Avoiding the full Jimmy Carter in Egypt

As Scott has noted, Mohammed Morsi is the winner in Egypt’s presidential run-off election. Morsi is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. He captured 51.7 percent of the vote. His opponent, Hosni Mubarak’s former Prime Minister, gained 48.3 percent.

So the Egyptians toppled Mubarak and then nearly elected one of his cronies president. That’s not much of a mandate for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But mandates don’t matter; power does. Fortunately, the Egyptian military still has considerable power, and has strongly signaled that it will be keeping an eye on Morsi. Perhaps the week-long delay in declaring Morsi the winner was spent by the military reaching understandings with Morsi. I hope so.

However, we shouldn’t be too sanguine that the military will successfully control Morsi. My wife lived through the Iranian revolution. At that time, the Iranian elites were confident that that the feared and seemingly formidable military wouldn’t permit the Khomeini forces to run wild. We all know how that worked out.

Part of the problem in Iran was that the generals became demoralized by lack of support from the Carter administration. Once they concluded that the U.S. — a major source of support for three decades — was not really on their side, the generals folded. Some paid with their lives.

The U.S. is less influential in Egypt than it was in Iran during the time of the Shah, and the Egyptian generals are not “suspended by a cable” from Washington. But we do provide Egypt with vast amounts of financial assistance, and therefore we count.

Let’s hope that the Obama administration doesn’t follow the Jimmy Carter playbook for dealing with revolutions in strategically vital Islamic nations.

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