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COHEN: What Egypt needs least

In addition to all the experts, thinkers, pundits and others who have been cited about the loss of democracy in Egypt, let me quote a certain West Point expellee who, in a different context, uttered words that now fit the situation: “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.” Rhett Butler neatly summarizes my position on democracy in Egypt.

I hope not to sound too cynical. I have always had a soft spot for Egypt. The people are gracious and aware that theirs is a storied and wonderful civilization. But the issue is not whether Egypt is a democracy or something else, but whether it provides for its people and keeps out of trouble. After that, if Ramses II returns, it's OK with me.

For 34 years — and under three regimes now — Egypt has kept the peace with Israel, which is worth a yearly Nobel Peace Prize. For all but the last two years, this peace was maintained by authoritarian regimes — Anwar Sadat's and then Hosni Mubarak's. They had their imperfections but bellicosity was not one of them.

President Ousted In Egypt

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Democracy is nice, but it is not a panacea. The American insistence that the world mimic us — ain't we pretty close to poifect? — has always struck me as both patronizing and contemptuous of history. The overriding challenge of all incipient democracies is how to handle minority issues. For a very long time, the U.S. did not do very well in this regard. We disenfranchised African-Americans and used all sorts of devices to keep them in penury and politically powerless. It was the various democracies of the South that insisted on Jim Crow laws, and their representatives in Congress — many of whom loathed racial segregation — voted to maintain it lest they wind up losing at the polls. It took the often non-elected courts, Supreme or less so, to remedy the situation. The people are not always wise.

In many cases, the democracies that emerged in Europe following World War I evolved into intolerant, rightist regimes. Hitler — the uber example — had enormous popular support even though Germans were well aware that he was enamored of violence and a bit unbalanced about Jews. To the east, the popularly elected governments of Poland and other nations treated their various minorities roughly — the Jews roughest of all. All sorts of restrictions were imposed on Jews throughout Eastern Europe, everything from “seating ghettos” in Polish universities where Jews were ordered to sit in lecture halls to a requirement in Romania that Jewish medical students learn their profession only on Jewish cadavers.

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