Egyptian Protestors and the American Far Right

I’ll be honest: I don’t have a firm grasp on what’s happening in Egypt. That ignorance is what’s stopping me from passing any comment on the protests. Like a lot of Americans, I know more about Egypt under the Pharaohs than under Mubarak.

I think my ignorance is shared by a lot of America’s far right, but that’s not stopping them from weaving these current events into end-times scenarios or conspiracy theories. Not surprisingly, the worst offender is Glenn Beck, who combines a whole mess of conspiracy and rapture buzz words to describe the situation. From Religion Dispatches Anthea Butler:

Beck, without having to say anything religious, recites every end-time theme; fire, riots, Islam, Israel, you name it. Beck’s latest assertion is that the Egyptian uprising will result in a Muslim Caliphate. Ridiculous, yes, but it is the dog whistle that calls together conspiracy theorists, rapture-watchers and end-times purveyors. His constant refrain that this is our “Archduke Ferdinand” moment no doubt will sear a vision of an impending World War III into the minds of his listeners, and his blackboard will continue to contribute to the growing right-wing conspiracy theories that President Obama is engineering this from the White House.

Butler’s colleague, Sarah Posner, discusses some of the other celebrities amongst the far right. Apparently the narrative that is taking shape there is more firm than Beck’s confused speculation. The current meme is blaming the entire uprising on the Muslim Brotherhood, which actually seems to have come late to the protests.

In fact, Haroon Moghul argues that the uprising in Egypt is not an Islamic uprising like the one seen in Iran. He teases out the differences in 4 Reasons Why Egypt’s Revolution Is Not Islamic, mostly based on his read of the culture of Egypt and Iran. In summary:

1. The particular brand of authoritarian Islamism seen in Iran has had it’s day, and it is no longer trusted by most of the Islamic world.

2. Iranian Shi’a Islam has a more powerful, more organized and more independent clergy than in Sunni Egypt.

3. The Shah of Iran had sought to impose a Persian identity over an Islamic identity, which partially explains the backlash. In comparison, Egypt has never had those stresses. Which leads to …

4. Islam really isn’t part of the disagreement in Egypt the way it was in Iran. For better or worse, Egypt is a deeply Muslim country, and no one feels that their religious identity is under threat.

Interestingly, Stephen Prothero has his own four points. They’re from of an outsider’s perspective, but they come to the same conclusion

So, at least for the moment it doesn’t look like the nightmares of the far right are coming to pass. It is very unlikely that we’ll see another theocracy or a new caliphate come out of Egypt.

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  • Custador

    Mubarak has been in power for thirty torturing, politially imprisoning, human-rights abusing years. The threat of a power-vaccuum that could be filled by extremists has been the thing that’s kept him in power (“It’s me or the Jihadis”). Interestingly, Egyptian Mosques (which are state run) spent Friday prayers last week exhorting the faithful to NOT protest – and the congregations duly filed outside and totally ignored them. This is a populist uprising AGAINST an opressive regime – they’re nto about to allow a theocratic dictatorship to replace it.

    • Francesc

      What still amazes me is that, some days ago, we didn’t think of Mubarak as a dictator -maybe we didn’t think about him at all. That questions the role the mass media are playing in occidental world: we don’t learn from them unless it is something related to BIG news. Obama was in Egypt last year, do you remember any newspaper explaining wich kind of government ruled the country?

      • Custador

        Of course! Think about the motives of the Gulf War, for a start: Putting an unelected dictator with a religious fetish and no concept of “rights” other than his own right to do whatever he liked back on the throne of Kuwait – and yet Gulf War 2 The Next Generation is supposedly about spreading democracy – YEAH RIGHT!

        • UrsaMinor

          In that respect, our foreign policy resembles religion. It offers superficially appealing rationalizations that have nothing to do with the actual situation.

          Note how we were so ready to kick Iraqi butt during the Gulf War on the pretext that no sovereign state should invade, conquer and absorb another (like we did with Hawai’i). And note that we never ever considered stepping in and liberating the Baltic countries from the Soviet Union, or Tibet from China. But I suppose that’s because they don’t supply us with oil.

    • Bill

      Like others, I have very little knowledge about the state of things in modern Egypt. I’ve always thought of it as the most western friendly of middle eastern states, and religiously moderate.

      As this “crisis” has unfolded though, I’ve been trying to get a handle on exactly what Egyptians are angry about. I’ve had a difficult time figuring that out. Each time I see an interview with someone in Cairo involved in the protests they say very general things like “the government is bad.” I’m not seeing much explanation as to why it’s bad or what lit the fuse unrest.

