Gerald Honigman is a Florida educator who has done extensive doctoral work in Middle East studies, has lectured on numerous university and other platforms. He has debated many of the best Arab and pro-Arab academics in public debates and on television. Mr. Honigman is widely published in academic journals, magazines, newspapers and other publications.
Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:50 am Democracy: Be Careful What You Wish For...
Democracy: Be Careful What You Wish For…
by Gerald A. Honigman
In the last few days, and not counting the mounting death toll in Egypt itself, hundreds more people have been killed in various atrocities in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other parts of the Arab/Muslim world. Add to these thirty students set on fire in a school by Islamists in Nigeria–and G_d only knows what else and what the morrow will bring. Unfortunately, this kind of stuff has become all-too-common these days. Perhaps worse still, we’re no longer shocked and have come to expect such goings on “over there.”
Oh yes, there’s more news regarding that region as well…
The Obama Administration, looking for something it can point to in terms of success, is still looking to force Israel into virtual suicidal agreements with Arabs. These are the very same folks who swear that they’ll never recognize Israel as a State of the Jews even after it’s forced, by its American friends, back to its pre-’67 war, nine to fifteen mile wide, ’49 armistice line existence.
As many of us have warned, do the year 1938, Munich, Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, Neville Chamberlain, Hitler, and the promise of “peace for our time” ring some familiar bells?
Amidst all the nauseating barbarity surrounding them, the Jews, nonetheless, are simply expected to expose the necks of their children yet further to those who already have track records of slaughtering Jewish families in their sleep, decapitating infants to boot.
Any Israeli leader who caves in on such issues should think carefully about the fate of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram.
True to form, the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick has written another perceptive analysis. This one deals with the recent military ouster of Egypt’s first allegedly fairly, democratically-elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.
Some folks have spoken of Morsi as being a potential latter day George Washington. Besides fellow Islamists in Hamas’s Gaza, Turkey, Tunisia, and elsewhere, leaders such as President Obama and the Iranian mullahs have cozied up to him as well. Obama seems to have this attraction for Islamists throughout the region–as long as they don’t actually come out and wear an al-Qaida name tag too prominently.
Nevertheless, excerpts from two quotes should suffice to put talk of such analogies to rest.
On his visit to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790, George Washington proclaimed, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
In other words, according to Morsi “to bigotry all sanction, to persecution all assistance.”
In fairness to Morsi, the Jew problem is entrenched in Egyptian society at large–including in the Coptic Christian community where Islam’s “killers of prophets” and “sons of apes and pigs” are deemed “G_d killers” as well.
Nevertheless, Morsi’s no George Washington, that’s for sure. And not only when it comes to Jews. Just ask those 12 million or so native Copts mentioned above, the folks who pre-date the Arab Muslims who conquered them by millennia. Murdered men, kidnapped and raped women, burned down churches, and so forth.
Okay, enough of George Washington Morsi. Let’s return to Caroline Glick’s astute piece for a moment. Here are some excerpts to contemplate before I add more of my own two cents’ worth…
“The American foreign policy establishment’s rush to romanticize as the Arab Spring the political instability that engulfed the Arab world following the self-immolation of a Tunisian peddler in December 2010 was perhaps the greatest demonstration ever given of the members of that establishment’s utter cluelessness about the nature of Arab politics and society… US reporters and commentators today portray this week’s protests as the restoration of the Egyptian revolution. That revolution, they remain convinced, was poised to replace long-time Egyptian leader and US-ally Hosni Mubarak with a liberal democratic government…Subsequently, we were told, that revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that Morsi and his government have been overthrown, the Facebook revolution is back on track.
And again, they are wrong…As was the case in 2011, the voices of liberal democracy in Egypt are so few and far between that they have no chance whatsoever of gaining power, today or for the foreseeable future. At this point it is hard to know what the balance of power is between the Islamists who won 74 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections and their opponents. But it is clear that their opponents are not liberal democrats. They are a mix of neo-Nasserist fascists, communists and other not particularly palatable groups….None of them share Western conceptions of freedom and limited government. None of them are particularly pro-American. None of them like Jews. And none of them support maintaining Egypt’s cold peace with Israel.
