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Altered Consciousness: Choosing the lesser of two evils

Published: February 4, 2011
Section: Opinions


A classic foreign policy dilemma has arisen in regards to Egypt: Should the United States align itself with a cruel dictator or a burgeoning democratic movement? Although the latter option may seem tempting, the United States must continue to support current leader Hosni Mubarak.

Certainly I sympathize with the plight of the Egyptians who yearn for a better life. Unemployment and underemployment are rampant, particularly amongthe young, and half the population lives on two dollars a day or less. The Mubarak regime is corrupt; has repressed democratic activists; resorted to torture and executions; denied its people freedom of speech, assembly, expression, press, and conscience; refused to hold fair and transparent elections; and has created a virtual police state.

Nonetheless, I am forced to act as a realist in this situation.

Mubarak consistently argues that the only alternative to him selfare radicals and Islamists. Unfortunately, he is correct.

According to the latest 2010 Pew Research Report, 59 percent of Egyptians sympathized with Islamists, as opposed to the 27 percent who supported modernizers and liberals. Thirty percent admire Hezbollah, 49 percent approve of Hamas, 20 percent smile upon Al Qaeda, 82 percnt believe stoning to be an adequate punishment for adulterers, 77 percentconsider whippings and the cutting off of hands appropriate for robbers, and 84 percent favor the death penalty for a Muslim who changes his or her religion. Also, another Pew poll showed that only 17 percent of Egyptians have a positive image of the United States. These numbers indicate that any democratically elected government in Egypt would adamantly work against us in the region.

To make matters worse, the Muslim Brotherhood—whose stated goal is to create an Islamic state in Egypt—is by far the most well-organized and popular alternative to the current regime. Ostensibly moderate groups, such as the Kifaya Movement, have either been co-opted by the Islamists or repressed to extinction, and have no real constituency among the Egyptian public. And, Mohammed ElBaradei, the nominally secular and moderate former head of the IAEA, who has allied himself with the Muslim Brothers and has deemed Israel the greatest threat in the region, would end sanctions on Gaza, and has been an apologist for the Iranian nuclear program.

What would happen if the Islamists took control of the country? Presumably, they would abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and go to war with it quickly after, with a modern and powerful military. They would most likely openly support and provide arms to Hamas, make their country a safe haven for terrorists, prevent or disrupt the flow of goods like oil through the strategically vital Suez Canal, ally with Iran and the resistance bloc, and help facilitate the Islamist overthrow of U.S.-backed governments in countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Additionally, as the Iran model illustrates, their rule would be just as oppressive, if not more so than Mubarak’s, and they would deny Egyptians basic rights and freedoms under a tyrannical system of Sharia law.

Some say that perhaps the Islamists will moderate themselves if they come into power. However, Hamas did not become less radical when it took control of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007. Hezbollah, which is on the verge of completely dominating Lebanon, has not ceased its virulent anti-Westernism. Iran’s regime is just as fanatical and twisted in its thinking and policies as it was when the Khomeiniists overthrew the Shah in 1979. And, the supposedly sensible Islamists in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party, have in fact become more extreme, not less, after nearly a decade in power.

Policymaking often involves choosing between a set of bad options and naturally, we would want the United States. to pursue a moralistic course of action. Unfortunately, Mubarak’s government is the only thing standing in the way of turning Egypt, a strategically essential country in the region, into a key center for anti-Western activity. This fact, and not some naïve fantasy of a secular moderate democracy, ought to guide the decision making of our political leaders.