September 05, 2005
Willing. Unwilling. The Pretension of Interest in Democracy & The Middle East
From our dear friend Pratike, who made the error of going to Egypt and Cairo specifically to learn Arabic and thus condemn himself to speaking with a bufoonish accent for the rest of his day, a note on the 'elections' and the pretension that the US Administration is interested in democracy in the MENA region:
His quote from a Washington Post op ed:
Perhaps there is concern that too much pressure on Mubarak might produce a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Egyptian opposition party that has been outlawed by the government. That's a risk, of course, but if the Bush administration isn't willing to let Islamists, even radical Islamists, win votes in a fair election, then Bush officials should stop talking so much about democracy and go back to supporting the old dictatorships. It was precisely that kind of logic -- that friendly dictators are preferable to potentially radical alternatives -- that helped produce so much radicalism during the Cold War and, more recently, a healthy movement of Middle East terrorists.
Well, welcome to reality children. What news.
The problem of course is that as usual this American administration has a peculiar belief that all is spin, and execution does not matter.
Second, if course, I am not in particular married to this funny and sometimes even charming addiction to "democracy" in the Middle East on the part of many. Without changing the bases of power, which means changing the economy, there is nothing that will overthrow the Mamalike djoudad, the new Mamlouks - or the Makhzen as they say in North Africa, the men of the Treasury. I acknowledge situations where democracy has arisen without economic transformation (Senegal, Mali come to mind), but in neither case were the Mamalike so deeply entrenched (leaving aside the moderately defective nature of both, although one has to give credit to each given the extreme poverty they face).
In the case of the Arab world, the deeper roots of these States (even the new ones called on old state elites, Ottoman or otherwise) require a different intervention.
This aside, I have often argued, playing the Mubarek game is playing a losing hand. There is no future in these Mamlouks, their record is so profoundly bad that it sometimes takes the breath away and their situation so bad it also takes the breath away. Algeria, to take another example, is in many ways not too different, but no one but Algeria owns that problem (well, the French to a minor extent, but they do not spend billions to support Bouteflika) and the environmental constraints not so bloody terrible.
This is really a less competent Shah scenario, except only with the bad excuse of 'peace' and the new Mamlouks are not going to cede power any more than the Shah.
I see no rational reason, except a sort of poorly informed risk aversion and a superstisious aversion to the Islamist gambit driven by - more often than not, some rather nasty and stupid agitprop (e.g. for those who recall my old livejournal, idiocies in regards to Islamists/Ikhouane being direct descendants of the Nazi party and the moronic agitprop regarding "Islamofascists," a turn of phrase as unfelicitious, idiotic and malapropos as "homocide bombers" - and driven by the same parties and politics).
That is not, I may add, to diminish the unpleasant aspects of the Ikhouane. Quite the contrary, they are obscurantist fools (although many with decent enoght motivations, but I say the same about many historical communists, their hearts being in the right place not excusing the idiocy and ultimate bankruptcy of the ideology).
However, one does not live in a magical wish world, but reality. And in reality, in the Arab world, the Islamists of various colours are the clear majority. If one is to play a democracy game, one plays with them. Else, one is engaging in a little game of Potemkin village politics or policies that may indeed fool the ignorant non-passport bearing gullible idiots in North America, but does fuck all to get anything real done.
I note this is not merely a problem of American conservatives. It is equally a problem of the American left, who continue to piss and moan about women's rights in Iraq, for example, as if that had any real meaning in a country descending into civil war. Indeed, in safe salons it may, but it is a luxury in a world where one can get whacked or trampled to death fleeing a real/faux suicide bomber.
The faux women's rights of the Sadaam era are already lost. Western pissing and moaning at this stage about this merely betrays utter irrealism.
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I'll be pleased as punch if I'm able to master the buffoonish Egyptian accent in the next few years. At least it's better than whatever faux-Arabic they speak in the Maghrebian backwaters, eh?
Posted by: praktike at September 5, 2005 06:52 AM
Concerning democracy, economics and Islamists, we've already talked about Tunisia to some extent when someone asked me a question about Ben Ali. I tried to give as informative an answer as I could but I'd like to know what you think of Ben Ali's policies, most of all those related to economics and Islamists. If you've been to Tunisia, is the average Muslim there more socially liberal than the average Muslim in surrounding countries? Are they more ecomically liberal*?
What do you think of Ben Ali's implementation of those policies?
*Here, "liberal" is in the European sense.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at September 5, 2005 07:04 AM
Well, first for Pratike, while perhaps there is some achievement in actually obtaining the buffoonish Ciarene accent, please do avoid picking up the unfortunate and unfactual Machreqi prejudices regarding the Maghrebine accent. At least they pronounce all the letters properly or bloody damn close to Fusha.
This aside, Syria would serve you better. Cleaner accent, less English speakers and just as portable if not more so in some ways.
Well, I have often expressed my approval of the overall historical framework of the Tunisian economic reforms. They could and should do more liberalising, but what they have done so far has been effective, and as well, sustained over time.
Has that changed man on the street attitudes?
I dunno. I have not spent enough time in Tunisia to know, passing through on business just is not sufficient. You speak to the wrong crowd.
Same on social matters, although I would hazard the opinion that in grosso modo, the Maghrebine populations are more socially liberal relative to actual practice (and I am not speaking to elite practice), but that is relative to the Gulf.
The average Muslim? eh, that is a question I am not sure one can answer. I certainly would hesitate to even try for countries where I have lived quite a long while. Certainly their attitudes are differently structured, but liberal.... I don't know.
However, to sum up, relative to most of the rest of the Arab world, I would say that the average Tunisian is probably more liberal (in the old world, not American, sense) than most others. That , of course, is not a particularly strong statement.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 5, 2005 02:07 PM
The worst thing is that my new teachers this semester refuse to speak proper fusha ... it's gims and hamzas and all that good stuff. So I'm going to have a cosmopolitan Cairene accent at all times.
Posted by: praktike at September 6, 2005 12:05 PM
Welcome to Umm ad-Dunya and the land of Egiptiyah.
This reminds me of a hilarious conversation I once sat in on between an Egyptian and a Khaliji (I think Kuwaiti, but now I forget, been years now).
As often occurs between Arabs, they got into some absurd little argument about Arabic language - not serious of course, but became so as they were disagreeing about some grammatical point or something. The detials escape me. As I recall, I seem to recall thinking they were both wrong, but whatever.
At some point the Khaliji got sick of the argument and waved his hand at the Egyptian and said something along the lines of "What do you know, you're not even a real Arab." Some how the way he said really carried a punch, I still recall the poor Egyptian's face, who spluttered something along the lines of "Well what am I?" (Eh, Ana Eh?) to which our fine arrogant Khaleji responded most dismissively, "I don't know, Egyptian I suppose. But you're not Arabs."
It was, I have to say, a hilarious conversation to sit in on given how Egyptians like to recount how they educated the Gulfies (true to an extent).
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 6, 2005 12:42 PM
I was seriously worried after my last class that I'd come out speaking fusha with an Italian accent, so it could be worse.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at September 6, 2005 04:38 PM
There's definitely a Coptic nationalist contigent of folks who say they aren't really Arabs, but they're fairly small.
Posted by: praktike at September 7, 2005 08:48 AM