Egypt’s greatest modern leader was Gamal Abdel Nasser. By many accounts the most common political view of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters is neo-Nasserist fascism
No doubt, Egypt poses a serious dilemma for those wishing greater freedoms for all peoples across the globe.
Like many others, I support the right of people everywhere to elect officials who will represent them. One way or another, folks should have a say in what policies their elected officials pursue as well.
Having stated this, however, I also believe that a nation’s majority must not abuse its power for self aggrandizement, suppression of dissent, and to the detriment of the opposition and minorities. A further complication also arises over what can actually be categorized as “abuse” in these regards. No doubt, the majority and the minority will have differences about this as well. So, who decides?
Democracy as a mere tool for dominance is not what those who have come to idealize that form of government have in mind. Indeed, some of the main fears about democracy have been the potential for mob rule, the actions of irrational masses, and oppression by the majority. America’s Founding Fathers handled such concerns via blending democracy with republicanism and a viable constitution that places limits on the actions and results the majority can accomplish.
Since the so-called “Arab Spring” sprung over two years ago, those who espouse freedom and democracy–but with their heads still kept above the sand–have thus been faced with a serious quandary. And while Glick’s must-read analysis deals with Egypt per se, the game is really about the same throughout the region–with one notable exception, of course (guess who?). After all, what really are the choices in Syria, for example? Pick your poison…And while there are some more tolerant alternatives in Syria as well, as Glick points out for Egypt, they too lack the power, are ignored by the world’s power brokers, and so forth.
When all of this was first transpiring and naiveté was at its peak, there were those complaining about alleged double standards. They’re still around.
On the one hand, for example, they pointed out that while Israel claims to be the only real democracy in the region, when popular revolts erupted in the predominantly Arab/Muslim World surrounding it against abusive despots (like the one which toppled Mubarak and brought Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood into office in Egypt), the Jews and some others remained far more cautious in their support and assessments. And that brings us back to our main focus–democracy in the Middle East.
Democracy can be a wonderful idea, and while variations of it exist, equality and freedom have been closely identified as important characteristics since its origins. While ancient Greece is often touted as its birthplace, other peoples have also contributed to its tenets. America’s own Liberty Bell, for example, has a quote from Leviticus 25:10 in the Hebrew scripture on it…”proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”
But there are indeed different species of democracy, and the devil is in those differences. Hence the problem we are now dealing with.
Some forms of democracy provide more freedom and representation; others include better protections for minorities, meaningful checks and balances in government, and so forth. These are how Western style democracies operate–or at least should.
The problem, however, is that democracy can also simply be interpreted to mean the rule of the majority, and–especially in some situations–such a system can lead to the oppression of others. It is these latter points which are key to understanding concerns about the demonstrations and revolts which are now, once again, taking place in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
Furthermore, “majority rule” democracy in the Arab/Muslim world is especially troublesome.
To begin with, much of the non-stop blood-letting going on as this piece is being penned is between Arab Muslims themselves–the age-old conflict between the Shi’a and Sunni.
When Bashar al-Assad’s father slaughtered tens of thousands of Arabs in one month in his “Hama Solution” in the ’80s, they were members of the Syrian Sunni Islamist counterpart to Mohamed Morsi’s Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Shi’a being blown to bits daily in Iraq are targeted by Sunnis–etc. and so forth.
Regardless of whoever is in the majority under such circumstances, unless there are real Western-style checks and balances present, “democracy” will not have much meaning.
But, beyond Arab to Arab relationships, there are other complicating dimensions to this problem in the region–the dhimmi factor and beyond.
While it is true that there are some Arab and other Muslim moderates, those who either profess an Arab and/or Muslim supremacy (or who support those who believe this) remain in the forefront of most, if not all, Arab Muslim nations today.
