Friday, February 4, 2011

"Less Iran than Russia"

Fareed Zakaria in Time:
If Egypt does descend into chaos or become an Iranian-style theocracy, people might look back at Mubarak's regime fondly. Ironically, if Egypt does better and turns into a functioning democracy, his legacy as the dictator who ruled his country before it moved to greater freedom will be more mixed... 
Which will it be? Anyone making predictions with confidence is being foolhardy. Egypt is a vast, complex country and is in the midst of unprecedented change. There are certainly troubling signs. When the Pew Research Center surveyed the Arab world last April, it found that Egyptians have views that would strike the modern Western eye as extreme. Pew found that 82% of Egyptians support stoning as a punishment for adultery, 84% favor the death penalty for Muslims who leave the religion, and in the struggle between "modernizers" and "fundamentalists," 59% identify with fundamentalists. 
That's enough to make one worry about the rise of an Iranian-style regime. Except that this is not all the Pew surveys show. A 2007 poll found that 90% of Egyptians support freedom of religion, 88% an impartial judiciary and 80% free speech; 75% are opposed to censorship, and, according to the 2010 report, a large majority believes that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government... 
I remain convinced that fears of an Egyptian theocracy are vastly overblown. Shi'ite Iran is a model for no country — certainly not a Sunni Arab society like Egypt. The nation has seen both Mubarak and Iran's mullahs and wants neither. More likely is the prospect of an "illiberal democracy," in which Egypt becomes a country with reasonably free and fair elections, but the elected majority restricts individual rights and freedoms, curtails civil society and uses the state as its instrument of power. The danger, in other words, is less Iran than Russia... 
My hope is that Egypt avoids this path. I cannot tell you in all honesty that it will. But much evidence suggests that democracy in Egypt could work. First, the army, which remains resolutely secular, will thwart any efforts to create a religious political order. The Egyptian army may well fight the efforts of democrats to dismantle some elements of the military dictatorship — since the elites of the armed forces have benefited mightily from that system — but it is powerful and popular enough to be able to draw certain lines. In Egypt, as in Turkey, the army has the opportunity to play a vital role in modernizing the society and checking the excesses of religious politics.
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