Egypt is one of the most important countries in the Middle East and the Arab state the US has the closest ties to - thanks to Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Peace Accord, so what happens there is important to the US and the West. As I see it there are 3 possible outcomes:
1. The Hosni Mubarak regime hangs on and nothing much changes.
2. A more-or-less secular democracy takes over from Mubarak. Clearly this is the best option.
3. Islamic fundamentalists take over the Egyptian government. This is much more likely than option #2 because revolutionary groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have a clear advantage over their amorphous secular rivals because of their mature organizational structure (the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928), clarity of vision (an Islamic Caliphate) and sheer ruthlessness.
Even though the US likely cannot exert much influence over the events there, it is nevertheless faced with a choice: support Mubarak or push for change. Since the outcome is far from certain, there is no cut and dry answer.
In my opinion, the best option for the Americans is to support change, even though chances for an Islamic Republic are high.
First of all Hosni Mubarak is 82 years old. He has achieved nothing in his thirty years of power. By the early 90’s, it was clear that the Chinese Communist mix of economic liberalization coupled with authoritarian rule was viable, but Mubarak did nothing. As a result, all he can offer his people is more status quo, which they clearly don’t want. And worst of all, his groomed heir - his son, has left the country. Mubarak is not the future. He is barely the present. He is toast and it is futile to tie your horse to him any longer.
Second, the only possibility for a good outcome is if there is change but the change results in a democratic and not insane government.
Third, even if things go completely south and the Islamists take over, there is a sliver lining even to this dark cloud. To see how, remember what Machiavelli said about political diseases: if a political ill gets past a certain point, the fastest way to the cure is to let it run its course.
Take Iran. Right now, the average Iranian hate Islamic fundamentalism. Because of 30 years of Islamic rule, Islamic fundamentalism is the past in Iran - not the future. I believe that in the near future, Iran will be America’s strongest ally in the Islamic world. The disease might have to run its course in Egypt too. The sooner Mubarak-style authoritarianism is over, the sooner Islamism will be over too.
The cause of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt - and its anti-American - is the frustration average Egyptians feel over the rotten state of their country and their economy. The cause is not that postage stamp sized plot of land called Israel. Speaking of which, one of the reason for Egypt’s virulent anti-Semitism is the anti-Israeli and anti-American propaganda pushed by Egypt’s state-run media as a ‘safety valve’. Nice. This should be another factor when America considers whether it should drop its support of its ‘ally.’ If Mubarak were smart, his safety valve would have been Chinese-style double-digit economic growth, but he isn’t smart. He is just another squalid, two-faced, tin-pot dictator.
For added measure, supporting Mubarak against the gale force of public opinion undermines America’s campaign for democracy elsewhere around the world.
For all these reasons, the US should disown Mubarak as soon as possible. Of course, it should also work with its contacts in the Egyptian military (which we are constantly told has the respect of the people), in order to do what it can to make sure that Islamists don’t gain control.
On the other hand, there is this opposite analysis, which I also find persuasive. While I am sympathetic to a lot of what Miller says, my gut tells me that the fastest way to triumph over Islamic fundamentalism is to work against it dynamically rather than statically. I believe that the strategy of containment was a major mistake during the Cold War that undercut the West’s promise of freedom. It was only when containment was abandoned by Ronald Reagan in favour of subverting the Soviet Union from within that we won the Cold War. For this reason, I believe that not supporting last summer’s Green Revolution in Iran was a major strategic blunder. A grand opportunity to strike a decisive blow against Islamic fundamentalism at little cost presented itself and was left unsiezed.