Who will rule Egypt after Mubarak?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
July 9 2004 3:52 PM

Egypt After Mubarak

Beware the trust-fundamentalists.

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Egypt's political and intellectual leadership should have prepared the nation for peace and democracy long ago, but instead it indulged in the violent political rhetoric and ideological habits that have galvanized the region's furies over the last 50 years. And so the country's immediate future is not more democracy, but yet another dictatorship ultimately controlled by the military, and it is unlikely U.S. officials will argue that it should be otherwise.

Certainly, the United States should demand a full range of reforms tied to any aid packages for Egypt, but those reforms should be focused on liberalization rather than democratization. By all means, let the Islamists have some representation, maybe even a minor ministerial portfolio or two, but free elections are at the end of the process, not the beginning. The emphasis should be on liberalizing economic policies, fully integrating women into the economy and society, and stemming the country's dangerous population explosion. Egypt doesn't have the material resources to care for all its 70-million-plus people properly now; it will only get worse in the next 20 years.

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Maybe most important, the next president has to embark on a comprehensive re-education campaign: a legislative, political, and moral initiative looking something like a mixture of the civil rights movement and de-Nazification. Egypt, unlike most other Arab states, has a liberal tradition, one older than any of its various Pan-Arabist or Islamist ideologies. Ideally, its next president will draw on that liberal inheritance to finally realize the vision of peace embodied in the treaty that cost Sadat his life.

Unlike his predecessor, Mubarak is not a visionary. His legacy will be that he kept a cold peace with Israel and won his war against the Islamists. The job of Egypt's next ruler is to ensure that he is the last president who did not enjoy the honor of being elected by the Egyptian people.

Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.