The chickens are coming home to roost in the Middle East. The experts who supported the removal of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, e.g., The New York Times’ Tom Friedman and many others, are perhaps now wondering if they were right to do so.
Hosni Mubarak was certainly an authoritarian ruler. His government brooked little or no dissent; there was no competing party at the polls; and the judiciary was beholden to Mubarak’s government.
At the same time, Mubarak was a loyal friend of the United States, a guarantor of the rights of minority Egyptians such as Coptic Christians, and a protector of the peace agreement negotiated by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin under the auspices of President Jimmy Carter at Camp David.
In the election following the peaceful revolt started in Tahrir Square, the Muslim Brotherhood – the ideological forbearer of al-Qaeda—won the largest block of seats, and according to The New York Times of April 1, “The Brotherhood, an Islamist group outlawed under Mr. Mubarak, already dominates the Parliament and the assembly writing a new Constitution.”
The Muslim Brotherhood had announced it would not nominate a candidate to become Egypt’s first president since Mubarak. However, it has now nominated “its chief strategist and financier Khairat el-Shater on Saturday as its candidate to become Egypt’s first president since Hosni Mubarak, breaking a pledge not to seek the top office and a monopoly on power.” The Times article went on, “His candidacy is likely to unnerve the West and has already outraged Egyptian liberals who wonder what other pledges of moderation the Brotherhood may abandon.”
The question facing American liberals who supported Mubarak’s ouster is, does it make sense for us to recognize and support the Muslim Brotherhood and is it in our national interest to do so? Adolf Hitler was lawfully installed as Chancellor of Germany, even though his party never received a majority of the votes. The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm now dominate the Egyptian Parliament, as the Nazi Party came to dominate the German Reichstag. Should we in such situations look for opposition parties or individuals to support who are closer to our political philosophy?
A similar problem exists in Turkey. The party in power there is the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party. The founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk – father of the Turks – specifically gave to the armed forces of Turkey the role of protector of Turkey’s secularity. The United States and particularly the European Union, constantly made clear they wanted that power removed from the armed forces which had since the death of Ataturk intervened several times in deposing a civilian government when it became Islamist and threatened Turkey’s secularity. The European Union made it clear that, unless Turkey removed those obligations and power from the Turkish Army, Turkey would not be admitted to the EU. Turkey’s civilian government not long ago arrested hundreds of army officers and some were put on trial as is the case currently involving the former Turkish army chief General Ilker Basbug.
Should we have supported the army command’s efforts at retaining their constitutional mandate? Our failure to do so has paved the way to mass arrests of army officers and decimation of their ranks by the Islamist government. Now we have an Islamist government in Turkey that seeks to become a Muslim superpower in the Middle East and is doing so by threatening war with Israel. Turkey has threatened to break the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel intended to prevent arms from pouring into Gaza by sea.
Do the American liberals who applauded Turkey’s removal of military officers who sought to keep Turkey secular still believe they were right? The questions I raise are not easy to answer. I have never touted myself as a Middle East expert, but it has become crystal clear that a great number of the experts who recently waxed almost lyrical in support of the Arab Spring have much to answer for.