15 August 2013

Islamophobia in Egypt?

One of the prominent liberals in the interim Egyptian government, Mohamed ElBaradei, has resigned to protest the killing of hundreds of people during yesterday's attack on encampments sympathetic to the deposed Mohamed Morsi. The bit I found most interesting about this story was the harsh criticism of ElBaradei, one of the country's best-known diplomats, from the spokesman/leader of the Tamarod ("Rebel") movement that reportedly took the lead in organizing the mass demonstrations against Morsi. Mahmoud Badr basically sneered at ElBaradei, arguing that the diplomat was more interested in his image abroad than in taking the steps necessary for the good of Egypt. Implicitly, Badr, a 28 year old journalist and commentator, endorsed the use of military force against a mass protest (which he characterized as terrorism), if not the actual killing of the protesters. In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathizers were trying to do basically the same thing Tamarod and the other anti-Morsi forces did earlier this summer, and for that they had to die. Had Morsi dealt with Tamarod the same way, most observers would have taken it as irrefutable proof of his tyrannical if not evil nature. Tamarod has been portrayed as a liberal movement, if only by contrast with the a priori illiberal Brotherhood. But this week's events in Egypt will separate the liberals from the people who simply hate the Muslim Brotherhood, and with ElBaradei and Badr as samples, I think we can tell one kind from the other.

Do people like Badr hate the Brotherhood as an organization unto itself, or do they hate whatever they perceive it to stand for. Does Tamarod express something akin to Islamophobia in a Muslim nation? -- Islamismophobia, perhaps? An alternative label is "secular," and Tamarod's backers are arguably what passes for "secular humanists" in Egypt. As this French report shows, Badr and Tamarod enjoyed heavy financial and on-air support from the country's media establishment, a group understandably wary, at a minimum, of politicians pushing for sharia. We all might root for the media over religious fanatics, but the media's apparent triumph in this case is no more democracy at work than the imposition of sharia would be -- and arguably quite less, depending on the will of Egypt as a whole. Yet many observers continue to judge by what they assume Morsi would have done eventually, as if to say the Brotherhood is getting what they deserve. You wonder how much people like Badr will be able to stand, and the answer seems to depend on how deeply they fear the Brotherhood. "Secularists" and "liberals" may end up owning a military dictatorship, and some outside critics suggest that those groups will bear much if not most of the blame if all-out jihad breaks out in Egypt.  It would be a shame if it all comes down to fear of religion, which is what Sen. McCain seemed to be warning against when he urged the current regime last week to be inclusive of Islamists while leaving Morsi to twist in the wind. Even if we focus on fear of theocracy instead, how seriously should we take either the fear or the threat? A Republican like McCain is well aware that religious conservatives in his own country are often accused of seeking theocracy, and most likely thinking those fears exaggerated in the U.S., he may have advised the Egyptians that they might go too far in a preemptive strike against theocracy and its purported promoters in their country.

In many eyes Egypt has now gone too far, but while humanitarian impulses inevitably respond with horror to yesterday's killing, it is still arguable that the destruction of the Brotherhood is a precondition for real revolution in that country. It won't be destroyed without a fight, and if Egyptians press on for the destruction of Islamism the fight will be longer and bloodier still. There's probably no way out of the country's mess without more people getting killed, but no amount of killing automatically clears an exit. Conventional humanitarian standards can't apply here; means will have to be judged by ends, preferably by Egyptians only. What the country really needs is a proper economic policy, and whether theocracy or whatever Tamarod stands for fills that bill is open to question. There may be no winners in Egypt now or in the short run ... but if Americans recognize that there are no "good guys" there and behave accordingly, there might at least be progress in international relations.

No comments: