Jacob Heilbrunn

Does Obama Want a Democratic Egypt?

President Obama delivered a call for more democracy in a speech in Egypt. Over a year later Egypt is in turmoil. Does Obama actually want Egypt to go democratic?

George W. Bush tried to unleash democracy by invading Iraq. But the reputation of America took a nosedive. Democracy, in any case, turned out to be a mixed bag. Hamas took over in the Gaza strip. Lebanon remains a mess. The big bang that W. Tried to create may blow up in America's face. It would be no small irony if the neocon crusade ended up creating the conditions for a anti-American Middle East.

Now Egypt, following in the path of Tunisia, is experiencing a revolt against a repressive regime, as Hosni Mubarak tries to install his son as his successor. Twitter, Facebook, and the like are the new printing presses of the educated, disseminating the call to revolution. But truly democratic revolutions are rare (see Iran).

The possibility exists that the uprising in Egypt may also turn oitt to be an anti-American one. Who, after all, is Mubarak's financial sponsor? Israel, too, is undoubtedly viewing the events in Cairo with apprehension. It could be that the moderate regimes in the Middle East go under, while the hardline ones like Iran benefit.

Obama has much to ponder. But pondering is pretty much all he will be able to do. America is a bystander in Egyptian domestic politics even as it financially props up Mubarak's rickety regime.