EgyptstanPosted: December 7, 2013
For much of its troubled history Pakistan has been a nominal, and occasionally a treaty, ally of the United States. It has alternated elected civilian government with military regimes aiming to correct the errors of the civilians. It has enjoyed the financial support of the Saudi royal regime. Its large and ponderous army fared badly against India whenever conflict came, and now is doing rather poorly against a home-grown insurgency by retrograde religious fundamentalists in a wild desert bad land. The reader who thinks this is an attempt to draw parallels with present-day Egypt would only be partly right. It is also important to call attention to the differences which, if rapidly erased, would spell disaster for both Egypt and the neighboring West.
Egypt is not Pakistan for one primary reason; the trenchant Egyptian historic identity, embraced most strongly today by the native Egyptian Christians, the Copts. Intellectuals will rush in at this point to elaborate that identity is largely manufactured and is in no way an integral and organic part of any polity. That could very well be true, and also irrelevant. This identity, utterly lacking in shallow-rooted Pakistan when it split from historic India, is the last vestigial protection against an array of familiar horrors. The horrors include a large country with a failing economy drenched in daily senseless violence. They also include a massive brain-drain that leaves it at the mercy of the worst among the confused citizens. More relevant to the West is the possibility that the Suez Canal, Sinai and the border with Israel may soon become the equivalent of the Pakistani Northwest Frontier. The economic plum of the Sinai will instead be a heartless land, a present-day Mad Max landscape where machines roam the air to hunt men below.
Egypt is not there yet, and all reason tells us to stop this slide. The current struggle between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood is a struggle between two occasional allies, neither having strong liberal, democratic or economic management track record. It is tempting to say “pox on both”. That would also be pox on Egypt, and ultimately on the West. There is a view in the West that political Islamism is an integral component of Muslim-majority countries and can not be defeated. There is nothing in history to support this view, and its adoption could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The ultimate defeat of political Islamism is as critical to the liberal order in the West as was the defeat of home-grown totalitarian systems. There is no better place to start that process than Egypt. The strong historic identity, the existence of a large, native and patriotic Christian minority, as well as a significant fraction of Egyptian Muslims who wish to see a prosperous and diverse country devoid of religious bigotry, are all good portents. But only so with a commitment to a long and principled struggle.