By Mohamed El Mokhtar
It felt sometimes quite depressing, and indeed demeaning, to be an Arab, living or going to school in America, during the Second Intifada, and hear ad nauseum the same old refrain chanted every minute in every media, at work, on campus: “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel this, Israel that..!”. It is all the more insulting that, besides being quite inaccurate to a large extent, it is, inherently, dishonest to say the least. It is, also, primarily meant to hurt some more than to extol others. This is certainly the case when coming out of the mouth of openly racist and cynically biased pundits like the O’Reillys, the Cavutos, or the Blitzers of this world, and the many spins doctors to whom they give, on a daily basis, a free platform to air their one-sided and unchallenged view of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Muslim world.
Now that the tide of history is, at last, returning against the current of stereotypes they helped build and promote over the years, turning upside down the mountains of perceived ideas and racist assumptions they, thus, compiled all along, there seems to be a paradigm shift, not in the sense of a change of heart but in the direction of a modification of tactic or, more exactly, a refinement of rationale.
As many decent and freedom-loving people celebrate everywhere in the world the long-awaited popular uprisings against tyranny in Tunisia and Egypt, there are some though, within certain influential Western political circles and media elites, who seem quite unhappy at the prospect of a democratic Tunisia, and above all, Egypt; hence, the baseless ratiocinations of Allan Dershowitz, Charles Krauthammer, Zuckerman et al.
It is as though the prospect of a democratic Egypt is nothing but a grim omen and a prelude to Armageddon when listening to the laborious explanations of these pseudo-intellectuals so tirelessly omnipresent in the media. A democratic Egypt is such an inacceptable perspective for it is an existential threat to that sinless Olympian citadel called Israel. That is the thinly disguised argument!
The same senseless assumptions are being promoted, albeit in a more sophisticated fashion, in France by figures like Bernard Henry Levy, Alain Finkielkrault, André Glucksmann or Alexander Adler. Like their American colleagues, these French intellectuals and journalists seem rather emotionally disturbed these days. The idea of a democratic transformation of Egypt seems just so unbearable to them. It is such a potential threat that it ought to be prevented by any means!
In the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro of Jan 29 and 30, Alexander Alder is the first to sound the alarm in a vitriolic op-ed titled: “Towards a Fundamentalist Dictatorship in Cairo?” where he describes Mohamed El Baradei , one of the leading opponents to Mubarak’s regime, as a “ polymorphous perverse”, nothing less. Outright imprecation and smear proposed to readers as “rational opinion”! How disgusting!
Following Alder’s pernicious lead, Alain Finkielkraut writes in Liberation of Feb 3 a column in which he asks, rather crudely and without nuance, if El Baradei will “be the right man of the democratic transition or the useful moron of Islamism?”, and concludes authoritatively that the democratization of Egypt is not possible due to the overwhelming presence of the Muslim Brothers in that presumably backward society. He goes even further to remind us, erroneously shall I underscore, that unlike Eastern Europe there is no tradition of democracy in Egypt to speak of.
It is all the more false and perfidious that Egyptian parliamentarian practice dates back to the nineteen century and in all of Eastern Europe only Czechoslovakia had a real tradition of democracy before the constitution of the Eastern bloc. Besides, how can one demand that there be a democratic precedent or a tradition of democracy in a society trying precisely to overthrow a dictatorship and free itself from despotism? How stupid and cynical!
In the magazine le point with a cover insidiously titled “The Islamic Specter”, Bernard Henry Levy learnedly convey his deep concerns and anxiety about the possibility of Muslim fundamentalists taking advantage of the fall of Mubarak. Embellished with a better prose, his insinuations relay, nonetheless, the same empty stereotypes given here and there.
What is, alas, quite striking and morally disgraceful, in all of these ramblings, is a sad and an undeniable fact: these supposedly towering intellectual figures are, unfortunately, all Jews; and we’ve all got, already, used to hearing them, unashamedly, rationalizing the most basic and extremist views of the far right in Israel. Can there be any essentializing and racialist intellectual endeavor than this one? The ghettoized ideological insularity and ethnocentric provincialism of these intellectuals deeply inhibit their ability to think critically, much less reflect with lucidity; hence their deep-seated subjectivity and, quite frankly, outright hypocrisy.
Here is one example of their sickening tendency toward manipulation and bias: to help them in their communications and propaganda effort to intoxicate further the French public, they called for a special back-up from the US, a taskforce professionally trained in the art of intoxicating minds. It is Daniel Pipes. They introduced him to media pundits, newspapers and TV channels as though he was some kind of an authoritative scholar of the Arab and Muslim world.
What is ironic, as Pascal Boniface aptly put it, is the fact these “intellectuals” have complained so often about the lack of democratic regimes in the Arab world and now that there may be a change in perspective they feel so deeply concerned and visibly depressed. In 10 days, wolf Blitzer of CNN has gained ten years in age and lost more in pounds!
Besides, putting to rest the old refrain “Israel is the only democracy in the region’’, the new change will, perhaps, likely mean the establishment of less accommodating regimes when it comes to Israel unconstrained policies of dispossession and subjugation of Palestinians. Therein lies the source of their main concern.
Even a Muslim Brothers-dominated government in Egypt will very unlikely jeopardize the peace agreements with Israel, much less go to war for many reasons the least which are the many socio-economic challenges facing the country and the imbalance of powers already existing in the region. But it is very likely though that a truly representative Egyptian government will use its logistical capabilities and political leverage to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinian. Is that perspective such a big deal?
They all flex their neurons in trying to make the flawed parallel of what is going on in Egypt now with the precedent of the Iranian revolution forgetting, en bloc, the socio-historical circumstances of the time as well as their geopolitical context. The mullahs shut off their society in part because of the specter of foreign intervention (the precedent of Mossadegh) and that of an immediate threat: Iraq. Therefore, the existence of a real outside threat- the Iraqi aggression with the support of the Arabs and the West-, undoubtedly played a critical role in the devious evolution of the Iranian revolution. It is very clear to understand!
Furthermore, the Shaas party is an openly religious and racist party but its presence in the current government alongside the secular, and no less racist, Israel Beitouna, doesn’t seem to raise the eyebrows of any of these liberal-inspired philosophers who always lust lecturing Arabs about the virtues of liberal democracy.
In conclusion, it seems that the criteria upon which the democratization of the Arab world is being measured by some in the West is not necessarily the inalienable universal rights of peoples to self-determination but the paranoiac whims of a tiny foreign state that illegally occupies Arab lands and refuses, against all odds, any type of reasonable political comprise. Arabs have only conditional political rights and if they elect Islamists or oppose Israel they automatically forfeit those limited rights. Thus, they have to be paternalistically told who to elect and when. That type of crude racism is only permissible when directed at Arabs. Could Krauthammer or Dershowitz dare today question the maturity of south-African blacks for democracy? I bet they cannot!
Finally, isn’t somewhat odd that a small state born little over half-century ago, made up of the uprooted remnants of various wandering, and longtime ostracized, tribes is entitled to human rights that a great people of a far more ancient and glorious nation, Egypt, are not supposed to naturally enjoy?
I think it is just one more proof of the ugly game of double standards at play here!
– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.