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Have a little patience with the Muslim Brotherhood

Elections have been held recently in post Mubarak Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood seem to have done rather well. Islamophobes in the west and apparently even some in the Islamic world, greet this news with great trepidation.

Dr Farish A Noor

Dr Farish A Noor

Dr Farish A Noor, a Malaysian academic and writer, writes in the New Straits Times:

For those of us with a memory that serves beyond 48 hours, it will be recalled that last year there was much speculation about how the Arab Spring would bounce all the way across Asia as well, igniting a series of spectacular changes to a host of countries, and bring about a brave new world -- until the bill finally landed on the doorstep.

Recent developments in Egypt and some other North African countries may have dampened the enthusiasm for the Arab Spring somewhat, for it is now obvious that the beneficiaries of the popular revolts that overtook the countries of North Africa are not the market-friendly liberal forces that are favoured by the West, but rather populist religious movements whose own political agendas contradict the aims and aspirations of the Western superpowers.

To read the entire article click on the following link: Has the Arab Spring gone sour? - Columnist - New Straits Times

If I am to understand Dr Farish correctly he seems to saying that if the flag bearers of capitalism in the west don't get their way in the new Egypt that somehow the Arab Spring has been some sort off a failure. That somehow if the democracies that replace the old regimes of the Middle East aren't democracies in the same mould as the anglo-Christian democracies of the west that someone they are not real democracies. This of course assumes that the Arab Spring was a project of western interests in the first place (it wasn't) and that democracy is necessarily a western style of government (it isn't).

Lets start with the ridiculous idea that Americans and their allies are so shallow, avaricious (and stupid) that all from their number who support the Arab Spring must necessarily do so because they want to see, or expect to see, Arab states subservient to Israel and western business interests. I don't think any seriously thoughtful observer of affairs in the Middle East would assume that when the dust settles on the Arab Spring that the new politics that emerges will be friendlier to Israel or western interests generally. That is a straw man. A ridiculous caricature of western attitudes towards the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

English: President George W. Bush and Egyptian...

President George W. Bush and Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak. "We talked extensively today about our efforts," said President Bush of their private discussions. "President Mubarak has a long history of advancing peace and stability in the Middle East."

The truth is that support for the Arab Spring from outside of the Middle East was for any number of reasons. In the case of Hillary Clinton, it was rather plain as the drama unfolded in Tahir Square that any support she had for anti-Mubarak forces was purely about being seen to be hip to the times. Nobody in the Obama administration wanted to see Mubarak toppled. For decades now America have been propping up Mubarak in return for his support for Israel. Never mind that the average Egyptian hates Israel with passion that is difficult for most of us to fathom. Mubarak, comfortable in his palace in Cairo, continued a subservient policy towards Israel because a long succession of American presidents made it worth his while to do so.

Farish writes:

For the past year I have been in numerous discussions and meetings with both Western and Arab leaders, diplomats and intellectuals; and my own cursory observation is this: That the Western world -- in this case the Americans and some Western European governments -- is somewhat naïve if it seriously believes that the overthrow of the governments of Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab states will miraculously transform the Arab world into a magical fairyland where the free market and popular democracy can thrive overnight.

Who Dr Farish? Who are these "Americans and Western European Governments that seriously believe that overthrow of Governments in the Middle East will miraculously transform the Arab world into a magical fairyland where the free market and popular democracy can thrive overnight"? Certainly not Barack Obama. So who?

Dr Farish A Noor is an educated man who cannot seriously believe that western leaders and policy makers who supported Mubarak for decades could possibly be glad to see Mubarak deposed and now it seems in jail for life. There must be a good reason why Dr Farish would erect such a ridiculous rhetorical straw-man to be quickly and deftly torn down and stomped into the ground.

The clue is in the reference that Dr Farish makes to speculation that "the Arab Spring would bounce all the way across Asia igniting a series of spectacular changes to a host of countries". Without once mentioning Malaysia in his article, Dr Farish is of course talking about speculation that the Arab Spring might actually be an Islamic Spring and that non-Arab, Islamic states might also be within the purview of this wave of democracy. That perhaps the nominally democratic, majority Muslim states of South East Asia might also succumb to change

The subtle implication being that Pakatan Rakyat are to Barisan Nasional as the Muslim Brotherhood are to Hosni Mubarak. The suggestion is that supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, within Malaysia and from outside, should be very careful of what they wish for lest they get a raving, lunatic, nutbag for a Prime Minister that will institute shariah law and invade Singapore or something. Only Dr Farish A Noor is too well regarded and too highly educated to make such a ridiculous suggestion in anything but the most tangential way.