      I probably need to look harder, but it strikes me as odd that the specific reasosns for unrest are not getting more play in the emdia.

      • Yoav

        Mubarak is your standard tyrant, people were arrested and tortured on a regular basis, political opponents were silenced and those close to the government got filthy rich while the majority of the population lived in poverty. Now, why did the unrest reached boiling now, you’re unlikely to have a simple explanation and the western media, especially the American one is to lazy and in many cases incapable to deal with complicated issues. You have the nightly news talking heads reporting from some rooftop in Cairo looking all heroic but most of them have zero understanding of the situation and the history that will allow them to explain the it to the viewer and they also assume (probably correctly, unfortunately) that the majority of the viewers want a soundbite explanation before moving to more interesting things like who is Justin Beiber dating. You’re correct that Egypt is comparatively open and the Egyptian people had more contact to the west then the rest of the Arab world which may be part of the reason that Egypt is where things erupted. You could see signs of the regime loosing it’s absolute power in the fact that Mubarak had repeatedly failed in establishing his son as an hair despite repeated attempts over the last decade and a well demonstrated ability to rig elections (unless you believe his party won 98% of the seats in parliament a couple of mounts ago because they are really popular).

  • mikespeir

    I’m concerned that in a newly democratic Egypt the Egyptians will vote to impose Islam.

    • Custador

      Overwhelmingly unlikely, read the OP.

      • mikespeir

        But I’ve read other items that take the contrary view. Yes, the Egyptians are pushing for democracy, but how will they use it once they have it? Muslims–the overwhelming majority of “We the People” over there–are attached to their religion. They’ll vote to impose it, I suspect, just like Fundamentalist Christians in this country would impose theirs if they could. That’s my fear, anyway. I’ll be ever so happy to be proved wrong.

        • Custador

          I think you’re making the same sort of mistake as somebody comparing Church of England (Episcopalian?) congregation to the evangelical Southern Baptist congregation of a Mega-Church. Islam is not homogenous.

          • mikespeir

            What’s your take on this article?

            Frankly, the comparison between Indonesia and Egypt doesn’t interest me greatly. The statistics, though, bother me:

            85% of Egyptians say Islam’s influence in politics is positive.

            54% say gender separation in the workplace should be law, an opinion surely driven by religion.

            82% of Egyptians support stoning adulterers.

            77% think robbers should be whipped and have their hands amputated.

            84% support the death penalty for apostates.

            Now, 54% seem to favor democracy. But, given the above, I think my fears that they’ll use the vote to enforce their religion are not unfounded.

            • Francesc

              Actually, egiptian penal code is already, to some extent, influenced by the sharia -islamic law.They don’t need to vote to impose islam.

            • mikespeir

              Even if so, that doesn’t quell my concerns. My concern is that democracy won’t change that. I don’t buy this idea that democracy is, all alone, a cure-all. Democracy only means “the people” decide what’s what. So, whether democracy will improve the situation will depend on what the people believe in.

            • Custador

              I’m not sure I fully understand your concerns. Let me recap and see if I have them right:

              The people of Egypt want democracy. You are concerned that they will use their democracy to elect Muslims to positions of power and their cultural conditioning will lead to Muslim values being adopted as law.

              Firstly (if I have your concerns right): So what? You can’t force progressive, liberal attitudes on a place overnight, they have to evolve naturally in a society over time or the backlash is just regressive.

              Secondly, replace Egypt with America and Muslim with Christian in my first paragraph and ask if I just described democracy a la USA.

            • Revyloution

              I imagine it’s been quite difficult to get accurate polling data in the past few years. Dictators usually take a dim view of large groups of people freely expressing their opinions. Any poll taken before these protests would by highly suspect. Remember that voting is a type of polling, and Mubarak has won every election for 30 years in a landslide.

              I watch the protests and I see women in pants, women without head scarves, women and men walking side by side and cheering together. I really doubt those women would want the things listed in that poll.

            • mikespeir

              Nothing I’ve said should be construed as opposing democracy in Egypt. I’m just afraid we’re being over-optimistic about the good that will come out of all this. Islam is the main impediment to progress there. It will be with or without democracy. Until Islam changes the culture won’t. Democracy, I’m afraid, will just be window dressing–a new set of valances around the same old view.

            • FO

              Democracy is far from the solution to every evil, but it is a more fertile ground for information, free speech and the distribution of knowledge.
              It is definitely a huge step ahead.

