There's a Funny Thing About Democracy
It won't always yield results we like, but it's always right. Case in point: Egypt's elections.
The Brotherhood's electoral success, therefore, will have wider consequences for the rights of women and Egypt's Christian minority. Also, from a global perspective, the presence of fringe groups within the Brotherhood provides more pressing concerns. Many Egyptian nationalists, for instance, have accused the Brotherhood of violent killings in the past, and some fear that the group offers cover for those who would participate in terrorist activity.
The Salafists, by comparison, are even more extreme religiously. They represent those Muslims who remain inflexible with regard to the limits of the role of women and will certainly advocate a ban on alcohol, against the wishes of liberal Egyptians and those who wish to see Egypt's tourism flourish.
Marina Ottaway, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Washington Post, "The Muslim Brotherhood has to make a decision to form an alliance with the Salafi Party and create a more Islamist state or try to form a coalition with more liberal elements."
Hedayat Abdel Nabi, an Egyptian journalist, opined in the same article, "We have to get our act together so we don't go back to the Stone Age." Nabi, who is now working on the presidential campaign of Amr Moussa, the former head of the Arab League, concluded, "This is democracy and we have to accept the outcome."
Many believe that the success of these Islamist groups is purely due to the fact that they have been well-financed, well-prepared and better organized. And all this in spite of a reported $200 million in aid to liberal organizations from the Obama administration, mostly funded through USAID and the State Department.
The New York Times reported, "Poorly organized and internally divided, the liberal parties could not compete with Islamists disciplined by decades as the sole opposition to Mubarak." In the future, however, there is hope that as liberal organizations become more established, they can grow both in popularity and electoral effect.
But the role of America's involvement remains unresolved.
When Their Democracy Doesn't Look Like Our Democracy
Many believe that the Egyptian military, which currently receives $1.3 billion in aid annually from the United States, should no longer be supported against the interests of that country's people. This will be an important challenge for President Obama, at least in the initial stages of the transition.
Republicans like Newt Gingrich have already attacked the president's initial decision to call for Mubarak to step down because -- despite being a dictator -- he had been a loyal ally, serving U.S. interests in the Middle East. Yet aside from concerns of regional stability and Israeli security, the U.S. remains concerned that nations like Egypt can become breeding grounds for the kind of anti-American sentiment that gave birth to the 9/11 attacks.
But perhaps after a decade of our foreign policy being fueled by 9/11 fears, we can began to see these uprisings not through an American or European lens but through the eyes of the very people who are fighting for their own freedom, declaring their own destiny. Viewed this way, the role of U.S. militarism can shift in a more positive direction.
But perhaps a little history lesson is necessary to remind people of the conditions that led to the Arab revolts. After the Tunisian uprisings, in December of 2010, young Egyptians headed to Tahrir Square in opposition to Mubarak's 30-year dictatorial rule, during which time emergency law was unilaterally enforced, and an expansion of police powers caused thousands to be held and detained without trial or charge. Open demonstrations were illegal, and electoral political opposition was mute. Mubarak's presidency went unchallenged, and he remained the only presidential option, with a simple "yes" or "no" vote allowed.