December 12, 2011

Nothing is more painful than being correct.

So says two Egyptian liberals, Amr Bargisi, Albert Einstein Fellow at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, and Samuel Tadros, research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. They are senior partners in the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth. Together they wrote a compelling article in Tablet, "After the Fall."
Our vindication comes at the price of our country’s potential collapse into Islamist totalitarianism, or, even worse, total chaos.
They authors and had urged caution from the start, particularly from Western idealists hailing the triumph of the new Egypt, and invoked Edmund Burke’s truism: Bringing down a tyrant is far, far easier than forming a free government.
Pessimists, naysayers, wet blankets, Mubarak cronies, apologists for the regime—we were called all these names, despite the fact that we’ve spent our adult lives within the opposition. Here was a new generation armed with iPhones and Twitter accounts that would ensure the success of liberal democracy in the region’s largest state, the enthusiasts promised. When Mubarak finally bowed to the pressure of the protesters in the streets, commentators wrote fairy-tale endings to the Egypt story, rushing off to cover the next blossoming flower of the Arab Spring. In the months that followed, no matter how far the Egyptian economy plummeted, how badly the security situation on the border with Israel deteriorated, or how many were killed in criminal, sectarian, or political violence, the narrative was maintained: Though painful, these were the necessary labor pangs of democracy.
Now that the Islamists obtained about 65% of the first round vote (compared to 13% for liberals), and predictably will get more as new rounds take place in the countryside where they are even more organized, perhaps it is incumbent to deconstruct the Tahrir mythology that says:
the Mubarak regime was pure evil; that it was brought down by "liberal" nonviolent activists; and that the Islamists had nothing to do with the revolution and emerged—suddenly—only to hijack it.
Of course, Mubarak's regime was no liberal democracy. But it also wasn’t the Gulag. Living standards were improving.
Moderately freer markets meant more media, which meant that while the political repression and corruption of the regime were less heinous than in the past, they were getting more exposure than ever. This, along with Mubarak’s senility and nepotism, created an ever-increasing sense of outrage among Egypt’s growing middle class.
According to the authors, besides the few human-rights activists present at the Tahrir uprising, there was nothing remotely liberal about it.
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 Muslim Brotherhood was involved virtually at the start and thereafter. Now they are pushed by the more fundamentalist Salafis. They carry the same message: "A return to a purer form of Islam guarantees salvation in this life and the next." Average Egyptians easily believed the reason for their ills was the Mubarak regime’s economic program, and the solution was a return to the golden age of Islam.

No discussion of this issue would be complete without the acknowledgement of the rampant antisemitism that pervades Egypt.
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 ... is a well-established social belief in Egypt, even among self-proclaimed liberals.
So is there anything that can bring about a positive change?
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 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.
As important, when Islamists try to transform the legal and economic infrastructure of the country, liberals must oppose them with detailed and convincing programs buttressed by a different, coherent worldview that can win hearts and minds.

To those who have insisted that the Egyptian revolution would yield a liberal democracy, or that democracy is settled solely by elections, I suggest reading this article closely and perhaps considering which worldview is best with respect for the future.


  1. Western liberals were so blinded by their faith in the Arab masses that they absolutely refused, and still refuse, to face the fact that what we are seeing is not the "Arab Spring" but the "Islamist Spring" or, perhaps, "Islamist Winter."

    I was cautiously hopeful when this thing started, but now the truth is emerging for all to clearly see. The Obama administration actually told the world that we should view these riots and uprisings as something akin to the Civil Rights Movement.

    Can you imagine? And not only did people swallow this nonsense whole, they still do so.

    Why is it that political people have such difficulty facing obvious truths?

  2. Most of us want to get along, and facing the reality is much harder to swallow.