Gregory Paul on Theocracy vs. Secularism in Egypt

What was the role of theocracy vs. secularism in the downfall of former Egyptian president Morsi? Gregory Paul argues that Morsi's hidden aspirations played a significant role: "He could have done the right thing and built bridges by working closely with liberal Egyptians - Muslim, Christian and secular - to construct a modern constitution that would have prevented a tyranny of the majority by respecting the full human rights of nonIslamists." 

- ESJRR Editor

Gregory Paul: "The Problem With Islamism"

(An ESJRR Original Report)

Former Egyptian president Morsi was a fool. Specifically an Islamist fool. A man in a position to unite a great people and make Egypt into a modern country, he proved to be no Mandela (an atheist). He instead divided his nation, and may have condemned it to perpetual strife and quasi-democracy if that. And the reason is because of his supernaturalism. A supernaturalism that is failing to allow for the modernity that truth be told is the enemy of supernaturalism.

It was pagan Eurocultures that developed the basic concept of democracy, as per the Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic. It was Enlightened and secularizing EuroChristian cultures that developed modern democracy. Some Asian and African pagan cultures have developed into democracies. Some democracies, most European in heritage but also Asian, have become advanced 1st world countries.

 Islamic nations are proving to be hard pressed to adopt modern democracy that  respects freedom of thought and speech,  freedom of ir/religion, and freedom of  women, and can achieve 1st world  socioeconomic success. Turkey was moved  into the 20th century only via the autocratic rule of Ataturk, and shows signs of slipping as Islamism revives – the new countermovement by the urban middle class may renew westernism, or may not. Among Islamic countries only Indonesia and Malaysia have been showing sustained evidence of going down the democratic path, but their progress is tenuous (it is probably not a coincidence that Islam became popular in these two lands via peaceful conversion, not the military conquest prevalent elsewhere).

During the Arab Spring of 2011 Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen dismissed the revolution led by hopeful Muslim secularists by casually predicting that elections would soon sink into reactionary Islam.  I thought his prediction perhaps pessimistic, but not dismissible. The pessimism was called for.

Major elements of Islam are proving to be perniciously deceptive. They have developed a culture of the convenient lie in the tradition of Hitler’s Nazis as a means to achieve the imagined ends of their invented god. This is well illustrated by events in Egypt. The early 2011 uprising was initiated and conducted largely by liberal secularists. The Muslim Brotherhood at first stood by. As the rebellion against secular autocracy mounted by urban progressives succeeded, the MB worked to reduce fears that they would hijack the revolution by exploiting their organizational advantage in the coming remaking of the nation. The MB promised they would not seek the presidency. The line they sold was that Islamists would work to create the society they wanted not by politics, but by cultural persuasion. Liars. 

A year and a half later and an Islamist president repping the MB rammed through a constitution that looked designed by the Islamists – who may constitute the national majority because of their enormous rural base – to impose a Muslim state that would increasingly suppress human rights. They lied through their teeth.

Another example is what happened in Pakistan. When the subcontinent split into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, the first section managed to set up a real democracy that for all its flaws and a brief bout of autocracy has done a reasonable job of providing its countless citizens with real, stable political democracy and considerable sociocultural freedom as well as a rising economy. Meanwhile Muslim Pakistan quickly descended into autocracy in various volatile guises, and has fallen far behind its pagan neighbor in economic performance. Particularly notorious are the especially devout tribal lands of western Pakistan, which have spawned a Pakistani version of the Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban started seizing territories to the east in an effort the take over the entire country. This worked to a certain extent because the mainstream Pakistani Muslim governments were so corrupt and ineffectual than local populations were willing to give “pure” Islam a chance to clean things up, and bring on the lost Islamic utopia of the olden times. After awhile the nonTaliban realized that the Taliban were brutal incompetents far worse than the conventional government. But the weak central government remained reluctant to battle with fellow Muslims. When the Taliban took over a given territory they put off government intervention by promising to not move further east. They lied. After they took over the gorgeous Swat Valley, once a tourist Mecca as it where, and imposed their barbaric rule, mainstream Pakistanis finally caught on to the Taliban tactic of lying for the Mosque, and the army moved into to evict the extremists. The valley has never fully recovered, and Taliban elements are again infiltrating the region.

Likewise Khomeini and his Islamist cronies deliberately hoodwinked Iranian moderates and liberals into thinking they would get the democracy they longed for by helping overturn the shah. 

