Sunday, 6 February 2011
There has been a lot of naive talk about how the uprising in Egypt represents a flowering of democracy and human rights in the Middle East. The Guardian, especially, and predictably, has been relentless in promoting this line of thought and pushing the "Muslim Brotherhood aren't that bad" hypothesis. Today, one of the Telegraph's token lefties, Tom Chivers, chips in with similar thoughts:

But these last 12 days in Egypt have shown, as if it needed showing, that the demand for civil rights, equality and democracy is as strong among many Muslims as among Westerners.

But we do have recent survey data that show the state of public feeling in Egypt, so it is not purely a matter of supposition. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey conducted research in Egypt only last year, and produced some interesting findings:

95% of Egyptians think it's good that Islam plays a large role in politics. Whoops. Looks like they must be "islamists" then, right?

Many Muslims see a struggle between those who want to modernize their country and Islamic fundamentalists. Only in Jordan and Egypt do majorities say there is no such struggle in their countries (72% and 61%, respectively).

So a clear majority of Egyptians think Islamic fundamentalists are "modernisers".

At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.

So, even if an authentic democracy emerged from the turmoil, that democracy is likely to be very far from western ideals. Indeed, Egypt was only able to make peace with Israel because it was a dictatorship, not despite that fact. A clear majority of the Egyptian people disapproved of the peace that was made. If Egypt becomes authentically democratic, war may well be the result. We have also seen that the democratisation of Iraq resulted in a wave of persecution against Christians. The same may happen in Egypt.

All in all, I think the best thing would be for Mubarak to simply massacre the protesters. It sounds harsh, but it may prevent a far greater evil from emerging. Naive idealism has been the source of many problems in the world. We saw the West insistently demand democracy in the west bank only to change their mind when Hamas won the election.

In my view, many people view the history of the world through the wrong prism. They tend to see it as a tale of advancing popular participation in government, starting with the age of despotic emperors and moving towards modern democracy. But, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, democracy is really an epiphenomenon - a secondary effect - of secularism. Democracy is based on the concept of rational discussion to chart the best course for a country. Arguments are advanced, evidence is cited, the demos weighs it all up and decides. But if people still have their psyches steeped in primitive magical beliefs, if they believe the best way forward for a nation is determined not by rational discussion or the presentation of evidence, but by ancient divine revelation, then clearly democracy will not work for them.


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