I was liberal democrat by upbringing and by temperament. I could easily have gone this way (and did for some time)… “Don’t understand your point. Israel controls 100% of the West Bank, directly and routinely running 60% of it, and has a half a million settlers on it. Gaza is under land, air and water siege. When this situation stops, I stop supporting BDS. This would not be the end of my demands of Israel, just the end of my demands that I would be willing to back up with the threat of BDS.” (My emphasis added.)
That priceless bit of juvenile arrogance and narcissism (and ignorance) was written by one, Daryl Glaser, who I am told is a lecturer at Wits, in correspondence with a friend. I was saved from such a fate by also being born with a healthy dose of skepticism and realism which led me into science and taught me to reject with contempt all claims to special moral status by self-appointed moral guardians and spokesmen.
But I still am a liberal democrat, perhaps more in the sense of an idealized possibility than as an immediate goal except in propitious circumstances. It has taken me a long time to better balance idealism with information, experience and a bit more humility in the face of the complexity of our world. So perhaps there is still hope for the Daryl Glasers. But so many (not all) of those who call themselves “progressives” and have assumed the mantle of liberal democracy, have become shallow, doctrinaire, intolerant, humourless and glib.
There is, unfortunately, a Jewish subtribe of such individuals who from my point of view are the mirror-image of the worst ultra-orthodox rabbis in their circumscribed and intolerant views, hubris and total detachment from reality. I would like to take them by the scruff of their necks and drop them into Gaza and say “here is a Jew who supports you and hates Israel – make him feel at home”. Failing Gaza there is also Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and so forth.
Well, having got that off my chest let’s go to a very different bird, Caroline Glick. She is hated by many and, in my view, does go off the rails at times, but her perceptions of the political realities of the Middle East are infinitely better informed and more realistic than those of a thousand Daryl Glasers. Here is her view of Egypt, which is punchier but very much in line with the more measured and bland tones of Stratfor, a strategic think-tank situated in Texas.
“On Wednesday, Egypt had its second revolution in as many years. And there is no telling how many more revolutions it will have in the coming months, or years. This is the case not only in Egypt, but throughout the Islamic world.
The American foreign policy establishment’s rush to romanticize as the Arab Spring the political instability that engulfed the Arab world following the self-immolation of a Tunisian peddler in December 2010 was perhaps the greatest demonstration ever given of the members of that establishment’s utter cluelessness about the nature of Arab politics and society. Their enthusiastic embrace of protesters who have now brought down President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime indicates that it takes more than a complete repudiation of their core assumptions to convince them to abandon them.
US reporters and commentators today portray this week’s protests as the restoration of the Egyptian revolution. That revolution, they remain convinced, was poised to replace long-time Egyptian leader and US ally Hosni Mubarak with a liberal democratic government led by people who used Facebook and Twitter.
Subsequently, we were told, that revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that Morsi and his government have been overthrown, the Facebook revolution is back on track.
And again, they are wrong.
As was the case in 2011, the voices of liberal democracy in Egypt are so few and far between that they have no chance whatsoever of gaining power, today or for the foreseeable future. At this point it is hard to know what the balance of power is between the Islamists who won 74 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections and their opponents. But it is clear that their opponents are not liberal democrats.
They are a mix of neo-Nasserist fascists, communists and other not particularly palatable groups. None of them share Western conceptions of freedom and limited government. None of them are particularly pro-American. None of them like Jews. And none of them support maintaining Egypt’s cold peace with Israel.
Egypt’s greatest modern leader was Gamal Abdel Nasser. By many accounts the most common political view of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters is neo-Nasserist fascism. Nasser was an enemy of the West. He led Egypt into the Soviet camp in the 1950s. As the co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, he also led much of the Third World into the Soviet camp.
Nasser did no less damage to the US in his time than al-Qaida and its allies have done in recent years. Certainly, from Israel’s perspective, Nasser was no better than Hamas or al-Qaida or their parent Muslim Brotherhood movement. Like the Islamic fanatics, Nasser sought the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jews.
