Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Saad Ibrahim Pleads for Real Democracy in Egypt

Sa'ad Ibrahim was a professor at American U. of Cairo in the mid-90s when I was at Amoco, the foreign company at the time with the largest assets in Egypt, second only to the Suez Canal Organization, a state-owned entity. I visited him at his Cairo suburb Ma'adi residence several times----the Amoco HQ was in Ma'adi just down the road [and the tallest building in the suburb, where I was on the top floor when a big earthquake hit in '92]. Sa'ad reflected the plight of educated westernized Egyptians faced with a choice between an autocratic praetorian regime and an Islamist Ikhwan party more vicious and misogynist than most Taliban-type Sunni zealots. Think of Zawahiri and Qutb.

As a US State Dept Arabist in the '70's, I was an "Israel Basher" of the first order, and much later became good friends with Chas Freeman, US Amb. to Saudi during the First Gulf War [I see the two GW's like episodes in a Hundred Years War]. Although I do know and am aware of the Israeli Lobby's strength [after leaving State, I was John Anderson's MidEast Advisor in the "80 Campaign & discovered most of JA's funding was from "Jewish" organizations], I am now glad the Lobby helped excise the Carter wart from the US govt's nether regions. Carter was a serial eff-up and now hates Israel because between Teddy K. & John A., their lobby spearheaded his loss to Reagan, whom they saw as more compliant & pro-Israel in the fundamental sense of pro-democratic.

As an Amoco Strategic Planner, I got invited by Shimon Peres to a three-hour "lunch" on the Dead Sea & I was strongly rebuked the next day by the Israeli Oil Minister Chacal, who doubled as the Police Minister & had bugged Peres's hotel room on the Dead Sea Riviera!!! I was escorted by the head of Shin Bet because the Israelis were mad about getting their own oil & gas from Amoco in the middle of the biggest oil patch on Earth.

It took a long time for me to understand the essential difference between a democracy, untidy as it is, like Israel, and the brutal misogynist oligarchies in the Islamic crescent surrounding the small island of semi-sanity called Israel.

9/11 sealed the deal for me, and since then I regard well-meaning guys like Chas Freeman as a "Fifth Columnist" in a campaign to justify the unjustifiable aggressive nature of "The Straight Path." War & Aggression are built in the DNA of Islam, and my long stays in both India & Pakistan also convinced my of the almost unviable nature of "Islamic Democracy." The Indian elections last week again proved that a sloppy democracy is better than a clan-dominated praetorian Islamic hodge-podge like Pakistan.

Or even the relatively docile Egyptians, whose age-old collective wisdom and significant Shi'ite and Coptic minorities have long been respected more or less in the political spectrum, though not given much leeway in the public forums available to them.

Mutatis mutandis, the same holds true for the "Fertile Crescent," which Egypt anchors on its southwest arc. The murder of the US recruiter in Little Rock is another indication that Islamic violence and terrorism, invented by "The Old Man of the Mountain" in the twelfth century, still employs assassination as its normal method of operation.


GW said...

A fascinating post, Dave.

When you say "Islamic Democracy," to what precisely are you referring. Are you talking about the pseudo democracies of Iran, Egypt, etc., where democracy is limited at best, if not a mere facade. Do you include in that grouping the experiment now occurring in Iraq, where it would seem that we are seeing something approaching a real democracy begin to take root. Or is your point being that Islam and democracy are simply and wholly incompatible?

dave in boca said...

Yes, basically the pseudo-democracies, which is why it's in quotes. Lebanon had a rough-and-ready functioning version of democracy in the seventies when I lived there for a year studying Arabic at the US Embassy. But even the Lebanon example had "quotas" and was based on a demographically skewed census taken decades earlier. Lebanon imploded due to outside pressures and an inside leadership vacuum, plus the PLO's constant meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs.

I believe the Iraq model has a chance, but Turkey shows how important the military is in maintaining a firewall between religious zealotry and democratic procedures. As for democracy, Arabs were traditionally considered way too temperamental and subject to excessive emotional outbursts, which in turn caused leaders to be assassinated almost in metronomic regularity.

Arab & Islamic history is riddled with leadership and regime changes through violence. Comparatively speaking, the French resemble the Swiss more than the Arab in the shrieking lunacy department.

Whatever Lincoln wrote about the "triumph of faction" leading to the death of Republics also is written large in Islamic history with regard to the inability of Arabs to form large political groups without fissiparous tendencies asserting themselves.