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Freedom's March Halted By Riot Police

Some Bush critics will take an incident like this as evidence that the whole concept of democracy-promition is misguided:

The Egyptian authorities have deployed thousands of riot police in central Cairo to prevent Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators reaching parliament. . . .

The Muslim Brotherhood had called for the demonstration in support of its demands for political reforms ahead of this year's presidential election.

It wants the government to lift the emergency law and to abolish all restrictions which prevent political activity.

I think it's better to look at this as a golden opportunity. A strong statement in support of the Brotherhood's right to mount demonstrations, in favor of lifting the emergency law, etc, would be just about the most useful public diplomacy effort you can imagine, and unlike your many Arab dissident groups, there's precisely zero chance of the Muslim Brotherhood being painted as a stooge of American policy and experiencing a backlash.

UPDATE: Abu Aardvark reports "I've just finished watching Mohammed Rajab, a member of the NDP, get an absolute grilling from the al Jazeera anchorman (Mohammed Krishan) over how this can be reconciled with the supposed liberalization of Egyptian politics" and wonders "if the Egyptian authorities are going to get as much of an earful from the US for cracking down on the MB's peaceful protest?" One detects a hint of sarcasm, which is, I think, warranted, but the fact remains that there've been several pleasant surprises from the administration so far in the second term so they may handle this right. As usual the Arabist Network is probably your best blogospheric source for coverage of Egypt, which is to say the best source for coverage of Egypt available to those of us who don't speak Arabic.   

March 27, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

If al-Qeada demonstrated in the streets of D.C., do you think anyone here would support their right protest?

Rhetorical, I know/hope (you never know). Yet, to many Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood is just as dangerous. A few quotes from Wiki, makes the point:

"Robert Spencer has written that the group is 'the father of virtually all of today's jihad terrorist groups.'"

Or,

"An article published in the Washington Post on Sept. 11, 2004 states the group has fomented Islamic revolution in Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Sudan. Additionally, the Brotherhood was responsible for the creation of Hamas 'which has become known for its suicide bombings of Israelis.'"

Or,

"The Brotherhood has branches in 70 countries. They claim to have taken part in most pro-Islamic conflicts, from the Arab-Israeli Wars and the Algerian War of Independence to recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Currently, the Egyptian Brotherhood exists as a militant clandestine group, and has been connected to many underground political operations."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood [internal hyperlinks omitted]

Yes, there are contrary views against the above, but it is not so clear that Egypt is built for or ready to become Holland.

In a rush to make all things 'free' overnight, one can easily make all things worse just as quick.

Posted by: Marty | Mar 27, 2005 5:32:04 PM

This promote-democracy stuff can only backfire because as happy as Americans are to see a large proportion (maybe or maybe not a majority) of Lebanese align against Syria, a lot of Arabs do not like America or especially America's sister-nation Israel.

Can American policy ever be that America prefers an anti-American democracy to a pro-American dictatorship?

Until that is US policy, statements about support for democracy will easily be shown to be simply hypocrisy that will only make the US look worse.

Posted by: Mitch Goodall | Mar 27, 2005 6:02:42 PM

Depends on what you mean by anti-American.

I think most people who support democratizing the middle east believe that it is better to have representative governments that are quite hostile to the United States than brutal dictators who on the surface are friendly to the U.S. but are seen as puppets of the U.S. by their populations.

A long as they are not violent and we can talk to them we can live with them. One could argue that France is anti-American on a lot of levels, but we have no reason to fear them.

Posted by: Robert Brown | Mar 27, 2005 8:52:14 PM

Of course Bush is lying about freedom and democracy being his policy. Would conservatives stand still for a policy that put some principle (freedom) above American interest?

Now you can lie, as Bush does, and pretend that selling jet fighters to the dictator who overthrew Pakistan's democracy and is now harboring both bin Laden and AQ Khan, is democracy-promotion, but that doesn't make it so. It is naked Realpolitik. Whether it is misguided, history will judge, but is certainly is not democracy promotion.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 27, 2005 11:40:26 PM

Robert Brown:

Then why not engage Iran more constructively? If China can be in the WTO, then why not Iran?

I contend that Iran will come to a western style democracy before a unified Iraq does.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 27, 2005 11:44:37 PM

As hostile as France.

There are a lot of reasons to expect that a democratic Egypt would be a lot more hostile to the interests of US policy makers than France.

A democratic Egypt could well be more hostile than democratic Venezuela.

And we know the stakes were famously too high in Chile for the US to respect the views of Chilean voters.

In which case, we get a "never mind" from US policy makers about democracy. They were just joking around.

If we take as a given that the US does not support democracy in the Middle East, is it better policy to announce (transparently dishonestly) that it does support democracy or is it better to just try to talk about other things?

