Arab Spring Springs Major Leaks

The new "democrats" in Egypt fear this guy? 71-year-old actor Abel Imam

There’s not much in life that gives less satisfaction than saying, “I told you so.” Readers of this blog know that I have routinely inveighed against getting too excited about “Arab Spring,” that series of upheavals that convulsed the Middle East in early 2010. Its Western defenders hailed it as an outbreak of democracy that promised to empower the masses and bring an end to regional strife. I can forgive the magical thinking of average Americans whose ignorance was a product of ahistoricism and altruism. Our leaders and intellectuals should have known better.

At the time I was among the few observers that cautioned that we ought not to throw around terms such as democracy, elections, and mass participation with such cavalier recklessness. My own take on the Middle East history is tempered by familiarity with seven decades of Islamic state policies on Israel, gender equity, and multiculturalism. I have seen lots of anti-Semitism, misogyny, and cultural intolerance; I have not seen much that passes for democracy, nor do I hear it gurgling up from those groups likely to replace deposed governments. I also know that theocratic states have been much worse on the aforementioned issues than those authoritarian regimes the West reflexively revile. Surely only a fool would equate leaders such as Mubarak, Saddam, or Assad with social justice, but Egypt, Iraq, and pre-civil war Syria under those tyrants surpassed the social justice record of theocracies such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the Taliban. Lest we forget, pre-revolutionary Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognize Israel’s right to exist. (Jordan is the only other.)

The 1979 Camp David Accords will be in serious jeopardy under an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Lately I’ve been hearing people say that the Brotherhood has to be given a chance—that it contains “moderate” elements. More magical thinking, say I.  Why are well-intentioned people so reluctant to call out bad behavior? Why are the same people–Noam Chomsky, who is Jewish, leaps to mind–so intent on tolerating those who wouldn’t tolerate them? Mention “values clash” and you get accused of being anti-Muslim. Applied to individuals, I agree, but there is a fundamental values clash between Muslim theocracies and Western nation-states. I’m all for letting Muslim nations work out their destinies independent of U.S. interference. We have no business in dictating their paths, and Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan graphically indicate that we’re no damn good at nation building. Step aside, and in doing so, let’s stop kidding ourselves: in cultural and political terms, these are not our people. Those who wield power simply don’t believe in multiculturalism, Israel, empowering women, the rule of civil law, or most of the precepts Americans enshrine in the Bill of Rights.

The latest case in point is the jailing of Egyptian comedian Adel Imam. He’s serving a three-month prison sentence for “insulting Islam” in roles in films such as “The Terrorist” and “Morgan Ahmed Morgan.” At this point I should mention that Imam is 71-years-old and that his first “offense” occurred in a 1994 film, the second in 2007. Mubarak deemed neither film worthy of prosecution, but the conservative Salafi Muslims now running the (soon-to-be-sinking) ship in Cairo somehow deem Imam a threat.  (Gee--it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Imam supported Mubarak, could it?) Still think the new Egypt is on the road to democracy? Free speech? It sounds more like something out of Orwell to me.  And, yes, I told you so.

No comments: