Primer on Democracy and the Middle East

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Middle East

A bit more on Mitt’s remarkably vacuous foreign policy op ed. Rightie blogger Rick Moran thought it was brilliant, but this sentence — well sentence fragment — of Moran’s jumped out at me —

A perfect summation of Obama’s “Leading from Behind” strategy, as well as his still incomprehensible embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood as some kind of agent for Arab democracy.

Righties do tend to use words without thinking real hard about what they mean. So let us examine democracy.

The word democracy is derived from the Greek dēmokratía, meaning “will of the people.” Essentially, a democracy is any government that derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. The people of a democracy enjoy the freedom to exercise its will, usually through elections.

Whether we in the U.S. like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood has a broad popular following in the Middle East. The Egyptians had elections last year, and as a result, as I understand it, about half of the seats in the Egyptian parliament are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won the election with 51.73% of the vote.

So, if one respects democracy, one must at least respect the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood in the government of Egypt. Of course, a substantial percentage of Egyptians didn’t vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and don’t much care for them, but if we are to respect democracy we have to let the Egyptians work that out for themselves through their own constitutional processes. It’s not up to us.

However, it’s possible Rick Moran wasn’t using the word democracy to mean, you know, “democracy.” Sometimes I think righties use democracy in regard to the Middle East to mean “pro-American.” But that isn’t what it means. The people of a democratic Middle Eastern nation can choose to be anti-American if they want to. I’m not saying that’s what I like; I’m saying that’s how it works.

And this presents a paradox that U.S. conservatives have never been able to solve. They can barely acknowledge the paradox exists, in fact, but prefer to paper over it with rhetoric about how much we love democracy and freedom even when our foreign policy was anti-democratic and anti-freedom.

American foreign policy going back to the Cold War era has assumed that we prefer pro-American dictatorships over potentially anti-American democracies. This usually turns out to be a stupid policy that ends badly, but often that’s what we’ve done, reasoning that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For example, during the Eisenhower Administration the United States played a significant role in overthrowing a popular, democratically elected government in Iran and installing the unpopular Mohammad Reza Shah in its place. It might have looked like a smart strategic move at the time, but you can pretty much draw a straight line between that and why Iran is so screwy today.

So now we’ve got the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. We may object to the Muslim Brotherhood for many reasons, but so far we cannot object to them for being un-democratic, since it was democracy that gave them power in the first place. It may be that the Muslim Brotherhood will morph into a dictatorship, but they haven’t done it yet. If the Right wants the U.S. military to overthrow every democratically elected government we don’t like, then they should say so, but lets not pretend we’re doing it because we love democracy so much.

Now, what does President Obama think of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? A short time ago the President said of the government of Egypt, “I don’t think that we consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” The mouth-breathers on the Right promptly hooted that the President doesn’t know who are allies and enemies are. I thought the President was sending a not-too-subtle signal to the Muslim Brotherhood that they might want to spend some time considering Egypt’s relationship with the U.S. It was tough and smart, IMO. However, as we all know, righties don’t get nuance.

But just a few days later they’re back to calling the President a Muslim-lover and enabler of the coming globe-straddling caliphate. How soon they forget.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Lynne  •  Oct 1, 2012 @11:38 am

    Good one!

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Oct 1, 2012 @11:48 am

    I don’t suppose this Moran moron ever heard of Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein.

    Under Nasser, Egypt was a very close ally of the USSR.
    It was after his death, and after Anwar El Sadat succeeded him, that Egypt looked more favorably on the US.
    Btw – it was Jimmy Carter who brought Egypt more fully into our sphere, by convincing Sadat to sign a Peace Accord with Israel. Remember Jimmy Carter? The OTHER Democratic President you hate and call weak? Yeah, that weakling was behind that. Oh, I forgot, you people HATE PEACE!

    So, Mr. Moran, you moron, Egypt has a history of NOT being pro-American.

    And hopefully, we can present them with some good reasons to return to being our ally.
    But, if they don’t, we don’t have to make an enemy of them – we can keep working on improving the relationship until they are.
    No need to bomb EVERY democracy that Bush wanted to grow in the Middle East, just because they didn’t name some Egyprian version of John Bolton as their President. and kowtow to the US.
    See vinager, honey, and flies.

    WHAT A “MORAN!!!’

  3. Felicity  •  Oct 1, 2012 @1:57 pm

    Having lived in the ME, Yemen, it has occurred to me that some countries in the region may prefer the UAE model, a loose federation of 7 tribal states, each overseen by a prince and ruled by a president/king – A thought so repulsive to western democracies that there actually exist countries in the world which do not want to be ‘westernized.’

    The Crusades were launched on-and-off for 200 years until either the West got bored with the whole venture or finally realized that Islam was there to stay in the ME.

  4. Swami  •  Oct 1, 2012 @3:04 pm

    The moran Moran can’t get past the Muslim designation… And Michelle Bachmann is on the House Intelligence Committee…God Bless America!

  5. erinyes  •  Oct 1, 2012 @7:57 pm

    Bravo, Maha!
    Great comments, dear friends…..



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