Publié le dim 28 Juil 2013

Egypt: The Illiberal-Undemocratic Left


As we watch Egypt slowly descends into the mayhem of a protracted civil strife, we can’t help it but feel a deep sense of a missed opportunity.  The “What if” will probable be part of our lexicon for a while, but we will soon forget about it. Truly, a successful democratic experience in the largest and most important Arab-Muslim country could have been a wonderful experience and could have blazed a luminous path for all the countries in the region to follow. A vibrant Egyptian democracy could have balanced confessional political parties such as the Justice and Development Party with traditional parties culminating in more political moderation, more inclusion, and a better democracy; culminating in a democracy that would have dealt the lethal blow to all jihadist Islamist political narratives and movements.  Yes, it could have been a marvelous sui generis Egyptian democracy, a sui generis Arab-Muslim democracy.  Hélas, as the French say, we can talk about the Egyptian democratic experience only in the past tense now.

How did we get here? How did they miss such a big opportunity?  Yes,  the Egyptian military intervened. Yes, it never liked the idea of a democracy that it could not control, shape, and guide. As all militaries in the Arab-Muslim world, the Egyptian military is extremely authoritarian. It’s a military that refuses civilian control and leadership, and does everything to undermine it. In fact, as all militaries in the Arab-Muslim world, the Egyptian military does not even understand the idea of democracy, and has never been able to.

But that’s not why democracy is death in Egypt. Granted the military never liked and/or accepted democracy, but the military could not have killed the democratic Egyptian dream by itself.  It got help. The liberal-secular and democratic left in Egypt helped carry out the military coup d’état, nurtured it, justified it, and provided it with a blanket of legitimacy. Let me be clear here, there is nothing liberal or democratic about the political left in Egypt. In fact, I will refer to it in the rest of this post as the illiberal and undemocratic Egyptian left.

Like the Algerian illiberal and undemocratic left before them, the Egyptians illiberal-undemocrats could not win elections. Even more frustrating to them, the illiberal-undemocrats could not connect with the normal Egyptian. They couldn’t speak the folksy language of normal everyday Egyptians. They felt foreigners in their own country. The only language they could speak and not so convincingly was a jingoist über nationalist language borrowed from the Nasser era; and even that language sounded hollow and dishonest coming out of their mouths.

The truth is that the Egyptian illiberal-undemocratic left is highly authoritarian. Its history is linked to the history of authoritarian Nasserism, despotic Sadatism, nepotic Mubarakism. Most of the illiberal-undemocrats loved Nasser,  worshiped Al-Sadat, and courted Mubarak. But they never bothered to understand or connect with the oldest opposition movement in Egypt. They have never tried to understand what motivate millions of Egyptians to follow and be part of the Muslim Brotherhood for decades. For some illiberal-undemocrats, the Muslim-Brotherhood represents the aspirations of an under class of Egyptians who are uneducated, uncivilized, unsophisticated, uncouth, and mostly rural. Egyptians who are socially conservative, and attached to their religion. Islam to them is not only a religion; it is literally a way of life that you find in their language, expressions, manners, thoughts and even being. And that repulsed the Egyptian illiberal-undemocratic left.

For some other illiberal-undemocrats, the Muslim-Brotherhood represents the underbelly of Egypt’s ideological spectrum. For them, the Muslim-Brotherhood is not and cannot be compatible with democracy because deep down the true face of the Muslim-Brothers is the face of an angry bearded Islamist who is hell-bent on establishing an Islamic state where Shari’a is the law of the land, women are forced to wear hijab, men are forced to grow beards, and everyone is forced to pray five times a day.  This is how the illiberal-undemocrats see the Muslim-Brotherhood. They don’t believe that the MB is for democracy no matter how many times the MB shows its commitment to democratic rule. These so-called liberals deeply and firmly think that the Muslim-Brothers are liars, untrustworthy, conniving, sexist, and misogynic politicians whose goal is to enslave Egypt and turn it into a medieval caliphate, which is a means to spread Islam and to wage holy war on Israel and America. Therefore, the Muslim-Brotherhood is dangerous to the integrity of the Egyptian state and culture. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to the nation; therefore the Muslim Brotherhood must be eliminated by any means.

And this is how you justify a coup, and convince yourself that the military led by general Al-Sisi are here to save the day, to save Egypt from itself. So, you cheer the tanks, shakes the hands of the generals, kiss the soldiers, and look away when the generals order their soldiers to unleash hell on the members of the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, you have dehumanized the Muslim Brothers to such an extent that they deserve jail, torture, and death. “Kill them all” said a former Egyptian actor in the microphone of state-run TV; “Exterminate them all and show no mercy” proudly shouted a TV host. All these feelings expressed by this illiberal-undemocratic left are not new or strange. They are at the core of who this illiberal-undemocratic Egyptian left is.

I was told one day by a famous Egyptian professor of Arabic literature, a middle-age man who likes his liquor more than his country or democracy,  “they [the Muslim Brothers] can’t be trusted. If it were up to me, I would ban them. I would do to them more than what Nasser did to them. I would send them to die somewhere so the world can get rid of them.” This is the same professor who found Saddam’s treatment of the Shi”a inhumane. When i pointed out the contradiction to him, he said with a deep sigh and a voice wrapped in indignation, disappointment and righteousness “Oh You Americans, you’ll never learn. You’ll never understand the Middle East. Trust me, i know my own. I know who deserve and who doesn’t.” Although i never asked “what do they deserve?” i knew exactly what he meant.

The aforementioned little anecdote summarizes the belief system of most illiberal-undemocrats in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, I dare say that this professor is a faithful representation of the illiberal-undemocratic Egyptian left. This left that believes in democracy as long as it doesn’t lose any election. A left that believes in free speech and media as long as it can control them,  publish and broadcast its ideas, and bans someone else’s; a left that has nothing of leftist, nothing of liberal, and certainly nothing of democratic.  An Egyptian left as illiberal and as undemocratic as the Algerian left, which in 1992 invited the military to takeover and plunged the country in a bloody civil war.

Yes, the Egyptian illiberal-undemocratic left invited the military to takeover. The illiberal-undemocrats allowed this military coup to take place. They were fooled or let themselves to be fooled by general Al-Sisi and acted in the most undemocratic manner possible.

No, the true democrats don’t take part, encourage, sponsor, and support a coup d’état to save democracy. This is what the Algerian left should have said to the Algerian generals, and this is what should have said the “true Egyptian democrats” to general Al-Sisi, “No general, we don’t support your coup d’état because a coup doesn’t save democracy. It kills it.”

Not only did the Egyptian illiberal-undemocratic left kill democracy in Egypt and in the Arab-Muslim world, it also committed political suicide. There is no future for them anymore in a true democratic system. Of course, Egypt will never be a true democracy now, and therefore the illiberal-undemocratic Egyptian left can only thrive and survive in anaerobic environment of authoritarianism, like the one they seem to cherish. Welcome boys & girls to the era of Egyptian electoral authoritarianism. Hope you enjoy it!

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