In the aftermath of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post penned a meme which has become common among the mainstream media and left-blogosphere, that The GOP loves freedom, but not for Egypt:
The conservative mantra has been: Obama Is Always Wrong. Therefore there must be something wrong with the way he handled Egypt – even if it appears, from what we’ve seen so far, that the result is a historic opening for democracy in the world’s most troubled region.
The other possible explanation for the lukewarm conservative reaction is a lack of faith in our most cherished democratic values – at least where majority-Islam countries are concerned.
I’m not talking about Glenn Beck’s paranoid fantasy of a vast leftist-Islamist conspiracy for world domination; that’s a job for a licensed professional with a prescription pad. I’m talking about people such as former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who told CPAC that “democracy as we see it” in Egypt would be all right but grumbled that “a democratic election can produce illiberal results.”
In other words, some Egyptians might vote for candidates put forth by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unlikely that the group would win a majority in free and fair elections – or even that a government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, if it came to that, would necessarily be more dangerous or hostile than the Mubarak regime. But Bolton and some others seem to believe that only political parties of which the United States approves should be allowed to participate in Egyptian elections….
These conservatives are arguing that the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims cannot be trusted to govern themselves. That’s not what I call loving freedom.
Robinson confuses a conservative desire not to have an Islamist regime in Egypt with opposition to freedom. There are reasons to be concerned, and to have hoped for a more staged transition in Egypt, having nothing to do with support for Mubarak.
Iran is the example of the worst nightmare come true, when a shift to democracy in a previously totalitarian state ends in generations of brutal Islamist rule.
But there is a more recent example which weighed heavily on the minds of conservatives, the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Hamas won local elections in Gaza in 2005 and parliamentary elections in 2006, and used that power to evict rival (and non-Islamist) Palestinian Authority forces in 2007.
Since this takeover, which started with democratic elections, Hamas not only has turned Gaza into one large rocket-launching pad leading to war with Israel in 2008-2009, but also haso suffocated all non-Islamist elements in society.
As reported today by The Telegraph, Gaza’s elected Islamist rulers crack down on secular community;
After nearly four years of Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip’s small secular community is in tatters, decimated by the militant group’s campaign to impose its strict version of Islam in the coastal territory.
Hamas has bullied men and women to dress modestly, tried to keep the sexes from mingling in public and sparked a flight of secular university students and educated professionals. Most recently, it has confiscated novels it deems offensive to Islam from a bookshop and banned Gaza’s handful of male hairdressers from styling women’s hair.
Some argue that the case of Gaza could also be a warning sign for those pushing for quick democratic reforms in the region. Hamas rose to power in part by winning internationally backed parliamentary elections held in 2006.
You see, Mr. Robinson, it doesn’t necessarily start this way, but it always ends this way where Islamist fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood, which created Hamas, are involved. More from The Telegraph article:
After winning the 2006 election, Hamas vowed it wouldn’t impose Islamic law. But within two years, bureaucrats began ordering changes that targeted secular Gaza residents.
Today, plainclothes officers sometimes halt couples in the streets, demanding to see marriage licenses. Last year, the Interior Ministry banned women from smoking water pipes in public. Islamic faith does not ban women from smoking, but it is considered taboo in Gaza society.
“In the end, the people who think differently are leaving,” said Rami, a 32-year-old activist in one of Gaza’s few secular groups. He refused to give his last name, fearing retribution.
We already see the early warning signs in Egypt, as I pointed out in my prior post The Yuppie Revolution In Egypt Is Over, The Islamist Revolution Has Begun. Unless the military handles the transition very, very well, the secular forces in Egypt will not stand a chance when hard line, anti-Semitic clerics can turn out a million protesters in Cairo who chant “To Jerusalem We go, for us to be the Martyrs of the Millions.”
The concern expressed by conservatives was that generations of Egyptians would suffer the same fate as generations of Iranians.
It was a love of freedom which fueled concerns among conservatives over the creation of a power vacuum in Egypt, not a love of tyranny.
Go to Gaza, Mr. Robinson, then lecture conservatives about freedom.
Update: Thanks to reader James for a link to this interview with Islamic historian Bernard Lewis who sounds a cautionary alarm:
Yet in Egypt now, for example, the assumption is that we’re proceeding toward elections in September and that seems to be what the West is inclined to encourage.
I would view that with mistrust and apprehension. If there’s a genuinely free election – assuming that such a thing could happen – the religious parties have an immediate advantage. First, they have a network of communication through the preacher and the mosque which no other political tendency can hope to equal. Second, they use familiar language. The language of Western democracy is for the most part newly translated and not intelligible to the great masses.
In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through local self-governing institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.