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Monday, February 21, 2011

THE LIBERTARIAN IMPULSE AND THE PROPER ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

The current national debate about the federal budget/deficit/debt is getting more and more strident. It is time for interest groups and politicians alike to take a deep breath and start thinking about the broader but significant question of "the proper role of govt."  It is clear from the early debates about where to cut govt. spending that politicians in Congress are still largely the captives of special interests who have a sense of entitlement to federal revenues (taxes). These are not the "entitlements" described as the 60% of each federal budget that do not require annual authorization i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. These are the products of decades of govt. expansion to facilitate the liberal concept that govt. should solve all individual and group demands for economic and material comfort, and ideologically based agendas. It is the simple answer to why govt. spends trillions more than it takes in each year.

Critics on the Left cite the huge cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and "tax cuts for the rich" as well as the never fully described "corporate welfare". Certainly the wars have been hugely expensive and any tax cut reduces government revenues. But the problem of the growth of government in both its scope and size is clearly the long term problem. The federal budget is both unfathomable and opaque. It is filled with grants, programs and bureaucracies that most people have never heard of. Regulatory bodies which offer no direct expenditure of funds still require huge administrative budgets and many serve narrow interests.

The web site "U.S. FinancialSource.com" advertises, "Over $8 Billion in grant money being given away monthly. Apply today." Another web site "FreeGrantsMoney.us" offers "Billions in grant money being given away monthly. Apply today." The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance programs is breathtaking in its volume and scope. Within this catalog the Historical Profile of Catalog Programs goes to 133 pages in list form of federal government grants and loans. While most of these grants and loans, which are administered by regular cabinet departments of the government are ostensibly beneficial to states, communities and groups, their very existence speaks to the question of the proper role and scope of the federal government and its use of taxpayer funds in trying to serve all conceivable needs especially in times of economic crisis.

Duplication and redundancy seems common place. There are 17 grant programs for "promotion of the arts". Five seemingly identical grants are for "physical fitness". The apparent lack of congressional oversight into what can only be bureaucratic excess in the development of these grants and programs is the most troubling aspect in the context of budget review. The Department of Wildlife offered a 2010 budget item of $2.4 million for the "Great Ape Conservation Fund" as well as a $2.9 million dollar program for the "Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund". The recipients are "any African government responsible for conservation in these areas.” The Department of Transportation offers a grant to states for the "construction, renovation and maintenance of tie-up facilities for transient recreational boats 26 ft. or greater." It gets worse. The State Department has a grant program called the U.S. Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation in foreign countries. In Fiscal 2010 sixty-three projects with costs to U.S. taxpayers ranging from $10,000 to $850,000 were funded. Projects included were church wall paintings in Lebanon; "documentation of Cameroon's Baka dances”; "restoration of an 18th century gate in Hanoi, Vietnam” and "documentation of tribal pygmy music in the Democratic Republic of the Congo." Here in the U.S. federal programs range from "national fertilizer development grants" to "Foster Grandparent" programs.

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has embarked on a mission to make significant cuts in the fiscal 2011 federal budget proposed by the President. This is billed as both a first step in a larger effort to make dramatic cuts in federal spending and a change in the mentality or culture of Congress which in the past has appropriated funds based on ideological considerations and interest group lobbying and without consideration of fiscal responsibility.

Both parties and the President are acknowledging the importance of reducing spending and the federal debt but Obama and the Democrats in Congress are reluctant to make the hard choices necessary to rein in the costs of social programs and thus anger their liberal base. They prefer to focus on military spending and the long term strategy of "growing out of deficits/debt by stimulating economic growth and thus federal tax revenues through more spending. As always in discussions about enhancing revenue, they fall back on the "smoke and mirrors" fallacy of assigning millions of dollars of "savings" by "eliminating waste and inefficiency."

