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Democracy In Egypt?


Much has been said of the popular uprising in Egypt that led to the demise of the 30-year autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak. For the most part, the discourse has centered on the issue of whether or not Egypt can emerge from its uprising as the first “self-made” democracy in the Arab world. In this respect, most pundits have focused their analyses on those obstacles that might prevent Egypt’s democratization, in particular, the hindering influence of the radical Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.

This is very telling, as, quite notably, little attention has been paid to the elements that might encourage Egypt’s democratic actualization. The reason being there simply aren’t any. Or, to lend credence to the 50,000 or so Western-educated, middle-class, Egyptian Twitter phenoms – to which the “revolution” has been credited – democratic “prerequisites” are too few and far between to reasonably suppose they will significantly affect or shape Egypt’s future political makeup.

“Democracy” is the political manifestation of a system of ingrained societal values. In other words, democracies are contingent upon, and subsequently sustained by, communal norms. In the absence of a populace that values democratic principles, and is committed to upholding them, democracies cannot persist. Accordingly, democracy cannot be arbitrarily imposed “top-down”; in order for freedom to flourish, it must evolve naturally out of a society’s continued adherence to the doctrine of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Advertisement

In Egypt’s case, this truth is being ignored. Yet the near-complete absence of democratic building blocks in Egypt will be the single greatest determinant in its political evolution. That is, without a sturdy moral foundation upon which to craft a democracy, the probability that one will magically appear in Egypt is nil. Therefore, the primary reason for which Egypt’s democratic experiment is certain to fail is not the Muslim Brotherhood – although the “Brothers” will do their best to hasten this result – or poverty, or corruption, or Israel, but rather the Egyptian people themselves.

That there is not one democracy among the 22 Arab states should provide enough evidence that the words “democracy” and “Arab” do not mix. To understand why is to understand the Arab mindset, or, as is commonly referred to, the “Arab Street.”

Arab culture is not imbued with enlightened principles but rather is defined and fueled by a quest for power, which, if achieved, is then expressed through strength; not strength of character, mind you, as in Western societies, but rather domination.

This is why Arab states are governed by autocracies; in keeping with the predominant Arab mentality, those who rise to power impose their will on and subjugate an “inferior” population. This may seem antithetical to Western observers, but it is the inevitable outcome – the “raison d’être” – in societies that reject the democratic ethos that “all men are created equal.” For this reason, Arab regimes not only strive for power but fight at all costs to not relinquish it, for doing so, in effect, would be tantamount to negating the self.

The obsession with power also accounts for the Arabs’ centuries-old disparagement and mistreatment of Jews. Originally, Jews were persecuted in Arab lands because they had vastly surpassed the Arabs in nearly every facet – that is, except physically. And so the Arabs expressed their inherent need to dominate by murdering Jews. And when Israel came into being many pogroms later, it too appeared physically weak. So the Arabs attacked, but lost; then attacked, and lost; then attacked again, repetitively, but lost. When finally it was realized that Israel could not be vanquished militarily, the Arabs resorted to demonizing Israel by means of a ferocious propaganda campaign aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state into oblivion.

Arab hatred of Israel, and the West, in general, is predictable – it is the invariable consequence of defining one’s identity in terms of strength while being relatively impotent.

Nonetheless, people marvel at the turmoil in the Middle East; that is because they are unable to conceptualize the true nature of Arab society. In this respect, they fail to attribute the absence of Arab democracies to its proper cause: democratic ideals are entirely foreign to the Arab world.

Once we come to understand this, and shift our frame of reference accordingly, we can begin to view the Arab world from the correct vantage point. In doing so, we come to appreciate that so-called Arab ills are entirely of their own making.

We also begin to realize that presently there can be no enduring peace between Israel and any Arab country – because it would first require a drastic remodeling of Arab culture and the mentality that created it.

The only language the Arab nations understand is strength. And this is why strength is Israel’s only option of defense. However, if many years from now a true Arab reformist – not a general or a “moderate” cleric – were to finally lead the Arab populace to embrace the essential values needed for democracy to take root, this would no doubt be a harbinger of lasting peace in the Middle East.

Golda Meir perfectly encapsulated this reality when she famously said, “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

Charles Bybelezer is publications chairman at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research. He can be reached at charles@isranet.org.

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