Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The Syrian Rebellion, just out by Hoover Press.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Cairo Tuesday to meet Egypt's new Islamist president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, and the country's top general, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. After the meeting, the secretary told reporters, "It's clear that Egypt, following the revolution, is committed to putting into place a democratic government."
Such patience and reassurance is wise in the wake of an Arab Spring that brought forth democratic elections for the first time in generations. It should be remembered that the U.S. had no trouble living with the Arab autocrats. It did so, as George W. Bush once put it in a memorable speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003, for six long decades—all in the name of stability. The terrible band of jihadists who struck America on 9/11 shattered that compact with the autocrats.
We are now called upon to figure out the terms of a new accommodation, and suddenly many of us are without historical patience. The Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco have stepped forth. They didn't make that Arab Awakening of 2011 but had become its beneficiaries. Their leaders had not been on the Rolodex of Goldman Sachs, they were not clients of Washington lobbying firms. They had no favors to dispense. Suddenly history broke their way...