Whether the fascists will take charge or not is impossible to know. So, too, the role of the Egyptian military in the future of Egypt is unknowable. The same military that overthrew Morsi on Wednesday stood by as he earlier sought to strip its powers, sacked its leaders and took steps to transform it into a subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There are only three things that are knowable about the future of Egypt. First it will be poor. Egypt is a failed state. It cannot feed its people. It has failed to educate its people. It has no private sector to speak of. It has no foreign investment.
Second, Egypt will be politically unstable. Mubarak was able to maintain power for 29 years because he ran a police state that the people feared. That fear was dissipated in 2011. This absence of fear will bring Egyptians to the street to topple any government they feel is failing to deliver on its promises – as they did this week.
Given Egypt’s dire economic plight, it is impossible to see how any government will be able to deliver on any promises – large or small – that its politicians will make during electoral campaigns. And so government after government will share the fates of Mubarak and Morsi.
Beyond economic deprivation, today tens of millions of Egyptians feel they were unlawfully and unjustly ousted from power on Wednesday. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists won big in elections hailed as free by the West. They have millions of supporters who are just as fanatical today as they were last week. They will not go gently into that good night.
Finally, given the utter irrelevance of liberal democratic forces in Egypt today, it is clear enough that whoever is able to rise to power in the coming years will be anti-American, anti- Israel and anti-democratic, (in the liberal democratic sense of the word). They might be nicer to the Copts than the Muslim Brotherhood has been. But they won’t be more pro-Western.
They may be more cautious in asserting or implementing their ideology in their foreign policy than the Muslim Brotherhood. But that won’t necessarily make them more supportive of American interests or to the endurance of Egypt’s formal treaty of peace with Israel.
And this is not the case only in Egypt. It is the case in every Arab state that is now or will soon be suffering from instability that has caused coups, Islamic takeovers, civil wars, mass protests and political insecurity in country after country. Not all of them are broke. But then again, none of them have the same strong sense of national identity that Egyptians share.
Now that we understand what we are likely to see in the coming months and years, and what we are seeing today, we must consider how the West should respond to these events. To do so, we need to consider how various parties responded to the events of the past two-and-a half years.
Wednesday’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government is a total repudiation of the US strategy of viewing the unrest in Egypt – and throughout the Arab world – as a struggle between the good guys and the bad guys.
Within a week of the start of the protests in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, Americans from both sides of the political divide united around the call for Mubarak’s swift overthrow. A few days later, President Barack Obama joined the chorus of Democrats and Republicans, and called for Mubarak to leave office, immediately. Everyone from Sen. John McCain to Samantha Power was certain that despite the fact that Mubarak was a loyal ally of the US, America would be better served by supporting the rise of the Facebook revolutionaries who used Twitter and held placards depicting Mubarak as a Jew.
Everyone was certain that the Muslim Brotherhood would stay true to its word and keep out of politics.
Two days after Mubarak was forced from office, Peter Beinart wrote a column titled “America’s Proud Egypt Moment,” where he congratulated the neo-conservatives and the liberals and Obama for scorning American interests and siding with the protesters who opposed all of Mubarak’s pro-American policies.
Beinart wrote exultantly, “Hosni Mubarak’s regime was the foundation stone – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – of American power in the Middle East. It tortured suspected al- Qaida terrorists for us, pressured the Palestinians for us, and did its best to contain Iran. And it sat atop a population eager – secular and Islamist alike – not only to reverse those policies, but to rid the Middle East of American power. And yet we cast our lot with that population, not their ruler.”
Beinart also congratulated the neo-conservatives for parting ways with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who counseled caution, and so proved they do not suffer from dual loyalty. That hated, reviled Israeli strategy, (which was not Netanyahu’s alone, but shared by Israelis from across the political spectrum in a rare demonstration of unanimity), was proven correct by events of the past week and indeed by events of the past two-and-a-half years.
Israelis watched in shock and horror as their American friends followed the Pied Piper of the phony Arab Spring over the policy cliff. Mubarak was a dictator. But his opponents were no Alexander Dubceks. There was no reason to throw away 30 years of stability before figuring out a way to ride the tiger that would follow it.
