Saturday, February 5, 2011

From the WSJ: Natan Sharansky on Egypt


Read the Whole thing. Key section:

"Why is there such a big danger that if now there will be free choice for Egyptians, then the Muslim Brotherhood can rise to power?" Mr. Sharansky asks. "Because they are the only organized force which exists in addition to Mubarak's regime." Mr. Mubarak quashed almost all political dissent, with the general acquiescence of his American patrons. But he couldn't stop the Brotherhood from spreading its message in mosques. Meanwhile, he used the Brotherhood as a bogeyman, telling the U.S. that only he stood between radical Islamists and the seat of power.

It worked. Mr. Sharansky says that in a 2007 meeting in Prague, President Bush told him that the U.S. supports Mr. Mubarak—to the tune of nearly $2 billion in annual aid—because if it didn't, the Brotherhood would take over Egypt.

For all his good intentions and pro-democracy rhetoric, Mr. Bush was inconsistent in practice. By Mr. Sharansky's calculus, simply propping up Mr. Mubarak's fear society would make it more likely, not less, that radicals would gradually become the only viable opposition and be best-positioned to gain power when the regime inevitably fell. And so it is today, as the Mubarak regime teeters.

Still, Mr. Sharansky finds reason for optimism. While recognizing common Israeli fears that Mr. Mubarak's ouster could give Hamas more power in and around Gaza and endanger the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, he doesn't expect the security balance to change much. As he wrote in "The Case for Democracy," over the past 30 years Israel's "border with Syria, with whom we do not have a peace treaty, has been just as quiet, and [I] suggest that Israeli deterrence is responsible for both."


Mr. Sharansky points out that Mr. Mubarak is no great man of peace. Indeed, since 1979, Egyptians' "hatred toward Israel only grew. . . . Egypt became one of the world centers of anti-Semitism." That's because all dictators must cultivate external enemies in order to maintain their grip on power. So even when Mr. Mubarak "lost Israel as an enemy, he continued to need Jews as the enemy."

Mr. Sharansky says the recent uprisings prove his fundamental contentions "that there are limits to how much you can control people by fear," and that all people, regardless of religion or culture, desire freedom. "That's a very powerful universal message. It was very powerful when the Iron Curtain exploded, and it's as powerful today," he says.

He has a prescription for what should happen next. First, he says there's no justification for Mr. Mubarak staying in place. "What would that mean? . . . He could continue for another few months or for another year, until [Egypt] explodes with more hatred toward America and Israel and the free world."

Second, U.S. policy should shift from its focus on illusory "stability" toward "linkage"—an approach that successfully pressured the Soviet Union. That means linking U.S. aid to Egypt's progress in developing the institutions of a free society.

If he were a U.S. senator, Mr. Sharansky says, he would immediately introduce a law to continue support to Egypt on condition that "20% of all this money goes to strengthening and developing democratic institutions. And the money cannot be controlled by the Egyptian government." Ideally his measure would kick in as soon as possible, so that it can affect the incentives of any Egyptian transitional government established to rule until September, when a presidential election is scheduled.

Happy 100th Gipper