Alleged proponents of democracy and supporters of Egypt’s recent military coup—from America’s left and right—are performing “intellectual contortions” to justify “the mass killings of Islamists in the name of democracy,” writes Ken Silverstein at Harper’s Magazine. And “[t]he common denominator is that the killers were seen as pro-Western.”
In mid-July I posted on this site footage of a 12-year-old Egyptian boy criticizing the administration of democratically elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. The video was being posted across the Internet as a merited defiant cry against policies for which Egypt’s chapter of the Arab Spring was not fought. Silverstein displays appropriate skepticism toward the film.
The comments of “twelve-year-old Ali Ahmed,” he writes, “a well-dressed and articulate young man,” were “cited as evidence that the overthrow of an elected president wasn’t a coup but a shining example of democracy.”
“Who can resist adorable little Ali Ahmed?” Silverstein continues. “He comes across as an ardent champion of democracy and gender equality; indeed, it’s striking how deeply he seems to care about these issues. ‘We didn’t get rid of a military regime to replace it with a fascist theocracy,’ he says. ‘The social objectives of the revolution are yet to be achieved—economic empowerment, freedom and social justice.’ ”
As Silverstein points out, we shouldn’t assume that “these are genuinely Ali’s spontaneous thoughts, and that he wasn’t coached by adults or merely parroting their sentiments. It’s obvious from the video that he comes from Egypt’s tiny upper class, which under normal circumstances interacts with poor Egyptians only rarely. As a commentator on Egyptian social life, he has all the credibility of Richie Rich being interviewed on CNN about the plight of the American working class.”
“Worse, though, is the way people in Egypt and America are using him to try to justify what was clearly a military coup as part of a democratic ‘revolution,’ in turn legitimizing the subsequent mass killings of Islamists by the Egyptian army. This is especially pathetic when the supporters are Western liberals, who have deluded themselves into believing—as some once believed that military intervention was a route to democracy in Iraq and Libya—that American-style secularists have significant popular appeal in Egypt.”
“The truth is that the secularists beloved of the American political class have little support among Egyptians. … In Egypt, only two forces genuinely possess the ability to rule at the moment: the army, by virtue of the bayonet; or the Muslim Brotherhood, by virtue of the ballot.” Whether the Muslim Brotherhood would have been defeated in parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year is unknown. Huge numbers of people took to the streets to demonstrate against Morsi, but his supporters were also out in great numbers before and after the coup, and now they are risking their lives in the act.
Silverstein says he is not endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather that “we can’t have democracy in Egypt without it.” As he wrote in Harper’s Magazine in 2007, after interviewing senior officials in the Muslim Brotherhood and Lebanon-based Shia Islamic group Hezbollah, he says this month, “the U.S. government needs to deal with ‘radical’ Islamists because they are widely supported actors in their countries. The alternative to giving them a fair share of power is mass arrests and executions.”
Of course, certain coup supporters highly placed in the American media firmament seem to be comfortable with that. David Brooks recently wrote in The New York Times that “Radical Islamists are incapable of running a modern government. Many have absolutist, apocalyptic mind-sets. They have a strange fascination with a culture of death.”
The Washington Post noted in late July that the response to such killings from the Obama administration “has been fairly muted,” despite the results of a Human Rights Watch investigation that found many of the demonstrators killed late in the month “had been shot in the chest or head by live ammunition.” The Post went on to say: “The brutality of Egypt’s once-feared security state helped spark Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Now those security forces are swinging back into action, and this time they are being hailed as heroes by many of the secular activists and liberals who once campaigned against them.”
Silverstein powerfully concludes: “You cannot preach about democracy then accept the outcome only if your side triumphs. In 2006, Hamas won a devastating victory in legislative elections in the Palestinian Authority. The following year, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas dissolved a Hamas-led unity government and swore in an emergency cabinet, leading the Obama Administration to reinstate aid that had been suspended under Hamas’ rule. This type of hypocrisy heightens anti-Americanism, sends the message that elections are meaningless, and encourages terrorism.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Abode of Chaos (CC BY 2.0)
A dramatic representation of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.