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[Editorial] U.S. dilemma, again

By all accounts, Hosni Mubarak’s days are numbered in Egypt. The outside world sees two possibilities about the future of the largest country in the Middle East: It could become a second Iran, a nightmare for the globally-caring United States and the Western community in general, or the predominantly Islam nation of 80 million could gain democracy while remaining a friend and ally of Washington and a comfortable neighbor of Israel.

Those who wish for stability in the region, including Washington strategists, are concerned because the former looks more likely and because they can do little to help in the situation, whereas the current turmoil in Cairo and other major cities offer chances for Islamic radicals to work toward their cause.

Optimists may find hope in the role of people like Mohammed ElBaradei, the former director general of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog who, having few similarities to Khomeini of Iran, is being looked to by protesters for leadership. Signs of anti-Americanism have yet to be detected, perhaps because many of the demonstrators remember how President Obama had called for democracy and peace in the Arab-Muslim world in his Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, the radical Muslim Brotherhood, which is the best organized opposition group and which garnered 20 percent support in the 2005 elections before being outlawed, has the potential to stir the Egyptian society in the days ahead. If the military, a trusted institution in Egypt, sees the danger of a radical Islamic revolution, may choose to support pro-Western, democratic forces in future contests to fill the power vacuum.

Concealing their wishful thinking to this effect, Washington officials from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down have shown tantalizing ambivalence in their public remarks and private contacts with foreign leaders since the sparks from the Tunisian upheaval flew into Cairo a week ago. For the primary cause of stability, Washington has maintained cozy relations with dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere. Now it finds itself confronting a most serious foreign policy crisis in trying to balance its security interests with the global pursuit of democracy.

We recall that back in the 1960s President Kennedy endorsed the military coup in Korea and two decades later Ronald Reagan patted Chun Doo-hwan on the back in the White House. The U.S. compromise with the authoritarian rule gave rise to anti-Americanism in South Korea which has become a major ingredient in the leftist movements in this country. Yet, we cannot deny that the American democratic ideals helped fertilize the political development here.

Egyptians have the right to choose their own future. We trust that the proud people of Egypt and their intelligent leaders will be able to form a stable democracy.