Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Secularist reasons for supporting Morsi? Response to The Arabist

I'm delighted that The Arabist has thought it worth commenting on one of my recent posts, "Secularist reasons for supporting Morsi".   He objects to my claim that the NSF is misguided to choose the army over the Muslim Brotherhood - not because the Brotherhood is a palatable choice, but because (1) real change cannot come with the army in power, (2) effective opposition to Brotherhood policies is possible even with the army out of the political picture.  He says:

"You fail to make the argument as to why 1) secularists should consider the return of the old order a worse outcome that the triumph of Islamists (the reality simply is that many do not) and 2) why secularists should consider their own reliance on the military more distasteful than the alliance with the military made by the Muslim Brotherhood, which granted it unprecedented autonomy (in term of the history of Egypt's constitutional safeguards for the armed forces) in the constitution they backed.

    "While the dominant narrative in the West may have been of a revolution for democracy, the key impetus on which there was wide agreement was a revolution against Hosni Mubarak, his inner circle, and the prospect of his son succeeding him. On everything else, the unity of the revolutionary moment unravels. "
I'd like to take these criticisms as an opportunity to plead my case, but first I'll protest that I don't subscribe to the 'Western' narrative about democracy.  (If it's Western, it may have been adopted by much of the secularist opposition.   The NSF regularly cites allegedly undemocratic procedures as a betrayal of the revolution.)  I have specifically rejected the idea that the revolution was for democracy.  I've maintained that the 'unravelling' originated between those who did want democracy - the Islamists who could expect to triumph in elections - and those who wanted freedom, the very sort of liberties they were likely to lose under an Islamist government.  Though I do believe the Islamists either have or can acquire democratic legitimacy, I do not worship democracy and don't think democratic legitimacy can justify the repression of secularist aspirations.   I am under no illusion that democracy must favour freedom or that it will do so in Egypt.   I fear that much of the NSF, however, falls victim to that illusion - at least if they sincerely expect free and fair elections to block an Islamist agenda.   I fear even more that much of the NSF is *not* under any such illusion, and therefore has decided to angle for military intervention.

Despite all this I wouldn't claim that the NSF's "reliance on the military" is more or less distasteful than "the alliance with the military made by the Muslim Brotherhood."   I don't presume to make that sort of judgement.  However  I do feel that the 'alliances' are quite different.

The Muslim Brotherhood can hardly be thought to have embraced the military because they longed for the old-fashioned military rule that lurked behind Mubarak's civilian facade!   The Brotherhood made, it seems, a very tenuous alliance because it was the only way they could ward off a full-fledged military takeover - the extent of their concessions was probably a testimony to the weakness of their position. (Why would they cede more power than they had to?)  The subsequent ventures of the military into politics, their menacing promise to keep public order and their relations with the NSF, are strong evidence that the alliance with the Brotherhood was anything but solid or sincere.  Elements of the NSF, on the other hand, seek a real and sincere alliance with the military - so says The Arabist himself.   And they do so, not to preserve or establish a new order, but to return to the old.

I mean no offense when I ask:  can this really be the will of a people who fought to bravely and endured so much to overthrow the old régime?   Yes, it is rhetoric to speak 'the people' here, but surely there was a moment when the rhetoric was at least close to accurate, and it was considered a glorious triumph.  Never has 'be careful what you wish for' seemed more appropriate.

The Arabist says that the revolutionaries found unanimity in their desire to overthrow Mubarak.   Surely that didn't mean they wanted someone who'd deliver more of the same in some other guise.  They must have wanted change.   The army does not.   If the NSF overthrows Morsi with army help, SCAF will say nice things about keeping out of politics and step right back in whenever it pleases - whenever its behind-the-scenes dictatorship is challenged.   There will be no change.  If Morsi successfully implores the army to suppress anti-government activity - an unlikely prospect - he will become their stooge.  Only an alliance of convenience between the NSF and the Moslem Brotherhood can achieve anything more than a de facto military dictatorship draped with empty judicial niceties.  Indeed only such an alliance can produce a government with enough acceptance and administrative control to address the country's problems.

With the army put firmly in its proper place, the secularists can oppose the Brotherhood as fiercely as they like - and they will have a real government, not a crippled administration, to oppose.   In or out of power, they must come to terms with the Islamists, who certainly won't take their ejection from government lying down.  No doubt the chances of such an alliance prevailing are slim, but to renounce such an alliance is to ensure that those who died, died for nothing at all.

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