Republicans on the other hand, especially the numerous freshman elected in November, 2010, believe they have the support of the electorate to make the large but painful cuts necessary to start the budget reduction process. Unfortunately, they are faced with the common problem of voters who only see programs from which they don't personally benefit as appropriate targets for cuts. Voters who benefit from particular programs or tax codes are susceptible to demagoguery by opponents of any cuts. Thus the inevitable charges of “hurting the poor”; “harming children, women, and minorities”, “the environment”, and “killing jobs”, offered by liberals distort the reality that all programs help someone and thus can be classified as desirable. But the fiscal situation is in crisis and if left unaddressed could reach levels for which no solutions will be adequate. What the Congress and President are faced with is the need to prioritize spending and in effect engage in a process of economic “triage” which identifies the most critical areas of spending and pursues the cuts in the less critical areas even if they are “desirable”.

The view that government is vastly overextended has stimulated increased prominence for libertarian views. The most prominent voices for these views are Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and his son Senator Rand Paul (R-KT). Ron Paul ran as the Libertarian Party candidate in the 1988 presidential election and again as a Republican contender in the 2008 election. In 1988 he attracted more attention than support however, achieving only .5 % of the popular vote. In the 2008 Republican campaign he achieved 10% of the delegate count. He is currently considering running in 2012 for the Senate from his home state of Texas or engaging in another presidential run. He would serve the political process better in the future with a run for the Senate. Another run for the Presidency would make him the conservative version of quadrennial presidential candidate from the liberal fringe, House member Dennis Kucinich whom no one takes seriously.

However, the current political atmosphere seems much more amenable to his views which include a drastically reduced role for government. While it is clear that much of Paul’s plan is both politically and practically impossible, the economic crisis makes the broader concepts of his libertarian philosophy more attractive and may indeed represent a new (in Congress) philosophical core of ideas and help bring about progress in dealing with the entitlement mentality that has governed federal spending for so long.

As a committed and fairly doctrinaire follower of the libertarian political philosophy, Paul and his supporters envision a minimalist government at all levels which in their view, maximizes individual liberty while increasing individual responsibility for one's own welfare. Thus Paul opposes most federal government programs like federal flood insurance, agricultural subsidies, any national identification card for any purpose, and surveillance of “peaceful” civilian groups for national security purposes (Patriot Act). He is vigorously “pro-life” in the abortion debate which at first seems like a contradictory position in support of government intervention into personal “choice” but as a practicing obstetrics physician he holds the belief that life “starts at conception”. In terms of foreign policy he would withdraw from the United Nations and NATO. He does not believe in foreign military intervention and was one of only two Republicans who voted against the Iraq War Resolution.

However, it is in the area of fiscal and monetary policy that his libertarian views are likely to have the most influence in the current Congress. Paul has consistently voted against all proposals for “new” government spending and taxes. Indeed, he would abolish the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Reserve and eliminate most federal government agencies. He opposes "Obamacare" and “the War on Drugs”. While much of this agenda is far out of the mainstream of even the Republican Party in Congress, some of these ideas have been discussed and more importantly, they provide additional impetus for greatly reduced federal spending.

Paul’s political action committee, Liberty PAC raised millions of dollars for support of the Tea Party in its early days and he claims Liberty PAC support helped elect 25 conservative candidates win in various state legislative elections. It is this connection with the new contingent of Tea Party members of the House that provides the “libertarian impetus” in the 112th Congress which now includes Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul.

Early Saturday morning on Feb. 18th, the House passed a budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year which expires in Oct. which cut 61 billion dollars from 2010 levels. While it must be kept in mind that the Republican majority which passed this budget without a single Democrat vote knew from the start that it has no chance of surviving passage in the Democrat controlled Senate in its current form and thus was significantly easier to vote for since the major cuts to domestic programs will not actually impact voters. However, it does establish a negotiating position with the Senate and will undoubtedly result in significant cuts in some areas. It also puts a “finger in the wind” to test public support for future significant cuts in spending.

While the House Republicans didn't focus specifically on pigmy music or welfare for apes, they did make broad based cuts to most government departments including Defense. They also eliminated funding for Democrat favorites, Planned Parenthood which is the nations largest abortion provider, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which receives a $430 million annual federal subsidy. While these organizations serve large constituencies they could hardly be described as "vital" and thus are rightfully susceptible to responsible "triage". Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of course objects:

“Democrats believe we should make smart cuts — cuts that target waste and excess, not slash the programs that keep us safe and keep the economy growing.”

