Beware an elaborate display of smoke and mirrors

18 February 2011

Published in The Jewish News: 18th February 2011

Now that the ‘pharaoh’ has gone, it is tempting to view Egypt as the catalyst for an Arabic ‘velvet revolution’. Just as the collapse of the Berlin Wall heralded the end of communism in Eastern Europe, there is talk of regime change across the Middle East. A new era of participatory democracy is promised.

Amid the upheaval, Israel has been criticised for its rather lukewarm response. Shmuley Boteach recently wrote that Israel was ‘missing a once in a lifetime historic opportunity to support Arab freedom’ and risked mimicking Obama’s ‘moral neutrality’ over the Green Revolution.

But Israelis do not fear genuine democracy. What they do fear, with good reason, is the popular legitimation of religious extremists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the revolution of 1979, not 1989, that exorcises them.

To see why this is not scaremongering, one must look at Egyptian politics today. Egypt has three main secular parties which, collectively, lack the organisation and mass popular appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2005, the Brotherhood won nearly 20% of parliamentary seats and they might have done better last year without blatant election rigging.

In renewed elections, they could gain over a quarter of the vote, giving them a commanding position in the Egyptian parliament. Naturally this will depend on whether the Egyptian military elite, whose power has been strengthened by Mubarak’s removal, decides to hold free and fair elections.

For some, the rise of the Brotherhood is little cause for concern. Director of US National Intelligence, James Clapper, recently described the group as ‘largely secular,’ declaring further that they had ‘eschewed violence’ and were busy pursuing ‘social ends.’

This sanguine view reflects recent statements made by Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen. These individuals have been keen to downplay their organisation’s ambitions for power and have spoken of co-operating with other parties and political candidates. But this appearance of goodwill is part of an elaborate display of smoke and mirrors.

For the Muslim Brotherhood is committed neither to constitutional democracy nor the freedoms that go with it. As the biggest Islamist party in the world, its purpose is to build an Islamic caliphate and to spread Sharia law across the globe.

Its advocates embrace non violence only because their ‘grand jihad’ is predicated on ‘eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.’ This anti Western jihad, in other words, is spread by means of subversion, infiltration and propaganda. They are only willing to co-operate with other parties if it gives them a foothold in Parliament. Their ultimate aim is to create a tyrannical, anti libertarian state through apparently legal means.

Hitler used the same tactics. Once he was appointed Chancellor in 1933, he manipulated the Reichstag into granting the Nazis emergency powers. Those powers were then used to systematically dismantle the structures of Weimar democracy. We all know the consequences.

Some argue that an Islamist government in Cairo would nullify the peace treaty with Israel. That is not the immediate danger, given the financial ramifications that would be involved.

But there is a danger that an Islamist government would cancel intelligence and security co-operation with Israel. In its place there might be greater co-operation between Egypt and Hamas, involving arms smuggling and financial support. No wonder that Benjamin Netanyahu talked of preparing for ‘any outcome’ on Israel’s southern flank.

The quandary over the Brotherhood brings us to the heart of a more fundamental question: what do we really mean by liberal democracy?

Democracy is clearly not the same thing as holding an election. It is about having an independent judiciary, a workable police force, a free press, checks and balances between the executive and the legislature, a separation of church and state and the guarantee of certain inalienable freedoms, such as the right to protest. In essence, it involves a population that is free under the law.

Yet democracy cannot be built overnight and without stable foundations, the result is chaos and violence. Iran’s version of democracy is to have a Supreme Leader who controls the police and judiciary. Democracy Hamas style consists of throwing opponents off rooftops and cancelling elections. For Hezbullah, it is about igniting a bloody civil war in Lebanon.

Certainly, the Middle East is in desperate need of democratic transformation. But if the effect of the street protests is to replace one form of tyranny with another, then the cause of freedom will go into reverse. Israel has sound reasons for fearing that the Egyptian revolution may be another 1979 in slow motion.


31 December, 2013

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