New York Times columnist Tom Friedman spoke at the American University in Cairo the other day about the rise of the Islamism in the Egyptian political arena, and the future of that nation. His thesis would not surprise those familiar with his work; in short, the demands of running a state in the modern world will cause those coming to power – the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies – to soften their hardline positions and become moderate, responsible leaders….and, presumably, not seek the destruction of Israel, Jews in general, and the entire West.
And while that's a lovely thought, perhaps Mr. Friedman missed one more likely outcome. For while it is true that the state, whoever runs it, will most likely attempt to get the economy going, which will necessarily mean engaging the global marketplace on the market's terms – capitalism, without any Islamic interpretation or priorities. A fine example of just such engagement is the wildly successful international drug business being conducted by Hizballah, shipping and selling heroin, cocaine, and whatever else around the world, reaping literally billions of dollars for both the organization and its leaders in the process. The tenets Islam might frown on drugs, but hey, this is the 21st century, and even terrorists play by the market rules.
And perhaps so it will be with Egypt. Perhaps the Islamists will jump right in and become good capitalists. However, that doesn't mean the new capitalists will necessarily become new democrats. This is hardly an original thought: the Chinese have done very well profiting on the world economy while the government maintains their often ruthless control over their people. The Gulf states are earning billions upon billions of dollars through a variety of economic enterprises, while keeping first their de facto foreign slave labor force and their own people well in line.
So what in the Islamist agenda, what by their words and deeds, would leave us to believe they will not act in similar fashion? The fundamentalist credo does not allow for compromise, and victory, in nation after nation from Africa to the Middle East, all the way to Turkey, does not inspire retreat. Rather, it is more likely that gaining power will only embolden the Islamists to seek more power, more triumphs, by using the levers of government, from economic to military to political, to maximum advantage.
This is not an optimistic notion, and comes replete with potentially horrific consequences. Mr. Friedman evidently prefers to see matters different - maybe he's, as the saying goes, laughing past the grave, and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, Israelis, on the front lines, cannot afford the luxury of wishing for a happy outcome, regardless of the facts.
And guess what? Neither can we.