The problematic elections in Egypt — where US pressure forced an election that turned out a victory for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood — really point to a general dilemma for US policy in the Middle East. Bush’s vision of ensuring US security by transforming ossified Middle Eastern autocracies into democracies certainly sounds noble in theory. But in practice, the social and political development of these societies has created a situation in which many people, if given a democratic choice, would just replace their brutal secular leaders with brutal Islamic ones.
So the US emphasizes Mid-East elections, but as in Egypt, we backpedal when we realize that democracy will actually empower fundamentalists. We’re facing a similar problem in the Palestinian territories – where elections may very well result in the empowerment of Hamas – and in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries.
The problem is that before we begin lobbying for Middle Eastern elections, we need to implement a long-term policy to strengthen indigenous liberal parties and civil society organizations to make them more competative with the fundamentalists. This has been a pretty effective strategy in helping spark the recent colored revolutions throughout the former Soviet Union.
Of course, circumstances are different in Central Asia and in the Middle East, and the policy would have to be implemented in such a way that Arab liberal parties wouldn’t develop the reputation of being American tools. But we really need to lay some of this prepatory groundwork instead of pushing for immediate elections whose results, as in Egypt, may prove counterproductive.