Middle East – The Old Brand of “Muslim Moderates” Strikes Back – Fortunately, I Still Believe in the Newer Kind – 9 July 2012


A few days back, I spoke approvingly of an article by the Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui which extolled the virtues of Egypt’s budding democratic government, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood now controls the presidency within that government.

I stand by my comments about _that_ article. Siddiqui, as I said in that commentary, offered in that article a “balanced portrayal of what the real issues [in Egypt] are”. He noted that Egyptians had picked a leader of their own choice, and though many both in Egypt and hereabouts fear political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood had spent much time purposefully trying to meet criticisms of their stands on the issues. I stated that Siddiqui had convinced me not only that the Brotherhood is today more moderate than we have previously believed, but even more moderate than most of our Western “moderates” these days.

I also said that I was pleased to have come to see the term “Muslim moderate” mean more than, and again I’m quoting from my previous commentary, a “person who becomes very quiet while theocrats violently attack innocent people”. I wrote that Siddiqui had convinced me that there could be another meaning to that term, and that Egypt’s Muslim moderates were more worthy of the title.

Well, now I’m going to backtrack a little on the matter of how much Haroon Siddiqui has made an impression on me. For no sooner had I come to unequivocally support his point of view in his previous article than he had written this article. It is a terrific example of the old brand of phony “Muslim moderate” garbage. It disturbs me greatly that the same person could have written both articles: the one which builds a case for positive social change in Egypt on the basis of a new model of “Islamic democracy”, and the one which offers a cynical rehash of anti-West and anti-Israel propaganda.

Take this bit of the article as an example: “Morsi and the Brotherhood are demonized for criticizing the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. But the treaty does not have popular legitimacy in Egypt. That’s why even Mubarak never fully normalized relations with Israel, and had the state media spew poison at Jews.” I’m glad at least that Siddiqui works up some anger about the old Mubarak regime’s media “spewing poison at Jews”, that’s a sign of decency. But is he really not noticing how his own sentences read there? The Egypt-Israel peace treaty doesn’t have popular legitimacy, and that’s why the media got away with anti-Jewish propaganda? Hmm, what are you claiming, that if there were no peace treaty, Egyptians would start to like Jews? Does Siddiqui really not see why people are worried about the state of public opinion in Egypt after writing this? Does he really not get why having an Islamist party in power might empower those who hate Israel and are looking for an excuse to go back to war with them? Really? I’m hard pressed to imagine that.

Israel is also used as an example of an undemocratic regime because it wasn’t comfortable with Hamas, a terrorist organisation which publicly opposes the continued existence of Israel, winning elections in 2006 – even though it is also the case that the Palestinian Authority/Fatah rules the West Bank and Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. If it was just Israel that is not permitting Hamas to rule, apparently no one in the Palestinian Authority got the memo. In any case, the term of office Hamas won in those elections is now over, and yet none of the Palestinians have agreed on holding new elections. Ironically, it is the more moderate Egyptians who were working on getting those elections to happen. But at present, Fatah and Hamas are still arguing: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/02/us-palestinians-elections-idUSBRE8610G320120702 … but don’t let that little bit of reality get in the way of a really good slapdash attack on the “undemocratic” Israelis, who continue to have Arab representatives in their national parliament, owing to the rather large number of Arab Israeli citizens.

The dig at the “silence” of the Obama administration is especially onerous – it’s hard to imagine that Siddiqui really doesn’t get that Obama’s silence has been the biggest factor in the favour of the democracy movement in the Middle East. By saying nothing to defend Mubarak and Ben Ali, traditional allies of the US, Obama did his part in allowing those regimes to fall to the opposition. Don’t tell me Obama has been “silent” about things in Egypt and Tunisia – in both cases, his silence was positively golden.

It’s frustrating – I really thought Siddiqui’s other article was symbolic of a new kind of Middle Eastern politics, both authentic and, at its base, democratic – aiming at working to get past the old divisions. But here is an article that appeals to those same old stupid divisions.

My worst fear is that, after fellow Muslims read his first article, they pressured Siddiqui into writing this article.

That’s probably just fear talking. I suspect it’s more that Siddiqui is both a genuine friend to Egypt’s democracy movement and someone who, unfortunately, has not yet managed to free himself from the illusions of the _old_ kind of “Muslim moderate”. Fortunately, I am not as worried about Egypt’s newer brand “Muslim moderates” as I am about the older kind, who I suspect, have had their day in the sun. The world is changing, and soon there will be no place for the old polarising stereotypes. It won’t be enough to blame the West and Israel anymore. Democracy means taking responsibility.

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