First, take David Burchell:
There have been only two popular ideologies of consequence in the Middle East since colonialism’s squalid death in the 1950s: Soviet-style authoritarianism, with its specious liturgy of anti-colonialism, and the grand, exultant nihilism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow extremists.
Now let’s think about a few popular ideologies since the 1950s. First would be the two most popular leaders from the 50s: Mossadeq in Iran, and Nasser in Egypt. Mossadeq was a secular nationalist, and so was Nasser (Nasser was a dictator, unlike Mossadeq). Nasser was wildly popular throughout the Middle East, and harshly repressed communists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Have there been other popular ideologies of consequence? Well the Iranian revolution didn’t spread, but that doesn’t mean that Vilayet-i-Faqih isn’t of consequence. Obviously, Khomeinism and Muslim Brotherhood are both political Islamist ideologies, but they’re also very different. And of course, the Iranian revolution harshly repressed communists too.
Worse was Tom Switzer’s ‘Be careful what you wish for in Egypt’ over at Drum, in which he warns against revolution because ‘far from ushering in a new era of democratic prosperity and a stable peace, an Egyptian revolution could lead to a period of virulent anti-Americanism and Islamic extremism’. And obviously, anti-Americanism would be awful, right? ‘Washington should foster a Mubarak-led transfer of power rather than one led by the street protesters.’
He goes on, ‘To work, democracy requires, among other things, a degree of prosperity and order.’ And plainly, there’s a lot of poverty in Egypt, so democracy couldn’t work, except among the rich? ‘Look at Egypt and it appears that none of these conditions can easily be met anytime soon. The protestors might be young, but they are not wholly secular and many are unemployed.’ Note how unemployed protesters somehow become illegitimate?
The Muslim Brotherhood is the only organised political group, but it is also an extremist outfit that supports Hamas and Tehran, opposes Israel, the US and the 1979 Camp David peace accords, and threatens regional and global counter-terrorism efforts.
Note how the major concern about the MB is not its extremist ideology and intolerance, but that it doesn’t like Israel or the US? And even this is a joke – the MB used to get US support in opposing Nasser.
‘In these circumstances,’ Switzer continues, ‘it’s surely simplistic to denounce Cairo for denying democracy to the Egyptian people.’ Simplistic to denounce a dictator for oppressing his people – because the US and Israel wouldn’t like a democracy.
In his book The Arabs: A History, Eugene Rogan says that in ‘any free and fair election in the Arab world today, I believe, the Islamists would win hands down.’ He goes onto say that ‘the inconvenient truth about the Arab world today is that, in any free election, those parties most hostile to the United States are likely to win.’
The point here is not to denigrate the US. It is that because nations such as Egypt are still modernising, they are open to all the disturbing and dislocating ideological forces that this process will unleash. That is why democracy could degenerate into plebiscites that, far from leading to moderate and sensible governments, would add legitimacy to authoritarianism and extremism.
Democracy would mean authoritarianism – because US interests wouldn’t be served. There’s more. Look at this mind-bogglingly appalling example:
History, moreover, shows how the most unsavoury groups can use elections to win power. Remember a democratic process produced Chancellor Hitler in 1933 … On the eve of Saddam Hussein’s toppling in 2003, elections in Turkey brought to power Islamists who denied the US access to its territory for the liberation of Iraq.
That’s right. Hitler’s rise to power is similar to a Turkish government not wanting to help the US invade Iraq (sorry, liberate it). But above all, ‘the more democratic and revolutionary Cairo and the Middle East become, the more Islamist, authoritarian and anti-American the region will be. That’s in neither the US nor the Arab world’s interest.’
Get it? If the Middle East becomes more democratic, it will be more anti-American, and, therefore, more authoritarian. And being democratic – pursuing policies that the Arabs want, and allowing them freedom – isn’t really in the Arab world’s interest.
We can learn a lot from this article. Remember, Switzer is a ‘research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and editor of Spectator Australia’. Plus:
In 2008, he was senior adviser to former federal Liberal Party Leader Brendan Nelson until the leadership vote that saw Malcolm Turnbull take over in the top job.
Before that, he was opinion page editor for The Australian newspaper (2001-08), an editorial writer at the Australian Financial Review (1998-2001), and an assistant editor at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC (1995-98).