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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →