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Democracy in Egypt?

Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and potential challenger to the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, had this to say last week:

    “Western policy towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view. It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it’s been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping.
    “If you bet on individuals [like Mubarak] instead of the people, you are going to fail. And Western policy so far has been to bet on individuals, individuals who are not supported by their people and who are being discredited every day. …
    “The West talks a lot about elections in Iran, for example, but at least there were elections — yet where are the elections in the Arab world? If the West doesn’t talk about that, then how can it have any credibility?
    “Only if you empower the liberals, if you empower the moderate socialists, if you empower all factions of society, only then will extremists be marginalised.”

I wish Dr. ElBaradei all the luck in the world with his quixotic crusade to bring democracy to Egypt. He is exactly the sort of moderate, popular, independent-minded reformer the West has long claimed to hope for in the Middle East, so whether the West responds positively to his efforts (assuming they gain traction) will be a test of sincerity.

On the other hand, maybe Western governments should keep their mouths shut even if they do favor him, so as not to poison the well of his support. Unfortunately, the policies of the Bush administration have given “democracy creation” a bad name in the Middle East.

One thing is clear, President Mubarak is not long for this world. He is already over 80, and just returned from three weeks in Germany where he underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder. The choice of a new leader will be upon Egypt very soon, certainly no later than the presidential elections of 2011, in which he is not expected to run.

For further coverage of ElBaradei’s campaign to reform Egyptian politics, see Zeinobia’s blog, The Arabist, or this excellent summary from blogger Baheyya.

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