We’re about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. As much as I would like to praise that great and good man, I have to wonder what he would do about Egypt?
Would he shepherd Egypt along the path to democracy—as he did successfully with South Korea and the Philippines? Or would he maintain a “constructive engagement”policy with Mubarak as he attempted with the apartheid regime in South Africa? That policy frankly failed, and we had to await F.W. de Klerk moves to release Nelson Mandela and allow the African National Congress to compete in democratic elections.
Reagan’s greatest success—of course—was in pressing for reforms behind the Iron Curtain, and for publicly demanding that Soviet ruler Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.” A key part of Reagan’s success was his recognition that religious liberty was central to ending Communist totalitarianism.
As a candidate for president, Reagan had watched, as indeed the world watched, in awe as the Polish Pope John Paul II celebrated an outdoor Mass in Warsaw. One million Poles cried out “We Want God!” Reagan, unashamed, teared up. “I want to work with him,” he said. And how he did.
As president, Ronald Reagan ordered his CIA Director William Casey to make sure that Poland’s Solidarity union got fax machines and copiers—surreptitiously via the Vatican’s Washington embassy. Reagan would not allow Solidarity to be crushed by Poland’s Communist puppet regime.
Reagan publicly confronted the Soviet dictators, and loudly demanded they keep the agreements they made on human rights in the Helsinki Accords. Deep in the Gulag, Natan Scharansky heard of Reagan’s calling the USSR an “evil empire.” He tapped out the words to fellow prisoners—zeks—on the plumbing pipes. It gave them all such great heart.
Reagan understood the importance of religion behind the Iron Curtain. He kept a list of Jewish refuseniks in his suit coat pocket and would press Mikhail Gorbachev to release them from the Gulag at every meeting. He worked behind the scenes, as well, to gain the free emigration of the Siberian Seven, a family of Russian Pentecostals who had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
When he went to West Berlin in 1987, President Reagan rejected the advice of virtually all of his counselors to take that ringing phrase—Tear Down This Wall!—out of his speech. Romesh Ratnesar, an editor for TIME Magazine recognized these four words as the short, sharp hammer strokes they were.
Reagan also spoke of the radio tower built by the East German Communist regime on their side of the Wall. It was intended to overshadow all the old church steeples in that captive city. Reagan noted a “defect” in the sphere atop the tower. The Communists sought to paint it out, to blot it with acid, even to sandblast it, but the defect remained. When the sun struck that sphere, Reagan said, it made the sign of the cross.
No other American president in 200 years had publicly invoked the Sign of the Cross. And when, shortly thereafter, the Wall came down, the Iron Curtain was cast away, TIME Magazine editors, of course, named Mikhail Gorbachev their Man of the Decade.
What we learned from Ronald Reagan can guide us as we deal with Egypt. Obviously, Mubarak must go. But can we find a partner with whom we can do business in Cairo?
Early indications are not favorable. The Muslim Brotherhood murdered Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Any government that includes the Muslim Brotherhood will be hostile to human rights, repudiate Egypt’s treaty with Israel, and threaten us.
There is even a deeper concern. Although high percentages of Egypt’s people say they want democracy, 84% of them also say you should be killed if you leave Islam. Believing that, they will never be a democracy. The first human right is the right to life. Next must come the right to worship God as your conscience dictates. This right was eloquently championed for Americans by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These great Founders knew that human rights are endowed by our Creator.
State Department careerists—the folks who tried to get President Reagan to scrap Tear Down This Wall—often fail to defend religious freedom. They forget that Jefferson and Madison were not only great advocates for religious liberty, they were also skilled diplomats. Madison knew that defending religious liberty could only add to “the lustre of our country.” Ronald Reagan knew that, too.