Back during the early days of the Tahrir Square protests I wrote, “59 percent of Egyptian Muslims want democracy and 95 percent want Islam to play a large part in politics. 84 percent believe apostates should face the death penalty. That is what Egyptian democracy will look like. A unanimous majority that wants an Islamic state and a bare majority that wants democracy. Which one do you think will win out? A democratic majority of the country supports murdering people in the name of Islam. Mubarak’s government does not execute apostates or adulterers. But a democratic Egypt will. Why? Because it’s the will of the people.”
Here we are almost a year later and we have gotten the democratic Egypt that anyone who understood the realities of the region should have expected. An Egyptian parliament divided between the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a country divided between the Islamists who want to chop off heads now and the Islamists who think that it’s wiser to consolidate their power before chopping off heads.
The purpose of this article is not to berate the leftists and leftover neo-conservatives who supported the overthrow of Mubarak in the name of democracy. It’s a waste of breath and time. Ideologues who are committed to an ideology that explains the world in a way that seems moral and right do not stop what they are doing just because the consequences are disastrous.
Now they want us to intervene in Syria. Who else wants us to intervene in Syria? The Emir of Qatar, better known as the man behind Al Jazeera, which pushed the whole Arab Spring lie into an international myth to overthrow non-Islamist regimes across the region. The Emir is tipping his hand a little transparently by calling for troops to invade Syria instead of sitting back and letting his Al-Jazeera propagandists do the hard work of selling the West on an independent democracy movement, but the pro-democracy crowd isn’t paying attention.
They didn’t pay attention no matter how many times they were told that the Muslim Brotherhood was the dominant force behind the “pro-democracy uprising” and that they would be the beneficiaries if Mubarak were overthrown. It was all just noise to them. Democracy would conquer all and the same Twitter activists they were so chummy with would write the new constitution.
So here we are down the long road and Egyptian democracy wears a sword and a burqa. “I’ve got to hand it to the MB. They have played this revolution like a fiddle. And still do. Brilliant work.” That quote comes from Sandmonkey, one of the favorite activists of a lot of the bloggers and pundits endorsing the removal of Mubarak. There’s no more room for illusions. Supporting the removal of Mubarak was a mistake and it’s time to admit it and look at the available options.
Option 1. Pretend the Muslim Brotherhood or some wing of it is moderate. This is the approach on the left which is busy explaining that the Muslim Brotherhood is our best hope for restraining the Salafists and that the moderate Salafists are the best hope for restraining the extremist Salafists. These are the people who locked up with a tribe of cannibals would start diving the cannibals into moderates and extremists, and feeding the moderates their own fingers to keep the extremists at bay.
Option 2. Pretend that the Brotherhood will comply with the Democratic process long enough for Egyptian liberals to get their act together and start winning elections. Let’s call this strategy reading Locke to the cannibal tribe. And it comes from the same people who thought El Baradei would be ushering in a new age of democracy in Egypt right about now.
Option 3. Back the Egyptian military and support their use of whatever means necessary to stay in power and exercise absolute power. Not a pretty sentence I know. It means backing the people behind the virginity tests and plenty of things uglier than that. It means doing what we were doing all along, backing Arab dictators who sneer at human rights and rob the country blind. It’s also the only option on the table.
Now I don’t just mean it’s the only option on the table if you’re worried about the rise of Islamists and the transformation of Egypt into another Iran. I mean it’s the only option that actually exists.
You can support the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military, or El Baradei and a magic troop of dancing democracy gnomes, and the end result will still be another dictatorship backed by a secret police that terrorizes dissidents and robs the country blind. That’s the only form of government that exists across the Muslim world.
There are minor variations in this form of government. In Iran the oligarchy that runs the country and robs it blind is explicitly Islamic. In Egypt it’s military. In Turkey it’s a group of Islamist tycoons. In Afghanistan it’s a bunch of warlords. The details don’t matter that much, except that the Islamists use some of that money they steal to finance terrorism against us and they’re usually more repressive than the secular or semi-secular alternative.
There is no option on the list that turns Egypt into a secular state with respect for human rights. It was never going to happen. It’s not going to happen now. If the Muslim Brotherhood does put the military in its place and takes complete control, then it will just be one oligarchy replacing another. And the oligarchy will have a short distance to go because it already exists. Either way protesters will be beaten bloody and the secret police, most of the same secret police, will be out there dealing with dissidents.
Option 3 is the only real option and it isn’t a promising one. The Brotherhood genie is out of the bottle and the Egyptian military is not the secular force that the Turkish military was. It has no real interest in restraining the Brotherhood which is its leverage against us and any of our democracy projects. Nevertheless it’s the only option on the table because the Obama alternative is to continue pushing for Egyptian democracy which feeds power directly to the Brotherhood, as opposed to backing the military which feeds power to the Brotherhood indirectly.
When things have been screwed up enough there are no longer any good options. There is only a list of lesser evils. To true believers in the universally salvific powers of democracy, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to claim power is a lesser evil to admitting that maybe the ballot box reflects the will of the people, not some spiritual power that grants human rights and freedom for all. They are all for giving the process more time to work. Which it will. It will go on working the same way.
Whatever veneer of law and secularism that Egypt had was not innate, it was carried over from its colonial period. The Egyptian military and some of Cairo’s wealthy families and intellectuals were somewhat more modern because they were Western influenced, not because they represented some indigenous wellspring of modernity. Democracy brought out the will of the people for Islam. More democracy means more Islam.
Given democracy the Palestinian Arabs chose Hamas. Given democracy the Tunisians chose the Islamist Ennahda thugs. Given democracy the Egyptians chose the Salafists and the Brotherhood. The pattern is not hard to make out. The process can continue with the same exact results over and over again until we get it. Not until they do. We will run out of skyscrapers and children before they realize that Islam isn’t the answer to all their problems and ours.
As long as most Muslims go on believing that their rights and societies are best safeguarded by Islam rather than by a system that protects individual rights without prejudice then this process will repeat itself endlessly. And that is their problem, our problem is keeping ourselves safe while they experiment with using texts written by mass murdering bigoted rapists as the basis for a civil society.
The Bush era idea that doing what is best for them will also be best for us is wrong on multiple levels. Our first duty is to do what is best for us, which is truer than ever because there is nothing really that we can do which is best for them. Only they can make those choices which will uplift them. And until they make those choices and are ready to join the community of civilized peoples, then our only task is to do what is best for our peoples and our nations.
There is nothing wrong with supporting tyranny in Egypt, if the alternative is an even worse tyranny briefly sanctified by the ballot box. There is nothing wrong with shutting down a process which will see Egypt’s remaining Christians purged and its women locked away. There is nothing wrong with slamming the door on those who would kill us because their holy book tells them it is their path to paradise. There is nothing wrong with supporting a regime that will not make war against us, no matter how undemocratic it might be. Our first duty is not to alien democracies of terror, it is to our own lives and freedoms.
From NY to Jerusalem, Daniel Greenfield Covers the Stories Behind the News