The self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set off the “Arab Spring” in 2011 and upended three governments in quick succession in eastern North Africa. It caught both global media outlets and Western governments and their spy agencies flat-footed. Yet again. His tale exposed a hitherto subterranean seething by an educated class, hampered from achieving their ambitions commensurate to their abilities, by a corrupt governmental apparatus and society, where connections and bribery were necessary conduits of success. Or so we are told.
In the aftermath, the existentialist delusions that Western liberal society told itself was that the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution were now coming to the Islamic world. Expectations that the Egyptian electorate would return a liberal minded administration revealed the continued ignorance on the part of obtuse Westerners about the resurgence of Islam since the 1970s after Arab disappointment with secularist experiments; and the cultural mindset that Islam engenders.
The overthrow of the decrepit, corrupt, modestly oppressive military autocracy of Hosni Mubarak’s regime only exposed the underlying fissures of Egyptian society between that of a cosmopolitan and less religious urban population and the conservative religious and moralist countryside. When the Muslim Brotherhood won both lower chamber and presidency, Western opinion was mildly surprised and dismayed. But it dismissed this reflection of the realities of Egyptian society by noting that the Muslim Brotherhood was a pre-existing party machine unlike its adversaries, which gave it natural political advantage.
An overtly political judiciary, appointees of Mubarak’s previous regime and of more liberal persuasions, found pretext to declare the lower chamber election illegal and dissolved it. It provoked a constitutional crisis and a gathering storm of protesting liberal and secular urban mobs, seeking to illegitimately overthrow the Morsi presidency and overturn the election results. The military, one year into the democratically elected president’s rule, exploited the urban mobs to legitimate a coup in July 2013 and re-instate an even less benign military autocracy.
Both internal and prejudicial Western opinion justified such overturning of electoral results. They pointed to ‘incompetence’ and Morsi’s attempt to legislate without judicial oversight. How competence can be truly ascribed after one year of office; in lieu of the chaotic aftermath of tumultuous revolution, being presented with a constitutional crisis immediately upon assumption of power, and facing an urban population dedicated to undoing rule of law, defies integrity and reasonableness. Western opinion would be aghast if President’s Bush or Obama were ousted by coup d’etat, despite considerably greater incompetence. But then; these Egyptians are just brown people.
Claims of dictatorial pretensions by Morsi cannot be viewed outside of the context of the pretensions of a judicial oligarchy attempting to overrule legislatures like a divine right monarch. With the checks of both judiciary and military militating against such aspirations, it too becomes laughable mendacity.
“Islamist” rule may be quite reprehensible to the secularist liberal. However, by demonstrating dishonesty, hypocrisy, and infidelity to those ideals of rule of law, justice, liberty, free civic society and democracy when it disadvantaged themselves; the long-term moral legitimacy of those ideals and their ostensible champions are thereby discredited. Islamists, who attempted to play by the rules, cannot but see their political interlocutors and ‘loyal’ opposition as a people without integrity, virtue, and honour; true infidels. Faithful Muslims can only see the political game inordinately stacked against them when they play by liberal democratic principles. One can safely presume that a more violent outbreak of Islamism in the future will be the result; not only in Egypt but throughout the Islamic world; if not the world in general.