The Great Middle Eastern Democracy Show Hits a Bump
by Nidra Poller (February 2011)
Those who truly desire the liberation of the submissive subjects of the oummah will not be fooled by the Democracy Show playing in Tunisia, Egypt, and wherever else it can be produced. Tunisia was a pushover. Egypt may well turn out to be a strategic error that exposes the real game and the major schemers. If we are to transform their victory into defeat we must resist the seduction of the lethal narrative [http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/40822/sec_id/40822], avoid the errors of the piecemeal approach, and understand today’s events in the context of global jihad.
It is difficult to separate the Egyptian uprising as a media spectacle from complex realities on the ground. But Western media are playing an active role in this story by relaying elements of jihad strategy as if it were straight news… so they are an intrinsic part of that complex reality.
Hopes of reproducing the Tunisian exploit of democracy at the wave of a jasmine wand faltered on Tuesday February 1st, when the million-man march turned into an empty slogan. There was a victory of sorts that brought cheers from the crowd when President Hosni Mubarak announced he would not seek reelection in September, but most media commentators deplored the gesture as too little too late. The next day, the images of cute flag-waving Egyptian toddlers were replaced by scenes of primitive warfare… from both camps. Western journalists were targeted by assailants described variously as pro-Mubarak, government-hired thugs, or disguised policemen (one source in France says the thugs were paid by furious Egyptian businessmen). Over-estimation of people-power had induced under-estimation of the ability of the Mubarak regime to mobilize its supporters and strategically outwit the protestors. Neither the bespectacled el Baradei with his wimpish ultimatums and Muslim Brotherhood connivance, nor European leaders parroting Barack Obama, nor cheerleading anchormen and women, nor hysterical Egyptians of all ages and classes shouting into the camera will topple this regime with a papyrus wand (the image was floated one day and disappeared in the clash of rocks and firebombs).
The next hype was the Friday-prayers effect; the faithful would pour out of the mosques and into the streets, Mubarak would be toppled. It didn’t happen. Somewhere between one and two hundred thousand peaceful demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The media spectacle has worn thin. A smattering of youthful idealists swear they will not leave the Square until Mubarak steps down. And it seems that President Obama has given up hope of getting Mubarak out of office before sundown.
We were told by anti-war realists that George W. Bush tried to impose democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq with bombs and boots on the ground. Democracy, critics said, is not just elections. It is a complicated system that stands on solid economic, political, and educational foundations. The withdrawal of U. S. and allied troops from these countries is portrayed as respect for their sovereignty. Some argue that our presence itself is the cause of radicalization. These societies will find their way to good government once we end the “invasion.”
The Great Middle East Democracy Reality Show that began in Tunisia was billed as the Right Way. It starts with the martyrdom of an oppressed youth, spreads by Facebook and Twitter, swells into mass marches that remind us of the fall of the Berlin wall, delivers a simple message—Dictator X has got to go—and proves that Arabs and Muslims are just like us, have the same aspirations, deserve the same liberty. A bit of looting and torching at half-time is glossed over. What counts is lib-er-a-tion! What about the Islamists? Not to worry. The dictator stayed in power by pretending to be a bulwark against the Islamists. They’re close to non-existent… are a normal component of these societies… pose no threat… do not seek political power… should be allowed to participate in government.
The romantic myth of power to the people functions as a lethal narrative to enable a major leap forward in global jihad conquest: the cockeyed barricades erected in Tahrir Square are used to dismantle the intellectual barricades that should protect the free world against the Muslim Brotherhood, its jihadi allies and rivals. If the people are mobilized and the world is on their side why does the Egyptian regime have to be immediately beheaded? The despotism of Hosni Mubarak must be raised to the highest power in order to reduce the threat of Islamic despotism to insignificance.
Aroused by strong emotions, fascinated by the action, entranced by the story, observers do not realize that a white curtain has been drawn over all we know about these Arab-Muslim societies in general and Egypt in particular. The virulent anti-Zionism of artists, writers, jurists, and singers; overwhelming majorities in favor of sharia law in recent public opinion polls; shocking propensity to swallow rumors about Israeli aphrodisiac chewing gum and tourist-eating sharks.
