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Obama must back Egypt's regime, or face a disaster like US did in Iran

It is morally good for the US to speak about support for protestors, but it is also quite dangerous. Mubarak may go, but his regime is necessary for US and Israeli security, regional stability, and keeping at bay the Islamic extremists that would rise in its place. Obama must support it.

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There is no good policy for the United States regarding the uprising in Egypt, but the Obama administration may be adopting something close to the worst option. It seems to be adopting a policy that, while somewhat balanced, is pushing the Egyptian regime out of power. That situation could not be more dangerous and might be the biggest disaster for the region and Western interests since the Iranian revolution three decades ago.

Experts and news media seem to be overwhelmingly optimistic, just as they generally were in Iran’s case. Wishful thinking is to some extent replacing serious analysis. Indeed, the alternative outcome is barely presented: This could lead to an Islamist Egypt, if not now, then in several years.

IN PICTURES: Egyptian protests

There are two basic possibilities: the regime will stabilize (with or without President Hosni Mubarak), or power will be up for grabs. Here are the precedents for the latter situation:

  • Remember the Iranian revolution of 1979, when all sorts of people poured out into the streets to demand freedom? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now president.
  • Remember the Beirut Spring of 2005 when people poured out into the streets to demand freedom? Hezbollah is now running Lebanon.
  • Remember the democracy and free elections among the Palestinians in 2006? Hamas is now running the Gaza Strip.
  • Remember democracy in Algeria? Tens of thousands of people were killed in the ensuing civil war that begin in 1991 and endured over a decade.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but the precedents are pretty daunting. And what did Egyptians tell the Pew pollsters recently when asked whether they liked “modernizers” or “Islamists”? Islamists: 59 percent; Modernizers: 27 percent.

'Pro-democracy' vs. regime's survival

Here’s the problem. On one hand, everyone knows that Mr. Mubarak’s government, based on the regime that has been running Egypt since the morning of July 23, 1952, is a dictatorship with a great deal of corruption and repression.

But this Egyptian government has generally been a good ally of the United States, though it has let Washington down at times. Its loss of power to an anti-American government would be a tremendous defeat for the United States. Moreover, a populist and radical nationalist – much less an Islamist – government could reignite the Arab-Israeli conflict and cost tens of thousands of lives.

So the United States has a stake in the survival of the regime, if not so much of Mubarak personally, or the succession of his son, Gamal Mubarak, now reported to have fled to Britain. This means that US policy should put an emphasis on the regime’s survival. And this regime might be better off without the Mubaraks, since it can argue that it is making a fresh start and will gain political capital from getting rid of the hated dictator.

On the other hand, the United States wants to show that it supports reform and democracy, believing that this will make it more popular among the masses in the Arab world, as well as being the “right” and “American” thing to do. Also, if the revolution does win, the thought is that it is more likely to be friendly to America if the United States shows, in advance, its support for change.

This “pro-democracy” approach is based on the belief that Egypt might well produce a moderate, democratic, pro-Western state that will then be more able to resist an Islamist challenge. Perhaps the Islamists can be incorporated into this system. Perhaps, some say (and it is a very loud voice in the American mass media) that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t really a threat at all.

Think you know the Middle East? Take our geography quiz.

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