Monday, April 9, 2012

The Moderate U.S. Establishment Position? That the Muslim Brotherhood Might Be Moderate

[Also hear me interviewed on Middle East developments here at the 14 minute mark.]

By Barry Rubin

The Washington Post continues to talk relatively sensibly about Middle East developments. And yet its latest editorial also shows the type of contortions necessary to avoid facing the awful truth of the situation in the region.

The editorial concludes:

“Election results notwithstanding, it seems clear that the vast majority of Egyptians as well as Tunisians seek economic progress and respect for human rights, and not a theocracy. Secular citizens and minorities, who make up a large part of the population, will not accept discrimination. Islamic movements will succeed in government, and retain their following, only if they recognize those realities.”

Really? Let’s consider this text as it reveals precisely how the Obama Administration and the conventional wisdom in the U.S. policy establishment thinks about these issues:

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“Election results notwithstanding, it seems clear that the vast majority of Egyptians as well as Tunisians seek economic progress and respect for human rights, and not a theocracy.”

Then why did they vote so much for radical Islamist parties? I know that one can consult some polls to say that the people’s main concern is economic betterment but that also requires ignoring other polls where enthusiastic support for Sharia is shown.

Moreover, the case can be made that they think Islamists will do a better job of managing the economy for various reasons, including the (probably true) assumption that they are less corrupt, belief that they will follow populist policies that will more directly benefit the masses, impose order through repression (less crime when you cut off limbs), and expectation that they will bring a higher degree of equality and social justice.

As for “respect for human rights” does this mean that they advocate equality for women and Christians; think people should have the freedom of speech to criticize Islam or even to offer interpretations of Islam contrary to those of the most powerful (and radical) clerics? This is a fantasy, based on the belief that Middle Eastern Muslims—once one gets beyond clothes, food, and customs—think just like Americans.

What would we have been told in 1952, that most Arabs didn’t support radical Arab nationalism but really wanted democracy and human rights instead?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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