Sunday, January 23, 2011

WaPo Editors Call for US Democracy Support in Tunisia . . . Really?

An editorial in this morning's WaPo calls upon  the US to support elections and democracy in Tunisia, and in the process mentions that Sec of State Hillary Clinton expressed that support in her message to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, but then nails her (and, by extension, of course, Pres. Barack Obama) for not insisting  that Mubarak open up his own country's political process.

This, to my mind, qualifies as disingenuous and a bit of a cheap shot (even though it would have been more than appropriate, given what the US supposedly stands for, if Ms. Clinton had indeed made that point to Mubarak).

In Tunisia, although the Islamist opposition to the now deposed Ben Ali regime has begun to make its presence felt, at this point it's but one of several dissident groups with a dog in the upcoming elections fight there.  As of yet, I've seen very few pro-West commentators talk about Tunisia's Islamists as some kind of imminent "threat."

But anyone who's been paying attention knows that in Egypt, the popular, long-established, but politically outlawed Muslim Brotherhood would likely rise very quickly to the political forefront if Mubarak were to open up the system, or be overthrown. The NYT's Michael Slackman has an interesting analysis today of how, in his view, Islamist ideology is in decline as a prime political motivator in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab Middle East, as people instead are focused more on surviving and resisting  autocrats' corruption and repression.  And it's entirely possible (though perhaps not entirely likely, if I've read the accounts of Marc Lynch's interactions with MB leaders correctly) that a politically empowered Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would adopt a secularist democratic style akin to what Mr. Erdogan and the Islamist AKP have practiced in a resurgent Turkey.  But anyone paying attention will also have noticed that Turkey's relations with Israel are on the skids, mostly because Turkey's Muslims are angry with Israel's treatment of fellow Muslims in the West Bank and, especially, Gaza in the wake of the devastation the IDF wreaked there two years ago, its ongoing blockade of Gaza, and its killing of eight Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara incident )  The US touts Egypt as one of the good guys in the Arab Middle East because of its peace treaty with Israel (brokered by Jimmy Carter more than 30 years ago), but it's been a very cold peace, one in many ways not in tune with the Egyptian "street," where the MB is very influential.

And finally, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is the political-spiritual godfather of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist party that was indeed brought to power in what were almost universally acclaimed as free and fair elections in 2006 - elections that the Bush administration insisted upon, only to reject the results, boycott the newly elected legislature, and turn aside as Israel began to round up and detain newly elected Hamas legislators.

And Hamas remains one of the betes noires for Israel, the US, and . . . the Washington Post editorial board, not to mention for its columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Richard Cohen.  By extension, also a principal bete noire for the aforesaid is the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party that, as we said, stands to benefit the most from the kind of democratizing of Egyptian politics that the WaPo demands that Hillary Clinton demand from Hosni Mubarak.  Hillary Clinton knows that; the WaPo should know that; and Hillary knows for sure that the WaPo will be raising hell with her - and her boss - as lily-livered defenders of the West and its values - and of Israel - if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power on their watch.

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