              More freedom means more people traveling and discovering and studying different things.
              Fundamentalism requires sheltering from the rest of the world.

    • Lone Wolf

      How will things change outside of a democracy? They certainly will not get better in a dictatorship and don’t forget the lessons we (should have) learned from Iran. Instead of supporting democracy and freedom in Iran the west supported a cruel dictator. What came out if it? A theocracy that hates us.
      Will they vote for Islamic laws? Yes but they will never become a free secular state in a dictatorship. If anything dictatorships push people further towards religion.

  • Andrew Hall

    I think there is always a chance of something going terribly wrong during a revolution (a Lenin or Napoleon taking over, for example). However, there are a lot of factors favoring a positive outcome for Egypt.

  • MahouSniper

    I think my favorite quote is highlight is featured here on the Colbert Report.
    Hosni Mubarak will not run again

  • Sue

    Americans don’t pay attention to anyone or anything but themselves for the most part. Our country has backed Mubarak and his regime of terror for decades,(as we do many others) we do this to protect Israel.
    This is a Revolution by the ‘people’ for the people. I think they are just tired of being harassed, tortured and killed by the American/Israel backed .gov. When people college educated people are driven to immolate themselves you have to figure out something isn’t right.

    • Yoav

      The US support to Mubarak has very little to do with Israel. The peace with Israel was Sadat switching sides in the cold war. Since Nasser took over in 1952 Egypt was deep in the Soviet camp and if you think of the period Sadat has made his move the US just lost Iran as a foothold in the muslim world and needed a replacement. For his move Sadat was given an annual 1.5 billion in military aid and since Egypt faces no outside treat this money could then be used to allow the regime to hold power (and probably fill the occasional Swiss bank account). In return the US got a hold in one of the most influential countries in the Arab world in addition to stuff like preferred passage for US navy ships in the Suez canal. The current upraise is indeed led by people asking for more freedom and the removal of a tyrant but you need to remember that that’s how the Iranian revolution started, the shah was initially overthrown by liberal, socialist upraise that was only later coopted by the islamic radicals. It’s too early to know how the situation in Egypt will end up and while we shouldn’t panic and listen to doomsday mongers like Glenn Beck and the people on the right who want a war in the middle east as part of their theology it will be extremely naive to assume that Egypt is certain to end as a liberal democracy once the smoke clears.

      • Sue

        Thank you Yoav.
        I have no delusions that this will work out well for the Egyptian people, I do wish it could thought.

      • Andrew Hall

        Agreed, one revolution often times breeds another immediately afterwards.

  • Joe B

    A Muslim Caliphate?

    Wasn’t that when the muslim world was the center science and culture, preserving the writings of the ancient greeks and romans through Europe’s dark ages?

    That’s a bad thing?

  • JesustheJew

    Even if there was a Muslim caliphate, i agree with Joe B. Most of the Muslims in the world are NOT these suicide bombing reapers of terror. They’re civilized educated people whose image is tarnished because of those terror cells and Fox news. And the notion that muslims want the entire world to be muslim (an idea that my mother and a lot of people have), well what religion DOESN’T think that the world would be better off if everyone believed in their god?

    • FO

      True, but sometimes I would like a bit more of a reaction from the moderates.

      • mikespeir

        I’m torn on this. I lived for a year in Turkey. Muslims can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. (Granted, moderates are more common in Turkey.) It’s hard to believe they’d participate, even by inaction, in the atrocities of the worst of their religion. (But, as some have noted, the many can be intimidated into silence by the radical, dangerous few.) On the other hand, I’ve known some awfully nice Christians who would quickly twist into rage when their beliefs were challenged. Jekyll can instantly transmogrify into Hyde when his system of underlying assumptions–the foundation for what he believes himself to be–is threatened.

  • yahweh

    I hope this will turn out good. I understand what everyone has said above about concerns and what this will ultimately lead to. But I can’t imagine people protesting because they want another oppressive regime.

    Regarding Beck and the other wacko tea-baggers and religious right, I find it funny that they are all foaming at the mouth that this is fitting the end-times scenario, yet when the US tried to do the same thing in Iraq, it was applauded. F*cking morons (I hope I won’t get yelled at for using morons, I know we have had some sensitivity issues lately).

    I would tend to think that the citizens of a country can push for meaningful change in their government and accept that change, regardless of the outcome, better if they do it by themselves, rather than doing it as a result of a military action by a invading force.