Posted by: Mitch Goodall | Mar 28, 2005 2:00:02 AM

Of course Bush is lying about freedom and democracy being his policy. Would conservatives stand still for a policy that put some principle (freedom) above American interest?

I guess it must comfort you in some way to believe this bilge, but I'm damned if I can see the attraction.

Mr. Bush's policy simply recognizes that the spread of democratic government in the world is a key American interest. When people are not living under the thumb of some noisome tyrant they tend to get on with their lives and don't spend a lot of psychic energy on negativity about officially-provided scapegoats.

There are a lot of reasons to expect that a democratic Egypt would be a lot more hostile to the interests of US policy makers than France.

A democratic Egypt could well be more hostile than democratic Venezuela.

Really? I don't see them. You fall too easily for the fallacy of attributing the attitudes of corrupt rulers to their unfortunate subjects. The "anti-Americanism" of the Middle East is mainly of the manufactured variety. The manufacturers are the various overripe autocrats who have a personal stake in keeping "Zionists" and "Crusaders" front and center on the Top 40 Hate Parade. Mubarak - his nominal status as an "ally" notwithstanding - hates and fears America as much as does most of the House of Saud. All you have to do is read what's in his lapdog state-run newspapers. Kill, exile or pension off these creeps and the picture will change.

As for Venezuela, we won't know whether it's still a democracy until we see whether Senor Chavez exits stage left when his current term is up will we?

And we know the stakes were famously too high in Chile for the US to respect the views of Chilean voters.

Yeah, they were. We just happened to disrespect them before the local Soviet stooges got the chance to do the same in spades. Wrassling Messianic Marxism wasn't exactly playing beanbag, dig?

What you don't seem to have figured out is that, with the stakes now lower as to an existential threat to these United States, we no longer need to tolerate bad actors in places where the only alternative used to be worse. That makes you slower on the uptake than Hosni Mubarak, the House of Saud and quite a few others similarly situated who have damned well figured it out and aren't a bit happy about it either.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Mar 28, 2005 5:26:24 AM

This is so naive.

In America, when people demonstrate, it usually remains just that - a demonstration, and so can be viewed as part of the "democratic process". In many other countries, demonstrations are always pregnant with the potential to turn into revolutions, particularly when they march on Parliament. The Egyptian police did not break the demonstration up, but they formed a perimeter around the Parliament building. Perhaps they have been watching the news from Kyrgyzstan?

Perhaps you think it would be a good thing if Egypt has its own color-coded revolution, the revolutionaries march to parliament, enter the building, toss out the sitting Parliamentarians, grab their seats, declare a new Islamic government, and throw Egypt into turmoil as military and security forces proceed to choose up sides. I don't

The Islamic Brotherhood - while not the worst of Islamic groups and not promoting an agenda of terrorism - is not a pro-democracy organization. I don't see how it would be a victory for democracy if one secular, authoritarian and West-friendly government were thrown out in favor of a new, West-hating, oppressive and even more relentlessly authoritarian government. When there are open elections, the Brothers can field their own candidates; it's a broad movement and some of its members will be willing to play by democratic rules. Others just want to get their revolutionary feet in the door. Until then, it is right for the Egyptian authorities to keep these guys boxed up and under close watch.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 28, 2005 8:06:56 AM

Dick Eagleson:

Mr. Bush's policy simply recognizes that the spread of democratic government in the world is a key American interest. When people are not living under the thumb of some noisome tyrant they tend to get on with their lives and don't spend a lot of psychic energy on negativity about officially-provided scapegoats.

Then explain why a dictator like Saddam, whose Baath party we put in power, had to go, but when Musharraf overthrows a democracy, he's our friend. A little consistency would go a long way to assuage fears in the Middle East that we are for democracy when we like the leaders, but are ok with dictators when they do our bidding.

And Musharraf is just playing Bush. He is harboring bin Laden, and the idea that AQ Khan delivered nuke technology around the world without official sanction is beyond naive.

I'm not against Realpolitik, just don't give me this democracy and freedom nonsense while supporting a dictator who overthrew a democracy.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 28, 2005 12:38:49 PM

The "anti-Americanism" of the Middle East is mainly of the manufactured variety.

You hear this a lot for a factoid that is not supported by any poll or any evidence except in the minds of speakers and writers who want to believe it.

It is a bizarre assertion that when Americans take the Israeli side of a dispute it is natural, but when Arabs take the Palestinian side it is manufactured hatred.

But what if when they vote, this factoid turns out to be wrong and the people of Egypt have a hostility to America and Israel that is real and not manufactured? Impossible!

Is American policy really to take that chance? I have not seen evidence that it is. I can't think of a reason in theory why it would be.

If we assume for argument's sake that it isn't, does America gain anything from implying that it is?

Posted by: Mitch Goodall | Mar 28, 2005 1:15:12 PM

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