The notion that Pakatan Rakyat are the doyen of vested business interests overseas and that Barisan Nasional are the defenders of Malaysia from avaricious foreigners is about as stupid as imagining that the Muslim Brotherhood are Hilary Clinton's preferred party in Egypt. Just ask Lynas Corporation and the Australian Government who they would prefer to see as Malaysian Prime Minister.

Dr Mahathir Mohammed

Dr Mahathir Mohammed looking very much the
defender of the Malaysian people in front of the
Jalur Gemilang.

All this of course seems to be becoming something of a trend in the UMNO Blogosphere. It dovetails nicely with comments recently from former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir. Writing on his blog the grand old conspiracy theorist of Malaysian politics theorizes that the growing threat that Pakatan Rakyat might overthrow the 50 year old UMNO Government is largely due to the support that Pakatan Rakyat has in Western Countries.

On a blog post entitled "Equality Before the Law" Dr. Mahathir Mohamad writes:

If you are a favorite candidate of foreign powers for regime change, you can do what you like, and any Governmental action against you would be labelled as uncalled for oppression. If an election is near and the favorite is going to be a candidate and bring about regime change, then Government action against this privileged person would be regarded as attempts to undermine his chances of overthrowing the Government.

Uggghh. UMNO are looking shaky at the next election because they have spent the last 50 years behaving the same way that you and I would behave also if we thought we had 50 year tenure at out office jobs and that nobody could ever fire us. The number of people attending rallies held at the weekend to hear figures speak from the opposition PAS, make it fairly clear that Pakatan are looking dangerous at the next election because a very large percentage of Malaysians want to see a new Government. Whether that percentage is large enough to see that actually happen is another matter but it's fairly plain to see that any talk of support from foreign interests being the reason why Pakatan are doing well is just typical nonsensical prattle from the former Malaysian Prime Minister. After 50 years people are simply sick of UMNO. Maybe on his death bed Mahathir will take some responsibility for his actions over the last 30 years but it doesn't seem like he is ready to do so yet.

The truth is that in the case of Malaysia just as anywhere else, everyone wants to be associated with winners. Nobody wants to back a loser. Hillary Clinton didn't want to see her ally, Hosni Mubarak toppled from office. She only converted to the anti-Mubarak camp when it become clear that Mubarak was a goner! As long as the situation seemed like maybe Hosni Mubarak had it under control she was a Mubarak supporter through and through. She urged Mubarak to show restraint against the protesters but she certainly never asked that he should acquiesce to the demands of the protesters in Tahir Square. Only when it was clear that the situation could no longer be contained anymore and that Egyptians simply would not go back to their homes again until Mubrarak either stepped down or his men shot every last protester. Only then when Mubarak was a goner did Hilary Clinton become a fan of the Arab Spring. She said only the things she was required to say as a diplomat. Put simply, she did not want to see Mubarak fall from office because that does not serve the interests of the USA.

Pakatan Rakyat Sept 15 Rally - Anwar on stage

Pakatan Rakyat Sept 15 Rally - Anwar on stage

The reality is that this is how democratic states are supposed to behave with one another. Australians, Americans and others don't wine and dine figures like Anwar Ibrahim because they are secretly plotting to overthrow the Malaysian Government. They do so because in a democratic state there is a chance that the Opposition Leader may one day become Prime Minister and foreign heads of state would like to meet that person beforehand. In the western democracies, such as America, Britain, Australia, Canada, there are many who fear the Muslim Brotherhood yet I guarantee that all of them have representatives arranging meetings and trying to curry favor with the Brotherhood because that is simply called "hedging your bets".

So that's one of the reasons that some westerners support the Arab Spring. Because to NOT support the Arab Spring might make you look like a puppet master who spent nearly 40 years propping up a hated and unjust dictator so you could further your own national interests in the region.

Other reasons why westerners might support the Arab Spring? Oh I dunno. Maybe some of them think that ordinary Arabs should have the opportunity to feel like their Government reflects their values and their view of the world. Granted this is not likely to be the reason why diplomats and policy makers in the west support the Arab Spring but it is certainly the reason why I personally support the Arab Spring and I find it insulting to lump me into the same category as these imaginary straw-men who support the Arab Spring because they supposedly expect to see the Middle East wide open for western business interests.

