Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Egypt: Where Is It Taking Us?

(originally published at

The road that Egypt has embarked upon is not well marked, there are potholes, dead ends, and more than a few wrong turns that could plunge all of us down into an abyss. I’m not going to try to replicate the analyses that others with much more expertise, such as Barry Rubin and Yossi Klein Halevi, have already published elsewhere.   But the situation in Egypt confronts supporters of Israel with a conundrum—what if  elections lead to the establishment of a hostile Islamist state in Egypt? On the other hand, don’t we need to support democracy for the Egyptian people?

Democracy isn’t just a “one man (or woman, though not often in the Arab world), one vote” system of elections. It is a system where the losers respect the results, and the winners don’t take advantage of their victory to change the system (“one man, one vote, once”—see “Nazi Germany”, “Hamas” and soon to be “Lebanon” as well). It’s a system where competing political parties don’t have their own independent armed forces; where children are educated in a system that promotes civic values; where a free press allows competing ideas to be debated in the public square; and where one’s religious values can be part of civil society, rather than calling for its supersession by a theocracy.
Any election in which Islamist parties take part without first accepting the above ground rules (at a bare minimum) is a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen this movie before (once again, Hamas and Lebanon). It doesn’t end well, not just for Israel but also for the people who end up on the wrong side of such elections.
There are those who will say that if only Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank and allow the creation of a Palestinian state there, that this would defuse that threat. The reactions from Islamist groups in the Middle East-- and from their fellow travelers around the world-- to al-Jazeera’s “Palestinian Papers”, provides the answer. Any “peace” agreement that does not force Israel to accept millions of descendants of Arab refugees from the 1947-8 war, and thereby end its existence as a Jewish state, is unacceptable to them. So anyone who states that these groups will be satisfied with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is either deceiving themselves or deceiving others.
But what if actual “free and fair” elections reflect the will of the people, and that the Egyptians actually favor jihad against Israel over peace (and over the foreign aid from the US that would disappear if the Islamists take control)?  Most Americans and Europeans should be very afraid of this outcome, because radical Islam is very clear that not only Jews but also Christians are to be treated as dhimmi populations to be subjugated. While the Copts in Egypt have been the victims of persecution and acts of terror already, they only need to look at Gaza and Iraq to see what the Muslim Brotherhood has in store for them.
Yet there is one political group in America that doesn’t seem worried about this —the radical left. In demonstrations in New York, the rejectionist group al-Awda carried signs supporting the “Egyptian intifada”; I don’t know whether they mean that Egyptian suicide bombers should attack buses and restaurants, or if that tactic is only acceptable to them when used against Jews. In the Bay Area, International ANSWER, which has openly celebrated Hamas and Hezbollah, rallied to support “the Egyptian people”. They were joined by their usual partner, Jewish Voice for Peace, which still seems unconcerned about partnering with a group that openly supports genocidal terrorism against Jews.Yet these groups were oddly silent when the people of Iran attempted to rise up against their own Islamist thugocracy last year. Draw your own conclusions.
As for the rest of us, we have to put our faith in the fact that when people have control over their own lives and their own futures, they usually aren’t going to go to war unless that very control is the issue at stake. For years, the Arab despots, whether secular dictatorships such as Syria and Egypt or religious monarchies on the Arabian peninsula, have used Israel and the “Palestinian cause” to both distract their population and deflect blame for their lack of freedom. Now we might get to see whether the Egyptian people can move beyond that.
Democracy isn’t easy to establish—it took decades across Latin America, and is still not the system of government in much of Africa and Asia. American politics can debase into shrill partisan dialogue, even without the heavily armed insane turning shopping centers into shooting galleries. Even our neighbors to the north had to navigate the challenge of a separatist movement in Quebec. It will take a great deal of help to make sure that the transition in Egypt resembles Eastern Europe in 1989 rather than Iran in 1979. We can only hope that people of good will in Egypt will heed the sentiments expressed, quite presciently, by Pete Townshend of The Who back in 1972 :

“There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again….”

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