George Jonas: Goodbye, Hosni. Hello, Hamas!,Demonstrations in Egypt

George Jonas: Goodbye, Hosni. Hello, Hamas!

The dark ages are staging a comeback via the age of enlightenment. Democracy is opening the door to theocracy. It has in Gaza, and seems about to do so in Egypt. Who would have thought that our cherished political system could be so mischievous?

Jim Young/Reuters

Obama speaks, Harper listens.

Perhaps we should all have, for democracy is a repeat offender. It has opened the door to slave societies before, religious as well as non-religious types, such as the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. True, at the end of the Second World War, it also opened the door to its own sweet self in countries such as Germany and Japan, and in 1989, when the Soviet system imploded, democracy established itself pretty much across East-Central Europe.

But let’s listen to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Last week, with visiting Prime Minister Stephen Harper at his side, President Obama took some questions on the subject of Egypt. He told the assembled news people that he had had two conversations with that country’s beleaguered ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

“I’ve emphasized the fact that the future of Egypt is going to be in the hands of Egyptians,” Obama told the media. “It is not us who will determine that future. But I have also said that in light of what’s happened over the last two weeks, going back to the old ways is not going to work. Suppression is not going to work. Engaging in violence is not going to work. Attempting to shut down information flows is not going to work.”

For someone who thought Egypt’s future should be in Egyptian hands, Obama seemed to have rather firm views about what would or wouldn’t work in Mubarak’s corner. “The only thing that will work is moving a orderly transition process that begins right now, that engages all the parties, that leads to democratic practices, fair and free elections…”

Translation: “Say uncle, old buddy. Or Uncle Sam, if you prefer. Not next month, not next week, not tomorrow – now!” Spontaneous or popular as mob rule may be, it isn’t democracy. Obama didn’t say how Mubarak’s yielding to demonstrators’ demand to leave office immediately would “lead to democratic practices.” He didn’t say how obeying the rioters’ most intemperate conditions would amount to an “orderly transition,” especially in a country where opposition is totally unorganized.

Obama didn’t explain why such abdication wouldn’t risk handing Egypt to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood on a platter: To the Islamist militants, forerunners of Hamas and Hezbollah, kissing cousins of Gama Islamiyya, the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981, spraying the Cairo review stand with grenades and bullets, killing 12 people and wounding 28, including Mubarak himself.

Since Obama didn’t say this, what he did say was vacuous. Harper said nothing, but had the decency to look uncomfortable.

It came as no surprise that Rashad al-Bayoumi, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, told every Western journalist willing to listen that his people wanted to talk, not fight. “I swear to you,” al-Bayoumi told the German news magazine Spiegel Online, “the Muslim Brotherhood has not called for violence and we will not do that.”

He was easy to believe. Why should the Muslim Brotherhood preach violence, when diplomats and politicians, beginning with Mohamed ElBaradei, the ex-UN official and self-appointed opposition spokesman, were tripping over each other in their eagerness to have theocrats sit at the table and participate in governing Egypt. Brotherhood types would have to be crazy to espouse violence when just about the only thing that might prevent them from power-sharing would be such rhetoric.

“They have sworn off violence and agreed to play by democratic rules,” ElBaradei assured the western press. Right-ho. Echoing Obama, a joint statement of the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain declared that “the process of transition must start now” — in other words, goodbye Hosni, hello Hamas.

Then came a revealing moment. In an interview with the German journalist Erich Folllath, ElBaradei used the word “myth” to describe the apprehension that a new regime may abrogate Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. That’s just scare-tactics, rumors spread by Mubarak.

“Do you mean an Egyptian government in which the Muslim Brotherhood participates will continue Mubarak’s policies towards Israel?” the interviewer wanted to know.

Maybe it was a slip, or maybe ElBaredei didn’t want to strain credulity too much, but he went off script for a moment.

“No,” he replied. “The Israelis need to grasp that it’s impossible to make peace with a single man. At the moment, they have a peace treaty with Mubarak, but not one with the Egyptian people.”

Ah! Is this the flaw democracy is supposed to remedy? Is there perhaps too much peace between the Jewish state and the Arab world? Is the Obama White House dumping Mubarak so unceremoniously for his solitary virtue rather than for his numerous vices?

One wonders.

Anyway, what price democracy? They say lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness, which is an uplifting theory, but isn’t a gunpowder depot the wrong place to put it to a test?

National Post
 Full Comment, U.S. Politics, World Politics , democracy, Egypt, Gaza, George Jonas, Hamas, Islamism, Israel, Muslim Brotherhood