Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Arab World's "Fear Factor"

Thomas Friedman pens one of his not-so-bad essays in yesterday's NY Times, piggybacking on a Foreign Policy essay from Daniel Brumberg about, as TF puts, how "the Arab awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders — but they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other."  Brumberg's (and, to some extent, TF's) focus is on Egypt, and especially on how Egypt's new president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, will need to reach out to Egyptian liberals, secularists, and Christians,  assure them that they and Egypt's Islamists can work together in common cause, and then sustain that sense of unity, especially against the military junta that seems determined to keep its collective hand firmly on the levers of the state.

Friedman even goes so far as to endorse a US policy of reaching out to, and working with, the new Egyptian president, notwithstanding his Muslim Brotherhood origins.  I suppose TF will be taking some hits from those many commentators who decry Morsi's ascendancy in Egypt as the spear-tip of the coming Islamist take-over of the Middle East.  Thus, former IDF general Ephraim Sneh, likewise at Foreign Policy, foresees an Islamist tidal wave about to sweep the Middle East, leaving American - and Israeli - interests gasping for air in its wake.

If Sneh and his ilk truly fear such an outcome, seems to me they'd better hope that Morsi does indeed prove to be a unifier, and that the generals (who, with Egypt's supreme judiciary in their pocket, were able to dissolve parliament and neuter the presidency even before the outcome of the election was declared) will afford him some degree of real authority and forestall massive protests returning to the streets of Cairo and elsewhere.  Some have already opined that the generals have, in fact, set Morsi up to fail; again, they have the upper hand politically, while the Egyptian economy is on the ropes and the Egyptian people are desperate for a better life.  Morsi will need to deliver - fast - some improvement, or at least some reason for Egyptians to believe that better times are around the bend.  If he's thwarted by the generals, or by foreign actors intent on wrecking any chance for an Islamist-led government to take hold and be successful in Egypt, he's likely to get pinned with the blame; people will return to the streets.  And let's not forget - Morsi garnered only about 52% of the vote.  Almost half of those who voted, voted against him - for, in fact, Hosni Mubarak's former prime minister, whose candidacy offered a return to the authoritarian-style law and order that had been the Egyptian default mode for the last 60 years.

A final quibble with TF: he writes about how the Egyptians need to write a new social contract if democracy is to take root.  Perhaps so.  But to assert - in the same breath - that "America midwifed that social contract-writing in Iraq" - as if Iraq, thanks to the US, has provided a model for Egypt?!  Sorry, TF, but that "social contract" that America "midwifed" in Iraq seems not to be working out so well - and it's hardly something for which you, or any American, ought to be slapping your back for a job well-done.

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