A sign of political health: other influential voices are noticing that too many conservatives are singing off key when it comes to Egypt and the Middle East.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, for instance asks in his most recent column: “Why don’t conservatives love freedom?” He notes that conservative sentiment about the Egyptian uprising has “ranged from silent to grumpy.”
Worse yet, reports Robinson, the leading GOP presidential candidates have all struck, it seems, a decidedly sour note on Egypt.
Mitt Romney, perhaps the leading Republican presidential contender, gave a speech without once mentioning the upheaval in Cairo that may signal the most important geopolitical shift since the end of the Cold War. You’d think that anyone who wanted to be president would be paying attention and might have an opinion or two.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, also believed to be considering a presidential run, likewise seemed not to have noticed that the world was changing.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty confined himself to criticizing President Obama for somehow appeasing ‘Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.’
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who won the CPAC presidential straw poll, was at least forthright: He said the United States has no ‘moral responsibility to spread our goodness around the world’ and urged the administration ‘to do a lot less a lot sooner, not only in Egypt but around the world.’
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was all over the map. At CPAC, he mentioned ‘what’s happening in Egypt’ without commenting further.
On Saturday, he told the Associated Press that Mubarak’s resignation was ‘good for the future’ but criticized Obama for publicly supporting the dictator’s ouster.
On Sunday, Gingrich explained on ABC’s ‘This Week’ that Obama was right to side with the freedom-loving protesters in Tahrir Square, but should have done so privately — as if whispered encouragement, of which there was plenty, had a prayer of making a difference.
I don’t typically agree with left-wing columnist Eugene Robinson; but he’s absolutely right about the Republicans’ stunning — and seriously disconcerting — lack of strategic vision and apparent indifference to the momentous events that are now rocking Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East.
In fact, I’m more afraid of the GOP’s cluelessness about, and studied lack of interest in, the world than I am of the Islamists and the Jihadists.
After all, given strong American leadership and preemptive efforts, the Islamists and the Jihadists will fail and fade into the ashbin of history. But if the conservative movement and the Republican Party fail to understand and to articulate the need for American leadership, then America and the West may be doomed.
Sean Hannity said last night that there is no cause for optimism about Egypt because opinion polls show that the Egyptian people harbor decidedly illiberal attitudes and beliefs.
“I think it was on the FrumForum that [John Guardiano wrote] I’m obsessed with the Muslim Brotherhood… We don’t know what will happen [in Egypt]. But we do know the opinions of the Egyptian people.
They support Sharia; they support Islam as part of the new government that is gonna be formed. And, as a result, I don’t hold out a lot of optimism.’
Democracy skeptic Mona Charen, by contrast, seems at least to have been moved by what has happened in Egypt. “On behalf of skeptical conservatives everywhere,” she writes, “here are two cheers for the Egyptian revolution:”
(1) The protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere might so easily have resorted to violence when their demands that Mubarak leave went unmet. They might have marched on the presidential palace and initiated a blood bath.
They refrained. Through days upon days of demonstrations — running short on essentials and withstanding the rain and wind — they kept their vigil almost entirely peaceful.
(2) Since Mubarak’s ouster, there have been few calls for revenge or witch-hunts.
“There is a good deal to admire about the way Egyptians have behaved during this tumultuous time,” Charen concludes. “But there are also good and sufficient reasons to keep our enthusiasm corked for now.
Like Hannity, Charen cites opinion polls that suggest the Egyptian people harbor disturbingly regressive political attitudes and beliefs. For example, she notes:
A 2009 World Public Opinion poll found that 64 percent of Egyptians have favorable views of the Muslim Brotherhood, 75 percent agree with the Muslim Brotherhood’s idea that a body of religious scholars should have veto power over laws it believes contravene the Koran. Only 36 percent said a non-Muslim should be able to run for president.
But public opinion polls in an autocratic society where people are jailed and punished for expressing unpopular ideas, or ideas that the government believes are inimical to the state, are notoriously unreliable.
Moreover, as I have observed here at FrumForum, public attitudes and beliefs — especially in a poor and developing country that is just throwing off the shackles of autocratic rule — are hardly inscribed in stone. To the contrary: public sentiment is in flux and thus subject to change.
That, in fact, is the great thing about democracy: It gives the citizenry the right to discuss and debate issues. It gives them the right to try and change people’s minds. It gives them the opportunity to fix and remedy their mistakes.
Democracy also exposes people to outside, Western influences and ideas. And it gives these outside, Western influences a window — and often an intimate window — into what is happening inside countries that are transitioning toward democracy.
Especially today, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, this exposure can help to hasten the political maturation and liberalization process
But more to the point, what is the alternative? What do conservative skeptics such as Charen and Hannity propose instead?
That we tell the Egyptian people to shut up and sit down because we, the white men of the West, have decided they’re not “ready” for democracy? Would they have America prop up another dictator in the name of “stability”?
In truth, there is no alternative in Egypt to liberal democracy, or, to be more precise, a democratizing Egypt. And what is true of Egypt will soon become true throughout the Middle East, as the autocratic dominoes fall.
Part of political maturity, and part of political wisdom, is accepting the world as it is. And, in the world in which we now live, the autocrats’ days are numbered.
Instead of wringing their hands and shaking their heads about this, conservative scribes and talkers should roll up their sleeves and get to work.
The question now is: how can the United States assist the Egyptian people as they make their historic transition toward liberal democracy?
How can we help to ensure that the Egyptian people enjoy guaranteed rights and liberties that won’t be overturned after their first election? And how can we hasten similar awakenings in other places such as Iran and Syria?