Throughout the entire uprising in Egypt, my mind keeps returning to the hypocrisy of western regimes and/or pundits who are seemingly afraid of democracy in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood might win, leaving the Middle East one match away from total eruption. To believe some of the conservative punditry would be to understand the inevitability of the Ikhwan – or some other form of faceless Islamic group – taking control of Egypt, pushing over into Jordan, in Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria… Glenn Beck – who would be amusing if not so many people listened to him – seems to be convinced that a democratic mass uprising is the logical precursor to the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate that expands across the Middle East and throughout Europe. What has blown my mind about this newfound fear of democracy is the unquestioned logic that Egyptians are ready to replace living under an undemocratic, secular dictator with subservience to an undemocratic religious dictator.
Moreover, those who seem most opposed to Egyptian democracy (due to the potential for a Ikhwan victory) are the very same who pushed so fervently for democratic change across the region during the Bush administration. As Luban notes, the ideological devotion to democracy depended largely on the circumstances: selective democracy promotion:
Despite a great deal of high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, the movement has largely continued to abide by the framework set forth in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships and Double Standards”: hostile dictators bad, friendly dictators good, and democratization worthwhile only so far as it replaces rivals with allies. Egypt itself has served as a good example of this tendency, as the Bush administration quickly abandoned its “freedom agenda” in 2005-6 once it became clear that free and fair elections might very well bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
So those who have tried to force-feed American style democracy on the region over the past ten years are opposing an organic, secular democratic uprising in the largest Arab country in the world. Worse, perhaps, is the inevitability, in their minds, that the Muslim Brotherhood will grab complete control through an electoral victory and somehow, these pundits explain using some scientific form of extrapolation, that such a victory would lead to the fall of the very democratic regime that they are opposed to.
We should oppose a transition to democracy in Egypt because the Muslim Brotherhood will win the elections and destroy the democracy.
[tweetmeme] Michael Rubin supports the ouster of Mubarak and the creation of a democratic system in Egypt, but still warns of the likelihood of an “Iran-like tragedy” in the post-Mubarak era if the White House does not play its cards right. According to Rubin, the best case scenario is a transitional government until elections in September, though the worst case “would see the Muslim Brotherhood triumph, abandoning any pretense of a commitment to democracy as it consolidates control.” I give Rubin credit for supporting elections, but why would the Brotherhood abandon democracy? Rubin doesn’t explain (though, thankfully, Rubin has not already crowned the Brotherhood as pharaoh.)
More optimistically (in a sense,) Claire Berlinski starts off with a conditional ‘if’ the Brotherhood end up governing. Yet Berlinski falls into the same trap. Not immediately, she stresses, but eventually, the Brotherhood will start removing women’s rights, and start playing games with elections in order to prolong their control of the country:
We won’t see anything all that alarming until these parties have solidly established themselves in all the organs of the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary. By then they’ll have figured out exactly how to win elections that look pretty free and fair: They’ll get a lot of help from the world’s best professional political advisers.
The problem with this reasoning is pretty simple. First, there is no guarantee that the Muslim Brotherhood would control the government. As part of the opposition, there is no doubt that the group would be a factor, but the victory of the Ikhwan is far from assured. The idea that the Brotherhood is the only alternative to Mubarak, as Dunn notes, is simply a line created by Mubarak to buy support from the West. In an open election, the Brotherhood, Dunn estimates, would garner a mere 20% of the vote. The existence of the Wasat party and the introduction of ElBaradei on the political scene (not to mention any other new parties that are generated from the uprising) would seriously challenge the Muslim Brotherhood.
Moreover, a Brotherhood government would not be as bad or extreme as some would make it out to be. Daniel Levy tries to differentiate between Qaeda and the Brotherhood, as the two are too often conflated by the west:
Nathan Brown, an expert on Islamist parties, has warned against US policymakers being misled by a tendency towards “Ikwanophobia” (ikwan is Arabic for the Muslim Brothers’ movement). One cannot support participatory democratic politics in the Arab world while being totally allergic to the role that democratic Islamists will play. These movements are part of the legitimate political mix. They are more often than not at loggerheads with Al Qaeda, and far from being Al Qaeda-lite, they are frequently the most effective bulwark against Al Qaeda-style extremism.
That same Nathan Brown adds that, while the Brotherhood may not be as pliable as Mubarak, the group is hardly illogical and would use some political sense in making decisions:
They’re clearly suspicious of the United States, and you’ll hear some anti-American slogans from them — but no more so than from any other place in the Egyptian political spectrum. They don’t stand out there, and there are probably more anti-American people in the committee of opposition leaders.
With regard to Israel it’s a little bit different. Israel is unpopular in Egypt. And the Brotherhood since the 1930s has a very strong history of backing the Palestinian cause. They are critics of the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Those are all popular stands. That said, no one in Egypt wants a war with Israel right now. So the Brotherhood tries to finesse this by saying, ‘This treaty really needs to be put up for a referendum.” If they were in the government, I think they would be in an embarrassing position. This is an international treaty that was ratified — are you willing to abide by the state of Egypt’s international treaty obligations or not?
If it was a broad-based coalition government in which the majority clearly favored maintaining the current peace treaty, I think the Brotherhood would say: “We don’t like this, we’re not in favor it. But we’re willing to accept the results of a legitimate political process.” That’s my guess.
As hard as it is to swallow, Americans cannot and should not be controlling the Egyptian government. If the Egyptian people want to choose the Muslim Brotherhood as leaders of the next government, that is their choice. Moreover, such a government would undoubtedly involve other parties and would be accountable to a population who knows what it wants and how to get it. After Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood will play a role in Egyptian politics. Americans cannot abandon the principles of democracy simply because potential results.
Photo from CBC