Over in Egypt Morsi had a golden opportunity. He could have done the right thing and built bridges by working closely with liberal Egyptians - Muslim, Christian and secular - to construct a modern constitution that would have prevented a tyranny of the majority by respecting the full human rights of nonIslamists. Then the country could have moved on to develop a more advanced and prosperous economy. Instead the fool opted for a power play to remake Egypt in a harder line Islamic image. One that would be likely to prevent the tourist trade from regaining its former stature, and would bar the population from developing the knowledge base necessary for a thriving economy. The more secular Egyptians who actually overthrew the Mubarak regime and have a better understanding of how modern nations work were at risk of being ripped off and condemned to live under a religious form of oppression.

The coup/revolution staged by the military in league with the secularists and Christians does not look crafted to result in a future one person one vote democracy. It appears that the military decided that an Islamic state was not why they worked with the secularists in 2011 to overthrow Mubarak, and they may have schemed to egg on the secularists to stage the mass demonstrations that quickly overthrew Morsi. The secularists have gone disturbingly and perhaps naively giddy for the same military that they were furious at in 2012, and the two may collaborate to run a more pluralistic quasi-democracy that respects the rights of women and Christians, while sharply curtailing the political power of the Islamists – a reversal of matters in Iran where what democracy there is is designed to keep the nonIslamists out of power. (Remember how until recently many, especially on the right, were running about like Chicken Little screaming that the absolute dictator Ahmadinejad was a new Hitler bent on destroying Israel even if the nuclear retaliation wiped out Iran? He has been term limited out of the weak presidency and replaced by a more moderate guy via a strong popular vote. There is a lot more democracy in Iran than there was under the Nazis, or is in Saudi Arabia, not that that is saying much of course.) If so it will not be a pretty regime respectful of human rights -- the army et al. will oppress and often torture opponents like the Morsi regime was doing. It looks like the liberals are opting for this because they figure that the only alternative is an even worse Islamic state. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood will go along with a secular regime, or in their rage at being denied their electoral success will go violent, time will tell. Also unclear is whether a military-secular alliance can get the Egyptian economy in shape. If not they are in trouble, even though the Islamists have already proven incompetent.  

Morsi is not a fool on a personal basis. He is a fool in a greater context. One who very probably does not understand reality. He is living in an Islamic bubble of supernaturalistic denial that actually imagines that there is a great god out there that provides the path of national success and eternal paradise. The toxic product of this delusion is the Islamism that demands that all nations and peoples be ruled by Islam as per the Iranian Republic and Saudi Arabia fiefdom. Islamism is a fantasy in that breeds dysfunctional conspiracy thinking. So the Muslim Brotherhood thinks the US government is in close cahoots with the military, and the secularists think the US government is in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood. That neither makes sense – that the US government is between a rock and a hard place and does not have any good options -- is not apparent to either side. It is primitive anger that overdrives their thinking. Christians and many atheists assert that militant Islamism is inherent to Islam, and they have a case. On the other hand Christianity used to be big on running societies, and the Bible goes a lot further to endorse niceties like genocide and slavery than the Quran. (And while Islamists believe that lying is moral when it promotes the Faith, lying for the church is common in Christianity.) The intra-Christian wars and other dysfunctions that afflicted Europe in the 2nd millennium did a lot to discredit the religion in favor of enlightened, scientific secularism. Islam for one reason or another has never undergone an equivalent similar diminution of its political power, and with so much of it stuck in the 20th century it is open to question if it can be sufficiently tamed to allow for prosperous democracy. It is to the benefit of Islam for Islamism to continue to prevent socioeconomic success, it being well documented that religion can thrive only in sufficiently dysfunctional countries.

Democracy itself has its problems. The first and greatest modern democracy allowed racial slavery until a war rather than the vote put a stop to that. The south and mid-west then ran a viscous apartheid lynching culture until the courts rather than the vote put a stop to that. Meanwhile, gays were discriminated against by voters until the courts started putting a stop to that. Even now atheists that number as many as 50+ million in the USA are hard pressed to get elected to office just because they don’t believe in the supernatural. Women remain under repped in political offices, except in the few Nordic countries where party quotas give them up to half of political seats. Democracy is constantly at risk of majoritarianism in which the preponderance of voters goes too far in imposing their will on the rest. Much of Islam does not realize this problem, and Muslim doctrine that the faith run the political show is going to be difficult to overcome.

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© 2013 Economic & Social Justice Reality Report | Views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editor, Editorial Board, ESJRR, or WPRR.