Secular, Liberal Egypt: We Hardly Knew Ya


One of the nice things about human history is that no matter how much people or their leaders misjudge events and make a hash of things, within a few centuries, the debris is cleared away, and we can have another go at getting things right.

Yes, I am thinking about the Middle East. Whether or not there is a message in that turn of events, I’ll leave it to theologians.

At the moment, I have in mind the latest blunder by the experts — their assessment, just a few months ago, of the nature of the Arab Spring and its democracy movement. Back in spring, the leading experts — from the Obama administration to the neoconservatives on the right to the major liberal media to most of the academic area specialists — were all overwhelmingly predicting that all those great secular, liberal, college-educated kids with their iPhones in Tahrir Square represented the new Egypt and would bring all their wonderful values to the revolution. It was primarily us cranky right-wingers who have been writing on radical Islamic politics (and, of course, the Israelis, who can’t afford to get it wrong on Muslim political habits) who warned that this was all going to end in the rise in still-ancient Egypt of radical Islamist, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti American and anti-Western governance.

So our government — as I said, cheered on by neoconservatives as well as liberals — undercut Hosni Mubarak’s regime and told us not to worry about the Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood were old, tired men who were no longer really radical and had been propped up by the regime just to provide it an opposition punching bag. Armed with their social media devices, the kids would run rings around the sorry excuse for Islamists and deliver real democracy.

Jeez, hadn’t any of those experts been to Egypt? Not a lot of secular liberals hanging out — even at the Universities — let alone in the thousands of villages and urban slums. Who the heck did the pundits think those angry, bearded men were, roaming around glaring at Westerners and Muslim women who dared to walk on the street? I saw them back in the 1960s and ’70s, and even then, they were scary.

By the way, as I recall, Tahrir Square was pretty much a circle. But who’s counting when you are having deranged liberal fantasies? Even if these experts on Sunday political roundtable chatters had not been to Egypt, perhaps it was a clue that a Pew poll this spring said 65 percent of the public would vote Islamist.

Well, the early returns are in. (There are still two more rounds of voting in 18 of the country’s 27 provinces over the next month.) But the Islamists look likely to get 65 percent to 70 percent of the eventual vote. According to the High Election Commission, the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party got about 36 percent, while the Salafist Nour Party got a stunning 25 percent. The Salafists are the hysterical wing of the fundamentally reactionary general Muslim population and the Brotherhood is merely the fanatical wing.

The grand total for all the parties that, by the ancient cultural standards of Pharaonic Egypt, are considered the liberal-secular bloc — the makers of the glorious Arab Spring democracy was, wait for it — 13 percent. And I will predict that if any of them try to practice any of that liberal-secular stuff in public, either the military will eventually lock them up or the Salafists will eventually beat them up and/or kill them on the street. Adios liberal secular Egypt, we hardly knew ya. Hello, kill the Coptic Christians and the Jews.

Of course, the various ever-bewildered wire services and newspapers are reporting the “unpredicted,” “unexpected” size of the Islamist vote, while now taking to call the Brotherhood, in its 2.0 form, “moderate.”

But anyway, not to worry, as our brother in journalism Jackson Diehl wrote in this weekend’s Washington Post, he has talked with various former terrorists and Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, and he assures us that “the ascendancy of parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood should not be as alarming as many in the West suppose. …The biggest reason for this is that the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the more fundamentalist parties to its right, have renounced violence.”

Well, that’s a relief. I suppose they also have no more territorial demands. Oh, wait a moment. Diehl notes that the Brotherhood’s platform does say that Egypt should “aid and support the Palestinian people and Palestinian resistance against the Zionist usurpers of their homeland.” So, I guess, after they kill all the Jews, they will stop practicing violence. Of course, even then there will be the little matter of the Brotherhood’s credo: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” But it’s OK. They are the moderate wing of the upcoming Egyptian parliament.

Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington. Email him at [email protected]

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