Conservatives have been chastised in some quarters over the past week for their lack of enthusiasm for the "revolution" in Egypt. "... Fear and loathing -- of Muslims especially -- rules the Right" declared John Guardiano, on the FrumForum. "Within some conservative precincts," chided Commentary's Peter Wehner, "there has been reluctance even to share in the aspirations of the Egyptian people." Paul Wolfowitz has been utterly unambivalent: "I think it's a terrific vindication for the Egyptian people ... And the people who said for years that somehow Arabs didn't care about freedom are just dead wrong."
On behalf of skeptical conservatives everywhere, 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. But there are also good and sufficient reasons to keep our enthusiasm corked for now.
Egypt has exchanged a dictator propped up by the military for a straight military dictatorship. Yes, that is about the best short-term outcome that could have been achieved given the nature of Egyptian society (no working political parties, no genuine parliament, a controlled press, weak protection of property rights, lack of an independent judiciary). Power could not very well have been handed over to the protesters in Tahrir Square. Someone has to keep order.
But if the protesters in Egypt desire real freedom and democracy, as Wolfowitz and others are sure they do, the military will have to cede power. It is far from clear that they will be willing to do so.
ProPublica reports that "Estimates vary as to how much of the Egyptian economy is run by the military -- ranging from 5 percent to 40 percent ... military-owned companies, often run by retired generals, are particularly active in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries ... The commercial revenue has proved lucrative, and helped top military officers maintain a kind of lifestyle that includes 'an extensive network of luxurious social clubs as well as comfortable retirements -- all of which helps ensure officer loyalty.'"