The Region: What do Egyptians want?

Many Egyptians will die, as will US interests. Will the Western apologists and enablers have a clear conscience?

Egypt protester runs from tear gas 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt protester runs from tear gas 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yes, friends, it’s once again time for that exciting game of Spin the Polls by the Pew Foundation. Here are the rules:
Rule 1: Pew does a good job on the poll.
Rule 2: The Pew analysis ignores or misunderstands the implications of the poll.
Rule 3: The Western media and government misread the poll, often misinterpreting the results into the exact opposite of what they actually mean. They then adopt the wrong policies.
Rule 4: If correctly interpreted the polls are a gold mine that can help us comprehend the present and predict the future.
Some years ago, for example, I analyzed a Pew poll. The poll showed that people in Arab countries had a low opinion of al-Qaida. It was then interpreted as meaning that they were moderate. In fact, as I wrote and (forgive me but I can’t help saying it) which became the most widely plagiarized article of my career, the poll showed a shockingly high level of support for revolutionary Islamism, especially in Egypt and Jordan.
Once again we have the misleading spin beginning with the headline: “Egyptians remain optimistic, embrace democracy and religion in political life.”
If I were writing the headline it would be: “Egyptians want radical Islamist state more than anything else.”
To be fair to Pew, the lead of their analysis is something very significant that couldn’t have been imagined before now: “Opinions of the US and President Obama continue to be overwhelmingly unfavorable.” This is somehow spun, however, to imply that there is no real crisis and that US policy need not be reexamined or changed.
After all, the Obama administration’s role in helping to overthrow not just President Hosni Mubarak (a reasonable action) but the entire regime brought no gain for the United States whatsoever. Instead it helped bring to power an anti-American regime likely to destabilize the region and bring war.
The poll concludes that Egyptians still want the same type of relationship with the United States. But what does this mean other than continuing to take US aid money? Using America as a scapegoat – as Middle Eastern dictatorships have done now for more than a half-century – it won’t be long before hate- America rallies, demagogic anti-American speeches, a lack of cooperation on issues, and violence-inciting broadcasts or articles become routine.
You won’t be surprised to hear that two-thirds of Egyptians want to throw out the peace treaty with Israel. The US Congress has properly determined that this would lead to an end of US aid. So what will the next Egyptian government do? Simple, don’t throw out the treaty formally but just break it in every way possible.
What’s most critical is how Egyptians think of their own country. Here’s a very revealing apparent contradiction. Read carefully.
The Pew poll’s headline says that Egyptians are optimistic but that they also believe the economic situation is not good. Half of them claim things have gotten worse since Mubarak fell.
Why then do 53 percent (albeit 65%) believe the country is headed in the right direction? The answer is that they are happy with the political direction – toward radical Islamism – but do not think it will improve their material lives. They make a distinction between material benefit and spiritual-ideological preference. Such a choice is never understood in the West, especially by those who argue that everyone wants the same things in life, so an Islamist regime must deliver prosperity or fall, and consequently that radicals must moderate in order to fill their people’s stomachs.
Remember what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of Iran’s revolution, said back in 1979: People in the West don’t understand that we didn’t make this revolution to lower the price of watermelons.
No, the substitute for such material success is repression plus finding the right scapegoat and subsidizing certain key constituencies (notably the military), which brings us back to the antagonism against the need to build antagonism against the United States, Israel and the West, doesn’t it?
Another apparent contradiction is equally revealing. When asked whether they preferred to model Egypt on Saudi Arabia or Turkey regarding religion’s role in government, thy chose Saudi Arabia by a 61% to 17% margin. Note that Western pundits and experts keep insisting that there is some kind of Turkish model of moderate Islamism. Aside from the fact that Turks aren’t Arabs, this is a sign of the base of support for a fully sharia state. Remember that as Sunni Muslims, Egyptians are not going to cite Iran as their model. And when they are talking about Saudi Arabia they are not indicating its basic alliance with the United States but its extreme form of Islamic rule in domestic life.
WHEN ASKED if Egypt’s laws should strictly adhere to the Koran, 60% said yes while another 32% said it should follow the values and principles of Islam more generally. Let’s say that this 60% (see the Saudi model, above) is the firm base for Islamist rule. This is less than the 75% the Islamists received in the parliamentary elections, suggesting that 15% of these voters wanted a slightly less extreme society. But they are outnumbered four to one and are likely to go along.
That 32% might be open to a relatively moderate Islam in theory. But since there is no strong alternative theological or political leadership in that direction, this is unlikely to be strong enough to block an Islamist transformation. And who is left as the genuine, secular or for a minimally religious state? The Christians, that’s about all.
Pew makes much of supposed moderation by pointing out that two-thirds of those who endorsed the Saudi model also said democracy is their preferred form of government; 64% want a free press; 61% want free speech.
But what does this really mean in the context of Egypt? Of course they support “democracy” since the alternative they have in mind is the hated Mubarak dictatorship. And what does democracy mean to them? A landslide victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists! Thus, when they think about, “This is what democracy looks like,” that means eternal Islamist victories.
As for a free press and free speech, that means diversity, though we should remember that proportionately newspaper reading in Egypt is insignificant compared to the West. Yet what would happen if someone used this free press or free speech for something deemed critical of Islam?
Already we are seeing people brought to court for saying things the Islamists don’t like. Yet the cases are heard by Mubarak-appointed judges. What will happen when the Islamists appoint the judges?
The hypnotized observers in the West keep chanting that the Brotherhood has renounced violence and would never ever use force and intimidation. If you want to know what Egypt has in store consider the following:
In 1992 – under Mubarak’s regime – Farag Fouda, a fearless secularist, debated a Muslim Brotherhood leader at the Cairo Book Fair. Five months later, an Islamist assassinated Fouda. At the trial, a Muslim Brotherhood leader testified as a defense witness that the killing was the proper punishment for an apostate, at which point the defendant shouted, “Now I will die with a clear conscience.” It was a Mubarak court and the killer was found guilty. What will happen in an Islamist regime’s court?
Many Egyptians will die, as will US interests. Will the Western apologists and enablers have a clear conscience?
The writer’s book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. He is director of global research in the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at PJM and editor of The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.