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Monday, December 12, 2011

After the Fall - Egypt's revolution dissected (Tablet)

This is the sort of sober analysis of Egypt that is almost completely missing in the Western media.

From Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros in Tablet:
Other than the fact that a few dozen human-rights activists were present in Tahrir, there was nothing remotely liberal about the uprising. But that didn’t stop Western journalists from applying the term: Every Egyptian male without a beard was a John Stuart Mill, every female without a veil a Mary Wollstonecraft. Suddenly, Trotskyites were liberals, and hooligans nonviolent protesters.

The idea that there were no Islamists involved in the revolution is pure nonsense. The Muslim Brotherhood officially declared its decision to join the protests on Jan. 23, and its members were instrumental in the success of the revolution in the subsequent days and weeks. What’s more, over the past decade Islamist groups, particularly the Salafists, have been taking advantage of Egypt’s increasing media and Internet freedom to further influence the political discussion.

...These two tendencies—the Jacobin and the Islamist—are not mutually exclusive in Egypt. The average Egyptian easily bought into both arguments, believing that the reason for all their ills was the Mubarak regime’s economic program, and that the only solution was a return to the golden age of Islam. Though institutionally immunized against Islamism through a strict system of surveillance, the military completely internalized the popular anti-capitalist discourse, hence its ultimate decision to offer its services to the revolutionaries, abandoning Mubarak in his time of need.

Into that mix comes anti-Semitism. Egyptian anti-Semitism is not simply a form of bigotry: It is the glue binding the otherwise incoherent ideological blend, the common denominator among disparate parties. The Zionist conspiracy theory was not merely a diversion applied by the Mubarak regime, as some suggest. It is a well-established social belief in Egypt, even among self-proclaimed liberals. Consider, for example, Yehya El-Gamal, a leading expert on constitutional law and chairman of the Democratic Front Party who was appointed deputy prime minister after the revolution. Though a staunch opponent of the Islamists, El-Gamal told Al-Ahram, the leading state-owned newspaper, that “Israel and the U.S. are behind flaming the sectarian conflict in Egypt” in the wake of the deadly clashes between Coptic demonstrators and military forces last October.

These facts, though hard to swallow, were clear well before the revolution. This is why, when we joined the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth in 2009, we decided to focus our energy on a long-term program to build a genuine liberal movement from scratch. We realized early on that activism without serious, concrete ideas capable of winning the hearts and minds of our fellow Egyptians would be meaningless. Thus, we designed a platform of legal, economic, and social programs tackling all aspects of life in Egypt, from taxes to anti-Semitism. Our plan comprises research, lobbying, campaigning, and an effort to translate the great books of Western classical liberalism into Arabic. If Egypt was going to have any hope of becoming a liberal democracy, we had to face—and battle—the destructive totalitarian ideals that have taken hold of Egyptian society.

To begin a serious discussion on what can be done in our country, Egyptians must acknowledge that the Tahrir uprising was no liberal revolution. Western observers must realize that this is not a stark morality play, but political decision-making between alternatives that are all bad. As the government borders on bankruptcy and the security situation deteriorates (the natural-gas pipe line to Israel and Jordan was bombed nine times since February), the first priority should be defending the very existence of the Egyptian state, now solely represented by the military. This is certainly an awkward position for advocates of limited government, as we are. But if the military falls, nothing will stand between the Egyptians and absolute anarchy.

Western policy-makers and Egyptians who care about the country’s future should not push too hard for a total face-off between the military and the Islamists, which may develop into a civil war, nor should they seek to weaken the military to the extent that it is totally subdued by the Islamists. Finally, as the Islamists try to transform the legal and economic infrastructure of the country to their benefit, true liberals must be prepared to tackle them on every move, with detailed and convincing programs, not merely rhetorical speeches and empty polemics on talk shows. Islamism offers a coherent worldview; if liberalism cannot rise up to the same level, it will always be doomed to fail.

The gravest danger is for us to fall prey to complacency and believe that an Islamist government will either moderate or fail to deliver, and that the Egyptians will vote for someone else in the next elections. The very possibility of next elections is dependent on our capacity to avoid the total anarchy scenario. And the Islamists are not going to moderate. No matter how pragmatic the Muslim Brotherhood is, they will face a constant challenge by Salafists from the right to adhere a strict standard of religious purity. If the Islamists, now hugely popular, do fail to deliver, genuine liberals must be at the ready to offer voters a clear alternative. The Mubarak regime was remarkably successful in steering the economy in its latter years, but its inability to justify its existence politically led to its demise. There is no reason why the exact opposite—a failing economy but successful politics—cannot come to the service of the Islamists.
Read the whole thing.

(h/t Spengler via T34)