August 15, 2013 | Quote
Egypt: Back to the Intifada
As the Egyptian military consolidates control by murdering pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters and declaring a state of emergency, we may be witnessing the most dangerous potential for Arab radicalization since the two Palestinian intifadas. Despite the resignation Wednesday of Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice president, in opposition to the Egyptian junta's action, the discomfiting fact is that most of Egypt's liberal “democrats”—along with the United States—have never looked more hypocritical. If the bloody crackdown is allowed to continue while the U.S. and West do nothing, the actions of the Egyptian military could de-legitimize democratic change in the Arab world for a generation or more.
And for Washington, a dream that began with the neoconservative push to turn Iraq into a “model democracy” after the 2003 invasion—the somewhat naïve Western hope that the Arab nations would catch up with the rest of the world—may already be dead. Worse, the loss of moderate Islamist alternatives, and the failure of democracy, could supply al-Qaida with its biggest recruiting campaign since 9/11.
The images in Egypt are excruciating to behold, both in a literal and philosophical sense. In what appeared to be more of a direct military assault than a police-style crowd-clearing exercise, Egyptian forces killed more than 500 people, most of them supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi who were engaged in nothing more offensive than a series of sit-ins. Suddenly, in one awful day, the exercise of the democratic rights and ideals that are so dear to America's self-image—and which have formed the heart of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War—were rendered all but irrelevant to many Arabs, especially because of Washington's mild response. Apart from a few dissenters such as ElBaradei, the once-inspiring secularists who massed in Tahrir Square to oust Hosni Mubarak have now repudiated those democratic rights and values by continuing to support the bloody crackdown. And while the Obama administration issued a rote condemnation, the lack of any more dramatic response continues to fritter away what little moral authority America has left.
Marc Lynch, an expert in the Arab world at George Washington University, says that if the Muslim Brotherhood separates itself permanently from the democratic process—and its leaders have vowed to do so until Morsi is restored—then the moderate Islamists the West was hoping to bring into the government may grow scarce. That, in turn, will empower and reinvigorate the more radical al-Qaida-linked groups who preach the use of force. “What Islamist can now plausibly argue that democratic participation works?” he says. “Many Islamists will likely pull back from politics for a while, go underground, or retreat to charity work, but some portion are going to find extremist ideas much more convincing now. Only takes a small number to make a difference, remember.”
Lynch's assessment is endorsed by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert in the region and a conservative commentator at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. “For radical Islamists who thrive on tyranny, the Nile Valley has again become exceptionally fertile ground,” Gerecht says. “The secular crowd blew it. They can try to walk away from the military now … but it's too late. Egyptian society is badly, probably irretrievably, polarized with the potential for horrendous violence. The secular crowd who thought they'd pulled off a 'coup-volution' with Morsi's downfall have guaranteed that we only see devolution in Egypt, either to an increasing sad, morally corroding, impoverished society, where liberals have no future, or to an explosion that may consume the country.”