How to draw a false comparison in three easy steps. Example, Iran, pre 1978-79 and Iran 1979-present.
1. Examine Iran under the Shah and Iran under the Ayatollah regime: declare both to be tyrannies.
2. Declare that this is your starting position for comparison (tyrannies as nature of regime). (This involves ignoring nuances).
3. Declare that since both were tyrannies, and therefore undesirable to our point of view, both are equally wicked.
This means we can ignore the modernisation of Iranian society under the Shah, the moderation of its politics and foreign policy and focus on the wickedness of the secret police and of the United States’ support of the regime.
This also means in the comparison that we can ignore the murderous repression of Khomeini’s revolution involving the slaughter of feminists, democrats, communists, socialists, trade unionists and those who publicly criticised the regime.
It means we can ignore Khomeini’s order to massacre the surviving political prisoners from 1987-1989.
It means we can ignore the regime’s active sponsorship of Islamic terrorism around the world.
It means we can ignore the continuing persecution of the minorities in Iran.
It means we can ignore the precedent set by the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, in spite of this being a direct threat to freedom of speech in our own countries and a criminal incitement of murder.
All this is of course deplored by Western liberals but since Iran is supported by Russia and China (and probably France playing a double-sided game) and is not supported by the United States, then we can cheerfully keep our ‘consciences’ clean.
This applies to Egypt today. For all his and the regime’s faults, Egypt is an immeasurably better place than when it was at war with Israel. The war was not so damaging to Egyptian society as the state-led and encouraged hatred of Jews, the United States and of a supposed plot by the Western world to oppress the Arabs.
The state of war brought the Egyptian economy to a state of ruin. Even before peace was secured with Israel (even a cold peace), Sadat was introducing economic liberalisation as a policy into Egypt. This is significant because what he and the regime were attempting to do was to redirect the energy of the state into creating prosperity and improve the lot of Egyptians.
The chief opposition was then, as now, the Islamists who wanted to return to the existential struggle with Israel not just on ideological grounds but also as a means of unifying Egyptian society. The Islamists were preparing to launch a coup to seize the state from within and without the Army; this was detected and destroyed but one cell went undetected and eventually assassinated Sadat.
Since Sadat’s death, Egypt has been stable. It has not launched international adventures, it has not launched radical social programmes designed to transform Egyptian society into an enterprise aimed at producing some abstract outcome and it has not allied itself with the Baathists or with the Islamists of Iran. As a government often survives for a long period by reflecting the prejudices of its population, the Egyptian state has continued to indulge in anti-semitic and anti-american propaganda, has done little to improve the lot of women and engages in various forms of brutal behaviour, usually against outside groups such as the African refugees who regularly try to enter Israel through the Sinai.
(Actually this leaves an interesting thought experiment here: why if Israel is an apartheid state, do African refugees flee though Egypt to Israel?)
On the other hand, Egypt is well-educated, prosperous (the quarrels over economics seem to focus on nepotism and the effect of the economic downturn on employment) and populous.
Which leaves an interesting question open for consideration: if we are to support those protesting for democracy and freedom, why are we in government and media talking about accepting the Muslim Brotherhood – indeed, making them a necessary part of any solution, when even a cursory reading of their speeches, texts and political positions reveals them as anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-civil rights (especially on women and religious minorities) and pro-war against Israel and more widely the United States?
I suspect the answer is that most officials and journalists in the West are blinded by the false comparison – Mubarak’s a dictator, dictatorship is worse than democracy (conflating appeals for democracy with the establishment of a fully functional and robust democratic state) and so therefore a democracy with dominant anti-democratic forces is morally better than a military dictatorship. Dictator, bad; democracy, good. Two legs, bad; four legs; good. (Apart from the ducks and chickens…)
Through this simplistic paradigm, we neoconservatives are forced to watch our feckless governments and intelligentsia appealing for democracy in order to install those who would trample on every ideal we should be promoting abroad: women’s empowerment, secularisation, political moderation, free market economies, a free press* and suppression of practises such as female circumcision? In the interest of being on the side of democracy, as opposed to promoting democratic societies, we will side with those who preach an anti-modern agenda and show every sign of their willingness to put this into action?
* How long would that last in an Islamic democracy and what would classify as defamation of religion?