Barry Rubin Middle East


Those of us who have followed Islam and the Middle-East for some time now, realize that great gulf, or divide, that exists between it and the West where values, logic, rational thinking and even the understanding of commonly shared words are concerned. In short, unless you’re aware of these sometimes subtle differences, you risk misreading the dynamics of the region, even when it’s painfully obvious. The present US administration’s totally inept foreign policy vis-a-vis the M.E. is proof of that. KGS

What the West Doesn’t Understand About the ‘Arab Spring Surprise’

By Barry Rubin.

The Western narrative sees Egypt, Yemen, or Libya as akin to Central Europe’s rebellions: inoculated against dictatorship by harsh experience; eager to smell liberty’s sweet air. In Central Europe, though, nationalism meant cultural revival and freedom from (real) Soviet domination; religion signified the ability to go to church without punishment.

For Egypt, though, authenticity, not liberty, is the key concept. In the mainstream view, it wasn’t so much that President Husni Mubarak’s regime stopped people from enjoying private property or free speech but that it stopped Egypt from being Egypt. After all, there’s no real chance of getting rich; no money for nice housing; no prospect for lots of jobs; no resources for a strong industrial base. The only hope is to be virtuous, display pride, and jealously guard one’s honor through nationalist assertion; morality through religious piety.

And thus the definition of the proper Egypt, held by 90 percent of the Sunni Muslim population, is that of a highly religious, highly nationalistic country that has a chip on its shoulder toward the West. We are talking about a revolution leading to more — not less — extremism and enforced conformity.

Western democratic revolutions were rebellions against tradition. In practice, the revolution in Egypt — like the 1979 Iranian revolution — is a revolution for tradition. It might be better called a counterrevolution against modernity. Sure, there are 10, 20, and perhaps even 30 percent of Egyptians who want a more pragmatic, moderate state. But that’s precisely the point: in a democratic vote they will lose.

Today, if you asked 86 million Egyptians if they would be willing to fight and be martyred for the sake of their honor, not one would hesitate….Egypt in its entirety…is ready to be martyred [to avenge] the blood of the Egyptian martyrs.

That’s rhetorical exaggeration, of course, and one shouldn’t believe literally that Egypt will launch a suicidal war, but this kind of talk will be standard as to what Egypt (and Arabs and Muslims) ought to do if they behaved properly. Even most of the “moderates” talk that way, like the April 6 Youth Movement leader (i.e., Facebook Kid), who explained that Egyptians cannot stand passively by while “genocide” is committed by Israel against the Palestinians next door. This kind of thing is already standard Palestinian rhetoric, both under Fatah and Hamas. The result is to make real peace impossible even if it doesn’t make war inevitable.

Egypt’s revolution is thus also against pragmatism, which is seen as immoral. That’s what the “evil” Mubarak did, and President Anwar al-Sadat did before him. Pragmatism dictates that if you cannot defeat foreigners, you must accommodate to them. Yet pragmatism — starting with an honest view of reality; doing what works; avoiding what doesn’t; not being mired down into an ideological preconception or romantic martyrdom fantasy overriding results and experience — is the very foundation of Western success.

More here.

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