Certainly there was no reason to actively support Mubarak’s overthrow. Shortly after Mubarak was overthrown, the Obama administration began actively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood believed that the way to gain and then consolidate power was to hold elections as quickly as possible. Others wanted to wait until a constitutional convention convened and a new blueprint for Egyptian governance was written. But the Muslim Brotherhood would have none of it. And Obama supported it.
Five months after elections of questionable pedigree catapulted Morsi to power, Obama was silent when in December 2012 Morsi arrogated dictatorial powers and pushed through a Muslim Brotherhood constitution. Obama ignored Congress three times and maintained full funding of Egypt despite the fact that the Morsi government had abandoned its democratic and pluralistic protestations.
He was silent over the past year as the demonstrators assembled to oppose Morsi’s power grabs. He was unmoved as churches were torched and Christians were massacred. He was silent as Morsi courted Iran.
US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson and Obama remained the Muslim Brotherhood’s greatest champions as the forces began to gather ahead of this week’s mass protests. Patterson met with the Coptic pope and told him to keep the Coptic Christians out of the protests.
Obama, so quick to call for Mubarak to step down, called for the protesters to exercise restraint this time around and then ignored them during his vacation in Africa. The first time Obama threatened to curtail US funding of the Egyptian military was Wednesday night, after the military ignored American warnings and entreaties, and deposed Morsi and his government.
This week’s events showed how the US’s strategy in Egypt has harmed America.
In 2011, the military acted to force Mubarak from power only after Obama called for it to do so. This week, the military overthrew Morsi and began rounding up his supporters in defiance of the White House.
Secretary of State John Kerry was the personification of the incredible shrinkage of America this week as he maintained his obsessive focus on getting Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
In a Middle East engulfed by civil war, revolution and chronic instability, Israel is the only country at peace. The image of Kerry extolling his success in “narrowing the gaps” between Israel and the Palestinians before heboarded his airplane at Ben-Gurion Airport, as millions assembled to bring down the government of Egypt, is the image of a small, irrelevant America.
And as the anti-American posters in Tahrir Square this week showed, America’s self-induced smallness is a tragedy that will harm the region and endanger the US. As far as Israel is concerned, all we can do is continue what we have been doing, and hope that at some point, the Americans will embrace our sound strategy.”
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.
Posted on July 5, 2013 at 2:58 AM
Caroline Glick does see everything through Israel-tinted spectacles, for which she can be forgiven to a large extent. But perhaps her worst fault is a doctrinaire approach which closes off possibilities. She is, what is known in the Social Psychology literature, as an “essentialist”. That is, someone who believes in entities, in her case political-ethnic-cultural-religious entities, as possessing unchanging essences. To some extent I share that view but mitigated by the notions of adaptability and context. This yield a greater sense of what is possible balanced by the idea of constrained adaptation. Hope that makes sense!
Stratfor: “The overthrow of Egypt’s moderate Islamist government undermines the international efforts to bring radical Islamists into the political mainstream in the wider Arab and Muslim world.”
Stratfor: “The Arab Spring was an exercise in irony, nowhere more so than in Egypt. On the surface, it appeared to be the Arab equivalent of 1989 in Eastern Europe. There, the Soviet occupation suppressed a broad, if not universal desire for constitutional democracy modeled on Western Europe. The year 1989 shaped a generation’s thinking in the West, and when they saw the crowds in the Arab streets, they assumed that they were seeing Eastern Europe once again.
There were certainly constitutional democrats in the Arab streets in 2011, but they were not the main thrust. Looking back on the Arab Spring, it is striking how few personalities were replaced, how few regimes fell, and how much chaos was left in its wake. The uprising in Libya resulted in a Western military intervention that deposed former leader Moammar Gadhafi and replaced him with massive uncertainty. The uprising in Syria has not replaced Syrian President Bashar al Assad but instead sparked a war between him and an Islamist-dominated opposition. Elsewhere, revolts have been contained with relative ease. The irony of the Arab Spring was that in opening the door for popular discontent, it demonstrated that while the discontent was real, it was neither decisive nor clearly inclined toward constitutional democracy.”