Continuing my reflections on the coup, prompted by Reuel Marc Gerecht’s essay (linked below). Perhaps his key sentence was this one:
As long as the religious are more numerous, political parties that explicitly claim the faith will have an advantage over the secular, intellectually undernourished, Westernized youth who drove both rebellions.
My comment was, given the way Morsi and his followers blew the one chance purportedly-moderate Islamists had, likely for a generation, to gain adequate trust for executive governance, the fact of the “Islamism-attracted” being more numerous (or at least numerous enough to gain 30-40% of the vote) for the foreseeable future means, whether Gerecht can admit it or not, that well-wishers of Egypt and the Muslim world generally must support the new coup. Even if they regard it as having been precipitate.
And I will go further here. It means the experiment there with full liberal democracy, let us call it “Plan A,” is over.
Perhaps some form of parliamentary democracy can continue there—but now, the basic political logic of the situation will require its employment of the following provisions:
1) Preemptive disqualification from elections of Islamist parties, and candidates.
(This includes an ongoing executive and judicial application of the definition of “Islamist.”)
2) Overt limitations (if not outright bans) on freedom of expression and association for Islamists—necessarily extending beyond regular media into the arts, the internet, and into mosques and religious schools.
3) Heavy reliance on secret police and the army to enforce 1) and 2) and to defend against insurgency and terrorism.
4) Legal insulation of the agents of 3) from many forms of prosecution, and of journalistic investigation.
5) 1-4 must be constitutionalized.
(To some degree, 4) already is, but with an imprecision that gives the army too much power.)
6) a strong executive authority is required for this to work.
And note, this semi-democratic system will only deserve even the tag “semi,” if it can do 1) through 6) without empowering a dictator, a strong-man like Mubarak, or worse.
If the above seems obscene to you, well, initially, it should! But if you’re going to let your heart overrule you head indefinitely, perhaps you’d prefer some rah-rah democracy and rah-rah wisdom-of-Egyptian-people rhetoric. Middle-East democracy advocate Walid Phares gives you that, in his pro-coup piece I linked to below:
The overwhelming majority of Egyptian citizens that took part in the second revolution prompted the country’s armed forces to remove the Muslim Brotherhood…
That’s accurate enough—and that’s why you’ll find some people prickly about calling it a “coup.” But the rub comes afterwards, where we can note what Phares isn’t willing to mention:
…The second Egyptian revolution…will be confronting for a long time the counter revolution forces including a non-repentant Ikhwan and a myriad of dangerous Jihadi Terrorists. Egypt will have to fight this cancer for years, but thanks to its courageous civil society, it has already survived the extremists’ yoke. Egypt will not be Iran. The millions who took to the streets formed a Nile of democracy that will flood the Jihadists of Egypt. It will be long and hard, but the Egyptian Spring is now, finally, in progress.
But how will the “Revolution” and “Egypt” will be “fighting this cancer for years?” Sorry, whenever persons have to be confined for decades in prison, it’s always flesh-and-blood jailers, policemen, and judges who have to do this. What set of laws will allow them to do so?
If “semi-democratic” provisions, i.e., those like 1) – 6) are not adopted forthrightly and quickly, Islamist resistance will bring society to a standstill or worse. (And an unmentionable and unlegislated de facto adoption of them will mean a Potemkin democracy run by a dictatorship.)
But can they be openly adopted? Will any parties and leaders among the secularists and democrats be bold enough to consistently demand them? Do not their dogmas, of the “Walid Phares” kind, or even of the “Henry Rollins” kind (see below), prohibit this?
And if they are adopted, how will the various politicians, in and out of power, react if, say, some secular party insults some Islamic practice or tenet, or otherwise pushes their dissent to the extreme? Will it work for them to remain a legal party, while the Islamists cannot form one? And will not the temptation to expand the ban on Islamist parties to others become irresistible? Has “semi-democracy” ever worked in the long-run anywhere?
And so isn’t it inevitable that some sort of Mubarak II, some strongman, come to power? Maybe it’s this present head, Sisa, but maybe another will arise.
Call my proposal of “semi-democracy,” armed with provisions 1) – 6), Plan B. In my judgment, that is the very best we can hope for Egypt now. Contrary to Gerecht, and President Obama, it is too late to try to curry the favor and encourage the moderation of the most pragmatic Brothers. Obama’s State Dept. people apparently think it might be politic for us elsewhere in the Muslim world to be seen as trying to restrain Sisa from oppressing them, but we have to understand that a rubicon has been crossed. The government is going to have to be harsh. The Islamists will it hate it now no matter what partial leniency it shows them, and so half-measures are dangerous.
But my rhetorical questions remain. I don’t think Plan B is viable—everyone should be prepared for its failure if it is tried, and no-one should expect that the military (or the liberals) will let it be tried.
And no-one should demand a U.S. or European style liberal democracy at this point—the “plan A” of self-deluded international liberal opinion—because it simply puts Egypt one or two elections away from the same bloody dilemma it got into with Morsi’s victory in 2012.
