The folks who expected that the “Arab Spring” would lead to a Tweeples-government in Egypt are understandably disappointed by the landslide victory of the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists.
But progressives were quick to find a formula that offers comparative consolation: the basic recipe is to simply claim that Egypt’s Islamists are really no worse – and maybe even better!!! – than disagreeable political figures or forces in your own country.
Following this recipe, Lisa Goldman, writing for the Israeli left-wing blog +972, claims:
citizens of the democratic state of Israel […] freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. […] In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party.
Unsurprisingly, Goldman’s comment was promptly quoted by The Arabist, where Issandr El Amrani added that “Israelis might mind their own business about Egypt and other post-uprising countries” because “they won’t be doing much business with them at all for some time to come.” Since the post was entitled “Israel and the new Egypt”, I can’t resist the temptation to take Amrani’s comment as a validation of the point I made when I wrote some two months ago that it would be the “Same old story in the new Middle East” because “when it comes to anti-Western and ‘anti-Zionist’ sentiments, the new rulers of the Middle East will be at least as eager as their predecessors to put them to demagogic use.” And as Amrani’s comment illustrates, even supposed Arab liberals seem happy to hold on to the “anti-Zionism” that provided Arab dictators for decades with a useful tool to distract the masses.
But naturally, Goldman was very pleased to be quoted by The Arabist, and tweeted:
Another example of the quest for comparative consolations was provided by “Informed Comment” blogger and Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole. Under the promising headline “South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood,” Cole argued that the media unfairly emphasized the religious motivations of Egyptian voters, while downplaying similar sentiments when it came to American voters [emphasis Cole’s]:
The result of this difference in approach is that it is implicitly deemed illegitimate for Egyptians to be religious or vote for a religious party. But it is legitimate for South Carolinians to be religious, to vote on a religious basis, to seek to impose their religious laws on all Americans.
But what if Egyptians voted for the religious parties because they saw them as uncorrupt and despite their religious platforms, not because of them? […]
It is therefore probable that religious motivations actually played a larger role in the primary in South Carolina than in the election in Egypt! Likewise, an MB leader like Essam El-Erian is the voice of reason compared to Gingrich and is no worse in his own way than Gingrich’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson.
Since Cole claims to be an expert on the Middle East and the Muslim world, it seems fair to assume that he knows full well that there is plenty of reason to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a totalitarian movement espousing vile Jew-hatred and that the MB is likely to pursue a theocratic domestic policy and a confrontational foreign policy.
But if Professor Cole thinks it makes for “Informed Comment” to equate the MB with Newt Gingrich, I can only conclude that I have a different idea of informed comment…
In their rather desperate quest for comparative consolations, progressives like Cole and Goldman also ignore the importance of democratic institutions and a well-developed civil society. To simply dismiss America’s historical record as a democracy and pretend that the consequences of a landslide victory for religious parties in Egypt are somehow comparable to a Gingrich victory in the Republican primaries in South Carolina is utterly bizarre. Perhaps Professor Cole should read Professor Mead’s truly informed comment on the left’s enduring obsession with the “Christianist” threat?
It is similarly ridiculous to dismiss Israel’s record as a democracy, because even if Israel’s democracy may not be perfect, it presents truly a record: Israel’s democracy was established when the country had to fight for its very survival, and Israel’s democracy was maintained in the most challenging circumstances, which included not only hostile neighbors threatening war, but also the need to absorb large numbers of destitute refugees.
The Canadian-born Lisa Goldman, who found life in Israel so “unbearable” that she returned to Canada after 14 years here, may feel that Yisrael Beitenu – which is strongly dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union – is best described as “quasi-fascist”, and that Shas – traditionally associated with religious Mizrahi and Sephardi voters – is “quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party,” but democracy is a process, and in a country like Israel, where waves of immigration have brought together groups with very different outlooks, it is not necessarily a simple process. Perhaps Lisa Goldman would have found life in Israel less “unbearable” if the country was still dominated by left-wing Ashkenazi elites that follow the Schocken line – but then it would be a less vibrant democracy.
And while Goldman may be happy that her scathing view of Israel’s democracy was quoted by The Arabist, it has always been real easy to get scathing views of Israel published in the Arab press – and this is just one of the things that the Arab Spring hasn’t changed.