Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egypt and the Either/Or Fallacy

Before my own analysis of the Egyptian political situation begins, I need to share my own feelings on what has transpired -- or perhaps more accurately what we're being told has transpired -- thus far in that country.

With this topic, much like the WikiLeaks story, I am torn.

The growing movement in Egypt is in response to the people's fatigue with a heavy-handed head of state and a desire for greater self-determination among those who initiated the protests in Cairo. Weighing against that is a very real concern about who may opportunistically emerge to fill a power void if the people succeed.

Predictably, the news coverage of the demonstrations in Egypt has devolved into a cacophony. Making the noise worse as of late is the barrage from conservative commentators who insist an ouster of Hosni Mubarak's regime (not just Mubarak himself, but of the regime he has put in place) is the last thing anyone wants to see.

Across the board, the right wing spin wizards steadily have fallen in line and declared if Mubarak steps down he will inevitably be replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood-designed radical theocracy.

This is the American Right Wing employing the either/or fallacy, a topic I have addressed before. The either/or argument relies on a typically false premise that in any situation or problem there are only two possible causes, courses of action, resolutions, or outcomes.

In the case of Egypt and Mubarak, the assertion is we have to choose between the devil we know or the devil they're convinced will be worse.

Most of the radio and television pundits insist Egypt is poised to become the next Iran and Israel is on the brink of going up in flames. As far as I've been able to determine, Glenn Beck is the only one who has suggested Egypt's Marxist Party has demonstrated the same degree of opportunism as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Before continuing, make no mistake that Mubarak (the "devil we know") is a thug: he has cracked-down relentlessly on his own citizens who are active in Egypt's Islamic wing, followed by his reported participation in rendition efforts in recent years.

Where I disagree vehemently with conservative talk hosts is their absolutism regarding the prospects for a post-Mubarak Egypt.

The movement in that country began in true grassroots fashion. Much of the Egyptian population simply has had enough of the conditions there, not the least of which has been the steadily worsening economy. Now, their frustration has motivated hundreds of thousands of them to take to the streets and call for Mubarak's unconditional resignation.

To suggest the protests serve only to set the stage for the rise of a fundamental Islamic theocracy requires ignoring that Egypt's Islamists and Marxists have been johnnies-come-lately who are trying to co-opt the rising tide of public sentiment. They are not the originators of the movement.

Dare I say it, but a number of American conservatives are taking the exact same approach toward their spin of this story as our left-dominated news media has employed in covering the Tea Party.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, as a Tea Partier myself I am not comparing what is taking place in Egypt to the Tea Party movement. What I am comparing are the similar slants set forth by the analysts for both wings of the outdated linear political scale. It's curious how eagerly dismissive they both have been of their respective quarries as dangerous.

And, both sides are being driven by a desire to maintain their respective status quos. Statists on the left want to continue the march toward socialist domestic policy while statists on the right want to continue an active interventionist foreign policy.

As a result of all this -- getting back on course -- what is being ignored by too many conservatives is the possibility the Egyptians may be ready to put in place an establishment that offers greater freedom and possibly a little bit of liberty (or at the very least the aforementioned expanded opportunity for self determination).

It won't be easy. I agree that any representative democracy which emerges from the ashes of a displaced Mubarak regime will be regularly and aggressively challenged from the onset. And, those jockeying for position to overrun the system will be the Muslim Brotherhood and Marxist parties -- both of which will assuredly receive significant foreign financial backing.

A new government may even have to withstand militant violence. We have seen similar circumstances elsewhere in the Middle East.

One could easily point to the days of protests in Iran following the results of the 2009 presidential election there. But, there also is the war-torn nation of Lebanon.

The Lebanese had long enjoyed a more Western society and was once a popular tourism stop. Christians and Muslims were able to live together in relative peace. All that changed in 1975 as radical Islamic extremists began to overrun the country.

While that nation began to fall into factioning, most who joined the fighting in Lebanon did so for the purpose of reestablishing their representative democracy. The rebuilding process began in 1990 after the end of their civil war.

Tensions have been sparked on and off since 2006, but that has been due to external influences and interests. Despite it all, the Lebanese people seek to restore their way of life. Unfortunately, their border with Israel makes the country a strategic focal point of interest for organizations such as Hezbollah and the countries aiding them.

Yet, the Lebanese still persist. Americans ought to be able to appreciate that.

While this may not be a scenario that would strike most people as the most desirable possible outcome for Egypt, it is what I believe to be the most likely outcome to result from the political unrest there.

Will it mean strife for Egyptians similar to what the Lebanese have had to endure? Yes. That may not be avoidable. And, it will be a shame considering they were the first of the Arabic nations that declared war on Israel to sign a peace accord and recognize the sovereignty of the Israeli state.

But, at some point this must be for the Egyptian people to determine for themselves. There are all the libertarian philosophical talking points which I could belabor at this juncture. But, just as importantly, there are the practical reasons. Primarily, we can no longer afford the tens-of-billions of dollars in foreign aid we have been doling-out every year. To continue using part of that dole to help prop-up someone such as Mubarak simply is more than many Americans can stomach: myself included.

Returning to my point at the beginning of this composition about being torn on this story, to some extent it is because of the simple fact change is always unsettling. And, as has been examined at great length, a change of power in Egypt means an even more uncertain future for a big chunk of the world.

To a larger extent, I'm torn because of the potential ramifications for Israel. While this surely will rankle a number of my fellow Libertarians, for reasons I will argue at a later date I am not ready to see the United States end material support for the Israeli state. I shall admit upfront that statement stands in immediate contradiction to the point raised two paragraphs prior. However, if America can only afford to maintain continuing support for one ally in the world, it should be Israel.

Obviously, the uncertainty facing Egypt, that lone nation to seek a peace accord with the Israelis, has the potential to mean an even more precarious situation for their neighbors to their northeast.

My hope is the fire in the Egyptian people's hearts for liberty is stronger than the resolve among a small percentage among them who seek to rain fire on parts of the world.

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