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...

  • Relationships US & Canada Time Out Features Single Lady Who Likes ‘Big Schlubby Jewish Comedians’

    Time Out Features Single Lady Who Likes ‘Big Schlubby Jewish Comedians’

    A profile published Wednesday in Time Out New York highlighted a 25-year-old Brooklyn woman who claimed she is attracted to chubby Jewish comedians, Maxim Deputy Editor Jason Feifer pointed out via Twitter. Talking about a date she went on, Steph, a sunglasses designer living in Borough Park, told the magazine, ”He was very attractive, just not my type. I like big schlubby Jewish comedians and he was clean-cut.” Feifer posted a picture of the magazine page and commented that Steph’s preferences amounted [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Three years ago, kayaking coach Roei Lev found aspiring Olympian Ilya Podpolnyy crying on the steps of the Jordan Valley Sprint Kayak Club overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Podpolnyy, then 17 years old, had just been disqualified from the Israeli kayaking championship. He couldn’t survive the heats. He didn’t make the start line. He was devastated—and he had no one with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointment. His divorced parents still live in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.