Democracy sometimes offers up a mixed bag, a fact no more readily evident than in
the Middle East. The elections offer a lens into a range of Arab and Muslim societies that are undergoing an identity crisis of how to operate in a democratic system brought forth, in part, by surging liberal and secular groups who have finally found their voice. In Tunisia, which boasts a population once thought of as strongly
secular, democracy is off to a bumpy start thanks to conservative Islamists who,
encouraged by the freer environment engendered by democracy, have been clashing
with secularists. Meanwhile, Egypt has found itself left with two less than ideal
candidates in its presidential elections; Ahmed Shafiq, a retired commander in the
Egyptian air force and Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Barring any electoral fraud, assassinations, or general turmoil, one of the two will
win, and the Egyptian democratic experiment will have had its first success. By
some accounts Morsi will secure the presidency, a victory that amounts to an
affirmation by Egyptians of their Islamic identity and a rebuke of the past Mubarak
regime that Shafiq was a member of.
America policy makers such as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have made
considerable efforts to embrace and encourage Egypt's democratization efforts.
After all, if democracy were to now fail in Egypt, even more uncertainties would be
inserted into the daily lives of Egyptians. Yet from a purely pragmatic viewpoint,
the path that democracy in Egypt has set upon may not hold the best results for the
American agenda. Islamic parties in Egypt are, at best, quietly hostile towards
Israel. Liberal democratic values, such as equal rights to the Christians who make
up around 10 percent of the Egyptian population, have the potential to suffer under
the Muslim Brotherhood. Political Islam may not necessarily be orthogonal to equal
rights, but neither is it its best advocate, a fact emphasized with Morsi's tacking
towards the ultraconservative Salafist voting bloc.
The ties between the United States and Egyptian militaries are historically strong,
fueled by billions dollars of American aid over the past three decades. A loss by the
military's de facto candidate, Shafiq, could see a loss of American influence and
capabilities in the region, vital not only to ensuring the security of the region and of
Israel, but the continuation of ongoing counterterrorism, intelligence, and military
operations in the Middle East.
It is probable that Egypt will be better off without the vile oppression of Hosni
Mubarak's regime and his military lapdogs, including Shafiq. What remains to be
seen, however, is if the United States and its allies will be.
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