The Egyptian military’s recent dissolution of the Islamist-dominated parliament did nothing to forestall the inevitable rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group’s candidate of choice Mohammed Morsi has been elected the next president of Egypt, and ruler of one of the cultural lynchpins of the Middle East. The ascendancy of Morsi to the presidency was hailed by cries of “Allahu Akbar,” followed up by the declaration that our capital “shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.”
This is what democracy looks like.
In this context, President Obama’s judgment to help remove Hosni Mubarak from power looks perilously foolish. His blithe description of the transition from a petty dictatorship to an Islamist ‘democracy’ as a “transformational period” provides yet another glimpse into the president’s warped valuation of democracy as an end in itself.
It is an irony of modern times that it has been the petty dictatorships of the Muslim Crescent, a swathe of land scything from Indonesia to Morocco, that have provided the floodgates holding back the swirling waters of radical Islam.
The Arab Spring may have appeared to the sanguine eye to have been a healthy democratic reformist movement, but this estimation seriously misunderstands the history of the crescent dictatorships and the volatile nature of democracy itself. Cynical and self-serving regimes in Syria, Egypt, and Libya, to name a few, have given rise to swelling Islamic collectivist sentiments, and a more exuberant drive to unify popular forces.
Hamas recently ditched the bloodthirsty Assad and has backed the Syrian uprising. In Libya, a state of anarchy has led to calls for democratic unity, presumably on Islamist terms. The dominant trend is that oppressive regimes over time have became brittler in the region, and less able to restrain and manipulate the masses’ anger.
This is in general a good thing, and not an endorsement of dictatorship of any kind. One would like to see peaceful reformist movements take shape that can be supported (such as in Iran, for example), but those have been predominately absent. In such cases, a foreign policy analyst often has to advocate policies that are not commensurate with one’s ideological values, because foreign policy often entails choosing among several undesirable outcomes the least desirable one. Only a blind ideologue chooses policies based on how well they smack to his aesthetic sensibilities.
Predictably enough, without pragmatic leadership from the top-down to help coordinate a grand strategy in the Middle East or a cogent directive of responses to such region-wide phenomena as the Arab Spring, the result has been a torrent of uprisings, demonstrations, and regime overthrows throughout the Islamic world, as it is commonly referred to.
But the decapitation of heads of state in the region will not cause the bloody waters to abate; instead the riptide will suck whatever dispositions for freedom there were under, as a mad power scramble will pit hard-line conservatives and social democratic Islamists in a struggle for supremacy; this in a region that doesn’t know the meaning of peaceful transfers of power. Ultimately, the parties with the broadest base of popular support will win out.
While terrorism had vented off steam in many regimes, a Western coalition spearheaded by the United States has removed the most shady organizations’ leadership elements. What remains are terroristic Islamist parties like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood, who have adapted to the changing terrain by utilizing democracy to usher themselves to power. They have seized on the frustrated emotions of years of oppression, capitalized on the scapegoat politics of antisemitism, and sought to wield power over the masses by fusing political Islam with social democratic instrumentalities. The crafty Islamists have thus used the West’s “Big Bang” strategy against it; they have flowed with the politically naive military strategy rather than resist it.
But the situation still appears preferable to most Western observers, who routinely and sometimes purposefully confuse democracy with freedom. What some may not be fully appreciate about the strategy, however, is that such a unification of popular will as the Arab Spring will lead to a potentially fatal slip of foreign policy control. Once the narrowly self-interested rulers are vacated from the scene, it will be harder to redirect essentially Islamofascist forces away from the West. The election of Islamist regimes, especially combined with social democratic instead of liberal democratic means of rule, fuses mass prejudices and hatred to the state instead of disperse them.
In addition, the economies of the region, the grave relative deprivation in material terms, are not likely to develop in such conditions and therefore will not likely soften sentiments. Food inflation will continue, due in part to the dollar and Euro weakening, further exacerbating things. The region can only hope that oil prices stay relatively high; if the United States throws off its environmentalist chains in the next round of elections and begins developing energy resources due to declining demand, this will additionally put pressure on regimes to diversify economies, adding to more dislocation and confusion.
When people are disoriented, they tend to turn to the familiar; and in this case, the religion of Islam. When they feel they are wrongfully impoverished and could do better if not for an envied or hated adversary, preconditions for collective violence will foment. And when political bounds to religious unification are removed after centuries, a flurry of social energy is likely to ensue. The Shiite, Sunni, Wahhabi, and Salafist divisions in Islam, look to temporarily melt away, and common cause against the most threatening other, the Christian West, is certain to take first priority.
It didn’t have to be that way. The regimes could have been pitted against one another. By removing ourselves as the most imminent threat, instead relying on strong, swift, and painful deterrence against state sponsors of terrorism, the Islamists could have been induced to focus more on their religious divisions than their common foes.
A rising caliphate is spreading across the Muslim Crescent, making the region greener religiously and freer to exercise its will. Those who assume that will is benevolent or even benign because it is being facilitated by democratization are beyond naive. They are dangerously lacking in judgment, quixotic beyond belief, and incredibly myopic.
If this sounds alarmist, it is. The United States has sown the seeds for Islamist backlash for decades to come; and not merely by helping to topple petty dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, but by voyeuristically observing democracy run wild throughout the region afterwards. While it is theoretically possible to manage democracy after the removal of tyrants like Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and the Taliban, it takes a much more intensive political effort than has been shown. Simply unleashing popular democratic forces throughout the region is not enough to bring about meaningful ‘democratic’ change, rather than a nominal change in leadership. In addition, the potential for an intensification in human rights atrocities is significant.
President Obama’s shallow, venal, and particularly socialistic brand of understanding democracy, along with his dearth of strategic vision, has thus brought about precarious conditions for freedom throughout the Muslim Crescent, and much more danger for the West and its allies in the long-run.