January 30, 2011 | Pundicity

What Would a Post-Mubarak Egypt Look Like?

 The road to Egypt's future forks in three different directions. Which exit the Egyptian people take is still anyone's guess.

The first exit is effectively a U-turn back to dictatorship, and ultimately a dead end. This is obviously not what Egypt's protestors seek. But over the years, the Mubarak regime has been drilling home one message to Washington: if a dictator does not rein in Egypt, the Islamists will come to power. Fear of Islamism has secured Western support for Mubarak's 30-year rule, and another cynical leader could take the same tack to earn Western support.

Another exit leads to a scenario in which the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of the country. The masses are calling for immediate elections, and the Brotherhood may be the only opposition group that is sufficiently mobilized and organized to win them. While Mubarak banned the group as a political party, its grassroots infrastructure is unmatched. And though the Brotherhood has renounced violence, it has done so under duress. The Egyptian regime has forcibly repressed the true ideology of the movement, which is unquestionably violent. This scenario could lead to a dangerous Iran-style regime.

The last exit leads to a tough and uphill climb: the path to representative democracy. The plan reformers now stand behind calls for a transition period, presided over by a democratic caretaker government, leading ultimately to free and fair elections in Egypt. This would require the full cooperation of the Egyptian military, and a period in which the other less-organized opposition groups could catch up to the Brotherhood, if they are to compete. Can such a transition take place peacefully? Only the Egyptian people can determine.

As for the fragile peace with Israel, buckle your seat belts. A Muslim Brotherhood state would almost certainly end Egypt's cold peace with Israel. It might also use some of the U.S.-supplied hardware Egypt has accumulated over the years (including M1 tanks and F-16 fighters) and let loose a U.S.-trained officer corps against the Jewish state.

A democratic Egypt may not choose peace with Israel, either. The 1979 Camp David Accords are wildly unpopular. Egyptians could push for a colder peace, or perhaps an end to the agreement, even if it ensures the continued flow of $2.5 billion a year.

One illustrative anecdote: when I lived in Egypt in 2001, one of the most popular songs on the radio was “Ana Bakrah Isra'il” — I Hate Israel. Even Mohammed ElBaradei, the popular reform figure, has called Israel “the number one threat to the Middle East.”

One positive note: Egypt's venerated military would lobby for the continued peace, since it is the primary beneficiary of the aid that comes with it.

Ironically, one hope of continued peace between Israel and Egypt could be a pro-U.S. dictator who ensures the continuation of Mubarak's foreign policies. But that, of course, would not necessarily be good for the Egyptian people.