Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"On the Edge"

Last Friday, a piece of mine on UNRWA went up on FrontPage Magazine. Please, take a look at it here:


As I write, hundreds of thousands of people are congregating in the streets of Cairo, in response to a call for one million to come out for a protest march demanding that Mubarak resign. On the edge, indeed.

A detailed look at these events will wait until my next posting, when the air has cleared a bit. Just briefly here I will touch on a couple of points, and then move to some broader-based analysis.

* The Egyptian army has promised no violence against the people.

* Mubarak seems determined not to accede to the demands of the street and quit now. He has announced that he will deliver a speech tonight; according to Al Arabyia TV, he will say that he will remain in his position until the end of his term, and during that time will work to meet the demands of the protesters. The new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, also went on TV, to say he would like a chance to make changes in the country to benefit the people: "We will turn all of the citizens' demands into a reality sooner than they expect."

* Obama closely watching the street protests, has been slip-sliding towards that street and is now talking about "a peaceful transition of power." The message was carried to Cairo by professional diplomat Frank Wisner. According to the NYTimes, Mubarak's apparent decision not to run in the next election was made at the urging of Obama. There are reports that the US gov't has also had contact with El-Baradei, via the US Embassy in Cairo.


I've encountered (at least) two serious thinkers who believe that Mubarak will prevail. It now looks a bit more like this might be the case than I would have thought just hours ago.

One of those analysts is Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal. He makes some worthwhile points:


The other analyst is Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. But while Stephens is writing about Mubarak's situation, Pipes is also looking more broadly at issues such as the cultivation of democracy in the Middle East.


There seems a myopia on the part of many people, especially in the US, when considering the situation in Egypt. Somehow the protests and demands of the crowds in the street are held to be synonymous with "democracy" -- will of the people and all that. Just grant the people free elections, it is assumed, and the process of democracy will be well on its way. (In fact the full quote from the Obama administration was actually: "Peaceful transition of power to democracy.") Except that it's not so. Pipes addresses this, and so does Carolyn Glick, whose very fine article I cite below.

Pipes believes the process of instilling the values of democracy in a populace takes decades, at best, and the error is in believing it can be instituted over-night. Democracy must be founded on certain liberal civic values -- human rights, dignity of the individual, basic freedoms, etc. -- that are lacking within the Arab/Muslim societies where an attempt to foster democracy is being made. Glick is even more cynical on the subject.


The fact of the matter is that to a large degree the populace in that Cairo street is not conversant with those liberal civic values. Even those who are not Islamists tend to be secular leftists: They are anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic. And they are not adverse to certain sorts of repression, as long as the repression is of their choosing.

Glick writes that:

Indeed, their [the protestors'] character is a bigger problem than the character of the regime they seek to overthrow.

"According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hezbollah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

"Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion."


Please also see the article on El-Baradei by Anne Bayefsky of "Eye on the UN":

"In the name of democratic reform, Mohammed ElBaradei is doing his best to appear as the anointed one to succeed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, should the government fall. In reality, ElBaradei has more in common with Iranian demagogue Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than anything remotely resembling democracy."


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution

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