Is Egypt Too Big to Fail? (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Michael Rubin 05/02/12)
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Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13
presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-
Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the
vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood
candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the
vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party
and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.
It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the
candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to
embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes
to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle
East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his
Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future.
Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim
Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections
not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also
because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise
the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing,
and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.
Of course, once they are in power, they will not be able to deliver
but, by then, it will be too late for ordinary Egyptians. Here,
Iran’s Islamic Revolution provides a good analogy. A full ten percent
of Iranians took part in the 1979 revolution. They were united in
their opposition to the Shah, and read into Ayatollah Khomeini what
they wanted. “We were promised an Islamic democracy,” one of my
Iranian tutors explained to me when I lived in Isfahan, “but what we
got was neither Islamic nor a democracy. By the time we figured this
out, though, it was too late and we were already embroiled in war.”
There will be a day of reckoning for the Egyptian government as the
country’s tourism sector flatlines and its foreign reserves
evaporate. Bread is subsidized in Egypt, and the government will no
longer be able to provide. The question for the West at that point
will be whether Egypt deserves even more debt forgiveness and aid.
The new Egyptian government might be noxious, its management
irresponsible, and its positions extreme, but would the world face
either a far more extreme Egypt or a failed state if the Egyptian
With one-in-three Middle Eastern Arabs living in Egypt’s narrow Nile
River valley, there is a real case to be made that the chaos of state
collapse must be averted at any cost. But, while failure would not be
pretty, it is time the White House and Congress consider whether U.S.
foreign assistance is an entitlement or a privilege. The foreign aid
community would differ, but simply put, U.S. foreign aid should never
be an entitlement. Egyptians should realize they are accountable for
their governments’ actions. If their government leads them down the
path to disaster, so be it.
Perhaps rather than subsidizing an Amr Moussa or Abul-Fotouh slow-
motion train wreck and rewarding anti-American and anti-Israel
incitement, American policymakers would be better off considering how
to advance the principles upon which America was founded: freedom,
liberty, tolerance, and individual rights.
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