A victory, yes, but to what end?
Mubarak is deposed, to the general delight of Westerners who watched for 18 days as Cairo’s democracy protesters challenged his regime. The Westerners are wrong, however, both in thinking the protesters can achieve any good through democracy anytime soon, and in thinking of democracy as inherently desirable. [It is remarkable how non-critical the British media, especially the BBC, has been about the ‘revolution’ in Egypt and elsewhere. It does not seem to be even remotely aware of the dangers inherent in the upheavals in Egypt. The prime danger, of course, is an Islamist takeover. That is, the Muslim Brotherhood taking over. The BBC seems blissfully unaware of Egyptian 20th century history. Egypt has been the home of violent conflict between the Islamists and the state/army for over 50 years. For those who think that Islamoterrorism began after the invasion of Afghanistan/Iraq, they should think again. The Egyptian MB (Muslim Brotherhood) began its bombing and assassination campaigns in the 1920s. Everybody and everything was its target, from civilians in Egypt, to presidents, buildings and institutions. If anything, the MB invented 20th century Islamoterrorism – but, of course, it didn’t invent Islamic jihad.]
Democracy is not an end in itself but a means to an end. In Western countries, the end we seek is most famously stated as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” a phrase in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Other Western societies seek similar ends — the French tout liberté, égalité, fraternité, Australians life, liberty, and prosperity, Canadians life, liberty, and security of the person. Our Western system of democracy is merely the most effective system of governance devised to date to allow us to achieve our ends. [In any case, very few Egyptians want democracy in the Western or parliamentary sense. What they primarily want is an end to corruption and what they see as a Western financial and political power which is expressed in the elite structures of Egyptian politics. And they are partly right. If anything, Egypt has probably received more US-backing, financially and otherwise, than Israel (as has Islamic Pakistan)!
We must also realise that the very concepts of [freedom], [justice], [democracy], etc. have a peculiarly Egyptian – that is, AraboIslamic – slant. So much so that many Egyptians will believe that the MB will offer them ‘justice’, ‘freedom’, etc. through its implementation of sharia law. Westerners have a big problem accepting or even realising that Islamic or Egyptian notions of freedom, justice, and even democracy are vastly at odds with our own. It can even be said that we are speaking different languages when we talk to each other about these political notions.]
Most Egyptians — three-quarters of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, public opinion polls say — want “strict imposition of Sharia law” and a larger proportion wants policies that most in the West would view as human rights abuses — 82% would stone adulterers and 84% want the death penalty for Muslims who leave their faith. [Note well. ‘Three-quarters of its overwhelmingly Muslim population… want a “strict imposition of Sharia law”’. Now the BBC, as far as I have seen, has hardly said a word about this rather startling fact. But this is the case throughout the Muslim world. When Anjem Choudary, other Islam groups and Muslims generally castigate Arab governments, and even ‘so-called Islamic’ regimes, throughout the world, it is not because they want Western-style democracy in these states and regimes. They want the end of corruption and the ending of the ‘Western hegemony’ in these places. If they want freedom, it is the freedom I have just outlined. The freedom brought about by submission to the ‘will of Allah’. The world consequent on that voluntary submission will bring about the not only ‘freedom’, but the ending of corruption, poverty and even unemployment! Think here of Hegel’s notion of freedom:
One is free when one obeys the state. The state embodies freedom.
Now let’s recap:
One is free when one obeys Allah. Allah’s law, Sharia Law, embodies freedom.]
While most of the urban generation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square desires a modern Egyptian state of some kind, the Egyptian majority does not: 91% of Muslims want to keep “Western values out of Islamic countries.” For the vast majority outside the main cities, the outrages perpetrated by Mubarak lie mostly in his suppression of Islamic fundamentalist values, such as his ban on female genital mutilation and his moves to phase out polygamy and child brides. Most Muslim Egyptians not only oppose a modern Egyptian state, they would dismantle the existing Egyptian state, two-thirds wanting instead “to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”
Westerners who adhere to the separation of Church and State and to the ends of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights — “life, liberty, and security of person” — would be undermining their own goals by enabling a premature democratic rule in Egypt. Democracy and Islamic fundamentalism cannot coexist — one places sovereignty in the people, the other in Allah. U.S. President Barack Obama’s push to bring the Muslim Brotherhood into a future government has it exactly backwards. [Obama is either supremely naïve, or a closet Muslim.] The forward-going approach would be the one that had been followed by the Mubarak regime, and that is followed by Western countries — a ban on extremist parties that are inherently undemocratic. [Perhaps we should also do this in the UK!]
