I’m deeply confused by the events in Egypt: by the apparent widespread public support for the massacre of Islamists, by the Muslim Brothers’ hand in sectarian violence, and by the evidence that these events are being driven by Egyptians not by outsiders. A people’s self-determination can mean a people’s choice of conservatism and fascism; the American people reelected George W. Bush in 2004 in some large measure because they believed he had enhanced their security. And I wonder to what extent Egyptian attitudes are today driven by fear that their society will dissolve into another Syria.
Putting aside my confusion, I go to my area; and here are a few ways that the Egyptian example exposes the hypocrisy of our policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
–The numbers of Muslim Brothers and others slaughtered by the Egyptian government is still less than the number of Palestinians killed during Israel’s 3-week onslaught on Palestine in 2008-2009 also in the name of suppressing violent Islamists (about 1400). Obama and Kerry spoke out immediately against the massacre of the Brothers last week. But on the occasion of the Israeli slaughter– which galvanized outrage around the world– Obama was silent for the 3 weeks preceding his taking the oath of office and always approving since. And Samantha Power won the ambassadorship to the UN recently in part by bragging that she had helped defeat the UN’s efforts to account for Israel’s human rights violations in that massacre.
–The Muslim Brotherhood is now widely described (by Egyptian government propagandists and Coptic Christians) as a terrorist organization. But the United States rightly insists that the Muslim Brotherhood be included in a democratic government. This policy utterly contradicts our policy in Palestine, where the same mainstream/government bloc paints Hamas as a terrorist organization, and the United States goes along with the Israelis and insists that Hamas be excluded from all political arrangements. It’s completely hypocritical and destructive of the principle of self-determination.
–The next time you hear someone lecture the Palestinians about their need to reconcile politically, reflect that the difference between secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas is a chasm in Egypt and surely in Syria too. It’s a deep cultural/political divide inside several Arab polities. Of course I hope that they reconcile, too; but it’s kind of like telling the Tea Party and the Democratic Party to break bread if they were living under occupation.
–Of course, the religious element is the most disheartening and grievous aspect of the Egyptian coup and the events that followed. When conflicts become religious, people who once got along are willing to burn their neighbors’ houses to the ground, as we’ve seen in the Balkans, Algeria, and Syria. While I am in the camp that these sectarian divisions were Made By Egyptians (that people have agency in their affairs, and that people can be violent, tribal, rich, and militaristic), many of my friends on the left differ. As Ed Moloney speculates: “Out of sight, as now seems more than credible, the Obama WH, the upper crust of the Egyptian military and Israel were embarking on the same mission for very different reasons, using a feigned concern for the wellbeing of ordinary Egyptians to advance their own narrow interests…” I’d broaden the issue to this: what role did Zionism have in inflaming these religious divisions? What role has the successful implantation of violent Jewish nationalism had in causing religious wars in the Middle East? That’s where I can play a part, after all. What model can an American (and Jew) attempt to provide in these circumstances? My American model: to reject religious supremacist ideas.