THE story so far: Hosni Mubarak, the authoritarian president of Egypt, was overthrown by the mob – sorry, The People – in 2011.
This was a Good Thing: a pro-western strongman was removed by youthful demonstrators with mobile telephones – a sure token of sophisticated, democratic credentials – so commentators called it “The Arab Spring”. Bliss was it in that dawn… and all that sort of thing. Then the Egyptian army assumed responsibility for governance. This was not a good thing, so hugely influential intergalactic statesmen of the calibre of Barack Obama and William Hague urged the generals to give way to Democracy.
They did so, holding “free and fair” elections. This was a Good Thing, immediately followed by a Bad Thing: the Muslim Brotherhood won the election. Since Egypt was a raw, fledgling democracy, no safeguards had been put in place to overrule an election that produced the wrong result, unlike the more mature democracy of the European Union in which, if an untutored electorate delivers the wrong verdict, it is simply made to vote again until it gets it right. So Mohamed Morsi became president and set about the Islamicisation of Egypt. After a year of this project, Morsi has been overthrown by the army, a force rendered more formidable by a $1.3bn subvention from American taxpayers.
This military “intervention” – it cannot be too strongly emphasised that it was not a “coup”, since its objectives find favour with western governments, unlike precedents such as General Pinochet in Chile – has left world “leaders” floundering like freshly landed cod. Obama has advised the new military-backed government to “avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters”; in fact Morsi and 300 leading officials of the Muslim Brotherhood are already in prison. The always impressive William “Fourteen Pints” Hague last week told the Conservative Middle East Council: “Democratic change is a process, not an event.” That borrowed aphorism (from Donald Kerensky Dewar on devolution) is the baffled statesman’s version of “The nights are fair drawing in.”
The ideological conundrum for western liberals is this: when a democratically elected government, implementing the wishes of its constituency, pursues illiberal policies, does that justify its overthrow by military force? In Egypt the problem, correctly identified by Hague, is that the democratic process has not yet been completed, to the point where all parties contesting an election are committed to identical liberal programmes, as in a more mature democracy such as Britain. An organisation still exists, the Muslim Brotherhood, that actually represents the views of the majority of the population. If we are not careful, even Britain may regress to such primitive populism if Ukip gains strength.
At the outbreak of the ludicrously sentimentalised “Arab Spring”, every faction seeking favourable coverage in western media recited the mantra “Democracy”. Virtually nobody in Egypt or the Middle East wants democracy, in the sense in which we know it; even in Britain it is regarded with growing scepticism. To Arabs it is a catch-all term meaning the triumph of whichever faction one supports. Yet the BBC is adept at interviewing representatives of a tiny westernised minority of university graduates and presenting their views as if they expressed the aspirations of the mobs in the streets. Western cheerleaders hailing the downfall of Mubarak, the West’s most reliable ally and guarantor of peace with Israel, behaved with clownish irresponsibility.
They are still doing so, seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to arm al-Qaeda. Its recent beheading of a Catholic priest will not discourage western governments for whom the one totally dispensable minority is Christians, at home or abroad. Ironically, it was Assad who made the most significant comment about events in Egypt which he described as the “fall of political Islam”. He is relieved at the demise of Morsi, a strong supporter of the Syrian rebels; so is Saudi Arabia, whereas Qatar, a leading subverter of the Syrian government, is dismayed. The beleaguered Turkish government, promoting an Islamicisation policy more gradualist than Morsi’s, will be appalled to see troops and demonstrators massed in a square – a totemic venue consciously imitated by anti-government rallies in Turkey – bringing down the Egyptian president.
Assad’s comment might seem like wishful thinking, with huge potential for civil war in Egypt. Nor will al-Qaeda or the Taleban cease operations. If, however, Egypt heralds a showdown between secular politicians and armies with militant Islam, that might portend a more effectual counter to jihadism than cackhanded military intervention by the West. The delusion that must be abandoned is the exportation of discredited democracy to nations that repudiate it and the infantile notion that the eventual Utopian destiny of every society on earth is to be ruled by a Liberal Democrat/Green coalition imposing politically correct values. «