July 8, 2013 | Quote

Egypt and Islamic Democracy

During the upheavals that toppled Hosni Mubarak just over two years ago, I quoted from Reuel Marc Gerecht’s 2004 book “The Islamic Paradox” to offer a case for something like optimism about the Egyptian future. Now that further upheavals have apparently toppled Mubarak’s successor, with the Egyptian military providing the decisive push, it seems worth reproducing that quote today:

Despite the go-slow approach of Mubarak’s opposition, worldly Egypt is probably the Arab country that has the best chance of quickly marrying fundamentalism and democracy … It is certainly possible that fundamentalists, if they gained power in Egypt, would try to end representative government. The democratic ethic, although much more common in Egypt than many Westerners believe, is not as well anchored as it is among the Shiites of Iran or in the fatwas of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But the United States would still be better off with this alternative than with a secular dictatorship, like Mubarak’s, which oppresses and feeds fundamentalism. Without Mubarak or the general who is likely to succeed him, evolution starts. The Iranian model comes into play. Fundamentalists become fundamentalist critics. They become responsible for their own spiritual destiny, in addition to potholes, sewage pipes, imports, exports, and the nation’s credit rating. The State Department talks about encouraging “generational” change. But time moves quickly now … In twenty years, the Iranian revolution collapsed and the clerical regime, not the United States, became the principal focus of the people’s anger. The same process is unavoidable in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world, if Islamic activists become dictators or elected representatives wielding real power.

As I said two years ago, I have serious doubts about whether Gerecht’s thesis — which sees Islamist rule in Middle Eastern countries as a necessary-if-fraught step on the way to any kind of liberal democracy in the region — can serve as a guide for responsible U.S. policymaking. But it has always offered the most plausible script for how the Islamic world might eventually escape from its current cycle of repression feeding extremism feeding repression and so on.

Read the full article here.