Contrary to the popular slogan of the 1960s protest movement in the U.S., the revolution is indeed being televised.
The images streaming out of Egypt are bloody and troubling. Protesters are dying in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in increasing numbers, shot dead by a military trying desperately to keep order.
Under normal circumstances our first visceral response would suffice. It is not our way, excepting a faraway day in Ohio, to approve the murder of protesters. We hold that it is a universal right to demonstrate against government, to oppose power with chants and slogans, to defy authority and demand change. In a black-and-white world, a man confronting a tank in Tiananmen Square is emblematic of our belief that the military is an adjunct of power, not power itself. In Egypt we are confronting that precept amid a hugely confusing political morass. When political spring broke in the Middle East last year some held a hope of democracy flowering. That hope flew in the face of reality in a region where virtually no one has read John Locke, where enlightenment means women are almost allowed to appear in public without veils, where a tradition of democracy informed by the Magna Carta does not exist.
When the electoral smoke cleared in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood held the presidency and nearly half of the legislature. The same Muslim Brotherhood that rational Egyptians have spent a couple generations trying to suppress, the Muslim Brotherhood that represents at least in oblique ways those who are trying to destroy western civilization. Yet, their power came from the ballot box, putting U.S. foreign policy in a box: support the vote or support only the vote we approve.
For a year Mohamed Morsi and his followers drove democracy and the Egyptian economy into the sand. This summer 20 million Egyptians took to the streets to demand his ouster and the military, always the strongest voice in modern Egypt, complied. Now, the Muslim Brotherhood and its adherents have taken to the streets. As many as 1,000 of them have paid with their lives for acts of protest. The military has escalated from tear gas to live fire to suppress the crowds. U.S. foreign policy is again in a box: declare a military coup and break ties with the only rational power base in Egypt or declare that killing protesters is acceptable. The current administration, as is its way, is doing neither, waiting on the sidelines to see what the score is at half time.
Perhaps the decision would be easier if we look at events in a pragmatic light. The protesters are our sworn enemies. There is televised evidence that Muslim Brotherhood fighters are firing into the military ranks in a semi-organized way. They have killed at least 45 soldiers and police. If the Brotherhood prevails, our problems in the Middle East are exacerbated exponentially given their stated policy of crushing Israel and their antipathy toward the west. We do not want the military to keep killing but we do not want the Brotherhood to win. So, in the end, perhaps the administration’s silence is for the best. While heartless and against the American grain, perhaps the best thing to do is let this play out. The Egyptian military will very likely win this battle. The Brotherhood will be suppressed and our interest in the region will be advanced. There is no rule book in the war we fight today. There is only those who will be alive and those who will be dead when it is over.
Page 2 of 2 - Let us wipe our tears for the dead protesters and take the pragmatic long view.