt and Iran have im­proved.

The Egyp­tian econ­omy was frag­ile be­fore the revo­lu­tion. It has got­ten much worse. The Asia Times re­ports that tourism has col­lapsed. Re­mit­tances from guest work­ers abroad are es­ti­mated to be half what they were in 2009. As the Weekly Stan­dard re­ported, “Egypt is run­ning out of food, and, more grad­u­ally, run­ning out of the money with which to buy it . . . Egypt im­ports half its wheat, and the col­lapse of its ex­ter­nal credit means star­va­tion.”

The most im­por­tant nation in the Arab world is tee­ter­ing. This is not an en­dorse­ment of the Mubarak regime, but sim­ply a re­minder of the cen­tral­ity of that most un­charis­matic yet in­dis­pens­able of virtues, pru­dence.

Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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