What If the Muslim Brotherhood Comes Out on Top?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

A Goldblog reader writes to ask:

How could you support a revolution in Egypt that you know will end with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty dead, and the further empowering of Hamas in Gaza and even in the West Bank?

Well, I don't know that all these things are inevitable. The Muslim Brotherhood might not end up in power; just as in Pakistan, the Islamists in Egypt represent only a minority of citizens. Which is not to say that the Brotherhood couldn't wind up in power, but it's too early to call the rise of the Brotherhood inevitable. If the Brothers do end up in power, then the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which is responsible for 30 years of stability in the eastern Mediterranean, would be in mortal danger, but even if Egypt were to break relations with Israel, this does not mean that war would necessarily follow. And what is more likely is that the Egyptian Army continues to play an important and stabilizing role, and the Egyptian Army, of course, depends on the United States for much of its budget, and it does not want to lose access to American-made weapons systems, which is what might happen if Egypt were to abrogate the peace treaty.

In any case, the "stability" created in the Middle East by autocratic regimes is an illusion, as we've learned again and again. There is ultimately no alternative to freedom and self-government. As Elliott Abrams has noted, the Arab world is not exceptional in this regard. I've gone back and forth on this question any number of times, but ultimately I have to come down on the side of people like Reuel Gerecht, who argue that the imposition of ostensibly pro-Western autocrats on Muslim populations leads to nothing good in the end. If President Bush had carried through his worthy freedom agenda (and if President Obama had picked up the standard of democratic change) Hosni Mubarak might have long ago been convinced to seek retirement before his people sought it for him, and today we would be watching orderly elections in Egypt in which the Muslim Brotherhood represented one choice among many, and not images of Cairo on fire.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/what-if-the-muslim-brotherhood-comes-out-on-top/70496/