An Egyptian Civil War?

July 3, 2013

Some brief thoughts on events in Egypt.

If the Egyptian Army has any sense, then it will recognise that the Muslim Brotherhood aim to establish a totalitarian regime in Egypt. This aim requires that power, once attained, is never ceded and, consequentially, the Brotherhood will have to eliminate its opponents in order to gain this objective.

The Army has made an enemy of the Brotherhood by threating intervention. If the Brotherhood pass this crisis intact and in power, expect to see the Army officer corps undergo a prolonged purge.

The Army should move towards a coup d’etat, in which it arbitrarily arrests the Brotherhood leadership and senior cadres, takes control of the security situation and imposes martial law. The first measure should be accompanied by trumped up charges of treason, sedition and so forth, the trials held in secret and executions imposed. This is a life or death situation for Egypt and the Brotherhood have to be set back by at least a generation.

The second measure will be required to grant legitimacy to any post-Brotherhood government. The third measure will be required because the Brotherhood activists and the salafist groups will go over into immediate armed opposition. Provided that the overt opposition is crushed, then these will go over into terrorist warfare, which can be crushed through robust action and police informers.

If the Brotherhood can be crushed, then Egypt desperately needs to reform its economic situation. Land reform may be required, which will also need to matched by investment in farming, so Egypt can move towards food independence and so reduce the balance of payments deficit. Industry will have to be made competitive as well.

Freedom for what and for what end?

February 6, 2011

Ah yes, the sanctimonious Germans. For fifty years, the free Germans were protected by the US who helped rebuild Germany as a nation and a democracy. Now they sneer while worrying about the growth of Islamism amongst their Turkish population…

Freedom for what and for what end?
If they vote for an Islamic republic, ruled by the clergy, it will not be the democracy that you wish to see. It will be a theocracy with elections managed by the clergy, where real power is held by the Army, the secret police, the clergy themselves and the ruling elite.
Eastern Europeans wanted, campaigned for and died for Western democracy where elections are underpinned by the rule of law. Where are the Arab liberals? Where are the Arab feminists and those campaigning for civil liberty? The answer is that outside of metropolitan elites, these are surrounded by conservative populations to whom the ideas of the nationalists and Islamists have a stronger appeal. Even amongst the educated, the Islamists are strong.
Does Der Spiegal not realised that the doctors and lawyers federations in Egypt are controlled by the Islamists? Do they not realise that there is a strong ‘street’ feeling that the woes of the Arab world are due to Israel’s existence and US power? Pan-Arabism never died but has morphed into an idea of the Islamic global community. This idea is strong in the Middle East as it gives a wider sense of community and allegiance.

Was the West ever a role model or is this a display of sentimental narcissism? Did the Arab world ever really look to us as a whole? The Islamist movements have been growing in strength in the Arab world since the 1960s but not at the expense of liberal secularists but at the expense of Arab nationalism, which itself was never far removed from Fascism.
Where there has been strong liberal currents as in Lebanon, these have been opposed by an alliance of the Arab Nationalists (Baath) and Islamists (Hezbollah/Iran). The West has not failed Lebanese liberals because of a lack of faith in its own ideals but because it has persistently mistaken Arab Nationalism and Islamism as moderate movements, reacting to Western provocation.
The chief Western fault has been a seduction of our intelligentsia and policy elites by the ideas of Edward Said (and his school), denying agency to the Arabs and insisting that our very intellectual consideration of the Arab world is conditioned by racism. Through this paradigm, the West has tried to treat with the anti-liberal forces as if they were European states and not fundamentally hostile ones. The negotiations with Iran over its not-so-covert nuclear weapons programme should have demonstrated this; nothing has made Iran shift from this destabilising programme, short of fear of a United States invasion after 2003.

Der Spiegal demonstrates once again that we are substituting wishful thinking in the West for cogent analysis.
Yes, we neoconservatives want to see democracy in the Arab world. We still think that even one successful Arab democracy will create the momentum for long term change in that region. But we recognise that a democracy is about more than just elections. It is a civil order.
In order for a democracy not to fall victim to demagogues using the language of democracy in order to end it, it needs civil institutions committed to a defence of democracy, it needs a relatively liberal society and especially one prepared to tolerate religious and ethnic minorities. And it needs a strong sense of civic identity.
Some of these are present in modern Egypt but others are not. The Army is the backbone of the present regime; the clergy are hostile to liberalism (and this matters); the Muslim Brotherhood are stronger and more deeply entrenched in educated society than Western journalists realise and are by their ideological nature hostile to liberal democracy.
Is this the fault of the West or are we overestimating our own potestas?

Egypt and the Democracy Paradigm

February 5, 2011

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?

Possibilities and Limitations (Cross post)

January 29, 2011

Just a few short years ago the term “social media” was only known to a select few in hi-tech start-ups and venture capital firms. Today, it is difficult to tell where the “real world” ends and where cyberspace begins. And vice-versa: often events are planned in cyberspace using Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, the event happens, and it is digitized and uploaded to YouTube and other social networking sites.

