There’s been a long battle for control of the deep state in the wake of an oppressive regime, between the SCAF after Mubarrak’s ouster, and Morsi’s new Islamist coalition:
‘Rivals accuse Morsi, who won Egypt’s first freely contested leadership election in June, of polarising society by foisting a divisive, Islamist-leaning constitution on the country.
In the case against the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, the presidency accused the paper of “spreading false news representing a danger to civil peace, public security and affecting the presidency”, the paper said.’
It’s reasonable to envision the inertia of the old, corrupt, oppressive Egyptian bureaucracy slowly being taken over by the new Islamist coalition and being as, or more, illiberal. It might be possible to leverage Morsi to make as broad a tent as possible, but the Egyptian Constitution will make that difficult.
Life’s going to get tougher for most of the Egyptians who pushed for social change, but didn’t necessarily have the full force of the minds of the people nor enough economic opportunity and education to control the forces unleashed. A free people wasn’t necessarily ready to cleave to a broad constitution and sacrifice to make the institutions necessary to support freedom as we understand it.
Western ideas only go so far, and I suspect a major reason behind the Islamist resurgence in the Middle-East is that many Muslims feel overrun by Western ideas and interests, have low opinions of the West, and remain tribal and kinship based, with Islam as the glue.
Oftentimes, Muslims don’t really understand what we mean by individual liberty unless they’ve lived in the West. Even then, some Muslims have reacted violently against it. Many Muslims understandably resent our involvement in their backyard, and many clearly resent their own oppressive leadership (tribal, authoritarian, military dictatorship) exacerbated by an exploding youth demographic (a lot of what the ‘Arab Spring’ was about).
Many people in the West assume their ideas of freedom are universal. It’s important to keep in mind that Islam hasn’t undergone a reformation (they’ve also never had a central authority like Rome) nor the challenge to Christian doctrine and earthy power that occurred during the Enlightenment.
Islam doesn’t leave it up to you to not drink, watch porn, go to stripclubs, ‘freely mix’ with women, lend money etc. It prohibits these activities through strict control of the laws, politics and the public square. Right now, rather extreme groups like the Salafists are seeking such very restrictions in Egypt, for everyone, as part of the ruling coalition.
We should make our foreign policy accordingly to deal with these strategic realities, and I believe we can still aim for broader understanding, for avoiding unnecessary war, for being smart about pursuing our interests and smarter about our partners.
My two cents.
Related On This Site: Nancy Okail At Freedom House: “‘Muslim Rage’ and the Politics of Distraction in Egypt’…From Al Jazeera English: ‘Morsi Wins Egypt’s Presidential Election’…Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest on Egypt: ‘Still More of the Same—and Something New’…are we still on a liberalizing, Westernizing trajectory?, however slow the pace? Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’