In Colorado, National Public Radio (NPR) which is part of the CPB, spends $1million a year on children's and educational programs including "Super School News" which teaches kids how to put together a broadcast story. The kids must be having fun but may not be "keeping us safe and the economy growing".

Ron Paul and the Tea Party Caucus in the House must be pleased. They have made their statement, lived up to their election year commitment and have demonstrated the efficacy of the libertarian impulse in the new Congress. The important questions remaining are: will this impulse survive for the next two years in the face of Democrat intransigence in the Senate and the White House, and if so, will it still command majority public support in 2012?

Monday, February 14, 2011

MULTICULTURALISM: A LESSON FROM EUROPE

The interface between politics and social policy, both domestic and international, gained new prominence recently when the leaders of two important Western European nations pronounced that multiculturalism in their countries "has failed." British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel violated political correctness in favor of reality and took stands for reform of their respective nation's immigration laws and domestic policies towards immigrant groups.

Britain, Germany, as well as France, Holland, and several other Western European states have been struggling with the social tensions and economic hardships related to significant movements of Islamic peoples from Pakistan, India and the Middle East in Britain's case, and Turkey in the case of Germany. These migrations were stimulated by the liberal immigration policies of these countries and the "freedom of movement" policies of the European Union. The result has been the growth of internal communities of individuals who are essentially economic immigrants with little incentive to learn the national languages of their host countries, little inclination to adopt the local cultures and little loyalty to the states themselves. In short, assimilation did not occur and indeed was for most, resisted.

This has created several serious problems. The lack of language skills has made employment above basic manual labor difficult and has resulted in significant pressure on the generous national welfare systems. Religious based resistance to local cultural traditions and legal codes has caused tension and resentment with the larger national populations and stimulated anti-immigrant political movements. Then there is the problem of Islamic extremism finding a home among the socially and economically isolated immigrant populations.

Stratfor, the respected international private intelligence organization has identified London as the organizational center of international Islamic terrorism. Radical anti-West imams operating out of close to 1,800 mosques that serve England's estimated 1.7 million Muslims were the target of an undercover investigation in 2007, as reported in the liberal Guardian newspaper. Video obtained showed Muslim preachers urging followers to "prepare for jihad; to "hit girls for not wearing the hijab" and to "create a state within a state." Other preachers in "some of Britain's most moderate" mosques urged followers to reject British law and adopt Islamic law. "Muslims cannot accept the rule of non-Muslims. We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule others." was the message.

Enormously misguided government officials driven by political correctness, adopted a kind of cultural relativism which according to Douglas Murray, Director of the Center for Social Cohesion in London "judged that the state should not 'impose' rules and values on new-comers. Rather it should bend over backwards to accommodate the demands of immigrants."

Prime Minister Cameron's remarks, were met by the usual charges of "racism" and claims that "most Muslims" in Britain are "moderate and peace loving". This tiresome refrain, repeated across Western Europe and the U.S., while true, is intellectually dishonest because it does not address the problem and chooses to dismiss the fact that the radical and hostile "minority" is both large in number and poses a real danger. The 2005 London subway and bus bombings were carried out by radicalized Muslim British citizens, as was the 2007 bombing of the Glasgow airport in Scotland.

The Western European multicultural problem has implications for the United States. While the issue of Islamic immigration is not as pronounced here because of America’s much larger population and in relative terms, smaller Muslim population, it is still a major concern. Recently, the Obama Administration’s national security team testified before Congress and identified “home grown terrorism” as a real and growing threat. With over 2000 mosques in the U.S., the possibility of British style radicalization cannot be ignored. Again, the vast majority of American Muslims live their lives in conformity with U.S. laws and disdain radicalism. But as in Britain and Germany, the problems that are inherent in the practice of multiculturalism pose genuine threats and have already stimulated a popular political backlash.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the New York City Police Dept. intelligence division has warned that “jihadist ideology is proliferating in Western democracies at a logarithmic rate.” Indeed, in the eighteen months prior to July, 2010, 34 American Muslims were charged with having ties to international terrorists. Prominent examples are Major Nidal Malik Hasan charged with the Ft. Hood shootings; Faisal Shazad, the so called “Times Square bomber”, and David Headley, formerly Daood Sayed Gilani, who was linked with Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 2008 Mumbai, India massacre.