None of these disgraceful attitudes are attributed to anti-Mubarak forces, portrayed once and forever as the good guys. They can throw rock for rock before our eyes; they are the victims, their assailants are thugs. Their firebombs are noble, their wounds are sacred, and if they are seen kicking a man to a pulp, it is only fair. What if the pro-Mubarak contingent is as evil as the story line claims? And what if they represent a hefty chunk of the population? Let’s say 30%. Come election day, their votes will be counted. And that’s the least of it. Can’t you see how easy it would be for the Muslim Brotherhood to—step one—abandon the tiny minority of disorganized freedom lovers and—step two—join forces with these enraged masses?
How could they turn the pro-Mubarak mob into anti-Suleiman troops? They could turn the arguments currently employed in a whisper into a roar: The regime has composed with Israel, betrayed the Palestinians, sold out to the Zionists. The Stars of David scrawled today on the forehead of Suleiman’s effigy, Mubarak’s portraits, and the detested riot police wagons would become the guiding stars of this putsch.
In the wings of the Great Middle Eastern Democracy Show, the forces of jihad have engineered a consensus that they are not a threat. The narrative is: we (the free world) have been shoring up beastly dictators under the pretext that they are ramparts against the “Islamists,” when in fact the “Islamists” are a normal component of diverse societies. The Obama administration, we are repeatedly informed, is flexible on the question of Muslim Brotherhood participation in an eventual democratically elected Egyptian government. The smoothie Tariq Ramadan and the klutzy Kamal el Halbawy did spins on the BBC this week without having to face a single intelligent question.
Israel hatred in Tahrir Square was blithely accepted by media anchors who relayed or repeated slogans (send Mubarak to Israel), value judgments (the people respect the army because it went to war with Israel four times), threats (we are going to destroy Israel, Israel is running U.S. policy), and dire predictions (of course the victory of the democracy movement will mean cooler relations with Israel). They explain away (they drew the Star of David on the police vans because the police are their enemy) or pretend not to see Star of David graffiti.
The program for the elimination of the Jewish State has made a quantum leap. Already condemned for not creating a Palestinian state with Jerusalem (“al Quds”) as its capital, Israel is now declared guilty of standing in the way of the liberation of the entire Arab-Muslim world. Exasperated commentators moan and groan (Fareed Zakaria jeers): Israel clings like a sissy to its peace treaty with Egypt, shudders at the thought of Muslim Brotherhood hegemony all the way to the outskirts of Jerusalem and ends up, how disgraceful, being the lone defenders of the evil dictator Mubarak.
This real or fabricated march to democracy in the Middle East goes apace with an authentic decrease in democracy in the free world. Limits on free expression are imposed by the joint action of our own governments and intimidating pressure groups and upheld by self-censorship. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Austria are on trial for blasphemy against Islam. Others have been savagely murdered, and thousands have been marginalized. These voices are silenced or marginalized precisely because they show us the real causes, rooted in Islamic doctrine and history, of the despotism that eternally plagues Arab-Muslim society.
We do not need to contemplate these liberation movements in a vacuum: we have, in Europe, a living laboratory of Arab-Muslim citizens living in a democratic system. Fleeing economic stagnation and political strangulation in Arab-Muslim nations that, not so long ago, threw off the yoke of colonization, these immigrants were automatically endowed with the rights of citizens in the host countries. Some avail themselves of this opportunity and lead productive satisfying lives. Others behave as if they were still subjects of tyranny. They despise the educational system, belittle alternate job training programs, blame their failures on the host country, perpetuate tribal attitudes and retrograde cultural practices like excision (FGM), polygamy, forced marriage. They wrap women in niqab, hate infidels, attack Jews, defy law and order… and express their discontent by looting, torching, smashing, shouting hysterically, marching under the banners of Hamas and Hizbullah. Muslim Brotherhood and rival jihad movements make great strides among Arab-Muslim populations in Europe and the United States, where democratic institutions are solidly established. But they won’t exert a controlling influence in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen?
Western governments are accused of shoring up—in the interests of an illusory stability-- a gaggle of aging lookalike dictators with flabby jowls, dyed hair, Swiss bank accounts, European villas, coddled heirs, and vicious police forces. What could be worse than to atone for this misdeed by pushing aspiring Muslim democrats into the iron grip of the political-religious system that is the root cause of their submission to despots? For their sake and our own we should be, more than ever, intransigent.
Nidra Poller also contributes to our community blog, The Iconoclast. To see all her blog posts, please click here.
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