Middle East ripe for democracy? Probably not
I have been following the political unrest in Tunisia and Egypt for several weeks — with eyes wide open, hopeful and cautious. There are a lot of influences in play; some unsolicited, some missing in action; some good, some bad.
No one disputes the repressive regimes and the intolerable conditions Arabs have been forced to live under for decades, if not centuries. The civilized world certainly wants a better way of life for them, but what makes this point in time such a ripe opportunity?
One major influence may be U.S. foreign policy or the lack thereof. Is it because our administration is inexperienced or naïve? Or are there other agendas? This much is true. In trying to put a new face on America and its standing in the world with our enemies and others unhappy with the United States, President Barack Obama has said he would engage our enemies but not tell them what to do. He certainly has no problem telling U.S. allies what to do.
In a very short time, his policies have alienated our allies and emboldened our enemies. He welshed on a previous commitment to put in a nuclear shield in Eastern Europe, gave Russia previously unknown and secret information on the size of Great Britain’s nuclear arsenal, our oldest and most powerful ally, and constantly pressures Israel in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority What has the PA done for our security or economy lately?.
In 2009 as the Iranian public demonstrated against an oppressive anti-American regime, Obama largely said nothing, claiming the United States should not meddle in their affairs. But when the Egyptians demonstrated against the Mubarak regime, a long-standing American ally, he intervened quickly and powerfully by publicly and regularly calling for Mubarak to step down. Obama never called for the enemy regime of Ahmadinejad to step down even though he called for the destruction of the United States and Israel.
Citizens of the United States and Western countries have long since equated elections with democracy, but that is not often the case. We have seen that time and time again in Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. It takes a people who are committed to democracy. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said, “the Egyptian people are looking for an orderly transition that can lead to free and fair elections … we learned that the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to participate, which suggests that they, at least, are now involved in the dialogue that we have encouraged.”
But Palestinian Media Watch has translated the book “Jihad is the Way” by Mustafa Mashhur, who was the official leader of the Muslim Brotherhood from 1996 to 2002. Mashhur explains the fundamental concepts of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. His teachings encompass subjects such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of establishing an Islamic state, world domination under Islam, the public and personal religious duty of military Jihad, and the warning not to rush to Jihad until it is prepared and timed for maximum benefit.
Daniel Pipes, director of Middle East Forum has said, “Islamists wish to repeat their success in Iran by exporting popular unrest to take power.”
So let’s take a look at the Egyptian people. According to a 2010 research poll:
• 60 percent of those surveyed have fundamentalist views;
• 85 percent view Islam’s influences on politics as positive;
• 50 percent view the United States as an enemy;
• 92 percent view Israel as an enemy nation;
• 84 percent believe those who forsake Islam should face the death penalty;
• 77 percent say thieves should have their hands cut off;
• 54 percent believe men and women should be segregated in the workplace;
• 70 percent support Iran getting a nuclear bomb;
• 80 percent favor abrogating the Camp David accords with Israel;
• 20 percent support suicide bombing;
This is a people that a couple of months ago were slaughtering Christians. Sound to you like a people wanting democracy?
Israel’s “peace partner” would probably love to see the Brotherhood in control of Egypt. On Jan. 24, Palestinian President Abbas is quoted, “I have said more than once that if the Arabs want war [with Israel], we are with them. I cannot fight alone. We tried military action during the Second Intifada and during the attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 … and it brought destruction upon us.”
As Americans, as Jews, and as people of faith, we all would like to see oppression reduced, liberties instilled and economic conditions for people of the Arab world improved. Is today some miraculous window of opportunity? I think not. Will it happen in five, 10 or 20 years? Who knows? As much as things change, they remain the same. A thousand plus years of hatred won’t disappear overnight.
One thing is sure: the Jewish people won’t be on the sideline. If and when there might be a two state solution, we just want to make sure one of those states is Israel.
(Stuart V. Pavilack is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District.)