Germany, which in the 1930s saw how quickly a minority Nazi party could parlay a power-sharing arrangement into absolute power, learned its lesson well after the Second World War. Germany now bans the Nazis and other parties that pose a threat to its democratic system. France, too, has banned a number of extremist groups such as the neo-fascist New Order and the far- left Action Directe. Spain banned the radical nationalist Basque parties, Belgians blocked the racist Flemish Bloc from political participation, Israel banned the racist Kach and Kahane Chai parties. [Is banning fascist, Nazi, Islamist and Trotskyist totalitarian parties itself fascist and even totalitarian? This is a very difficult question to answer.]
In any democratic structure attempted for Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood should be banned. [What about the MB-connected Islamic organisations in the UK? Should we ban them too?] Just last week, in thanking the Iranian government for its support in the opposition to the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood expressed a desire to see in Egypt “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave.” If the Brotherhood is not banned, and Egypt holds elections that allow an ardent Islamic populace to vote their preferences, the Brotherhood would soon hold power, and would make good its vow to bring in Sharia law, just as it did in neighbouring Gaza, which the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, Hamas, controls. [Our own Socialist Workers Party seems to argue, in the case of Hamas, that if the Palestinians want Hamas in power, thus then also sharia law, etc., then who are we to stop or even judge them? So what about this: If the British people want the EDL to rule them, does the SWP also ask: Who are we to stop them? Of course it doesn’t!]
But traditional Egypt need not forever prevail. A poll just released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, taken between Feb. 5 and Feb. 8 of residents of Cairo and Alexandria, the two centres of protest, shows both how different the major cities are from the rest of the country, and how much hope there is for a modern Egypt in the future. [Like the difference between Islington and, say, Barnsley?]
The protest was mostly driven by the economy, with 37% citing either “poor economic conditions” or “Unemployment/Job conditions.” Corruption came in next, at 22%, followed by “poor delivery of services like electricity and water” at 5%. The social causes touted by the Western media were all but non-existent: Just 3% cited “political repression/no democracy” and another 3% cited “abuses by security services/arrests/torture etc.” Neither are the populations in these urban centres motivated by fundamentalism. Only 4% complained of a “Regime not Islamic enough,” only 4% of a “Regime Too Connected to the U.S.,” and just 3% of a “Regime Too Supportive of Israel.” In a hypothetical election for president, one-third of the residents of these cities favoured either Mubarak (16%) or his vice-president, Omar Suleiman (17%), compared to 26% for Amr Musa, a prominent diplomat.
Mohammed ElBaradei, a diplomat endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood, would receive just 3% of the vote.
Even in this urban population, democracy does not yet loom large. [We should stop judging Muslim countries, and Muslims, as we do our own systems and peoples. Most Muslims in Egypt aren’t inspired by freedom, etc. – unless it is the freedom of submission to Allah. If the left and the BBC can’t even register this fact, and simply assume that ‘they are just like us’, isn’t that a kind of arrogant Western racism or even colonialism?] When asked what they hoped to see for Egypt in five year’s time, the top choice at 26% was a country “whose might and power is respected and feared throughout the Middle East and Africa.” Just 22% wanted an Egypt “widely praised as the first real democracy in the Arab world.” [Are the Left and the BBC getting the picture yet?]
Yet it is also easy to imagine a Western-style democracy in the future, following more of the urbanization and Westernization that Egypt has seen in recent decades. In addition to the 22% now democratically inclined, another 17% want Egypt to become “open and developed enough to welcome 20 million tourists from around the world.” Those tourists, and that development, would be a powerful force for change — if we don’t pre-empt it by forcing a crude democracy on Egypt before it has the opportunity to join the modern world. [So there is at least some hope here]
*) Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute.