Egypt: delusion vs reality

Among the byproducts of the Arab Spring has been the revelation that so many Westerners are so utterly clueless about politics, culture and society in the Arab world.

One can excuse the amateur “analysts” whom the internet has allowed to de-educate the uninitiated with baseless conspiracy theories, unfounded assertions and outright lies. They are, after all, amateurs (to be kind to them) with no or little knowledge of or real interest in the Arab world.

But there’s no excuse for those who should know better: the professional journalists, academics, writers and officials or former officials.

One of these is Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who fell out with the British establishment. Mr Murray often speaks much common sense on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the hypocrisy and double standards of the British government. However, on the Arab Spring he is plainly wrong – deluded, even.

Here is an example – a posting on his blog in which he described the mass popular uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a Western-sponsored “counter-revolution”:

What we are seeing in Egypt is counter-revolution pure and simple, military hardliners who are going to be friendly with Israel and the US, and are committing gross human rights abuse.

Western backed counter-revolution is going to be sweeping back across the Middle East; do not be distracted by the words of the West, watch the deeds.  It will of course be in the name of secularism.  There is an important correlation between what is happening in Turkey and Egypt.  I made myself unpopular when I pointed out what the media did not tell you, that behind the tiny minority of doe-eyed greens in the vanguard of the Istanbul movement, stood the massed phalanxes of Kemalist nationalism, a very ugly beast.  “Secularism” was the cry there too.

This is not just pure nonsense, but also insulting to the millions of Egyptians who have had the courage to come out and say enough of the Muslim Brotherhood turning Egypt into a primitive Islamist state for which they had no electoral mandate, and enough of one year of the incompetence and utter failure of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.

Luckily, there are, here and there, Westerners who have a thorough understanding of developments in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. One of these is Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor of the Guardian newspaper. Here is what he says about the ouster of Morsi:

It is a sad testament to the failure of Muhammad Morsi’s presidency that his claim to remain in office has been based on right rather than merit.

Almost everyone accepts that he was legitimately elected… But once a leader has been elected, continuing legitimacy is in the eye of beholders and unless nurtured it may be lost.

During his 12 months in power, Morsi’s performance was lacklustre and at times incompetent. That, however, was not the main reason why Egyptians took to the streets last weekend to protest in unprecedented numbers. Morsi put himself beyond the pale by promising inclusiveness and then spreading divisiveness, and by adopting a style of government that increasingly resembled that of the ousted Mubarak regime.

So why not wait a few years till the next election, then vote him out of office? … One answer is that there are numerous problems (above all, the economy) which need urgent attention but the question might also be framed another way: why should a president be expected to complete his term if he has clearly lost the confidence of the public?

In the US, presidents – good and bad alike – are expected to serve their full term unless they happen to get caught in skulduggery like Richard Nixon, but that is not the only system. In Britain, only two of the last four prime ministers have been removed by the public at the ballot box and, worldwide, similar examples can be found in other democracies.

Margaret Thatcher – Britain’s most divisive prime minister of the 20th century – was toppled by her own party when they realized she had become an electoral liability. The key difference between Thatcher and Morsi is that the perpetrators of the “coup” against Thatcher were not the military but her civilian colleagues. Thatcher, unlike Morsi, also agreed to go voluntarily once it became clear that her position was untenable.

Morsi might have heeded the warnings about his authoritarianism and divisiveness, but he chose not to. Now that he is gone, it’s perfectly possible – and not inconsistent – to welcome his departure without welcoming the means by which it was achieved…

People who choose to share their opinions with the rest of the world on matters of war and peace and life and death should do so responsibly or else preface their utterances with a disclaimer making it clear that the utterer has no expert knowledge or understanding of the issue in question.

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