As Egypt seems to get closer and closer to a transition to democracy every day, many commentators are deploring the growing role Islamist Parties, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, may play in the newly formed government. In essence, commentators are stuck in the bind of supporting a democratic process, but not the outcome of that process. We just cannot have our cake and eat it too.
The Bush Administration also grappled with this paradox as it fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish democracies there, yet at the same time condemned the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005. We basically seem to have a policy of supporting free societies just up to the point where the we find the people elected don’t really seem to jive well with the status quo balance of power in the Middle East.
The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s unrest and the recent majority Hezbollah gained in Lebanon has reignited this debate. There are, to be fair, serious concerns about balancing an Islamist Party with democracy, the biggest being the establishment of Shariah Law versus an independent judiciary. Islam is the only organized religion with its own set of judicial laws that run directly counter to Western notions of freedom and liberty. But Americans don’t seem to have a problem of continuing their precious support for Saudi Arabia, which is probably the biggest hotbed of Anti-Western and anti-Jewish sentiment in the region. So why the disconnect?
So what if Egyptians want to elect an Islamist Party? Why should we stop Egyptians from doing what they want? Is it not their country? If they want to be a theocratic state (which seems highly unlikely), then let them! If they want to wear Hawaiian shirts on Friday, then why not? If they want to wear their underwear on their heads, why not? Aren’t they a ‘free people’ now? Egypt should be for Egyptians.
If President Obama truly wants to stand with the democratic aspirations of all people, like he said in his State of the Union, he will simply have to accept the fact that the outcome may not be favorable to the US. We have for many years purchased stability at the cost of democracy, and we should recognize that we simply cannot have it both ways anymore. President Obama should take steps towards recognizing democratically elected Hamas and Hezbollah, and also towards bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into the newly formed Egyptian government. In order for these groups to shed their fundamentalist nature, they will have to eventually come out of the shadows – and we should do everything we can to facilitate that process.
There are, of course, many risks that we take in supporting the democratic process, but there are arguably even more risks that we have seen unravel over the past week from hedging our bets against the democratic aspirations of the Arab people.