One Flew Over the Mulla’s Ballot

@Sultans_Seal wallows in his lack of democratic mettle

Time and again, since 30 June last year, I’ve come up against the commitment to democracy that I’m supposed to have betrayed by appearing to endorse the army’s intervention in the outcome of Egypt’s second revolution.

Time and again I’ve had to explain what on earth makes Egyptians think that Washington and Tel Aviv are secretly in league with the Muslim Brotherhood to decimate the Arab world along sectarian lines and bring death and destruction upon innocent Egyptians as much as Syrians and Libyans in the name of human rights—presumably to the benefit of that impeccably democratic and profoundly civilized neighbor state where racist, genocidal, militarized sectarianism does not present the world community with a human-rights problem.

In the most influential quarters, Israel remains a model of neoliberal rule of law so long as Jews can vote within the same kind of the-whiter-the-better hierarchy, apparently. It doesn’t matter that, more often than not, they vote for the wholesale erasure of Muslims and Muslim-like Christians from their ancestral homes. The Egyptian army, by contrast, should have no right to try and deal extrajudicially with the threat of civil war and specifically Islamic terrorism, if in so doing it aborts Egypt’s glorious transition to democracy, does it now.

At a recent diplomatic gathering I said I didn’t think political Islam should have a part to play in any process of governance anywhere in the world, and my American interlocutor replied that this was fine but that I shouldn’t call myself a democrat.

I docilely agreed with him, but it hurt.

Of course I understand that people who disparage political Islam in America are likely to be Arab-hating rednecks with racial prejudices, reactionary agendas, and no objective understanding of the issues at stake. But I thought it would spoil the evening if I tried to demonstrate, yet again, that the Islamists are more like such people than America’s alleged democrats (who themselves operate in what might be called a corpocratic two-party system that doesn’t feel all that representative or just or free, though being from a different part of the world I have the modesty to say that is none of my business).

What would it take, nonetheless, to convince a well-meaning neoliberal that, unlike the Neo-Nazis—and thanks in part to the deeper unacknowledged Nazi impulses of said world community—the fanatical and murderous lunatics of the Arab world have been in a position to come to power through voting, and that their being in power is a threat to the national sovereignty, the cultural constitution, and the social peace of the countries in question?

Surely the Arab Spring has already afforded enough evidence of what I’m talking about, but still: a coup is a coup is a coup—anyway, when it’s against a sectarian client regime and not, say, a potential ally of the USSR in the Cold War—it’s a coup.

Not that world powers who find a regime like Saudi Arabia’s perfectly sympatico are in any position to show up my dark dictatorial heart. The supposed Sisi-loving bias that I actually do not have, I can deal with in my own time. But it would’ve taken it completely out of me that evening were I to also explain that Egypt’s own, universal values-mongering, @ElBaradei-led contingent—the democracy-first camp—has offered nothing approximating a social-economic vision that I can subscribe to. That wasn’t even the main issue.

The main issue is this:

Contrary to what is said about the neoliberal blueprint—my virtual friend @RussellBennetts came up with the brilliant term “Neroliberal”—democracy is not in fact penicillin: you don’t give it to nation states afflicted with undemocratic diseases and expect recovery irrespective of the environment.

Democracy may well work for India, but it has hardly ever sustained itself where Islam as the majority religion was consciously politicized. I’m thinking of Pakistan-Bangladesh, of Gaza, of Sudan, of Iraq, let alone Iran—increasingly, indeed, and despite a powerful and staunchly secular state-army, of Turkey. I’m thinking less of Tunisia than of God-damned Afghanistan…

That democracy in its present-day format may not be as a-cultural as is generally assumed turns out to be sheer sacrilege, however. To suggest to the neoliberal that the ballot may in fact be a worse idea for a given country at a given time than, say, a relatively representative transitional oligarchy is like telling a Jihadi suicide bomber that—hey, before you detonate, there—God does not exist.

Content to discount the consequences of Taliban-bound democratic procedure and presupposing that all discontent with the ballot is counterrevolutionary short-sightedness—whatever the hell “revolutionary” means in this context—neither academics nor journalists have even brought up the question in the West.

The argument is rather that, since I am Third World and mired in autocratic corruption, it feels utterly right and true back at the @guardian, for example, to tell me how I should stand up for Islamist rights and freedoms—the right to deny rights, in other words, or the freedom to deprive me of even more freedoms—and how I should never, no matter what, endorse a military takeover of power…

I am not allowed, by the same token, to point out that what might have been an ongoing social revolution has once again reduced to rhetorical gestures and social-media preachifying that, where it does not positively benefit the Islamists, simply massages the privileged consciences of small groups of useful idiots who remain by and large irrelevant to the polity.

The spastic compulsion to #FreeAlaa as much as the ongoing obsession with @DrBassemYoussef on Twitter are cases in point: historical transformation as celebrity-centerd posturing. It may be well meaning, as in the sentimental festivity that greeted @alaa Abdel-Fattah’s release on Sunday, but it is superficial, insubstantial, and as far removed from the engagement it claims to be as Morsi was from the fight against FGM.

All this does feel like a vindication at some level, but it does not ameliorate the pain. I don’t mean just the pain of being told I am not a democrat. I mean the pain of realizing, again and again, that aside from the noise no historical transformation is happening in the Arab world. I mean the pain of the fact that, three years after the ouster of Mubarak, talk of positive change through democracy is still talk—though its consequences on the ground are already costing far more than any foreseeable returns. The fact that not a single even vaguely persuasive candidate for the presidency has emerged from civil society to contend with the army’s:

That is the pain I mean.

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