Who’s Next?

There is not a single government in the arc from Algeria to Iran that, in the abstract, one would choose to see survive. In at least six of those countries, rebellions are now in progress. Most Americans no doubt sympathize with these “freedom fighters,” especially in countries like Libya and Syria where the existing regimes are bitterly hostile to us. The great unknown, of course, is who is likely to take power if existing regimes fall.
This is, perhaps, only a guess, but I suspect that the more oppressive the existing regime, the better the chance that most rebels really do turn out to be freedom fighters. Conversely, the more innocuous the regime, by the standards of the region, the more likely the critical mass of its opponents will turn out to be Islamic extremists. Egypt, so far, seems to be following this pattern. Jockeying to succeed the relatively benign Mubarak government has rapidly been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
How about Libya? This is obviously worrisome: Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, described as the principal anti-Qaddafi leader, is a jihadist who fought against American “invaders” in Afghanistan and recruited Libyans to go to Iraq to fight against Americans there. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002, handed over to the U.S., then held in Libya until he was released in 2008. As bad as Qaddafi has been, an al Qaeda loyalist would be worse.
The reality is that the Arab world has been unpromising soil not only for democracy, but for any sort of liberty. There are competing schools of thought: some think that the development of civil society in Arab countries has been retarded by oppressive regimes, while others believe that for the foreseeable future, mildly autocratic governments are the best that Arabic civilization will be able to produce. It looks as though we are on the way to finding out which of these camps is correct. For the moment, perhaps the one thing we can say with certainty is that there is no sign of a George Washington on any side of the current conflicts.

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