It is very clear that the key objective of the Egyptian uprising is the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and the installation of democracy.
The public noises coming from Hilary Clinton and William Hague are about the need for "political reform". Behind the scenes they may be pressing for Mubarak to step down. They are probably hoping that Omar Suleiman will take over, because he is a man with whom the West has done business. It is exceedingly unlikely that this 74 year old Intelligence chief and negotiator with Israel will be acceptable to the people, not least because he is a man with whom the West has done business.
The problem for Hague and Clinton is that they are ambivalent, to put it mildly, about real democracy in Egypt, because the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is likely to do well in open elections. They fear that this Islamic movement will come in to Government, maybe even form a Government. To many decision makers in the US this would be unacceptable. Therefore true democracy in Egypt would be unacceptable. Therefore the West will hope that Mubarak will step down, Suleiman will take over, a few reforms will take place, and everything will settle down.
This hope is unlikely to be realised.
The revolution taking place in Egypt now is secular, not Islamist. When the brotherhood began chanting "Allahu Akbar" the crowd responded "Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians". Sarah Raslan reports that when Muslims in the crowd were praying, Christians stood guard to protect them from the police. This heartening news was re-tweeted around the world, with the solitary objection of one Christian fundamentalist, who quoted St Paul "be not unequally yoked with unbelievers". *facepalm*
Nevertheless, it is possible that the Muslim Brotherhood could benefit politically from the revolution, not least because they are politically organised, unlike the majority of the demonstrators (setting aside their remarkable neighbourhood watch efforts, which deserves a blog post to itself).
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928, and sided with Hitler in WWII. This is not good, but should be set in context: the Daily Mail also sided with Hitler until hostilities broke out, and the Brotherhood wanted to get the British out of Egypt. This is not to excuse them, just to give context. The Brotherhood is banned, and many of their members have been imprisoned and tortured. Despite this, they have been standing in elections as independents, and won 20% of the parliamentary seats in the 2005 elections. They run a network of community social services. They have outgrown political violence, and support democracy.
This is a brief history. I am aware that it may attract a stream of comments providing detail of unpleasantness on their part, and another stream supporting them.
We should have faith in the will of the people. The Egyptian youth have shown immense courage and commitment over the past week. They have more than earned their objectives of removing both Mubarak and his system, both by their courage, and their responsibility in defending the Museum and setting up neighbourhood watches. They have a right to full democracy, not some watered-down version that bans a significant section of the community, imposed in the interests of the US, with the UK yapping agreement.
Yes, there is a risk in all elections. There is a risk that the Muslim Brotherhood could be the most powerful political party in a post-election Egypt. There is a risk that they will follow the example of the Nazis, who gained power through elections, but overthrew democracy once in power.
That risk is for the Egyptian people to deal with, not the West. They have had 60 years of autocratic rule, and are unlikely readily to submit to MB authoritarianism. Let us have faith in the power of democracy itself to sort out an equilibrium.
The political changes in North Africa are of vital importance to peace in the Middle East, and to Europe. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance of transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and many other countries where human rights are abused. The Foreign Office should either give firm support to the democratic movements, or it should give up prattling and prating about the wonderful value of Western democracy. They must remember that the MB is not Al-Q'aeda, that the MB is no longer Hitler, and that it is up to the Egyptian people to choose how their democracy will be constituted.
Democracy is a risky business, but anything else is riskier. Hague and Clinton should welcome the new order that the Egyptian people are bringing in without hindrance, and assist the incoming democratic government to govern successfully, even if it does contain elements that they would prefer not to be there.