Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Egyptian elections ... The early reports of today's presidential election in Egypt have been predictably muddled -- most praised the appearance of a democratic process but criticized how insubstantial that appearance was. The Times was typical: "Egyptian voters went to the polls today in this nation's first multicandidate race for president, but the initial refusal to allow any form of nongovernment poll monitors and the ruling party's overwhelming presence on the streets and at the voting stations led to concerns about the integrity of the process."

Yet what I found most interesting is that none of the articles I read placed the significance of these elections in a regional context. It was only discussed within a national framework, as if Mubarak felt compelled to offer a semblance of democracy apropos of nothing, or as if the Egyptian people -- and particularly the "Kafiya" movement -- began pressing for political reforms out of the blue.

I can't imagine that that was the case. Others have written about this more extensively, but at a minimum I think one has to acknowledge the role satellite television has played. The substance of democracy may be notoriously difficult to transmit, but the images of democracy are not; and over the last several years, there have been any number of iconic images -- most notably the purple fingers on Jan. 30 -- that have been beemed throughout the Middle East. As a result, there is now enough popular momentum for democracy that Mubarak was forced to cede a thin layer of control.

At a maximum, meanwhile, I think you also have to tip your cap to the foreign policy initiatives of the infamous neocons. Don't get me wrong: those initiatives overall have proven a horrific failure and inflicted irreparable damage on countless U.S. interests. But at a certain point you also have to call a spade a spade. And this is one instance in which the "democratic domino" scenario is in fact playing out, albeit in a limited way. We would not be observing the introduction of reform in Egypt now had the U.S. not radically altered the regional balance of power and fostered a sustainable environment for reform.

However inconsistent it is with the other consequences our policies have had, we ought to be hearing about that success now.


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