The recent visit of President Husni Mubarak of Egypt to Washington indicates a new “warmth” in the American-Egyptian relations after a short period of coldness during the second term of the Bush administration.
The latter understood that repressive autocrats produce violent theocrats who ultimately haunt America, the West and the rest.
The result was the Freedom Agenda and an underlying belief that democracy in the freedom-less region is in the long-term interest of the US (of course, the keyword here is “long-term”). In any case, the Bush administration pushed for democratization in a country ruled by emergency laws since 28 years.
The push was not welcomed by Mubarak, especially when leading liberal dissidents like Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour met with senior US officials, including the President. As a result, Mubarak, a frequent visitor to Washington, did not visit the US since 2004. His son, the groomed successor, did, however.
Now, the new administration is faced by an old dilemma: stability and friendly dictators for short-term gains or reform and democratization for long-term ones. Despite all the “hope and change” rhetoric, the Obama administration just turned back the clock on its Cairo policy. Mubarak can help in preventing a permanent Hamas state in Gaza, containing the Iranian influence in the region, and more pressure on other Arab dictators to “normalize” with Israel. In exchange, freedom and democracy promotion for the 83 million Egyptians have to be put on hold for now.
The new administration has cut democracy aid for Egypt by more than half and cut aid to independent civil society organizations by more than two-thirds (although the administration increased its request for democracy funding in the Middle East overall).
The question now is with democratization on hold, weak civil society without much aid, continuous political and socioeconomic frustrations, will the radicalization patterns persist on individual and organizational levels or will the strong security apparatus be able to stifle those patterns for a while?