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Our Problems With Egypt and the Middle East

We have a problem with Egypt. And Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen, among others. The problem isn’t the disintegration of the established order and the emergence of revolution. That is only one symptom among many. The real problem is our failure to recognize those symptoms and correctly diagnose the problem.

One symptom is the current administration’s failure to recognize, and repudiate, the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama and his Secretary of State Clinton have both refused to object to the brotherhood’s presence in Egypt, and their role in fomenting, or at least encouraging, the revolution. It’s not for lack of knowledge that Obama refuses to act. If I know that El Baradei is a brotherhood functionary, then I’m sure Obama does, possessed as he is with a large intelligence apparatus. So if he knows, then his failure to object can only be based on one of two things. Either he agrees with their presence, or he feels that the situation is too delicate to object. I find the first to be slightly unbelievable, and the second just too preposterous. In either case, our failure to object to evil is morally indefensible.

The bigger problem, not just for our Middle East policy, but for our foreign policy in general, is our insistence on promoting democracy throughout the world. I believe that this is a short-sighted policy, doomed to failure in the long run, and based on basic misapprehensions about the nature of man and government.

If we listen to the talking heads, political prattlers, and professional pundits, we would hear almost universal approval of this Egyptian revolution. Both sides of the political spectrum, and the middle, seem to believe that this democratic uprising is a good thing. But I’m not so sure.

We’ve already seen that the average Egyptian Muslim is, by western standards, an uncivilized brute. As I pointed out in a previous column, 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe in stoning women for adultery, death sentences for converting away from Islam, and hand removal for theft. As much as we might admire the Tepesian efficacy of such measures, nobody with any pretensions to civilization would actually wish them to be employed. However, even if we assume an entire lack of participation by the Muslim Brotherhood, we can expect that a democratically elected government would enact all those measures as an expression of the popular democratic will. What would prevent them?

We didn’t have to wait too long for violence against Christians to rear its head after the uprising began, either. And what is there, in a new democratic Egypt to prevent enshrining anti-Christian sentiment in law or practice? And how long will it be before women are forced out of the schools and into burqas? After all, if it is the will of the people, and achieved democratically, then we’ll all support it, right?

The problem is that we, in the west, have been told time and time again that, in terms of government, that democracy is not just the highest good, it’s the only good. This, if believed, results in a disordered system that rejects one form of dictatorship for another. In the case of Egypt, it replaces an autocrat like Mubarak with a group of autocrats like hand-amputating Muslims. It will also replace the King of Jordan with Hamas, or Hezbollah, or the Brotherhood. It is amusing, in a schadenfreudish sort of way, to watch the people that decry the narrow-mindedness of those who see things in black and white terms to lecture the world on the black and white choice of governments.

Real governments are collections of people; people who are, in turn, stupid, selfish, greedy, criminal, charitable, brave, noble, and loyal, among others. All any government can do is moderate the more base motivations of man, and encourage the more noble aspirations. There are different forms of government that are more or less suited to the conditions that surround them, and therefore are more or less suited to achieving the desired effect of exalting the good and inhibiting the bad.

A true democracy, being a government driven directly by the people, is least able to moderate the passions of the mob. Which is why the drafters of the American constitution specifically rejected a democratic style government, and instituted a republic. The republican form of government moves slowly enough to dampen mob urges and instincts, but quickly enough to respond to society’s needs. But not all countries are ready for a republic, or for that matter, even a democracy.

We in the west tend to think of the government as having only that power with which we endow it. We place the government subordinate to the natural integrity of the individual. But that attitude is an outgrowth of fifteen centuries of Christian civilization. The belief in the autonomy of every individual, and the inherent dignity of each person, are ideas that took centuries to establish. Only when those ideas are put into practice are people capable of fully exercising self-rule. Until those ideas are internalized, both in society and in individuals, enlightened self government is impossible.

Unfortunately, the middle east, with one glaring exception, is under the dominion of a religious structure that places submission to their god above all else, even the freedom of conscience that we take for granted. As long as that structure holds sway, democracies in the region will be truly “mob rule.”


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