They don’t have oil and nuclear weapons

A friend of mine asked what I thought about the protests in North Africa. I’m busy with some scientific issues and problems now, so I haven’t devoted much attention to them. All things equal I support a democratic government over a non-democratic government. But I think modern Americans tend to fetishize populist revolts. Russia in 2011 may not be the enemy it once was, but it is no Czech Republic. Iraq is now verging toward a moderately sectarian Shia regime thanks to popular elections (though counterbalanced by secular Kurdish nationalism). Iran is a famous case, with its revolution turning toward authoritarian rule by clerics after an initial period of hope and promise.

Because of the nature of its secular civil society I have more hope for Tunisia being a civilized popular democratic state than Egypt, which I think is more likely to go in an unrecognizable direction because of the power of the Islamic Brotherhood. But at the end of the day, does this matter? Neither Egypt or Tunisia have significant oil reserves, nor do they have nuclear weapons. I am skeptical of the future of any liberal democracy in Egypt, though less so in Tunisia, but it probably doesn’t matter to the rest of the world.*

One thing I will say: the Copts should view with foreboding what democratic government wrought for the Christians of Iraq. The majority of Egyptian Muslims may not be willing to take up arms against their ancient Christian minority, but a motivated minority unrestrained by an authoritarian state can cause great suffering and havoc. Democracy empowers popular majorities, but it often oppresses dispossessed minorities.

* Unlike Iran a religious regime with popular support in Egypt does not have the luxury of petro-dollars. Additionally, I don’t think Israel is actually that important to our geopolitics either, if you are curious.