One of the few points the Dr Farish Noor makes which I can whole heartedly get behind is that democracy does not happen overnight. It takes many generations to develop the values and the institutions necessary for democracy. Yet a genuine popular uprising from the grass roots up, supported by an educated middle class writing tweets and Facebook posts is not a bad sign that maybe some of those necessary institutions are ready to get going.

This unfortunately is as far as I can go in my agreement with Dr Farish. I am a strong believer in Democracy. Dr Farish Noor apparently less so. I believe that democracy is the awaking of the collective consciousness. Dr Farish Noor seems to think that it means capitalist values at the expensive of traditional values such as those espoused by Islam. Certainly he either doesn't believe in Democracy or doesn't believe that Muslims are capable of Democracy and I don't agree on either front. The Doctor seems to argue that a stronger Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even an Egyptian President from the Muslim Brotherhood, is antithetical to democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pundits such as Farish wail with anguish that war with Israel is inevitable under an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet nothing could be a surer sign that democracy in Egypt is working just as it should than a new Egyptian state with a new, more aggressive diplomatic stance towards Israel.

Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyat

Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyat: possible new
President of Egypt from the Muslim
Brotherhood. He doesn't look so bad. A
man of books with a wry sense of humor.

Many in the West, and apparently some in the East also, are very quick to judge the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet few of us have ever walked a mile in their shoes. Few of us have ever struggled for a better future for our country under a regime that brokers no discontent.

A regime like the one Mubarak forced on his people for over 30 years is an incubator for violence. In a country where open dialog on issues of national importance is forbidden, violence becomes the currency of politics. In the west when we get sick of our leaders we vote them out of office. Mubarak became President when his predecessor was murdered. Many times during his reign the Muslim Brotherhood tried to vote him out of office. I'm sorry did I say vote him out of office? I meant to say they tried to blow him up. But what else to do under a military dictatorship? You cant judge those tactics with your western values because in that society, under that regime that is legitimate political activity. It is the only way to remove a leader who is simply not wanted anymore.

We forget how ubiquitous that culture of violence must become. It spreads to all levels of society and ultimately spills over into neighboring countries. Are ordinary Egyptians more or less likely to give support to terrorists within organisations such as Hamas if their President speaks out strongly at the excesses of the Israeli Defense Force? Certainly under Mubarak, ordinary Egyptians might have felt that the only way to express their frustration over the treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis was to send their sons to join in the intifada. Or at least to send donations. Now under Muslim Brotherhood leadership they might feel their views are better represented by their President? Maybe if the Egyptian President speaks up strongly each time Israel does the wrong thing, ordinary Egyptian citizens might be less inclined to violence? It is an optimistic vision for the future but it is one worth nurturing.

Ultimately our concerns for the Middle East should focus on peace in the region. Western business interests don't factor into the equation. The future safety of Israel is of course a factor in what we should support and what we should oppose but not to the detriment of other countries. Our interest should be in the stability and peace of the region, not only for Israel but for all of its neighbors also. Internally and externally. Taking this to be our ultimate hope, a peaceful Middle East, it would be shortsighted to think that a Mubarak regime with the attendant culture of violence and repression is better than an Egyptian President from the Muslim Brotherhood who, despite having a more aggressive attitude towards Israel, allows Egyptians to for the first time feel like at least some of their beliefs and values and represented by their President.

You are ignorant if you think that terrorism is caused by Islam. Worse than ignorant, you are a hypocrite if you are a Muslim and you think this. Just because the Muslim Brotherhood are an Islamic group does not mean that Egypt will slide into violence under their rule. Terrorism and religious extremism is caused by a culture of violence that is cultivated and encouraged by a figure such as Mubarak rather than snuffed out and shown the light of open discussion and mutually beneficial dialog. The Arab Spring has not yet failed. There is still a chance that the open discussion of ideas so desperately needed in this part of the world will still be the end result of the Arab Spring.

As for Malaysia? Well its foolish to imagine that Malaysia is in the same boat as Egypt. Insulting even to suggest that all Muslim countries must be so similar that what happens in one must happen in the others. Yet the winds of change blow everywhere. Even down the corridors of power in Putrajaya.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ryan Albrey published on June 9, 2012 2:41 AM.

The Vietnamese are complicated people was the previous entry in this blog.

Somewhere between Irkutsk and Olkhon is the next entry in this blog.

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