Daily Archives: February 28, 2011

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood

 I’m a pretty strong democracy advocate. I have little doubt in my soul and in whatever intellectual weight I can bring to the problem, that democratic processes are superior to others. I accept that Francis Fukayama was correct, in his book The End of History, that the natural evolution of all political states is toward democracy and market economies. Democracy contains its own moral legitimacy by requiring that the governed sanction governance. This does not ensure quality or competent government, for the governed can surely be inept, but it does guarantee civil legitimacy. 

Still, one cannot be naïve about these things because democracy requires advanced citizenship and a democratic” state of mind” as well as democratic processes. By” state of mind” I mean the attitudes and values of democracy must be internalized by the populace. The populace must understand and accept the inherent values of equality and due process that underscore democratic theory. We can easily cite the cases (Hamas) where democracy was reduced to elections and those elections produced undemocratic governments. The United States is often described as” exceptional” partly because its democracy evolved slowly and accumulated laws and traditions that were honed in a justice system shaped itself from democratic principles.

This is what worries me about the incipient Egyptian democracy. The Muslim brotherhood as a political party will have, and deserves in accordance with democratic principles, a legitimate voice. But the brotherhood contains its own rejections of democracy. I’m reminded of the argument made by Amy Chua in World on Fire that showed how free markets and democratic processes unleashed ethnic demagoguery and more destruction than construction. She, of course, was talking about the particular case of market-dominant minorities; that is ethnic minorities who for a variety of reasons had concentrated wealth. This wealth by minorities caused tremendous ethnonationalism and frustrated indigenous majorities. Her analysis, which is not my chief concern here, demonstrates how democracy and market economies can backfire and cause anger, humiliation, and violence. 

I fear something similar in Egypt. The Muslim brotherhood has been outlawed and controlled in Egypt by an authoritarian system. But they played an important role in the revolution and will expect to be rewarded. It’s possible that Egypt will open up the door to theocracy and a return to a form of Middle Eastern dark ages. 

 The Brotherhood is the forerunner of Hamas and Hezbollah and responsible for the assassination of Sadat in 1981. It is possible to imagine them as a monstrous organization steeped in a distorted tribal mentality that has fire in its breath and blood on its hands. Many people, including myself, yearn for an orderly transition with democratic outcomes. We had dreams in the early days of the protest that some Mandela would step forward, take the nation by the hand and lead it into the future. But it’s more likely that we have handed over Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood has remained coy. They have kept quiet and shunned the violence. They are not stupid, they know that such rhetoric would be very counterproductive at this point in time. 

Does anyone really think that a government that includes the Brotherhood will maintain its peace agreement with Israel? ElBaradei has already made statements that placed the peace agreement in jeopardy. In some ways Egypt is moving from a political system in which it would be easier to transition to democracy than one which contains serious Islamic ideology. Ideological systems like socialism or Islam are very ingrained and do not change easily. Regimes governed by raw authoritarianism oppress their people and plant the seeds of revolution. These uprisings often lead to democratic changes or calls for more freedom and political rights. This is not so in ideological regimes. 

Hard as it is to imagine, the Shah of Iran was a paragon of enlightenment compared to the mullahs governing Iran. The Muslim brotherhood is the most organized political force in Egypt: it represents the genuine religious interests of much of the population and, like it or not, simply cannot be ignored. It is the organizational and ideological wellspring of the global Islamist movement. And although Egypt is different from Iran, and will not become a thoroughly theocratic state, the Muslim brotherhood will be empowered. There are reasons to be afraid, very afraid.

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