It would be hard to overstate what a catastrophe the Egyptian elections are shaping into. Reports about stage one of the long process show not only that the Muslim Brotherhood may be getting over 50 percent of the vote; an even more extreme Islamist party — called “Nour” — is apparently getting between 10 and 15 percent.Well what do you expect? The army has ruled Egypt for the last half century--Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak--and today Egypt is broke. What do you expect the Egyptians to vote for? A secularist-socialist party with its core support in the educated elite? Please.
The tone of the conservative reaction to the Islamist surge is reminiscent of the "Who Lost China" blame game in the 1950s. Egypt isn't ours to win or lose, any more than China was in 1949. China--and Egypt--has to find its way into the modern era. And that means adapting its moral-cultural tradition to the modern facts of life. Obviously, this is a very hard thing to do.
Usually countries start by making a bad choice. In the 20th century, the bad choice was typically to try and ape the secularist-socialist culture of the western educated elite. That's what Russia tried, China tried, and India tried. It led to starvation and stagnation until they threw off the secularist-socialist yoke and tried a bit of capitalism.
The Middle East tried the same thing and the result was disaster, compounded by the petroleum boom that allowed rulers to coast on oil revenue without needing to confront the cultural challenge of the modern era. Given the failure of their secularist army government, it is natural that the Egyptians should return to Islam. The problem is that Islam has not really confronted the challenge of modernity in the way that Christianity has done. There has been no equivalent of the Protestant Ethic merging with the Spirit of Capitalism. And there has been no attempt to separate church and state in the Muslim world.
The modern problem is that, if you combine church and state you get totalitarianism. And that applies in particular when the church in question is the secular church of socialism or communism. If you combine economy and state you get crony capitalism. And if you combine church and economy you get I know not what.
The challenge and the opportunity of the modern age is to develop a Greater Separation of Powers between state, economy and the moral-cultural sector. If you do not do it, then the result is disaster. But people have to do it on their own. They cannot be prodded or "nudged"--i.e., coerced--into it by a supposedly enlightened elite.
We can see that India seems to have made the break from the 20th century Wrong Turn. China is maybe doing it, if it can get the Communist Party to loosen its grip on political power. Russia seems to have exchanged church-state totalitarianism for economy-state totalitarianism.
The problem for the US in "losing Egypt" is Israel. Will an Islamic Egyptian state decide that the way to the future lies through the smoking ruins of Israel? They certainly might. Typically, post-revolutionary states get pretty expansionary. Take the USA. We conquered most of the North American continent within a century of our revolution.
The US has two options on Israel. It can help Israel fight off the invaders or it can bring the Israelis here to the US. Meanwhile Egypt is broke, and needs a bailout from the international community. That means us.