Daniel Pipes has written a fascinating and important piece today for NRO. Pipes favors an approach to democratization that I like: elections, yes, but only after time for liberal institution-building and the spread of a liberal culture. The gist of Pipes’s piece is that a somewhat more reformist version of the current Egyptian regime, effectively controlled by the military, is a possible, and even likely, outcome. From my point of view, this would be the best case scenario, and it’s already been floated by Barry Rubin here at NRO, although few in the media seem to take it seriously. Like Pipes, I fear that the Obama administration is now trending toward a policy that is more accommodating to the Muslim Brotherhood than is necessary or wise.
Have a look at the final, contrarian piece in this fascinating symposium on Egypt at the Wall Street Journal. Here, Amr Bargisi states that of a continuation of the current balance of forces is more possible than many in the Western media realize. Bargisi gives the dark vision of this prospect, not a more reformist version of a militarily-controlled regime (as suggested by Pipes and Rubin), but a more repressive one. His point is that Egypt’s relatively well-to-do middle classes are actually allied with the military, not with the demonstrators. A coalition of the poor, who fear anarchy, and the middle classes, who fear confiscation and retaliation, could keep the military in power. In this view, a significant faction of those on the streets are leftists, and not particularly democratic ones either. In fact, none of the parties to Bargisi’s dark scenarios are liberal democrats, which I fear is all too accurate.
I wonder if another possibility might be a rough blending of control by different forces within the country, much as we see in Pakistan. Pakistan’s electoral system seems to function almost in parallel to the military. Elected (but corrupt and illiberal) governments in that country run much of domestic politics, but largely cede defense and foreign policy to the military. And when the economy tanks or anti-military elements get too strong, the military stages a coup, the threat of which keeps elected governments in check when they hold power. Maybe Egypt will gravitate toward a Pakistan-like system in which an elected government stands in an uneasy competitive relationship with the military. Of course, Pakistan is not a particularly encouraging model. But then, current events are not encouraging.