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali Muslim population in the U.S. with some estimates are as high as 80,000, others in the 30-40,000 range. The FBI is currently investigating the apparent recruitment of young men from this population to terrorist groups in Somalia. While the first Somalis started arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1990s assimilation has not been easy if it has worked at all. The Hennipin County Medical Center in Minneapolis spends a reported $3 million a year for interpreters to make treatment for immigrants possible and an all female obstetrics staff had to be created because Somali women objected to male doctors delivering their babies.

The handmaiden of multiculturalism is political correctness and the idea that all cultures have equal moral and historical value in all social and national contexts. Multiculturalism is not “diversity”. The concept of diversity in the U.S. is an extension of the widely accepted “melting pot” analogy. Thus people representing different cultures would, like the different spices in a soup, enrich the whole. Diversity as it is practiced however, has been overextended to simply include people with different skin colors, ethnically identifiable last names, and even gender and gender preference. But multiculturalism rejects the concept and value of the “whole” along with its underlying commonality represented by national core values and cultural identifiers, or what has been called a “common theme”. Multiculturalism thus changes the “melting pot” soup into a stew with individual lumps of distinct, unchangeable, and unfortunately often incompatible ingredients, each with its own set of identifiers. In the social and political context this creates divisions and isolation that inevitably result in competition for status and resources as well as claims of victimization, as the core values of the national community are no longer shared. In the U.S. the core values are its history, language, national mythologies, sense of patriotism, and the acceptance of the constitutional precepts of individual liberty, the rule of law, and First Amendment rights. These values create the American identity and are the glue that binds the nation together.

Perhaps nowhere has the issue of multiculturalism been more prominent in the U.S. than in the case of Hispanic immigration, both legal and illegal. American schools celebrate Cinco De Mayo and crown “Miss Hispanic” this and that. Home improvement stores label their inventories in both English and Spanish. The country's universities celebrate their own commitment to "multiculturalism" almost like a new civic religion. As the University of Western Michigan says in it's webpage offering a "Diversity and Multiculturalism Scholarship, "Multiculturalism goes beyond the recognition of diversity."

Illegal immigration, an issue that should have been treated as a legal issue has become a cultural issue as Hispanic groups of U.S. citizens and legal residents have identified with and victimized the 14 million or so illegal Hispanics currently living in the U.S. and the half a million more who are apprehended at the border each year trying to enter illegally. Attempts to deal with the problem on both the state and federal level have brought the usual charges of racism and nativism. Again, while the vast majority of American citizens of Hispanic decent and those with legal residency are law abiding and productive participants in the American economy, there are elements and impulses in that "community" that imply a rejection of the “common American theme” and a resistance to “melting pot” assimilation.

Arizona once again became the focus of Hispanic and liberal ire when the Governor signed legislation that could deny funding for "any school district that offers classes designed primarily for students of particular ethnic groups, advocates ethnic solidarity or promotes resentment of a race or class of people." The proximate target of this legislation was the city of Tucson's ethnic (Hispanic) studies program which the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne (now AZ Attorney General) had been fighting for years because he believed that; "They are teaching a radical ideology in Raza (race) including that Arizona and other states were stolen from Mexico and should be given back."

Without attending several of these classes, which Mr. Horne has not done, it is difficult to gauge the specific nature of the courses’ message but the exact wording of the legislation which knee-jerk liberals and Hispanic activists find so objectionable is neither controversial nor hard to defend.

"A. A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.
3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.
4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS."


