The revolutions and US euphoria

If the Western world carries on with the "instant democracy" illusion, what occurred in Egypt will bring about the fall of more moderate regimes.

By BOAZ GANOR
February 27, 2011 23:39
Boaz Ganor

Dr. Boaz Ganor. (photo credit: Courtesy of Gady Dagon)

Since the first days of the revolution in Egypt the American media have been celebrating “the victory of democracy.”

Commentators and academics alike explain in well-written articles why we should not fear the processes that are unfolding.

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Terrorism scholar Scott Atran in his New York Times article “Egypt’s bumbling Brotherhood,” mentions that the Muslim Brotherhood counts only 100,000 adherents, and that throughout its 83 years, it has failed to revive Islamic power in Egypt. Atran predicts that with political freedom, the movement’s importance will soon disappear.


To this we can add soothing explanations from the US intelligence establishment’s top brass: The statement by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who told the Senate that it was difficult to label the Muslim Brotherhood an extremist organization because, although one can find extremists among its ranks, it also has lawyers and professionals.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also chose to emphasize the heterogeneity of the Brotherhood, and pointed out the generation gaps in the movement, with the younger generation willing to participate in a secular political system. A few days prior, in his testimony before Congress, Clapper held the view that the Brotherhood is a largely secular movement which has eschewed violence (a comment he later retracted).

The claims of Atran, Panetta and Clapper are – at the very least – problematic.

One can learn much about the level of support the Brotherhood has from the warm welcome given its chief ideologue – Yusuf al-Qardawi – who has returned to Egypt after a long exile in Qatar, and who has already held a mass prayer in Tahrir Square attended by roughly two million people.

Qardawi, persona non grata in the US since 1999, has incited his congregation to take part in terrorist attacks against Israelis and American forces in Iraq, and has even expressed public support for Palestinian suicide bombers (including women).

He is perceived by many in the West as a moderate, has expressed support for democracy while at the same time striving to establish an Islamic caliphate throughout the world. While the electoral strength of the Brotherhood remains unknown, it can be said with certainty that its supporters number several million. In the 2005 elections, the Brotherhood won about 20 percent of the seats in parliament, and one can assume its power has only grown since then.

IN REFERENCE to the warnings of researchers, another scholar, Shibli Talhami, concludes that social scientists and analysts have so far proven unable to predict profound historic changes.

Talhami points out that it is still too early to tell where the Egyptian revolution is headed, but claims one conclusion is evident – this is Osama bin Laden’s nightmare, since peaceful masses, not the murder of innocents, overthrew the regime.

The loser is therefore al-Qaida, since it has tried to convince the Muslim masses that the only way to fulfill their ambitions is through violence.

This argument reflects an erroneous understanding of the essence and goals of al-Qaida. This terrorist organization, like most others, is not merely a group of bloodthirsty madmen who commit violence for violence’s sake. Al- Qaida carries out terror attacks to advance its religious-ideological goal – the foundation of a global Islamic caliphate governed by Shari’a. If the Egyptian process will eventually lead to an Iran-like state, al-Qaida will have gained greatly.

The assumption that the loser is al- Qaida may lead to the erroneous conclusion that the winner is the bloc opposing al-Qaida – the Western nations led by the US. Such a victory may yet prove to be Pyrrhic.

American media, public opinion and senior government officials interpret the processes in Egypt with more than a pinch of wishful thinking, assuming the people have rid themselves of a dictator and are now marching toward a democratic, liberal and enlightened future. However, if it becomes apparent this process will lead to the strengthening of Islamist elements, their political empowerment, the deepening of their involvement in government and even their takeover through democratic means, as did Hezbollah in Lebanon, the jubilation will change to deep disappointment.

Democratic mechanisms, especially elections, have proven effective tools when wielded by fundamentalist organizations that aim to take over a government, no less effective than violence and terrorism, and perhaps even more so. It is high time American leaders sober up and recognize that when fundamentalists take over through democratic means, democracy’s days are numbered.

Talhami cautiously determines that it is impossible to predict where the process in Egypt will lead. But he points out that it is most likely that Israeli-Egyptian relations will not be collaborative, as in recent years, and that any new government will not be as willing to support American moves.

These two predictions alone are enough to indicate that the process puts the Arab world in a worse spot than it was several weeks ago.

The Americans will do well to remember that a less pro-American Egypt will directly endanger the security of the US due to the important intelligence-gathering and operational role Hosni Mubarak’s country had in leading the campaign against global jihad. Mubarak did not fall only because of his corrupt regime, but also because he was perceived as being pro-American.

Talhami is right. It is not yet possible to know where this process will lead, but let’s not fool ourselves. Egypt is not an inch nearer to a liberal democratic government than it was before the riots began. Without education about and dissemination of democratic values, without liberal reform, the emancipation of women and the observing of human rights, including religious rights, the pseudo-democratic processes Egypt is currently experiencing will ultimately promote the interests of Islamist elements.

REVOLUTIONS DON’T occur overnight. Egypt is only at the beginning of a revolutionary process. The Muslim Brotherhood is stronger and better organized than some commentators and American decision-makers seem to think, and certainly more so than any other opposition organization.

The common argument among those who wish to calm us – that the Brotherhood is not a monolith and not all among it support violence and terrorism – might be true, but there is nothing calming about it. It’s possible that within the Brotherhood there are groups who disagree on the preferred means to achieve their goal, but they do not disagree about the goal. They agree on the ultimate image of the Egyptian revolution – the formation of an Islamic caliphate ruled by Shari’a.

As Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian al-Qaida ideologue, put it in his “Message of hope and glad tidings to our people in Egypt” (February 18): “The democratic state cannot be but secular [meaning irreligious] because the authority and source in it isn’t Allah only, but the desire of the majority.”

The elements of global jihad are in no hurry, and as far as they are concerned the revolution can come to fruition in either the upcoming elections or in any future round. In any case, Mubarak’s exit marks the beginning of the Islamic revolution. It is no wonder that the first to congratulate the revolution were the well-known “democrats” – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza.

If we are to believe the ruler of Bahrain, these champions of human rights do not limit themselves to congratulating, but actively generate revolution in his and other countries.

If the US and the Western world continue to delude themselves with the illusion of “instant democracy” and do not form a clear, courageous, consistent and educated foreign policy that strengthens pro-American regimes in the Muslim world and helps them implement real liberal reforms that will lead to a genuine change of values in Muslim society, the process that began in Egypt will bring about the fall of more moderate Arab regimes. The Islamist organizations will assimilate into the state’s political system, gain international legitimacy, harness the state’s mechanisms to win hearts and minds and eventually take over.

It’s possible that Talhami’s right and social scientists can’t identify changes in political processes, but once these changes have taken place, we may not simply ignore historic precedents. Ayatollah Khomeini’s democratic precedent in Iran, Hezbollah’s democracy in Lebanon and Hamas’s democracy in Gaza leave very little room for doubt.

History repeats itself.

The writer is founding director of the International Institute for Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government.


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