David Brooks: To Support Democracy in Egypt, We Must Oppose It

I’ve been reluctant to publish anything on Egypt up to this point, because I don’t want to join the long line of uninformed Americans saying stuff about a country they know almost nothing about.

But then I read this piece by David Brooks, which made me realize that most people are even more uninformed than I am. Almost every time something notable occurs in the Middle East, there are newspaper columns by neoconservative and neoliberal “realists”, who, in the name of fighting “Radical Islam”, advocate policy that is often as morally abhorrent as it is bizarre .

Brooks did in his column what most westerners writing about the Middle East do: in leiu of any factual information (literally, any) he wrote a long series of stereotypes about Muslims punctuated by a quote from “one speaker at a pro-Morsi rally” (I’m sure said speaker was a representative one) and two quotes from conservative academics. Here’s my favorite bit,

“They [the Brotherhood] reject pluralism, secular democracy and, to some degree, modernity. When you elect fanatics, they continue, you have not advanced democracy. You have empowered people who are going to wind up subverting democracy. The important thing is to get people like that out of power, even if it takes a coup. The goal is to weaken political Islam, by nearly any means.”

In other words: in order to save democracy from the Muslims, we must destroy their democracy. Because their democracy isn’t a “secular” democracy. Even though the United States’ government isn’t really a “secular democracy”, either. It’s a testament to Brooks’ rhetorical skill that he can make such a self-contradictory argument sound coherent in a single paragraph. For fun, reread the paragraph with, “they” referring to Evangelical Christians, and replace “Islam” with Christianity, and you have an argument for a military coup against George W. Bush.

Brooks wasn’t the only one to offer his support to the subversion of democracy in the Middle East. A recent Wall Street Journal opinion article on the coup suggested that what Egypt really needed was a “Pinochet” who could “midwife a transition to democracy”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pinochet, he was for fifteen years the dictator of Chile. Here’s a brief primer on his reign from the President of the Human Rights Foundation (writing for the National Review, of all places),

“He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex.”

Pinochet did eventually give up power, but only in the face of serious domestic opposition. Fittingly, he also only got power in the first place by overthrowing a democratically-elected leader…that westerners deeply disliked. Martin Pengelly of the Guardian summed up the absurdity of the WSJ’s point, saying, “There must be some sort of justification for such a statement. I just haven’t the slightest clue what it is.”

It’s also fitting because the attitude that Brooks and the WSJ have towards the Middle East is the same attitude that caused the United States government to install puppet dictatorships to fight growing leftist movements across Latin America in the seventies and eighties. This attitude is basically summed up as, “Those people didn’t choose the type of government we wanted them to choose, and therefore they lose their right to self-determination.”

I’ve long argued that American conservatives actually don’t want democracy in the Middle East, because in the Middle East, democracy is more connected to Islamism than secularism, which is connected to repressive dictatorships. (See: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey) If this confuses you, consider the fact that Islamists were the only real group to fight against the oppressive dictatorships that ruled such countries, and have a reputation for being the only political group to successfully combat the neocolonial agenda of the United States and Israel. It makes sense that Middle Eastern countries, in a period of transition to democracy, would elect an Islamist party, because they are perceived by many as the central group pushing for democracy. If this confuses you, look at Egypt, where Islamists are currently the only group arguing for a democratic process against the majority of liberals.

Yes, Morsi deserves much of the blame for the coup that occurred. He utterly failed at creating economic recovery in Egypt. He ignored and even enabled the oppression of minorities such as Coptic Christians. He suppressed dissent. His complete and utter lack of control over Egypt is perhaps best summarized by the emergency powers he gave himself in November of last year, and then annulled after people got upset. These are all reasonable reasons to impeach Morsi. And I think the protestors who swarmed Tahrir Square a week ago to demand that he stepped down were right on the money.

Unfortunately, instead of stepping down, Morsi made a political play to the Islamists of Egypt: basically, he told them that it was them against the world. He gave a three-hour televised speech the night before he was due to be forced out of office. I’ll just say that again. Three. Hours. Much like everything else he did in his presidency, it was a move that reeked of brashness tempered only by self-doubt and incompetence.

But the thing is, Morsi was an elected leader. My opinion, and I do have one, is that the whole point of democracy is that elections stand. Elections stand no matter what. You can have processes for recounts, resignations, and impeachments alike, but in the end, one person wins, and they serve a term for a period of time, or until they fuck up so bad that a process must be put in place for their removal. When the military ignores that, it’s bad. When the military enters the political fray – even when its on the side of liberals who, in my opinion, would govern better than conservatives – it is bad. When the military rounds up political prisoners and massacres protestors, it is bad.

Apparently, having this opinion now makes me a radical.


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