A few examples should suffice…
A few years back, a referendum which led to the freedom of the south occurred in the Sudan. It took literally millions of dead, maimed, enslaved, and refugee black Africans to finally bring this about. Their sin? They were non-Arabs, not sufficiently Arabized enough, and/ or non-Muslim blacks who wanted freedom from the subjugation of the Arab Muslim north of the country.
Now, keep in mind that the continuing problem of Darfur, in the western region of the Sudan, was not addressed here. The slaughter and subjugation of its Muslim–but black, non-Arab (nor Arabized enough)–people still has no end in sight.
While the Sudan has not had democracy, no amount of protests or revolts by Arabs against one Arab regime or another will change the attitude of Arabs of any and all stripes towards those whom they typically call ‘abid (slaves)–the native blacks. Keep in mind that these are the same folks who like to scream about allegedly “racist Zionists”– and get much of a virtually clueless world to acquiesce.
Since we’re discussing Egypt and its neighbor to the south, the Sudan, in North Africa, how can the plight of tens of millions of other native, but non-Arab, people who also live in that area also not be considered in a discussion about democracy? Actually, the plight of those people has been too often deliberately ignored–even by most experts in academia and the State Department. Far too often, the closest most students ever get to the subject is reading about Berber musicians and rugs.
The reality is that native Amazigh and Kabyle culture and language have been suppressed and frequently outlawed, to the point where parents have been forced to name their own children with Arab and “good” Islamic names, instead of their own. The “Berbers” resisted the Arab Jihadi conquests for centuries and are still murdered today when they protest against their Arab subjugators too loudly.
“The Amazigh (some 35 to 40 million Berbers) are struggling every day for their most basic human rights. All of those and more are refused to the Amazigh people on their own land by the Arab-Islamist dictatorial states in North Africa. In comparison, Israel is a dream democracy for us.”
Tell me please–how will democracy, in its more limited definition, change things for the Imazighen when a subjugating Arab majority, with its non-egalitarian elitist ruler and ruled mindset, still prevails? And there’s yet another point to keep in mind related to this as well. How many of those so-called “Arabs” in the majority in North Africa and elsewhere were actually other native, non-Arab people whose families were earlier forcibly Arabized?
President Sadat’s Foreign Minister, the non-Arab Copt, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is quoted by his visiting Israeli author guest, Amos Elon, saying that there was no room in the region for any other culture but Arab and that if Israel wanted to be accepted, it too must be Arabized. As I like to say, Uncle Boutros instead of Uncle Tom (actually, that’s the name of a chapter on the subject in my book).
Before returning to the democracy problem as it relates to Egypt itself, the plight of some 40 million native, stateless Kurds must also once again be quickly addressed.
While I’ve written about these people often, it is worth repeating that the Arab majority has routinely employed the same oppressive and/or genocidal policies that they have used against blacks or Berbers in North Africa towards Kurds and others as well. The name of Ismet Cherif Vanly’s book says it all, The Syrian ‘Mein Kampf’ Against The Kurds. Over the years, Iraq’s Anfal Campaign in the ’80s and earlier atrocities slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the name of the Arab nation.
How will the valid aspirations Shi’a and Sunni Arabs have for a better life for themselves change both of their oppressive attitudes in Kurdistan?
Again, this is not to say that reasonable Arab grievances–all over the region– should not be addressed. But it is to say that the mere fact that millions of Arabs–who suffer under the type of rulers that their own culture specializes in producing–demonstrate and rebel against their own regimes does not erase the fact that there will still be much to worry about by vast numbers of non-Arab peoples even when Arab despots, medieval potentates, or other murderous autocrats are toppled.
Okay, this essay is already too long–so it’s time to shift the focus back to Egypt itself.
While there are Berbers in the west, black Nubians in the south, and once upon a time Egypt had a substantial population of post-Exodus native Jews, the Copts are, by far, the largest non-Arab population in the land. They are the true native people, descendants of the Pharaohs, who, after being subjected to the rule of the hated Byzantines, were conquered in the 7th century C. E. jihad as Arabs burst out of the Arabian Peninsula and spread out in all directions.
