As we watch the Egyptian revolution unfold half-way across the world, George Washington’s words come to mind:
It is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved.
Nothing can be taken for granted with revolution—and nothing is certain about Egypt’s future.
In the wake of Mubarak’s departure, CNN characterized Egypt’s revolution as “people from every walk of life…united in a common cause…to reclaim their dignity, control of their lives and the right to determine their government.” Many hoped, and even expected, that an educated and proactive populace would damper the influence the Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately, this extremist group—which worries everyone except Jimmy Carter—has established a working relationship with the Egyptian military and appears to be gaining influence.
Recently, the New York Times shared “growing evidence” of the Brotherhood’s influence over the outcome of Egypt’s referendum. Blitzing TV networks and distributing propaganda, the Brotherhood encouraged Egyptians to vote for a quick election scheduled in September, thus giving newer parties less time to organize. If the Muslim Brotherhood is the only effective and well-established political party five months from now, Egyptians will be left with few electoral options and their revolution may be endangered.
As September approaches, we hope that the Egyptian people will refuse to be lured into the excesses of popular passion, which could endanger the safety of ethnic and religious minorities, including Egypt’s substantial Christian population. Exhibiting this vigilance in his timeless Federalist #51, Madison observed: “If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.” We must moreover hope that the military can find inspiration in the actions of then-General George Washington and relinquish power when a government is elected. As Thomas Sowell argues, whether or not they follow a model of successful democratic revolution largely depends on whether “the preconditions for freedom and democracy” exist.
Amidst these uncertainties, it is helpful to remember that this isn’t the first time Americans have watched an overseas revolution. Alexander Hamilton, in 1794, grappled with the nature of the French Revolution and whether a man like Robespierre was “predominant in influence as in iniquity.” Ten years later, Latin American nations sought U.S. aid as they fought for independence. President Monroe eventually recognized the new republics for the same reason Washington left the French revolutionaries to their own devices: prudence. While Latin American nations successfully transitioned into working democracies, France fell from anarchy into tyranny. Mubarak’s departure is only the beginning, and the ultimate influence of the Muslim Brotherhood is yet to be seen. Time will reveal the true character of this revolution.
Michael Sobolik is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation.