A Prediction and Perhaps Cause for Optimism

 

If the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda end up governing or playing a large role in the governments in Egypt and Tunisia, there’s a pretty good chance it won’t look like Iran circa 1979. Here’s why. 

The model for both of these movements–explicitly, in the case of Ennahda–is the AKP. What they will probably wish to do above all, at first, is reassure. They don’t want a civil war that they’d lose; they don’t want to rule by terror; and they won’t have to. They know things will go much easier for them if they lead with temperate, inclusive, tolerant rhetoric and campaign–above all–on the economy. They’ll talk so much about the economy and democracy that the Western media will rise up as one and say, “Look, why are you so worried? They’re moderates. All that radical stuff is in the past. They just want the same freedom to practice their religion they would have in the United States, and wow, look at those growth rates! Tigers!” In power, they will focus intensely, like the proverbial laser-beam, on creating the appearance of economic growth. (Long term growth? Heck, who knows if tomorrow will ever come?) There will be no fulminating anti-Western rhetoric (except on special occasions), no hand-choppings, no stonings. Everyone will heave a big sigh of relief. 

We won’t see anything all that alarming until these parties have solidly established themselves in all the organs of the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary. By then they’ll have figured out exactly how to win elections that look pretty free and fair: They’ll get a lot of help from the world’s best professional political advisers.

Then we’ll see subtle things, little feelers–they’ll wait to see if anyone in the rest of the world cares; they’ll notice that no one does (since they’re so busy being grateful that these governments haven’t yet introduced floggings and stonings). Women will slowly disappear from public life, but it will happen so gradually no one will really be able to pin it on them, and besides, it’s just women. In Egypt they’ll co-opt some very prominent Copts who will go out and shill for them, talking about the terrific reforms they’re putting in place to improve their status (until the shills quit in disgust, but that won’t get much media play overseas). 

They won’t rip up the peace treaty with Israel. That’s stupid. They don’t need that kind of hassle. You don’t stay in power by bringing disaster upon the heads of the people you propose to govern, and of course they realize that what people actually want are jobs, not an apocalyptic war with Israel. 

But right before every election–and yes, they’ll hold them–something odd will happen (a strange incident involving a ship full of unusually violent humanitarian aid workers, for example). Games like this have a terrible potential to get out of hand, so yes, we should worry about this. And these governments won’t do much on the diplomatic scene to stop Iran from, for example, swallowing other Middle East countries whole, or acquiring nuclear weapons. Not that they did much before, but they’ll do even less. The consequences of this won’t seem that bad until the day Iran announces it’s a nuclear power. (But who knows, maybe by then the Iranian regime itself will have collapsed–you’ve got to admit we just don’t know which governments are going to fall next.)

The good news: I predict this won’t happen overnight. If I’m right, that gives the Egyptians and Tunisians who don’t love this vision of the future a lot of time to organize and come up with a better alternative. If they want to know how to do it, they’ve got a great model in the Turkish opposition. Just look at everything they’ve done, and do exactly the opposite. 

The opposition here could easily be in power if they weren’t so utterly determined to lose. There’s nothing that magical about the AKP, they’re just a reasonably competent political party running against a sea of incompetent ones. 

So, don’t despair yet. 

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There are 11 comments.

  1. John Marzan Inactive

    should the US continue with the 1.3 Billion dollar aid if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over egypt?

    • #1
    • January 31, 2011, at 3:56 AM PDT
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  2. Scott R Member

    I didn’t catch the optimism part. :)

    • #2
    • January 31, 2011, at 4:49 AM PDT
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  3. Scott R Member

    Speaking of Turkey as a model, any chance this Suleiman guy and the army end up in a role similar to the ostensible role of the Turkish army–that is, as sideline guarantors of a secular state, ready to move in if democracy ever leads to theocracy???

    • #3
    • January 31, 2011, at 5:00 AM PDT
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  4. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    This sounds highly plausible — but keep in mind that Khomeini started out in a more or less similar way. It was not until the seizure of the hostages that things became clear. You might want to think about the salami tactics used by the Soviets in eastern Europe in the 1940s and by Castro in Cuba in the early 1960s. Hugo Chavez fits this model as well.

