Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Danger of the Danger of Islamism.

There is a fair amount of talk on the internet and on some news channels about the dangers to Israel, and thus to the stability of the Middle East, of an Islamist government in Egypt. People are concerned that if the secular but brutally oppressive regime of the National Democratic Party* is toppled then it will be replaced by a hardline Iran-style Islamist theocracy which will refuse to recognise Israel and bring to bear the considerable might of Egypt's military on the fragile Jewish homeland. This is held up as a reason to prop up Mubarak, or at least to allow a chosen successor to replace him. This fear of the "danger of Islamism" is rooted in a good intention, to protect the closest thing the Middle East has to a democracy and support peace. There's just one minor flaw in the plan; it's complete bollocks.

Point one to note, the protests are not Islamist, sure the people protesting are Muslims, but in the same way that people at protests in America are Christians; almost everybody there is. There is an Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), among the opposition, indeed they form the largest part of the previously elected opposition (this year's sham of a parliamentary election saw them banned as a party and the candidates intimidated and threatened when they ran as independents). This protest movement is not led by them, and for the large part it is not really their supporters on the streets. The MB has a support base largely among the middle aged (similar to the Tea Party, I guess at a certain stage of life politicians talking of golden ages and a return to core values begins to appeal), this is not who is out on the streets. The protests are led by young people who have been exposed to (largely western) deals of democracy, freedom and justice through Twitter and Facebook and Blogs; who have seen the cruel injustices of their government highlighted by Amnesty International and HRW and exposed by Wikileaks. Democracy is an infectious disease and it spreads through information. The calls on the streets are not for Islamic righteousness but for democracy and freedom, the popular figurehead is not an aging cleric but a scientist and diplomat who has done great work on behalf of the entire world in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and whose main problem with Israel is their refusal to join the NPT.

It is true that a democratic Egypt could elect an Islamist party, but such a party working within the framework of democracy would not be in a position to threaten Israel all that much, and the reason is accountability. A democratic government must justify its actions to the people; it is hard (as many politicians have found) to win elections when sacrificing the lives of people's husbands, sons, brothers and fathers into a war of aggression. People vote with their pocketbooks to the extent that even maintaining a military stand-off can be fatal to re-election chances, when people pay taxes they want that money pent on roads, schools, hospitals, police and just enough military power to sleep securely at night, dozens of battalions pointing their guns over the border seems like extravagance. A democratic Egypt may not be as willing to support every action of the USA or the UK as is Mubarak, but the people will be free, self-determinism is a concept introduced to the world by America, and it is a dear one to me, a moral "red line" that I do not feel we should cross. I would rather have the conditional support of a free people than the unwavering obedience of a dictator.

Israel also stands to gain from the domino effect that spread protests from Tunisia to Egypt. If a democratic rule took hold in Egypt it could spread still further. Already King Hussein of Jordan has changed his government. If he is serious about his job security he should give the elected parliament the powers to go with it's impressively fair elections, when democracy is spreading, the history of Europe tells us, constitutional monarchs become cherished, absolute monarchs become corpses. Jordan is at least a relatively just country, and one that has worked hard for peace in the region. The real jewel in the crown would be Syria. A democratic Syria would seal peace for the region, surrounded by democracy Hamas and Hezbollah would have few friends for the violent approach to Israel, and a two-democratic-state solution would have a fair chance of success.

Democracy in Egypt is the jumping off point for democracy throughout the Arab Mediterranean. Democracy in the Middle east is the key to peace in the Middle East.

*national, sure, but democratic they ain't and living under them doesn't seem like a party