On The Perils of Arab Democracy

_Egypt_2013
Police and Protesters Clash

 The Troubling Case of Egypt

 The brief reign of the Muhammad Morsi’s government in Egypt confirms verifies some critical points that I have argued for some time about the pitfalls of democracy in the Arab world.  Two things in particular: If allowed to express their will the masses in most Islamic countries will elect Islamic parties to power – they even did this in Turkey, a country founded as a secular state by Kamal Ataturk.  The only force in the Muslim world that prevents the Mullahs from taking over is the secular military strong men.

This is precisely the reason why modern Egypt has been ruled by a succession of military for over half a century.  They went from Colonel Abdel Nasser, to Colonel Anwar Sadat, to Colonel Honsi Mubarik, and they ruled under a constant state of emergency.  Their greatest fear was that that the Muslim brotherhood would take over the country if given the opportunity.  Rule by marshal law allowed the Egyptian government to outlaw the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and keep track of all radical religious trends.

Although it was not always the subject of news coverage, the struggle between the Islamic and the secularist forces in the Muslim world has been ongoing since the last century.  I first made this point in my essay opposing the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq on the premise that Sadam Hussein was secretly in league with Osama Bin Laden see: The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq.  I pointed out that Sadam and Osama were direct opposites and there was no way they were collaborating in a plot complex enough the massive attack of 9/11.

The other point that I have argued is that there is no institutional or ideological foundation on which to build a functional democratic government in most Islamic countries.  Hence when a popular vote is finally held what will emerge is a tyranny of the majority, not a liberal democracy in which the rights of unpopular minorities and opposing political parties are protected by law.  Such a system is a perversion of the ideal of democracy which is incapable of transferring power from one party to another, we often get one man one vote one time.

This is clearly at the root of the present uprising that has resulted in the military overthrow of the first elected government in modern Egyptian history after only a year in office.  What is most fascinating about this sudden turn in the political fate of Egypt is the military removed the recently elected President by popular demand.  The mass demonstrations that brought down the 30 year reign of Honsi Mubarik a year ago are out in the streets raising hell again, and by several estimates they are even bigger than before.

The ouster of the Egyptian President in order to restore law and order has set a bad precedent.  If a democratically elected president can be overthrown by the military acting on the demands of the mob in the largest and most advanced Arab country, what does that portend for the future of democratic governance in the Arab world?  Although President Obama stood aside and let the Egyptian people work their will – even while taking severe criticism from the Republican right, who felt we should have supported Honsi Mubarik a reliable supporter of US policy – some of the protesters are unfurling banners blaming President Obama for his support for what they are now calling Islamic “Fascist!”

It is a totally unfair charge: President Obama supported the government they elected.  In fact, he persuaded Honsi Mubarik to step aside and allow the people to express themselves at the ballot box.  The attempt to blame him for the government they chose demonstrates how little these people understands about the working of the democratic process.

This banner announces the high level of confusion among the Egyptian opposition.  From the beginning of the first uprising I pointed out that the opposition didn’t have a coherent ideology, or commonly agreed upon principles about governance, and thus anything could happen.  Early on I predicted that the Muslim brotherhood would emerge as the ruling faction when the smoke cleared, because of their superior and coherent world view compared to the other factions.  I also said that no matter what kind of smiley faces the Muslim Brothers adopted, nor how much lip service they paid to “democracy,” once they took power religious tyranny will be the inevitable result.

 The Revolt is fueled by Hatred for the President
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul after their meeting at Presidential Palace "Qasr Al Quba" in Cairo
The Odd Man Out: The hated face of the Islamist

This is exactly what happened.  The reason for the mass uprising today is that the opposition saw the Brotherhood dominated government rapidly taking steps to Islamize the country and felt they must be stopped now, before they could put their ideas into law.  They were not reassured that this would not happen even after President Morisi publicly resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party had  elected him President  with great fanfare.  Hence they are calling the role played by the military a “democratic” coup.”  The army has announced that it is acting in defense of the people, declaring itself an instrument of the popular will.

What is clear about the first uprising is that the various factions that came together to overthrow Honsi Mubarik were sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.  Now the country has been thrown into a world of confusion that could result in Civil War unless the army swiftly cracks down on any resistance by militant Islamists.  The US has no role in this, it is a purely Egyptian affair and they must resolve it.  And it could take a civil war to decide who shall rule Egypt.  It is a sad end to Egypt’s first democratically elected government…and we may yet see the same fate befall the democratically elected Islamist government in Turkey if the military is forced to step in.

There is a strong cautionary tale in all this regarding US policy in Syria, under no circumstance should Barack allow the Republican and Democratic hawks to force him into getting militarily involved…even to the extent of arming rebel factions, who are more mysterious than the various forces that comprise the Egyptian opposition.  We will be watching the situation closely: Stay tuned!

**********************

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 3, 2013

For further reading: Look under the section titled War and Peace in the Middle East

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: