Pipes switches again on Egyptian democracy

On February 8, Daniel Pipes ruthlessly demolished the prediction that Egypt would become a democracy within a year, or, indeed, in any foreseeable future: “Egypt will remain autocratic in twelve months’ time.”

Three weeks later, on March 1, in a column entitled, “My Optimism about the New Arab Revolt,” Pipes dramatically reversed himself:

… I see changes that could augur a new era, one in which infantilized Arabic-speakers mature into adults…. Time has come to discard the soft bigotry of low expectations; speaking Arabic or Persian does not make one incapable of building democratic means to attain free ends.

And today, April 26, Pipes lurches back to his earlier position that there is no chance that Egypt will become a democracy in the foreseeable future. He says Egypt has been under military rule since 1952 and will remain so. Further, he says that Egypt’s military regime has an Islamist orientation.

I remain the only writer in the world who has noticed—and I’ve been demonstrating the point now for six years—how the world-renowned Islam expert Pipes radically reverses his position on the prospects for Islamic moderation and democracy almost every time he writes an article on the subject. It would be nice if someone else noticed this, and I wasn’t the only one. But it won’t happen, because conservatives think it’s wrong to find fault with other conservatives, especially an established and esteemed conservative like Pipes, and so they don’t see, let alone challenge, his wildly contradictory statements on the nature of Islam; and because left-liberals—with their belief in unconditional openness to the Other no matter how alien and threatening the Other is—don’t care about the nature of Islam.

And, by the way, isn’t this absence of real discussion about the nature of Islam the very reason we have now blundered into Libya?

Understanding Post-Mubarak Egypt
By Daniel Pipes

As Egypt lurches into a new era, a look at its complexities and subtleties helps to understand the country’s likely course. Some thoughts on key issues:

The spirit of Tahrir Square is real and alive but exceedingly remote from the halls of power. Revolutionary ideas—that government should serve the people, not the reverse; that rulers should be chosen by the people; and that individuals have inherent dignity and rights—have finally penetrated a substantial portion of the country, and especially the young. In the long term, these ideas can work wonders. But for now, they are dissident ideas, firmly excluded from any operational role.

Military rule will continue. Soldiers did not seize power with Hosni Mubarak’s departure two months ago; they did so in 1952. That’s when the Free Officers overthrew the constitutional monarchy and took office. One senior military man followed another—from Naguib to Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak to Tantawi—in an unbroken succession over 59 years. With time, the military expanded its grip from the political realm to the economic, producing everything from television sets to olive oil and acquiring control over a sizable portion of Egypt’s wealth. The soldiers have become far too accustomed to power and the good life to give up these perks. They will do whatever it takes, be it purging Mubarak, throwing his sons in jail, banning his old political party, changing the constitution, or repressing dissent, to keep power.

The military is not secular. From the furthest origins of the Free Officers in the 1930s to the recent re-affirmation of Shari’a (Islamic law) as “the principal source of legislation,” the Egyptian military leadership consistently has displayed an Islamist orientation. More specifically, the Free Officers emerged out of the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and through the decades has been in competition with the civilian wing. As analyst Cynthia Farahat writes in the Middle East Quarterly, their rivalry “should be understood not as a struggle between an autocratic, secular dictatorship and a would-be Islamist one but a struggle between two ideologically similar, if not identical, rival groups, hailing from the same source.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is less formidable than its reputation suggests.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a powerhouse. The organization suffers from major problems. First, hot-headed and violent Islamists despise it. Al-Qaeda recently blasted it for taking part in elections and ridiculed it for being on the path to becoming “secular and falsely affiliated with Islam.” Second, the brotherhood is weak on the ground. Hesham Kassem of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights notes that its membership does not exceed 100,000 which, in a country of 80 million, means it “is not really a grass roots movement” but a coddled institution benefiting from being uniquely tolerated. Genuine political competition should diminish its appeal.

Finally, understanding Egyptian politics means penetrating the characteristically Middle Eastern double game (as in Iraqi and Syrian politics), one played out here by the military and the Islamists. Note its contrary elements:

Routine military-Islamist cooperation. The military has, Farahat notes, “subtly colluded with Islamists against their more democratically inclined compatriots and religious minorities, notably the Copts.” One of many examples: On April 14, a human rights conference critiquing the military for hauling civilians before military tribunals was twice interrupted. First by a military police officer worried about “indecent women” and second by Islamists angry about inappropriate discussion of the military. Who is who? Roles have became nearly interchangeable. Likewise, the new military leadership permitted Islamists to form political parties and released brotherhood members from jail. Conversely, Mohamed Badei, the brotherhood leader, praised the armed forces and his organization endorsed the army’s March referendum.

The government exploits fears of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military benefits from worries, both domestic and foreign, of an Islamist takeover. That prospect justifies not only its own continued domination of Egypt but also excuses its excesses and cruelties. The military has learned to play Islamists like a yo-yo. For example, Mubarak cunningly allowed 88 Muslim Brothers into parliament in 2005; this simultaneously showed the perils of democracy and made his own tyranny indispensable. Having established this point, he allowed just one Muslim Brother into parliament in the 2010 elections.

In brief, while the modernity of Tahrir Square and the barbarism of the Muslim Brotherhood both have long-term importance, in all likelihood, the military will continue to rule Egypt, making only cosmetic changes.

- end of initial entry -

N. writes:

Pipes is beginning to remind me of some sort of computerized, mobile toy that is programmed to move towards certain objects but not get too close to them. It begins to appear that his emotions and his intellect are in constant conflict.

Intellectually he critiques Islam with a fair amount of accuracy, and his Feb. 8 statement on Egypt shows this. But his emotions, for whatever reason, won’t allow him to come right out and follow his thinking to the logical conclusion. Perhaps he has genuine friends who are Moslem. Perhaps he is somehow still a believer in the “brotherhood of all men” It doesn’t matter.

What we see is a constant degree of being repelled by Islam and yet attracted to it. And this leads to his comments always falling within a certain range; he can’t go all the way over to the entire “religion of peace” hokum because he knows too much. But he also can’t bring himself to face the reality of Separationism, because for whatever reason his emotions will not allow him to think through the problem.

Pipes therefore is yet another public figure working through his own individual emotional and intellectual conflicts via the public stage. I wish that such people would just to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a cleric, or whomever, in private rather than keep working out their personal problems with the rest of us.

I do not see Pipes overcoming his emotional/intellectual conflict soon, if ever, and so he will forever be a vacillating figure who can never be counted on to give an unvarnished, completely factual opinion on Islam for more than a day or two.

Greg W. writes:

Sounds like this guy changes his mind as the “facts” on Wikipedia change. Also, the naiveté of believing democracy is always a good thing is astonishing. [LA replies: but he doesn’t always believe it. For the most part, Pipes alone among neocons has consistently opposed (if weakly) the Muslim Democracy Project. But then he turns around and supports it.] If the will of the people (democracy!) is to vote in a majority Muslim Brotherhood, that doesn’t bode well for the Christians of Egypt. We’ve already seen Coptic Christians being killed I believe.

Many times those horrible dictators are much better than their replacement.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 26, 2011 12:35 PM | Send

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