Anti-government demonstrators in Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia have used social media with varying degrees of success. The results are still uncertain in a number of these countries. Israeli supporters and Palestinian supporters regularly try to match digital wits on Facebook and similar sites. One thing caught my attention, and I bet you’ve noticed it to: people living under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes have used social media to great effect, whereas in liberal democracies its use is more restricted.

Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes control all of the “old school” media: newspapers, radio, television. They censor all of these. They also censor university curricula, limit or outlaw trade unions, co-opt professional unions and even coerce the support of religious institutions. Of course, none of this is news. It is exactly the reason that protesters use the new media: they have nothing else to use.

In Tunisia, the country’s president was forced to flee after ruling for more than two decades. Egypt’s president dismissed his cabinet just hours before I sat down to write this. Jordan’s king is considering dismissing his cabinet. While we still do not know how these events will end. If new governments are formed, we cannot know whether they will be more responsive to their citizens. Thus, we cannot say with certainty that “social media” are “good” in and of themselves, only that in these instances they were useful.

One must also remember that Iran successfully crushed a pro-democracy movement that was fueled by the social media. It is actually not clear if the demonstrators were pro-democracy or just anti-Ahmadinejad. Apparently, tear gas, bullets and truncheons still have the same affect in “meat space,” regardless of how many friends one has or how many pages one has clicked “Like.” When a regime is dedicated to waging and winning the battle on the streets, social media are as useful as “teats on a bull,” as my Great Grandfather, farmer that he was, used to say.

Liberal democracies by definition have an independent press, judiciary, robust opposition and rule of law. Citizens in liberal democracies are able to choose from a wide range of domestic and foreign news sources, take advantage of a wide-range of civic and political associations. They are able to meet and interact with their elected leaders – and with opposition leaders – freely.

People also have an almost bewildering amount of business, cultural and social choices presented to them via social media. In other words, the political has to compete with the economic, cultural and social. In Israel, the turn-out in the last general election was 65%; three years earlier it was just over 70%; three years before that it was almost 80%. Social media are not responsible for this voter apathy; the blame for that can be laid squarely at the doorstep of Israel’s political parties and their machinations.

Can social media be used to re-kindle interest in the institutions of democracy in a liberal democracy? Many people will no doubt will claim that the “Tea Party” in the US has done just that. However, in addition to there being several socioeconomic factors at work in its formation, the “Tea Party” movement has also benefited great from the coverage given to it by the old media. It has also received begrudging support from the Republican establishment. Thus, the jury is still out.

The stupidity of moral isolationism

January 28, 2011

Once again, Peter Oborne demonstrates his complete flight from reality.

The Algerian Civil War had nothing to do with the West and everything to do with a society divided between a dangerous Islamist opposition threatening to rule as an Islamic tyranny and the existing authoritarian regime. It was a war brought about through internal tensions and political violence current in that society.

He confuses anti-government protests and groups with democratic ones. The regimes that fall might well be replaced by regimes fundamentally hostile to our interests. We’d all like to see those countries liberalise but liberalisation in authoritarian societies is a dangerous development if the authority of the state is attacked. These regimes have pent up a great deal of radicalism, often stoked by the same regime and directed against Israel and Jews, and when the regime falls, these movements are revolutionary and violent.

Can we imagine what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood which is the dominant movement in Egyptian society were to come to power? Egypt is a military power of no mean proportions; its army is equipped with M1A1 main battle tanks, the airforce has 300 F-16s. This would be Iran all over again but on the Mediterranean.

There is no social or political appetite for reforms of the kind which the liberals cheering the protests would like to see. The Egyptian Copts would not find themselves full and valued members of Egyptian society – a campaign of expulsion would begin similar to that seen in the Palestinian Authority. Women would find that the legacies of the revolutionary days of Nasser would disappear and they would become confirmed second class citizens, while honour killings would be encouraged by authorities taking their lead from misogynistic clerics.

Above all, the peace treaty with Israel would not last long. War would be on the agenda and it would not be long before voices called for it in the Arab world.

What we should be calling for is reforms to the civil bureaucracy, to the law and to freedom of speech where this does not subvert the state. We can force Egypt to start this process through withholding financial aid but work with the regime to help it safely liberalise.

You cannot expect democracy to materialise from revolution. Revolution is antipathetical to the rule of law, settled civil society, and the institutions of an strong state where the rulers give up power after electoral defeat. No Arab country with the possible exception of Tunisia is ready for such a transition. To encourage this in Egypt would encourage a strategic political disaster of the highest proportions.



It appears that Christina Odone is doing the same thing. She is transposing a Western notion of democracy on to the Arab world but does not include the ingredients that make a successful democracy possible, instead believing that these will grow out of free speech, free press and tolerance of protest in a society that does not tolerate protest. She shows no understanding of how Islamism as a political model works; if you provide an open door to them, they will subvert the state.