DQ Egypt: impact on Israel

Someone posted a slightly longer version of the interview with Khaled Hamza, the webmaster of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a comment on an earlier post of mine here on ChicagoBoyz, and it was removed by admin since it had no direct connection to the post in question – but I was interested enough to track the original interview down, and have presented the key points of the excerpt here in Quote #1.

I am pairing it, in Quote #2, with an excerpt from an interview the BBC recently conducted with Mortimer Zuckerman – because I find the two quotes taken together suggest something of the complexity of the breaking situation in the Middle East.


I’d like to float a trial balloon / try a though experiment, if I might. And since I’m more “tail” than “left” or “right wing”, I’ll be posting this in more than one place, and hope to get comments from all sides…

On the face of it, Zuckeman is applying what’s arguably a racist double-standard. He advocates democracy, “totally” and “without question” – but not for the Egyptians, or at least not today or tomorrow.

On the face of it, the Egyptian public seems distinctly unenthused by Mubarak’s regime and will, in a democratic election, presumably vote in a fair number of Muslim Brotherhood representatives – though it’s by no means clear that they would be in the majority, and their present ideology in any case is closer to the processes of electoral politics than those of violent jihad.

So there is reason for Israel to be concerned, and reason for those who support democracy to see some hope for democracy, in the ongoing events in Egypt.

Let me put it this way: Quote #1 illustrates why Zuckerman might make the remarks quoted in Quote #2, while Quote #2 illuminates why Hamza might make the remarks quoted in Quote #1.


And here’s the thought experiment — I’d like to come at this from a Maslovian angle.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I’d like to suggest that “democracy” is an ideal, or to get away from that word with its somewhat ambiguous political connotations, an activity of the “the better angels of our nature” – and thus, from a Maslovian perspective, an aspect of a group or nation’s “self-actualization” level of interest, whereas “stability” would fall under “safety” or even “physiological”.

If that’s right, Zuckerman is at least arguably articulating a “stability first, eventual democracy would be ideal” position.

Does that “Maslovian” formulation throw any additional light on the situation?


The problem with the position I just described is nicely articulated by Mohammad Fadel at the very end of a Foreign Policy post, Can Black Swans lead to a sustainable Arab-Israeli peace? — and it’s only his conclusion I’m quoting here:

Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated categorically that any peace which relies on the stability of police states is doomed from the outset.

If a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can in theory cause a tornado in Texas – heaven alone knows what someone blinking in Cairo or Jerusalem or Washington can do.

Myself, I pray for empathy, which seems a reasonable request, I hope for wisdom, which seems a great deal more chancy — and I long for peace.

In the current environment of hatred and mistrust, that seems entirely beyond the capacity of anyone’s present thinking to achieve.

4 thoughts on “DQ Egypt: impact on Israel”

  1. “On the face of it, Zuckeman is applying what’s arguably a racist double-standard.”

    Does culture exist? Does it have political ramifications? Does the endogamous family structure of the Arab and Persian world have any political ramifications? Are liberal institutions the necessary precondition for electoral democracy? Is civil society the necessary precondition for liberal institutions? Is it realistic to say that a bad situation may bet worse, that all the options are bad, that no good outcome appears likely? Can mass demonstrations translate into a society that peaceably lines up and votes on a regular basis as a matter of course and actually transfers power peaceably and lawfully? Or is there a lot more to it? Is it racist for a supporter of Israel to see that hostility to Israel will be popular in Egypt and that democracy in Egypt, without regard to the theoretical value of Democracy generally, represents danger to Israel?

    Can a black noddy flapping its wings over the St. Peter and Paul Rocks cause a hurricane that will “democratize” a society where women are oppressed? Where people marry their first cousins as a matter of course? The gale can blow over that cultural bedrock forever and not leave a trace on it.

    We should step back, let Egypt be Egypt, get the Hell out of their business, stop subsidizing their governments, stop propping up convenient tyrants, and let the rest of the world get on with living its own way and not expecting “democracy” from them.

  2. ….”since I’m more “tail” than “left” or “right wing”,….

    From what I’ve seen (and I admit your style usually makes me skip over your posts so I may not be the best judge) your assumptions and conclusions are quite typical of liberal rationalizations. Largely romantic and assumption driven.

  3. I would suggest, as a start, reading “The Closed Circle” by David Pryce-Jones. The Arab society is somewhat similar to the rural Serbs who relied on clan in the absence of a stable society (The late Ottoman Empire). The city dwellers in Yugoslavia were largely Muslim who were the descendants of converts. The Arabs have survived in a similar unstable society (also the late Ottoman Empire) and it will take considerable time for them to adapt to civil society, as we know it.

    Bush was right that Muslims desired freedom but too optimistic that they would adopt democracy. What we see in Iraq now is probably the best anyone can expect for the next 50 to 100 years. We will be very lucky to see a reasonable Egypt emerge from this crisis, especially given the incompetence of the administration.

  4. Hi Michael, Lex:

    I read the Pryce-Jones some years back, and Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind, and I think we in the rational / secular west are far too prone to think everyone else is like us, and will behave as we would behave, given the chance. Which is, perhaps, my way of saying something along the lines of “Bush was right that Muslims desired freedom but too optimistic that they would adopt democracy.” I see this in more anthropological terms, I suppose, and think we have a poor understanding of honor and shame, and thus miss much that is virtuous and much that is vicious in those systems which are predicated on some form of that axis.

    To me, the situation now unfolding is a conundrum: on the one hand, I would like to support the freedom of the Egyptians to choose their own rulers, as the Americans at one point chose theirs and threw off the yoke of British kings and taxes – and on the other, I must bear in mind that the nation which gave us Bach and Brahms was also a nation which elected Hitler in recent memory, democracy under the spell of hatred.

    It doesn’t seem to me that pan-Arabism has worked as a solution to the problems of the Arab world. It doesn’t seem to me that salafi-jihadism has worked, either. My hope, accordingly, is that events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere spell the emergence of a fresh, less ideological “movement” in that part of the world. And while I agree with Lex that deep-seated cultural traditions will not be overturned in a day or a week, I do have some hope that they are changing.

    Against that hope, I set my knowledge of the Egyptian TV series quoting the Protocols with approval and portraying the blood libel that Jews prepare matzohs for Pesach with the blood of children, broadcast during the hours in which the Ramadan supper was eaten only a year or three ago.

    I have sympathy with those Egyptians protesting Mubarak’s harsh rule, I have sympathy with those Israelis concerned at the possible loss of diplomatic relations and security cooperation with Egypt.

    I don’t have a solution. I am trying to understand.

Comments are closed.