2005 June 21 Tuesday
Would Democracy Bring Islamic Theocratic Rule In Egypt?

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a speech in Cairo Egypt pressed for greater democracy in Egypt but ignored Egypt's ban on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Her silence on the Muslim Brotherhood's lack of free choices reflected the strong official Egyptian resistance to legalising the organisation. But it also illustrated Washington's larger dilemma in calling for greater Arab democracy while opposing Islamic groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon with proven electoral appeal.

Muhammad Mursi, the brotherhood's spokesman, said conditions imposed by Mr Mubarak on the poll meant it would be neither inclusive nor fair. The president is widely expected to win a fifth consecutive term.

Mr Mursi said the organisation would decide soon whether to call for a boycott, and was meanwhile focusing on the parliamentary elections this autumn. The brotherhood currently has 15 MPs, who are officially described as independents.

"In a free election we would have 20% to 25% of the parliament," Mr Mursi told the Guardian last week. "Many more independents would support us. We are known in this society. We are active in the villages, in the universities, in the parliament, in the mosques ... We're organising, building strength."

George W. Bush and Condi Rice want democracy in the Middle East. I think they should be more careful about what they wish for. The fact that they fear the Islamic political parties and groups demonstrates they understand on some level that open elections won't bring automatic Western style liberal democracy. But I suspect they don't understand just how intractable the obstacles are to liberal democracy in the Middle East. They aren't, for example, going to consider low average IQs as an obstacle. Nor are they likely to consider consanguineous marriage or the original texts of the Koran as obstacles. After all, part of the official ideology on the ideological Right (as distinct from the empirical Right) is that the stronger the families the better and that anyone embracing a faith in God has got to be better than people who don't believe. So they are ideologically blinded from forming realistic views of the Arabs, Islam, and chances for liberal democracy to take hold.

Rice dispensed the standard pablum about democracy.

"We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people," Rice said. "As President Bush said in his second inaugural address: 'America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, to attain their own freedom, make their own way.' "

"The people of Egypt should be at the forefront of this great journey, just as you have led this region through the great journeys of the past," she said.

I'm so glad I'm not a Secretary of State who has to make those sorts of speeches. Gag me. Gag me with a spoon.

Irshad Manji has an Op/Ed entitled "Egypt's democracy charade" where she reports that the most liberal political activists get imprisoned in Egypt under laws originally enacted to crack down on Islamists.

But why should the rest of the world care? At this, El Sawaf gets animated. He quotes a fellow Egyptian, the renowned sociologist and democracy champion Saad Eddin Ibrahim: ''Societies that restrict the space for citizens to participate and express dissent will eventually spawn a twisted, angry, and lethal response."

Translation: Wake up, Westerners. Radical Islam gains bloodthirsty adherents when mosques take over for legislatures because fair political representation no longer exists.

And the fact is, it doesn't exist. Egypt's 24-year-old Emergency Law, introduced to crack down on Muslim militants, has been exploited to zap political modernizers too. While letting President Hosni Mubarak hang onto power longer than he promised, the law puts honest-to-goodness democrats behind bars.

Some Egyptian intellectuals claim that failure to liberalize will lead to rule by the Muslim Brotherhood.

At a small party to mark the 60th birthday of Egyptian novelist Gamal Ghaitani on 9 May, Naguib Mahfouz was asked what he expected to happen in Egypt, in view of the rapidly developing events there. "It looks like Egypt wants to try the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood," Mahfouz responded.

The greatest Arab writer was not just expressing a passing fancy, but wanted to warn about what might happen if slow democratic reform leads to a political crisis and radical change. Mahfouz is not alone in imagining "Brotherhood rule" in Egypt; he is joined by many politicians and intellectuals who believe the scenario to be plausible, if the reform process is not handled well in the coming months.

Either reform will expand and embrace change that is already underway in the country politically, guaranteeing a safe and smooth transition to a clearly democratic regime, or it will fail to do so, with the resulting impact taking place outside the political system, which could open the door to the unknown.

The danger appears to be that partial liberalization would provide an opening for the Brotherhood. The populace as a whole (Coptic Christians excepted) probably has little interest in liberal secular politics.

Nina Shea claims the Muslim Brotherhood would sweep to power if open elections were held in Egypt.

Mubarak’s policies have created a situation in which pro-Western democrats like Ramy Lakah are silenced or driven abroad, leaving the Muslim Brotherhood as the only organized opposition within Egypt. If an open election were held this year, few doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood would win. An Islamist group, the Brotherhood has won hearts and minds through charitable work and exploited religion to thrive despite ruthless repression against it. It purportedly renounced violence in the 1970s, but its motto continues to be: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Though some of its members disclaim the group’s agenda and promise moderation, its institutional goal is to rule through a form of sharia (Islamic law) that would suppress women, give second-class dhimmi status to Coptic Christians and other minorities, and impose restrictions on Muslims’ rights to freedom of speech, association, and religion.

The liberal democrats are living in exile or in jail or too afraid to speak. If the Islamists come to power then the upper level administrators for the jails will change but the guards will probably remain the same.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 June 21 01:39 PM  Reconstruction and Reformation

V.ko said at June 21, 2005 6:59 PM:

Irshad Manji is a woman. Other than that, very thorough post.

Derek Copold said at June 22, 2005 2:28 PM:

"Irshad Manji is a woman."

That's debatable. :)

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