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SEMİH İDİZ > What went wrong in the Middle East?

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The question is not whether the elections in Egypt and Syria are democratic or not. They are clearly not. But when did democracy visit these countries anyway? The closest Arab countries in the Middle East have come to democracy is in Iraq and that is only because the old mold was broken by the U.S. invasion.

Otherwise it would be much the same there too with the minority of Sunnis running the show by force. Today, the tables have turned, of course, and the Sunnis argue the government has no respect for their rights. The stark truth of the matter is the Arab Spring failed to spawn the democracy that an overly optimistic world expected.

Egypt’s experiment in democracy, after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by the people, also showed early signs of failure, even before the military toppled the elected president and government. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government may have been elected democratically, but they showed early on they had no respect for pluralism either.

The manner in which they prepared the country’s “democratic” constitution and forced it on the nation, without considering the rights of the secular classes and non-Muslims, is on record.

Looked at from the perspective of genuine democracy, there is no question the “electoral victory” of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt, and the imminent “electoral victory” of Bashar al-Assad in Syria are unacceptable. Looked at from the perspective of the political realities that govern the region, however, they are normal.

For sociological, political and religious reasons, the region has shown once again it is not ready for pluralistic democracy in the western sense of the word. But there is no pluralistic democracy in the “eastern” sense of the word.

Some argue Turkey is developing this under the AKP, which clearly has a majoritarian and not a pluralistic understanding of democracy. But the region’s established order has shown it will not accept this “Turkish model,” if one can call it that.

The reason is that all this model does is bring the despised Muslim Brotherhood to power. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has also lost credibility in the region among those who want genuine and pluralistic democracy.

Many argue, of course, it is only a matter of time before the masses – spearheaded by the Brotherhood and its affiliates – will win the day by sheer force of numbers. The region’s dictatorships have shown, however, they are prepared to exercise all nature of brutality to prevent this.

Meanwhile, the advanced democracies of the west looks on and refuses to intervene because of their fear of radical Islam and dislike of the Brotherhood’s version of democracy. There is no point, therefore, in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s continually moralizing about the West’s passivity over Egypt or Syria.

Morality has nothing to do with it. He should instead try and understand why things are the way they are, rather than engaging in wishful thinking. In doing so, Erdoğan should also dwell on where the Muslim Brotherhood went wrong. He was the one, after all, who called on Egyptians at the time not to fear secularism because this system of government did not connote atheism, but meant respect for all beliefs.

The bottom line is Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt squandered a historic opportunity after they were elected by immediately trying to impose their Islamic outlook on the whole of society. Many conveniently forget Morsi vested himself with powers – “to protect the democratic revolution” – which even Mubarak did not have.

It was not long before his policies forced secular and Christian elements of society to the streets. The wolves, who hated the Arab Spring from the beginning, saw their opportunity and sprung, and they are at the helm again. The answer to “What went wrong after the Arab Spring?” is therefore obvious.
As to when demo”cracy will visit the region again, this is not clear.

June/05/2014

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