Juan Cole on the Future of Egypt

Juan was at Columbia University on Thursday. He outlines here the (Bayesian) probabilities of different outcomes, assigning a probability of about 20% to an outcome we would regard as an operational democracy.

In the various discussions I’ve seen about the pros and cons of supporting authoritarian governments that will serve US interests, I seldom see it mentioned that authoritarian governments do not have succession plans. Or, rather, they do not have succession plans that survive the fall or death of the tyrant. The sycophancy that accompanies autocrats does not leave room for realism about what will come next.

While this is understandable within those regimes, it has always struck me as pretty fucked up that the Serious People don’t recognize this phenomenon. When they install a Shah of Iran, and support him through escalating levels of oppression, they set the stage for the emergence of a successor regime that will be largely defined in contrast and opposition to the regime they have installed. Moreover, their intimate involvement with the hated authoritarian leaves them with little leverage in what emerges as the successor regime.

Fortunately, from the perspective of the Realpolitik types, this doesn’t really matter as much as it might. The Iranian regime, for instance, kicks up a lot of verbal ruckus, but they still sell oil into the international marketplace, which is all that really matters to the US. Likewise, Iran is used as a tribal tool for the neo-conservatives, but, again, there is little material difference between Reagan selling the regime arms to fund illegal activities in Nicaragua and John Bolton lying about the nature of the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Of course, if you are concerned about loftier ideals, like participatory government that guarantee basic human rights, the fact that there really isn’t very much gained by jettisoning those principles has to bother you. Or, worse, that those who benefit from jettisoning those principles in favor of an inherently unstable autocracy is actually a very small group of the already wealthy and powerful.

Twenty percent seems about right.

One Response to Juan Cole on the Future of Egypt

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