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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.