Over at the Enterprise Blog, Marc Thiessen laments that the jubilant crowds in Tahrir Square believe we were against them. “Egyptians,” he writes, “knew that America was closely allied with the Mubarak regime.” And so, the protesters’ “hopes gave way to disappointment and eventually anger [at the United States].”
Thiessen is absolutely right to fault Obama’s uninspiring, lackluster leadership regarding Egypt. Unfortunately, the same criticism can and should be made of virtually every conservative “leader” and Republican politician: They, too, seem ambivalent about, if not hostile to, Egyptian freedom.
For example, at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), insofar as I can tell, Egypt got nary a mention, except for an unwelcome shout-out from libertarian Ron Paul.
(Paul used the Egyptian revolution as an excuse to remind everyone that he’s still against foreign aid. So, as far as Paul is concerned, the Egyptian people are on their own. They will have to fend off the Islamists and the extremists without any American aid or assistance.)
Newt Gingrich at least recognizes that what happens in the world profoundly affects American liberty. However, Gingrich can see in Egypt only doom and danger, not hope and opportunity. Ditto most congressional Republicans: Consequently, they seem to have a soft spot for dictators and autocrats such as Mubarak.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity, meanwhile, is obsessed with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he seems to imagine is omnipotent and all-powerful. And if a GOP presidential candidate has said anything positive about Egypt, I’m unaware of it.
In short, fear and loathing — of Muslims especially — rules the Right. “Some 85 percent of Muslims believe that Islam should have a role in the government,” Hannity warns.
Is this really that surprising or necessarily disturbing? Egypt is a poor Muslim country with an autocratic political tradition. Why, then, would most Egyptians not want Islam to be an integral part of the law that governs them?
Would Hannity say the same thing about Americans who believe that the United States is and ought to be a “Christian nation”?
Look, I’m not naïve, and I’m no Pollyanna. I’m well aware of the vast differences between the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Muslim tradition. The political, religious and cultural hurdles to liberal democracy in Egypt and the Middle East are huge. I know that. But what is the alternative?
Another dictator? How long would he last? How long could he last in this day and age of instantaneous communication, 24/7 cable television, Twitter, Facebook and the Internet?
As Winston Churchill put it, liberal democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest.
Moreover, right-wing critics don’t seem to understand that although Egypt and the Middle East are regressive in key respects, they need not remain so forever and ever.
“What we want to see happen in Arab lands and in Iran,” writes Reuel Marc Gerecht, “is real intellectual competition—the starting point for healthy evolution. In particular, we want to see devout Sunni Muslims in Egypt try to figure out what exactly are ‘Islamic values.’”
That, in fact, is the great thing about democracy: It gives the citizenry the right to discuss and debate issues. It gives them the right to try and change people’s minds. It gives them the opportunity to fix and remedy their mistakes.
“The promise of democracy for Muslims,” explains Gerecht,
offers something historically unparalleled. For the first time since the early caliphs, it holds out the possibility of an organic, reciprocal relationship between leaders and their communities. It could begin to undermine Islam’s long history of rebellious religious violence.
It could give the Middle East’s Muslims some of the elemental, nonthreatening, unflappable pride and self-confidence that Americans, the oldest modern democrats, have in spades. In an age of proliferating nuclear weapons, that would be a very good thing for believers and nonbelievers alike.
But the right-wing critics don’t get it.
Conservatives also talk as if the United States is powerless to shape and to effect history. But we’re not — far from it. And so, we should be exercising all elements of national power — political, economic, cultural and military — to move history, in Egypt and elsewhere, in a liberal democratic direction.
Will Egypt make mistakes and cause us problems and difficulties? Undoubtedly. But again, what is the alternative? What do the right-wing critics, such as Hannity and Levin, Gingrich and Gaffney, propose instead?
“This is the most stunning event in modern Arab history that I have witnessed in my lifetime,” declares Johns Hopkins University Professor Fouad Ajami.
Indeed, it is. Equally stunning, though, is that the political movement which gave rise to Ronald Reagan, a man who championed liberty for millions worldwide, can’t see this because it is too blinded by its fear and loathing of Muslims.