The wave of popular unrest that has spread across the Arab world in recent weeks, toppling the regime in Tunisia, creating the mass protests in Egypt, and leading other governments in the region to scramble to choke off similar eruptions, has evoked images of 1989, when Communist governments fell like dominoes in Eastern Europe. Like today, those earlier events unfolded with surprising speed, catching the West (as well as the oppressive regimes) off guard. But President George H.W.
When the Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, years of “peaceful” U.S. nuclear cooperation with the Persian dictator suddenly seemed like they had been a bad idea. In part as a result of this early assistance, Tehran is on the road to producing a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium in roughly a year or less. And with protests upending governments in Egypt, Tunisia, and the rest of the Middle East, this sequence is on the cusp of repeating itself to produce a nuclear domino effect.
President Obama is in a tight spot. The 2010 elections have sharply contracted his ability to achieve legislative victories, while his room to maneuver on other issues will be limited by the intrusive investigations which are almost certainly coming his way. Progress will be harder to attain than ever.
History does not enable us to predict the future, but it does help us to prepare for it. It therefore makes sense that commentators are searching for historical precedents to the dramatic events in Egypt. History might help shed light on where the potentially revolutionary developments are heading. It is important to get the history right, however. Some commentators have suggested that the world might be witnessing a repetition of the events of 1979, when an Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran.
When the protests in Egypt began last week, it did not take long for conservative pundits to sound the alarmist warning bell. Fox digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt cautioned on Special Report with Bret Baier, “If this is directed toward retrenchment of the Islamic forces, it could be difficult period for [the] Middle East.” Glenn Beck declared himself “no fan of Mubarak,” but warned, “God help [the police] if Egypt falls. God help them.” This reaction wasn’t completely predictable.
Item: “In recounting Saturday’s deliberations, [administration officials] said Mr. Obama was acutely conscious of avoiding any perception that the United States was once again quietly engineering the ouster of a major Middle East leader. … ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”—David E.
Everyone now understands that President Obama faces a set of difficult choices in Egypt. Cut Mubarak loose, and risk a revolt from the other American clients in the region while potentially empowering the Muslim Brotherhood. Support Mubarak, and earn the enmity of Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East who correctly see the United States working in tandem with the autocrats who repress them. What has largely gone undiscussed, however, is that the United States faced a very similar dilemma in Egypt once before.
After days of unrest, after declaring martial law in some of the country’s main cities, the authoritarian leader gave a much anticipated television speech. His tone was repentant. He promised change and reform. The people wanted democracy and he promised to bend to their wishes. For a long time, the United States had been advising him to open his political system—but had been seen publicly as his chief supporter. The U.S.
Decision Points By George W. Bush (Crown, 497 pp., $35) The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment Edited by Julian E. Zelizer (Princeton University Press, 386 pp., $29.95) George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream: A Psychological Portrait By Dan P. McAdams (Oxford University Press, 274 pp., $29.95) It’s worth listening to the audiobook version of Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, because not so long ago Obama had both the time and the inclination to spend many hours voicing the recording himself.
When one wave of revolution hits an Arab country it is very likely to hit several others. Like the revolts of the colonels. It started with a coup d’état of army colonels by Gamal Abdel Nasser (who supplanted his lackey Muhammad Naguib) in early 1953. There followed another coup of colonels in Syria which then teamed up with Egypt to comprise the United Arab Republic in 1956. The preposterous flag with two stars, one for each state, is about as deep as the union was.