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Foreign Affairs

Elections in Egypt

Front page in today's New York Times

"The party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's mainstream Islamist group, appeared to have taken about 40 percent of the vote, as expected. But a big surprise was the strong showing of ultraconservative Islamists, called Salafis, many of whom see most popular entertainment as sinful and reject women's participation in voting or public life."

"Analysts in the state-run news media said early returns indicated that Salafi groups could take as much as a quarter of the vote, giving the two groups of Islamists combined control of nearly 65 percent of the parliamentary seats."

"The preliminary results extend the rising influence of Islamists across a region where they were once outlawed and oppressed by autocrats aligned with the West. Islamists have formed governments in Tunisia and Morocco. They are positioned for a major role in post-Qaddafi Libya as well. But it is the victory in Egypt -- the largest and once the most influential Arab state, an American ally considered a linchpin of regional stability -- that has the potential to upend the established order across the Middle East."  What was it we fought for, an elective despotism?
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Discussions - 14 Comments

I remember a couple of months back when some of the people who post comments on NLT were posting how wonderful it was going to be in Egypt now that Mubarack was gone. There would be freedom for all of Egypt and things would get better.

I remember posting comments that extremist Muslims would take over Egypt, enact Sharia law and start trouble with Israel. I also remember being told by many commenters on this board that that would not happen.

As Gomer Pyle would say "Surprise, Surprise, Surprise".

Tempting as it is to blame Obama for this state of affairs, this particular fuse was lit by George W. Bush. Was not the Bush administration's purpose in removing Saddam to establish a popularly-elected government in Iraq, one that would set an example for the rest of the Middle East? The belief that all human beings long for liberal western-style democracy has been the greatest source of mischief in 20th century U.S. foreign policy.

Is that fair? Calling an elected majority despots simply because its interests do not necessarily align with U.S. interests in the region? Someday, I hope, all of America will come to realize that democracy does not always produce the results that meet our own expectations. Besides, it's still early and we do not know what shape Egypt will take over the next few years.

Yes, Bush is to blame--see his Second Inaugural and aftermath. A country where converting from one faith to another brings the death penalty is certainly a despotism, and that's where Egypt is headed.

The political culture of Egypt is quite dissimilar to what it was in 1952, and was at that time quite dissimilar to what it had been in 1927. Mr. Bush is responsible for none of this (unsalutary) evolution. Neither is he responsible for the architectural weaknesses of the Mubarak regime, which had not been structurally altered throughout its nearly thirty years of existence; neither is he responsible for self-discrediting policy and personnel decisions of the regime, which, per Fouad Ajami, had been ongoing since about 1993. In case you had not noticed, Mr. Bush had been out of office for two years when the foundations began to go. Find yourself another scapegoat.

The belief that all human beings long for liberal western-style democracy has been the greatest source of mischief in 20th century U.S. foreign policy.

The idee fixe of this forum would appear to be Woodrow Wilon = Beelzebub.

How about this news from Afghanistan:

The plight of women in most Islamic nations is horrific. Rape is adultery is at best a long prison sentence, and in some countries (where the president does not pardon under outside pressure) means a death penalty. And I agree with Ken, if conversion from is a death sentence, then we are talking about tyranny.

Are we surprised? No. We hoped. That's different.

There are a lot more grounds for pessimism than optimism, that's for sure. Still, the democratic principle has been introduced and ultimately it may have effects that are to the Arabs' and our advantage. No quick solutions are in the offing. Iran's regime has the right sort of enemies, at least. The Green Revolution appears to be the polar opposite of the Muslim Brotherhood. A new American president might be the missing ingredient for regime change there. Europe took a century of revolutions before it embraced government by consent, after all.

Gavrilo Princip was not responsible for the rise of pan-Slavism, the weakness of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German militarism or the alliance system; nevertheless his murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand brought on World War I.

What kind of analogy is that?

George W. Bush did not put out a contract on Hosni Mubarak or Ali Abdullah Saleh or anyone else bar the Baath crew in Iraq and and the Taliban in Afghanistan (with whom we had disputes that turned on reasons of state). The regime in Egypt fell of its own weight. We likely to not have the capacity in our clandestine services to turn a situation with that kind of momentum to our advantage and, again, Mr. Bush is out of office.

So much for the "Arab Spring." Anyone with a conservative molecule in their bodies could have predicted this. The Arabs first turned to nationalism to assuage their sense of humiliation, and when that didn't work they pushed on into fascism (i.e., Baathism). Now that that has failed, we are due for a generational round of extreme Islamic identity. And when that fails (after who knows how much blood spilt and treasure squandered), what next?

Short of actually pulling ahead of the West (which could happen given the West's suicidal demographic and cultural tendencies), this culture will continue to be the world's most spoilt child. Like malignant narcissists everywhere, Arab Muslim men they have been taught that they should be ascendant as a natural right (i.e., without effort or mutual consideration), and anyone who stands in their way isn't just a nuisance but is evil root and branch.

In short, until this culture changes, there will be no true "Arab Spring." We can only hope the oil wells eventually drip dry and all the Western cash that is underwriting these cultural ambitions dwindles away.

I am not sure any blog post does justice to the reality, whatever that may be...

But a few points: Egypt is and remains an oligarchy, or a kelptocracy guided by a military junta... i.e. the egyptian military is the dominant force, and makes fridges, tv's, radio's bathroom sinks, millet, wheat, rice, and essentially accounts for 80% of all exports, its share of the total economy might be considerably smaller, but muslims have not fully monetized household services to the extent we have, (i.e. in america most famillies are two income) a great deal of the egyptian economy might occur off the books in goods and services rendered. (what is the economic value of a good wife?)

