Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Egypt’s ‘Economic Woes’ Distract From Religious Extremist Reality

February 6, 2012 1:49 pm 2 comments

A poor neighbourhood in Cairo. Photo: David Evers.

As the one-year anniversary of Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising came and went, many commentators felt obliged to wax positive about the revolution in the country. The analysts didn’t want to appear to be cynical on hopes that Egypt will emerge as a wonderful beacon of democracy in the Middle East. But in order to keep up the optimism, everyone must keep making excuses for the reality.

A New York Times editorial on Jan. 21 claimed that “Worsening economic conditions are further sabotaging hopes for a democratic future” in Cairo. “The United States, the European Union and the gulf states last year promised billions of dollars in assistance to Egypt…those countries should move quickly on their commitments, including offers to begin free-trade talks with Egypt…That’s a goal worth working toward.”

The notion here is that a bad economy could push Egypt into chaos or totalitarianism. Everyone knows that it was terrible economic climates that gave rise to Communism and Fascism. Thus, in order to prevent radicalism, the West must throw money at Egypt—beyond the largesse that America already extends to the country. Currently, U.S military aid comes to over $1 billion and U.S development aid has totaled $28 billion since 1975.

On Jan. 25, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was more apocalyptic in its description of what might happen if the West doesn’t step in to save Egypt’s economy, writing in an editorial: “It’s a democracy in need of help, both financial and diplomatic. Without investment and direct assistance, it will be difficult for this democracy to feed Egypt’s 85 million people.”

What is interesting about these editorials is that they were written within days of a Muslim Brotherhood member being elected speaker of Egypt’s Parliament. Where these writers are correct is in their analysis that this is indeed democracy. But why does this democracy deserve a blank check from the West for support?

In Europe, when Austria elected Jorg Haider, and when Hungary more recently elected the right-wing Fidesz party, the West sought to put up a cordon sanitaire around these democratic regimes because the West disagrees with their right-wing ideology. Thus, the West expressed displeasure.

It isn’t just democracy for democracy’s sake. After all, the savage Hobbesian world envisioned in Lord of the Flies was a democracy, it was just a bad one that didn’t protect minority rights and was riven with extremism. Egypt’s democracy is similar. Egypt has elected an extremist parliament that is dominated by a hard-right religious party and is outflanked by an even more extreme Salafist party. The secular liberals that are similar to typical democratic parties in the West are a small minority.

Consider how the opposite message is relayed about Israel. The perception that Israel is tilting to the right by electing Yisrael Beiteinu, and that it is becoming more religious, are held up as reasons why the U.S. and Europe must put pressure on Israel. Thus, when Israel is said to be persecuting NGOs, it is argued that progressives must not support Israel. But when Egypt raids the offices of NGOs, as was done recently, we are asked to give more financial assistance.  American politicians who rightly say that aid should be in jeopardy are accused of harming Egypt, and it is even implied they may be responsible for the country lurching into famine.

So why is Egypt different? Part of the reason is the typical double standard for countries in the “south” or third world. Less is expected of them, and therefore the standards that a democracy such as Austria are held to do not apply. But another hand is at work, one that needs to find an excuse for the impending failure of Egyptian democracy and the country’s decline into totalitarianism, extremism or chaos. Many voices want to set up others to be at fault, so that it can be said that because America didn’t aid Egypt, Egyptian democracy failed.

Unfortunately, the West has no coherent policy in terms of democracy promotion.  One overarching argument is that democracy for democracy’s sake is important. But the advocates of that view are often dismayed by the fact that democracy results in the election of radicals.  Then, the advocates change their tune and say that the Islamists who are elected are actually moderates, which is what has transpired in discussions about Tunisia and Egypt.

There is, of course, an arguable hypocrisy inherent in saying “be democratic” and then not supporting the results. A coherent policy would argue for the promotion of an American or liberal democratic reform based on enacting a type of Bill of Rights as part of championing elections. Students of the American Constitution will understand the importance of this. The Founding Fathers of the U.S. created a Constitution that ensured checks and balances, but they also put in place a Bill of Rights, to protect against the evils of majoritarian democracy—the “tyranny of the masses,” as it were.

Where democracy has failed, it has failed because of the lack of checks and balances.  Scaremongering about economic aid is not part of a coherent policy. It is just an excuse.

Seth J. Frantzman is a writer, journalist and scholar residing in Jerusalem.

2 Comments

  • First of all, just to set the record straight Israel has received far more aid than the Egypt from the US historically and through today (search “two jeremy sharpeo” egypt or israel and there is a whole historic and current view).. I don’t remember exact numbers but Israel has and does definitrly receive more aid.. Additionally Israel’s aid is given as a complete blank check almost vs most of Egypt’s has strings attached in some way or other..

    Additionally, most talk I’ve heard has been around decreasing aid to Egypt because of their restrictive policies – there is a huge uproar in congress (just search MGO Egypt and you’l see what I mean)..

    Third, the US gives $1.3B of military aid to Egypt compared to about $250M dollars which goes to economic and other forms of assistance.. So the vast majority of US funding to Egypt has been to prop up a dictatorial regime to advance strategic interest; not so much to promote democracy and help the poverty stricken and uneducated. (Not that I diminish their efforts but just compared to military aid its paltry.

    Fourth, one of the underlying calls for AID is based on the historical precedent of the Marshall Plan post WW2..in that vein, AID would help protect from the so slip into fascism which you mentioned in the article..

  • A smart piece.

    Hamas apologists do the same trick. Hamas was democratically elected, so we have to like them, no matter what their leaders say and do.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →