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The Futility of Democracy Without Choice

By Steve Schippert | February 10, 2006

Is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood the model for Islam’s political adaptation?

This is the assertion made in a Washington Post column from last week that many may have missed, titled Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood May Be Model for Islam's Political Adaptation.

The Muslim Brotherhood may be the model for Islamists’ political adaptation, but one should surely hope that it is not the model for all of Islam. In fact, the assertion that it is screams of absurdity. There is a profound difference between the two.

Observers should also pause before cheering too loudly for the success of former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam’s designs to unseat Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, as he has chosen to saddle up with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to do it.

Do not mistake this as a ringing endorsement for either Mubarak or Assad, for it surely is not. But it is to merely point out the frustrating futility of emerging democratic processes in the Middle East that are devoid of any reasonable democratic alternative on the cherished and empowering ballot, looked to by the West to transform a region through that very empowerment.

In Egypt, the choice in the first real election recently was between Team Mubarak, whose only redeeming quality may be simply that he is not an Islamist, and the candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood, who most certainly are.

In the Palestinian Territories, the choice was between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah has been proven corrupt beyond reproach and the parent organization of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades whose attacks on Israeli civilians Fatah was either unwilling or unable to prevent. Hamas is, by their own charter, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot terrorist organization with the blood of hundreds and hundreds of Israeli civilians who were guilty of riding a bus or eating in a restaurant at the wrong time and place. Hamas ran successfully on the plank of non-corruption. But perhaps they simply had yet to taste the power.

In Syria, the choice will not even be for the people to make, as change there will come by blasts, not ballots. But what kind of change will the newly aligned tandem bring? The Muslim Brotherhood has been tapped by former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam to join in the effort, himself with hands not clean of brutal oppression in Syria. Further, Khaddam believes he was cheated when Hafez al-Assad was not succeeded by his ever-faithful vice president, but rather by his own son, Bashar Assad. Khaddam now says he wants to bring democratic reform, but he has with certainty no track record of supporting such, aside, of course, from uttering words of late that Washington wants to hear and might support. To be sure, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been put down with brutal force by two generations of secular Ba’athist dictatorship, including Khaddam, where membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death. So what form of government will emerge in with the new hands at the levers of power potentially belonging to an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood with one ambitious grip and a heavy-handed authoritarian former Ba’athist firmly with the other grip?

Surely Americans, at least, would need no lesson in the difference between campaign platforms and post-electoral governance. Why would Egypt, the Palestinian Territories or the so-called promise of Syria be different?

In Iran, there are indeed regular elections. In this aspect, the Islamic Republic of Iran is unlike the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or the People’s Republic of China, where neither government remotely resembles anything democratic, of a republic, nor for or of the people. The Islamic Republic of Iran certainly elects its Mejlis (parliament) through its people. But the catch is that the Guardian Council, comprised of unelected radical mullahs, chooses the candidates that will appear for the Iranian public to ‘choose’ from. As seen in the last election’s resultant ballot, moderates and reformists need not apply.

The true difference between Iran and China or North Korea is that Iran indeed has a democratic system and institutions, but they're simply rigged. Net effect? Not much difference at all.

In Egypt, should the Muslim Brotherhood eventually achieve a strong majority and eventual control of the Egyptian government, sans-Mubarak, the form of government that will surely emerge will not resemble the budding democratic process that will have propelled them there.

So, is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood really the model for Islam’s political adaptation?

"No one needs be afraid of us," said Essam Erian, a top Brotherhood official. He pointed out that the group was cooperating with other political parties and pro-democracy movements to forge a strategy of street demonstrations and propaganda to promote reforms. "We want to be more than a voice," Erian said. "We want to take action."

The brand of 'action' taken by the quasi-parent organization of Hamas and the group that spawned al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri is precisely what should be feared.

1 Comment

What would have happened in the American Revolution, if the Quakers and Puritans balked?

There was some pretty scary stuff, witch burnings and all.

What caused the "Religious Right" of the 17 and 1800's hundreds to moderate?