Egypt’s fascist ‘liberals’

Egypt’s fascist ‘liberals’

As I was writing this piece, the “interim government” in Egypt, which owes its existence to a bloody military coup, was considering the “dissolution” of the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, the country’s oldest and largest Islamist organization, whose elected president was recently overthrown and whose members were killed in their hundreds, were on the brink of yet another blow: Being declared completely illegal, which would probably lead to more massive crackdowns, arrests, and perhaps even massacres. 

In the face of such cruel oppression, the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, will not disappear from the face of the earth. It will go underground, and probably get more agitated against its tormentors. I pray day and night that all these “ordeals” will not lead the organization to opt for armed struggle. But it is a real possibility that at least some of their future off shoots might take that dangerous road, throwing Egypt into a disastrous civil war like the one Algeria suffered during the 1990s.

It is a big pity that the promising Arab Spring of 2011 has reached such a dead end in the Egypt of 2013. (Tunisia, meanwhile, is still promising, and my prayers go to it.) But who is to blame? The elected Islamists, to be sure, can be blamed for acting triumphantly and for not seeking consensus with their opponents. However, I believe that much bigger blame is on the other side: the military, the “feloul” (the remnants of the old Mubarak regime), and “the liberals.”

The last group here deserves a closer look. As someone who also calls himself a liberal (along with being a Muslim), I have recently had a hard time understanding these Egyptian “liberals,” who not only cheered for a military coup against an elected president, but also supported the mass murder of hundreds of peaceful protestors. The more I looked at these activists and their vile rhetoric about how to remove “the cancer” in Egyptian society, which is the Muslim Brotherhood, the more I became convinced that they could be better defined by a different “–ism,” which is fascism. (Anybody who defines a part of society as “cancer,” whether that segment be Jews, leftists, or Islamists, deserves the F term.) 

A deeper look into these “liberals” of Egypt is presented by Lee Smith, in the Jewish magazine Tablet, in an aptly titled piece: “What’s Wrong with Egypt’s Liberals? For Starters, They’re Not Liberals.” Smith explains that the Egyptian bourgeoisie, normally the milieu for liberalism, has never been an independent force from the state and thus has never opposed the tyranny of the state. The “liberals” could therefore just be those who try to use the tyrannical state for their own purposes.

However, this is a very dangerous path that will even hunt the liberals themselves. In a brilliant Foreign Affairs piece titled, “First They Came for the Islamists,” Michael J. Koplow foresees this peril in Egypt. He recalls the Tunisian example of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and warns against “a campaign of repression that first targeted Islamists but eventually grew into a much wider effort to eliminate all political opposition.”

None of this means that there are zero true liberals in Egypt. There are some, and some of them are my friends. However, they are a minority, and as a political group, “the liberals” of Egypt have failed badly in the past two months. They not only sabotaged democracy in the largest Arab country, but they also gave “liberalism” a bad name in the whole Muslim world.