It is difficult to see how these conditions could represent a threat to any academic program unless they are indeed engaging in the specific activities described which their supporters deny. Still, there are those in the Tucson schools and administration that actively oppose the legislation and some have even called for defiance and the continued teaching of the offending curriculums. It's fair to ask if such courses which seem to be teaching "ethnic solidarity" and victimization based on the response of the course's advocates to the new law, actually result in troublesome attitudes and activities on the part of the students.

A partial answer is the demonstrable truth that some high school students like these in Arizona and California, go on to become members in a nation-wide Hispanic college student organization with a much more strident and decidedly anti-assimilation agenda.

The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan or MEChA) can best be described by this statement by the University of Oregon MEChA website:

"Chicano is our identity; it defines who we are as a people. It rejects the notion that we. . should assimilate into the Anglo-American melting pot. . .Aztlan [CA, CO, TX, AZ, UT, NM, OR and part of WA] was the legendary homeland of the Aztecas. . . It became synonymous with the vast territories of the Southwest, brutally stolen from a Mexican people marginalized and betrayed by the hostile custodians of the Manifest Destiny."

According to Miguel Perez of the U. of CA Northridge MEChA chapter:

"The ultimate ideology is the liberation of Aztlan. Communism would be closest (in ideology). Once Aztlan is established, ethnic cleansing would commence: Non-Chicanos would have to be expelled-opposition groups would be quashed because you have to keep power."

Is it any surprise then that in response to the passage of Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigrant law, Americans of all backgrounds witnessed thousands of Hispanics legal and illegal, in the streets of Los Angeles and New York City waving Mexican flags and claiming that U.S. immigration laws violated their “rights”.

It is easy to dismiss the problems in Europe and America as “a few Islamic extremists” who are not representative of the larger Muslim communities or connected to the issue of multiculturalism; or to dismiss the resistance of a “few thousand Somali war refugees” to the basic first step in assimilation, learning the language of their new country, as a temporary issue. It is also easy to rationalize the rantings of “few” overzealous college students as just acting out another form of campus radicalism. But the lessons of the European experience are stark and should demand the attention of legislators, educators and community leaders. Nothing good is to be achieved by the continued fragmentation of American society and the abandonment of the responsibility to assimilate which fosters a critical sense of national unity within which the “spices” of diversity are still welcome.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ABORTION AND POLITICAL GRANDSTANDING

 
 
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives continues to engage in "muscle flexing", posturing and symbolic votes.  House Republicans, after passing the "dead on arrival" repeal of the ObamaCare health care bill, now are staging hearings in several committees on equally futile abortion restrictions.

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" does away with tax deductions for private employers if their health insurance plans include abortion coverage. The bill would also forbid women who use "flexible spending plans" for abortion to use those dollars, which are deductions from their paychecks currently exempt for payroll taxes.

Another bill tries to modify provisions of the health care bill which Republicans have sworn to repeal in its entirety anyway, by disallowing citizens who participate in the bill's "state exchanges" from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money. The bill goes on to allow hospitals to refuse to perform abortions, even in emergencies, if “abortions offend the conscience of the healthcare providers.”

There are several aspects to these developments that create the character of political grandstanding. First, the Republicans opposed the passage of Obama's health care bill in part because it represented a huge transformation to a major part of the economy and affected every citizen's personal life without the support of a significant majority of the American citizens. While this was a proper and credible critique, the sponsors of the current anti-abortion legislation are doing the same thing.

The abortion issue will not attract a significant majority on either side for the foreseeable future. While there are many nuances to the debate, it is essentially a conflict between ideology i.e. feminism and religion. Neither of these belief systems are amenable to compromise. Currently the nation is split almost evenly. Those who self identify as "pro-life" account for 47% of the population and those who self-identify as "pro-choice" account for 45%. (Gallup Poll: 5/10). However, those who say abortion should be allowable "under certain circumstances" and those who say abortion should be allowable "under all circumstances" total 78% (54% and 24% respectively). Only 19% of respondents believed that abortion should be illegal "in all circumstances".

Second, the issue is highly partisan, which explains the current activism in the House. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans identify as "pro-life" but only 45% of Independents and 31% of Democrats agree.

Third, the use of federal funds for abortions has been illegal under the Hyde Amendment to annual Health and Human Services Dept. appropriations since 1976. In a compromise connected to the passage of the health care reform act, President Obama issued an Executive Order restating that the provisions of the Hyde Amendment would apply to the act.

Fourth, the vigorously pro-life Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) reports that only 14% of all abortions are paid for with public funds, "virtually all of which are state funds."

Fifth, the broader issue of abortions legality was settled by the Supreme Court in it's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. This decision which extended constitutional protection to women seeking elective abortions under most circumstances, is not likely to be overturned even by the more conservative current Court.

Finally, and most important, until the Republican Party gains majorities in the Senate as well as the House and elects a Republican president, none of these legislative efforts, like the repeal of the health care bill, is going to succeed. The House Republicans know this and yet they persist in these time wasting and ideologically polarizing legislative proposals. At a time when bi-partisan cooperation is vital in order to address the economic/deficit/debt crisis, which can't wait until after the 2012 elections, the Republicans in the House should accept the reality of current abortion politics, both on the national and congressional level, and get back to business.

Friday, February 4, 2011

EGYPT: WHAT NEXT?

While much of the Middle East is in turmoil the focus is on Egypt, the largest Arab nation with a population of 80 million. Following on the heels of the popular overthrow of the autocratic regime in Tunisia, the Facebook/Twitter revolution commenced mostly by disaffected youth in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez threatens to spread still further to Jordan, Yemen and other North African states, with consequences of enormous importance to the stability, character and political alignments of the region.

Simply put, the first step is the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has announced that he will not run for reelection in the Fall election cycle, thus ending 30 years of autocratic control. It is however, highly unlikely that he will be able to remain in office that long. Mubarak is the personal symbol of years of repression, corruption and economic hardship and the pressures for his immediate removal are enormous. Mubarak’s only hope to remain in office until September is that the uprising will exhaust itself and the virtual shut down of government services and the economy, including food and fuel distribution will cause enough hardship to send the revolution into temporary abeyance. Thus the situation is still in flux and unpredictable. Some facts however describe the context of the events and offer some areas to watch closely.

The role of the Egyptian army is critical. All of the post -monarchy (1952) heads of government have come from the military; Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak. The newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman is an army general. The military enjoys the general good will of the Egyptian people, which it has further strengthened by it's announced policy of not using force against the popular uprising. The military can be expected to take positions to protect its institutional integrity and status. Thus, it will probably be the generals who push Mubarak to an early departure. It will also be the military that will fill the political vacuum during the expected transitional period ending in reform of the existing political structures and the election of a new president in September of this year if not sooner.

The world watches and wonders what the nature of the new Egyptian government will be. This is critical since the current system is designed to support the essentially autocratic powers of the president. This will inevitably change. The legislative branch is divided into two bodies; the Advisory Council which lacks actual law making powers and the People's Assembly. While the Mubarak government has allowed six political parties to run for seats (including Independents), the president's party, the National Democratic Party (NDP) currently holds 419 of the 518 seats in the Assembly, a result accomplished through coercion, unfair election laws and fraud. When Mubarak goes, there will likely be popular pressure to hold early legislative elections since the next Council is not scheduled to be elected until 2013 and the next Assembly not until 2015. When these elections occur the NDP which is identified with Mubarak will undoubtedly suffer considerable losses. The question then is what parties, new or old, will dominate the new legislature and be handed the responsibility for reform and who will be the popular choice to succeed Mubarak as President?

Typically, when electoral systems are liberalized in nations without a history of democratic representation, a proliferation of narrowly focused political parties are created. This creates fragmentation in legislative bodies and inertia, if not gridlock. Currently in Egypt, the formation of political parties requires the approval of the government i.e. the executive branch. An effective and more democratic alternative is that adopted by several of the world's parliamentary systems which is establishing a minimum level of electoral support expressed as a mathematical percentage of the vote, for representation in the legislative body. Some feature like this should probably be considered.


