Free Markets Can Free Egypt

The big question we all have about events in Egypt is whether this is more like 1979 or 1989?

Are we in for a major shift to Islamic extremism, like we got from Iran after the ’79 revolution? Or is it more like the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89, where Egypt could show the way for other Arab dictatorships to open up the way Eastern Europe did?

The key difference between ’79 and ’89 is religion. Europe’s transformation wasn’t complicated by religious fanaticism. But religious fanaticism became the heart of Iran’s transformation. That’s why we’re still keeping a close eye on the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egypt, and why we’re very concerned by something said today by James Clapper, our Director of National Intelligence.

“The term 'Muslim Brotherhood' is a very -- is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaida as a perversion of Islam,” he said.

Of course, this is the same crack intel chief who didn’t know about a major terror bust in England when Diane Sawyer asked him about it a few weeks ago. So today’s comments may have been another embarrassing display of ignorance. But this is a guy who’s supposed to be on top of world affairs…and he appeared to be speaking from notes. If he really thinks that a group committed to war with Israel and implanting Sharia Law on every nation on earth is a benign, non-sectarian movement, Mr. Clapper needs to be fired…immediately.

Having said that, we don’t believe that religious fanaticism is at the heart of the Egyptian revolution. It is a popular uprising, opposed to a thieving dictatorship. Mubarak is a crony socialist, and Egyptians want a free market, because they rely on the market. Luckily, Egypt’s revolution isn’t complicated by oil.

Iran and Saudi Arabia can isolate themselves in ideological purity because they can afford to. But Egypt relies on commerce. And if you rely on commerce you have to be open to traders and businesspeople, and that makes religious fanaticism harder to enforce.

The free market helped spark this revolution with the Internet and a Google executive. If a freer market becomes the centerpiece of this revolution, it will not only succeed, it will thrive.