The Pakistan Parallel
Why has the Obama administration been so tepid in its support for the biggest popular revolution in the modern Arab world? The short answer is Washington’s fear that a vacuum left by President Mubarak’s departure will be filled by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. “Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power,” warns Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Islamic radicals hostile to America and Israel might take power through the ballot box, upending the stability of the Middle East and shifting the regional balance of power decisively against the West.
As American leaders struggle to balance stability and reform in Egypt, history offers useful lessons. Many deem the closest historical parallel to be the Iranian revolution—with the clear implication that people power in the Middle East doesn’t produce liberal democracy but dangerous theocracy.
But a more accurate precedent may be Pakistan—where Washington has stood firmly behind four military strongmen whose undemocratic rule has spanned half the nation’s history. The result? The rise of the world’s most virulent Islamic radicalism, dangerous nuclear proliferation, the hollowing out of civil society, chronic failures of governance, and the unrivalled dominance of the army over political life. President Obama’s continued support for an Egyptian transition that reinforces the army’s role as the central political actor risks a Pakistan-style outcome that thwarts the popular will, incentivizes violent extremism, fans the flames of hostility to the West, and further weakens America’s position in the broader Middle East.
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