Currently, the popular uprising lacks a single charismatic leader, or a single dominant political organization or party. Competition for a leadership position and creation of new parties will be chaotic. The individual currently most visible in terms of presidential prospects is Mohammed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei, while internationally prominent is reportedly considered an "outsider" by many Egyptians since he has not resided in Egypt in many years and seems "disconnected" from the people and the roots of the current popular uprising.

With Mubarak gone and the NDP in disrepute, that would leave the Muslim Brotherhood as the major public organization and quasi-political party. The Muslim Brotherhood is acknowledged by its supporters and identified by its detractors as an "Islamist" i.e. religiously fundamentalist organization. It was established in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna in response to what he believed was Islam and Islamic societies wandering from their original path and becoming more secularized and undisciplined. Al-Banna was also offended by Western secularization and what he viewed as decadence.

There is much disagreement today on the modern nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and its goals. President Mubarak saw the organization as a fundamentalist threat and harshly suppressed it. Nonetheless, the Brotherhood survived as a social/religious movement oriented towards peaceful reform and political/legislative strategies. Opponents of the Brotherhood point to early pronouncements and doctrines which speak of "jihad" against colonialism and Zionism. These critics also point to connections between the Brotherhood and Hamas, the political militia in control of Gaza which engages in terrorist activities against Israel and still maintains the destruction of Israel as its founding principal.
No one but the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood can settle this issue, but with an estimated 20-30% support in the Egyptian population and the lack of a competing political organization, the Brotherhood is sure to play an important role in any reformed government.

The regional importance of Egypt cannot be overstated and lies within the context of its modern history since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Since then Egypt has participated in, and indeed facilitated four general wars by Arab states against the state of Israel; 1948,1956, 1967, 1973. Without Egypt's participation these wars would not have been possible, both because of the geography of the conflicts and Egypt's dominant, military. The possibility of a fifth Arab-Israel war was eliminated when, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, which led to his assassination in 1981, an act in which some argue that the Muslim Brotherhood was complicit. Since then Egypt has played an important, though often unsuccessful role, in the ongoing negotiations between Israel and other regional states and between competing political forces in the Palestinian territories.

Thus the implications of this momentous change in the Middle East and the potential for further uprisings in other nations in the area are stark. An abandonment of the Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty or a change in Egypt’s cooperation in anti-terrorist efforts including the blockade against weapons transfers to Gaza, would constitute a major threat to Israel’s national security and would inevitably bring a higher level of U.S. involvement. A reorientation of Egypt away from the West would also lead to a higher level of Iranian influence in the region and increased Islamist pressure on Jordan, the West’s other ally and neighbor to both Egypt and Israel.

The major political force within Egypt thus will remain the army which will likely not allow itself to become a tool of Islamist militancy and is unlikely to risk open hostilities with Israel. The army also has essentially become a client of the U.S. by the fact that since the Camp David Accords which produced the Egypt/Israel peace treaty, the army has been the recipient of billions in U.S. military assistance while the government has received billions more in economic assistance. With a heavy component of U.S. made military equipment (F-16 fighter aircraft and M1A1 tanks) the Egyptian military cannot afford a political schism with the U.S. and a cut off of essential replacement parts. The army therefore represents the major, if not only, point of access for the Obama administration to influence the current situation and the future nature of Egyptian politics. This influence must be exercised through back channels and the Obama administration needs to be very careful not to send mixed messages to the Egyptian military through public posturing. Still, these circumstances are not an absolute guarantee of continuing political cooperation should an Islamist government take control, as the history of U.S. relations and military cooperation in Iran demonstrate.

Egypt has a chance for political and social liberalization but it will be messy and require time to achieve long term stability. Egypt lacks the religious, tribal and sectarian divisions that plague Iraq’s quest to establish a democratic system but a Pew Research poll indicates that fully 95% of Egyptians believe that “Islam should play a role in the country’s politics.” Thus a truly secular government and system of laws is out of the question. How this will manifest itself in both domestic and foreign policy is the most important question for the near future.