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Freedom Must Return to the Agenda

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
February 4, 2011
Foreign Policy


My concern is that American foreign policy will not be changed enough by the ongoing events in Egypt and the wider Middle East. It's time to bury the unreal, failed "realism" of those who have long thought that dictators brought stability. What we have seen is that the stability they bring -- for years or even decades -- carries with it a curse. For when they go, they leave behind a civic culture that has been drastically weakened and moderate parties that are disorganized, impoverished, and without recognizable leaders. For 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak told us to stick with him, or the opposition Muslim Brotherhood would grow stronger. Well, we stuck with him -- and the Muslim Brotherhood grew stronger. As he crushed the political center and left, the Brotherhood became the main forum for opposition to his regime.

Of course it doesn't have to be this way, in theory: Dictators can theoretically oversee a slow but steady expansion of political space and leave behind a stable democracy. But they don't. Enlightened despots are mythical creatures; real despots seem more interested in stealing money or installing their sons after them.

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