    • #4
    • January 31, 2011, at 5:22 AM PDT
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  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    Paul A. Rahe: This sounds highly plausible — but keep in mind that Khomeini started out in a more or less similar way. It was not until the seizure of the hostages that things became clear. You might want to think about the salami tactics used by the Soviets in eastern Europe in the 1940s and by Castro in Cuba in the early 1960s. Hugo Chavez fits this model as well. · Jan 31 at 4:22am

    Paul, the truth is there are many models to which we could appeal, and many ways this situation is analogous to others in history. Honest people have to say they just don’t know what will happen. Some pundits will make bold predictions, get it right and look prescient, but that may just be because they got lucky. There are just too many real unknowns here. I am only sure of one thing: We need to be prepared for a lot of contingencies. “Wow, I hope this works out for the best” is definitely not the foreign policy I’d counsel. Unfortunately, I suspect that’s probably our policy.

    • #5
    • January 31, 2011, at 5:39 AM PDT
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  6. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author
    John Marzan: should the US continue with the 1.3 Billion dollar aid if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over egypt? · Jan 31 at 2:56am

    That very much depends how it happens and what they’re doing. Basically, ultimately, I don’t think we should be giving aid on that scale to anyone: It creates a dependency economy that in fact discourages real economic development, and besides, we’re broke. I’d be in favor of channeling a large part of that to micro-loans, especially for women (these seem to work well).

    • #6
    • January 31, 2011, at 5:45 AM PDT
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  7. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    Micro loans??? You cannot be serious. These small amounts are almost always in cash, small amounts like a few hundred dollars, and mostly to individuals who have no accountable track. I’ve seen them very successfully employed by missionary groups and other small NGOs, but if the government ran the show the corruption would be astronomical. It isn’t those who would get the loans that concern me, but I cannot imagine that we could find enough uncorrupted bureaucrats to administer the program.

    It isn’t the magnitude of the loans. Big corruption goes in to Swiss banks, small corruption goes under the mattress.

    • #7
    • January 31, 2011, at 5:59 AM PDT
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  8. The Mugwump Inactive

    I’ve traveled to a half dozen Muslim nations. Egypt is the only place among them where I saw people doing the obligatory prayer five times a day. It’s also the only place where I noticed lots of people bearing a prayer callous on the forehead. Does my observation indicate that Egyptians are much more pious in their religious practice than other Muslims? If so, are they more inclined to accept a theocratic form of government? If you’ve traveled in the Muslim world, what’s your experience? Am I on to something or not?

    • #8
    • January 31, 2011, at 6:06 AM PDT
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    RAYCON: Micro loans??? You cannot be serious.

    I’m serious, and I think there’s quite a bit of reasonably sound research to back it up. Microloans are no magic bullet and some of the claims made for them have been grossly exaggerated, but among forms of aid, they’re one of the few that seem sometimes to work in reality, rather than in fantasy.

    • #9
    • January 31, 2011, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  10. Liver Pate Inactive
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    RAYCON: Micro loans??? You cannot be serious.

    I’m serious, and I think there’s quite a bit of reasonably sound research to back it up. Microloans are no magic bullet and some of the claims made for them have been grossly exaggerated, but among forms of aid, they’re one of the few that seem sometimes to work in reality, rather than in fantasy. · Jan 31 at 5:29am

    I agree wholeheartedly with Claire on this one. I don’t know if this is Nicole’s area of expertise, but a separate post on this someday would be fascinating.

    • #10
    • January 31, 2011, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  11. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    ~Paules: I’ve traveled to a half dozen Muslim nations. Egypt is the only place among them where I saw people doing the obligatory prayer five times a day. It’s also the only place where I noticed lots of people bearing a prayer callous on the forehead. Does my observation indicate that Egyptians are much more pious in their religious practice than other Muslims? If so, are they more inclined to accept a theocratic form of government? If you’ve traveled in the Muslim world, what’s your experience?

    Jan 31 at 5:06am

    In my travels in the Muslim world, and I’ve not been to Egypt except passing through, much of the serious prayer happens in areas where there is either a Taliban type government enforcing it, or a business or university where a particularly pious leader “encourages” it. Even seen entire office buildings empty out at 3 PM. And, of course, the neighborhood mosques do a land office business. Generally though, except for a few cars, buses and taxis, at 3PM not much changes. I’ve seen very little parallel to your Egypt observation.

    The worst is staying across the street from a mosque at sunrise!!!

    • #11
    • January 31, 2011, at 9:48 AM PDT
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