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Foreign Affairs

Islam's Reception of Democracy

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a former Middle Eastern specialist in the C.I.A.'s clandestine service and the author of "The Wave: Man, God and the Ballot Box in the Middle East." He has penned a New York Times editorial contemplating the force and effect of democracy upon the Islamic world.

Noting that the Middle-East has always been "resistant to the ideas and institutions that made representative government possible," Gerecht observes:

President George W. Bush's decision to build democracy in Iraq seemed so lame to many people because it appeared, at best, to be another example of American idealism run amok -- the forceful implantation of a complex Western idea into infertile authoritarian soil. But Mr. Bush, whose faith in self-government mirrors that of a frontiersman in Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," saw truths that more worldly men missed: the idea of democracy had become a potent force among Muslims, and authoritarianism had become the midwife to Islamic extremism.

One of the great under-reported stories of the end of the 20th century was the enormous penetration of the West's better political ideas -- democracy and individual liberty -- into the Muslim consciousness.

Gerecht continues to explore the "evolving" relationship between Islam (particularly groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood) and democracy (increasingly equated with justice and freedom). Gerecht's auguries are the most sanguine I've yet read - and, blessedly, the most realistically hopeful.  

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The Egyptian Revolution may well result in simply a slight adjustment of the army's power. With Muburak gone, we are in stage two, and it remains to be seen what will happen with those protestors who say his departure is not enough. And stage two could go on for years. It may be a decade before a coalition of parliamentarians, protestors, and military renegades directly challenge the army's power monopoly. Or it may happen this year some time. Given the chaos such a direct challenge could unleash, an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood or an army strongman to seize power could arise.

But I said COULD. Lots of things COULD happen. When you read those like Gerecht who actually have had their eye on the Middle East anti-autocracy protest movements, who actually know some bloomin' FACTS about them, it also emerges that Egypt COULD now enter into a fairly stable and even admirable half-way house b/t parliamentary democracy and military rule.

All this prelude to say this--there has been something rather strikingly pessimistic about the American conservative response the the Egyptian Revolution.

The pessimism has often been offered in a knee-jerk and very uninformed (arm-chair "lessons of history") manner. The fact that the events serve as a partial vindication of George W. Bush's and many Americans' basic INSTINCTS on Iraq and on the possibility of democracy in the Middle East circa a mere seven years ago seems not to have occurred to many, or has been suppressed as a problematic thought.

And so it has largely been left to American liberals, including many of those responsible for the disgusting demonization of Bush and the "neo-con" "conspiracy," and most of which have been staunchly "realistic" about supporting Mubarak, dealing with Tehran, and denouncing the promotion of democracy in Iraq as an instance of American-Wilsonian hubris, to celebrate the possibilties of the Egyptian revolution.


Yes, conservatives can say that many of these liberals are either ignorant about, or polly-annish-ly deluded about, the potential role of the Muslim Brotherhood in all this. Conservative analysts do have a real disagreement with many liberal analysts over the democratic creds of various MB-linked figures. But that disagreement has unfortunately been blown up for many conservatives into the ENTIRETY of their analysis, with the MB becoming a virtual bogeyman. Almost no conservatives seem aware of the FACTUAL debate that suggest that the MB enjoys somewhere less than 10% of the populaces' support. Almost none are really engaged in the considering the arguments that the MB is internally divided, that it has actually had a symbiotic relationship with the Mubarak regime that discredits it, and so on...

It begins to look like we American conservatives just got our democracy-promotion instincts spanked too damn hard in the court of American public opinion 2004-2008. Yes, the hard facts of a hard war were part of that spanking, but an American liberal opinion-agenda and a virulent anti-American European assist were in my mind the larger factors.

And it begins to look like reasoned conservative pessimism over Arab/Islamic democratic potentialities and ongoing outrage over Islamist terror and liberal coddling of it has morphed in the average conservative mind into an absolute pessimism about the ME.

"Those in the turbans will screw it up." Or as Bush might say, the soft (but rather hardened, no?) bigotry of low expectations.

Weird. And more than a bit shameful.

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