Second, participation in the elections, whenever scheduled, should be limited to real political parties. From Mussolini to Putin, from Hamas to Hezbollah, terrorists, totalitarians and their ilk masquerading as political parties do not really believe in representative government. Banning such faux-democrats from participating in the legitimate political process until they become true political parties is entirely legitimate, and may well be critical to avert disaster. America did so for decades by outlawing the Communist Party, as post-World War II Germany did with the National Socialists. Thus, for President Obama to say, as he did, that the transition "must bring all of Egypt's voices to the table" is not only naive, but fundamentally dangerous.
In order to join legitimate political parties in contesting elections, we asked in Lebanon and in Palestinian elections that terrorists had to renounce violence (and mean it), give up their weapons, and abjure the prospect of resorting to force if they didn't like the outcome. Sadly, we did not insist on these standards, and the results in Lebanon and Gaza prove our mistake. We should not repeat these errors, although Obama seems well on the way to doing so.
Third, the West should provide material assistance to those truly committed to a free and open society. In days of yore, the United States supplied extensive clandestine assistance to prevent communist takeovers in post-World War II elections in France, Italy and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the Obama Administration is too fastidious for such Cold War-style behaviour, but perhaps overt, democratic institution-building assistance is not too much to ask. Advocates of doing nothing will argue that Western assistance, overt or covert, will "taint" the real democrats, and should therefore be avoided. Of course, there are always excuses for doing nothing. At a minimum, we should let Egyptians themselves decide whether they will be "tainted" with outside assistance; if they can live with the taint, so should we.
Fourth, Egypt's military must restore and extend stability, setting an example throughout the Middle East, thereby allowing whatever progress toward a truly democratic culture to emerge. Egypt's military will require political space in the months ahead. The Pentagon's continuing close relationship with Egypt's military should give us confidence that the right message about civilian control over the military is getting through. One of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' first announcements was that it would honour Egypt's international obligations, presumably including Camp David. This is important and reassuring internationally, but hardly dispositive of what future governments will do.
The 1990s were filled with visions of a "new Middle East" that would transform the "cold peace" Israel had achieved with Egypt and Jordan into broader economic and security ties, and that would extend to other Arab countries too. That vision was stillborn, but there is little doubt that we are now going to see a new Middle East whether we like it or not, and whether or not it will be better than what it replaces. Alea iacta est — "the die has been cast" — and it may be long years before it comes to rest.
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