The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 04, 2011

What’s the Matter?

In an interesting article on “How Democracy Can Work in the Middle East,” Fareed Zakaria provides an outline of the potential for and impediments to a democratic Egypt. But then he writes:
I remain convinced that fears of an Egyptian theocracy are vastly overblown. Shi'ite Iran is a model for no country — certainly not a Sunni Arab society like Egypt. The nation has seen both Mubarak and Iran's mullahs and wants neither. More likely is the prospect of an "illiberal democracy," in which Egypt becomes a country with reasonably free and fair elections, but the elected majority restricts individual rights and freedoms, curtails civil society and uses the state as its instrument of power. The danger, in other words, is less Iran than Russia.

But in the preceding paragraph, Zacharia himself notes the results of an 8-month old Pew Research poll:
When the Pew Research Center surveyed the Arab world last April, it found that Egyptians have views that would strike the modern Western eye as extreme. Pew found that 82% of Egyptians support stoning as a punishment for adultery, 84% favor the death penalty for Muslims who leave the religion, and in the struggle between "modernizers" and "fundamentalists," 59% identify with fundamentalists.

He tries to nullify these data by citing a poll conducted in 2007, but a lot has changed in the Arab world since then. And in the end, he suggests that we roll the dice and support Egypt’s move toward “democracy.”
My hope is that Egypt avoids this path. I cannot tell you in all honesty that it will. But much evidence suggests that democracy in Egypt could work.

Democracy “could” work? Just like it “could” have worked in Iran in the late 1970s, or Gaza in the early part of the past decade, Zacharia’s gamble is very high risk, and the downside will be a disaster for U.S. foreign policy in the region. But what worries me isn’t Fareed Zakaria. It’s that the Obama administration seems more than willing to make the same catastrophic mistakes as the Carter administration did in Iran. I can only hope that Obama’s advisors are not as naïve as the President appears to be.

It seems as if Zacharia and many of his counterparts in the MSM and at the White House are shocked that Egyptian efforts to overthrow an autocratic ruler have devolved into violence. It’s as if they’re asking “What’s the matter with Egypt? Why can’t they do what we want them to do?”

Fareed Zacharia dances around those core questions, but Victor Davis Hansen answers them with his characteristically brutal honesty and insight:
So what’s the matter with Egypt? The same thing that is the matter with most of the modern Middle East: in the post-industrial world, its hundreds of millions now are vicariously exposed to the affluence and freedom of the West via satellite television, cell phones, the internet, DVDs, and social networks.

And they become angry that, in contrast to what they see and hear from abroad, their own lives are unusually miserable in the most elemental sense. Of course, there is no introspective Socrates on hand and walking about to remind the Cairo or Amman Street that their corrupt government is in some part a reification of themselves, who in their daily lives see the world in terms of gender apartheid, tribalism, religious intolerance, conspiracies, fundamentalism, and statism that are incompatible with a modern, successful, capitalist democracy.

That is, a century after the onset of modern waste treatment science, many of the cities in the Middle East smell of raw sewage. A century after we learned about microbes and disease, the water in places like Cairo is undrinkable from the tap. Six decades after the knowledge of treating infectious disease, millions in the Middle East suffer chronic pain and suffer from maladies that are easily addressed in the West. And they have about as much freedom as the Chinese, but without either the affluence or the confidence. That the Gulf and parts of North Africa are awash in oil and gas, at a time of both near record prices and indigenous control of national oil treasures, makes the ensuing poverty all the more insulting.

But what’s even more insulting is that the leaders of the politically correct West dance around these issues and never, I mean never, directly addresses their underlying causes. After all, it’s easier to blame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s the reason that “gender apartheid, tribalism, religious intolerance, conspiracies, fundamentalism, and statism” are endemic in the Arab world, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s time for some straight talk from Western leaders … yeah, right.