The most spoiled muslim men probably do not live in egypt, but in places like Kuwait (where the gov. oil dividend is fairly large for citizens).

Women do have rights in Kuwait, and it is largely free and democratic, except that they almost have a two tier class with a bunch of resident aliens doing all the work.

Something like democracy took root in Islam when Muhammad was poisoned. Or rather a faction sympathetic to electing clerics the sunni (who dominate in Egypt) split from the Shia (or followers of Ali, who believe that God chooses the viceregent on earth and that the chosen one was Ali (a figure like Peter, would be to Jesus, if Muhammad was God, which in any faction of Islam he certainly isn't.)

So Islam in some sense is split like Catholicism and Protestantism... Those who believe in electing religious leaders, and those who believe in choosing the Pope/Imam via something like the college of cardinals.

In sunni nations like egypt the election of religious leaders seems to make sense. In some sense in Shia nations like Iran the election of religious leaders would make much less sense. Since the Shia have in a sense erected a different sort of seperation of mosque and state. Religious leaders are chosen by "God" or a pannel of his elite representatives.

So I would say that even putting aside secular concerns there is some turmoil over the idea of direct election of the religious leaders.

It would almost be possible that a certain number of Shia would be more inclined to vote for secular leaders, rather than elect sunni leaders who might issue sectarian religious pronouncements about Islam.

So supposing that 20% of Egypt is really secular/christian/atheist...these might be strong votes for the secular wing. A certain number of Shia might also vote this way, since they would not want to vote for Salafism, the hardened wing of Sunni "history and intent, originalism"(literally restricted to the first three generations after Muhammad, but like Scalia they cheat a little). So with a bit more than 15% Shia with the 20% secular/christian wing you get the "Islamicist" portion at 65%.

The rise of "Salafism" is actually a sign that there continues to be bad blood between the Shia's and the Sunni's, but since a great deal of Egypt is Sunni, in this culture/religious war you can't just vote for the secular party since it is associated with the Shia's, the Christians and the Aitheists.

Of course the U.S. can't figure out which side of this religious war it wants to take. (the side with the best oil contracts, and who will also import our weapons, instead of going with the russian's like the "evil" Syrians, Shia minority rule vs. Sunni majority) Also when it does take a side it basically corrupts things and helps drive the narrative for the "hardliners", so you have the Salafi's and then the Salifi's who are really Sheikist, i.e. oligarch's in the house of Saud.

"The Green Revolution appears to be the polar opposite of the Muslim Brotherhood..."

I doubt it... I think the Green Revolution is in some sense the polar opposite of the Muslim Brotherhood, but not in the way you seem to mean it.

The Green Revolution is Shia and the Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni, and these ethnic and religious differences make them distinct.... but also there is room to not jump to swift conclusions, because neither the green revolution nor the Muslim Brotherhood is really "Islamicist" in the purer Salafi or Shia originalism debate...arguably they are both secular...muslim certainly, but more concerned with Camels and Oil and dogs, irrigation, zonning, sanitation, and in general regulatory procedure, promoting tourism and negotiating with the egyptian military, producing iranian steroids, promoting wrestling or chess, or using nuclear power (because it will be a hell of a lot cheaper than Oil, and because Iran has good reserves).

Certainly Israel makes no friends by destroying secular nuclear power plants (secular in the Salafi or school of Ali sense of not being mentioned or enabled by the Koran, (if it isn't in the first three generations after allah it is a way of life blasphemous to the creator.).

The green revolutionaries embrace science, thus in some sense positivism and perhaps are again amenable to some sort of Bathism (not fascism except by historical accident of seeking Germany to depose colonial rule.)

Islam does not create nuclear weapons or nuclear energy. Muslims of course can be scientists, as can christians, but the Green revolution wants science to enable a better way of life, perhaps also to aggrandize Iran and get back at the Jews and the Sunni's...but more concretly and immediately to enjoy a better life.

When Israel bombs an Iranian nuclear power plant they are killing the green revolutionaries, or the segment of the Iranian population that is educated enough to work there. The green revolutionaries for all we know are simply the upper middle class, educated, scientific and quasi-secular muslims.

John, I'm not sure how any of that applies to my post, by OK.

Reading over it, I am not sure either. It is a mass of tangled confusion.

I even confused Allah with Mohammed in this sentence: "if it isn't in the first three generations after allah it is a way of life blasphemous to the creator."

On the other hand the fact that the originalist Salafi faction is getting votes means that the muslim brotherhood is perceived as too centrist.

In terms of being "Islamicist" then given my knowledge there is certainly not enough room here to draw the distinction between the meaning of the term.

If a Ron Paul led "tea party" won 25% of both houses, and a McCain led republican won 40% of both houses, the New York Times would due to its own interests make the distinction, instead of running with a headline "conservatives" win 65%.

I don't really know what the common ground between the 65% Islamicists really is...or to put it another way Scalia and Thomas in establishment clause jurisprudence formulated a "coersion test"....Kennedy likes the "coersion test" but he reads broadly to include peer pressure to pray at high school graduations.

So a headline that reads "coersion test" approved by 65% of all justices (say 6-3, close enough) with Kennedy writting the decision....certainly doesn't mean that Scalia+Thomas won.

In addition Egypt is going to face a lot of headwinds, probably best if the "secular party" (assuming generally that these are the good guys) don't get thrust in to power and take all the blame.

In general I think good policy is more important than consent and elections, but consent and elections are a form of policy that is very good, as it seems to be the best procedure for enforcing policy accountablility. You are stuck with consent and you just have to hope it is informed.

Which in the case of sweeping claims about Islamicism, my own included it probably really isn't.

We are just speculating conversationally.

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