The Long Arab Winter

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Once again, we at EMET wish that we had been proven wrong. As soon as the demonstrators took to the streets in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt last winter, we had been alone on Capitol Hill arguing that the United States should immediately halt, or at least temporarily suspend, all U.S. military aid and shipments of sophisticated weaponry to Egypt — at least until the results of the Parliamentary elections came in.  It did not take a rocket scientist to understand that a chill wind was blowing through the Arab Middle East that could overturn years of cultivation and bring radical Islamist parties to power — parties that are enemies of Western values and especially of the United States and Israel.

However, a significantly more powerful pro-Israel organization was also on the Hill at the same time arguing the total antithesis — that now was the time to speed up military aid to Egypt. They based their argument on the idea that the Egyptian military is the most Western and moderating of all Egyptian institutions and that supporting the military was our way of “buying a seat at the table.”

What good is a “seat at the table” when we put masking tape over our mouths? The United States has seldom been successful in utilizing our arms shipments to exert influence or leverage over countries that have taken billions of our dollars and our weapons — just look at the U.S.’s disastrous relationship with Pakistan, whom we are currently supporting with billions of dollars in aid and extensive shipments of the most modern arms, while their military actively supports the Taliban and assists in attacks on U.S. forces.

Since the Camp David Accords were signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, America has rebuilt the Egyptian military from being a Russian equipped C- army to a powerful American trained and equipped A+ army with the most advanced and sophisticated equipment.  Now all that technology and firepower will be in the hands of radical Islamist forces who fully support Hamas and Hezbollah and seek to destabilize the remaining friends of the U.S. in the Middle East.  Behind the scenes the Muslim Brotherhood has had a long and deep relationship with the Egyptian military.  Now, if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to political power in Egypt, it will be openly embraced by the military, producing a potentially disastrous mix of a religious/political ideology and a powerful military machine.

The “seat at the table” argument did not work during the 1979 Iranian revolution when we had to immediately halt our arms shipments to Tehran, nor has it worked with the Lebanese Armed Forces which has been completely over-run by Hizballah.

Anyone with any understanding of the Middle East knows that a.) Armies also want to survive and that the way that they survive is by aligning themselves with the biggest bully in the playground; b.) The Egyptian military is a professional military, and like all professional militaries they do not create policy, but carry it out; and c.) Armies are made up of human beings who are not impervious to the influences of the street.

The revolution that swept through Tahrir Square was initiated by the young, savvy and independent, Facebook crowd, but these idealistic young people lack the deep political infrastructure of the Muslim Brotherhood, the charismatic influence of the Imams and mosques and the deep conservative religious ethos of the Egyptian populace.

Now that Egyptians have gone to the polls, the question is not whether the radical Muslim Brotherhood will win a plurality of seats in their Parliament, but by how many.  The election’s final results will probably not be known until January, but it does not look as though Jeffersonian democracy will spring up in Egypt, or anywhere else in the Muslim and Arab Middle East.

The results of the Moroccan election of November 25th are no more promising. The Islamist Justice and Development Party, (PJD) easily trumped all the others.  Nor are the October 23rd Tunisian election results, which shows the Ennahda party, also Islamist, winning a clear plurality of the votes.

As our people painfully learned in 1932, when Hitler came to power through the process of a democratic election and then again in 2006, when Hamas came to power through another process of democratic elections in Gaza: one election is not sufficient to create a vibrant democracy.

Democracy means the ability to have a second, a third and a fourth election.

It means that the institutions of the government are in place that protects the rights of religious and other minorities, that there is an independent judiciary and an independent press. It means, as Natan Sharansky said, “the freedom to stand in the public square and criticize those in power without fearing for one’s life.”

We are facing the beginning of a long, chilling Middle East winter, where their supporters of America will be few and far between and the rights of the individual remain an even more distant dream. The young and idealistic revolutionaries of the Facebook generation must be feeling bereft, as many of them might soon be forced to conceal their yearnings for independence behind oceans of homogeneous abayas and hijabs.

And our one fellow vibrant democracy in the Middle East, Israel, becomes further isolated in a rejectionist sea of radical Islamism.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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