Today, there are somewhere between twelve and fifteen million Copts in Egypt–depending upon whose numbers you use. As Christians, they, with the Jews, were tolerated, to a degree, as “People of the Book” as long as certain rules of the conquering, subjugating Arab Muslim road were adhered to. The latter have been referred to as dhimmitude, and those “protected’ people are known as dhimmis. Boutros-Ghali is the dhimmi par excellence.
The best approach for the Copts over the centuries has been to keep a low profile, pay the special taxes, prove usefulness, quietly accept subservient status, and find ways to ingratiate and prove loyalty to the Arab majority and its rulers. In other words, as already hinted to above, Copts have existed in Egyptian Arab society by turning themselves into a sub-nation of Uncle Tom Uncle Boutroses. For non-Americans, please look up what “Uncle Tom” refers to–in case you can’t figure it out (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Tom). Still, this didn’t guarantee that the next slaughter or burned down church was not just another day away…
Since we’re discussing Copts, Arabs, and Jews, it’s also important to understand that, even though there are barely any Jews left in Egypt, Copts don’t need Arab Muslims to teach them how to hate Jews. While there are few Jews in Egypt, there is a powerful Jewish State next door. So, the topic is still relevant.
The Copts’ own faith has taught them to hate alleged Jewish G_d-killers for centuries–long before Muhammad ever even entered into the picture. Listening to the Copts’ late pope, Shenouda III, was like hearing a speech from the best Western anti-Semites have to offer. Copts have thus had more than one reason to join their own abusive Arab neighbors in their mutual antagonism of the Jew.
So, as usual, the Jews are in an even more precarious situation–no matter who is in power amongst their neighbors. And this also points to the bigger problem impacting the prospects for the ascendancy of Western-style democracy anywhere in the region.
You see, with the exception of an imperfect (but still light years ahead) Israel, all of the institutions needed to promote tolerance, the acceptance of diversity, to build an egalitarian society, and so forth barely exist anywhere in the Arab/Muslim world.
Yes, Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was rejected by millions (yet somehow supposedly won the earlier presidential election), but–as Caroline Glick and others point out–many of those now in the opposition have their own nasty baggage as well. And both sides accuse the other of being in bed with the Jews. So much for the tolerance factor.
Yes, once again, there are voices of moderation in Egypt–but they, like those elsewhere in that region, are very isolated and are virtually powerless.
Unfortunately, the characteristics we have come to associate with more tolerant, inclusive democracy in the West do not have fertile ground in the Arab/Muslim world. Democracy there still translates into the rule of the majority–and that majority is rarely, if ever, in a sharing mood.
The alternative to this scenario is often expressed via a self-empowered minority whose modus operandi is manifested via a “the best defense is an offense” approach to politics. Think Saddam’s minority Sunnis versus the dominant Shi’a in Iraq and Assad’s minority Alawi Shi’a offshoot versus the Sunni majority in Syria.
These are the cold, hard realities at hand–and the past century of the oil-addicted West coddling up to such folks instead of taking a more meaningful stance on specific key issues did not help matters any.
As just one of many examples, more often than not, the same American State Department, which has always been quick to criticize Israel if it breathed one too many collective breaths, has also too often acted deaf, dumb, and blind to daily doses of barbarism and oppression occurring throughout the Arab/Muslim world.
Given this deliberate neglect and the infertile nature of the specific ground in which it was now somehow expected to take root, to expect Western-style democracy to emerge in the region–whether in Egypt or anywhere else–would have taken a miracle. And one of the last of those to occur in the neighborhood involved some dude who led his people out of Egypt across a body of water not far from where Egypt blockaded Israel in 1967–but about thirty-three centuries earlier.Unfortunately, the land of the Pharaohs is no closer to inclusive democracy today than it was back then.