Mona Charen

"The police are afraid," an Egyptian reported after witnessing 80 prisoners, some armed with machetes and guns, break out of a jail in Cairo. It was one of many such jailbreaks in the past three months. Crime, an unwelcome weed in the garden of the Arab Spring, has proliferated in the months since the Mubarak regime was driven from power. Egypt today is plagued by sectarian violence, kidnapping, and hooliganism. The police, who kept order through brutality and intimidation during the Mubarak era, are now too cowed to act.

At a soccer match between the Egyptian and Tunisian teams, reports The New York Times, a referee's call on behalf of the Tunisians led to a riot. Spectators rushed the field, attacking the referee and the visiting team. Two players were sent to the hospital.

Critics of American policy in the Middle East have often condemned our traditional support for "stability." America's sole concern, they said, was for the reliable flow of oil. To secure the juice for our SUVs, we were willing to overlook atrocious human rights abuses, repression, and economic backwardness in the region.

This wasn't just a leftist critique. Former President George W. Bush, announcing his departure from that approach, told a London audience in 2003 that "In the past, (we) have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability ... Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold..."

In that spirit, many former Bush administration officials cheered the uprisings in the Arab world. They argued, not without some plausibility, that the freedom agenda advanced by President Bush was bearing fruit and that the U.S. must, at all costs, associate itself with the people's thirst for freedom and dignity and not with the repressive, discredited regimes.

But to be a conservative is to resist romanticism. A key conservative insight, dating to Edmund Burke ("Good order is the foundation of all things"), cautions that chaos is the enemy of liberty, justice, and prosperity. The rule of law, property rights, respect for the rights of minorities, and an independent judiciary do not spring fully formed from popular uprisings.

Additionally, not all repressive regimes are created equal. In the Muslim world, the worst regimes -- Syria, Iran, Libya -- have been those most hostile to the U.S. It is precisely because the leaders of the Egypt and Tunisia (no Democrats admittedly) were unwilling to engage in the kind of savage crackdowns on their people undertaken by the barbarians (see above) that they were deposed.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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