So everyone has to face and prepare for the likelihood of Plan C: a dictator, a Mubarak II. In the new-and-improved Mubarak that wise Egyptians and wise U.S. policy ought to be looking for, we want what many political scientists call a liberalizing autocrat. You know, a guy who gets society used to the rule of rights-protecting liberal law. But as important will be an Islamism-decreasing autocrat. One committed to societal “containment” of Islam in the medium term, and to aiding its reform, and/or it’s diminishment in the long term. It’s also time to face this.
For the scariest part of Gerecht’s essay is this section on Turkey:
…80 years of secularizing autocracy did not free people from their Ottoman past. As Turkey’s politics have become more democratic, the Islamist percentage of the vote has risen. When I was serving with the Central Intelligence Agency in Istanbul in the 1980s, Langley and the State Department were convinced that the ceiling for the “Islamic vote” was 10 percent; Turkish generals and admirals were not so sure. (Emphasis added.)
Twenty years later the Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) decisively won national elections. The army’s and the judiciary’s anti-Islamist efforts, including hard and soft coups against ruling Islam-friendly politicians and parties, may have postponed judgment day and moderated the Turkish Islamist temperament. They did not stop the rebirth of a more vigorous Turkish Muslim identity and Islamic political aspirations.
Admit it, finally, because the facts give you no choice: modernity’s (inevitable) impact upon Islamic societies results, in case after case, in an electorally critical mass of Islamism. There is not a prayer of that Islamism becoming moderate enough to accommodate any remotely liberal form of democracy unless Islam itself changes or diminishes. And note, whether this is a perfectly sound judgment or not is now irrelevant for Egypt, since Morsi and co. simply have dashed all trust in “moderate Islamism” for a generation.
That means what would be best for Egypt, and maybe for most Muslim nations, is a dictator who gave effective support to Muslim reformers. In an important essay this summer, Daniel Pipes describes such reform this way:
If Islamism is to be defeated, anti-Islamist Muslims must develop an alternative vision of Islam and explanation for what it means to be a Muslim. In doing so, they can draw on the past, especially the reform efforts from the span of 1850 to 1950, to develop a “modern synthesis” comparable to the medieval model. This synthesis would choose among Sharia precepts and render Islam compatible with modern values. It would accept gender equality, coexist peacefully with unbelievers, and reject the aspiration of a universal caliphate, among other steps.
Contrast what he’s calling for, with the minor Egypt-specific compromise Gerecht in his 2012 essay was hoping for:
Look at tourism. The Salafists want to kick the European tourists…out of Egypt and replace their hard currency with the export of baskets. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying, or at least so it seems, to figure out how to keep the tourists… A Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian government will likely fall back on the traditional Muslim view of foreign tourists as dhimmis, that is, religiously protected minorities who will be allowed to do more or less what they want (drink alcohol, wear bikinis, and even engage in sexually provocative behavior) so long as they do it away from Muslims (resort staff excluded). Getting to this dispensation will not be easy for many in the Brotherhood, especially the older leadership. If they get there, it will be an astonishing achievement for a group that has been absolutely frantic about the Western assault on Egyptian mores.
What Gerecht was hoping for never would have been enough, and always would have been exposed to purist counter-attack. In any case, the actual Brotherhood could not even get to place where other Egyptians could trust it. It is Pipes, or the person who says that what Pipes wants is impossible given the irreducible fundamentals of Islam(meaning we all resign ourselves to plan D, despotism is destiny for the Middle East), who is the real realist.
Not at all realistic are the dogmatic liberals, here and in Egypt. I say that after Morsi, and after the anti-Islamist crossing of the rubicon that the coup represents, they need to see that they can only be serious about liberalism in Egypt by getting the government to tightly restrain Islamism, to aide the work against its roots in the religion itself, and to increasingly insist upon freedom of conscience for all, which means protecting rights to the extent that it becomes socially possible for Muslims to publically become atheists, homosexuals, or yes, even Christians. If one could achieve such while keeping restrictions on bikinis and liquor, it would be a trade very much worth making.
Egypt is presently around 10% Christian. It would be better for everyone there if that 10% felt far more secure in their rights, and yes, if that population increased to say, 20-30%, through conversions. No-one should be shocked or scandalized that I, a Christian, say this. To be serious about my faith requires me, after all, to think that most places would wind up being better-governed were more of their population to become Christian. But I suppose some will be outraged to find me arguing that it is what political logic suggests also.
So be it. I say that logic indicates that what is really needed is an Ataturk II, but this time one even more radical. I don’t expect such an autocrat will emerge, however. Rather, what Egypt will likely wind up with is Mubarak II, i.e., another autocrat incapable of really “liberalizing,” but able to keep the land from falling into overt chaos and famine.
To review, the best possible option would be Plan B. If it doesn’t work or happen, and it likely won’t, what we want is Plan C, a dictator who does not devolve into a tyrant. We want someone better than Muburak, ideally someone who can push the law towards Plan B, and whose long-terms goals are those of an “Ataturk II.” Alas, what our State Department, and what the Egyptian liberals, are all too likely to do is to demand Plan A, full liberal democracy. The only good thing about the present pointless State Dept. protests on behalf of the Brotherhood, is that they show some dim awareness that Plan A is impossible given its antagonism. And again, that antagonism has now been established. So for that reason and a number of others, Plan A will fail. The promise of the “Spring” is over. Face it, and move on to plans B or C.